The Problem With Pens

What’s going on with pens?

There’s never one around when you need it. Moreover, heaven only knows how you’re going to get your hands on anything other than a black or blue one when it really matters. Do pen manufacturers not make that many red pens? When you take into account all the corrections we put to paper, you’d think red pens would be the third most popular choice. But it seems there is a red ink shortage. Is the ink made from the blood of babies and this is apparently unethical? If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s don’t leave a red pen lying around because someone WILL take it. WHO IS STEALING ALL THE PENS? Someone, somewhere has A LOT of pens.

I know you know what I’m talking about. Ever notice that no matter how many pens you put out – on your desk, in a pen holder, chained to a brick – all of them will disappear? If it isn’t a single person taking all the pens then there should still be an equal distribution of pens throughout the world. Sometimes when I go swimming in the ocean I half expect to find a cache not far from shore. Alas, nothing. Honey, do you know where I can find a pen? I ask. Yes, she says, With the missing sock that was eaten by the dryer. Where are all the pens? They’re there when you don’t need them, of course.

The less you need a pen the more likely you are to see one. And how many you see rises in direct proportion to how little you need one. When I’m using Microsoft Word on my laptop, I can see anywhere from 5-10 pens from where I’m sitting. As soon as I reach for a pad of paper, though, they suddenly disappear or at least make themselves scarce. For instance, if I didn’t need a pen and saw one on the kitchen counter, the moment I reached for a piece of paper the pen would instantaneously travel through a wormhole into another room. Pens allegedly reside with us in the macro-sized world but they behave like they are both there and not there in a state of quantum flux. I don’t know why Schrödinger used a cat in his famous thought experiment; he should have used a pen. If pens are not disappearing on their own, we have to go back to assuming it’s a people problem.

If it is indeed a people problem, how long has this been going on? Was this a problem when people were still using an ink well and a quill? It seems like all that equipment would be too hard to steal; not worth the effort. I understand how easy it is to swipe a modern pen, on the other hand. Only…why? What is one’s motivation for swiping another person’s pen? Obviously, whatever one we had disappeared so we must obtain a new one by whatever means necessary in case we suddenly find ourselves signing the deed to a new home. Or perhaps the pen we’ve taken has the name of a Chinese restaurant we haven’t tried yet on it, and we need to remember the restaurant’s name. (We could’ve written the name down with the pen but taking the pen itself is WAY easier.) At least I hope these are possible explanations and not that these random pen thieves are taking pens as some deep-rooted and unconscious desire to make others suffer.

I think we should either start making so many pens that’s it’s impossible for one not to be in any given room at any time or we should stop making them altogether. I know it’s difficult to resolve world hunger but this seems like something we should be able to get a handle on. This madness needs to stop.


All Rights Reserved (C) September 2019 John J Vinacci

The Simulation

The Simulation

“What if we’re living in a simulation, Adama?” Eva asked, sliding the hookah back towards her boyfriend. “What if we’re something like The Sims, doing only what our programs allows us as our ancestors try to get a better idea how their forefathers lived? Or what if we’re a holographic projection, sort of like shadows of Plato’s forms?”

“I hate it when you get bombed, girl,” Adama responded. “How would any of those things being reality change how you live? If you’re a simulation, you could only do what your programing allows. You’d be bound by the limits of the world laid out for you. You’d never escape the simulation, so what does it matter?”

Eva frowned and reached for the hookah since her boyfriend waved it off. The haze that clothed the upper half of the room’s atmosphere seemed to be enough for him.

“Don’t you think any potential programmer would have a moral obligation to create the best possible world for us?” Eva pondered before making the hookah gurgle.

“Do you think that’s what people do when they play The Sims? No, that’s boring. The program dictates you make them find jobs, dates – all the same things we do, I guess for the sake of doing something.” Adama leaned back on the couch and tilted his head up. The hazy air slipped into his nostrils like a gentle brook.

“You’d be lucky to be an avatar in a game like The Sims,” Adama continued, talking to the ceiling. “Imagine you were in a game like Fortnite. Do those programmers live by a moral code to make the best possible world for their program’s inhabitants? Don’t think so. All the inhabitants of that world do is kill each other.”

Eva blew a cloud of smoke Adama’s way. “You don’t think our ancestors could be trying to figure out what their forefathers were like?” she said with the last remnants of air in her lungs.

“Nah,” Adama replied. “Our records are pretty good going back to at least the turn of the twentieth century. It gets murkier the further we go back, of course, but then we’d be part of some ancient civilization and not inhabiting the twenty-first century. Assuming our records survive into the future. Even if the records didn’t, we’d just be guesses, approximations of their forefathers, and I don’t see how that would be helpful to our ancestors.”

“Okay, so what if we’re projections or afterglow of some real universe?” Eva continued. Adama was regretting talking his girlfriend into taking the Philosophy of Mind course with him at college. She only talked about the class when she got high.

“Are you saying that because we’re a projection that what we experience is somehow devalued by not being the real thing? How would we know we’re not experiencing all the same things, the same feelings, as our real selves? Whether or not it’s the reality of our situation would be pointless. Even if we were projections, how does that change anything? We wouldn’t be able to change our being projections. It wouldn’t change how we behave. We couldn’t change how we behave because only our real selves could do that, right?”

Eva looked down. “Could you smoke a little bit more, babe?”

“Eva, baby, I don’t need to alter my reality that much. I’m good right now,” Adama argued. “Why do people want so much to believe that this reality isn’t real anyway? You want to believe you’re a brain in a jar somewhere so that, what, you can escape responsibility? Find an explanation for why people can be so crazy? Believe that beyond this false reality the universe does in fact care?”

Eva was beginning to see the apple and laid back in the recliner across from Adama.

“I guess you’re right,” she said ad looked away into the recesses of darkness the apartment’s thick curtains threw. “What kind of world would our simulators be living in? Probably the same, huh? I guess it doesn’t matter if we’re simulations, holograms, or if this is as real as it gets. We can only do what we do given the laws of the universe we live in. The truth, whatever it is, doesn’t change much of anything.”

Adama leaned forward and opened his reddened eyes at Eva. “The truth isn’t even the truth. And that’s the truth. I still love you, though.”

“If that’s what either one of us want to believe,” Eva spoke into a shady corner.

“Is it possible for them to say that?” Dr. Amada asked his colleague about the holographic simulation.

“The parameters of their programming appear to allow for it,” Dr. Ave responded.

“What do you think it means?” was Dr. Amada’s next question.

“It confirms what we already know. It means whatever we want it to mean and that’s the truth,” Dr. Ave reminded.

“It hate that the truth is subjective,” Dr. Amada said as he reached for a modified beaker. He took a hose by its mouthpiece and puckered his lips around it.

“If the truth were objective, wouldn’t that be worse?” Dr. Ave rejoined as she waved the smoke away.


All Rights Reserved (c) July 2019 John J Vinacci

Ruminations On Time

Ruminations On Time

A glance over my fictional work and poetry reveals that much of what I write includes elements of time travel or time manipulation. I love sci-fi in general but it’s time travel that really gets my attention. I’m not exaggerating when I say I think I’ve watched every movie and show about time travel with the exception of Timeless, but that’s up next. It was just the other night after wrapping up the simultaneously brilliant and terrible 12 Monkeys, though, that I earnestly began to question myself as to why I find time travel stories so alluring.

Is it ‘nurture’ perhaps? I wasn’t even a teenager yet before I discovered Dr, Who. The Doctor has always been brilliant, a character who will avoid using a weapon if his brains will suffice in a dire situation. What’s not to love about that? Maybe I wanted to be like him (now her). But that’s just a character and has little to do with time travelling itself.

Maybe I like to travel. I’ve long had slightly more than a passing interest in different historical eras. Who wouldn’t rather actually visit ancient Rome than ham it up a Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas? Who wouldn’t want to take a peek a thousand years into the future and see what today’s world evolves into? Of course such adventuring would be dangerous and perhaps that’s part of the point.

Is it the allure of power, how going back in time with your present knowledge could potentially change things? Sure, we could alter our own history but what about altering the fate of humanity? The potential to change history in any number of ways is an attractive idea, though, wouldn’t we all try to change something just to see if the universe would allow it?

I’m not sure what I would do or when I would travel to if I actually had the ability. It may be the case that this disturbs me as I think of myself as someone I know relatively well; I know the reason behind everything I do yet don’t know what I would do with this ability. Maybe it’s all of these things. It vexes me.

While I don’t believe time travel to the past is possible, it would be pretty cool if we could do that. Or, more likely, terrible assuming some nefarious person would get their hands on any such time machine. Maybe it’s the impossibility of it all – which is probably for the best – which makes the idea attractive. We always want what we can’t have.

Do you love time travel stories and if so, why? Kindly leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Meditation on a Mid-Life Crisis

Meditation on a Mid-Life Crisis

A fundamental tenant of Buddhism is the insistence that the basic condition of life is suffering. Whatever joys there are in life are transient; we always fall back into our suffering condition sooner rather than later. Why then wouldn’t we pursue pleasure as often as we do, at seemingly great risk at times? Why do any of us decide to skydive or climb Everest when the risk includes death? Why does any spouse pursue an affair when the cost is the (relatively) stability of a relationship? Do we enjoy pain? Does uncertainty turn us on? Civilization says we want to avoid pain. Civilization says we should seek stability. But what we really want is to end our suffering and avoiding pain isn’t necessarily related to that. What we want is to feel alive. We want to burn.

Perhaps for many of us, life is not so bad. It could certainly be worse. But when we are caught in between a life that for all intents and purposes is neither here nor there, our lives are mundane, where what’s mundane is, in actuality, low level suffering. The crime is, many of us are aware of this fact. When we realize our lives are in fact mundane, trapped, we ask ourselves, “Is this all there is?” We want there to be more even if we don’t know what that ‘more’ is supposed to include.

When I was a child, I was not someone who gave much thought to the future beyond supposing I’d be married and own a home by the time I was 24. Although such an idea was overly optimistic in hindsight, at least I did not imagine I would ever be someone of any importance. I was never, in my own estimation, destined for great things. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to be. I just never really saw it. My most ambitious goal was to get through life and at the end, be considered a good man by myself, my family and friends. If I hoped for anything in pursuit of that goal, it would have been for life to be more enjoyable than not along the way.

I remember playing in a rock band when I was in the army. We weren’t very good, which is a polite way of saying that we were awful. Despite our individual talents – Ford was a very capable drummer at only 19 years old, D.B. could play guitar and bass, Lee, the spirited girl-next-door led vocals, while I wasn’t too bad at arranging songs which allowed more talented people forgive my slushy six-string renditions of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” – we never gelled enough as a singular unit to warrant popularity outside the confines of our remote outpost in Germany. Still, we were considered by the rest of the troop to be something akin to rock stars, people other people wanted to be around, presumably because those people had nothing better to do even though they lived in Europe. To my amazement, this led to several ‘concerts’ in which we performed in front of a live audience. Our second ‘show’ is particularly memorable to me, as it was the first time we played on an actual stage. The idea of playing a gig always intimidated me as it could take a while before I settled down to play well before even a few people. On this occasion the heat of the stage lights quickly began to distract me as I’d never experienced such lighting before. By the third song into our set list, the stage lights were too hot for me, so before the next song I whipped my long sleeve shirt off to the mock cat-calls of first platoon. This annoyed me for just a moment until I heard Ford’s drum sticks click 1, 2, 3, 4. Then we launched into a cover of The Kinks “You Really Got Me” which seemed to whip first platoon into a frenzy. (First platoon was legendary for their drinking skills and subsequent madness.) They approached the stage en masse and began pounding their fists on the stage and snapping their heads to the beat of the music. Their thunder rocked the stage and reverberated through my bones. Their energy electrified me. They fed me and I fed them back. That’s when time slowed down. For a few seconds, long seconds, time slowed down as I looked across the hall we were playing in and noticed that the people in the back were also enjoying the show. I don’t recall finishing the song but I do remember that I was literally exhilarated on that stage. That memory is one of the few times I can remember in which I felt absolutely, truly, inexorably alive.

That memory is also fleeting. I remember it is there, that is was, but of what use is it to me now? A memory is intangible and re-lived speciously at best. Having slipped into that fateful pattern civilizations lay out for us, such moments of aliveness become fewer and further in between. Eventually, many of us float through life, comfortable in the knowledge of what we’re supposed to do, which I will grant keeps us safe. It has kept me safe. But the cost has become who I am, where what I am has only been revealed when I have felt alive. But the world is set up in such a way that I have spend much of my time not feeling alive. Halfway through my life, I have begun to see how dearly this has cost me, how much of my true nature has been buried so deep it feels like it cannot be dug up again. I have forgotten that my identity is not fixed by my perceptions or the perceptions of others. I have realized that the person I am that is happy is defined by the actions that make me feel alive. But it seems as though I have forgotten what those actions are. I am no longer alive because I do not practice the things that make me happy; I am no longer alive having foregone almost all risk. Or perhaps this is all a mental affliction that comes naturally with age, the search for an explanation to the loss of the vitality and promise of one’s youth. Perhaps it is the case that I cannot accept who or what I am – ordinary – not destined for great things, or worse, unable to do them. It is one thing to have foreseen this. It is quite another to actually live it.

What remedy is there? It has not proven fortuitous to wait for one’s luck to change. I have to do things. The older generations frown heavily upon millennials of whom they write such scathing headlines, Millennials spend more on experiences than home ownership. Of course the aged will curse the youth for doing what they should have all those years ago. But the lesson to be learned here is that I – you, me, we – have to do things. The world, as it swirls around me, is not enough. It is I who have to swirl around the world. We can’t both be vortexes. Or maybe we can. Of course, it would be an utter storm; risky. And maybe that riskiness would make me feel alive again. I – you, me, we – just have to pull the trigger. The gun might be loaded, but risking the worst is the only way to feel alive.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” – Theodore Roosevelt


All Rights Reserved © July 2018 John J Vinacci

Thoughts on Being Vegetarian

Thoughts on Being Vegetarian

Vegetarianism has been on the rise for some time now, finally taking root in my own household. I am participating, so to speak, but it’s not that I find arguments for this eating lifestyle particularly compelling; I don’t. No, I participate mostly for the sake of supporting those who are enamored by the idea and because I don’t want to make my own dinner all the time. But why aren’t I completely compelled by the arguments for vegetarianism alone? Let’s examine the typical vegetarian’s arguments for abandoning meat in their diet.

To begin with, it’s fair to say that your garden-variety vegetarian finds the idea of farming animals for food repugnant. I can certainly understand this as I am generally against cruelty to any animal that isn’t human. Packing animals in close corners, feeding them something we wouldn’t eat ourselves, pumping them full of hormones, snatching calves from their mothers, wood-chipping chicks if they’re the wrong sex; well, it’s enough to leave a bad taste in any humane person’s mouth. While those of us who occasionally fall off the vegetarian food wagon hope against hope our chicken piccata roamed around happily clueless before being snatched from its bliss like a child in Indonesia, we really know better, and to know better – to know what’s really going on and be okay with it – kinda makes a person an asshole. And we’ve got enough assholes, truth be told.

Fortunately, I don’t find meat all that tasty, or at least not so tasty I couldn’t live without it. After my own father died of a massive heart attack given his meat-saturated diet (though there was the smoking and some drinking, too), I’ve never thought of meat as something I just had to have. And knowing an animal suffered for my culinary enjoyment kind of makes me nauseous when I think about it. Others disagree and their argument is often something like, “Then they (animals) shouldn’t be so damn tasty.” Yes, but if we suddenly discovered how tasty people were, would that suddenly make it okay to eat them? Sometimes this leads to the follow-up argument that God gave human beings dominion over animals (which somehow got translated into “Be shitty to animals”) so it’s all good; the Boss said so. I’m not convinced. It seems like people treat animals the way they’d like to treat other human beings ‘cept that those pesky societal norms stave off their more primitive desires. I’d say thank goodness if treating each other with some dignity weren’t becoming abnormal.

But I digress; I offer my own counter argument to vegetarians here: That eating a plant is equally or even potentially worse than eating an animal. Vegetarians seem content to take life so long as it does not possess a nervous system like most animals do. The reasoning is that if some lifeform is sufficiently close enough to being human, it is cruel to kill and eat that thing. But this is a completely arbitrary distinction. If you’ll notice, many vegetarians are content to include fish in their diet, citing that fish are sufficiently unlike human beings to warrant eating them. Having seen many a fish hooked and pulled out of the water, I’m reasonably sure they feel as much pain as any land animal. So the argument becomes, “I think X is like me (or worse, X is cute), therefore I will not eat it. Y however…” There is no solid delineation for what is sufficiently like a human being to warrant sparing its life and not eating that thing. Who gets to be the authority on such a matter? Arbitrary reasoning is not objective, so the ‘moral’ choice a person makes to become a vegetarian and how far they take it is based solely on subjective reasoning.

It is likewise subjective to assume that plants do not feel pain or suffer from what we do to them. We know that all lifeforms react to the environment around them and what we can pain are sensations the nervous system sends to our brain to tell us harm is taking place. It is therefore reasonable to assume that tearing or uprooting a plant adversely affects a plant and that they don’t somehow sense this. Granted, plants do not have a nervous system like mammals and other animals do, but certainly plants possess a mechanism to react to harm in much the same way they obviously react to positive conditions like sunlight. For all we know, uprooting a plant may make it feel something entirely worse than pain. We don’t know. In not knowing, we should err on the side of caution, not continue on our merry way and say, “Whoops, sorry, we were wrong about you” if we find out plants do feel pain. Then again, that is the tract the United States took in regards to its era of slavery so I guess there is precedent for behaving/eating the way we do.

Ideally then, we really shouldn’t eat anything that may potentially feel pain in our efforts to eat it, if we’re on a quest to claim some moral high ground. Fruits and nuts appear okay to eat then seeing how they are the attempt of plants to procreate and not ‘alive’ in and of themselves or cannot grow unless they’re given the proper circumstances or conditions. In the end, the so-called moral argument given by vegetarians is utterly lost on me; it rings as hollow as a gourd.

This aside, I do believe there are some good arguments to be made in favor of a vegetarian diet. First and foremost is the environmental argument. While a majority of human beings seem to care very little about how poisonous they make their own immediate environment…well, that’s just it. Look, the Romans didn’t know they were poisoning themselves with lead and this was a contributing factor to the fall of their empire. We don’t have that excuse anymore. We know what we’re doing to the environment and the vast majority of us still don’t care. We don’t care that the environment sometimes – maybe often – contributes to cancer yet people ‘race for a cure’ instead of doing the obvious, cleaning up a toxic environment. (I might also mention that people who constantly consume meat have higher rates of cancer than vegetarians.) I know full well that cancer is a horrible, devastating disease but there are steps we can take to minimize our risk to succumbing to it, and taking care of the environment should be chief among those steps. And this is to say nothing of the methane – a particularly nasty greenhouse gas – that is released into the atmosphere due to cattle farming. Shoot, sorry; I forgot rising temperatures aren’t mankind’s fault. (You know mankind can’t take the blame for anything it does to itself.)

As alluded to a few moments ago, there is also much evidence that a vegetarian or meat-restricted diet is healthier and this is a good reason to choose this dietary avenue. This is not to say that being a vegetarian doesn’t take planning, it does. Much of the protein (and to a much lesser degree vitamins, minerals and fats) we get easily from animal products are not readily found in plants, meaning a vegetarian must eat a broader range of plants to meet their essential nutrient needs. Given the downside of consuming so much meat, both for the environment and our health, taking the time to do a little planning couldn’t hurt. Facebook and Twitter will still be there after the ten minutes you’re gone doing some research.

There is sufficiently proper reasons to be a vegetarian but let’s not pretend that the ‘moral’ argument is one of them. Getting into an ‘conversation’ with a carnivore and bringing that argument up is only going to make said carnivore run out to the store and buy a cow’s worth of ground meat. Of course, hard core carnivores don’t care about being healthy either, so perhaps the point is moo-t. Vegetarians; do what’s right for yourself and let time win the battle for you. While you console the meat-eater in your family as they lay dying of cancer, you can say, “I told ya so.”


All Rights Reserved (c) January 2018 John J Vinacci


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