Before this year started, I set myself four goals, four Great Works, for 2022. I did this mainly because, in my depressed state, I didn’t expect to see another full year after this one, and…I wanted to have something to leave behind as a legacy, something that others could look at after I’m gone.
This Monday’s post should explain why I don’t feel as hopeless as back in December, but it’s worth it to take a look at those works and how they’re progressing.
The First Work
Alana is the biggest winner in my great works. That’s because, no matter how I feel, I still roll out of bed every weekday morning for work. I’ve sometimes hated myself for doing it. I’ve started most days wondering if I would be fired for my inadequate performance. But I didn’t stop.
We’re not ready for launch yet, but we’re definitely in a beta state. Now, part of the reason why we’re so far behind (the original deadline was last September!) is because of scope creep: instead of the simple “dating site for car-buyers” my boss envisioned, we’re practically building a whole new social platform. Lucky for me, I’ve tried doing exactly that on no fewer than three occasions. (Themis, Pixeme, and Clave, in case you’re wondering. I want to revisit the second of those eventually.)
The team has expanded, too. I’m working with an actual designer. I have a front-end developer to handle all the things I’ve never really been good at. We’re ready to hire more of each. There’s a QA team, a security consultant, and too many marketing types waiting in the wings. Best of all, we’ve been getting hits from the sales pitches on both the consumer and business sides.
I’m never more than cautiously optimistic about anything I’m doing. Anyone who has followed me on here the past seven years understands that. With this project, I feel as good as I dare.
The Second Work
No matter what happens, I am on the ballot in November. The deadline for removing myself has just passed, so I’ll be listed as the sole challenger to a Republican seeking her 5th term.
The thing is, I don’t want to do it. The whole point was to get a platform for some of the things I felt Tennessee really needed: anti-lockdown measures, a ban on mask and vaccine mandates, school choice, constitutional carry, and so on. While the incumbent doesn’t support all of those, her colleagues in the General Assembly have done an admirable job dragging our state toward greater liberty without her…or me.
I can’t handle the publicity, the crowds, the interviews. I’d rather not have to. This was never more than an excuse to say I’d done it, and a way to tell those who are better suited for office that anybody can do it. So I’m on the ballot, and thus I consider the second Great Work complete. I’m content with that.
The Third Work
Technetism exists. It’s a real, valid philosophy that attempts to return to the roots of humanism, before the term was hijacked by nihilists. There’s a website that I haven’t updated in months, but also a Substack column I write weekly.
You can check it out over in the sidebar (or the menu, if you’re on mobile) to see what I’ve been writing. The gist of it, though, is that technetism is about finding your own path to personal betterment. Whether that comes from religion, politics, community, meditation, or whatever, it’s your choice. Your duty.
Since working out the tenets of the philosophy, I’ve tried my best to live up to them. I seek out knowledge, as I always have, and I’m willing to share it with others. I eschew dogma; more and more people are doing that every day now. And it really does help. Maybe it’s not great for alleviating depression and anxiety, but it does solve the problem of a lack of purpose, something I’ve suffered for almost as long.
I will continue to explore technetism in as many venues as possible, and I still want to get The Prison of Ignorance released by the end of this year. Even without it, however, I’ll consider the third Great Work to be achieved. Not finished, because something like this is never truly done.
The Fourth Work
The idea of extraterrestrial communication had mostly left my mind for a few months. I worked a little on the “beacon” message I described initially, which I’ve since named ICONIC, but that’s about it. This week’s first-light images from the JWST have now made me want to go back to the project.
A message for aliens has to start at the beginning. First, you need a way to establish that you’re intelligent, that your message is more than just the random noise of stars and quasars and whatnot. This is done through patterns, repetition, and structure.
I have that done. Drawing on sources such as Cosmic OS and Contact, I’ve devised a simple sequencing pattern that works to give any listener a good picture of what we’re sending. From there, I started work on a section introducing basic arithmetic—aliens intelligent enough to receive the message would obviously know this already, but it provides a basis for further communication.
That further communication is where I stopped. Next on the list would be simple algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. These would complete the math “chapter” of the message, allowing me to move on to physics and chemistry. Following those would be biology, I think, and then a simple language based on the concept of semantic primes, a kind of universal meta-language. (I like to think I’m good at creating languages. I’ve been doing it for more than half my life, after all.)
So the fourth work is also the one farthest from completion. Two of the others are basically done, and the last—first—is well on its way. That’s…not quite the outcome I expected when I laid out the initial plan.
Of course, a lot has changed since then. Leslie and I got back together, and now we’re making plans of our own, plans that don’t abruptly end next October. My job is steady and stable, at least for the time being. My family is recovering from the trauma of the past few years. The world is still no better, but circumstances have made it possible for me to look beyond some of the sore spots.
But you know me. I’ve spent so long at the bottom that it’s hard to look up. And…I don’t want to fall back down again. I’ve worked too hard, on these and on so many other things. It’d be nice to win for a change.
Some things are worth the wait.
Over the past three years, I’ve written quite a lot about Leslie. She’s usually “the woman I love” in my posts, and that started for two reasons. One, I didn’t know how she would feel about her name being used in my writing, especially of the nonfiction sort. Two, I’ve spent so much time wondering if I’d lose her that I didn’t want too many permanent reminders of my failure.
Because I have thought I’d lost her on multiple occasions. Almost always, that’s my fault. My depression and anxiety were too much to handle, and it just became impossible to even imagine the notion that she and I would finally get to meet and live the life we wanted in each other.
I endured three years of anguish, doubt, and self-loathing. In that span, I lived through an overblown pandemic, a national coup, four times when I seriously contemplated suicide, periods of up to three months without talking to each other, and more breakdowns than I can count. I dreamed of her. I cried for her. I asked myself if life was worth living without her, and I could never make myself believe that it was. I still can’t say for sure, but now I know I don’t have to.
We waited three years to meet in person. Most people would have given up long before that. And, to be honest, sometimes I gave up. Even when I did, though, she never gave up on me.
Last weekend taught me a lot of things, but the biggest lesson I learned is that other people just don’t see me the same way I see myself. Sure, my boss—to name one example—can tell me he sees something in me that I try to hide, but those are just words.
I know words. I’ve written millions of them, and I know how hollow they are. All the words in the world mean nothing if you don’t back them up. “I love you” is little more than a pleasantry when you send it in a text or say it over the phone, but it finally becomes real when you’re hearing it from the woman who has told you she wants to spend the rest of her life with you because you’re the best man she’s ever known.
Depression is like looking at yourself through a lens of smoky glass. All the colors are muted, details are hard to make out, and everything just looks darker than it really is. I’ve lived like that for so long that I forgot what it was like to be truly happy. Hearing the emotion in her voice, seeing the light in her eyes, feeling the way her body relaxed the second I put my arms around it…that is happiness of I kind I’d never known until Friday evening.
I’m not a womanizer. I could never project the confidence to be a pick-up artist. If I had a headboard, I certainly wouldn’t use it as the scoreboard for my sexual conquests. That’s just not how I am. So I’m not happy because Leslie complimented me. I’m happy because she made it possible to see that I was worthy of receiving compliments. That I deserved to be spoken of in such terms. That I can be loved, and love her in return.
This is what I was missing. It’s why I’m writing this post with tears streaming down my face, because my emotions have been in overdrive for the past 72 hours.
We talked about everything, it seemed. We learned things about each other that no amount of internet connectivity can teach. For me, one of them was that she thinks she’s the one coming out ahead. That was hard to accept. When we first met online, I was nobody, nothing. I had no job, no reliable transportation, and no future I could see. I was a week away from giving up on the idea of relationships entirely, because who would want me?
We made promises to each other, and first among them was this: never again. Never again will we be kept apart by outside forces. Yes, it’s another three weeks until our next chance to meet—assuming I don’t do something crazy before then—but we both understand that. We won’t let it stop us.
I’ve been dead inside for far too long. Last weekend gave me a chance to feel alive again, and it gave me something—someone—to live for. I never want to lose that, or her.
The United States of America has always been as much a symbol as a country. We are the beacon of liberty for the world. We are living proof that tyranny is not eternal, that freedom is inalienable.
To everyone fighting for independence on this American Independence Day, know that some of us still remember this. Wherever you are, whatever country you wish to create, the true American patriots will stand with you in your struggle, because we know what you’re doing. We’ve been there.
This post is dedicated to the brave freedom fighters of Catalonia, Palestine, East Turkestan, Kurdistan, Donetsk, Luhansk, and every single human being who suffers under the yoke of tyranny. Whether that tyranny comes in the form of Communist China, the socialist EU, the draconian restrictions of a fake pandemic, or any tinpot dictator desperately trying to remain in power, remember that you are not alone. Every tyrant must fall. Sic semper tyrannis.
I’ve been waiting for this one since the first time I heard the title track. Planet Zero got pushed back from its original April release to today, July 1, due to a manufacturing delay for the vinyl edition. But that’s okay. It’s definitely worth the wait.
Shinedown was, some years ago, my favorite modern rock band. They were the headlining act of the first indoor concert I ever saw—I’m still kicking myself for being too late to see Halestorm open for them—and they just made good music. Their last three albums (Amaryllis, Threat to Survival, and Attention Attention) all felt lackluster to me, and some of that comes from the big letdown after 2008’s amazing The Sound of Madness, which I will call the best rock album of its decade without any hesitation.
But “Planet Zero” sounded like a return to form, and it sounded like it had a message, a purpose. That’s something rock has been getting back to, so why not check it out?
The intro track sets the tone and the stage, because this is, in a way, a concept album. It’s a quick instrumental with electronic elements, fitting for the futuristic setting. Nothing to write home about, but it tells you that you’re listening to something intended to be cohesive.
No Sleep Tonight
This is the first “real” song on the album, and it’s your typical Shinedown: hard and heavy, but always with a little lift. And a great solo in the middle, which is not what the band is known for. More importantly, though, the lyrics have a distinct theme that resurfaces throughout the course of the album. “We’re tired of being powerless,” it says. And that is a familiar refrain.
The title track was also the first single. If you haven’t already heard it, you don’t know what you’re missing. It’s even heavier than “No Sleep Tonight” was, with a stronger sense of anger, and that anger is directed towards the woke, towards cancel culture and all its evils. As someone who feels the same, “Planet Zero” resonated with me from the first listen. Finally, here was someone who understood what I was saying.
This album has six interstitial tracks. “Welcome” is first, followed by “Standardized Experiences” (track 7), “Do Not Panic” (track 9), “A More Utopian Future” (track 12), “This Is A Warning” (track 16), and “Delete” (track 19). I won’t cover them individually, because they’re basically all the same.
They tell the story of the eponymous Planet Zero, which may or may not be a future version of Earth. (Considering the opener’s title and the fact that, in Orwell’s novel, London had been renamed Airstrip One, I think the parallels are pretty obvious.) On Planet Zero, as the helpful computer voice explains through these tracks, everyone is happy and sociable. They have to be, or else they’re sent in for reeducation or surrendered to the populace for “social judgment”—in other words, canceled.
If that isn’t a direct indictment of modern leftism and the Great Reset, I don’t know what is. It couldn’t be any clearer. Those hateful ideologies have the goal of eliminating nonconformity and thus individualism; Planet Zero is clearly the end result of that, a dystopia called a utopia, a combination of 1984, Brave New World, and The Matrix. That’s the direction our world is heading, so it’s always good when someone with a platform speaks out against it.
After what’s actually a seriously dense metaphor packed into about 30 seconds, “Dysfunctional You” is a jarring contrast. A light melody typical of Amaryllis tends to overshadow some surprisingly deep lyrics. This song, as far as I can tell, is about being yourself even when other people think you’re crazy.
It’s a powerful message when you think about it, and all the more so in our current climate of normalizing every possible peculiarity. But we’re not talking about embracing degeneracy here. No, this is more about those minor or moderate mental disorders we too often treat as much more. They’re not. Working for someone who is dyslexic, I’ve come to understand how it affects a person, but it’s not the end of the world. While anxiety—one of my own maladies—can be crippling at its worst, it’s a part of who I am, and something I’d rather learn to control through my own actions rather than with drugs.
If anything, that’s the message of this song. Be who you are, and be proud of it. Don’t change just to fit in. That goes for the anxious and the depressed as much as for the tomboy being pressured into transitioning.
Dead Don’t Die
Another hard track, another of the back-and-forth pendulum swings that mark Planet Zero. This time, it’s more like classic Shinedown. And that’s a little odd, because it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the album. It doesn’t really continue the dystopian storyline, and it honestly reminds me of nothing so much as “Diamond Eyes” from the soundtrack to The Expendables.
Still, it’s a good song, a nice “you can’t bring me down” anthem that could apply to just about any situation. It doesn’t drag the album down, but it doesn’t do much to pump it up, either. I guess everybody needs some filler every now and then.
Track 8 should be the headliner, but I absolutely understand why it was saved for the full album release. If it weren’t, I don’t believe it would’ve come out at all. More than any other song, “America Burning” nails the message of Planet Zero.
Again, it’s a harder one, but forget about the music and focus on the lyrics. “You might be woke but not awake,” one line reads. “Is this apocalypse now? Who let the animals out?”
Anyone who saw the massive riots over the summer of 2020, triggered (at least in part) by the death of a random drug addict, knows what “America Burning” means. Anyone who watched as blatant election fraud was swept under the rug, even as those who stood up for fairness were vilified and jailed, understands the even deeper message. That anyone is brave enough to speak out against the senseless destruction of our country and the indoctrination of our children is astonishing. That it comes in the form of a catchy and memorable song is so much better.
A Symptom Of Being Human
Back to the light side again. As with “Dysfunctional You”, here’s another track about facing the odds to be yourself. In this case, it’s more about feeling out of place, something I can’t help but get. “Sometimes I’m in a room where I don’t belong,” is how the chorus opens; well, that’s just about every room I’ve ever stepped into.
We’re all crazy in our own unique way. That’s a fact of life, and it’s something that progressives, with their desire to neutralize all differences between us, fail to grasp. But that craziness is what gives us life, and what makes that life worth living. It creates society, with all its ups and downs. Mild insanity is, to put it simply, a symptom of being human.
“Hope” is by far the most inspirational song on this album, and quite possibly one of the brightest Shinedown has ever released. (“I’ll Follow You” and “Unity” from Amaryllis both come close.) The acoustic guitar work and the mildly heavy riffs in the solo give it a quality akin to 90s alternative and pop rock; listening to it, I was reminded more of Collective Soul and Sister Hazel than the band that was banned from MTV for daring to let a white man stare down the barrel of a .45.
Even the subject matter is almost cloyingly positive, but that still manages to fit the tone of the album. If “America Burning” is the realistic look at what our country is facing, “Hope” is the whitepill, the reminder that we can still make it right as long as we’re willing to be true to ourselves.
Clueless And Dramatic
Following a brief interruption from our AI overseer, track 13 jumps right back into harder rock. This time, Brent is railing against what many on the right side of the internet have begun to call the NPC Race, that significant group of people who aren’t ignorant, but shockingly poor at reasoning.
“Clueless and dramatic” is indeed a good way to describe the Twitter blue-checks who show no self-awareness, no memory of recent or historical events, and far too much emotion for something they clearly aren’t emotionally invested in. Think the many, many calls for “my body, my choice” regarding the recent Dobbs ruling, often from the same people who, two years ago, said that the decision whether to take an experimental drug was something the state could and should mandate.
The best defense against these people is to ignore them. And that’s the remedy Shinedown offers: turn it off, save yourself from the clueless and dramatic.
(Also, this song has a nice callback to 45, the band’s first real hit.)
Sure Is Fun
If I didn’t have MP3 tags, I would’ve thought this was Imagine Dragons. I’m not entirely sure what this song is saying or why it’s a part of the album. It sounds more like the lowest points of Attention Attention and the reason why I had given up on Shinedown for a decade. Call it a filler track, really.
Despite that, it’s not too bad. There’s more spitting in the face of wokeness, which is always good. The melody gets stuck in your head. Give it a listen, but there’s really no need to come back to it.
“Daylight” was the third single for Planet Zero, and it’s the only true ballad on the album. As I’ve said repeatedly, both on here and in real life, a ballad is a necessary component for a great record. It just is.
When I first heard this one—less than a month ago, but it feels like much longer—I broke down. I truly felt as if the words were meant for me and me alone. Rather, for myself and my partner. “I was diagnosed with a fear of getting too close.” Yeah, that’s me. “Had to tell the ones I love I was on the ropes.” Yep. Did that.
If all goes well, I’m going to meet Leslie in person for the first time next week. After three years of waiting, including the “one year and three months in the dark” of lockdown madness that Brent so eloquently states here, I have finally made it to the point in my life where I can do this. And every single line of this song is what I want to say to the woman I love, the one who has given me a reason to go on throughout it all.
The Saints Of Violence And Innuendo
If you ask me, “Daylight” would have worked better at the end of the album, because how do you follow that up? (It’s the same for “Call Me”, all the way back on The Sound Of Madness, but that one was at the end.)
Well, this isn’t the way. Another stand against the woke mob doesn’t really flow from the tearful reminder of those who get us through the day, and no storyline filler can change that. Still, “Saints” is a great Shinedown song. It has the beat, the feel, and it would fit just anywhere in their discography. Its connection to the story certainly helps it here, however, because it’s easier to see the connection between the title and the target.
Army Of The Underappreciated
“Cry For Help” came out 14 years ago. I’ve probably listened to it a hundred times since then. And, for whatever reason, it’s all I can hear when I listen to this song. They just sound the same.
As with “Saints” before it, “Army” is a little generic. It’s a Shinedown song more than a Planet Zero track. That’s not bad, of course. You do want a band to sound like itself, since that’s what the fans are looking for. On the other hand, there’s nothing in here that stands out.
What You Wanted
Another Imagine Dragons wannabe closes out the album. There’s really not a lot to say about the music, because there’s not much music to deal with. You mostly have Brent singing over a kind of faux marching band and string section.
But this is the end of the story, too. Our visitor to the so-called utopia has been found out, his individualist thinking noted by the authorities. And he doesn’t care.
The lyrics here are a message, an ultimatum to the very real anti-human forces trying to rule the world today. You will not rule forever. Your end will come. And no one will come to your rescue. The pendulum is already swinging back in the other direction, as Dobbs, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, West Virginia v. EPA, and Carson v. Makin show. Wokeness is a hateful, divisive ideology, and its followers should be careful not to let that pendulum hit them on its way back. But honestly, they deserve no less.
I won’t say this was the best album I’ve heard. It’s not even the best Shinedown album. But its highs are much higher and more frequent than its lows. It has some really good tracks, not too much filler, and a coherent narrative running through much of it. As a bonus, that narrative is pro-human, pro-freedom, and very courageous in speaking truth to power. I felt the anger of “America Burning” and the, well, hope of “Hope” as much as “Daylight” left me crying.
That’s all I ask for in music: emotion and meaning. I got it here, and I’m glad one of my favorite bands has taken the right stand. That only makes it better.