Artistic Destiny

The concept of a personal destiny is unpopular in our culture. We like to think that people forge their own destiny, that you can be a self-made man. We also like to think that everyone has an equal chance of success based entirely on their best efforts. But psychology suggests that our conscious actions are over-determined by by our unconscious. Our fate is not entirely in our hands. In ancient cultures it was widely accepted that mysterious factors played a part in your destiny. These mysterious factors where personified as the gods. There are also mysterious factors at work within ourselves, in our mind, the unconscious forces.

I would argue that artistic destiny, the fate of the artist, is not determined by conscious effort and skill alone. Talent plays a huge role in artistic destiny. There has not been much intellectual study of talent because nobody wants to seem so presumptuous as to claim any special insight on the subject. Nobody wants to be so egotistical as to boldly proclaim their talent. But surely people with talent must have some awareness of its essential nature. For similar reasons, there is little discussion of inspiration or genius.

I think we can put egotism to rest by realizing that ego is not a factor in artistic destiny. If your actions are not entirely dictated by conscious decisions then it is not your ego which sets your course. I suspect that most artists are governed by their imagination. It is your imagination which enchants you with dreams of what you might accomplish. It is your imagination which motivates you to attempt great things.

The essential goal of the artist as a creator is to bring something into being which does not exist. This is the very definition of a creator, somebody who creates something new. But what motivates a creator to create something new? Obviously it is only the vision of something which has never existed which prompts the artist to attempt its creation.

Aesthetic appreciation is an underappreciated aspect of the creative process but I think it is absolutely vital. It is  precisely your capacity to appreciate beauty and excellence which determines your steadfastness in its pursuit. Only people who value art highly and feel that it enriches life will make the intense effort to create art. And only the artist with the vision to imagine a greater beauty will make an effort to create highly original art. The enchantment of a mirage of greater beauty, a vision, is probably the most important factor which drives the true artist. The true artist is haunted by what he imagines he could create. This is what we mean when we talk of making our dreams come true. While an egotist may write a novel for the sake of acquiring literary fame, any lack of genuine appreciation for story will doom his efforts.

While it is easy to understand the pursuit of beauty, some consideration must be given to excellence as well. The serious artist will always be driven to pursue excellence in the arts. Although artistic excellence is highly subjective, it appears to depend on critical judgement. The serious artist will be impatient with frivolous works. But what makes something frivolous? Here is where we encounter a tendency to favor the profound and the ponderous. Often it is only dark or grim subject matter which demands to be taken seriously. But work which is too bleak can also cease be be enjoyable or beautiful. So there is some tension between beauty and excellence.

It is also worthwhile to consider how the artist’s actions factor into his artistic destiny. Besides the act of creation, I think there is one other major action which plays a big part in how things play out. The other important matter is what an artist chooses to seek out and ingest.  It has been noted that artists tend to seek novelty. Part of the creative spirit is a desire to seek out new work. The artist is on a perpetual quest to find new work. Not only new work, but highly original work, like something that has never been seen before. This is a process of discovery. The true artist loves to discover new work. Even the idle artist will perform the action of seeking out highly unusual artwork. Although this may appear to be the idle past-time of an aesthete, seeking new artwork for inspiration actually reveals the creative process at work. Somebody who is too modest to call himself an artist, yet who always seeks out strange new artwork, is performing the actions dictated by his nature and is therefore an artist according to the actions he performs regardless of whether he self-identifies as an artist. In other words, I would argue that unconscious actions are more indicative of the creative spirit than self-identity. In creative writing, it is said that a writer is somebody who writes. The action performed is more important than the official title of the individual. This suggests that the true artist pursues a course dictated by unconscious actions regardless of his conscious intentions.

Everyone in the arts is concerned with the matter of their artistic destiny. People working in art institutions want to associate themselves with someone who clearly has a bright artistic destiny. They want to have been seen as somebody who was in the company of the best. This isn’t entirely a matter of egotism. They simply crave excellence and want to be seen as having met that standard based on the level of the talent they were able to associate with. Of course, this depends upon being able to recognize talent, preferably at an early stage, so you can hitch your wagon to a rising star. For this reason, the ability to recognize talent in others is vital to your own artistic destiny. Refusing to be discriminating in your tastes will not serve you well since it indicates that you cannot discern excellence. A lack of artistic judgment will not only be reflected in your poor work, it will also be reflected in the artwork you choose to give your attention to and the artists you choose to associate with.

Let’s consider how bad taste plays itself out in your artistic destiny. Let’s take poetry as an example. A lot of bad poetry is written. Most people feel no appreciation for poetry at all so they entirely avoid the art form. Obviously this completely eliminates poetry from their world. They don’t read poetry. They know nothing of poetry. They don’t write poetry. Poetry cannot be a factor in their artistic destiny. But now let’s say you have some appreciation for poetry as literature but no ability to discern its quality. Now you might occasionally do your cultural duty and read modern poetry even when you do not understand a word of it. But without a discriminating taste you will randomly encounter poetry, much of it incomprehensible, and probably won’t seek it out with any enthusiasm. Only a genuine appreciation for poetry as expressive language would lead you to read much poetry and guide you to reading the best poetry. And it is only this that would lead you to perform actions like attending poetry readings given by great poets where you might meet great poets. Everything follows from your capacity for aesthetic appreciation. It over-determines the process of discovery and the potential for participation. And it can even do so with little conscious thought or direction. It is all a matter of performing the actions which you are inclined to perform. If you can be moved by expressive language you will be inclined to value it and seek it out. If you are unaffected by expressive language then obviously it will not affect your actions and nothing will come of the nothing which you feel.

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NYC Trip – NBC, Koreatown, Blondie, Dear Jane

Yesterday was my monthly New York City day trip. Ever since April I have been going to New York City once a month this year. I’m going back next month too in September. The fact is that I’m still finding exciting and interesting things to see and do in New York City so there is always a good reason to keep coming back. Every trip is kind of amazing in its own way.

My first goal on this trip was to go on the tour of NBC Studios which is located in the Rockefeller Center. I often forget that New York City is still the home of television production in the United States. ABC has studios overlooking Times Square. Fox News is located in the News Corporation Building on the Avenue of the Americas (aka 6th Avenue). HBO is located near Bryant Park. I took notice of this on this trip because I walked past it. The only network I’m not sure about is CBS but I think they have a more low key presence in their own office building.

The bus left us off at West 42nd Street across from Bryant Park because there was a street fair on 8th Avenue where they usually like to drop us off. This required a change in my plans. I walked up 6th Avenue to the Rockefeller Center instead of taking the subway. It wasn’t that far to walk so this made a lot of sense. Since the tour did not start until 11:00 a.m. I had an hour to kill in the Rockefeller Center vicinity.

First I decided to use the restroom in the Rockefeller Center basement concourse of the GE Building. Unfortunately the usual bathrooms were closed for renovations but I did manage to find an alternative set of restrooms on the opposite side of the dining concourse. This may seem like a minor detail but finding a public restroom in New York City after a long bus ride is a pretty big deal. There is a lot to see around the Rockefeller Center but I’ve been in that area many times so all I did was try to take some better photos. For example, I took photos of the Rockefeller Center’s sunken plaza but it was taken up by the Rock Center Cafe and not the skating rink. I actually went inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, something I’ve neglected to do before. The interior is quite grand of course and reminded me of the Catholic cathedrals I saw in Rome. On Fifth Avenue across from the church I saw some large photos of supermodel and actress Cara Delevingne. These were glamour shots of Cara Delevingne for A|X Armani Exchange. I took a few photos of this advertising because it was such a striking example of the glamour of New York City. But unfortunately a cement mixer truck got stuck in the street waiting for a traffic light to change. I debated with myself on how long I was going wait for this damn truck to move out of the way, because I did not want an ugly cement mixer truck in my photo of this glamour advertising. Eventually I made the command decision to take the photo anyway because there is contrast between an ugly cement mixer truck and these photos of Cara Delevingne. It almost serves as unintentional social commentary. So even though I am not a professional photographer, I still have a good eye for a great photo opportunity. This is an expression of my creativity which I should not discount.

Cara Delevingne and the Cement Mixer

Cara Delevingne and the Cement Mixer

At a quarter to 11:00 a.m. I entered 30 Rockefeller Plaza (aka 30 Rock) for the The Tour at NBC Studio. I got the right entrance, off 6th Avenue where you see the marquee for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and not the marquee on West 5oth Street which reads; Rainbow Room / Observation Deck / NBC Studios. Maybe that was the old site for the Studio Tours. But even after using the right entrance it is still a little confusing to figure out where the tour is leaving from. It is actually straight ahead in The Shop at NBC Studios. Just go to the checkout counter towards the back and have them scan your ticket if you bought one online as I did. Then you have to wait around the store and check out the merchandise before your tour begins, leaving from the area left of the checkout counter. We were given metal badges which attach to your shirt using a magnet. I got to keep this badge. We had to fill out a form on a tablet. I’ve never seen tablets used this way but I suppose it saves time to collect some data electronically. We only had to provide our name and email address so we could be identified for the interactive part of the tour and sent the video of the show as I will describe in a bit. First we watched a short film starring Al Roker about the history of NBC Studios, like an orientation film for new hires. This took place in a very small home theater space with maybe seats for only 10 people. There must be a limit to the number of people in a tour group.

We then took the elevators to various floors to see various television studios. The decor of the public spaces was really impressive with a lot of Art Deco shiny chrome and gleaming marble. The security was pretty tight with turnstiles and elevators that required keycards. I noticed that one page always trailed the tour group to make sure there were no stragglers. I forgot to mention that you have to go through a metal detector at the start of the tour. No photos or video were allowed so I have no photos from this part of my trip. We saw three television studio; the news studio where Lester Holt does the nightly news, the studio were they film Saturday Night Live, and the studio for the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. It was thrilling to see the Saturday Night Live set. We actually got to be on the same floor as the stage set and get a good look at it. I recognized the small area of the set were bands play because it has not changed in years. It looked exactly as it did during a Deborah Harry performance of “Come Back Jonee” on SNL in 1981. This came to mind because I was to see the new Blondie mural later in the day. The studio for the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon was surprisingly small. It was only about a third of the size you might imagine from watching the show on TV. For example, you might imagine there are three wings for audience seating, a center set of seats directly before the stage and a left and right wing of seats like you see on some shows. But this studio actually only has a single tier of audience seating. It was almost as small as a storefront theater. The stage was also very small with the band playing on a cramped set only a few feet across from the host’s desk and the couch for the celebrities. In addition to the television studios we saw a few control rooms for post production and broadcasting which where filled with LCD flat screen monitors and complicated control consoles. The tour ended with everyone invited to play a role in a fake taping of a talk show. I selected to be in the control room and sat in front of a control console which was lit but entirely deactivated so nothing you did on it would have any effect. There was a couple of French tourists with me in the control room. It may have been their girlfriends who played the host and the celebrity because they spoke with thick accents. However they still managed to read the cues and gave a surprisingly good performance. Hosting a television talk show is clearly a job that anybody could do well.

After the tour was over I walked to the 49 Street Station on 7th Avenue and took a Downtown R train to the 34th Street – Herald Square station. I think I left one R train go by before catching the next one because I wanted a N or Q train. This reminds me to figure out what the difference is between these lines because you can often take either one to get where you are going. Once I reached Herald Square I took photos of the Macy’s department store and the statues in Greeley Square and Herald Square. There is a statue of Horace Greeley in Greeley Square. But my goal was to explore Koreatown which is nearby on West 32nd Street. I walked along West 32nd Street, aka Korea Way, and took photos of the various Korean establishments I learned about during my research. In particular I made sure to get photos of Wonjo, BCD Tofu House, and Koryo Books. Then I went to Seoul Garden for lunch because I’d heard this place was never crowded so there is seldom a wait for a table. This proved to be the case. It is located on the second floor and the elevator opens directly upon the restaurant. I ordered the Ganjang Gaejang, blue crab preserved in soy sauce. Ordering this was little awkward because I also had to select tofu soup to go with the meal. I had no idea what I was ordering except for the blue crab. Before that came out, I was given several small plates of vegetable-based dishes including kimchi. This is known as banchan. I was only given chopsticks and a spoon to eat with. The Ganjang Gaejang blue crab proved to be impossible to eat with chopsticks. There didn’t seem to be any meat to dig out of the crab shells and it was impossible to get it out with chopsticks. I spent several minutes digging into these crab shells with a chopstick trying to find some tiny morsel of food to eat. Fortunately the bowl of soft tofu soup was more substantial and quite tasty. It was served boiling hot in a cooking vessel.  It was literally boiling away for several minutes so I did not dare eat it until that stopped. I think I was supposed to add a raw egg to the soup while it was boiling because there was a raw egg included in the banchan. Obviously I should have spent more time learning about Korean cuisine because the entire experience was baffling and very frustrating. But at least it wasn’t terribly expensive since I only spent $27.00 including a tip. After leaving Seoul Garden I went to the Korean bookstore Koryo Books but all their books are in Korean so I did not buy anything.

Koreatown

Koreatown

I had a ticket to see a play but that did not start until 3:00 p.m. so I had time to go downtown to see the new Blondie mural on the corner of Bleecker Street and the Bowery. I took the Downtown F train to the Second Avenue station. While on the train I discovered that my smartphone would not boot up. Every time I tried to get it to boot up it would just die before getting to the main screen. It turned out that the battery had drained. I really need to remember to turn on Airplane Mode on my smartphone while in New York City. Continuous sensing for WiFi connections or GPS location sensing appears to cause rapid battery draining in urban environments. This is something I will need to research. It was not a big deal on this trip because I had my route all planned out with written directions, but I usually rely totally on my smartphone for help in navigating the city. I don’t actually need a WiFi connection for my offline, custom travel guide. Anyway, the new Blondie mural replaces the Ramones mural which I had photographed on a previous trip.

Blondie Mural

Blondie Mural

I had planned on seeing the Blondie mural after the play I was going to see, but I had time to squeeze it in before 3:00 p.m. The only other things I photographed in the area where the Anthology Film Archives, the John Varvatos designer clothing retailer store which occupies the site of CBGB, and the Joey Ramone Place street sign. The Blondie mural was a cool reminder of the mystique that New York City had for me long before I ever actually went there.

I didn’t want to be late for the play so I went back to the Second Avenue station and took an Uptown F train to the 42nd Street – Bryant Park station. I think I exited this station at the HBO headquarters exit. There is a HBO Store in the HBO Building on 6th Avenue. I will have to put that in my notes because I did not realize there was a store. Anyway I walked over to West 40th Street and eventually reached the Drama Book Shop where I decided to do a little shopping before heading to the theater. I was a little rushed so I did not have time to browse much. I bought a copy of Jitney, the only August Wilson play that was remaining on my wish list, and a copy of The Dramatist magazine, the July / August 2017 issue. This magazine is published by the Dramatists Guild. I still have not rejoined the Dramatists Guild but I intend to after I have written enough decent plays. I need to have enough literary property to justify the expense. Several people were ahead of me in line and it crossed my mind to whip out my ticket and beg to cut in line so I could make it to the theater in time. But I didn’t and I had plenty of time to get to the theater.

The play I saw on this trip was Dear Jane by Joan Beber at the Clurman Theatre. The Clurman Theatre is one of the five small theaters housed in the same brick building on West 42nd Street between 9th Avenue and 10th Avenue, aka Theatre Row. These theaters mostly do Off Broadway shows. This was a new play by a minor playwright and I only took a chance on it because it is about an artist looking back over her life. I was particularly intrigued by this line in the advertisements for the play, “She strives for something beyond our boundaries, reaching for art as the ultimate expression of meaning”. Unfortunately the play didn’t really fulfill that promise. The protagonist had very little to say about art or the meaning of life. I tried to find out as much as I could about the people behind this production but I was mystified by it all. Joan Beber is a grandmother who appears to have gotten into playwriting very late in life. Nevertheless she seems to have enjoyed remarkable success with at least two full productions of her plays on a New York stage, both on Theatre Row. This strikes me as odd because generally you can’t reinvent yourself that late in life and actually get anywhere. The play was directed by Katrin Hilbe, a Swiss director, writer, and producer who appears to be involved in many obscure theater projects in New York City like Theaterlab. She may be more involved with the European connected theater community. I was unable to discover any theater company responsible for this production.

I enjoyed Dear Jane even though it seemed like a self-indulgent celebration of an unremarkable life. The play was a series of vignettes which were announced by the year in which the events depicted took place. But it was very difficult to follow the course of the protagonist’s life as it was a non-linear memory play. The protagonist, Julie, did not appear to have ever done anything particularly remarkable so her life history would be unknown to the audience. Looking back over a life like this only served to depress me, but to be fair even the mundane life deserves to be celebrated and this play did a good job of that. The actors were very attractive and showed a lot of talent in performing the vignettes which included scenes of interpretative dance, singing, and the occasional emotional moment that occurred with little context. Overall this play struck me as an inexplicably professional production of a random elderly woman’s private ruminations over her life. I cannot figure out how this play came to be produced. It is as if the god’s had decided to smile on somebody who is not exceptional. Still, it does seem a little moving to make a Broadway production out of a life for no apparent reason. The actress playing Julie, Jenny Piersol, was really beautiful and her beauty made everything seem tragic and beautiful.

When the show was over around 5:00 p.m. I had no other plans for this trip so I decided to head down to Greenwich Village and take photos of Tea and Sympathy and Myer’s of Keswick, two British establishments which I found were poorly documented in my notes. However, since my smartphone was inoperative I was unable to locate anything in Greenwich Village. So what I actually did was wander around in all directions taking as many photos I could of interesting establishments or landmarks to use in my custom travel guide. I did stumble across some interesting things like a statue of Fiorello H. La Guardia and a bookstore on Carmine Street, Unoppressive Non-imperialist Bargain Books, which looked like an anarchist book store. I checked it out but the selection of books was too poor for me to find anything to buy. The stock did reflect peculiar tastes though. It was one of those rare used book stores that show a lot of character. I won’t be able to identify everything I took a photo of in Greenwich Village until I’m ready to tag my photos on Flickr. But I did eventually wander to Washington Square Park where the arch was well lit by the setting sun. Washington Square Park was extremely crowded with buskers and entertainers and tourists. From Washington Square Park I must have walked up Fifth Avenue to come across the new building for the New School. Even without my travel guide I knew the Strand Bookstore was not far from that.

Unoppressive Non-imperialist Bargain Books

Unoppressive Non-imperialist Bargain Books

At the Strand Bookstore I returned to the Drama shelves which I had located on previous trips and searched for some plays to buy. I did not have access to my shopping list so I had to rely on chance to find something worthwhile. For example, my Moyer Studio Season Tickets includes the play Proof so I looked for that play. This play was by David Auburn but for some reason I had him confused with Tom Stoppard so I bought The Hard Problem by Tom Stoppard instead. I also found Translations by the Irish playwright Brian Friel. And finally I bought Three Tall Women by Edward Albee because I’ve never actually read that play.

I was feeling a little hungry and very thirsty after that so I went across the street to a Pret a Manger and bought a Cup of Goodness and a Wonderful Watermelon according to my receipt. Say what? Obviously that is not what I bought. The Cup of Goodness must have been the parfait, smooth Greek yogurt layered with freshly sliced apples and topped with brown sugar, granola and warming cinnamon, and the Wonderful Watermelon must have been the pink lemonade. I like Pret a Manger because it is like a cafeteria where you just grab a few items and pay for them without the fuss of waiting to be served. However just these two items cost me $10.87 which is outrageous.

I walked up to the 14th Street – Union Square station where I used an entrance outside Whole Foods rather than walk across the street. I got off at the 42nd Street station near NyGard SLIMS and went into Times Square briefly to take some photos but didn’t really stay long enough to even feel the vibe. I walked west to Bryant Park where the bus was going to pick us up. I was a little early so I went to Kinokuniya Bookstore hoping to buy a Japanese movie DVD. I didn’t find any movies that looked promising so I left the store without buying anything.

On the long bus ride home I was unusually stoked by this trip. I’m not sure how to account for this but maybe everything added up create a more exciting impression of New York City.

 

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Online Hate Speech Suppression Technology

There has been a lot of debate on how to handle hate speech online. Some people want hate speech removed wherever it appears while others want to protect free speech at all costs. Major technology companies like Google plan to use technology to identify and remove hate speech from its platforms. As tempting as it is to silence these people, I think automating the process of suppressing hate speech is a very bad idea.

Online hate speech suppression technology will seek to apply subjective, human judgment to online speech. Software is currently incapable of emulating human judgment. So how this will probably work is that online speech will be parsed and then evaluated for political correctness. Various factors will be considered and then a prediction will be made; Model’s predicted likelihood that the comment is politically correct: 0.093407306%.

Naturally Google will seek to fully automate this process. It is quite possible that the algorithms will flag content which has not received any complaints from an actual human. Content found in violation of Google’s terms of use will be automatically flagged and removed. You won’t be told how your content violated their terms of use because that information could be used by an adversarial system to counter the content filters. It is also quite possible that Google will be unable to back trace the calculations that were used to make this prediction about your content. As has already been demonstrated, technology companies don’t bother with niceties like a repeal process or arbitration. They have no intention of giving you any recourse against a decision made by software!

Now consider just how ridiculous this abuse of power could become. Lets suppose that artificial intelligence agents were created to serve as racist recognition software. AI is being used for voice recognition, image recognition, and face recognition so why not racist recognition? A deep neural network could evaluate your online profile and your online history to predict the likelihood that you are a racist. We won’t know why the system identified you as a racist. All we know is that you are a racist. The software told us so!

The problem with this technology is that it is not sufficiently nuanced. It will not be able to distinguish sarcasm from  legitimately held positions. For example, I was being intentionally a little absurd in the previous paragraph. Artificial intelligence will be unable to detect that. My wit is just too subtle. There is also a problem with policing online speech for political correctness because it disadvantages contrarians, people who like to entertain contrary ideas for the sake of intellectual dexterity. Often the best way to raise an important issue is to push your ideas to their limits. This has certainly gotten me in a little trouble in the past. For example, I pushed the notion of preying upon the mentally ill to explore the idea that some segments of society see them as a useful resource, a pool of credulous fools to be exploited. This is a very noxious idea, preying on the mentally ill because they are a pool of individuals with very poor judgment. But there just may be a key insight there. Anyway, I found out that psychiatrists don’t like to be accused of being predators.

Liberals have become very intolerant of dissent. You cannot disagree with them in the slightest without triggering them. They then begin to loudly call for a shutdown of the debate. Well I suppose it is good strategy to suppress the speech of your opponent when you can’t think of a counterargument. Silencing your opponent is good strategy because it allows you to win arguments that you would otherwise lose. If a liberal were to create an artificial intelligence that “thinks differently” I bet he would pull the plug on it. That is just how they roll now. I remember when liberals were better than this.

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Weekend In Gettysburg – Sunday

I wasn’t sure I had enough activities planned for the second day of my weekend trip to Gettysburg, but I managed to make a full day of it. I did leave Gettysburg a little earlier than necessary. I had a complimentary breakfast at the hotel around 7:00 a.m. My first goal was the Lincoln Train Museum but it did not open until 9:00 a.m. Nevertheless I left my hotel room at 8:00 a.m. and walked down Baltimore Pike to Cemetery Hill and took photos of the monuments there. Then I crossed the street to the Evergreen Cemetery and took photos of the Jennie Wade Grave again. After that I walked back up Baltimore Street and went up Steinwehr Avenue as far as the Battle Theatre, aka General Pickett’s Buffet. Beyond that were the open fields of Pickett’s Charge. I did see one monument there.

The Lincoln Train Museum appeared to open early but I waited until just before 9:00 a.m. to enter. You are immediately in the gift shop when you enter the museum. I bought a ticket for the museum but was given a brass token to insert in the turnstile. I walked down a corridor led by video of Abraham Lincoln running on a series of LCD screens. Then I watched a short film about the Lincoln Funereal Train as a model train ran around a track. The train seemed to always make a complete loop before stopping at the next stop. After that I entered a railroad passenger car for a simulated train journey narrated by a video of an actor portraying Abraham Lincoln. Surprisingly there was some motion special effects using hydraulic jacks and the scenery outside the windows was video of the passing countryside. When that was over I was left to explore the rest of the exhibits. I ran the toy trains by pressing a button although that only worked for one button and one toy train. I had to exit through the gift shop. They had some nice merchandise but I wasn’t tempted to buy anything because I was almost done with Gettysburg.

Lincoln Train Museum

Lincoln Train Museum

I walked back to my hotel and checked out. I then drove my car to the Soldier’s National Cemetery which provides free parking if you don’t mind walking.

Next I went to the Gettysburg Diorama. I had not researched this establishment and did not plan to visit it, but I didn’t have much else left to do. I bought a ticket for the diorama in the gift shop but they did not direct me to anything. So I wound up going down a long corridor downstairs only to find another gift shop. The corridor did have display cases of rifles and other Civil War artifacts but it did not strike me as being what my ticket was for. It turns out the diorama is located through a door towards the back of the gift shop. There is a light show and narration of the battle, so while the show is going on the door is roped off. It took me awhile to notice the digital clock showing how many minutes were left to the next presentation. I had to wander around the gift shop several times examining all the merchandise before I finally got to see the diorama. The diorama itself was pretty cool and showed the entire battlefield and the town of Gettysburg. It was like a toy train layout without the train. There were lots of toy soldiers of course. I knew the landmarks of the battlefield pretty well by then so I could follow the narration and see where I had been. The light show covered all three days of the battle and including night scenes of campfires and cannon muzzle flashes. There were also some Civil War artifacts on exhibit, some Civil War paintings, and smaller dioramas behind glass. I exited back through the gift shop without buying anything. I think I was also given a ticket for the Gettysburg Heritage Center but I did not want to see that again.

Gettysburg Diorama

Gettysburg Diorama

My final goal was the David Wills House. This is located on Lincoln Square so I had to walk all the way to the downtown area. The David Wills House has seven galleries with mostly just panels with information. I really don’t like these kinds of info panels. The Gettysburg Lincoln Railroad Station was also nothing but display panels. But I did see the original bed where Abraham Lincoln slept on the night before he gave his Gettysburg Address. But overall this attraction was very slight and a little dull. On the way back down Baltimore Street I did stop in at the Sweets Candy store on the intersection of Baltimore Street and Middle Street. I bought a chocolate bar, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey – Swiss Chocolate Liquor. I could not resist buying some candy which contains whiskey.

David Wills House

David Wills House

I left Gettysburg around 12:35 p.m. I could have spent a little more time in town but I had run out of things to do and it was Sunday so things were pretty quiet. There were also a few stops I wanted to make on the long drive home. For example, I stopped in at the Cupboard Maker Books on Route 15 near Harrisburg. I bought two science fiction books; The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks and Orsinian Tales by Ursula K. Le Guin. I also stopped at Sheetz near Duncannon to fill up on gas and to use their restroom.

Once I reached Selinsgrove I had the bright idea to stop in at the Susquehanna Valley Mall instead of going to the Lycoming Mall which might have closed by the time I got there. I went to the f.y.e store in the mall and bought two DVDs; Her 2013 and Colossal 2016. Her is an interesting film about a man’s relationship with his artificial intelligence operating system. When I finally got around to watching this film I found it unbearably sappy. The AI develops feelings with no explanation as to how this was possible. Then it got really weird with chat sex and a surrogate body. Finally the AI leaves him when a technological singularity occurs. It was a classic example of the tendency to anthropomorphize artificial intelligence, total wish fulfillment, humanizing the technology for the sake of the dramatic story. Anyway, my real reason for stopping in Selinsgrove was Texas Roadhouse. My older brother is a big fan of this chain restaurant and he gave me a Texas Roadhouse gift card for my birthday. At Texas Roadhouse I ordered the Half Slab Fall-Off-The-Bone Ribs with two sides; mashed potatoes with gravy and apple sauce. It was really good. I now have a gift card balance of $12.31.

Texas Roadhouse

Texas Roadhouse

I am now satisfied that I have seen almost everything there is to see in Gettysburg. I probably won’t be going back to Gettysburg until it has faded from my memory enough for another visit to bring back fond memories. I should probably visit Lancaster next since it has been years since I’ve been there. I only spent one day exploring Lancaster.

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Weekend In Gettysburg – Saturday

I spent the weekend in Gettysburg in order to give myself enough time to see everything. I left Williamsport very early at 5:30 a.m. and arrived in Gettysburg around 8:30 a.m. I used the Taneytown exit to avoid driving through the town since my first goal was to explore the battlefield. Fortunately it was a beautiful sunny morning, perfect for taking photos. First I found my way back to Hancock Avenue where I saw the Pennsylvania State Memorial and The Angle, the target of Pickett’s Charge. Once again I saw the Armistead marker placed where Armistead was mortally wounded. At this point my camera battery was depleted which surprised me because I had only taken a few photos. I’m pretty sure I charged both of my camera batteries before I left. Fortunately I had another camera battery in my charger but I did forget to bring my third spare battery. My second camera battery lasted for the rest of the day even though I was taking hundreds of photos, but I was worried that it would be depleted before I checked into the hotel. I resumed taking photos after changing my battery. The equestrian statue along Hancock Avenue on Cemetery Ridge was of Major General George Meade, the commander of the Union Army.

Armistead Marker

Armistead Marker

The next photo I took was of the Alabama State Monument on South Confederate Avenue. My goal was to locate Little Round Top but I encountered this monument first because it was Evander M. Law’s Alabama Brigade which attacked Little Round Top. I also saw the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument and the Major William Wells Statue along South Confederate Avenue. Eventually I found my way to Little Round Top where I spent a lot of time enjoying the view. Although I had been there before on the Battlefield Tour we were not given much time there and it was raining a little. Now I had plenty of time to go exploring so I climbed up the castle monument to its observation deck. Technically this is the monument to the 12th and 44th New York Volunteers.

Little Round Top

Little Round Top

My next goal was to visit Devil’s Den which I could see from Little Round Top. However I had a devil of a time getting there and had to drive down South Confederate Avenue two or three times before I figured out how to get onto Crawford Avenue which leads you to Devil’s Den. Before I got there I came across yet another equestrian statue which I believe was Major General John Sedgwick on Sedgwick Avenue. So I had gone north from Little Round Top and had difficulty heading west to Devil’s Den. Based on the evidence of my photos I even wound up back on Hancock Avenue before finally making it to Devil’s Den. I definitely wanted to see Devil’s Den because it is one of the major landmarks of the Gettysburg National Military Park. So I persisted until I found my way to Devil’s Den. From Devil’s Den you get an excellent view of Little Round Top and its monuments up in the hills. The boulders of Devil’s Den are quite similar to the boulders I see hiking on the mountain trails of Pennsylvania. I walked up a hill behind Devil’s Den where I found a hiking trail that went down the hill’s meadow. I followed this trail because the countryside was beautiful in that direction. The trail led me into the woods where I was surprised to find many more roads and monuments. By the way, you should definitely circle around Devil’s Den in order to find the Confederate sharpshooter’s position which is not within the crevices of the main boulders as I expected.

Devil's Den

Devil’s Den

After that I followed Sickles Avenue to the Wheatfield which was not on my list of places to visit. But there are several impressive monuments in the Wheatfield and I had plenty of time to explore the battlefield at my leisure. In my imagination I pictured General Robert E. Lee issuing me orders to bravely soldier on in this expedition to visit all the major sites of the Gettysburg Battlefield. Continuing along Sickles Avenue I must have found The Loop on Ayres Avenue. There are many monuments along The Loop but the most striking one was a Celtic cross with an Irish wolfhound lying at its base. This was the Irish Brigade Monument on Sickles Avenue just inside the Rose Woods. It was definitely one of the finest monuments I saw and I’m glad I stumbled upon it because I did not know to look for it. The Irish Brigade Monument must be very popular because I saw photos of it for sale in the Gettysburg gift shops later in the day.

Once I reached Wheatfield Road I must have headed west back to Emmitsburg Road which I followed north to Baltimore Street. Once I reached Middle Street I turned left to get onto West Confederate Street which I followed south to reach my next target, the Virginia Monument of Robert E. Lee on his horse Traveler. Although I had seen it before on the Battlefield Tour, that was a cloudy day. I was able to take much better photos of this monument in the bright sunshine. I walked out into the field in front of the Virginia Monument to see some Civil War Cannons. This is the depression through which the Emmitsburg road passes. The objective of Pickett’s Charge was to go through this area to attack Cemetery Ridge. I could clearly see that this was a ridiculously long way for an army to charge a defensive position. It would be a long walk through open country to get from the Virginia Monument to Cemetery Ridge. Continuing along West Confederate Avenue I saw the State of Louisiana Monument (aka Spirit Triumphant) and then the Monument to the State of Mississippi. Then I came upon the Confederate Avenue Observation Tower which required a long climb up multiple sets of stairs for a view of the countryside.

Spangler's Spring

Spangler’s Spring

My final goal was to see Culp’s Hill. As I recall, to reach Culp’s Hill you need to go south on the Baltimore Pike and turn left onto Colgrove Avenue which has signs for Culp’s Hill. But before you reach Culp’s Hill you might encounter Spangler’s Spring, a natural spring that was used by Union and Confederate soldiers for drinking water during the battle for Culp’s Hill. This spring is now surrounded by a stone arch, a half circle handrail, and some steps down to a trickle of water along a stone floor.  There were a few Civil War re-enactors camped in the area and I had to wait for some other tourists to move away. They had a dog with them which may have drunk from the spring. Further along Slocum Avenue I saw many other monuments so I parked my car and took several photos of the larger and more interesting monuments. I must have seen hundreds of Civil War monuments that day and certainly had my fill of them! Eventually I came to Culp’s Hill which has its own observation tower and a parking area. It was easier to climb this observation tower but there wasn’t much to see except for the woods. I took some photos of the George Sears Greene Monument and found a trail down the hill through the woods which led to other small monuments. The very last monument I saw was the General Slocum Equestrian Statue on Slocum Avenue which I encountered on the road back to Baltimore Pike.

Culp's Hill

Culp’s Hill

Once back on Baltimore Pike which becomes Baltimore Street it was easy to drive north to my hotel, the 1863 Inn Of Gettysburg. I arrived there around 2:00 p.m. but check in was at 3:00 p.m. So after parking behind the hotel I went to the Jennie Wade House which is right next to the hotel. I discovered that to take the tour you need to enter the gift shop. You don’t try the front door or the side door to the kitchen. This may explain why I failed to find the place open on my previous trip. I was able to take the 2:15 p.m. tour but I had to spend 15 minutes in the gift shop. I didn’t see anything I particularly wanted to buy. The tour through the Jennie Wade House was led by a young woman in period costume. There were only two rooms downstairs including the kitchen and four bedrooms upstairs. The rooms upstairs all had low ceilings due to the pitched roof. I think there were two other rooms downstairs but they were on the other side of the house as it was a duplex. The tour ended in the basement where Georgia Anna Wade McClellan hid during the fighting. Apparently Jennie Wade’s corpse was kept there too for awhile.

After the Jennie Wade House tour it was 3:00 p.m. so I was able to check into my hotel. I was given two key cards for Room 250 which was on the second floor facing the back of the hotel. This was perfect considering where I parked. I was also given a parking pass to place on my dashboard so my car would not be towed away. There was a swimming pool at the back of the hotel which I had to pass on my way to my car. The first thing I did was lug my baggage into my room, one at a time since it wasn’t far. Then I used the bathroom and plugged in my camera battery charger to start charging my spare battery. But I didn’t stop to rest because I had a list of things to do in town.

First I went to the Sunset Ice Cream Parlor on Steinwehr Avenue because I was feeling a little hungry but did not want a full meal. I ordered three scoops of Rum Raisin ice cream which wasn’t wise since ice cream has a tendency to cause me gastric distress after a short while. After eating all that ice cream I went to The Crystal Wand, a New Age gift shop which I had neglected to visit on previous trips. New Age gift shops seem to be a thing in tourist towns like Jim Thorpe, New Hope, and Gettysburg but you don’t find them in other Pennsyltucky towns. I bought the book By Oak, Ash, and Thorn: Modern Celtic Shamanism by D.J. Conway because I’m very interested in shamanism. Celtic shamanism is probably entirely imaginary since I’m not sure that much is known about the Druids.

Since The Crystal Wand was almost right across the street from the 1863 Inn Of Gettysburg, it was easy to return to my hotel room to drop off the book. My next bit of shopping was even closer since the Irish Brigade Gift Shop is right next to the hotel. I bought the book Kelley’s Heroes: The Irish Brigade at Gettysburg by T.L. Murphy and a DVD, The Magical Legend of the Leprechauns. This is the gift shop were I saw photos of the Irish Brigade Monument for sale.

After leaving those purchases at the hotel I went out again and visited the Rupp House History Center which has free admission. There wasn’t much to see in this historic house except for two or three rooms which had a few exhibits. What was being shown was so slight that they probably can’t justify charging admission. I stuffed a dollar in the donation box anyway. I then walked all the way along Baltimore Street to Lincoln Square and then turned left onto Chambersburg Street to enter the Garryowen Irish Pub. I ordered a Magners Irish Cider which was $5.00 with a $1.00 tip. This is the same drink I had at O’Lunney’s Times Square Pub in New York City. It is not bad since it does not taste as bitter as beer. I just showed the bartender a photo of Magners Irish Cider on my smartphone to avoid having to pronounce “Magners”. I drank that as fast as possible and went to Gallery 30 on York Street where I bought the book Cain at Gettysburg by Ralph Peters. This is a novel to rival The Killer Angels. I’ve been reading The Killer Angels for the past few weeks while I researched my trip. Before going to Gallery 30 I checked out Nerd Herd Gifts and Games, also on York Street. I was a bit tempted by some of the Do It Yourself robot kits but they were expensive and I figured I would be kept busy experimenting with the Movidius Neural Compute Stick I had just received.

When I finally got back to my hotel room I did take a break and rested before the final activity of that busy day. At 7:15 p.m. I had a reservation at the Dobbin House Tavern for dinner in one of their dining rooms. I arrived there a little early at 7:00 p.m. so I went to the Soldier’s National Cemetery for a little while. I did take some excellent photos of the Friend to Friend Masonic Memorial which was lit in the strong light of the dying rays of the setting sun. At the Dobbin House Tavern I was led upstairs to dine by candlelight. All of the wait staff were dressed in period costumes. I ordered the Imperial Crab with baked potato which was very tasty and not too much to eat. Before that came I enjoyed some bread and a small salad. It was a slightly expensive meal and cost me over $40.00. That concluded the first day of my weekend trip. I think I accomplished quite a lot. I had run all over the battlefield to see countless monuments and I had entered various additional establishments in town.

 

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Fun Home At The Millbrook Playhouse

On August 3rd, 2017 I saw my third show at the Millbrook Playhouse in Mill Hall. This show was a musical based on the graphic novel Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. The interesting thing about this show is that the story is set in the same county as Mill Hall, Clinton County. Alison Bechdel grew up in the small town of Beech Creek. As it turns out, I have driven through Beech Creek on my way to Bald Eagle State Park. There is a quaint little restaurant in Beech Creek, Furst Corner Restaurant where I stopped for lunch once. Fun Home was a celebrated musical on Broadway. I saw it advertised at the Circle in the Square Theatre but neglected to see the show on Broadway.

There were a few aspects of the show which made reference to Central Pennsylvania. The song Flying Away actually uses the word “Pennsylvania” in the lyrics. The dialogue in the musical mentions Lock Haven, Danville, and Route 150. The  mention of Route 150 was very ironic for me because I actually took the wrong exit on the way to the theater, the Avis exit, and wound up on Route 150.

I don’t care that much for musicals but I enjoyed Fun Home because it was a serious drama which tackles some heavy issues. I don’t think this kind of show would normally be done at a summer stock theater, but obviously an exception was made for a celebrated Broadway show with a local connection. The dramatic content of the show concerned homosexuality which would normally be a taboo subject in Pennsyltucky. I have to admit that I’m getting a little peeved with the social justice agenda that is taking over the theater community. I think politics is beginning to outweigh the art. But I found nothing to object to in Fun Home since it was very high brow while containing many pop culture references I could relate to. This is as close as I will ever get to seeing a musical which reflects life in Central Pennsylvania during my approximate era of growing up. For this reason I was really taken with the show. I really regret not seeing it on Broadway when I had a chance.

I felt a little bit of jealousy as a playwright. I doubt that I will ever see one of my plays on Broadway. Nevertheless, as I was driving home I reflected on the blessing of my imagination which can so easily encompass the magic of live theater and expand upon it. I even came up with a new idea for the play I am working on. The protagonist ought to express his yearning for a devastatingly beautiful nightmare. There is something dark in his imagination but it has more to do with being serious or profound than being morbid.

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NYC Trip To See The Play That Goes Wrong

Yesterday I made a trip to New York City to see the Broadway comedy “The Play That Goes Wrong” at the Lyceum Theatre. My first goal on this trip was to visit the Society of Illustrators’ Museum of American Illustration or the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) which I did not have time to visit on my previous trip. But while I was in midtown I took photos of the Lyceum Theatre on West 45th Street, the BookOff book store also on West 45th Street, and the Lambs Club restaurant simply because I recently added it to my custom travel guide.

Lyceum Theatre

Lyceum Theatre

I walked to Bryant Park and entered the 42nd Street – Bryant Park Station to take an uptown F train to the Lexington Avenue – 63rd Street Station. The exit at the Lexington Avenue – 63rd Street Station was so close to the Society of Illustrators entrance that I didn’t even have to look for it and I went there immediately since they seemed to be open. I arrived only ten minutes after they opened. They were showing an exhibit of illustrations of imaginative literature from the Korshak Collection. This included a lot of fantasy illustrations and science fiction magazine cover art. I saw many genuinely fantastic and visionary images which made me glad that I decided to check out this small museum. Unfortunately most books published today are not illustrated but this exhibit reminded me that many old books were lavishly illustrated with incredible pen and ink drawings. It is a shame that this practice went out of style in book publishing. I saw a Frank Frazetta painting for an Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter of Mars book cover which reminded me of the Frazetta Art Museum. Upstairs I saw an exhibition of original Spider-Man comic book artwork which was probably inspired by the latest Spider-Man film. Even the rest room had some art work including a poster for a Eugene O’Neill play. On the third floor there was a dining room with more Spider-Man comic book artwork. I only spent a half hour at this museum because it was fairly small but I thought it was inspiring and worthwhile. I did not buy anything in the museum bookstore because I didn’t want to carry around a heavy book for the rest of the day. While I was in this area of the Upper East Side I also took photos of the Barbizon Hotel where Sylvia Plath stayed on her trip to New York City and the Park Avenue Armory which is now a non-profit cultural institution.

Society of Illustrators

Society of Illustrators

I think I took a F train for the return trip downtown. I also think this counted as a transfer since swiping my Metrocard did not indicate a fare reduction. I got out at the 42nd Street – Bryant Park Station and walked to West 45 Street. Fifth Avenue was blocked off for a huge street fair. I went to the BookOff book store which I added to my custom travel guide in 2013 but had neglected to visit until now. This book store is owned by a Japanese used-media market. They sell lots of Japanese books and anime DVDs. Their selection of used English books wasn’t very good but I did find a copy of Coastal Disturbances: Four Plays by Tina Howe which was on my wish list. I think Tina Howe is now teaching playwriting at Hunter College in New York City. Some of the announcements in the BookOff book store are made in Japanese.

The street fair on Fifth Avenue provided me with a convenient way to get a bite to eat before the play began at 2:00 p.m. I got a can of coke and a Turkish sausage which was like a hot dog in Russian salad (chopped vegetables in mayonnaise). I found a nearby public seating area with tables where I could eat my meal.

At 1:30 p.m. I got in the line at the Lyceum Theatre to see The Play That Goes Wrong. It only cost me $30.00 to see this Broadway play because I bought a seat for the balcony. This proved to be a bit of a mistake since the view of the stage wasn’t good and I couldn’t hear everything too well. The first thing that went wrong was finding my seat, B 108. It took me two tries to find the right seat because they didn’t all have numbers. Getting up to the balcony required climbing a seemingly endless flight of winding stairs. For some reason, nobody was seated in the front row of the balcony, the A seats.

Strangely, what caught my eye was a large Neo-Baroque piece of bronze statuary over the proscenium. This was a statue of three figures, maybe the Gods of Theater. The figures seemed to be based on classical Greek statues. The central figure was definitely Athena Parthenos with her distinctive helmet, spear, and a winged statue of Victory in her right hand. The figure to her left was holding a lyre. This stature loomed large right in front of me but it was buried in the shadows like the forgotten gods of the arts.

The play was a murder mystery in which everything that could go wrong did. The corpse periodically came to life when his hand was stepped on or his body was sat on. Parts of the set fell off the wall and had to be held up by the actors. I think they overdid it a little since something was constantly going wrong. But it was cute when one of the actors would clap with the audience when something went wrong, mistaking this for applause for a good performance. A scene was repeated three times and at one point two actresses were trying to perform the same part at the same time, fighting each other on stage for the spotlight. It was non stop mayhem and definitely one the funniest plays I’ve ever seen. Some of the action actually took place in one of the side balconies which was set up as the theater sound booth. I mistook this as an actual work area of the Lyceum Theatre and was wondering about the Duran Duran posters. Duran Duran was the favorite band of the sound technician for the pretend mystery play. The actor playing this part came up to the balcony and entertained us during intermission with some inspired improvisation. He claimed we could avoid seeing the awful second act by going to another Broadway theater to see the second act of some other show. There were many jokes about this show not being Hamilton.

Chelsea Market

Chelsea Market

After the show my next goal was to visit the Chelsea Market. Although I’ve seen the Chelsea Market on previous visits and photographed the exterior, for some reason it never occurred to me to actually go inside. But there is a book store in the Chelsea Market and various places to eat. To get there I walked to 42nd Street and entered the subway entrance across from the Port Authority Bus Terminal. I took a downtown C train to the 14th Street Station. I took several photos of the subway entrances on 8th Avenue and West 14th Street because this is an useful stop if you are visiting the High Line or Whitney Museum of American Art. I’ve definitely been there before but did not have any good photos to use in my custom travel guide. I found the Chelsea Market extremely crowded. Eventually I located Posman Books way in the back. This small book store was also extremely crowded. They had a very small selection of plays and poetry. I could not find any books on my shopping list but I finally found the bookshelf for science fiction where I found the book The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks, one of his famous Culture novels. I had diner at Friedman’s Lunch where I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich and a lemonade. The grilled cheese sandwich was one of the best such sandwiches I’ve ever had. I found it on an online menu; Grilled Cheese Sandwich Lunch Bacon, aged Gruyere, white cheddar and caramelized onions on grilled ciabatta. Ciabatta is a form of Italian white bread with large holes. It is crunchier than soft white bread. This was a fancy grilled cheese sandwich!

I had no other plans beyond Chelsea Market so I wandered up Eighth Avenue and located the Atlantic Theater Company and Joyce Theater to take photos of their exteriors. Then I walked all the way uptown along 8th Avenue just to see what was on this one street. I passed Madison Square Garden and eventually found an Art Deco building on 8th Avenue and West 38th Street which I photographed extensively because it is of some architectural interest according to a web site of obscure NYC attractions.

This trip to New York City was more inspiring than my last trip. I needed some inspiration after a disappointing rejection of my AI play which I was so sure would have been accepted. I was considering taking a new track to literary fame, maybe concentrating on the sonnet. But this just brings me back to an essential problem. Nothing I could create would really satisfy me. Getting a sonnet published would strike me as a minor accomplishment, yet how much time would  it take to achieve that? On every trip to New York City I hope to discover something that will change my life but nothing ever does. But maybe reading the books I bought or finding out more about the artists who created the illustrations I saw will lead to something.

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Second Trip to Gettysburg

Yesterday I made my second trip to Gettysburg, just one week after my first trip. On this trip my goal was to see the Gettysburg National Military Park and more of the battlefield.

I left later than I intended after 8:00 a.m. and did not reach Gettysburg until 11:30 a.m. Along the way I stopped at a Sheetz near Duncannon for a restroom break and an used bookstore in Enola PA. Enola is a suburb of Harrisburg near Marysville on Route 15. Most drivers avoid this part of Route 15 but I follow it just to keep my driving directions simple. Norfolk Southern operates a large rail yard and locomotive shop in Enola. The used book store was Cupboard Maker Books. I think I remember visiting this book store on one of my previous trips to Harrisburg. I looked for some science fiction books but I could not remember the names of the authors I’m interested in so I have to add them to my shopping list on my smartphone. But I did find a copy of The Heidi Chronicles by Wendy Wasserstein which was on my shopping list. I wasn’t sure if anything was going to make this trip particularly worthwhile so I was pleased to have at least found a book I was looking for.

Cupboard Maker Books

Cupboard Maker Books

When I reached Gettysburg I took the Baltimore Street exit to go directly to Gettysburg National Military Park instead of going through town. I parked in Parking Lot 3 as recommended by a digital sign which told visitors which lot to use. Parking Lot 3 was almost full of cars but I beat somebody to a parking spot. I was surprised to find the Gettysburg National Military Park so crowded since it was a cloudy day and not an ideal time to visit the battlefield. Fortunately it was only a short walk to the museum and visitor center.

I bought a combo ticket to the film “A New Birth of Freedom”, the Gettysburg Cyclorama, and the Gettysburg Museum of the Civil War for $12.25 and a Battlefield Bus Tour ticket for $30.00 but my sales receipt shows a total of only $42.00 for some reason. I accidentally dropped my bus tour ticket near the rifle display case while tying my shoe but fortunately I noticed it was missing in the line for the film and managed to retrieve it before anyone picked it up off the floor. Good save! I only had time to see the film and the cyclorama before it was time for the bus tour. Actually I had a half hour to kill before the bus tour. It was not enough time to go through the museum so I went to the book store to see what sort of books they had for sale. I located a few books I might want to buy but I didn’t buy anything then because I didn’t want to be carrying anything around the battlefield.

Gettysburg National Military Park

Gettysburg National Military Park

I almost missed the bus tour because I was waiting outside the book store. That is where the buses drop you back off. There is a bus shelter in Parking Lot 2 where the buses depart from, not far from the main entrance kiosk slash message board. I think the Battlefield Bus Tour does not have a set route. What you will see is determined by the professional battlefield guide. Our guide was a Gettysburg former history teacher so she really knew her stuff. She took us to McPherson Ridge where the battle began, the Virginia Memorial with a huge equestrian monument to General Robert E. Lee, Little Round Top where it began to rain a bit, and the Peach Orchard where she talked about General Sickles. We did not leave the bus for photo taking opportunities at every stop; only at McPherson Ridge, the Virginia Monument, and Little Round Top. I was disappointed that we only drove by the Pennsylvania State Memorial and The Angle but I noted how close those sites were to the Soldiers’ National Cemetery parking lot.

After being dropped off outside the Gettysburg National Military Park book store I went back inside to see the Gettysburg Museum of the Civil War. I had a little trouble finding my ticket but nobody was checking for tickets anyway. I saw many display cases of Civil War artifacts but I did not bother to watch most of the videos. The museum was ridiculously crowded. It took me almost an hour to get through the museum. After that I went back to the book store and bought the book The Civil War by Bruce Catton. This is a single volume general history of the entire Civil War. I figured this was a good book to read next because I’m still vague on the causes for the war and how it continued after the Battle of Gettysburg.

I left the Gettysburg National Military Park visitor center and museum around 4:00 p.m. which left me two hours to possibly drive around the battlefield. I was particularly interested in seeing the Pennsylvania State Memorial and The Angle and had a good idea where to find them after the Battlefield Bus Tour. However many of the battlefield roads are one way so it proved to be a little tricky to get there. I think I drove up Taneytown Road from the visitor center and drove through the Soldiers’ National Cemetery parking lot expecting to turn left onto Hancock Avenue. But Hancock Avenue is one way and you can’t go down that way. So I had to drive down Steinwehr Avenue which becomes Emmitsburg Road to United States Avenue. Then I made to mistake of taking Sickles Avenue which only led me back to Emmitsburg Road. I made a left onto United States Avenue again and went further to Hancock Avenue. I did see a large group of Confederate soldier re-enactors along United States Avenue. By driving north on Hancock Avenue I was finally able to reach the Pennsylvania State Memorial, one of the largest monuments on the battlefield. There is an observation deck in this monument but you need to climb a narrow flight of curving stairs to reach it. There was barely enough space for someone going up to pass another person going down. There were a lot of people there so I had to squeeze past several people before reaching the observation deck. After seeing the Pennsylvania State Memorial I proceeded to The Angle which is the furthest point that Pickett’s Charge reached, aka the High Water Mark. This is where Brigadier General Lewis Armistead fell in battle. Lewis Armistead was played by Richard Jordan in the 1993 film Gettysburg. He was one of my favorite characters. I took some photos of the monument which marks where he was mortally wounded.

Pennsylvania State Memorial

Pennsylvania State Memorial

I did not attempt to explore more of the battlefield because it was getting late. You aren’t supposed to be on the battlefield after 6:00 p.m. and it was 5:00 p.m. by then. Clearly I need to study the maps and roads before my next trip on August 5th and 6th. I still want to see Little Round Top, the Devil’s Den, and maybe the Virginia Memorial in better light.

Gettysburg Battlefield Monument

Gettysburg Battlefield Monument

I drove to the end of Hancock Avenue and turned right to park in the Soldiers’ National Cemetery parking lot. This parking lot is far from downtown Gettysburg but it is  convenient for free parking if you don’t mind walking. I walked down Taneytown Road to Steinwehr Avenue looking for a place to eat. I was thinking maybe O’Rorke’s Family Eatery but then I saw Gettysburg Eddie’s on Steinwehr Avenue and decided to give that restaurant a try even though it was not in my notes. This proved to be a good choice. Their food was excellent and reasonably priced. The portions were unexpectedly large so you definitely don’t want to order too much. I had the Supreme Nachos and the Deep Dish Apple Crisp. The Supreme Nachos was a huge pile of taco meat, lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers on nachos. It was too much for me to finish even though I was famished. The Deep Dish Apple Crisp came in a huge glass and could have been a meal in itself. But the entire meal cost me less than $25.00. I saw a group of Civil War re-enactors at this restaurant. There were several men dressed as Union generals and one women wearing a dress with a huge hoop skirt. Their costumes were very high quality and looked totally authentic. I like to joke that these people are just more tourists, time travelers. After that heavy meal I went to the souvenir shop next door and bought a Union kepi hat for $20.00.

I then walked all the way to Lincoln Square in downtown Gettysburg and entered the Gallery 30 store on York Street. I was tempted to buy another book but I figured I had spent enough this day. I am also buying more books that I could ever read. On the way back to the car I had to enter the Soldier’s National Cemetery to use the restroom because that heavy meal was running right though me. As long as I was there, I took the opportunity to photograph all the monuments in Soldier’s National Cemetery in the dying sunlight. In particular I saw the Soldiers National Monument gleaming white in the slanting rays of the setting sun.

Instead of driving though town, I went down Taneytown Road until I was able to get on Route 15 North. I stopped off at the Sheetz in Duncannon to fill up on gas but mostly just to get a receipt that showed where it was located. There was supposed to be a thunderstorm that day but it really didn’t rain much until late in the evening as I was a driving home and even that wasn’t much of a storm. But I did not get home until 9:40 p.m. Still, I was pleased that I managed to spend as much time in Gettysburg as possible on a day trip. On my overnight trip in two weeks I will now have more time to drive around the battlefield. I will also have more time to check out the retail establishments and minor museums.

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Trip To Gettysburg

On Saturday, July 15, 2017 I made my first trip to Gettysburg PA. Gettysburg is two and a half hours from Williamsport so it is not that far away but I don’t like driving south on Route 15. That highway along the Susquehanna River is very boring with few landmarks. I left Williamsport around 7:00 a.m. and arrived in Gettysburg by 9:30 a.m. I parked in the Racehorse Alley Parking Garage. It cost me $10.00 to park there for the day. I parked in the spot numbered 340 which I then had to input into the electronic parking meter near the pedestrian exit. It would not accept cash.

My goal on this trip was to explore the town. I did not visit the battlefield because I plan to make an overnight trip to Gettysburg on August 5th, leaving August 6th. I will have more time to explore the Gettysburg Battlefield on that trip. I am still in the process of creating a custom travel guide for Gettysburg so this was like a scouting party trip to gather intelligence. I took lots of photos to use in my travel guide. The first things I saw were the Lincoln Diner and the Majestic Theater. After walking to Lincoln Square I went down Chambersburg Street where I found the Garryowen Irish Pub. After crossing the street I photographed The Parrot and the James Gettys Hotel.

Chambersburg Street

Chambersburg Street

I then walked far down Baltimore Street. There were several establishments I wanted to photograph along this street because the retail stores are not well documented online. I found The Antique Center of Gettysburg and Ping’s Cafe and many other establishments which I haven’t even added to my notes yet. Eventually I made it all the way to where Baltimore Street branches off to Steinwehr Avenue. This area was of particular interest since I have a reservation at the 1863 Inn Of Gettysburg for my overnight trip. I made sure to photograph the Irish Brigade Gift Shop, the Blue and Gray Gift Shop, and Rita’s Ice Custard Happiness which are all located near the hotel. I think I tried to visit the Jennie Wade House at this point but they did not appear to be open even though they should have been open since 9:00 a.m.

The third substantial retail street in Gettysburg is Steinwehr Avenue so I walked far down that street next. I passed the Sunset Ice Cream Parlor which was of some interest since they are based in Williamsport. I also saw the Dobbin House Tavern. I went pass Tommy’s Pizza and the Gettysburg Diorama History Center. I walked as far as the Lincoln Train Museum next to the Best Western hotel before crossing the street to visit the Gettysburg Heritage Center.

Gettysburg Heritage Center

Gettysburg Heritage Center

The Gettysburg Heritage Center was the first establishment I entered during my trip. It was a small museum with very few artifacts or exhibits. But it did have several videos to watch with some 3D photos and 3D videos. Admission was only $8.95 and that was reasonable given how little there was to see. I saw a short film in their movie theater which played before a sunken area filled with dummies of Civil War soldiers in a battle scene. The gift shop had an impressive collection of books on the Civil War and Abraham Lincoln. I bought the book Guide to the Battle of Gettysburg: Second Edition, Revised and Expanded which is actually a guide to the Gettysburg National Military Park. I’m not terribly interested in the Civil War but I did see the 1993 film Gettysburg and found it strangely inspiring.

After leaving the Gettysburg Heritage Center I found my way to the nearby Soldier’s National Cemetery where there were a few huge monuments to see. I also found the Lincoln Address Memorial. I hadn’t actually researched this cemetery so I was pleased that I managed to just stumble across what was to be seen there. I walked back up Steinwehr Avenue and stopped off at Sunset Ice Cream Parlor where I ordered two scoops of coffee ice cream in a cup.

I then walked all the way back to Lincoln Square and dropped off the book in my car which was stilled parked in the Racehorse Alley Parking Garage. I stopped in at the Gettysburg Railroad Station which has a small museum and a tiny gift shop. I was then ready for lunch so I went to The Parrot on Chambersburg Street where I ordered a Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwich. It came with a small cup of coleslaw, some potato chips, and a dill pickle. The potato chips were  small but surprisingly good so I ate all of them first.

Return Visit Lincoln Statue

Return Visit Lincoln Statue

After lunch I circled Lincoln Square and found the cheesy Return Visit sculpture of Abraham Lincoln guiding a tourist. But my major objective was to walk along York Street and photograph all the establishments to be found there. I was surprised to come across the Gettysburg Community Theatre because I had not come across any references to it in my research. It is possible that this is not a genuine community theater. The sidewalk sandwich board was advertising Civil War Voices which sounds like a permanent show intended as a tourist attraction. But after looking at their web site it appears to be a legitimate community theater.

My stroll along York Street concluded my exploration of the downtown area so I ventured to enter a few more establishments. First I tried the Antique Center of Gettysburg, one of those antique malls with glass cases for various antique vendors. Most of the antiques were military memorabilia but there was also a good selection of military books. I’m not really into military stuff so I didn’t find anything I was tempted to buy. I went upstairs but I only found one room with a small amount of goods for sale. It was like an empty apartment up there and not worth climbing the steep steps.

Next I visited the Gettysburg Museum of History which was a free museum on Baltimore Street. This museum was essentially a residential house jam packed with some surprisingly high quality artifacts. Most of the artifacts were military in nature but not exclusively from the Civil War. I also saw plenty of Nazi and World War II artifacts. There was even an Egyptian mummy’s head and a room of John F. Kennedy memorabilia. I had to wonder if all this stuff was authentic but it looked pretty real. I put $5.00 in the donation box since this free museum did not disappoint. It was definitely worth visiting.

The final museum I went to was the Shriver House Museum. This was a private house where Confederate sharpshooters holed up during the Battle of Gettysburg. In the gift shop I paid $8.95 for a tour of the house led by an elderly woman in period costume. She led a large group of tourists through the rooms of the house. It was a little crowded. We visited the parlor, the bedrooms, the sitting room, the attic, and the basement saloon. After the tour was over I went back to the gift shop and bought a small metal replica of a Civil War rifle which made for a good souvenir.

After that I walked way up Baltimore Street and entered the Blue and Gray Gift Shop. They were mostly selling t-shirts although I saw a few swords which may have made a nice gift, but they were a bit expensive. I didn’t really find anything to buy there. So I walked even further along Baltimore Street until I reached the Soldier’s National Cemetery. There I noticed many Civil War monuments across the street on Cemetery Hill. I crossed the street and checked out the canons and monuments on Cemetery Hill. This was the only part of the Gettysburg Battlefield I actually saw on this trip. I also noticed the Evergreen Cemetery across the street where I quickly found Jennie Wade’s grave because there was a family of tourists around it. I was quite pleased to have found that without having done the necessary research to locate it. I wandered around Evergreen Cemetery a bit because it had many fancy tombstones and interesting graves. It was quite similar to many other Pennsylvania cemeteries which I have visited. Most of them have at least one Civil War monument. I used the rest room in the nearby Soldier’s National Cemetery.

Cemetery Hill

Cemetery Hill

By this time I was getting very hot so I went back up Baltimore Street and bought an Italian Ice at Rita’s Ice Custard Happiness across from the 1863 Inn Of Gettysburg. I then slowly walked back to Lincoln Square and returned to my car. There I discovered that I had left my car window down the entire time I was exploring Gettysburg. I wasn’t sure if I had actually left my driver side window down, but I suppose I did, expecting to get a parking ticket like they issue in Williamsport’s Church Street Garage.

Overall Gettysburg is a great little town for the tourist. I would put it with Jim Thorpe and New Hope as one of the best tourist destinations in Pennsylvania. Like those towns it was a bit too crowded with tourists to qualify as a typical small Pennsylvanian town, but the advantage is that there is more to do there.

I plan to concentrate on the Gettysburg Battlefield during my overnight trip in August. I will head straight to the Gettysburg National Military Park and maybe take a bus tour. Maybe I will be able to find something to do Saturday evening. Meanwhile I am reading the novel The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara at work during my lunch breaks. I can read a chapter a day. The novel is virtually a novelization of the 1993 film Gettysburg because the film used all of the dialogue and even some text which is not dialogue in the book.

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Trip To Altoona Pennsylvania

Yesterday I made a day trip to another city in Pennsylvania, Altoona. Altoona is most famous as a railroad town. But is also has a connection with Williamsport as being the birthplace of the science fiction writer H. Beam Piper who eventually moved to Williamsport. Although Altoona is only a two hour drive from Williamsport, I have never visited this city before because I have concentrated more on exploring the eastern half of the state.

I recently bought a dashcam to get some video of the road signs but I didn’t actually record any video because I didn’t study how to use it. I was hoping to get some screen captures to update my driving direction notes. Fortunately I didn’t have too much trouble finding my way around on this trip. I did drive past State College and appreciated the scenic views of the Bald Eagle Valley at the foot of the Bald Eagle Mountain ridge.

I arrived in Altoona at 9:00 a.m., the opening time for the Railroaders Memorial Museum. I saw a short film on the Horseshoe Curve and then saw the exhibits on all three floors of the museum. I also went outside to see the Harry Bennett Memorial Roundhouse. It started to rain then but fortunately it was just a few sprinkles. I found the exit to the walkway around the turntable and bridge. There were many railroad cars in the rolling stock area, some of them badly deteriorating. The Railroaders Memorial Museum reminded me of Steamtown in Scranton. I spent almost an hour and a half at the museum and then drove out to the Horseshoe Curve. I followed the directions on a sheet of paper the museum provides instead of my own directions. The directions were a little complicated but there were some small signs pointing in the right direction at key intersections. It took me approximately 15 minutes to drive out to the Horseshoe Curve. There was some road work going on which reduced traffic to one lane.

Horseshoe Curve was awesome! It was definitely the highlight of my trip. The trackside observation park affords a great view of the valley and mountains. I thought it was very scenic and you would almost want to visit the park just for the view. But the main attraction is the freight trains which go around the curve. There seems to be a train every half hour so you might have a bit of a wait. I should have brought a book along to read. There was a locomotive parked alongside the tracks in its own little fenced in piece of railroad track. I stayed at the Horseshoe Curve for about an hour and only saw two trains; two attached locomotives running alone and a long freight train. You can take the funicular or the steps up to the observation park from the visitor center. I took the funicular to get up there but I took the steps to get back down. The visitor center has a gift shop and a small exhibit area. I did notice one tour bus drop off a load of tourists so some bus companies must include the Horseshoe Curve on their trips.

Horseshoe Curve

Horseshoe Curve

After leaving the Horseshoe Curve I drove back to downtown Altoona but it was a little difficult to find my way. I wasn’t quite sure where to park without getting towed but eventually I parked near the foot bridge across the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks that run south of the downtown area. I left my Railroaders Memorial Museum guidebook visible on my dashboard to make it clear that I was a tourist. While walking across the foot bridge I managed to take a few photos of trains going through the city. Apparently these railroad tracks still get a lot of traffic.

Altoona Mural

Altoona Mural

I wandered around downtown Altoona taking photos of everything in sight because this city is poorly documented in photos on the Internet. The downtown did show signs of economic distress with many boarded up storefronts and empty lots. There was not much retail and few restaurants. It was also fairly deserted, like a ghost town. But I took photos of many landmarks like the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, the Mishler Theatre, the Altoona Community Theatre building next to Tom and Joe’s Diner, and the Texas Hot Dogs restaurant which was closed because the owners were on vacation.

Eventually I walked up 12th Street to 16th Avenue, an steep uphill climb. It started to rain as I was climbing the hill and I got slightly drenched but fortunately it did not last long. I forgot to bring my umbrella. After reaching 16th Avenue I walked downhill on 16th Avenue to reach Fairview Cemetery behind the UPMC Altoona hospital. I guess it is kind of convenient having a cemetery right behind a hospital for the patients who don’t make it. Fairview Cemetery is where the science fiction writer H. Beam Piper is buried. Fortunately I did not have to search the entire cemetery for his tombstone because I found a clue to its exact location online and you can even see it using Google Street View. It is in the front of the cemetery closer to the intersection of Willow Avenue and 5th Street, so basically on the far right corner of the cemetery facing the hospital. The Fairview Cemetery was a bit creepy even in the bright sunshine and seemed a bit neglected. The grass was not cut and H. Beam Piper’s tombstone was obscured by wild flowers. I had to tramp then down a little to take photos. Somebody had placed one of his Ace SciFi paperback books beside his tombstone. It was missing its cover and was soggy and deteriorating. I thought it was a  fitting symbol of what time does to an author’s work. I have only read one of his novels, The Cosmic Computer, and quite frankly I did not care for it. It seemed very dated and focused too much on mundane world building based closely on the contemporary economic and political systems. I was amused by the term “computerman” as a variation of “spaceman”. The author also predicted a computer which achieves artificial intelligence would still be using punched tape as its output. Well technically H. Beam Piper’s grave was visited by a computerman from the future, the year 2017,  since I work as a computer programmer.

H. Beam Piper Tombstone

H. Beam Piper Tombstone

I took some photos of the UPMC Altoona hospital after walking down 4th Street back to Chestnut Avenue. I had lunch at Dickey’s Barbeque Pit. I thought this was a local restaurant but it is actually part of a national chain based in Dallas Texas. I think there was some confusion over what I was ordering because I only got a Just the Pork sandwich and a Big Yellow Cup when I thought I ordered the Classic Sandwich Plate. Fortunately they had some sandwich fixings so I could add special sauce, onions, and pickles to my sandwich. I used the restroom before I left because the sandwich was very greasy.

After finding 11th Avenue I stopped in at the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art where I saw three exhibits; Kim Williams: View to the Soul, Tim Boyles: Celebrity Status, and William H. Rau: Openings – Urban, Rural, Rail. It was mostly celebrity photos and old railroad photos. According to Wikipedia, William Herman Rau was an American photographer best known for his panoramic photographs of sites along the Pennsylvania Railroad. These photos were in a darkened gallery whose lights only went on if you entered the galley, possibly a novel way to cut down on light damage.

Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art

Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art

Upon leaving the art museum I wandered around downtown which was mostly deserted. There were some signs of attempted urban renewal along with indications of urban decay. I saw a fancy Veterns Mall and a great mural of the city’s heyday as a major railroad city. I might have wandered a bit further but the sky had darkened and there was a clear threat of a thunderstorm. I did get some final photos of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament which was brilliantly light by the sun against a background of dark clouds. I got at least one great shot before scurrying to my car to beat the rain.

Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament

Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament

Before heading home I did drive to the Logan Town Centre shopping plaza to visit Barnes & Noble. This is practically the only book store in the entire Altoona metropolitan area. I had to wait until a heavy downpour from the thunderstorm had passed before going inside. I bought the book The Children of Odin: Nordic Gods and Heroes by Padraic Colum because I’m not very familiar with Scandanavian mythology.

There does not appear to be enough attractions in the Altoona area to justify another visit but I should probably return to State College after doing more research.

 

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Review of Sweat by Lynn Nottage

On Saturday, June 24, 2017 I saw the Broadway production of Sweat by Lynn Nottage at Studio 54. Although Studio 54 was an infamous disco nightclub in the late 1970s, it is now a Broadway theater managed by the Roundabout Theatre Company.

Studio 54

Studio 54

Sweat is most significant play I have ever seen. It is the only play which directly addresses the most important concern of my life, which has been finding decent employment. The play was set in Reading PA, a rust belt city in Pennsylvania which is probably very similar to Williamsport PA. I’ve never been to Reading PA but it is on my list of cities in the state that I plan to visit. Reading PA has a bad reputation for being one of the worst cities in the state. Apparently the city has such a terrible reputation that it attracted the attention of the playwright, Lynn Nottage, who wanted to write a play about industrial decline and its effects upon the working class. Reading PA is just one of many cities in Pennsylvania which have been economically distressed for decades.

The play is essentially a documentary on how NAFTA caused the factories to close down as production moved to Mexico. This also occurred in Williamsport and caused my younger brother to lose his factory job. I have personally never worked in a factory. I eventually found a decent job as a computer programmer and web developer.

Sweat is definitely the sort of play I should have written. I’m a bit jealous that somebody else wrote the definitive play on union busting and factory closings, but we should be grateful that such a play exists at all. It will be very interesting to see if any regional theaters choose to do this play now that its Broadway run has ended. Typically we could expect the Suzanne Roberts Theatre in Philadelphia to do this play since they always include last year’s Pulitzer Prize play in their season. I was looking at the list of Pulitzer Prize plays and noticed that it was identical to the performance history of the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. That is one way to play it safe!

However, this play addresses some controversial issues like union busting, racism, and economic inequality. Sweat will put the commitment of Pennsylvania’s regional theaters to their community to the test. In Williamsport it would definitely require some bravery to include this play in a season because there is a lot of hostility towards unions and working class radicalism even though most of the town’s conservatives are mired in hopeless poverty and bitch endlessly about how there are no decent jobs. These people simply aren’t interested in giving any serious thought to the root of their problems.

But technically this play merely holds up a mirror to the working class and tells us that it sucks to be you. This is the problem with the documentary approach to playwriting. I think there are three possible approaches that a political play can take; the documentary approach, the entertainment approach which merely distracts or comforts us, and the visionary approach. The visionary approach is the one I favor because I think stories should suggest solutions to our problems. The only purpose for our imagination is to run through scenarios, to think about how things could change for us, to dream about how things could be better. Ultimately we will not value any story which does not show us how to handle difficult situations. I think this is why stories about overcoming obstacles without cheating are so popular. There has been a considerable amount of research into the psychology of story in narrative and cognitive theory which suggests that this is why we are “wired for story” as Lisa Cron puts it in her book on writing, Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence. Our brains have evolved to appreciate stories because it allows us to learn from the mistakes and successes of others. Stories actually have significant value for our survival. Certainly an instructive story on how to meet the challenges of a bad economy would have survival value.

Sweat doesn’t give you any useful suggestions about what to do when your factory closes. It does show the effects this has on a community. It drives many people into drug addiction which we can certainly see with the opioid epidemic that has reached a crisis point. And it drives other people into a life of crime although the only crime committed in this play was the beating of a Latino scab. The play did do an excellent job of demonstrating how people from different ethnic backgrounds were being pitted against each other. The Latino community was being excluded from factory work until the bosses used them to replace the more highly paid, long term workers.

Some of the characters seem a little responsible for their own plight. The play does not try to avoid these character flaws. One worker dismisses the idea of returning to school to learn new skills and another admits to not having any imagination. These are people who have seen factories as the only kind of work to get into for their entire lives. When the factories close down they just don’t know what else to do. Information Technology offers high paying jobs in an office environment but many people have trouble seeing themselves doing this kind of work. This is why I think the visionary mindset is key to dealing with fundamental changes to your ecosystem. When your circumstance change significantly you need to change yourself significantly. You need to transcend your tired and worn out patterns of thinking and see yourself doing something radically different. And this is why we need visionary theater to entice us with dreams of a better outcome.

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Sweating In New York City

I made yet another trip to New York City yesterday to see a play on Broadway. I was a bit surprised to find the Susquehanna Buses in bright new colors with advertising for Bucknell University. It must be part of a new business relationship. On the bus ride to New York City I read the science fiction novel “More Than Human” by Theodore Sturgeon on my Kindle. I finally finished reading it on the ride home. On this trip the bus did leave us off in the vicinity of 51st Street and 8th Avenue like it was supposed to. It left us off directly across from One Worldwide Plaza on West 50th Street and 8th Avenue. I decided to walk north to West 54th Street to take some photos of Studio 54 since that was the theater where I would see the play Sweat, by Lynn Nottage. While I was in the area I also located a few establishments of minor interest. I took photos of Uncle Vanya Cafe, a Russian restaurant, and Old Castle Pub and Restaurant, also on West 54th Street. I was not particularly interested in these restaurants, but they make good landmarks along the street. Uncle Vanya Cafe was closed and shuttered so I had to go back later to take some decent photos of the place. I imagine this is where Donald Trump’s Russian contacts pass along information.

My first goal was to visit the Met Breuer. This is a contemporary art museum located in the same building that used to be the home of the Whitney Museum of American Art. The Met Breuer is associated with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and shows work from their contemporary art collections. I was aware of the fact that the Whitney Museum of American Art was no longer located there, but I did not realize the building had been re-purposed.

Met Breuer is located on the Upper East Side and getting there required a more efficient use of the subway system. First I walked to the 57 Street Station of the N line. These stations are located in the vicinity of Carnegie Hall. I took a N train up to the 59th Street Station Lexington Avenue station where I transferred to the 6 train. This shows a more sophisticated use of the subway system since my previous way of doing things would have required walking many blocks east to a 6 line station. I was a little bit thrown by the Astoria Ditmars reference which is the last stop in Queens. I took the 6 train to 77 Street Station near Lenox Hill Hospital. I’m still a little confused by the streets in the Upper East Side but fortunately I struck off in the right direction, walking past the Lenox Hill Hospital and crossed Park Avenue to reach Madison Avenue.

I paid $20.00 admission for the Met Breuer even though the suggested admission is $25.00. But I do not regret that because half the museum was closed. By rights, I should have only paid $10.00, $5.00 for each floor, because only two floors of exhibits were open. The Met Breuer has got to be one of the worst art museums I have ever wasted good money on. Only the American Folk Art Museum is possibly as bad. Most of the art work I saw was incredibly bad. The sort of thing you could produce yourself. I’m talking grids penciled onto a sheet of paper using a ruler and pictures of one or two squares and black lines. I’ve seen better artwork done by high school students. But to be precise, the two exhibits I saw were The Body Politic, art house videos from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Lygia Pape: A Multitude of Forms. The videos were all dreadfully boring loops except for Mika Rottenberg’s NoNoseKnows (2015) which was very surreal and compelling.  Set in China, the film shows dominatrix Bunny Glamazon riding a scooter past endless beige apartment towers. She walks through an office building where large soap bubbles float mysteriously in the air until she arrives at her workstation where she appears to work smelling flower arrangements for fragrance quality control. After that, things get even weirder. This video runs for 22 minutes but I only watched part of it.

Met Breuer

Met Breuer

Lygia Pape was a Brazilian artist active in the Concrete and Neo-Concrete Movement during the 1950s and 1960s. Talk about an obscure artist! Still I would have been more curious about this example of international art if it had been any good. But the only interesting thing I saw was TtEias (1979), nine semi-transparent prisms, which were created using gold thread. I thought this was an enchanting work which seemed to capture the beauty of rays of light shining from the heavens, like when you see rays from the sun reach down to the earth from a cloudy sky. You might say I got something from my visit to Met Breuer, but I was so disappointed that I didn’t buy anything from the museum store, which didn’t have a very good selection of art books or merchandise anyway.

I retraced my previous steps on the subway system to get back downtown. I did have to put another $20 on my Metrocard. I took the N train all the way to 42nd Street – Times Square because I wanted to visit the Drama Book Shop before seeing the play. The Drama Book Shop was coming up a lot in my continuing research on New York City because it plays a big part in the life of playwrights in the city. I bought two books there; The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht and Dionysian Magazine 003. Dionysian Magazine is a literary magazine devoted to playwrights. It appears to have been founded by a somewhat successful actor as an ingenious bit of marketing. I don’t have all the details so it seems a little strange that an actor would want to promote playwriting in its literary form.

After doing that little bit of shopping I wanted to get back to the vicinity of West 54th Street so I would be on time for the play. I took the C train to the 50th Street Station. It seemed like I waited an unusually long time for a C train to show up at the 42nd Street – Times Square station. It may have been one of those frequent delays that everyone is complaining about. I had time to sign onto the free WiFi and download the Weekender MTA app. I made it uptown a little before 1:00 p.m. I know the time because I tried to get a bite to eat at Merilu Pizza Al Metro but I was a little early. They don’t open until 1:00 p.m. and I had to walk around the neighborhood for awhile. This is when I went back to Uncle Vanya Cafe to take a better photo. At Merilu Pizza Al Metro I ordered a slice of white pizza, actually two square slices, and a can of coke for $6.00. This is now my go to place for an inexpensive meal.

Soon it was time for the main attraction of my trip, the Broadway play Sweat by Lynn Nottage st Studio 54. This play was so significant that I will write a more detailed review in my next blog post. I want to give this play a detailed analysis and give my thoughts on what the play represents in the history of great theater. But I will describe the experience of seeing another Broadway production. The set design was rather impressive and featured some video projection and a revolving stage set which did not require many set changes for new scenes. A very realistic bar was the main set for most of the action. This reminded me of the play Daphne’s Dive by Quiara Alegría Hudes which also took place in a neighborhood bar. Both plays featured a multiracial cast and there was similar dancing and political content. I’m beginning to notice a peculiar Broadway acting style with feet braced far apart and rapid fire dialogue projected towards the audience. This makes the character seem unnaturally self-assertive. I grabbed my Playbill program from a pile at the head of the aisle since I didn’t see anyone handing them out. I always keep my theater programs and add them to my collection. Some of the audience members behind me got to talking to each other during the 15 minute intermission and I learned that one was from Reading PA, her home town, and the other was a young black woman from Boston who was an aspiring playwright. She made a special trip to see this play because she found it inspirational that a black woman could get a play done on Broadway. I have to admit that I had trouble keeping myself from dozing off. I had already read the play so I didn’t need to pay close attention. As I mentioned previously, I will review the play later because it deserves a considerable amount of commentary.

Studio 54

Studio 54

After the play was over I was planning on visiting the Society of Illustrators, a museum dedicated to cartoonists, comic book artists, and other illustrators. But unfortunately the play ran longer than I expected so I did not have time for that. The play ended at 4:15 p.m. and the Society of Illustrators closes at 5:00 p.m. so I really didn’t have time considering I would have to take the subway up to the Upper East Side again. I also had a reservation for a Greek restaurant at 5:30 p.m. So instead of visiting that museum I walked to Central Park and explored West 59th Street. I didn’t actually go into Central Park. I did see the restored Sherman Memorial which now appears bright gold. And I saw the Paris Can Wait movie theater which had a long line. I guess it is movie goers and not Paris which can wait there. Nearby I saw Joan Miro’s “Moonbird” sculpture (1966), located on the plaza of the Solow Building. While wandering around the neighborhood, waiting for Molyvos to open, I walked past Trump Tower. I could see some heavily armed police officers inside but 5th Avenue did not appear to be blocked off.

For dinner, I went to a Greek restaurant, Molyvos, located on the ground floor of Hotel Wellington. This restaurant is very close to Carnegie Hall. I ordered the Moussaka and a glass of wine. Moussaka is a dish of eggplant and spice ground lamb with a top layer made of milk-based sauce thickened with egg. I was expecting a large dish based on some photos I found online but in fact the serving pan was only the size of a soup bowl. So for $29.00 this was a very expensive dish. But I must admit that Molyvos’ Moussaka was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in New York City. It was exotic and flavorful, just the sort of dish you hope to find at an ethnic restaurant. I’m thinking it may be worthwhile to find a less fancy Greek restaurant and try its Moussaka.

Molyvos

Molyvos

After dinner I took the N train back downtown to the 42nd Street – Times Square station. My only goal was to photograph 311 West 43rd Street. This particular address is significant because it is the building that houses the Lark Play Development Center, the Mint Theater Company, and Theatre East’s offices. It is not much to look at so nobody has ever bothered to take a photo of the entrance, but this is the place you have to find for a lot of theater doings so I made a special point of finding it. I have seen a play at the Mint Theater Company. For the rest of the evening I just wandered around the theater district taking photos. I did try to concentrate more on the east side of Times Square because I rarely go in that direction. I did have a drink at O’Lunney’s Times Square Pub. My recent exploration of Irish theater has made me slightly interested in Irish culture. I drank a glass of Magners Irish Cider which cost $7.00. I thought this was some kind of beer but I guess it really is just apple cider with some alcoholic content. I really liked it because it is not bitter like beer. I drank it so fast that I was out the door in under two minutes.

311 West 43rd Street

311 West 43rd Street

I will be going on another trip to New York City next month. I will probably see another play, but I don’t know what that will be yet. I was also make the Society of Illustrators the first item on my itinerary.

 

 

 

 

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Studying Dramatic Writing

I recently bought the book Into The Woods: a Five-Act Journey Into Story by John Yorke. I found this book recommended in a video Lauren Gunderson: On Structure. This proved to be a book for screenwriters by a British television show producer. Ordinarily I don’t buy screenwriting books because I’m a snob, but I have to confess that I’m very impressed with this book so far. You should not consider playwriting to be separate from other forms of dramatic writing like television script writing or screenwriting. Clearly the writers working in those fields think of themselves as artists and they write well enough to command respect.  I’ve also started to read Story by Robert McKee, one of the most famous books on screenwriting. Robert McKee also strikes me as being a real artist and not somebody who has much patience for formulaic writing.

Although these books do a good job of explaining story structure and make good arguments for the significance of story, I still think you need to develop an even deeper understanding of the psychology of story and narrative structures. It is all very well and good to point out that a character needs to grow as a person to make the story more satisfying, but without a good understanding of psychology and some genuine wisdom you aren’t going to know how to do this. Sure you can copy how it is done in countless films and plays but that is not going to seem very original or insightful.

There is a lot more to learning how to tell a great story than meets the eye. You are not going to learn how from reading just one book on creative writing. Fortunately I have developed procedures for learning a subject which serve me well. When a subject of study is extremely important to me I devote far more time, money, and effort than most people probably do. I never try to learn something in 24 hours, 7 days, or using whatever other shortcut is being peddled.

Here is how I go about studying something. First, I don’t try to memorize anything through rote repetition. Instead, I will buy multiple books on the same subject and rely on the natural repetition to be found between the books to cause memorization to occur naturally. This also has the advantage of giving me different viewpoints on the subject. Secondly, I follow up on a lot of the other works referenced in the books I am reading. This tends to expand the field of inquiry endlessly, but it does mean that I get exposure to all the great ideas that lead to the concepts the scholar came up with. This often has the effect of giving me a more comprehensive understanding of the concepts than you would get simply from the ultimate expression of the concept. In other words, it allows you to follow the development of the thought.

Students don’t seem to realize that most courses are just introductory courses. You aren’t meant to take just one course and take away all you need to know from that. If you have the time and the money, you should do an exhaustive study. The problem with a lot of writing classes is the instructor is trying to be entertaining rather than informative and he often does not give enough examples to really drive home the point. By reading multiple books on story structure and narrative I am accumulating more insights and examples than can be found in a single source. Because of this I’m really starting to develop a profound understanding of why dramatic stories mean so much to us.

Part of the reason why writers are encouraged to read a lot is so that they will form deep knowledge of how the language works and how stories are developed. It is a long and involved process. All learning should be a long and involved process when your goal is to gain real expertise. This is the same methodology I have used to learn technology.

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Sensory Deprivation In New York City

Yesterday I made yet another trip to New York City to explore the heights of human achievement, which is what the skyscraper symbolically represents. And to a certain extent, cultural centers like New York City do attract talent from all over the country and world. This eventually makes such cities seem like the centers of human achievement, and its highest expression. This may be somewhat debatable, but New York City is well worth exploring and for this trip I ventured into the great unknown.

My major goal on this trip was to try a new experience, sensory deprivation, using a specially designed floatation spa at Blue Light Floatation. You may be familiar with sensory deprivation floatation tanks from the 1980 science fiction film Altered States. The floatation spa was located in an apartment building in the Chelsea neighborhood.

The bus left us off at the side of the Port Authority Bus Terminal. I was planning on taking the 1 Line train from the 50th Street Station down to the 23rd Street Station but it made more sense to use the Times Square 42nd Street station. Unfortunately weekend maintenance was being done on the tracks so the 1 train going downtown was an express train. It took me to the 14th Street Union Square station and I had to transfer to an uptown train to get back up to the 23rd Street Station.

I arrived about an hour early in Chelsea so I wandered around to take photographs. I took lots of photos of subway station entrances because I still find it difficult to find decent photos on the Internet. A tourist definitely needs help locating the subway entrances. For this trip I researched several subway stations I have not used before and I made a special effort to photograph every subway station entrance I saw. While I was in Chelsea I also located the Irish Repertory Theatre and the Cell Theatre performance space which were added to my notes long after my previous trips to the Chelsea neighborhood. Chelsea Hotel was completely covered in scaffolding for renovations so I did not bother to take any photos of it.

Irish Repertory Theatre

Irish Repertory Theatre

My float at Blue Light Floatation went better than expected at least in terms of the procedure. However it did prove to be a little disappointing since I did not experience an altered state of consciousness. First I will describe the physical process of floating and then I will get into the mental aspects. The floatation spa is located in a private apartment but the apartment building reception desk seemed quite familiar with the business being run there. The apartment itself featured an office filled with books and artwork associated with Eastern philosophy. The floatation spa was located in a specially designed room with  a filtration unit and other equipment. Essentially you are just floating in a wide tub with some climate control. I had to take a shower in a bathroom across the hallway before getting into the floatation spa. The water is saturated with Epsom salt to help you to float. The big concern is to not to get any of that into your eyes, mouth, or nostrils and this proved to be pretty easy. It did burn my scalp for awhile due to my scalp psoriasis but eventually the pain faded away. The air was little muggy from the body temperature water which I didn’t like but it probably prevented me from going to sleep.

I can’t say that floating made me feel weightless. It actually felt like I was lying on something hard since I could still feel the water pressing on my body’s underside. It was an interesting physical sensation which eases all the tension from your body except for the upper back and shoulders. But for me it seemed to be an entirely physical experience centered on the body. Mentally I got bored after getting used to floating. After about an hour I lost interest in boredom and became a bit more insensate. I lost track of time and felt like I had been in there forever. I had an hour and a half session which may have been too long.  At one point it felt like my left leg had gone numb. My mind may have been freed from processing physical sensations, but it did not find anything else to do. I did not experience any hallucinations or even a feeling of transcendence. This was quite disappointing since I pride myself on being a great visionary, someone who can easily explore his psyche. So I was expecting a fantastic trip. Part of the problem may be that the mind is very alert when you enter into new situations. The mind does not want to let go when you find yourself in unfamiliar territory. Instead, survival dictates that you become even more alert. You can’t really afford to let your mind wander until you are extremely comfortable with your surroundings. Since floating is a radically new physical experience I suspect the mind wants to focus on what is happening.

I knew my time was up when the music began to play, although I did not hear it at first because my ears where under water. I took another shower to wash away the Epsom salt. I did forget to rinse out my ears and found them crusted with salt later on in the day. After getting dressed I sat in the office and drank an entire glass of herbal tea because I was a little dehydrated from walking around Chelsea and maybe from being in what felt like a hot sauna. I made some awkward small talk with the owner before paying him in cash and leaving.

Floating may not be my thing since it seems to be more associated with relaxation and meditation. The goal would be to still the mind and transcend consciousness. But I’m actually more interested in altered states of consciousness which are visionary, but not hallucinatory. A different set of spiritual practices are required for that. Merely transcending consciousness does not compare to genuinely transforming consciousness. Visionary consciousness actually seems to transform your entire world and frees you from social consciousness and self consciousness. But it is apparently very difficult for the average person to experience visionary consciousness and I don’t know of any method to bring it about in somebody who is not inclined to experience it.

Upon leaving Blue Light Floatation I walked east to the Flatiron Building. I took a lot of photos of that since it is an iconic building but I was also interesting in documenting the subway station entrances around the area. I took a R train heading downtown to reach the Cortlandt Street Station. The subway stations in downtown Manhattan are now interconnected to two major transportation hubs; the Fulton Center and the World Trade Center Station. There are many long passageways between them and it is even more confusing than the Times Square transportation hub. Although I intended to come out at a Cortlandt Street Station entrance I somehow wound up at the Fulton Center which was all right since my goal was to check out the entire area.

The Fulton Center is a very futuristic transit center and retail complex with an oculus, the Sky Reflector-Net. I took lots of photos but I didn’t actually go into any stores. Eventually I found a street exit and quickly found St. Paul’s Chapel on Broadway. I took lots of photos of the facade facing Broadway because I don’t think I took any photos of that side of the church on  previous trips. Next I photographed the Cortlandt Street Station entrances outside Century 21. This part of my trip was all about taking photos and seeing the new development around Ground Zero. I entered the World Trade Center Station which is also known as the Westfield World Trade Center. The entire structure is sometimes referred to as the Oculus. It looks like the backbone and soaring rib cage of a strange, gigantic creature. It houses a shopping mall,  Westfield World Trade Center, and a transit center, World Trade Center Station. That is a little confusing but not as confusing as what you find in the interior which is a vast hallway that leads to numerous passageways. It is easy to get lost in this sprawling public space. The Oculus has clearly become a tourist attraction in itself. I saw lots of people crowding the balconies where you can take the best photos. I forgot to mention that this was the Memorial Day weekend so everything was very crowded. For example, I tried to get a few photos of the 9/11 Memorial reflecting pool but there was a solid line of people all along all four sides. I did manage to find the restrooms in the Westfield World Trade Center shopping complex but I’m not sure I could find them again. I only entered the Apple store in the Westfield World Trade Center because I’m a bit interested in new devices. The only Apple product I now own is an ancient iBook laptop.

Oculus

Oculus

I had a 4:00 p.m. ticket to the One World Observatory. I had a little time left even after wandering throughout the Westfield World Trade Center so I went across West Street and explored the Brookfield Place, yet another shopping complex in the area. I don’t know why downtown Manhattan needs so many high end shopping complexes. And none of them have a single store I would be interested in since I only like a nice bookstore. The Brookfield Place has a Winter Garden, a glass-enclosed hall like a greenhouse with a stand of palm trees. I walked through the Winter Garden to the Hudson River marina where you find excellent views of the Jersey City skyline. There seems to be a lot of construction going on in Jersey City. I saw a new skyscraper in the Jenga style. The Jenga style skyscraper has each floor jutting out from the building core at different lengths so the skyscraper looks staggered. Tribeca also has a Jenga style skyscraper, 56 Leonard Street, which I photographed from the One World Observatory.

Getting into the One World Observatory required waiting in a long line. Fortunately I bought a ticket online so I wasn’t in the longest line. But you should still give yourself a good thirty minutes just to get up there. I had to go through security which was annoying. All you had to do was go through a metal detector but it was fairly strict. I had to take off my belt and empty all my pockets. I did leave my watch, my glasses, and some metal cuff links on. Then there was a long process of being herded like cattle through a series of guest experiences of no real interest to a bank of five elevators. The elevator ride was amazingly short and featured a brief multimedia presentation on all four walls. Even the Observation Deck  itself required going through some up-sell hoops until I finally came to the windows. Every window was being hogged by other tourists making for a bit of a wait to take some photos. The only thing that made this worthwhile was the aerial views of downtown Manhattan which are actually quite enlightening if you have been studying the urban geography as I have. It is pretty cool to look down a skyscraper canyon from an interior vantage point. I saw several buildings under construction.

56 Leonard Street

56 Leonard Street

I only spent a half hour at the One World Observatory because I had a reservation at Chumley’s in Greenwich Village for 5:30 p.m. I gave myself an hour to get there because I needed to walk to the Chambers Street Station and then take the 1 train uptown to Christopher Street Station. This actually only took me thirty minutes so I had some time to kill in Greenwich Village. Greenwich Village is probably one of my most frequently visited neighborhoods so I just saw many establishments I’m already familiar with. I did stop in at Three Lives & Company which happened to be open. Unfortunately I was dead set on buying drama books and this book store does not seem to have a book shelf for drama. They had a lot of poetry which tempted me but I’m not too keen on poetry right now. Eventually I walked out without buying anything which was a shame because Chumley’s is a good place to show up at with a book. Chumley’s is a famous literary haunt where hundreds of writers used to drink and write. It is not far from the Cherry Lane Theater so I took even more photos of that before it was time for my reservation.

Chumley's

Chumley’s

Chumley’s is now a pretty upscale sort of place which probably appeals to literary types, but not struggling writers. Struggling writers won’t be found writing at such an expensive restaurant. The walls are covered in framed photos of famous writers and celebrities associated with Chumley’s. There is also a row of book jackets from the literary works that may have been written in part at Chumley’s. The place is a shrine to literary glory so I could not resist basking in it. I was shown to a table facing a large photo of the poet Dylan Thomas. Nearby I saw an old book jacket for one of his books, Quite Early One Morning, published by New Directions. This book was unknown to me. Apparently it is a collection of stories, poems, and essays written by Dylan Thomas shortly before his death. Since Dylan Thomas died in New York City at the White Horse Tavern, it makes sense that he would have been writing and drinking at other establishments like Chumley’s. In honor of Dylan Thomas I ordered a glass of Guinness beer. But just one glass because I wasn’t aiming to drink myself to death. I also ordered John’s Terrine, not knowing what the hell that was. And what exactly is terrine? Terrine is a French forcemeat loaf similar to a pâté with a large amount of fat as well as pork. Basically it was a small square of greasy meat of various types served cold. I also got two pieces of bruschetta bread and a smear of some kind of jelly I used with the bread.  This wasn’t much of a meal so I also had a dessert, the tiny cherry chocolate ice cream sandwich. All this cost me an astounding $52.27. This is a pretty steep price tag just to bask in some reflected literary glory, but perhaps that is a testament to how highly we value literary excellence. Or maybe not.

I’m pretty sure I saw Victoria Blamey, Chumley’s chef, working in the kitchen which I could see from my table.

Chumley’s is on Bedford Street, not far from the Edna St. Vincent Millay House, the  narrowest apartment building in New York City at just 9.5 feet wide. Supposedly Edna St. Vincent Millay would occasionally tend bar for Chumley when he was away, back when Chumley’s was a Prohibition Era speakeasy. I’ve read a biography of the poet, Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and even used this in a play which ponders if poetic beauty can will its own existence even given the resistance of a selfish visionary. Long before I developed any interest in Edna St. Vincent Millay I probably read some of her translations of Charles Baudelaire’s poems in a New Directions paperback book. All of which is to say that something brought me to Chumley’s and my presence there should be respected. It wasn’t just a matter of being a tourist, no matter what Chumley’s has become.

I had no other firm plans for this trip. But I did want to do a little shopping. Drama Book Shop closes at 7:00 p.m. so I could have gone there but for some reason I thought they closed at 6:00 p.m. so I went to Barnes & Noble at Fifth Avenue instead. At Barnes & Noble I bought three books I found in their Drama section; Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare, Oresteia by Aeschylus translated by Robert Fagles, and Playwrights and Power: The Making of the Dramatists Guild by Thomas J. Walsh. I didn’t know there was a book on the history of the Dramatists Guild so this was a significant find. I used to be a member of the Dramatists Guild before I got completely discouraged with my playwriting. Now I have resumed this ambition with more serious intent but I’m hesitant to rejoin the Dramatists Guild because it seems like an exclusive club that has nothing to offer me. But it might be interesting to learn why the guild exists.

On the long bus ride back home, without a comfort stop I might add, I did some intense brooding on my frustrated literary ambitions. Everything I really need can be found within myself, because I yearn for something which does not exist in the world. I can only be satisfied if I create it myself. Therefore there is nothing I need to be given. But I do think I need to be a little more focused and intent. The next play I intend to write really gets into this matter of being driven to greatness even when it risks your comfortable life. The protagonist will actually be a fairly successful artist and satisfied with his career choices until he meets somebody who reminds him that he still has not reached his full potential. And that is what shakes up his world. Essentially I am taking a concept that emerged from my last play further, that savage beauty makes its own destiny. Determination to be brought into existence is what makes beauty so savage. This is possibly a misinterpretation of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem, but it is an interesting idea.

 

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The Victim Mentality In The Arts

Writing about the victim mentality could get me in a lot of trouble on a web site like Howl Round which attracts a large number of Social Justice Warriors. But it is probably safe to share my thoughts here since nobody is reading my blog. As a liberal, I am inclined to feel a sense of injustice and therefore side with the Social Justice Warriors. But the victim mentality is very problematic in the arts. I’ve done a lot of thinking on this subject and I’ve come to the conclusion that the victim mentality does you more harm than good when you are an artist.

It is difficult to think clearly on this subject since one is emotionally invested in one’s creative work. It is very upsetting to imagine you won’t be successful due to discrimination. But in order to think through this problem (which you think you have) it is necessary to put your feelings aside and try to be objective. Allowing yourself to get emotional about it only ensures that you will think irrationally. Although I am a computer programmer, I don’t pride myself on my ability to think logically and dispassionately. I rarely tackle a problem that needs to be thought thru to any great length. But dealing with computers all day does teach you to be a little more philosophical about things. For instance, it allows you to accept the fact that you might be wrong, since the compiler gives you an error without any negativity.

When conservatives argue against the victim mentality they are almost always scornful. Their nasty tone inclines you to be deaf to their message. But if you can listen to their reasoning without getting very, very angry, you will find they have a point. But I would rather express this point in my own way.

My major objection with the victim mentality is that it encourages you to internalize a sense of helplessness. This can prove to be very discouraging. When you feel like a hapless victim the easiest thing to do is to give up. Many conservatives also object to viewing oneself as a victim. They stress the need to push forward regardless of the obstacles you think stand in your way. This is an admirable position. They just get a little too vicious in their attempt to goad you into showing greater determination.

A creative artist should never feel helpless because the artist has one great super power, the ability to create something out of nothing. For example, a playwright can create a great work of dramatic writing without getting anyone’s permission. True, his play won’t appear on a stage until it gets past the cultural gatekeepers, the literary department of a theater company, but just writing a full length play which isn’t half bad is a major accomplishment. If you genuinely appreciate dramatic writing then you should almost be satisfied with that. An actor has less ability to create his characters when he is never given the ability to perform, but even actors are encouraged to make opportunities for themselves.

As a white, middle class, male I should not feel discriminated against. Yet even I can feel like a victim when I rationalize my lack of success. I can complain that my plays aren’t being done because I’m too spiritual and the theater doesn’t want to treat the stage as a sacred place. Or I could complain that you absolutely need a Master of Fine Arts degree if you want to become a playwright. That is certainly true! But that shouldn’t stop me if I genuinely feel a burning desire to bring something great into being. There is really nothing stopping me from writing a play like The Glass Menagerie if I have it in me. Maybe it won’t be that good and will never be seen on a stage but I could still give form to my vision. However if I allow myself to get discouraged by assumptions about how unfair it all is then I will have defeated myself through my irrational worries. I’ve even been guilty of preemptive bitterness where I’ve been bitter over the rejection of my talent when I haven’t even written anything! You most certainly don’t have the right to be bitter over failure when you haven’t even made the attempt to be successful! Yet this is the sort of irrational behavior you can be subject to when you allow your emotions to guide your actions.

Conservatives do go too far when they try to deny that any discrimination takes place. If there were only a handful of women playwrights, virtually no black playwrights, and absolutely no Latino actors then you know something is wrong with the world. In my own profession, in the field of Information Technology, there is almost a perfect meritocracy until you come to the major technology companies like Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Amazon. These companies interview prospective candidates in a very questionable manner that only serves as an ordeal for anyone trying to gain entry. The discriminatory hiring practices of the major technology companies serves as a handy example of the sort of nonsense that is really going on in the world. Given enough demand for positions any industry will turn their selection process into a hazing ritual designed to keep the top echelons a very exclusive club. But just like artists, programmers are free to create applications without getting anyone’s approval and without any real encouragement. The key is to find all the encouragement you need within yourself.

In conclusion, the victim mentality can be very dis-empowering. The victim mentality becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy when it prevents you from even making the effort. The creative artist should always remember that he or she has the power to bring something of great beauty into being. If you fail to do that then failure is just the logical outcome.

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Recommender Systems And Their Significance

Recently I bought an expensive book, Recommender Systems: An Introduction, by Dietmar Jannach, Markus Zanker, Alexander Felfernig, Gerhard Friedrich. This book could be used as a textbook for a class which may explain why it was so expensive. I bought it anyway because I think recommendation systems are the most important application of artificial intelligence technology. The purpose of this blog post is to explain my reasoning.

According to Wikipedia, a recommender system or a recommendation system (sometimes replacing “system” with a synonym such as platform or engine) is a subclass of information filtering system that seeks to predict the “rating” or “preference” that a user would give to an item.

Undoubtedly the recommendation system which I have had the most exposure to is the Amazon recommendation system, now powered by artificial intelligence technology. I buy a lot of books on Amazon and I’m always interested in the related titles that show up on a book’s product page. There are two separate lists of books which are recommended; Customers who bought this item also bought and Inspired by your browsing history. Now we can assume that Customers who bought this item also bought is a form of the wisdom of the crowd. What other books readers (who have read the book I am buying) have also chosen to read is a good indication that I might want to read those other books too. Therefore my intellectual development is given the benefit of the wisdom of hundreds or thousands of other readers who have gone on to read various related books. But Inspired by your browsing history is a curious secondary list. Where is this inspiration coming from? We know that Amazon is using an open source artificial intelligence framework that Amazon developed, Deep Scalable Sparse Tensor Network Engine, DSSTNE, pronounced “destiny”. We also know that this software is used for building Deep Learning models. This means it could be weighing thousands or millions of factors to decide whether a book should be recommended to me. You can think of artificial intelligence as a sophisticated probability calculator which is used to boil down many deterministic factors into one probability, is it probable that I would buy this book?

Amazon’s recommendation system is a black box. We cannot know exactly how all these probability factors are being calculated to determine whether a book appears on that Inspired by your browsing history list. There are two reasons this is going to be a mystery to us. First, Amazon cannot share the exact nature of its production algorithm because this would allow writers and publishers to game the system. Publishers would love to know how Amazon’s recommendation system works because then they could tweak a book’s title, keywords, and blurb to give the book an unfair advantage in the marketplace. Writers could even write their books to give themselves a little boost in the marketplace. But the second reason we can’t know exactly why a book shows up on that list is because the computations performed by the artificial intelligence are so complex that they cannot be back traced. In other words, we cannot know how all those probability factors came together to output the result. Sure, you could look at raw numbers but there could be thousands or millions of numbers, depending upon just how deep the deep learning goes.

This raises interesting questions. Presumably my intellectual development may now be influenced by the computation of an unknown number of probability factors. Yes, there is no guarantee that I will buy and read a book just because it is suggested by Amazon. If Amazon is showing me Harlequin Romance novels while I’m looking at computer science textbooks then I will certainly disregard those suggestions for further reading. But of course Amazon is not going to do that. They will tweak their system until there is a high probability that I won’t disregard the other books they are recommending. Remember, that is the whole point of a recommendation system. A recommendation system is designed to over-determine an outcome. It is all about probabilities.

I’ve sometimes dreamed about a supercomputer which would consider every book that has ever been written. This supercomputer would actually read all those books and inter-relate their content until it had discovered the mysteries of the universe, at least as far as man has been able to figure it out and put it into writing. Then, taking into consideration my interests and goals, this supercomputer would recommend a book for me to read which would completely change my life. This book would provide me with the answers to all the questions which I have ever asked. Well now it seems like my dream may have become a reality. There is a now a supercomputer which will direct my intellectual development along a path that is optimized for maximum wisdom!

Is that a fantasy or is that the reality? It is actually hard to say. It is quite possible for a recommendation system to take content into consideration. It is far more simple to rely on user ratings but when you are dealing with obscure books it may be necessary to actually parse the content and do some textual analysis. A recommendation system can be very simple or very sophisticated. I think we can assume that Amazon’s recommendation system will be mind boggling in its complexity. Amazon could devote so many resources to their system that you could literally be assigned your very own artificial intelligence instance tasked just with dealing with you as a customer.

There are many factors which could lead you to reading a book. You could walk into a book store or a library and just randomly pick a book. But writers and publishers obviously put a lot of effort into ensuring that there will be a greater probability that you will be reading their book. In the vast marketplace of ideas there is fierce competition for the attention of the reader. Every aspiring writer would do well to consider the criteria used to make a selection of reading material. Every aspiring writer must now face the fact that there is a black box in this equation, a recommendation system powered by artificial intelligence, a black box which you cannot peer into.

As an intellectual, I am most curious about what drives a person’s intellectual development. What affect will artificial intelligence have on my intellectual development? Will it make me smarter? Or will it divert me down a path I did not intend to go down? One factor which often determines how often a book will appear in search results is the number of other books citing that work. The more frequently a book is cited by other scholars, the more frequently it will be referred to in other texts. This is why the most authoritative work will be the book that ranks at the top of search engine results. But lets say you just want to sell the most expensive book no matter what. The most expensive book will likely be a textbook and it will probably be the thickest textbook available. The thickest textbook is the one most likely to fully develop a concept so that is all well and good for your intellectual development.

One of the reasons that I decided to devote serious study to recommendation systems is because this branch of computer science is actually exploring the factors that determine the outcome of cultural work. Every creative writer needs to get his work past the cultural gatekeepers. In the future, creative writers are going to be faced with digital cultural gatekeepers. Today your work is read by a human literary agent but in the future it could be read by an artificial intelligence literary agent. Even if the artificial intelligence isn’t good enough to be relied upon to make human aesthetic decisions it could still be used to winnow out the thousands of incoming manuscripts. And of course every published book’s fate is already determined by where it appears in search results.

There are many deep, philosophical questions at play here. For example, consider affinity. Affinity is the probability that you will like something based on something else that you like. But what is responsible for this affinity? Affinity is based on the relationships between ideas, concepts, or stories. There is a web site of TV Tropes. TV Tropes is the all-devouring pop-culture wiki which catalogs and cross-references recurrent plot devices, archetypes, and tropes in all forms of media. This web site serves as an unintentional recommendation system because it is inter-relating content in such a way that you are likely to stumble upon stories which are similar to the stories you like. The relationships have been established by thousands of users but you could plug this information into your recommendation system to get the benefit of all that human evaluation. Creative writers already use this technology to develop their stories within their favorite genre. Creative writers frequently get additional ideas for their stories based on the most popular tropes, or they decide to mash up tropes to appeal to two sets of readers. Basically what you have here is a database of story ideas combined with an index of how story ideas are related to other story ideas.

What all this technology appears to be doing is increasing the probability that cultural works or even intellectual concepts which have affinity will be brought together. This serves to reinforce ideas and increases cross-fertilization of ideas within a narrow domain. It may have the negative effect of discouraging the cross-fertilization of ideas without strong affinity. In other words, it significantly reduces random factors. Random connections become increasingly unlikely as our world becomes increasingly over-determined by meaningful inter-connectivity.

 

 

 

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Information Is Not Knowledge

Technology is drowning us in information but this information is often of little use to us. It might be worthwhile to ponder the fundamental nature of information. Although I work in Information Technology as a knowledge worker, I have given little thought to the theory behind information, or information science, if there is such a thing. I just checked on Amazon and Information Science is a field of study, with textbooks.

Edit: Information Science is actually associated with libraries. I am more interested in the philosophy of information so I bought this book:

Let’s take New York City for example. As a major metropolis, New York City is a huge resource and presents a wealth of information to the curious traveler. You can buy dozens of travel guides on New York City or visit dozens of web sites devoted to helping you to explore the city. But unfortunately you are overwhelmed with information and it is difficult to search for the information that meets your particular needs. Let’s say you buy a travel guide and stick it in your back pocket so you will have all that information readily at hand when you are in the city. Chances are that you will find yourself in Times Square, wondering where to go next, because you have not actually read your travel guide. This brings up an important point. Information is not knowledge. In order to really know New York City you need to read that entire travel guide, from cover to cover. In order to form some ideas on where you might like to go while you are in New York City, you will need to read that entire travel guide, from front to back. In other words, all that information has to be reviewed and evaluated. It is worthless to you in that book.

I waste a whole lot of time working on a custom travel guide for New York City which I compile into a help file. I can copy this help file to my smart phone and have access to a wealth of information on the city even if I don’t have a WiFi connection. It has occurred to me that this is a colossal waste of my time. But on the other hand it has proven essential to conducting extremely productive and effective trips to the city. I usually take a bus to New York City for just one day and only have ten hours in the city. Therefore I cannot waste a lot of my time just wandering around hoping to see something interesting. Although I’m tempted to stop wasting so much damn time on this travel guide, I do enjoy working on it. The fact is I learn a lot about New York City and this knowledge translates into definite advantages. I have discovered a lot of great resources in the city. I have found stores that sell international magazines so I can learn a new language for my international trips. And I have found online classes and opportunities in the theater community which may advance my playwriting ambitions. The point is that knowledge is power. Information itself is not power because you have not digested it. You have not evaluated the information. You will not be able to put the pieces of information together to come up with new insights or a plan of action.

A wealth of information is actually a poverty of knowledge if no effort has been made to ingest this information. Converting information into knowledge requires effort in the form of actions; reading, searching, exploring, etc. When you fail to perform these actions you fail to acquire any knowledge. This is probably a fundamental law of cognition and may explain why consciousness will never arise from the information itself as an emergent property. Knowledge requires agency and self-knowledge must also arise from agency.

But is it really necessary for you, personally, to review and evaluate all the information available on New York City. Why not trust the judgement of local experts? Why not use the services of a curator, a content specialist, who has selected the best establishments in the city? I would argue that you actually do need to do the process yourself. You cannot depend upon someone else to go through this process because they will not know your special interests. Even if you give them a lot of information on your preferences, they still won’t be able to evaluate your potential interest in something that would be entirely new to you. In other words, you lose a lot of potential to pursue new avenues of inquiry when you rely on an external agent to guide you through a wealth of information. You run the risk of not finding the precious jewels in that wealth of information. In other words, information must be processed and the greatest value lies in doing the processing yourself.

In developing web applications I am often guilty of not making the application very informative to the end user. As a developer, I have access to a lot of data and information about the computer system, but this information is often hidden from the end user. Lately it has been occurring to me that I should make my applications more informative. This is often very easy. For example, I can add a record count so the end user knows how many objects are currently being stored in the system. These objects can be clients or products. You definitely want to know how many clients have been entered into the system or how many products are in your online store.

There is a wealth of information available on the Internet and a great deal of potential in converting this information into informative knowledge. One of my most successful web applications is just a page that exports some YouTube data to a spreadsheet. It is really nothing more than a data export but it has sufficient value to bring many visitors to my web site. Imagine how many visitors I could get by building a web application that actually provided some insight on that data!

There is actually a science to converting information to knowledge and informative applications. There are fundamental theoretical considerations like how information should be categorized. I’ve come across some references to advanced theories on how data becomes information and information becomes knowledge. I think it could be well worth my while to study these advanced theories and then apply that knowledge to my existing skills. I should be able to craft some really powerful solutions that will make me a lot of money. And this would be the result of adding a little theory to my work, bringing my intellectual genius into play in my field. Something long overdue.

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The Gaspipe One-Act Play Festival

Last evening I attended the Gaspipe One-Act Play Festival at the Greenspace Center in Lewisburg. This play festival was offered by the RiverStage Community Theatre. Lewisburg is south of Williamsport on Route 15. It takes around 40 minutes to drive down there. Although this places Lewisburg beyond the Williamsport area, Central Pennsylvania is so sparsely populated that Lewisburg is considered to be a close neighbor so there was heavy involvement with Williamsport’s theater community. In other words, this is the only one-act play festival in the region so I wanted to check it out.

Gaspipe One-Act Festival Sign

Gaspipe One-Act Festival Sign

The Greenspace Center is the Old Lewisburg High School which has been re-purposed as a community center. It is located right at the intersection of Route 15 and Market Street so it is easy to find, as you have to pass it to get to the center of the town.

Greenspace Center

Greenspace Center

According to the presenters, they only received 20 plays for this festival, a shockingly low number of submissions. From this 20 they selected 7 plays which means you have an almost 50/50 chance of getting your play done if you submit one. I think I will keep that a secret because that is damn good odds! Now ordinarily you would expect to see some really terrible plays given the limited pool of material from which to work with. But surprisingly all seven plays were well written, featured clever ideas, and were well executed in performance.

I will briefly mention what stood out in each play. The (Un)Solvable Crime by Jacob Tanner was a comedy with a dummy corpse that gets manhandled by several amateur detectives. This short play was hysterical. Eurekas by Eoin Carney was another comedy about Greek inventors. The concept was clever. Enter Daisy Buchanan by Patti Cassidy was about Zelda Fitzgerald. This play made clever use of a mirror without any glass and an actress in an elaborate flapper costume. Part of the success of these plays may have been due to the great care in the presentation. The Improvisation Game by Jove Graham was based on a very clever idea of a woman waiting at a bus stop being roped into scene work with a few actors. The helping hands scene was hilarious. Virescent by Rosalind Elise Parenzan featured an actress posing like a statue. They used street performance techniques to make her look just like a statue. I recognized the actor playing the sculptor from The Boatwright. Jesus Feeds The 4,999 by Kay Phillips was hilarious but also a little sacrilegious so I’m surprised they allowed it. Deception, written and directed by Ben Hartman, was a fine example of a farce.

I will definitely submit one of my one act plays to the next Gaspipe One-Act Play Festival. The odds are greatly in my favor and they obviously put a lot of effort into giving each play a well-thought out performance even with their limited resources. There were almost 25 actors performing in these 7 plays which is a lot of people to be involved. I have two new one act plays which have been sent out. Wits In Dialogue was submitted to the Pittsburgh New Works Festival. And Stolen Academic Valor was submitted to Shawnee Playhouse. If either of those plays are rejected I could submit it for consideration by the Gaspipe One-Act Play Festival. Or I could write the play about the shaman entering the life of the office worker, a new play I’ve been thinking about. I’m trying to write more full length plays but writing an one act play is an excellent way to get one started.

I almost forgot to mention that David Mamet is giving an online class on playwriting and I was able to sign up for this class. I think he will have a lot of students and won’t give anyone any individual attention, but this is still a great opportunity. David Mamet is probably the greatest living American playwright. The very first Broadway play I saw was Race at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

Before going home I stopped in at Burger King to reward myself for making the effort to attend this event. I probably should have tried one of the restaurants in downtown Lewisburg but it was pretty late at might.

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How Amazon’s Recommendation Engine May Shape Your Destiny

I have recently discovered that Amazon’s recommendation engine is powered by an open source artificial intelligence framework called Deep Scalable Sparse Tensor Network Engine (DSSTNE), pronounced “destiny”.

I have tried to figure out how the Deep Scalable Sparse Tensor Network Engine works but it is very complicated. Essentially it is a narrow AI and uses a neural network for machine learning or deep learning. Let’s just say that DSSTNE is a black box performing very complicated math on a massive amount of input and outputting a list of recommended products.

The input is the wisdom of the crowd, a vast amount of data on what books the entire customer base of Amazon has bought. You can surmise that the books containing the best ideas will have bubbled to the top of the ranking system in narrow domains of knowledge. DSSTNE is not conscious and does not do any thinking. It only does calculations. However, human intentions are added to the system in the form of weighted factors. For example, lets say Amazon wanted to sell you the most expensive book. This intention is mathematically expressed as a weighting factor, emphasizing the contribution of some aspects of a phenomenon (or of a set of data) to a final effect or result, giving them more weight in the analysis. Various other probability factors are added to the input in order to increase the probability that you will be reading the most expensive book available.

Let us say for the sake of argument, that the most expensive book will be the thickest book and therefore the fullest expression of the very best ideas published in the narrow domain of knowledge that is most relevant to your area of interest. What Amazon has done with its “destiny engine” is to increase the probability that you will be reading this book. Their only real intention was to get you to buy more expensive products, but the effect was far more profound.

What sort of books might this lead you to read? Let’s say some expensive, thick books, so dense with meaning that they interrelate with thousands of other books. Let’s start with Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief by Jordan B. Peterson, a book on how deep meaning comes to express itself in myths and stories. This might lead you to read Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence by Lisa Cron, a book on related topics. Next you may be lead to read Divine Fury: A History of Genius by Darrin M. McMahon, a book on genius, the power to divine the secrets of the universe. And maybe you would even be lead to read The Secret Life of Puppets by Victoria Nelson, a book on the Demiurgic consciousness shaped in Late Antiquity that is emerging anew to re-divinize the human as artists. At this point you might begin to wonder how you came to be reading all these particular books. A terrible suspicion might form in your mind and when you investigate, your suspicion proves correct. There is something fishy and uncanny about Amazon’s recommendation engine. Maybe even something highly improbable unless a whole lot of calculations were done.

What can we guess about the shape of your destiny when it is influenced by artificial intelligence? It will most likely be an emergence of your hidden potential and the emergence of a hidden meaning that is implicit in massive amounts of information.

 

 

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Brooklyn Heights – Mapping The Territory

Yesterday I made my first bus trip for 2017 to New York City. My goal was to explore more neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Although I only intended to explore Brooklyn Heights, I had time to wander around Dumbo too. Exploring new territory has deep psychological meaning because it is an exploration of the unknown to discover new resources. This is precisely what my trip accomplished. Your brain rewards you when you travel, expand your horizons, and conquer the unknown. In other words, there is a reason travel is so pleasurable.

The Susquehanna Trailways bus dropped us off at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue, right were the Port Authority Bus Terminal is located. However, it did not leave us off in the terminal. I found this a little troubling since the Port Authority Bus Terminal is considered to be a bad area that you should avoid.

My plan was to take the C train to Brooklyn’s High Street station in Brooklyn Heights. I was still able to take the C train from the Times Square station but the C train was rerouted to the F train line for weekend maintenance. So I had to get off the C Train at the York Station. The conductor’s announcements suggested I could transfer to a train for the High Street station but she did not say which train. Eventually I got on an A train and got off at the Jay Street – MetroTech station. That seemed to be as close as I was going to get to Brooklyn Heights. The point is that I need to improve my knowledge of the NYC subway system so I can more effectively handle unexpected service changes.

The MetroTech Center is a large complex of office buildings and skyscrapers in Downtown Brooklyn. I spent a lot of time just figuring out the layout of this urban academic-industrial research park. The subway exit I took brought me out at the Myrtle Promenade where I immediately saw the New York University Tandon School of Engineering and its Balanced Cylinders sculpture. I probably should have spent more time in the MetroTech Center but I was eager to get to the Brooklyn Heights Promenade so I headed west. I knew how to head west because I knew the layout of the MetroTech Center. Along the way I came across the Henry Ward Beecher Monument. I took several photos of this monument and even experimented with my camera’s digital zoom after noticing how some photos I found of the monument used a long-focus lens to make the Manhattan Bridge appear much closer in the background than it should be. But I don’t think digital zoom alone can produce this effect.

Next I walked down Columbus Park to see the Brooklyn Borough Hall. I photographed the Borough Hall Station entrances, the fountain, and the Christopher Columbus Statue in front of the Kings County Supreme Court. There was a farmer’s market taking place in Columbus Park.

After that I walked west on Pierrepont Street and passed the Brooklyn Historical Society and the Arthur Miller Residence at 102 Pierrepont Street. Arthur Miller is not one of my favorite playwrights because I tend to associate him with high school English class, but I was interested in the literary associations of the Brooklyn Heights neighborhood.

Eventually I found the Brooklyn Heights Promenade where I took many photos of the Manhattan skyline. I even found the Sentinel Apartment, an apartment building used in the 1977 horror film, The Sentinel. In this film, the gateway to hell is located in this building. I suppose it makes sense that the gateway to hell would be located in Brooklyn! The gateway is watched over by the sentinel, a blind priest or nun, who can be seen in the third floor window. I didn’t see anyone in the third floor window so I guess the gateway to hell isn’t being guarded.

Brooklyn Heights Promenade

Brooklyn Heights Promenade

My next goal was to find the Willow Place Chapel which is the home of the Heights Players, a community theater company. I was unable to find any decent photos of this chapel online so I took a few myself. After that I walked to Hicks Street and found the Heights Cafe where I had lunch. I ordered their omelette special which contained caramelized onions, grilled artichokes, and Gruyere cheese. I noticed a few tourists at the next table speaking French. Brooklyn is very popular with the French.

After lunch, my next objective was to find the Truman Capote Residence on Willow Street. This looked much different than it does in the photos I’ve seen. The new owner had its facade covered in brick. I continued to walk around Brooklyn Heights and eventually walked along Henry Street where I located Henry’s End Restaurant, Noodle Pudding, and the Gristedes supermarket.

Since it was now past Noon, I was able to visit the Brooklyn Historical Society which does not open until then. This museum has three floors of exhibits but it is a relatively small museum without much of interest. The Othmer Library wasn’t open but I did look through the glass doors to see the stacks of books. Of the four current exhibits; Until Everyone Has It Made: Jackie Robinson’s Legacy, Truman Capote’s Brooklyn: The Lost Photographs of David Attie, Brooklyn Abolitionists/In Pursuit of Freedom, and The Emancipation Proclamation, I only found the David Attie photos interesting. But this did prompt me to buy the book Brooklyn: A Personal Memoir by Truman Capote with the lost photographs of David Attie in the gift shop. This was a pretty expensive little book, $29.95, but I decided to buy it because it made the perfect souvenir for my trip and I was taking lots of photos of the very same things, only fifty years later.

I didn’t spend much time at the Brooklyn Historical Society. After that I went to the New York Transit Museum which took me pass the Brooklyn Borough Hall again. The New York Transit Museum is located in an abandoned subway station so the entrance is actually a subway entrance. I paid $10.00 for admission. The current exhibits included;  Bringing Back the City: Mass Transit Responds to Crisis, Next Stop: Second Avenue Subway, and Deconstruction of the Third Avenue El: Photographs by Sid Kaplan. It was interesting to see some of the equipment corroded by Hurricane Sandy. But what I really enjoyed was the fleet of restored train cars. I walked through quite a few of these old subway cars and each one was like a trip back in time.

New York Transit Museum

New York Transit Museum

After leaving the New York Transit Museum I went to the Barnes & Noble at Brooklyn Heights to do a little shopping. I found two books on Artificial Intelligence; Thinking Machines: The Quest for Artificial Intelligence and Where It’s Taking Us Next by Luke Dormehl and Artificial Intelligence And The End Of The Human Era: Our Final Invention by James Barrat. I became interested in Artificial Intelligence after watching the recent Ghost In The Shell movie and reading a scholarly book, The Secret Life of Puppets by Victoria Nelson, which explores the profound philosophical implications of artificial representations of man in the form of puppets, statues, or even robots, cyborgs, and artificial intelligence. Being a huge nerd, I really ate this up. So it occurred to me to research the current state of artificial intelligence and what I discovered was deeply disturbing. Artificial intelligence is not science fiction. It is already being used extensively and the implications are astounding, particularly when you realize that consciousness is over-rated and artificial intelligence can work without ever achieving consciousness. All your actions are over-determined by your unconscious and when you introduce a new deterministic factor to the unconscious mind, without even telling anyone about it, it will have profound effects. Search engines and recommendation engines are now powered by machine learning neural networks. This means artificial intelligence is a factor in what you find when you go in search of information, and it even recommends books for you to read. Both Google and Amazon are using artificial intelligence in this way and the consequences are frightening and inescapable.

Anyway, after buying those books I had hit all my targets in Brooklyn Heights so I had time to wander around the Dumbo area north of Downtown Brooklyn. I found the pedestrian access entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge which gave me the idea to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to return to Manhattan. But first I found the Dumbo Heights office complex. This is a very interesting hub of technology companies and startups. I saw where Etsy and WeWork are located in this office complex.

Although I did some updates to my old Dumbo notes, I didn’t actually intend to explore this area so I was poorly prepared. But I did notice considerable changes in the neighborhood which has rapidly gentrified. I’m going to describe what I saw in detail because I need to do some more research on Dumbo.

First I came across Pedro’s Bar and Restaurant on Jay Street. Then I located Berl’s Poetry Shop on Front Street but it appeared to be permanently closed, a victim of book store fate. I also located powerHouse Books which had moved to Adams Street. I was unable to find any photos of its new location so I made sure to take a few photos of its exterior. When I came to the intersection of Front Street and Washington Street I found the streets crowded with people taking photos because this is where you get the iconic view of the Manhattan Bridge. I walked down Washington Street to the Brooklyn Bridge Park and saw Jane’s Carousel and the performing arts venue St. Ann’s Warehouse. This theater moved to the historic Tobacco Warehouse in Brooklyn Bridge Park.  I was particularly interested in looking around its open-air triangle garden. The garden was being used by professional photographers doing photo shoots of models. I saw one man with some sort of lighted box around his head.

Manhattan Bridge

Manhattan Bridge

I saw the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory and at first I did not see a line for ice cream but then I saw its long line so I wasn’t tempted to get any ice cream. Also in this area I saw a Shake Shack, the River Cafe, and Barge Music, a converted coffee barge moored at Fulton Ferry Landing on the East River near the Brooklyn Bridge. I noticed some locks of love on a fence at the landing so I even took a photo of that. On Old Fulton Street I found Juliana’s Pizza and Grimaldi’s Pizzeria but there were long lines for both so I was not tempted to get in line. At this point I was getting pretty tired so I decided to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to get back to Manhattan. The Brooklyn Bridge was extremely crowded with tourists so you couldn’t even keep out of the bike lane. The last time I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge was on a Sunday morning in 2010 when it was not so crowded.

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

I arrived at City Hall in downtown Manhattan at around 4:00 p.m. and my next goal was to go to the Drama Book Shop before it closed at 6:00 p.m. I took a 4 train from the Brooklyn Bridge – City Hall station to Grand Central where I transferred to the 7 train shuttle to Times Square. This demonstrates how well I’m getting the hang of the subway system. That was a better option than walking all the way west from Grand Central to Times Square. But I need to add all the 7 train stations to my notes. The Times Square exit on West 40th Street brought me very close to the Drama Book Shop so I had no trouble getting there before it closed at 6:00 p.m. I consulted the shopping list on my smartphone and found two books on my list; Sexual Perversity In Chicago and The Duck Variations by David Mamet and Sight Unseen and Other Plays by Donald Margulies.

I didn’t really have any plans for what to do in Manhattan so I walked all the way to West 52nd Street to find Merilu Pizza Al Metro, a small pizzeria that was recommended to me by Reddit users. The restaurant did not have very many tables but I was able to get a seat at the counter. I ordered a slice of white pizza and two cans of soda because I was dehydrated. I’m not sure if I have ever had white pizza before, but it was pretty good and the entire meal only cost me $6.00. This restaurant could serve as my new go to spot for a quick bite but it is a little far from where I would usually be.

I spent the rest of the evening wandering around Broadway taking photos of the theaters. Eventually I wandered far south and found the B&H Photo Video store and the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. I was particularly interested in seeing the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center again because that is where I attended the Internet World conferences back in 2000, when the Internet was new and exciting. That was even before 9/11. It was late in the evening so the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center was all lit up. I also saw the 34 Street-Hudson Yards Subway Station entrance which is one of the 7 Line stations I want to add to my notes.

Jacob K. Javits Convention Center

Jacob K. Javits Convention Center

This was my fourth extensive visit to Brooklyn and I’m not sure if I need to explore any more of the borough. There are a few more neighborhoods I could wander around in but I’ve seen plenty already. I think I may stick to Manhattan on my next trip to New York City.

 

 

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