Existentialism, Fatalism, Quietude, Truth

Man, Burning

The alien astronomer gazing into his telescope light-years away, someday he might see you. Pull over and jump on the hood and flail your arms and shake your fists, for you will leave no other trace.

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The restless ghost of Lake Lahontan fills the desert. A primitive mind would accept no explanation short of smoke from the extinguished sun. An educated one might fear that again a great asteroid has struck.

“You can’t drive,” she says. “It’s a sandstorm.”

“I thought it was the gentle mist of a rainforest. I’m recharging the battery.”

“Do we have to listen to this?”

“It’s an antidote to the techno music. Dean Martin soothes me.”

“How bad is your sunburn?”

“Don’t look. I can feel the pressure from your eyes. Amputation might be necessary in one area. I hope we can still be friends.”

As though celebrating the celebration of a celebration whose meaning mutated across some great Chinese whisper, three gypsy women with pink hair and Hula Hoops lurch into existence. A plaid unicorn struggles to keep up then splits in two, amoeba-style. The posterior curses the anterior. You buzz the window down and call to them but they keep going, making their way back to the Martian Mardis Gras.

“Close it!” she says, covering her eyes. “The sand will ruin the stereo. Are you out of your mind?”

“I spent the day wandering around in a desert. If A then B.”

She laughs and takes a long drink of water and hands you the bottle. “You have to drink even if you’re not thirsty.”

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“[E]mploys secrets and intrigue as a driving, page-turning force”  Publishers Weekly

What will you say to your friends at work about this dustbowl Dada exhibit, this infomercial for Archetypes Gone Wild? Will you mention it after a discussion of the ballgame? Words, those crude nets sufficient for trolling shallow waters, how will they transport these fantastic creatures? The inability to describe something makes it your captive. And vice versa.

“How long do sandstorms last?”

“This is no biggy,” she says.

“What about Ozymandias?”

“That statue was ruined, not buried. Let’s try again. This is romantic.”

“It hurts too much. That stretches the skin. Think of a balloon inflating.”

“Why did you have to walk around nude?”

“Because I never did before and this is the place to do it. I can’t believe we saw your friends.”

“That was so weird.”

“You didn’t have to yell to them.”

“They won’t remember.”

“Thanks.”

A man in red, white, and blue greasepaint walks at an angle against the wind as though approaching an angry god not by faith but through sheer force of will. Fantasizing about a motel with soft sheets and a pool, you watch a yellow submarine materialize out of a receding brume. Brontosaurs of black rock slumber in the distance.

“It’s clearing up,” she says. “Let’s go.”

Enter a world where Nature endowed her children with bioluminescence. They dance and roll and galumph across the playa. Held by an indecisive stagehand, the moon can’t decide which circus ring deserves attention. If an alien astronomer 12,000 light-years away peers into a telescope it will see the campfires of those who once lived here, see them fishing cutthroat trout, nursing babies, dying. How long until a band of nomads are burning effigies on the floor of Lake Michigan?

You climb the spiral staircase of a dragon’s neck and stand in line for two Martinis. “We shouldn’t be boozing,” she says. “Alcohol is a diuretic.”

“I read the all the survival crap too. Think of it as medicinal. We don’t have to worry about snakebite. Is this Burning Man bigger than last year?”

“Probably. It’s hard to tell.”

Enchanted by throbbing bursts of sound, a gathering of gyrators proceeds as if dancing in the moonlight is no less natural than flying south for the winter. Maybe they’re right.

“Let’s find the Abstininthe bar,” she says. “Keep your eyes peeled for Sigmund the sea monster.”

“There are 30,000 people here and we’re going to hang out with your ex. We saw his lame costume at Halloween.”

“At least he has one.”

“In case anyone asks, what are we?”

“You’re Angry Sunburned Guy. I’m your longsuffering girlfriend who’s really an android.”

“Why am I angry?”

“You thought I was conscious but it’s only a simulation.”

“All this time you’ve been faking. That’s a crusher.”

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Winner of the GIWWPN Genius Fellowship

Outside a tent lit from within by a strobe light, two men in pink suits sip piña coladas. They’re wearing stools on their heads. You gawk. Perhaps the absolute absence of meaning creates a black hole from which not even thoughts can escape.

“Think about it,” says one. “You can figure it out,” says the other.

No you can’t. Like the sound of one hand clapping, this koan withholds its satori.

“We’re pieces of gum.”

Standing beside you and taking judicious inhalations from a balloon, Moses Jr. says, “I don’t get it. Why would gum wear a suit?” He offers you a hit. It’s a simulacrum of dessert, matter-free whip cream. The sounds of things stretch and convulse on their way to your ears, slithering on the ground where they receive an electric charge. Everything you’ve heard heretofore has been acoustic. Now it’s plugged in and distorted by a wah-wah pedal.

You look to the stars for mooring, the only constants in this carnival of flux, but you’re forgetting something. They are no more eternal than breadcrumbs tossed across a dark pond. Permanence is relative; oblivion, patient. That even they must die, these cherubs who shone for billions of years in a wondrous way, should their mortality bring you comfort, a familial affinity, or despair? Are ceremonies underway on any of their adjacent planets or have they all blown themselves up?

She takes your hand and leads you away. You catch the vapor trail of her thoughts until the magic gas releases you from its spell. Why couldn’t our atmosphere be composed of nitrous oxide? Would that not ensure utopia?

A statue of Medusa dwarfs you. Glow Stick serpents flap in the gritty breeze. Zealously she withholds her raison d’être or denies its necessity. What were the surrealists rebelling against? you wonder, clinging to the absurd idea that all this makes sense in some Big Perspective if you step back far enough. Careful. You could fall off the edge of the world before figuring it out.

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Eyes of the Lotus Pod

“I wish you wouldn’t huff that shit,” she says. “There’s no way of knowing if it’s pharmaceutical grade or the stuff they use in cars.”

“If it’s good enough for A.J. Foyt it’s good enough for me.”

A man draped in green rags calls to her. They hug. Reluctantly you bump knuckles with her ex. “A tossed salad? That’s hysterical.”

“I’m Sigmund the sea monster.”

“No one remembers that stupid show. You could say you’re low tide, or a pile of leaves, or the Green Reaper after he’s fallen on hard times.”

“I’m Sigmund the damn sea monster, alright?”

She scowls at you. “This is awesome, hey?”

“Yeah,” he says, which marks the high water mark of their conversation. The tedium of what follows, how it hobbles the frenzied majesty of the night, serving to demonstrate the banal essence of language, proving that whereof one cannot speak he should remain silent. (But could a romantic poet do any better? Dante, maybe.)

“You ready for the burn?” she asks him.

“Why do they burn it?” you say. “Per Frasier’s Golden Bough why not have a corn man everybody eats? Or, to symbolize the transitory nature of things, they could have Dissolving Man, who’s made of dry-ice and fades away to nothing. Burning is too medieval, too inquisition-like. Don’t they want something more in tune with paganism?”

They regard you with brute stupefaction. “Have you seen Steve?” he asks her, not deigning to engage your inquiry.

“Hey Squidward, is there a port-a-potty around here?”

“Sigmund! Yeah, keep walking that way. You can’t miss them.”

Your not-so-distant male ancestors would have bathed in his entrails. You’re not fit to kiss their feet. You hear her apologize for you being “like that.” How wonderful it must be to have risen so far above our nature. How did she do it? And why hasn’t she shed temper tantrums and her belief in astrology, or do those increase with enlightenment?

Harpo and Groucho ride unicycles while juggling bowling pins. Chico sits on his haunches yelling some eastern European dialect into his cell. “I loved Animal Crackers,” you tell them. “It was your best one.”

Groucho smiles but shakes his head. “Night at the Opera,” he says, his voice an accidental property of his accent.

The splendor of five-foot cupcakes cruising past is negated by the painful need to defecate and knowledge of the horrors it will entail. Why must the earthly trump the transcendent? How can Flesh prevail over Spirit, not content to conquer it but insistent on derision? When you raise your eyes to heaven you get kicked in the groin.

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Everest? Big Whoop!

“Did you find one?” she says.

“No, but there was a signed urinal out in the open.”

“That was an exhibit,” says her ex.

“Relax, Spongebob. I’m joking. Let’s get going.”

The space you travel cannot be measured in meters or minutes. It’s more like the distance between Alice in Wonderland and Zod Wallop. A wave of sand deposits Ye Olde Nutmeg Tent. Subsequent waves threaten to take it back.

“Hot chocolate drinks aren’t going to be too popular,” she says.

“It’s hallucinogenic.”

“Nutmeg? No way.”

You smile at a girl who’s wearing a Daniel Boon hat, furry boots, and nothing else. Below her pierced naval, four tattoos depict an animated sequence of dancing bears. The narrow entrance to heaven is not obscured by any dark medium. “Nutmeg is like a six-hour panic attack during a hangover. It makes you feel –” The first bear, red, stands with feet planted. The second bear, green, has one leg lifted. The third —

“Why don’t you take a picture. If you wanted to drool at naked women you could have spent the week on a stool at Heartbreakers.”

“I wasn’t looking at her tits.”

“I’ll give you that.”

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One-Millionth Visitor, And He Never Knew

Clouds at dawn exhibit more evidence of design than anything below. Chariots of mutant divinities scramble for parking. And that hovering molten ball, what is it?

“I can feel something,” she says. “It’s kicking in.”

Should you mention the neon paisley swirling on her skin? Hopefully the realization that this was not an ideal time for spelunking inner space will be as fleeting as most sensations. If it bothers you, subdue the monstrous blazing ball with the cure-all potion of familiarity. Compose a dossier. It’s 31,000,000 times as far away as your apartment is from Heartbreakers. Its age spots are cancerous and malignant. We revolve around it and it revolves around something else and what if it starts leaking? One drop will burn everything to cinders. Grab her hand and run!

“What’s wrong?” she says, the two worst word-thingies to hear at this time.

“Nothing. Just trying to block the glare.”

“Here. We need to keep drinking water even if we’re not thirsty.”

An unspoken rejoinder seeps into your mind. Or we’ll die. But what is death? Stranger still, what is life?

Four chessmen skip past holding hands. Maybe they’re refugees fleeing the genocide of pawns in the Old World. Will their communist experiment result in an egalitarian paradise or even worse horrors? You know the answer. Stop them before it’s too late.

“It’s getting hot,” she says. “We should look for shade.”

Or we’ll die. Killing time on acid was precarious enough in an air-conditioned hotel room after a Grateful Dead concert. This is of a different order of magnitude. What were you thinking? Her brainless ideas — foolish in theory, disastrous in practice, unyielding to the stern professor of experience, subjected to the analytic rigor of a child at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor — why don’t you act as the break of sanity? “If you think about it, Burning Man isn’t any stranger than the sun,” you tell her, longing for companionship on the lonely frontier of obvious but neglected musings, the stock-in-trade of your rueful choice for breakfast.

“How’s your sunburn?” she says. A malevolent gleam in her eyes suggests the interior is being leased to demons.

“Would you like to see my tan?” And in an instant you’re observing the redundant ritual decreed by the one tyrant against whom there can be no uprising. It commands your return to the oneness whence man emerged, its titles as silly and insufficient as the strings of letters and numbers used to name distant galaxies. Those crude and diminutive monikers, make love, coitus, fuck, are they not the flimsy shields of cavemen cowering before an unfathomable force?

Aggregate of life’s bliss and purpose, beauty and filth compounded, joyous mocker of our spiritual yearnings, derider of the conviction that our lives are necessary and not the by-product of hapless rutting brutes, why must it come with the disconsolate reminder that the best thing about existence is the means of its perpetuation?

While an earthquake crumbles the crust of your mind, pulverizing the shanties that make you different from other animals, the misery of being human abates. Sweet misery. Focus on the counterpoint between the squeaking seat and the rhythmic squish until the little geyser aimed toward the future departs the present.

“Sometimes nasty, brutish, and short is even better than nasty, brutish, and long,” she says.

“Your perception of time is all goofed up. That was at least three hours.” You supplement the post-coital euphoria with one of her cigarettes. “An ultra lite? Why don’t you just read about having a smoke? That would be more intense.”

“Let’s walk around. It’s too hot to stay in the car.”

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A Bucket List for the Dosed

A Stonehenge of wiry sculptures stands on the dusty plane, skeletal extraterrestrials reaching toward the sky as though forsaken by their mother ship. You feel their pain. The artist walks beneath a purple parasol, beaming. A motley assemblage of admirers compliments him. His pride is misplaced. Look at his hands. They did not create. They transported items from the warehouse of the Possible to the garden of the Actual. But who guards that warehouse? Who laid its foundation?

Under plastic palm trees, dreadlocked drummers beat out Morse code in many languages, each competing for aural supremacy. As always, the sum absorbs the parts, nullifies them. Remember that. A green-haired fairy with nipples like drawer-pulls performs a rain dance, waving a magic wand. One of her wings flaps in the breeze; the other dangles from her back as though swatted by a surly ogre. Correlated to her supplications or caused by them, gray and white intestines ooze from a mortal gash in the sky. The lake that once resided here, perhaps it’s only vacationing.

At the main camp sits a throng of laptop jockeys. What on earth are they blogging about (other than the all-important fact that they’re blogging)? The one in the mink shawl and aviator goggles, maybe he’s updating his Facebook profile to reveal that asparagus is his favorite vegetable.

“The dust is going to mess with their computers,” she says, dancing to a jazz trio composed of obstinate soloists. Beside her a girl rolls a crystal ball from arm to arm and over her shoulders as though privy to its orbital irregularities.

“What do you get when you cross the cantina from Star Wars with the Mall of America?”

“Base camp isn’t like anything,” she laughs. “Your dumb metaphors don’t apply.”

“Similes. And everything is like something. It’s a matter of figuring it out.”

Good luck.

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Existential Horror

“Why are they cheering?”

“The man is burning,” she says.

“Why is that a good thing instead of a reason for mourning? If the ceremony doesn’t have a fixed meaning it could be interpreted as some purgative tragic festival.”

“So cry if you want. Maybe some over-arching theme will be created retrospectively. None of the big religions started all at once. The stories snowballed. What if the man keeps coming back, like a phoenix?”

“They can do better than that contrived mess. How did a bird set itself on fire? Did it rub two rocks together? Weren’t the Egyptians aware they lack opposable thumbs?”

“I don’t think it was meant literally.”

“It’s the curse of the Pharaohs. No one can go within fifty feet of a keyboard without making a reference to it.”

The man implodes. Like the anointing of a holy spirit, the pyre bathes the crowd in light and embers.

“Let’s do a theme next year,” she says.

Good news: she plans on being with you in a year’s time. Bad news: she plans on being with you in a year’s time. “I heard Epcot is having a Burning Man exhibit. Let’s go there instead.”

“That’s not even funny.”

A sandstorm absorbs the cars and tents, dissolving them like solids in a clear plastic blender. You feel like a tranquilized animal on a nature program. Sweet blessed exhaustion. You can enter the kingdom of sleep as an honest man. No need to storm the gates with her little white pills. Hobbling across the bridge to Nod, your last thoughts resemble a prayer. Grateful for this gift, you bless the arbitrary and deranged source that doles it out, the way prisoners freed from the Gulag thanked Stalin. A tenebrous dream about marionettes riding a train with no conductor infests your sleep.

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A Novel of Vengeance, Honor, and Bobbleheads

Conspiring in an empire’s decline they disassemble the carnival. What analogue does this willful, ordered, peaceful fall of a civilization have? Monks smearing away a Mandela? A video of ants building a colony played in reverse? The obscure theory that Time ends in neither a quiet diminishment nor a wrathful judgment but a yank back through every instant of history to that first moment when the Great Watchmaker finished winding?

“It’s a long ride home,” she says.

“Seventeen-hundred miles will go by in a snap. I can’t wait for Nebraska. Remember to pinch me so I don’t think I’m in heaven and go off the road.”

Driving down I-80 you feel like you’ve seen a ghost. Something maddeningly more than the sum of your senses yearns to escape but cannot be freed. Is that not a form of possession? How will you describe it? As it slips through your verbal nets you’ll wonder if it happened at all. You sneak glimpses in the mirror but there’s nothing to see. The celebrants at Burning Man, shamans replete with rituals and sacraments but no creed, shadows cast by spurious deities, paintings by Louis Wain on the canvas of the desert, their beauty and mystique is a function of their impermanence. Leaving neither fossils nor temples they vanish, created ex nihilo and parting with equal abruptness.

“Someone should at least plant a flag,” you say. “Archaeologists won’t even find footprints.”

“That’s one of the main principles.”

Take solace. The alien astronomer gazing into his telescope light-years away, someday he might see you. Pull over and jump on the hood and flail your arms and shake your fists, for you will leave no other trace.

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Plato’s Cave? Big Whoop!

Petronius Who?

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Existentialism, Nihilophobia, Quietude, trypophobia

Ask Your Dr. About Tryposoothe. Now!

Meet Soothey, Official Mascot

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“If I look gross you need addictive mind-numbing drugs.”

Do hole-pocked patterns bother you? Radical idea: Stop looking at them! Turn off the gadgets. Unplug the digital intravenous. Open a book. There is no law of physics compelling you to “ask your doctor about Tryposoothe,” the new-fangled miracle treatment for “a serious disorder that often goes undiagnosed.” That this state of mind is actively sought by some Eastern religions is never mentioned. Where’s the multiculturalism?

The ads are so creepy most viewers will wonder if they’re ill. Cole and Wilkins explained how this is a natural response to patterns that were often deadly to our prehistoric ancestors. Is it asking too much of Psychiatry to pretend Evolutionary Biology exists and has something so say about defining “illness”? If it’s not a disorder in the Darwinian sense you’re pitching snake oil with scaremongering, not unlike a recent campaign to convince the public that opiates need not be addictive and everyone needs them. (No, that wasn’t true.)

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SPOILER: Tryposoothe is a designer Benzo “specifically designed to reduce and re-balance the stress chemicals saturating the receptors overloaded by the flight response this phobia triggers.” Right. Behold the glossy brochure with a colorful graph and huggable homunculus and all shall be revealed.

You’d have to be peaking on acid to believe a word. Not to imply this was predictable, but there are Andromedan civilizations who saw it coming. Name a condition Benzos wouldn’t help in the short term. But are they necessary for an altered state actively sought in other cultures as a means of Quietude? It’s a “mental illness” on one continent but enlightenment on another. Psychiatry, you’re making baby Derrida cry. Our faith in you can no longer prevent Reformations.

(BTW, why did the suicide rate EXPLODE during a time when SSRIs became the third-most consumed substance after air and water? Shouldn’t that almost be impossible on a priori grounds? Psychiatry, from now on you’ll need more than pens and clocks to distract us. )

Everyone’s a socialist but no one reads Lenin. Who stands to gain from these potions? The masses huddling at the feet of savage lotus pods? Please. Follow the cigar smoke.

Early Ad for Tryposoothe

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A Response to an “Empathy-Challenged” Writer

Later used in a novel

“You write that we should just ‘turn off the gadgets. Unplug the digital intravenous. Open a book.’ Thanks! Great advice, jackass. Is omniscience fun? Does G-d ever get jealous? What about those of us with intrusive thoughts — regardless of where we look? What about people like me who only lose control when we dream?”

A montage of his recurrent nightmares, based on a lengthy email exchange:

I sit up in a park on the outskirts of a city. Furious clouds tumble across the sky like boulders down a mountain and smokestacks of lightning turn the buildings into tombstones. Seven Lotus Pods surround me, cocking their heads inquisitively, beaming their thoughts to me, judging mine. Somehow we converse without speech and I can detect unique ideas from different Pods.

(“No, it’s not ‘interesting,’ as one shrink said. It’s the most disgusting and horrible thing I’ve ever experienced. I’d kill for a script that mellows this out. So what if it’s a Benzo! Not to get all cosmic on you, but maybe this is why these drugs exist. Be glad you don’t need to resort to drastic options. Who TF are you to tell my doctor what solutions he can utilize?”)

Two of Them part, permitting me to leave the circle. At my feet there’s a silver walking stick with a golden thermometer attached to one end. The Pods watch, their segmented blue eyes fixed on me. Per their sovereign decree, I retrieve the stick and head into town where people writhe on the ground clutching their throats. Some run amok through the streets dodging dog-sized rats and covering their mouths from whatever plague has doomed the others.

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Serenely I approach a bank and hold up my staff to its sign. Darkness like ink spills across the sky but an auroral light surrounds the thermometer. The Lotus Pods examine the reading through my mind and dispatch me to another sign to measure its temperature.

The bank thermometers DO NOT correspond to the actual temperature, They insist. To prove this We need readings from other thermometers. But they might be lying too. This could be demonstrated by a third group. But if those thermometers are inaccurate We’ll need another set. There is a way to settle this for once and for good, to escape The Loop. Proceed.

“And eventually I wake up. But you can’t stay awake indefinitely, not that I haven’t tried. Tell me more about ‘turning off my gadgets!’ A designer Benzo sounds just about right.”

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A Sympathetic Author Responds to the Dreamer of Holes

Face your fears, always, absolutely, directly. There are practical considerations you have neglected. The author endured Post-Traumatic Mountaineering Disorder sans chemicals of any kind, sublimating the existential agony to create Art. Perhaps these dreams have meanings you shouldn’t flee. Is it not curious how we once explored them to heal the psyche (the disguised fulfillment of suppressed wishes, said Freud) but now they’re shunned? Who stood to profit from the destruction of this paradigm?

The U.S. does not need another buckshot blast of an addictive pill (proven safe by two six-week studies!) Our deaths of despair can only be remedied by subtracting the despair, not by adding drugs. There is only one consolation for the Trypophobiac: You look as strange to them.

Once upon a time, alternative explanations could at least be mentioned. On the Wiki page, the philosophical analysis provided by Jablonski occupied as much space as the reductive bio-materialism hooey. Then it was reduced to what you see below.

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Then it disappeared. Now it’s gone. Take your Tryposoothe and stop asking questions.

Reflections Broodings of a Trypophobiac

Serial Killers Who Worked Security

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Annals, Existentialism, Schrodinger's Dachshund, Security, trypophobia

The Thematic Unity of “Alex”

In response to disproportionate (and frankly disturbing) interest in Serial Killers Who Worked Security, the most popular entry on this site, consider a case study: the phenomenology of a Security Guard in Existential turmoil, the clinical description of what we’ve come to suspect. Based on a true story.

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Are we the sum of our sensations, or the remainder when they’re subtracted?

If a zoologist from another planet studied Alex Jitney, the milky pallor and nondescript features might instigate regrets that humans aren’t reptilian. Despite acknowledging that hair once enabled our drab but vicious species to exert pheromonal influences by trapping body scents, it would soon focus on the rich tapestries of the Rainbow Boa-constrictor and Peninsular Rock Agama. The field guide would recommend visiting the deserts and rain-forests while proceeding with extreme caution on this woebegone planet of apes.

If Alex shared his shift with other workers, the uniform dangling from his angular frame might initiate questions about his ability to defend Lodestar’s Shipping and Receiving Center in the dead of night. “He can’t be here for deterrence,” they’d whisper. “What could he deter?”

At 2:11 A.M. Alex steps over the red beam of a motion detector and walks down rows of brown boxes in a  cavernous room, lost in thoughts of Security, pondering its essence: Why did Petrosian lose to Bobby Fischer? How could Karpov lose to Kasparov? Defense is superior to offense. A state of equilibrium smiles upon those who work to maintain it, not those who rupture its static pattern with aggression.

He removes the pineapple from two pieces of chicken pizza before eating them. Love the sin, hate the sinner. After lunch he clasps his hands behind his head and props his feet on the windowsill to enjoy the harmony of silence. But there is no such thing. The illogical pattern of the herringbone wall across the street is louder than any stereo, more offensive than swastikas. He closes his eyes and a parade barges across the space between his ears: a list of prime numbers separated by two, the sweet aftertaste of fruit, the sound of a car backfiring, the stretch of a full bladder.

Unknown is whether “Alex” is the sum of these impressions or the remainder when they’re subtracted. Time spent alone, rare and awkward moments when he’s  not thinking about chess send him searching for a mysterious being called the self. It’s like looking for a shadow with a spotlight. The commotion and chitchat must hide this from first and second shift. Are they lucky or deluded or both?

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What are we, and Why, and Where — you wouldn’t think to ask such questions in a crowded office. And there’s no screaming silence to those queries when everyone’s talking about the Packers. Quiet time spent in solitude, paradoxical potion, familiar friend and dreaded torture, its company attracts and repels, revives and kills, and creates addicts of some who hate it.

While Alex turns an abstract painting on the wall  around so only its non-chaotic backside is visible, a green silhouette like Nosferatu with a beer gut appears in the window and points a trembling finger at him. Alex checks his watch. Contrary to the trite expression, there is no crack of dawn. A dirty yellow growth will soon spread across the horizon like fungus on chocolate cake, devouring  the delicate textures of the night.

He removes a silver pendant from his neck. You don’t need to check it again. You’ve checked it twelve times since the start of your shift. He opens it and extracts a tiny scroll. Such elegant and simple premises. So harmoniously the conclusion flows from them like a river filled by lesser tributaries. No wonder it’s never been found. Everyone expects something dense and convoluted.

He puts the pendant back and doesn’t hear voices in the street. For all their rage and urgency they could just as well be the croaks of bullfrogs, differing only  by degree. When crimson guts spill from the belly of the night, he watches for his relief, for the 2003 Saturn stirring up clouds of dust like some chariot riding out of a whirlwind. Watchmen, sentinels of the remorseless hinterland between dusk and morn, priests of the rosary beading all the days, keepers of the promise that renewal comes with dawn, are they not warriors?

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“Like a surreal existentialist crisis” Publishers Weekly

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Gus Sanders: Greatest Guard Since Plato

Watchman and the Mystery Box

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trypophobia, existentialism, lotus pods, Nihilophobia

Eyes of The Lotus Pod

You Look as Strange to Them

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Living periscopes ascend, vindicating intuitions that they’re not mere plants. Examine the elongated totems like some chess master absorbed by a whirlwind of counterfactuals. Only they are not pieces in your game. You are a pawn in theirs.

Minutes assail you, warriors to be killed one at a time. The pink froth of the sunset drips down the pods, sending their dark affinities squirming toward your feet like mutant apprentices deployed to ensnare. Purple eyes watch yours watching them watch yours. Follow the regress. Pretend you have a choice.

One inference attains solidity. Lotus Pods are security cameras. Placed here to observe us. To observe you. Conduits of a Power more primal and remorseless and inscrutable than gravity, their segmented eyes gander not with indifference but affects unnamed by any human tongue. To what Mind do they connect? What dark soul presses against those convex windows?

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Remember something. You look as strange and vile to them. A narcotic called Routine stupefies you until bizarre things elicit a yawn. If you took the shears and made a deep incision across your abdomen you’d be forced to agree the contents are every whit as grotesque and unfathomable as the ghastly plants. Almost. Your hypocrisy is audacious. You arose from the happenstance conjunction of two cells and grew in the dank hollow of another creature before being ejected in a protoplasmic discharge; you spend your days chasing the wind on a rock lit by a distant conflagration of gases, gnawing the flesh of your fellow entities for sustenance, yet you dare to point an accusatory finger at the lotus pods?

Leaves grow between the minutes, entangling them, impeding whatever it is that clocks measure or detect or warn us about. You’ve had it all wrong. You saw the present as a night between two days, one illumed by the glare of hindsight, the other distorted by the mirage of dreams and expectations. Seeing the leaves quiver in the breeze you realize the only true light is the flickering candle of NOW floating down a switchback, away from one abyss and toward another, casting its measly glow on no one knows what. Before and Later are funhouse distortions that make the room look bigger. The room is tiny. Everyone else is playing make believe in a closet. You don’t have to. Look at the lotus pods. Now.

LotusPods

With the indifference of sages they regard you, their eyes dilated by the same deliriant coursing through your veins: a hallucinogen called Life. How to account for its high esteem despite a 100% mortality rate and side-effects too numerous to list? No accounting for taste. Those freaks who worship it, who want to find more in space should come here. This is what they’re excited about? How is it more fascinating or sacred or deserving of study than granite or helium?

Or Nothing. How do we explain our ultimate ancestor? Awake from your dogmatic slumber. Pace before globular muses. Squeeze your head to prevent an eruption. These thoughts can’t fit in the cheap Tupperware of language. Will they spoil if not preserved? Is the resultant poison lethal?

No, it’s worse.

Maybe you should board up the windows in back? What if they can see thoughts? What redundant cautions and elaborate rituals will suffice to deflect rays emanating from these violet orbs?

If you can’t hide there’s no reason not to continue your studies indoors, to attain a fresh vantage as a practitioner of the scientific method, to follow in the footsteps of Newton and Darwin. Or are you standing on the shoulders of Faust?

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Retrieve two flower pots and a spade from the garage. Your shadow materializes on the side like a cave only you may enter. There’s no little surprise that clawed hands don’t reach through the soil to defend these sentries, unless this is their desire. Ignore the ancient puzzle: you’re free to do what you want but not to want what you want. Like all philosophic riddles its practical upshot is nil. Regardless of which diabolic force entails your behavior, you dig up two with greater caution than a man probing a minefield. Defying your expectations, the Indian Ocean doesn’t geyser from the holes. Nor do the roots wrap around your throat.

With the measured steps of a Flying Wallenda you take them inside and place them on the kitchen table. Do they have any idea how hideous they are? In the garden, their eyes pointed at the house. What would happen if they saw each other? Place a trembling hand on each pot. Prepare to turn them, to magnify their cognition to the level of omniscience. Medusa, meet Medusa.

But arranged like this you won’t see what they see. There is one way to partake of their Objective view. Remove the mirror in the living room and drag it upstairs. Position it across from the one in your bedroom. Put a tower speaker between them. Place the pods on it back to back, the eyes of each facing opposite mirrors.

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Poke your head between the mirrors. Look Ptolemy, look into the Hubble telescope. Not all infinite regresses display fractal beauty. See the multi-eyed serpent coil through anfractuous catacombs, all-seeing and self-sustaining.

A blinding bolt of Eureka! cracks the shell of your mind and reveals to the stunned hatchling within a world beyond all wonder. You’ve spent your life solving phantom problems. Why is there anything instead of Nothing? Does creation contain more good than evil? What’s the meaning of Life? These are easy; puerile, even. They’re all explained by …

Your cell plays Low Rider. What if it’s her? Second thoughts could come at any moment. The 100+ plaintive text messages were bound to pay off. Not all women are disgusted by desperation. Exceptions prove the rule. As you reach for your phone your elbow knocks one of the pots. Trying to catch it you fall forward and butt the speaker with your head. You stumble and feel a horrendous crunch under one shoe, then the other. A crevasse rends your soul, hollows you out, leaves a void to be filled with the icy expansion of dread. Your ringtone becomes the Introit of a Requiem. Don’t look down. Run!

You should have gone out the front door and never looked back. Like spotlights on watchtowers they beam at you.

“What? They’re inside. I’m going to plant them in the front yard. It’s too crowded back here. I have a beautiful lawn where they can — Why are you looking at me like that?”

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The survivors bear solemn witness to your massacre. With the ominous silence awaiting all things they accuse, judge, condemn. Look at the green and purple guts splattered on your Nikes, alien blood from an all too human weakness. Out damned spot? No earthly water can remove these stains. Fall on your back and remove the murder weapons.

“It was an accident,” you cry, holding a shoe to the heavens like some novice priest after a botched sacrifice. Sap oozes down your forearm, writing a secret map on leathery parchment. Far above, all those chemicals failing to clot in the fathomless reaches of space have no idea how good they have it.

YOU took them to the house. YOU exposed them to risks. Their destruction was not an act of Nature.

“But … I’m a part of Nature. Everything is. We’re all … like … one, you know.”

Not even Johnny Cochran would have tried that.

“I’m sorry,” you sob, prostrate before the obdurate judges. What sentence will they decree? Maybe in a merciful act of vicarious atonement they’ll smite the rest of the human race in your stead. While gazing into the mirror you should have posed a query about the essence of Justice.

“To beg for mercy is to ask for injustice,” you say, burying your face in the long-neglected lawn. “I won’t add insult to injury. I repent in dust and crabgrass.”

The spade juts from the earth. Stop thinking about questions that could be resolved if you take two more pods and create another oracle. What awaits us, sleep or dreams? Are we the sole attendees of this cosmic masquerade? What are tonight’s Powerball numbers?

“Two pods are a tragedy, four are a statistic.” Your conscience, a ghost ship lost at sea, cannot find the shore. Perhaps there isn’t one.

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Banned from Wikipedia! Was that you, Big Pharma, makers of Tryposoothe? It’s nothing but a new-fangled benzo, as if the off-patent ones wouldn’t have worked. For shame.

The Mushroom of Consciousness

A Vertical Odyssey of Extraordinary Peril

Monks in the Temple of 11,111,117 Holes

Standard
Ontology, philosophy, Quietude

The Platonic Reformation

What’s the difference between God and Prime Numbers?

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The Former has causal agency and absolute simplicity; the latter share the essence of permanence itself. Humankind will morph into something worse and vanish altogether. The sun will devour the earth and turn to ash and the motley caravan of days will journey no more, but an infinitude of Primes will remain, irreducible, imperishable, pulsing with life like bioluminous creatures in a dark sea, not contingent quirks in a vale of tears but omnipresent passageways to all possible worlds, their properties impervious to the warp of dreams and the solvent of Time.

The Ishango bone from 23,000 BCE with its nineteen and seventeen and thirteen and eleven notches, is it not a baton handed to us by Paleolithic kin, a magic wand brandished by apprentice sorcerers? When they weren’t drawing bison or sharpening spears they were tantalized by the same riddles that obsessed Euclid. They may not have discovered the causal relation between sex and pregnancy, obvious only in retrospect, but they knew some numbers are more powerful. Some numbers are magic.

numerology

Go back further. Do you see him? Seated on his haunches in the brush waiting for creatures you couldn’t find on Wikipedia in a month. Do not let the grandiloquent names of eras fool you. In the way a finite number of sunsets separates you from childhood, a longer orange and black chain of days connects you to him playing with rocks. He gathers six and puts them in two groups of three then three groups of two. Six disappears like a patch of water on the horizon that fades when he goes to inspect. He adds a stone and mixes them into groups of three and four, two and two and two and one, six and one. They defy all attempts at destruction, possessing some intrinsic cohesion as though consisting of persistence itself, which they do.

Furrows distort his pronounced brow. He has no sounds to affix to the visions and sensations flooding the cave behind his eyes. An antelope wanders past but he does not see it. A cloud of dust arises over his futile attempt to reduce the stones. The sun spreads his shape over the concoction, creating the first blackboard. Which discovery is greater, his or Newton’s? He picks up the stones* and holds them to his chest to share their indestructibility? Perhaps man’s longings for everlasting life arose thus.

Standing upon his shoulders, mathematicians savor a vicarious taste of immortality, interacting with Beings who will endure, the sole survivors, the ultimate hombres. Space and time will expand and explode like some cheap balloon, leaving a puff of quantum dust, but Primes will endure undiminished, glowing with life in a sea of Nothing, unbound by the chain of days. They never weren’t and always will be. You weren’t, barely are now, and soon won’t be. You jelly?

Cosmic_Christ_by_Alex_Grey

This mystery religion demands sacrifices, but not of blood. Men sell their souls. Why not their sanity? Maybe the erosion occurs naturally. After glimpsing the Foundation of things, jeweled pillars in a secret kingdom sought by philosophers and poets and scientists alike, the return to this stockyard of flux is more desolate than Lazarus’s homecoming.

Mathematicians are watchers in a sacred garden, observing fauna more fantastic and elusive than gryphons or centaurs. And you can never join them. Ever. Your C+ in Algebra did not equip you for this expedition. You are a paralytic separated by a canyon from Riemann’s forest, its august splendor cloaked in the bewitching haze of twilight. Even for the Elect who can enter the hidden paths it soon becomes too dense. Many do not find their way out.

If the summum bonum is contemplation of the divine, how indescribably cruel to predestine most to ignorance. Surely some approach is possible, some humble veneration. Making up in vigor what it lacks in precision, an analogy suggests itself. Few Catholics understand the philosophy of Aquinas. Neither do they need to. Salvation comes from faith and good works. And ritual. Ritual sustains everything else. Unfortunately the asceticism of the Pythagoreans makes their reverence difficult, not that you didn’t try. There were fewer temptations in ancient Greece. Vegetarianism is easy when there isn’t a Burger King on every corner. A new faith is needed. When in doubt: WWMLD? (What would Martin Luther do?)

Pythagoreans' Hymn to the Rising Sun, 1869 (oil on canvas)

The Temple of 1,234,567,654,321,234,567

The disciples of Pythagoras lost their way due to doctrinal entropy. Latter-day secularists (“mathematicians”) spend their days scribbling hieroglyphics, discussing Star Wars and Far Side cartoons and disdaining the reverent awe of the simple devout. The wielder of the Ishango bone would have clubbed them. They need an empiricist monk to ground their work and offer it as a sacrament to the faithful. They need a Temple where the incorporeal suffers the contortions of Existence to join the common man, that doomed but defiant twinkle of statistical glory who always turns to iconic representations to focus his mind on what he venerates but cannot see, to deflect his attention from the motley caravan of days. And Temples need keepers

The 3,370,501 paper clips in your storage Pod are as tangible as the bones of the martyrs enshrined in the Otranto Cathedral. The Rubbermaid totes in the garage, decorated with glow in the dark stars and filled with assorted screws, nuts, and bolts, need to be counted on a regular basis. You would not pray the rosary only once. (The Tic Tacs were a bad idea; foolish even. The ants could not be quantified and the Tic Tacs decreased.)

Removing the fourth step to your front door left a big drop, but the top is now a magnificent throne overlooking seventy-nine pink flamingos spray painted gold. Judiciously chiseled off the walls in the living room, missing portions of crown molding create 101, 103, 107, and 109 arches respectively. Added to the first floor, a seventh door leads to a tiny cave of crumbling plaster, but its absence was intolerable. In the aquarium across from you, Hardy and Littlewood the Oscars hover like prehistoric genies, incredulous witnesses of a bygone time. Segmented amber eyes separated by fist-thick foreheads watch you watch them watch you watch them. Out of their line of sight, a community tank of Tiger Barbs flanks the fridge. The unexpected demise of the thirty-first necessitated feeding one to the Oscars to preserve the tank’s harmony.

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Unlike a Mandela** representing the impermanence of things, the 444,449 marbles covering your basement floor signify persistence. How many nights have you spent scooping handfuls, rolling in them, marveling at the certainty that no smaller assemblage can infiltrate and disband them, that they constitute a perfect unity despite their multitude. If only your mammoth-hunting forbear could join you. Rest assured, he is here in spirit. So is Goldbach and Euler and Gauss and Ramanujan and perhaps we are not distinct minds but manifestations of a Great Monad pondering the eternal. Death will not extinguish your flame. It will rejoin those who have partaken of these mysteries, which means your self or ego or whatever they’re calling it this week is an illusion. You do not exist independently of thoughts about the Primes.

No faith is bereft of tribulation. The presence of the Truth increases knee-trembling questions. Pascal was a featherweight when it came to angst. And gambling.  The number of irreducible particles in the universe either is or is not prime. Can you live without knowing? If not, the competing option poses interesting problems. The Taurus Raging Bull in your dresser can hold five. For all numbers other than three, if a prime gathers you unto the Great Monad, a non-prime is your epitaph; if a prime remains, you were felled by a feeble, reducible assassin. The 15,683rd day of your life approaches. Decide by then or you’ll have to wait for the 15,731st.

Caution is required when adding bottle caps to the collection in the attic. How could you think 22,333 is prime? Your status as a simple monk does not absolve you from the responsibility of thought. Count them the day after you open them.

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Hose the bird droppings off the bronze address numbers affixed to the back of the garage: 6,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,641 mocks the insubstantiality of physical reality. That many grains of sand would not fit inside the universe. So much the worse for the universe, this botched concoction, this hodgepodge of waves and particles seen through a glass darkly.

6,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666, 666,666,641 exposes the shadowy stuff of which you consist. Kneel before it and raise your arms. Squint and see how they are misty outlines. Behind them 6,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,641 catches the light, not dependent on it for illumination, gleaming like some golden bridge over the stream of Heraclitus. Sixes do not secede from this union. They do not reveal themselves as circles and arches and squiggles the way letters in a word do if stared at too long. Run your fingers across it. Feel it pulse with the heartbeat of Reality. Ignore your Gladys Kravitz-like neighbor’s incredulous stare. The ravenous indifference of Reality will soon devour her. And other things.

Note well: if God is not free to make square triangles, married bachelors, alternatives to modus ponens, or give 6,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666,666, 666,666,666,641 more than two divisors He is as powerless before them as you. The Supreme Mathematician’s workshop was built to fit the anfractuous corridors of an a priori labyrinth. Perhaps He spends His days soaring past zeros on Riemann’s critical line, approaching omniscience since no amount of positive confirmations can prove it, exploring the endless beauty of a landscape He did not create. Blasphemy and crazy talk? Then what is the nature of their relation?

Cicadas buzz, having emerged from a slumber of thirteen or seventeen years to mate for a few weeks and die. Who’s the wisest animal again? In your armchair you prepare seven bottle tops for the collection. Hardy and Littlewood shimmy up and down their aquarium, ignoring partially submerged Ping-Pong balls. Through bubble walls they soar like enraged deities defending a crystal cosmos. The enormity of the tank filled with 151 gallons fails to diminish the footballs with fins, as though their significance is not dependent on any relation to a grander scheme, as though their fierce nobility and purpose would endure in the totality of water.

4-7-10079

Novels Featuring Mathematicians Afflicted with Great Evil

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Ecstatic Raving from Publishers Weekly

*Not the band.

**Petronius Jablonski created a Mandela made entirely from colorful bits of Styrofoam, thereby felling the branches of Buddhism predicated on impermanence, hopefully ending their wanton destruction of good art. (They’re worse than Pete Townsend!)

***And how often are primes two apart? Consider 18,407,687 and 18,407,689. The nebulous wisp between them, is it not akin to the dreamlike pasture separating the granite castles of Beethoven’s Fifth and Seventh Symphonies? No one knows if there is a biggest such instance of sibling rivalry or if they continue forever. The largest heretofore discovered contains 300,000 digits. It is not impossible that man will join the shells encased in sedimentary rock without figuring it out. Our digital replacements will be no less stumped but more stoic in its face.

The Temple of 11,111,117 Holes

Plato’s Cave? Big Whoop!

Petronius Who?

Standard
Literature, Quietude, sweetness of honey

Bobbleheads, Epiphenomenalism, and You

If you don’t choose your thoughts you don’t choose anything

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You don’t choose your thoughts

If a hierarchy governs their placement it eludes codification. No obvious criterion separates the bobbleheads on the upper shelves from those below, certainly none based on contributions to civilization. Why is the Terminator next to the Incredible Hulk? What twisted taxonomy consigns Simon and Garfunkel to different shelves?

Look closer. Patterns emerge and vanish, icebergs of data drifting in an ocean of static, foiling assumptions and postulates. Is chaos a type of order or is order a subvariety of chaos? Are they antipodes or kin? If nothing is random then chaos is shorthand for ignorance. Careful. Some people break codes. Some codes break people. The line is slight and you won’t know you’ve crossed it. Others will.

Perhaps the difficulty involved in their acquisition is key. The bobbleheads easiest to obtain reside in the center. The more rarefied spread out in a spiral pattern. Regrettably these subjective elements necessitate the decryption of a medium even more convoluted. To account for a collection we must first understand its collector, forcing us to explain the enigmatic by means of the incomprehensible.

A Novel of Vengeance, Honor & Bobbleheads

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“How many bobbleheads do you have?”

They gander like alien invaders awaiting the signal to attack, their infiltration scheme brilliant in theory (camouflaged in the likeness of their prey) but destined for disaster owing to the retention of their oversized craniums.

“Many are called. Few are chosen.”

“You have more than that bar on Lincoln Avenue.”

“Bobbleheadz. The bobbleheads at Bobbleheadz are mostly sports figures. Quantity counts for nothing. Quality is indefinable.”

“How long have you been collecting them?”

“I prefer not to think of our relationship in those terms, or any. To speak of some things devalues their importance by denying the uniqueness of their nature. It assumes a linguistic currency that can be exchanged for the subject in question. Priceless things have no currency, conceptual or otherwise.”

“So they’re more like roommates or imaginary friends who aren’t completely imaginary. I get it. Not.”

“Would you like to see the heads bobble again?”

“Again? I’ve never been here before.”

“I was thinking of the ones in the bar. You should see these.”

“Big day in a girl’s life. Is this like that act where the performer has to keep ten plates spinning?”

“Much more impressive. Take a seat in the big comfy chair. Stare at the one in the center.”

“Jerry Garcia.”

“It’s Karl Marx.”

“Why is he between Chico and Harpo?”

“Think about it.”

“So you sit here and get baked and watch your bobbleheads.”

“What’s wrong with that? People turn to different things to find shelter from the commotion of life.”

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“I guess. It’s no worse than losers who play video games all day.”

“How flattering. Thank you.”

“Do you do this with other guys or is it a solitary thing?”

“Take three deep breaths. It’s important to relax before you see them.”

“I’m looking right at them.”

“But they aren’t bobbling yet. Take a deep breath and hold it. Let it out slowly.” He flicks a switch on the wall. Cabinet lighting bathes the bobbles in blue neon. “I want you to imagine you’re drifting down a stream of clear water beneath a pale blue sky.”

“What does this have to do with big-headed baseball dolls?”

“First of all, as the presentation will demonstrate, there is not a single sports doll. Not one. Second, I might be exhibiting these at a Bay View art gallery. I’ll have to introduce them several times a day. I need practice. Do you think I’d let people walk up and paw them, let children put their sticky fingers on them? Maybe I shouldn’t bother.”

“Maybe you should pitch this to Cirque du Soleil.”

“Watch the sky change colors. Dark blue. Darker.” He turns on the vibrating dumbbell. His subjects nod like a coliseum of hydrocephalic dwarfs. “Watch them shimmy. Relax. Let your eyes slip out of focus so they look blurry. Blurry like a cloud.   Can you see any faces in the cloud?”

“Yes.”

“Who do you see?”

“Betty Boop.”

“Good, very good. Take a deep breath. Let it out. What color are her eyes?”

“Blue.”

“Are you sure?”

Mm hmm.”

“You’re seeing the sky behind the cloud, that’s why. Just like when you look into the eyes of the blue-eyed man. He is as temporary as a cloud, but the sky behind him remains. Do you understand?”

“I’ve never understood anything less in my entire life.”

“That’s okay. We don’t know anything for certain. That’s why we have instincts. Yours are telling you the current is moving in circles. Look at the cloud being blown by the wind, molded by it. What does it look like now?”

“Count Chocula — No, Franken Berry.”

“Are you afraid of monsters?”

“Monsters aren’t real.”

“Very good. None of the faces are. Only the sky behind them is. There are no individual monsters. What color are Franken Berry’s eyes?”

“Blue.”

“That’s because you’re seeing the sky behind the cloud. Just like when you look into the eyes of the blue-eyed man. The sky is a permanent mind watching you, thinking about you, judging you from behind many passing manifestations. Do you understand?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

“That’s good. The wind is getting stronger. You’re spinning faster. Are you dizzy?”

“A little. I’m afraid of drowning.”

“Look down at your feet. It’s a whirlpool. Look how fast the horizon is spinning.” She shrieks. Duncan sips his beer and smiles. “Watch your cloud. Which one are you seeing?”

“Boo Berry.”

“Very good. Look at Boo Berry. Look at his eyes. Think of the blue behind them and the mind of the blue-eyed man and what the mind wants. Then the terrible spinning will stop.”

“What does the mind of the blue-eyed man want?” she pleads.

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He picks up a book and opens it to a page bookmarked by a cigar band. Some sentences are highlighted, others crossed out in red as though stabbed. “He wants you to remember a simple phrase. Then he wants you to forget it until you hear it again. Can you do that?”

“Yes. Anything.”

“The current is slowing down. What does your cloud look like now?”

“The Great Gazoo.”

“What color are his eyes?”

“Blue.”

“And why is that?”

“Because that’s the sky behind the cloud.”

“And the sky is the mind of the blue-eyed man. So deep and blue. So blue and deep.”

“The sky is the mind of the blue-eyed man,” she says. “The sky is the mind of the blue-eyed man.”

“Excellent. Look into the blue of his eyes. A blissful calm washes over you like you just had an orgasm. You’re not tired but you’ve never felt more peaceful in your life. Do you like this calm?”

“It’s like ecstasy.”

“Ecstasy the drug or the many states of being squeezed into that concept?”

“Yeah.”

“Would you like to feel this way all the time?”

“I couldn’t drive or go to work.”

“How about feeling like this more often?”

“It’s not worth the effort. Guys resent constructive criticism. It makes them self-conscious. I learned my lesson. Accept what you get or move on.”

“This won’t involve the Pavlovian manipulation of inept boyfriends. Are you interested?”

“Definitely.”

“Then listen very, very carefully.”

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Sweeter Than Anything

I, Petronius Jablonski, scholar and philanthropist, do hereby solemnly swear to NEVER again use the foul, twisted Deep Dream program to ruin good pictures.

The Reader interested in Epiphenomenalism should read this. It’s potential relevance to The Sweetness of Honey and bobbleheads and everything is obvious only in hindsight.

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Go Forth My Book Into the Open Day

“If I abandon this project I would be a man without dreams, and I don’t want to live like that. I’ll live my life or I’ll end my life with this project.”  Herzog

Standard
Existentialism, Literature, sweetness of honey, Truth

Go Forth My Book Into The Open Day

Happy, if made so by its garish eye.
O’er earth’s wide surface take thy vagrant way.

They love not thee: of them then little seek,
And wish for readers triflers like thyself.
Of ludeful matron watchful catch the beck,
Or gorgeous countess full of pride and pelf.
They may say “pish!” and frown, and yet read on:
Cry odd, and silly, coarse, and yet amusing.

The_Sweetness-of-Honey-createspace-PROOF

From Chandelier Press

When a skirmish of practical jokes escalates, three men learn the boundary separating pranks from vengeance is drawn in dust. An eye for an eye becomes a worthless guide once they’re lashing out blindly. Caught in the crossfire of their reprisals, Vicki, a sarcastic hairstylist, must decide whether to take sides in a war or play Gandhi to madmen.

The bullied becomes the bully when Nelson pays Duncan and Tyler back for childhood torments. Such scores never stay settled. Duncan, an obsessive bobblehead collector, sees practical jokes as art. To Tyler it’s all about honor. After they retaliate, the sleep of forgiveness brings forth monsters: a blitzkrieg where suspicion dissolves alliances, mutually assured destruction is no deterrent, and unintended consequences mock all battle plans.

With war comes collateral damage. Hypnotized by a bobble-wielding Duncan, Vicki perpetrates a cruel prank against Tyler. Upon realizing she’s being used as a human IED, the enemy of her enemy becomes her boyfriend. Unknown is whether she’s chosen the right side, or if there is one.

Fantasies of Revenge are indigenous to a shadowy land where nightmares, archetypes, and bestial yearnings vie for dominion. The Sweetness of Honey charts this territory, offering the forbidden fruit of schadenfreude. “Revenge is sweeter far than flowing honey,” said Homer. Bears aren’t the only species willing to endure hardship for a taste.

One: Requiem for Gorillas

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GIWWPN Genius Fellowship Grant

Standard
Existentialism, Ontology, sweetness of honey, Truth

Sweeter Than Honey

Sweeter Than Anything

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From Chandelier Press

If I abandon this project I would be a man without dreams, and I don’t want to live like that. I’ll live my life or I’ll end my life with this project. Herzog

Someday, life will be sweet like a rhapsody. When I paint my masterpiece.  Dylan

To what shall I liken the creative process, birth or death? Yes!  Luigi Zeripaldi

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Chapter Three: The Sorrows of Nelson

An ancient sage said no man should own more than he can carry. Clutching a Hefty bag and watching the dawn rain brimstone on Milwaukee, Nelson makes a virtue of necessity. One of his boots has no laces, forcing him to favor the other leg, signaling a weakness he doesn’t have. If consciousness is a stream, compassion is a rivulet that appeared yesterday and could dry up this afternoon. Don’t count on it during droughts. Don’t count on it ever.

He walks behind a drugstore and leans against a dumpster and searches through his bag and pulls out a pair of jeans. Is the split in the seat too big to be worn in public? Once upon a time. Not now. Amazing how standards change, like a yardstick warped by humidity. The ragged cuffs don’t reach his ankles, but they’re less awful than what he was wearing. He folds those sour shreds and places them in his bag, a tomb of Bethany from which they will one day arise with new life, when the jeans by comparison are worse.

Sunlight oozes over walls painted with cryptic symbols and spreads an orange growth in the alley, irresistible to a one-eyed cat. It makes a pact with gravity and plunges from a windowsill. On its back it stretches and writhes, in the throes of a feline vision quest, perhaps napping with a pride of elders. Contrary to popular belief, pleasure is the absence of pain. Blink and it’s gone. Don’t blink and it’s gone too.

Back on the street Nelson limps with great resolution. In lieu of rage or bewilderment or resignation, the remains of dignity smolder in his eyes. Avoid the inference. If it can happen to him …

He stands across from a bank and studies the digital clock, outraged by its testimony as if arriving from a place where Time’s obscene striptease is prohibited, the wanton display not tolerated.

Drivers watch him. Disgust hops from one host to another like some condemnation from a Universal Mind using individuals as vessels. It inflames a young man driving a pickup, possesses a woman in a Camry, then fills the faces in one shiny vehicle after another until Nelson yearns for the paradise of invisibility or at least the stupefied indifference of his fellow homeless travelers. With what talisman do they deter this demon or aren’t they superstitious?

Funny how you care what others think even when critical issues vie for precedence. A wise man said consciousness is an illness. Then being concerned with the consciousness of others is a fever in a funhouse.

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A yellow Mustang detonates hip-hop tremors across the pavement. The passenger inspects Nelson and looks away as if recanting belief in his existence. A hybrid runs the light to avoid idling next to him. For this they’re saving the planet? Should have bought a Hummer. It requires no psychic to detect thoughts piercing as screams: sentences of exile commanded by dozens of petty dictators each day. Maybe his cohorts who argue with unseen tormentors are practicing soliloquies of innocence. But their energy nourishes the scrutinizers, transforming lowly magistrates in the court of social norms into executive editors deleting names from the Book of Life.

He spits in the gutter and crosses the street. His reflection in the bank window flinches. If only some telescope could have seen this apparition approaching from the distance of ten years. He could have taken another direction. Or were other future incarnations worse? Maybe there was only one. Cold comfort until you think about it. Something made this happen. This. Hard not to take it personally.

The people inside tend an abstraction that grew from the exchange of beads for food, the way sacrificing goats to stop thunder morphed into Mozart’s Requiem. Small changes accrue, leaving few fossils. Remember that. The rest is trivial.

“We don’t have public restrooms,” says the security guard, followed by a disastrous attempt at a smile. Any juries deliberating whether pity is worse than cruelty are dismissed.

“That’s alright,” says Nelson. “I piss and shit outside. Like an animal. There’s something wrong with your clock.”

“It tells the time, temperature, and date. You can watch it for free. Outside.”

“Are you sure my eyes won’t wear it out? I’d be happy to pay for the depreciation. I have some underwear in my bag I could trade.”

On his first day the guard must have thought he’d be foiling robbers, negotiating with kidnappers, and seducing tellers who instead act as vessels of the same harsh judgments haunting Nelson. Some of the patrons turn away from the confrontation, declaring neutrality or at least indifference. Those who watch find succor from the pain that living brings, mollified by the ultimate antidepressant: Schadenfreude XR, time release, a natural tonic used by all people at all times.

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“I want to call your attention to the fact that it’s not showing the same temperature as the credit union,” says Nelson.

“I’ll be sure to mention this to the president.” The guard hands him a pen. “I’d like to thank you for your support.”

“You don’t have to be an ass. I’m trying to help. You need to check and see if anything’s wrong with it.”

“Nothing’s wrong with it. Ours is the correct one.”

“How do you know? Prove it. What if they’re both wrong?”

“Maybe you could keep an eye on our clock. Outside. If you do I’ll give you another pen tomorrow.”

“Can I fill out an application for your job? I promise I won’t mention the grade school diploma that makes me overqualified.” Nelson unzips his parka. A ghastly stench seeps out like some malevolent genie escaping a cracked bottle.

The guard steps closer until his face contorts. He remains a few feet away as though blocked by a force field. Revulsion is an instinct. And judging. He can’t help blaming Nelson for stinking and dressing this way. Everyone naturally believes we choose our traits. Some thoughts are as essential to survival as lust and thirst. Most are lies.

“There’s a restaurant three blocks up the street with a bigger sign,” says the guard.

“It has the same temperature as the credit union. This isn’t a matter of consensus. If it were, your bank would have some explaining to do.”

“Maybe the temperature is different from place to place. Why does it have to be the same everywhere?”

Nelson covers his ears and screams. Two of the guard’s neckless comrades approach, chomping gum. A teller with shooting stars tattooed on her neck and a swarm of earrings grimaces and looks away. Some tribal chieftains killed subjects who walked in their footprints or made eye contact. Talk about privilege. Bank tellers have no such rights.

“The thermometer here is wrong,” Nelson yells to the patrons. “They’re lying to you, you stupid sheep. Don’t you care?” He retreats through the revolving door. This one doesn’t lock when he’s halfway through, trapping him like an insect in a Tic Tac container. Distorted by the tinted glass, the guards watch him like mad scientists performing a biopsy of his soul. He doesn’t wait for the diagnosis. Far above, all those chemicals failing to clot in the silent and beautiful reaches of space have no idea how good they have it.

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Chapter One: Requiem for Gorillas

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Existentialism, philosophy, Schrodinger's Dachshund, Truth

Gus Sanders, Segmentarian

The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.  Camus

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The archetypal resemblance between the Grim Reaper’s scythe and your lawnmower, surely it’s no coincidence the Big D carries a yard tool rather than a metal-detector, .357,  or pool cue. To explain the particular, start with the general. Take a step back with Gus Sanders, founder of Segmentarianism. During a Peak Experience (aka Satori) he realized the gods made Sisyphus push a boulder because their mower was in the shop. Based on a true story.

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Gus Sanders rested his hands on bulbous knees jutting above black socks and  gulped for air. With desperate eyes he sized up his abhorrent foe, his Goliath. Its silence, a snide boast of invulnerability, mocked him more than howls of laughter. Unknown muscles in his shoulder and back twitched. He spat and probed for weaknesses. Then the fifty-sixth attack met the same ignominious fate as its predecessors.

He sought sustenance in Hate, which is not a fickle flame contingent on the fuel of man’s misfortunes but a great wind impelling warriors in all ages. His Aussie slouch hat provided scant protection from the jaundiced eye in the heavens. How many conflicts has it beheld, delighted or appalled but never indifferent. That would be intolerable. If  it doesn’t care, who does?

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Impervious, the start chord awaited, an Excalibur only the salesman could effectively extract from the LawnMaster Easy-Start Deluxe Mulching Mower. Gus shielded his eyes and looked to the horizon for strength, for perspective. The earth, is it not a vast coliseum?

Rivulets of sweat added a shimmering gloss to what he saw, but they didn’t create it. Certainly an electrolyte deficiency played a role, but not as a sufficient cause. When he attempted to stretch, the crackle from his back was disturbing but extraneous to what followed. Not all  enigmatic visions can be dismissed as pathologies. The smug little skeptics who deify first principles forget that philosophic fundamentalism is as inbred and ill-kempt as its bucktoothed religious cousin.

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Above a Bucky Badger weather-vane on the garage, cumulus clouds morphed into a ghostly figure pushing a mower across a lawn punctured by iridescent dandelions. He dissolved but the grass remained, as if to ridicule and defile the purpose of his fleeting existence. Gus collapsed. “How many hours of my life have I spent cutting the lawn?” he cried, recoiling from the leprous growth surrounding him.

Mentholated smoke wafted through the den where his wife played Mah Jong on the computer amid the sonorous thunder of “Song Sung Blue.” “Why don’t you wait until the sun goes down?”

“Because it will be dark then. We’d need to add a guide dog to the other five.” He tottered to the kitchen and poured  a gin-and-tonic sans tonic and found a scratch-pad. “Must have started when I was twelve. That’s an hour each week walking behind a deafening machine, choking on exhaust in the scalding sun. Have to do it at least twenty times a year. Forty years times twenty equals … sweet Jesus. That’s over  a month of cutting the lawn non-stop. Look at that segment of my life. Stolen. And I never would have known.”

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“Gussy, what are you shouting about? Why don’t we pay one of the neighbor kids to do it?”

“Because cutting the grass isn’t a video game, and we can’t afford the special helmets they need.” He stared at the numbers like a scientist examining a lethal virus through a microscope. “All the evidence is right here. Anyone could have found it. Unless they’re afraid or brainwashed, why haven’t they? Maybe it’s like people stuck in a communist country who have no idea how restricted their lives are.”

He poured another gin-and-tonic sans tonic and looked out the window at the insidious LawnMaster Easy-Start Deluxe Mulching Mower. Its chrome handle extruded from an orange plastic shell: a monstrous, rapacious crustacean waiting to attack him and devour more of his life. “You’ve been sucking up my time. What sane man would consent to being born if he knew his life would involve an entire month of cutting the grass?”

Propelled by the mysterious dynamism animating all beings, the analysis took on a life of its own. During his weekend shifts, Gus ignored college football, Cops, and even the adventures of Mary Weatherworth to begin a Segmentarian Critique. The calculations were simple to perform, but contemplating the sums proved no less daunting than the observation of crime scene photos. Worse than the outrage was the lack of a culprit.

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“Shaving averages out to five minutes a day since I was fifteen. If I live to be eighty that’s … Who would consent to being born if he knew he’d have to spend three months shaving?”

“Tossing and turning in bed is at least four hours a week, which comes to … another twelve months. After all these segments are chopped off, what’s left? And if the government isn’t behind this, who is? It’s too organized and systematic to be a coincidence. Has anyone else calculated  it? Maybe this is what pushed John Nash over the edge.”

With the weariness of all lonely soldiers of fortune fighting a war of ideas, Gus wishes his LawnMaster Easy-Start Deluxe Mulching Mower had started on the fifty-sixth try that afternoon. Once you start exposing life to the terrifying clarity of Segmentarianism there is no turning back. Amazing how a happenstance brush with an idea can change a man.

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“Some day all the grass will look like this. When there’s no one round to cut it, it’ll just grow and grow, all long and messy.”

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To remedy the Lawnmower Blues, contemplate things less ephemeral than your absurd chore. You, shadow’s dream, changing the length of your lawn each week, devoting your fleeting days to glorifications of futility while the cluster of gasses recently nicknamed Jupiter remain chaotic as they were in the Permian. Oblivion is patient; permanence, relative. That even it shall die, this cherub who shone in a wondrous way for billenium, should its mortality bring you comfort, a sense of familial affinity, or despair? If nothing be permanent, then only Nothing is permanent. And ultimately triumphant. There is no Ontological anchor in Heraclitus’ rapids.

Watchman & The Mystery Box

Shi Tzu, Cosmic Yak Dog

Plato’s Cave? Big Whoop!

 

 

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Annals, philosophy, Truth

The Dialogues of Supernatural Individuation

A Deductive Exorcism of Ghosts

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So that the Reader may fully share in this glorious triumph against superstition, it is essential that he understand and fully acknowledge the theoretical impossibility of ghosts. To the philosophic novice, being theoretically impossible is a far graver offense than being physically impossible. The latter is a misdemeanor against the laws of nature; the former is a desecration of logic herself. Unfortunately, a straightforward descant would expose even the most learned to arguments intricate and arcane. Despite the technical perfection, my exposition would prove insufficient to infuse the Reader with the perplexities that assailed me or bring him to his knees with the unique awe of a grand philosophic revelation. His loss would be of tragic proportions: the argument I shall unveil is as original and profound as the introduction of amino acids into the primordial soup.

To clearly elucidate and explore this point, I have decided to demonstrate it by means of a dialogue. If the format was good enough for Plato and David Hume it is good enough for me. The Reader is encouraged to imagine himself seated at the table with the participants, actively following (perhaps even participating in) the discussion.

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The Participants

Sophia represents the voice of Reason. Scatius is a wily philosopher whose views are in diametric opposition to mine. Cretinius holds the views of the common man.

***

At a picnic table in Pulaski Park sat Sophia, Cretinius, and I. The morning sun or Sophia, which article of Creation deserved greater reverence, which was more conspicuous and inexplicable in its beauty and power? Though she was barely eighteen, to look into her dark green eyes was to confront Wisdom itself. We shared a bottle of peppermint schnapps while giant but gentle Cretinius worked the morning crossword.

“Sophia, a fascinating problem vexes me. In the realm of the supernatural, how in theory would we individuate things? How would we recognize one entity as being distinct from another?”

“What’s a two-letter word for alternative?” said Cretinius, rubbing his salient brow.

After some thought, Sophia leaned forward, revealing cleavage from the plenitudinous bosom concealed beneath her toga. “It couldn’t be the same way we individuate natural things. Consider five coins. What distinguishes each of them is their occupation of different spaces.”

“Exactly,” I said. “Now I am not asserting that spatial continuity is the only consideration, but it is essential.”

“Cretinius, that’s a terrible habit,” said Sophia, her radiant features grimacing as his finger excavated his nose.

A loud belching interrupted her as Scatius staggered into the park. His spindly legs seemed incapable of supporting the humpbacked torso upon them.

“I fear he is in his cups again,” I whispered.

“Those are sandals,” said Cretinius, his lazy eye looking up and away from the crossword.

“I wonder what views Scatius holds on your position,” said Sophia.

“And what position is that?” he said, taking a seat. The black caves of Scatius’ eyes provided the only contrast on his forbidding face to his pasty skin. Though his hair was thin to the point of endangered, his skeletal arms were covered with dense patches of beastly fur. He helped himself to our schnapps, guzzling it from the bottle.

“Driving, page-turning force” Publishers Weekly

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“I was maintaining the theoretical impossibility of ghosts,” I said. “My critique is more severe than the assertion that they do not exist. I maintain that it makes no sense to even speak of them.”

“Ah, the cheap solvent of logical positivism,” he said with a hiccup. “That’s about as original as breathing.”

“Scatius! Don’t touch me there,” cried Cretinius.

“My argument owes nothing to the lazy and arrogant positivists,” I said. “They assert that statements are only meaningful if they are verifiable. My position is that we cannot coherently speak of ghosts because they cannot be individuated by the criterion of spatial continuity. The difference between one and three of them is not a feature of the distinct chunks of space they occupy. By what criterion can they be separated?”

“Your argument is fascinating,” said Sophia, cradling her chin in her hand and batting her long lashes.

“It is interesting,” agreed Scatius.

“What about Casper the Friendly Ghost?” asked Cretinius. “He takes up space. So do the ones on Ghostbusters.”

“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Sophia.

“Be patient,” I said, stroking the celestial crop of sun-bleached down on her arm. “Something good will arise, non-Phoenix-like*, from his point. Cretinius has voiced the common perception of ghosts. Although we say they do not have spatial dimensions, we conceive of them as gaseous or luminous beings who occupy space in a mysterious fashion that allows them to float through walls. Unable to conceive of non-physical, non-spatial, invisible beings, we are reduced to the conceptual level of tabloid sightings and cartoons. Oh, what can comfort a man who finds himself in a town of ghosts, a town where the stern sheriff of logic is not obeyed?”

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Plato’s Cave? Big Whoop!

Scatius belched. “The answer is both obvious and devastating to your cute little argument. Ghosts can be individuated on the grounds that they have unique minds or personalities.”

Sophia turned to me and put her hand atop mine. So soft the skin. So unequivocal the yearning in her eyes. The sun beamed on its masterful handiwork: sporadic freckles on her nose, shoulders, and in the heavenly valley of her mountainous bosom.

“What’s a three-letter word for opposite of later?” asked Cretinius.

I winked at Sophia and clasped her tiny hand and prepared for triumph. “On the contrary, we cannot speak of distinct personalities unless individuation has already occurred. ‘I have seven minds but my bother has only four,’ is a ridiculous statement, but if physical embodiment is not a criterion how can we criticize it? From this it follows that we have no means of individuating disembodied minds.”

“Sophistry,” groaned Scatius, reaching for the schnapps. He finished the bottle and smashed it on the bike path. “Let me think,” he said, massaging his temples.

“Oh Petronius, your arguments shine with the light of Truth,” said Sophia.

“Here is the fundamental difficulty,” I said. “Terms such as two, many, some, and few are coherent insofar as they refer to distinguishable items. If we have no means of theoretically distinguishing one ghost from another, what sense would it make to say that there are many of them as opposed to a few, or one as opposed to three? When we attempt to determine the autonomy of entities in a domain where spatial and physical considerations can not be applied we are, to put it politely, speaking gibberish.”

“Gibberish indeed,” said Scatius, pounding his fist on the table. “You would deny what all of mankind has believed since the dawn of time?”

“He’s angry,” said Cretinius.

“Mankind does not know that what they think they believe is conceptually impossible,” I said. “It is the philosopher’s task to demonstrate this, not to encourage their folly with trickery.”

“Writer’s throughout history have documented the tragic plight of ghosts,” said Scatius, putting his head on the table. “Trapped between planes, ignorant of their condition …” He began to snore.

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Shi Tzu, Buddhist Yak Dog?

“You mean cynical hacks know a good gimmick when they see it,” I said. “The lost-ghost cliché is absurd on the face of it. After a full day without hunger pangs or trips to the restroom even Cretinius would figure out that something special had occurred. And what should we make of the supernatural dimension that stands as the basis for these tales? What could possibly transpire in a bodiless, non-physical realm? The traditional answer is the experience of bliss or a reunion with deceased family members. Has no one noticed these are mutually exclusive?”

“But wouldn’t you want to see your father again?” said Sophia, running her fingers through my hair.

“Exceptions only prove the general rule. Regarding the plausibility of the former answer: compile a list of all the types of bliss you have experienced without the use of your body.”

Sophia giggled. “There aren’t many, and the best one isn’t included.”

“Something smells bad,” said Cretinius.

“Oh my,” cried Sophia, pinching her nose. “Poor Scatius has had an accident.”

“He pooped,” agreed Cretinius, and we all abandoned the table with its slumbering defecator. “Petronius, look at the bugs,” said Cretinius with glee. Attracted to the sweet liquid from the broken bottle, a squadron of yellow jackets darted about the shards.

“No Cretinius, those are –”

I put my finger to her lips. “Sophia, when I establish my Academy, Experience shall be granted an honorary professorship. Hopefully all my pupils will be as receptive to my teachings as you. And as lovely.”

Cretinius screamed and lumbered away flailing his arms.

“Now, even if we can conceive of a disembodied state of bliss, what do we mean by bliss in this context? A state of schnapps intoxication? For all eternity? As much joy as that syrupy nectar can bring, would you want to feel like that forever?”

“Oh Petronius, let’s go for a walk in the park.”

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Petronius Who?!

*On principle I avoid all references to Egyptian mythology. As clever as they were in covering a desert with giant triangles and gruesome half-cat half-man monstrosities, their obsession with the afterworld was preposterous. How did they expect a mummy to untangle himself once he arrived in the next kingdom? Did not the removal of his vital organs and brain bode ill for his health and vigor? What were those silly people thinking?

As the legend has it, after the Phoenix set its nest afire and burnt itself to a crisp, it was reborn. Why can no modern hack go within a mile of a keyboard without making a reference to it? Verily, it is the true curse of the Pharaohs. That such a story persisted longer than one generation bespeaks the appalling poverty of imagination rampant in Egypt at the time. Worse, it is frighteningly evocative of the Buddhist monks who practiced self-immolation in protest of the Vietnam War.

A conscientious writer will only use a mythic allusion to bring clarity. If there exists even a remote chance of it evoking irritating questions regarding mummies or horrific images of suicides, then he must look to other means to make his point.

Even ignoring the preceding (and utterly damning) objections, it is not clear a Phoenix reference would have been appropriate. I want something good to arise from inferior questions. There is nothing whatsoever in the Phoenix legend about a superior bird arising. It is the same tedious, self-immolating one each and every time.

A question we shall not pursue here is how a bird can set anything on fire. Did it strike a match? Did it rub two rocks together? The Egyptians were aware that birds lack opposable thumbs, were they not? Perhaps they should have spent less time carving gibberish on their gaudy tombs and more time observing the natural world. What manner of brain-disabling deadline did the author of this puerile legend work under? Had the Pharaoh commissioned him to write a new one by the morrow? Or did he compose it after hours in the broiling sun?

In summary: a reference to a Phoenix arising would have been inappropriate, subjected the Reader to needless trauma, quite possibly ruined my otherwise splendid dialogue, and covered my hands in filth from the crime of perpetuating this cheap, contrived, and all-around deplorable myth.

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The Mushroom of Consciousness

The-Sweetness-of-Honey-cover

A Novel of Vengeance, Honor & Bobbleheads

 

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