Sunday, August 9, 2009

Two Prayers

Two goofy recitations, one my own, one an excerpt from Laurie Anderson, intended as incantations or call-and-response:

Local Minima

My depth of gratitude for Clint Takeda’s simple words was not evident until the evening we leaned against the Knight Rider pinball machine in the long-demolished 15th Street Tavern, our inclined angles almost in parallel to the careening ball finding temporary traps in the pockmarks of David Hasselhoff’s painted face. Isobel was chanting, whispering perhaps, and it suddenly occurred to me the bardo pond looked just like the oscillating trap that those testing mixed-signal integrated circuits call “stuck-at-fault.” The bardo pond felt just like the point at which the energy daemon in a game of simulated annealing becomes “stuck at local minima. The energy daemon felt just like the last pinball in the round.

Experts in genetic algorithms tell us that the energy required to overcome a local minimum is at least twice that to begin the process of annealing. From the point of view of the pinball, the valley walls are sheer and high, and the pond is cozy, maybe a bit warm for the mountains. There’s beer and brats for the beachfront property. Only that ominous I-70 sign, warning truckers they have not reached bottom yet, reminds the pinball it is far from its poky little home, where its mother is no doubt greatly displeased. How does the pinball reach the flippers? In the wheel, the minimum quantum of energy is one lifetime. In pinball, the minimum quantum of energy is tilt. Twice the energy at go would suggest cheating at some point.

Western Missouri in 1842? Serb highlanders in 1942? Maybe the jerky pattern of those whispers is the sound of a record skipping. Call upon your gods or siphon some gasoline or split the atom, but escaping the local minimum and leaving the canyon is a matter of chance. And the next annealing may not be the karmic destination you were hoping for. Maybe it’s best to sit by the pond in the bright sunshine and wait for the next streetcar to Pleiku.

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