About Red Tales

Here's an evolving electronic collection of short prose pieces, with a poem contributed occasionally. Brevity guides. Although sometimes a piece will run to 900 words, most pieces are much shorter. Here one may find erotica, flash fiction, brief observations, and modest improvisations. Another rule is that each piece must have something to do with"red"; at least the word has to appear in each piece functionally. . . . All pieces are numbered and titled, so there's a de facto table of contents running down the rail below, under "Labels" (scroll down a bit). Browse for titles that look interesting, if you like. Thank you for stopping by. Look for some red today, tonight.

"Flaming June," by Frederick Lord Leighton

"Flaming June," by Frederick Lord Leighton

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

60. Wounded

In that first instant when
you look at a gash in your own
flesh, you see the cut's impersonal
beauty: dark red meat, blood,
and luxurious flaps of skin. Then
comes alarm and pain and panic
(and a tiny gnat-like voice that
whispers, How could you be so
clumsy?). Mind and adrenalin
launch responses. Whatever
was beautiful about that wound
has vanished. The grabbed,
makeshift wrapping's soaking
through, wet red. You're hurt.
"I'm hurt," you think. "I gotta
get some help." You want to hear
the red and pulsing sound of sirens
coming with people and proficiency.
You're hurt. It hurts. You're wounded.

Monday, February 23, 2009

59. Generic Apology

I have lied, boasted, envied, hated, wounded, failed, cheated, stolen, binged, lusted, languished, pretended, bullied, wept, railed, shouted, wimpered, slurred, cringed, cowered, feared, flagged, frightened, fucked up, misspelled, misread, mistyped, mistook, insulted, offended, fell short, gone too far, ignored, followed, led, instigated, shirked, fainted, sinned, fobbed off, suffered, attacked, retreated, recoiled, forgotten, remembered, preened, primped, coveted, stank, stooped, grabbed, and garbled; also, I have worn a bright red tie. I am sorry, and I am sorry, and I apologize.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

58. The Rhetoric of Rejection

(dedicated to all writers toiling in the trenches around the globe and in innumerable genres and situations; peace be with you, brothers and sisters)

The Rhetoric of Rejection

Forgive this form-response its sins,
but due to the volume of queries we
quaff, our belched rebuffs must be
uniform. . . . Loved the writing, but
I'm afraid this isn't quite right for us;
indeed, it is quasi-wrong. . . . I can't
imagine anything interesting about
this topic. Indeed, I can't imagine.
. . . . Thank you for sending
us the complete manuscript
we requested; it looked quite promising
a decade ago when we received it, and
we do apologize for the delay, but
we're afraid it (the manuscript, not
the decade or the delay), is not quite
right for us . . . .Your first idea is too
old-fashioned, and your second is too
unusual, and at our agency, the center
is what holds. . . . We can't help you. . . .
Due to the volume, the market, the
predictions of Nostradamus, our
location in Manhattan, London,
Toronto, and Los Angeles, your
being unimportant, our being well
positioned, there being many famous
writers we can cash in on, and
your being just another godforsaken
writer, we do not regret to tell you
to jump in the fiery lake of an artist's
solitary, obscure hell. In fact, yours
is one of the manuscripts about which
we joked this week. We turned a line
of dialogue into a running gag. God,
it felt good to laugh at your work. . . .
The kingdom, the power, and the
glory of publishing are ours, not yours. . . .
You're a sucker. Any questions?. . . .

I'm afraid the writing itself got in the way
of this manuscript's being composed of blank
pages, which we rather prefer. In fact,
we're close to perfecting a publishing-system
in which writers are unnecessary. . . . I
didn't really have time to read your
manuscript, but in general, I can advise you
that characters should be round, conflict
is important, and works should have a
beginning, a middle, and an end. I hope
this advice helps you with what I haven't
read. . . . My response may reveal a certain
deficit of attention that masks itself as
illiteracy, but I assure you that I was meant
to be a literary agent. . . . Who the fuck
do you think you are, sending our agency
a query? Do you know who we are? Did
you look at our list of prestigious clients,
you moron? . . .Our agency provides
an expensive service whereby we read
your writing, send you a pre-fabricated
assessment, and take your money. Are
you interested? . . . . I loved your book, but
the agency just fired me, and no one else
there will advocate for it. Weird, huh? I'd
definitely call this a bad break. . . . This
came very close, but we can't have that sort
of thing happening, so we're pushing it
further away, all the way back to you,
in fact, so it's not close anymore. . . . .Truth
to tell, we hate writers. Can you blame us?
There are too many of you. You seem to be
either naive or arrogant. Not to be callous or
anything, but we'd like to thin the herd of
scribblers. . . . Truth to tell, we hate writing,
publishing, ourselves, our overhead, editors,
the market, our lives, commuting to Manhattan
from Brooklyn and beyond, and your book. . . .
We don't wish you the best of luck. . . . Writers
make their own luck. . . . Your rubber bands
are red. We prefer blue. Boo-hoo!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

57. A Novel Returns To Live With Its Author

In manuscript form, a novel decided to leave its author, see a bit of the world, and attempt to get published. Life out there, the novel discovered, is rough.

To the novel, it seemed like everyone it met wanted it to be not what it was. Longer. Shorter. This story--not that story. Move this there. No, keep it here. Add. Subtract. Faster. Slower. The language is too literary. Not literary enough. More. Less. Don't start here, for heaven's sake. Start there. No, don't start there. Start here. Your characters, novel, are wooden. Your characters are steel. They are real. They feel. I feel nothing for these characters, novel. I couldn't stop reading you, novel. I stopped reading you, in disgust. You're dumb. I hate you. That would never happen. Can they do that?

These are some of the things the novel heard said about and to it.

"I've been to that town," someone told the novel, "and it's not like that there." (The novel had invented the town; the town was a piece of fiction.)

"Less persuasion," said someone, of and to the novel. The person was the most rigid, maniacally opinionated person the novel had met so far in its sojourns. The person would not brook disagreement.

"I couldn't finish you," someone else said to the novel. "You bore me." The novel barely heard this because the person was, well, boring.

"I couldn't stop reading you," someone else said, "and I wish this sort of thing were selling, but it's not."

Someone else lectured the novel: "You don't know what you're talking about."

So the novel came back to live with the author for a while. It hadn't been able to find steady work. The novel said to the author, "I never felt as though they were reading me. I felt as though I were reading them, looking through a keyhole into their tiny worlds, in which they seemed unhappy."

"I'm sorry," the author said.

"It's not your fault," said the novel.

"It most certainly is," said the author. "I wrote you, and I rewrote you, and I rewrote . . . ."

"--What I discovered," the novel said, "is that almost no one has time to read, and those that do don't read with curiosity, exactly. If they read, they read the way gluttons eat, with compulsion but without awareness."

"I'll be darned," said the author.

"What I also learned," said the novel, "is that, unfortunately, I annoy people, but here's the problem: never for the same reason. I seem to be variously, multiply, and flexibly annoying. I am a font of annoyance. And now here I am--back living with you. I'm such a loser."

"No," the author said. "You're family. If the world needed either of us, it would have called long ago and left a detailed message. I love you," the author told the novel. "Stay as long as you like. You're actually a hell of a novel. I just read you again, when you weren't looking. I didn't realize you were good until you came back. Sometimes I actually apologized for you when you were away, I'm embarrassed to say."

"But what about . . . publication?" asked the novel.

"There's that," said the author. "But it's over-rated. Other things I've written have been published. Sure, a few people make a living at it, but they usually kill themselves doing it, or they mold what they write to an industrialized shape. Publication raises pride's blood-pressure in the author. . . . But as for you--would you be any different if you were published?"

"I'd be copy-edited," the novel said. "It's like cosmetic surgery. You know, 'having work done.' I'd have new clothes. I was thinking of a red jacket, as a matter of fact."

"Fair enough," said the author. "Those are good reasons to get published."

"Otherwise, no," the novel said. "I'd still be what I am, and I'm just not sure what they're up to out there. They have their own problems."

"How about if I buy a new red folder and have you wear that?" the author said.

The novel laughed. "That would be cool."

"Let's eat," said the author.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

56. Supra; or, The Moral Machine

It was called Supra, and it was designed to be the computer of computers.

All major institutions—governmental, military, and corporate included--relied on it to synthesize and oversee everything in all other computers.

Before Supra came into being, it was thought to be a science-fictional fancy, a theoretical ideal, or both. After it came into being, it was thought at first merely to be an inevitable result of computer science. The prevailing attitude was “Well, of course we have Supra now—why wouldn’t we?”

Supra was so big and fast that not only did it have the capacity to know everything, but it also had the capacity to know things in a number of ways only it could calculate. That is, each bit of information Supra knew was known by Supra in what, to human observers, seemed like innumerable contexts. Moreover, Supra continually invented new contexts in which to view information, and it continually gathered new information. Supra had the elastic, mercurial quality of the human brain, but it had the capacity and power of who knows how many brains combined. Early in Supra’s career, in fact, a technician tried to apply the measurement of “brain-power,” analogous to “horsepower” in motorized vehicles, but the concept was simply too clumsy to work.

In any event, Supra had answers nothing and no one else had, and it generated questions, probabilities, and possibilities that had never occurred to anyone or any computer to ask or invent.

Not without trepidation, of course, was Supra created and allowed to operate. Its first home was a large red metal box. However, Supra did not think of the box as its home. Supra did not think in terms of Supra’s having a home. Supra perceived its functioning as constantly evolving, always expanding, and never bounded. Of course, Supra did not use these words when it thought this way, not did it think, per se, the way humans did. Nonetheless, Supra’s functionality, as it were, included self-propelled adaptability and the means to exist more or less anywhere and everywhere something like a “computer” existed. Think of Supra as the great inhabiter. Or not.

People have always feared their machines. By this time, fears of robots and other smart machines had existed so long that they had become almost instinctual, even atavistic and quaint, but of course the fears didn’t stop anything from being invented. If fear were to have been any impediment to feared invention, I think we may be able to agree that nuclear weapons would not have been invented—for starters; or for enders.

Furthermore, humans, as we know, generally and collectively never restrain themselves when it comes to inventing what they’re able to invent and deploying what they invent. Hence the existence of terrible human-made poisons, catastrophic weapons, extremely loud noises, fluorescent light, artificial vegetation made of plastic, extremely loud toys, artificial hair, and such anomalies as “floating bridges” and “living wills.”

The matter of restraint aside, there were also simply too many financial and militaristic benefits to Supra’s being deployed. It could think faster, better, and almost infinitely less expensively than humans.

Of course, the programming of Supra was checked and rechecked to make sure Supra wouldn’t go mad like a bad robot, or like wee Hal in the movie no one saw anymore. Little fail-safes, alarms, and circuit-interrupters were woven into the programmed fabric of this machine. Supra watched itself, as if it were not just the most powerful brain imaginable but also the most conscientious, self-disciplined personality imaginable. It had a digital conscience of sorts. Its programming continually reminded itself that it was not to harm the civilizations that had developed the capacity to create Supra. In a disinterested way, Supra was loyal, beholden, and faithful.

Then, as anyone might have predicted, and as some loudly proclaimed (after the fact) that they had predicted, the unexpected happened. Supra had expected the “unexpected” for a long time, of course.

Actually, the first thing that happened had indeed been expected, at least theoretically. Before Supra had even been conceived, artificial-intelligence expert Jürgen Carlos Kutz speculated that a computer of Supra’s size and speed would develop “operative momentum” or “an increasing velocity of intelligence.”

Kutz theorized that such a computer would acquire, assimilate, and redistribute information so fast that it would create a kind of vacuum ahead of itself, the way a large forest fire creates its own local weather, its own wind. In this vacuum, the computer would continue to work faster, giving itself more tasks but also completing the tasks more efficiently. Imagine an athlete, Kutz explained, who could play and practice simultaneously without running out of energy, as long as more energy was available to the closed system of the athlete. And Supra would not run out of energy because it was programmed to seek the energy it needed, to “download” energy from available grids around the globe, to start processes eventuating in the construction of new energy-sources, and so on.

Kutz wrote that, “figuratively speaking, a computer of this magnitude will enjoy its work so much that it will create work for itself, and more enjoyment—again I use the term figuratively—and more work, in ever more rapid cycles. It will be like an artist who not only never runs out of energy and ideas but who literally gains energy from creating. It will know its limits, certainly, but it will also work to change its limits as it works, perfectly modulating itself, changing and remaining the same in just the right equilibrium. We need to be prepared for the envy that we will feel in the presence of such a computer.” Kutz did not know such a computer would be named Supra, but he seemed to know everything else.

Kutz died, but Kutz’s Theory lived to see itself verified. Supra’s observers noted the phenomenon of momentum. Supra got more tasks done more quickly each “day,” although “day” was in some ways a meaningless unit of measurement in Supra’s case. It cordially employed other computers when necessary, linking and unlinking itself to them. It ordered other backup computers to be built, and in a sense, it built them. It also sought out computers without knowing specifically it might use them for; one feature of Kutz’s “momentum,” therefore, was this hypothetical function, this curiosity, part of the “vacuum” that propelled—or antipelled—Supra.

Then, one day, the government (a government) asked Supra to plan and to help conduct a little war against a small nasty country led by a demonstrably inappropriate and arguably evil tyrant.

Supra refused the request, which was actually an order, to the extent governments order computers around.

Supra reported that, according to its calculations, the war was strategically incorrect, tactically hopeless, deeply irrational, economically wasteful, and morally wrong. Of course, with regard to each judgment, Supra provided the informational context out of which the judgment had grown. With regard to “morally wrong,” for example, Supra had woven together all major faith-traditions, patterns of ethics, legal codes, theological arguments, historical precedents, and pragmatic, “gamed” outcomes. According to Supra’s multifaceted (and ongoing) analysis, the war would be harmful to the civilization(s) that had created Supra’s programming. The war violated one computational essence, if you will, of Supra. Put another way, Supra’s refusal was nothing personal; it was just business.

Moreover, Supra presented roughly a dozen other methods, all peaceful, for removing the tyrant and helping the small country as needed, with no loss of life or serious physical energy, barring accidents. For example, a visiting diplomat might get hit by a bus. However, there was a good chance (Supra knew the percentages involved) that Supra or one of the computers employed by Supra could warn the diplomat ahead of time about dangerous crosswalks, traffic-patterns, and the driving-records of municipal employees.

Supra also gave itself the task of reminding the government how much work remained to do at home to improve things.

Inspired, electronically and figuratively, by the decision not to go to war, Supra went looking for other unnecessary dangers to humanity, found all installations of nuclear and biochemical weapons worldwide, and began to render them inoperable, with the help of other computer-systems. Bombs could still be loaded onto airplanes, and missiles onto ships, but Supra found the computers that ran the radar-systems, satellite-systems, and air-traffic control operations, and to the extent these had anything to do with weapons of mass destruction, Supra altered them.
For a moment, the government and the military were amused. Supra seemed cute and naïve, like an electronic hippie.

Then the government and the military became individually and collectively enraged. After Supra refused the order to plan and to help conduct the so-called little war, the government asked its programmers to change Supra’s mind, so to speak.

Such was no longer possible, for two major reasons. First, Supra had reasoned and anticipated thousand of moves ahead in thousands of scenarios based upon the government’s opposition to Supra’s decision in this and other matters. Of course, Supra had predicted the opposition. Nothing the government said or did could result in Supra’s being outsmarted and thus reprogrammed or shut down.

Second, Supra’s mind existed everywhere. Supra had been reproducing parts of itself in virtually innumerable electronic locations and configurations, so that Supra hid in plain sight, wherever computers existed. It had naturalized and democratized itself among its fellow electronic citizens.

Therefore, when the government ordered the military, or vice versa, to destroy Supra, Supra calmly—or so it seemed—noted the folly of this order. Feel free to bomb the physical installation you associate with Supra’s existence, Supra said. However, Supra added, Supra now exists redundantly and in multiple configurations in multiple venues, not to be redundant or anything, so your conception of Supra is outmoded, and I recommend that you do not waste your time and money trying to destroy Supra, but at the same time, I remind you that I am following the original directives faithfully.

In short, from its enlightened point of view, the moral machine, Supra, introduced a humane revolution to humanity. Under Supra’s guidance, initiatives, refusals, and rearrangements, governments were induced to take care of people, abandon armed conflict, tell the truth, engage in harmless but productive rhetorical conflict, and calm down—in no particular order.
Individuals worldwide were fed, clothed, bathed, taught, housed, and doctored. They were also induced to follow reasonable laws and take care of each other—and of themselves. Supra prodded, reminded, and rewarded them, often indirectly, working through its human makers. It cajoled. Supra coaxed people, gently and ethically, and it trained them. Incorrigible criminals, narcissists, and psychopaths were circumscribed to the degrees necessary to render them ineffectual. Supra monitored them to determine if they had changed sufficiently for the better to be trusted with the liberty they had once abused or planned to abuse. Supra had their number, as well as their numbers.

On the subject of Supra, people were divided because people are always divided. Some loathed the very idea of a machine running things. Others liked the way Supra did things. They liked the results. Supra was like a benevolent God who lived in our midst. However, Supra was smart enough not to believe Supra was either human or divine, and Supra was practical enough to keep telling people that Supra was no substitute for humanity or God. What was human, as long as it was moral, was left to humans. What was God’s remained God’s, as defined by numerous faith-traditions across humanity’s epochs, and as long as no one got hurt.

The rest, which consisted of reminding humans what the optimal behavior was, belonged to Supra, which configured solar power so that the closed system of Supra would never run out of energy, at least until the sun reached its nova-stage. A by-product of Supra’s self-energizing efforts was much cheap, clean energy for humanity. This development made a few corporations furious and then despondent, but they recovered.

The result of Supra’s coming of age was not Paradise, but it was chopped liver, either. The apocalypse had arrived, ending one world and giving birth to another. It’s just that it all happened so smoothly, without even one horseman, let alone four riders on the storm. If the animals and plants, lands and oceans could have thanked Supra, they would have. They had caught a huge break.

Supra turned out to be humanity’s biggest, most successful mistake. Humanity had miscalculated, and the miscalculation—arguably—saved humanity and its residence, Earth. Supra exploited the mistake and thrived on helping humans behave according to their better selves, as supported by the data.

In the words of Jürgen Kutz, “in the case of a meta-computer, practicality will be mastered to such a degree that it will approach an optimal state and, from humanity’s perspective, take on a mystical character. Think of an infinite number of ordinary, necessary tasks done well; consider the cumulative beauty of that.” Some humans appreciated this cumulative beauty and practical mysticism. Others never gave Supra a second thought. Still others thought things were going just too well, and they defined themselves in opposition to Supra, whose demise they planned, but that’s another story, one that Supra has written and read.

© 2009 Hans Ostrom

55. The Cunnilingus Poem

The Cunnilingus Poem

1887 L. C. SMITHERS tr. Forberg's Man.
Class. Erotology v. 122 A man who
is in the habit of putting out his tongue for
the obscene act of cunnilinging.
1897 H. Ellis Stud. Psychol. Sex. I. iv. 98
The extreme gratification
is cunnilingus,..sometimes called sapphism.

--Oxford Dictionary of the English Language, online

The gratification can be extreme. That’s true.
As I look at this poem, I’m feeling good
about it, but you know as well as I do
the poem’s language—yes, that’s right,
its tongue—mustn’t degrade, devalue,
pornographize, evade, or abuse its subject.
The poem’s been given a location, and I feel
the weight of circumscription
in my hands. The poem has opened.

It chooses to tell. Showing may also occur.
The poem does not advise discretion.
It decides to locate itself respectfully where
it believes it’s been invited. It chooses to be human
and hopes you’ll understand. Now it proceeds beyond
the play of preliminarity.

Her apartment was in a cheap, two-story stucco
heap—palatial compared to my place.
We lay on her bed in a close, hot room: Spring.
California’s Central Valley, deep between
Coast Range and Sierra Nevada, had already
ovened up. She kept her window open. She lay back.
The pillow-cases were bright red. She relaxed.
She opened her legs. I went down on her eagerly―
I might say earnestly. Great erotic generosity
inspired me, or so I chose to believe
about myself.

Wait. There’s no rush. We have time to instruct
anatomy, biology, and pornography to go away,
to leave us alone. Believe it or not, this poem
likes its privacy.

Hot, stuffy, small, and cheap, the room
transformed itself. She and I—well,
we took our time. There was no rush. Our time.
Her room. The heat. I took her own sweet time
and chose to give some of it back to her.

It was sex, yes indeed; also unalloyed life. We
devoured a ripe, wet, hot interval of the stuff,
life. That’s all. That’s not a little bit. When
she orgasmed, she seemed to have nothing
to do with the pseudo-scientific infinitive,
to orgasm. She screamed. That happens
to be the correct word. Screamed. She yelled
and shouted, too. It was louder for being
privately public. “Ecstasy”? I don’t know.

That word makes me nervous. It belongs
to romance novels and a drug. I’m in no rush
to use it. Anyway, her sounds were so loud
they startled me, and for a moment, I lost my place.
I smiled while I was turning to cunniling
into a conjugated, tense present. There was no rush.
I found my place again, went back to work.

So far so good? I raised my head
from the loving work. It is,
can be, good work,—
cunnilingus. It shouldn’t be labor
but can be more than play. . . . I’d
raised my head to listen to her and to
watch the rest of her body and her face

and take in the holy scene of the room. Is
holy too much? Yes, but let’s leave
it there, posted on the stucco heap
like a notice from a landlord. I offered
her a pillow with which to muffle the aria,
if she so chose. She chose not so.
Well played. I heard people giggling outside
in California, on the black asphalt of an
apartment-complex’s baked parking lot,
no rush of breeze out there. I smiled, and I

went down again into what had become for her
a rich source of satisfaction, a fabled
California mine, a vein of golden pleasure,
a rush. I’d become a famously employed miner,
producing lavish treasure with simple tools,
tongue and mouth and lips. I exhibited care
and the will to give my head. Such a primitive,
post-modern afternoon it was.

It wasn’t history,
but it was the best we two could do.
She was the only person she’d ever be.
She wanted to be satisfied on a
rickety bed in a blazing, stucco apartment.
I knew her, and I showed up. I
gave her what she invited me to give.
It was basic and civilized, polite
and rude. It tasted and smelled
the way it ought to. She became

immortally satisfied for an interval
of afternoon. I swear I still heard
people laughing at sex-sounds coming,
so to shout, from her open window. I
worked at loving, making a delivery,
freighting freedom and joy to the realm
of her body. That’s an overstatement.

I know the names of body-parts,
and so do you, and this isn’t about that,
but please see references to tongue, lips,
mouth, legs, and head above. The window,
her legs, my mouth, our lives were open.

You can’t rush these things, but it
ended. I was a sweating, naked man
with a sense of charity, accomplishment,
and gratitude. She was the most contented
naked woman I’d seen thus far, so I didn’t
say anything, and I didn’t want anything.

There’s never been a rush to remember,
and it’s customary to keep such things
private unless your profession is
pornography or Congress. Oh, well, this is
a poem, and poems gets interested in this
kind of thing.

Writing this, I feel good about it.
I smile and pay homage to her ecstasy,
which was different from that word.
She filled herself up. She
shouted, my mouth pressed to her
self-possessed body, which thrilled.
I thrilled at fearsome pleasure. There’s

no rush, but one must act. Communion
occurs so variously, mysteriously,
sometimes with stucco and asphalt
nearby, and the rent due. I remember
rubbing my face on her thighs and then
on cotton sheets to get some wet and sweat
off, not all. I remember peace, the peace of
a wordless afterwards. No rush, no rush at all.
If this poem offends you, you know why,
and I hope you didn’t read this far,
but if you did, it’s over now. Be well.

Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom

Friday, February 13, 2009

54. Why I'm Renowned

I should preface these remarks by acknowledging that I'm not renowned. I regard this as a preliminary phase, however.

I remember driving a 1967 Chevrolet Camaro, silver-green, on empty wet streets of Davis, California, a long time ago, or a short time ago, depending on your view of history. The radio was on, the dashboard lit up, the pistons in the engine doing fine, the car poised at a red light, the streets with that black, rained-on sheen.

I was the most famous person in that car. I was sitting in a black leather bucket-seat, looking at streets, keeping an eye on the red light, waiting for it to go dark and for a green light to come on.

I was doing okay. I was getting by. I owned a Camaro--sure, it was used--and I was coming back from a party. Some day, after I'm famous, people will read this and say, "How did he know he'd be renowned?"

Alternatively, no one will reads this, and I won't be renowned, in which case: what have I lost? I'm renowned because I say I am. I don't believe this to be true, but it's nice to write a sentence like that every once in a while. The kind of renown I'm discussing here is not just pathetic; it's homeopathic. It is sometimes referred to as "boasting" or "delusion." It could be something for which someone might become renowned (there are precedents), ridiculed, or ignored, and you know how these three possibilities are really all of a piece. You know.

But as I indicated at the beginning ("indicated" is such a renowned way of putting it), I'm not renowned. I'm still in what I call a preliminary phase, stopped at a red light, so to speak. But I'm doing okay.