And now for a different kind of empty:

When emptiness is possible,

Everything is possible;

Were emptiness impossible,

Nothing would be possible…

…Contingency is emptiness

Which, contingently configured,

Is the middle way.

Everything is contingent;

Everything is empty.


Freeing your mind from suffering, liberation from anguish, required recognizing emptiness according to the Buddha. As Stephen Batchelor wrote in his translation of Nagarjuna’s Verses from the Center, “Just as nature or an abandoned dwelling is devoid of human ownership, so experience is intrinsically neither ‘me’ nor ‘mine.’ Recognizing mental an physical processes as ’empty’ of self was, for the Buddha, the way to dispel the confusion that lies at the origin of anguish, for such confusion configures a sense of self as a fixed and opaque thing that feels disconnected from the dynamic, contingent and fluid processes of life…To dwell in emptiness means living with the ambiguous and non-dualistic nature of life.”

Dandelion Seed Head
By Phil Sellens from East Sussex – Dandelion Seed Head (Taraxacum officinale) X, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44450435
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Last Local Yokai (for now, anyway)

The last local yokai I want to introduce is the 怒りのグレムリン (Ikari no guremurin, or rage gremlin). These suckers are the embodiment of the algorithms that are used on the most popular social media platforms. Just like advertisers discovered that fear sells products better than sex, rage drives engagement better than tranquility. And politicians use both.

I got a really good example of that when He Who Shall Not Be Named bought a platform on which I used to spend a LOT of time. I switched full-time to another that does not have those algorithms (🦣) and immediately, IMMEDIATELY my mental health improved. I had been hesitant to leave before, because it was such a good source of news that I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise. But it turns out that I don’t need to put up with Nazis on a platform to get that access. And it was a great case study for the difference that rules can make to one’s experience – the algorithms and norms that constitute a social media platform can make or break it.

I tasked Craiyon with showing me a “futuristic space gremlin within a computer’s software” and this in my opinion is the best one it came up with:

A creepy, distorted and blurry face surrounded by rays of distorted and broken light against a dark background.
AI-generated image

Which was pretty good, but not really what I had in mind. It’s too divorced from the programming decisions that are made by humans. I wanted something that was closer to what the people behind the scenes were likely to see. So this is what I drew:

Handwritten "software code" in a faux-Python style that starts off fairly normally but then begins to randomly insert skull-and-crossbones symbols before drawing a skull in ASCII text.
by Annelies Kamran
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Another Local Yokai: Sairenheddo

Meet サイレンヘッド, Sairenheddo (Sirenhead). On Long Island there’s an insane number of partially-filled strip malls, the result of decades of overdevelopment and a zoning/planning ethos of “build it and they will come.” The problem is that “build it and they will come really only applies to the ghosts of baseball players. There were an abundance of never completely-filled malls before the rise of internet shopping let alone the pandemic! And now we have virgin forests being cleared for extremely dubious reasons all while the decaying strip malls are allowed to crumble.

But I figured out what is happening in those malls – it’s where Sairenheddo comes to life. A close relative of the rural monster Sirenhead, Sairenheddo is its urban manifestation. Those lights and sound systems that are no longer needed to illuminate empty parking lots or to draw the attention of shoppers slowly absorb the either of concrete and tarmac and neglect, morphing into Sairenheddo. It then stalks around, adding to the sound pollution on this poor island and killing people by bursting their eardrums and internal organs with sound waves.

For this one, I tried drawing it first, then asking an AIbot to come up with an image.

A pencil and paper drawing of Sairenheddo standing on an island with dead trees in the parking lot of an abandoned strip mall.  Sairenheddo is a many meters tall, skeletal biped with two sirens where the head should be. The buildings have broken windows and doors and there is rubbish scattered around.
by Annelies Kamran

I don’t think the aibot really grasped the whole concept of “Sirenhead” so I’d say this was not as successful as others have been. I picked the top center as my favorite of these because I think the parking lot and building show good cracks, unauthorized vegetation, etc.

Nine different versions of "sirenhead standing in the parking lot of an abandoned strip mall" by the image generator Craiyon.
This version from Craiyon shows a good amount of decrepitude, and the siren visible looks kind of like a car radio speaker.

Much obliged to Trevor Henderson for coming up with this monster!

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Another Local Yokai

This is the ごみのスプライト Gomi no supuraito (“litter sprite” in Japanese, according to Google Translate):

9 Craiyon AI interpretations of the prompt "a small sprite created from litter left on the side of the road in the style of ukiyo-e".

So the AI gave me some ideas (even though it completely missed the “in the style of” bit). I thought the trash should be more identifiable (you wouldn’t BELIEVE the crap I find in my hedges) and that the sprites should have wings and a more nonchalant attitude, so this is what I drew:

A pencil drawing of litter sprites in the corner of a parking lot: a crushed can standing, a half-full fountain drink with straw lying back with arms behind "head" and legs crossed, and a crumpled cigarette box sitting.  They are surrounded by a plastic bag, dead leaves, a flattened plastic water bottle, crumpled papers, an apple core and a cigarette butt.

Pencil drawing by Annelies Kamran

If you’ve ever been to Long Island, NY you know that there’s trash everywhere you go on the sides of the roads, in the trees and bushes, and along the shorelines. There is even a literal mountain of trash (also known as the Town of Brookhaven Landfill). Gomi no supuraito are created when non-decomposable litter is tossed and then left out too long. Look in a storm drain or in the corner of a parking lot, and you’ll see arms and legs and wings starting to poke out.

So what makes these things monsters? They are tangible evidence of other people’s lack of care for the environment around them – which includes other people! They can fly, spreading to new areas and breeding more litter. As they embody callous indifference, they can infect people by biting. Infection can cause either exasperated repulsion of other people or wistful hopelessness in improvement. Only rarely does infection cause galvanizing outrage that takes action against the sprites and their ultimate cause (too much stuff).

January 19th, 2023 11:31am

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Yokai of Long Island

I’ve developed an interest in yokai (thanks to GeGeGe no Kitarō) and in mythology in general (thanks to PBS series Monstrum) and it’s got me to wondering – what kind of yokai would I see in the New York metro area if I were to go looking? This is what I think I’d find…

高速道路の昆虫 (Kōzokudōro no konchū, or highway insect)

a Dall-e interpretation of the prompt “photo of a large black iridescent scarab beetle with glowing eyes, antennae, and a mouth with lots of teeth at night on a highway in the style of Miami Vice”

This enormous shiny black beetle is what became of an asshole driver who died after causing a car crash in a rage.  The legs move so fast they look like wheels and the eyes shine like highbeams as it tailgates you on dark and deserted highways late at night.  The Kōzokudōro no konchū will tailgate you at high speeds and if you tap your brakes it will swerve around and cut you off, forcing you off the road and into a ditch so it can open its toothy maw and swallow you whole, car and all.

The Kōzokudōro no konchū is testing you – when it tailgates you have to take your foot off the gas and allow your vehicle to slow naturally, This will signal to the yokai that you are not going to be goaded into losing your temper and it should move on to another victim.

my drawing of a giant beetle with headlights, a front window, and windshield wipers on a street.

pencil and ink drawing by Annelies Kamran

January 8th, 2023 8:14pm

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