You can’t really have art without elision. I think this is true in all media and in all genres.

The well-chosen edit in a movie, the shift from verse to chorus in a song, the blackout between scenes in a play. All of these things ask us to do the work of filling in.

When we are required to provide what is missing, then we pay attention, and our imagination becomes engaged. Whether it is the gap between panels in a graphic novel, the unseen off-screen murder in a thriller, or just a brief wordless glance between two potential lovers on stage, the part of the story that is withheld from us can be the greatest tool of storytelling.

Like the old jingle says: “It’s the nothing that makes us something / It’s what we miss that hits the mark / It’s what left out that leaves us in / It’s the light shining over the dark.”

Watching movies on airplanes

I know you’re not supposed to like watching movies on airplanes. In-flight movies are really a consolation prize for being cooped up for several hours in a too-small seat inside a crowded tin can.

The screen is small, and the conditions are sub-optimal. And yet, I find that I really love it.

Sometimes I will watch the same movie that I saw on a big screen in a movie theater, one I didn’t particularly like the first time around. Yet when I see it in the little seat-back screen in front of me, the movie seems much better.

I think it has something to do with intimacy and focus. I am tuning out everything else about the uncomfortable experience of flying, so I become completely immersed in the movie, even more than I would in a movie theater.

When I watch an in-flight movie, I feel more connected with the movie watching experience. In this setting, I find that I am better at noticing and appreciating the choices the filmmaker has made, and that makes me like the movie even more.

Am I the only one who has this experience?

The question of taxes

Every year, millions of people in the U.S. go through the anxiety of filing their taxes. Many people wait until the very last minute, mainly to avoid dealing with it.

Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that taxes were completely automatic. What if the laws were set up so that the entire process happened completely behind the scenes.

In that alternate reality, your taxes would just be automatically withheld, sent on their way to pay for all those nice things that we take for granted — like roads, airports, schools and fire departments — and that would be it. Nobody would even think about taxes.

I am sure there are good arguments against such a thing. But then again, maybe in the long run we would all be happier.

Sense memories

There are some people I think of only when I am cooking certain dishes. There are other people I think of only as I am passing through certain doorways.

In many cases, these are people I have not seen or interacted with for years. Yet there they are, showing up in the most unexpected places.

It’s curious how people lodge themselves in your head. Some memories have a habit of curling themselves up in a corner of your brain, and waiting for just the right event or location to awaken.

I wonder whether this is a common phenomenon. Am I, even now, lodged far away in somebody else’s brain, a sense memory waiting for just the right moment to return?

Zoom and the Brady Bunch

People of a certain age grew up watching The Brady Bunch on TV. For that generation, the visual sequence that opens the show is iconic.

The cast appears in a 3×3 grid, with everybody taking turns looking at each other in up, down, left, right and diagonal directions. Everyone watching knew that they couldn’t actually see each other, and that they were filmed separately, but everyone loved the concept and the visual.

Zoom looks kind of like that, with everyone’s video face appearing in little square boxes. But it doesn’t have that cross-window eye contact.

As we emerge from the pandemic, many millions of people have gotten used to the visual iconography of Zoom. I wonder whether a new form of visual storytelling will eventually emerge from all this, one which combines the visual ideas of Zoom meetings with the visual ideas of that Brady Bunch opening.

Unlucky day

April 15 seems to be a particularly unlucky day of the year. On this day in history, Abraham Lincoln died after being shot in the back of the head, and the RMS Titanic sank into the North Atlantic, killing most people on board.

Also, a massive fire seriously damaged the cathedral at Notre-Dame, and two bombs were set off at the Boston Marathon, killing or injuring hundreds of people.

Various other tragic events also happened on April 15 that haven’t even made this list. On top of all that, if you live in the U.S., today your taxes are due.

I, for one, am looking forward to April 16.

Definitive song

Suppose you were tasked with identifying one definitive song from your list of favorite songwriter or songwriting team. First you’d really need to define what you mean by “definitive”.

A definition that appeals to me focuses on the song’s impact. How deeply did a song influence the culture? Did it change the very way we think about music? In the event of a tie, consider which song first comes to everyone’s mind when thinking of that songwriter or songwriting team.

Given this definition, some choices are easy. For Nirvana, it would be “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. For Irving Berlin, it would be “White Christmas”.

But other cases are trickier. What is Paul McCartney’s definitive song? Or Joni Mitchell, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Carole King, Robert and Richard Sherman, Taylor Swift, Bob Dylan or Ellie Greenwich?

Collaborative art 2.0

There were bugs in the first version I tried to release of my little collaborative art project built on top of Croquet. But I am starting to better understand Croquet better, so I was hopeful that this time it might work properly.

So I tried it again today — a program on the Web that allows people to collaborate to form an evolving picture, by clicking to set or clear pixels. Alas, it still did not work properly. Sigh. Eventually I hope to get it right.

Reality superuser

Continuing the idea thread from yesterday…

The ability to travel to the future and come back again, as a fictional trope, creates all sorts of potential problems. Once you know what is going to happen, you then have sufficient agency to make it not happen, and that leads to paradoxes.

But there is no such restriction on traveling to the past, as long as you are only able to observe, without the ability to change anything. Semantically, this is equivalent to potential omniscience about everything and anything that has happened up to this moment in time.

We might call a person who has such omniscience a “reality superuser” (RS), to borrow a word from computer terminology. An RS is able to access any event at any location in history, and then act on that knowledge in the present.

This does not lead to any paradoxes, since the RS cannot change anything that has come before the current moment. But it does create a very interesting kind of superpower.

For example, an RS can look at you and immediately know your entire life history and experience. This may give the RS the ability to predict, with reasonable accuracy, what you are likely to do next in any given situation.

I wonder whether anyone has explored this trope in fiction.

Backwards time travel

Traveling forward in time could create all sorts of contradictions. Whatever you learn in the future could affect what you then do here in the present, thereby creating the possibility of a time loop and paradox.

But traveling backwards in time shouldn’t be any problem at all, from that perspective, as long as you are not allowed to affect anything. If all you can do is observe without changing anything, it seems, from a theoretical perspective, that it would be perfectly reasonable.

I wonder how many authors have started from this premise and developed a compelling story around it. I can’t actually think of any offhand.