Ontology, philosophy, Quietude

The Pythagorean-Euclidean Reformation

What’s the difference between G-d 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.

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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. 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?

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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)

In The Temple of 1,234,567,654,321,234,567 There Are Two Divisors

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 six. 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 G-d 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.

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Novels Featuring Mathematicians Afflicted with Great Evil

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*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

Gus Sanders, Segmentarian

The Pond That Writes The Book

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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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Literature, Ontology, Truth

GIWWPN Genius Fellowship Grant

Great Irish Writers with Polish Names (GIWWPN) Awards Petronius Jablonski their Genius Fellowship Grant “not for previous art but as an investment in his future.” In 2017 they nominated Mount Silenus: A Vertical  Odyssey of Extraordinary Peril for novel of the year.

Petronius Jablonski adopted his pen-name while undercover with the Sentinels of the Chandelier. His exposé of this modern cult with roots in ancient Greece was released as Schrodinger’s Dachshund to avoid punitive legal measures and worse. He regrets his nom de plume insofar as it discloses the true source of his literary excellence. In celebration of this prestigious award, plug in, pass out, and discover it’s clovers all the way down.

Jablonski “employs secrets and intrigue as a driving, page-turning force.” Publishers Weekly

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The Irish Tymes: You’ve said your ethnic-sounding name has subjected you to racism. How can you tell it’s not directed at the man who exposed the Sentinels of the Chandelier? Who else would go ought of there way to insult an author of literary fiction?

PJ: I’m not a mind reader. I don’t posit motivations beyond what the evidence warrants. I’ve deleted dozens of ghastly, heartbreaking comments from my blog, one from a “Polish homosexual” who tried to “give his girlfriend a b_____ b.” He sought advice on the proper technique. Another left an interesting comment about one of the paradoxes in Annals. I complimented his thoughtful analysis. After a scholarly exchange, he asked if it was true the Poles didn’t discover sex until the twelfth-century, having reproduced by raiding warthog litters before then. This is hate. It chills the blood. It’s changed my view of  human nature and the focus of my writing.

The Irish Tymes: It’s like you changed your identity to avoid one type of hate only to exchange it for another.

PJ: I understand the attacks from the Sentinels of the Chandelier. I know why security guards resent murderous caricatures.  Expecting any other response would be naive, functionally illiterate of how people behave. But to target a man because of a Polish-sounding name is to hate an abstraction; it’s like detesting a Platonic form. I’m baffled by this. I was corresponding with someone I thought was a Polish fan. He wrote that he was going to Rome for a vacation. Following his adventures wasn’t what I’d call exciting, but I was happy for him. Then he wrote that he became so intoxicated he kissed his wife and beat the Pope’s foot to a pulp with a shovel.

The Irish Tymes: That’s an Irish joke.

PJ: So he was a thief and a bigot. It was a cruel thing to do. Why does my misfortune bring another joy? That should be the fundamental question of Psychology.

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The Irish Tymes: Does it seem like your Genius Grant is good karma coming back to you?

PJ: Until I question the concept of karma. I’ve heard of delayed gratification but this is ridiculous. I spent much of 1993 – 2015 writing The Annals because it’s the book I’d want on a desert island. I wrote it for me. This isn’t some prescriptive declaration for other writers (quite the contrary). The idea that I deserved something for my efforts is philosophically incoherent. I’m ecstatic that GIWWPN saw enough potential in my writing to justify a generous grant. Three agents devoted years of their lives to this book. One threatened to go on a hunger strike to avoid changes an editor wanted. I’m proud to have elicited noble sentiments in others.

The Irish Tymes: Are you obligated to write something, or do they simply hand you the check?

PJ: I can’t confirm this, but I’ve heard they run background checks for evidence of “Writing OCD.” They want the writer who couldn’t stop if you put a gun to his head. Throwing money at him might have interesting results. Instead of writing and reading twelve hours a day, I’ll be shooting for twenty. The grant is a means of enabling Irish writers with serious addictions.

The Irish Tymes: How bad (or should I say good) is your Writing OCD?

PJ: Schrodinger’s Dachshund went through a thousand drafts. I’m not exaggerating. Every word was the subject of lengthy debate or violent conflict. Civil warfare scorched my soul. At one point it was fourteen-hundred pages. I went many months without sleep sketching that strange land, developing an ontology to accommodate the physics and mythology. The whole damn thing was a compulsion, like I’d been chosen to write it and phobic of telling it the wrong way. Writing novels is like filming Fitzcarraldo.

The Irish Tymes: Was it worth it? Publishers Weekly raved.

PJ: I struggle with the coherence of free will. The question is a category error if I had no choice. I haven’t been able to live like a normal man since it was published. I’m not rich. I’ll never fully recover from the years spent thinking of nothing else. I’m still in shock and fear I always will be. Some blocks of time are so vivid, so blindingly bright and real it’s impossible to distinguish between Now and Then. The past is not the past if it never recedes. That it occurred before the present is a trivial property, accidental and irrelevant to the sovereignty it wields. The rest of my life feels dreamlike by comparison.

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The Irish Tymes: Can you talk about the lawsuit with Tryposoothe?

PJ: I can’t. Wink wink.

The Irish Tymes: It’s an unsubstantiated rumor of course. One of the big pharmaceutical companies is suing you for defaming a product they haven’t yet released, a treatment for Trypophobia.

PJ: Name an unpleasant feature of human existence that couldn’t be improved — in the short term — with a benzodiazepine. This is science? This is medicine? And I didn’t defame their beloved Xanax Junior, Tryposoothe. I merely suggested an alternative explanation on Wikipedia and it went bye-bye down the memory hole. Here’s the consensus of the experts: unless you’re whistling contentedly in a cubicle you’re insane and need potent brain drugs every day for the remainder of your life. 85% of the population is “mentally ill” as of last week. Don’t question this or you’re an anti-science loon!

The Irish Tymes: I’ve actually heard estimates as high as 25%, but they qualify it into oblivion. Your next novel, The Sweetness of Honey, deals with mental illness and homelessness. What kind of research did you do?

PJ: Research? That was subtle. Well done.

The Irish Tymes: I wouldn’t assume you made it up out of whole cloth.

PJ: Of course not. And you’d never just ask, “Has that ever happened to you? Is that what happened after the mountain fiasco, or while hiding out from the cult? Isn’t that the central theme of Annals? I don’t want to tell tales out of school, but some people say …”

The Irish Tymes: One early review says it’s the most distinctive novel of the twenty-first century, prophetically dealing with tribalism, madness, and redemption from nihilism.

PJ: Novels don’t deal with issues; that’s for dissertations and Cosmo articles. I create Art.

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Petronius Who?

An Odyssey of Historic Proportions and Priceless Treasure of Philosophy

Serial Killers Who Worked Security

Who Is Maestoso the Dachshund and Why Is He Following You?

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Climbing, Existentialism, Ontology, Sloth, Truth

The Abominable Unau

MOUNT SILENUS: A Vertical Odyssey

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In search of a legendary prehistoric sloth, Jablonski developed Post-Traumatic Mountaineering Disorder. The past is not the past if it never recedes. Journal therapy didn’t help. Developed in the 1940s, it uses second-person POV to create a distance from the ordeal. Note well: brooding isn’t therapy. Calling this a novel is little more than denial.

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When we try to conceive of Nothing, whatever preceded all Existence, we invariably imagine some infinite darkness. But it could have been white, like the storm engulfing you. The spirit of chaos freed, a tempest rages, obliterating the forms of things and returning them to blurry potentiality. Nature’s volatile moods and the devastation they wreak, her apocalyptic fury in all epochs and places, a teleological interpretation must choose between wrath or regret.

Onward you hobble. The tent has to be around here somewhere. Was it necessary to walk this far in a blizzard to defecate? A dark shape solidifies in the icy static ahead. Is that the tent or are the curtains parting on the burlesque of life to allow a character from an earlier act to take a final bow? Thirty feet tall it lurches toward you, sickle claws protruding from furry stumps, long front legs stretching like the arms of a witch reaching across a table to read a palm. Through veils of snow appears a nose with the contours and padding of a leather recliner, infringing on space that should have been reserved for its tiny eyes.

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2018 GIWWPN Genius Fellowship Grant

Get down, you fool! You can’t outrun it in your condition. Do you think it will understand you were screaming in agony as you collapsed, not provocation.

Allegedly erased from the ledger of life, presumed to have plunged into that mass grave awaiting us all, it stands triumphant, in absolute defiance of Time and Nature and all man’s theories and measurements, which measure nothing at all, not even man. The wind howls in disbelief at this zombie returned from the dead. It throws back its head and makes a deep gurgling noise that sends tremors across the ground.

In lieu of girding your loins, you wet them. It stoops until its nose is inches from your face. The breeze from its inhalation sucks your hair straight up. How do you appear to it, as the pinnacle of creation, the raison d’être of existence, the summon bonum of Being, a member of the almighty species who spread its fungal growth to the moon, erecting temples to vanity in the dark heavens? Does it know man hath dominion over it, or does it see a bug too big to eat in one bite?

Digging through your jacket for the knife you neglected to bring you find a burrito. Characterized by indifference to death, consoling thoughts emerge. This is no worse than any other way of dying. And I get a last meal.

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Perhaps the rigors of dialectic aren’t welcome at times like this, but being mauled by a behemoth is immeasurably worse than drifting off in a Jacuzzi or going out with a Bang! during a tryst with one of the locals. (Keepsakes such as your watch and credit cards would facilitate closure. This is an occupational hazard in her line of work.)

You take a bite of the burrito. The veggies so crisp, so scrumptious. How is the inner essence of food transmitted by your tongue to the theatre between your ears? During how many tens of thousands of meals have you never wondered? Now is the time to take stock of your life. What lasting good have I accomplished? How many times have I made love? What about the times I can’t remember because I was drunk? Was there some point to all this? 

The Abominable Unau’s nose pulsates, taking on a life of its own. How does the burrito smell to a creature whose olfactory powers are a million times greater than yours? Analogous to how Ulysses seems to you but not your cat. You offer it the rest and yank your hand back from rubbery lips. It makes a slurping sound as it chews. You reach up and touch its thick fur and rub its chest. It emits a baritone purr and licks your head with what feels like a waterbed wrapped in sandpaper. Without any deliberation you clutch its underbelly. And this is not an instinct. Momentous decisions throughout history were often free of planning, as if generated spontaneously, as if preordained or fated.

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“Jablonski is able to inject a sense of immediacy and intensity in the story by using sparse description that suggests more than it tells. An engaging narrative.” – Publishers Weekly

***

Mount Silenus is not a part of the earth but a prodigal son staying away in contempt of its lowly origins. Proof that man is not the measure of all things, it derides every notion of harmonious design. Behold this mockery of all human configurations and tremble.

Under the anesthesia of routine we slumber, impervious to life’s true nature. The constant yearning for what we lack, the urge to be free of what we loathe, chasing pleasures that vanish like dust. Are these life’s limitations or essence? Men go to absurd lengths explaining the problem of evil. In the process they sound like half-wit attorneys defending a mass-murderer. They say happenstance is a robber, free will a mixed blessing, joy more abundant than pain. Look deeper. There is a mighty force opposing our every plan, a cruel gravity smothering us, the heel of a boot grinding out the embers of our souls, a sadist cloaked in the dark fabric of existence. It is the implacable colossus of Fate. We scarcely have time to stumble onto the battlefield, much less comprehend our plight and mount a counterattack. In a few twinklings of the sun, on a day no different than all that came before, the cosmic ogre squashes us. Those convulsive growls that rend the sky, they are not thunder. They are laughter.

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Everest? Big Whoop!

Some say Fate cannot be fought, that it is entrapping as quicksand, omnipresent as the ether. Notice how the cleverest excuses and slipperiest arguments are used in defense of cowardice. Through capitulation to routine man dies an ignoble death long before his mortal coil makes it official. He forgets he is living. Combat is the supreme reminder. What is that putrid stench? Is it not the rot of man’s spirit, the smell of lies told to assuage the failure of those too craven to fight, smoke wafting from the languid den of routine addicts? To wage war against Fate one must locate the most auspicious outpost and launch an attack. That fortress is Mount Silenus. A battle calls. Warrior, arise!

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Petronius Who?

Serial Killers Who Worked Security

The Temple of 11,111,117 Holes

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Existentialism, Nihilophobia, Ontology, sweetness of honey, Truth

The Sweetness of Honey

A Novel of Vengeance, Honor, and Bobbleheads

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One: Requiem for Gorillas

“He will be remembered for his sense of humor, his smile, how he loved to fish,” says the priest, as if citing an obscure beatitude. Blessed are they who cast their line from crowded piers. Memory of their deeds shall endure. Bonus points for smiling.

A hulking police officer walks across the altar and whispers in his ear. They confer, a pantomime of confusion and urgency. The officer takes the microphone like a reluctant karaoke singer. “I regret to inform you that we need to vacate the church. Starting with the back row, everyone please head to the parking lot across the street.”

A man scrambles from the first pew and stands before them. His suit leaves few details of his physique to the imagination, a reasonable goal for bodybuilders, which he is not. “What’s going on?”

“We’ve received a bomb threat,” says the officer.

“Is it real?”

“The people who call them in never say they’re fake. Wouldn’t be much of a threat.”

“This is Duncan Brandle,” says the priest. “It’s his father’s funeral.”

“No offense, but our concern is the rest of the gathering.”

Clouds of incense swirl above the departing bereaved, tie-dyed by a stained glass window where Michael the Archangel tramples Satan. If victory is assured, the game is rigged. What’s the point in playing? Two representatives of Schroeder & Sons push the casket toward the door.

“He’s not at any risk,” says Duncan.

“That depends on the blast,” says Schroeder Jr.

“Only the Althea Deluxe is designed to withstand explosions,” says Schroeder Sr.

“It would be disrespectful to leave him,” says the priest, putting a hand on Duncan’s arm. Center stage to all acts in the burlesque of life, a classic venue almost giving them respectability, the church is soon empty, no different than it would be after a baptism or wedding. The show must go on.

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Beneath a neon taco across the street, a dark veil of mourners shrouds the hearse. Duncan stands on the curb watching cars drive past. To everyone else this is just another day. Blaring rap and dragging its muffler, a rusty Honda parks in the lot. A man with the body of a chicken emerges like some mythic creature the ancients neglected to chronicle, its deeds eclipsed by centaurs and gryphons. It attaches a chicken head and retrieves balloons from the trunk and skips toward the gathering honking an air horn.

A cloud absorbs the sun. Gasps from the crowd could be mistaken for the hissing of its extinguishment. The Schroeders study this unusual expression of grief. Is it a form of denial, anger, bargaining, or an eccentric cousin from New Orleans? Hard to say. The path of life offers no guidance for the impending cliff, only distractions.

“Is there a Duncan Brandle here? I’m Chirp the chicken.”

Some cultures acknowledge the shame of misfortune. Some pretend not to. Duncan sees the others watching, feels the third-degree burn of their judgment. “Who sent you?”

“Are you Duncan? Turn that frown upside down.” The balloons it releases expand and diminish like Jellybeans thrown into a pool. It blasts the horn and hops around on scrawny legs wrapped in yellow spandex.

When it squats and shits a silver egg two officers run across the lot and tackle it. “This might be the bomb,” shouts one. “Everyone get down!”

An armored man from the bomb squad waddles toward the egg. His partner circles it on a Segway scooter. Splayed bodies surround the hearse like linemen after a botched play. An ant crawls across a sliver of sun on the concrete beneath Duncan’s arms, from darkness into a patch of light back into darkness. Sound like anyone you know? Others follow, their paths labyrinthine, their obscurity abrupt.

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Navigating a gully between Taco Hut’s parking lot and Walgreens, five adolescents peer over stacks of boxes. “Who ordered the pizzas?”

Duncan stands and removes his jacket. Sweat stains have transformed his shirt into the globe of another world. Drops trickle down his sunglasses, leaving crystal footprints. “Where are you supposed to deliver them?”

“The party outside Taco Hut. We had to park a block away. The cops got half the street closed off. Double anchovies and pineapple, right? They’re paid for but you can’t get them until you say hurray for Peppy’s.”

Duncan removes his shades. Red capillaries surround black holes with blue halos. He rubs his eyes as if massaging a sprain. What’s the right thing to do, or is this a singularity where social norms no longer apply? “I’m not saying it.”

“You have to. The guy who paid used the promotional coupon.”

“Did he leave a name?”

The boy puts his boxes on the ground and rips a label off the topmost. “It reeks like something died,” says one of his fellow deliverers.

“Anchovies are foul,” says another.

An elfin woman with white hair puts a vein-mapped hand on Duncan’s shoulder and apologizes for leaving. He apologizes for her need to apologize. Schroeder Jr. says he’ll take care of the pizza misunderstanding, says that’s what he’s here for, says, “Hurray for Peppy’s.”

“I don’t want the damn things,” says Duncan. “Who’s going to eat them?”

“Some people like anchovies.”

“But not pineapple.”

Like a tortoise trained to walk on its hind legs, the armored man places the suspicious egg in a metal drum on a trailer with a long hitch. He goes across the street where the police are interrogating Cluck. One officer speaks to the priest. The arched entrance of the church dwarfs the two watchmen, sentinels of different territories. Through a bullhorn the officer calls everyone back.

Duncan walks behind the others, alone with his thoughts like a blind man in a stampede. Some wonder why his father is dead, why now rather than in ten years, why this type of cancer instead of another. No one asks why he was alive, or why anyone is. Perhaps the ceremony quells the anarchy of Reason, the way coronations prevented revolutions.

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The priest extends a hand to Duncan. “Come on inside,” he says, mouth agape, his eyes captive to a hijacker demanding an impossible ransom from his senses. Duncan turns to the source but the discreet elements fail to congeal.

Some things are not the sum of their parts but only the parts and cannot be melded by our minds or caged by our concepts: a gorilla, a pink tutu, a safari hat, handfuls of glitter. “Sorry I’m late. Is there a Duncan Brandle here?”

“That would be me,” says Duncan, looking over the ape’s shoulder at a Walgreens employee smoking a cigarette and playing with her phone. The day Icarus fell from the sky was just another day too.

“I’m going to do a little dance, then I want you to try.” Several mourners form a semicircle. The gorilla does the Boogaloo, the Swim, and the Mashed Potato. Duncan watches as though mesmerized by the shaman of some primeval tribe.

Far above, illuming ants and primates alike, contingent and transitory as both and cursed with the fragility this entails, the cluster of gasses recently nicknamed the sun seeps across the boneyard of Time toward its own demise.

Available from Chandelier Press

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Sweeter Than Anything

 

 

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Canes pugnaces, Existentialism, Literature, Ontology, Quietude, Truth

One-Millionth Visitor, And He Never Knew

Most Visited Posts

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Who Is Maestoso the Dachshund and Why Is He Following You?

The rueful admission echoes down serpentine catacombs deep in your mind, waving a torch through long-buried chambers inscribed with crayon hieroglyphics: you’re staring up at the diving board with dread during a swimming lesson; you’re playing hide and seek in your grandparent’s musty basement; you’re debating whether to shoplift and you know the clerk knows what you’re thinking; you’re kissing and you’re sure you’re doing it wrong and wondering if she knows you know she knows.

You’ve been robbed. Those times, where did they go? Once so alive but now hidden in a mass grave. And that’s where the future ones are headed. Remember that. All the days to come will vanish thus. What value or meaning can they contain? We are hoarders of dust.

Maestoso floats toward you like a submarine by Louis Wain, the thin black lips on his alligator jaws pressed together in a sardonic smile, whiskers twitching, his eyes not the perceptual organs of a unique being but portholes to the world of imperishable abstractions where modus ponens and the prime nature of three and five will survive the heat death of the universe and you’ve never been so grateful to have a cat.

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Temple of 11,111,117 Holes

In the Temple of 11,111,117 Holes a novice lights a torch and enters the gaping mouth of the cave and the holes consume him. Each step requires great effort as though against a strong wind or into a place of great danger, its nature unknown and perhaps unknowable. In the center he stands and takes deep breaths before looking up into the millions of black eyes watching him, dissolving him.

This is when the greatest fortitude is required. Many before him lost their nerve, never to return, not free of emptiness but haunted by it. He regards the thin membrane separating one hole from another, its nebulous and transitory nature, as if existence is less substantial than nothingness. Paradoxes and riddles overwhelm the feeble abacus behind his eyes.

Some monks use a walking stick to steady trembling knees and accommodate greater depths of thought. Others criticize the practice, saying the holes would never give a monk more than he could tolerate, that to artificially enhance indulgences is a crime against nature. Brethren of the Stick say it is more unnatural to ascribe intentions to the holes. A third group dismisses both on the grounds that naturalness has never been established as a criterion of contemplation.

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In Search of Proust’s Bassett Hound in the Library of Babel

Why Proust? It’s the sorcerous powers of description. You don’t need to keep a flow chart of the characters or study the Dreyfus affair. You want to read how the moon in the afternoon sky is like a beautiful actress who sneaks into the audience to watch a portion in which she does not have to appear. Virginia Wolfe said the best thing about life is reading Proust. That ignores some conspicuous contenders, but he’s the only writer who cracks the top five. There’s only one way it could be improved and you don’t have to feel like a Philistine for saying this.

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Mount Silenus: A Vertical Odyssey of Extraordinary Peril

Some say Fate cannot be fought, that it is entrapping as quicksand, omnipresent as the ether. Notice how the cleverest excuses and slipperiest arguments are used in defense of cowardice. Through capitulation to routine man dies an ignoble death long before his mortal coil makes it official. He forgets he is living. Combat is the supreme reminder. What is that putrid stench? Is it not the rot of man’s spirit, the smell of lies told to assuage the failure of those too craven to fight, smoke wafting from the languid den of routine addicts? To wage war against Fate one must locate the most auspicious outpost and launch an attack. That fortress is Mount Silenus. A battle calls. Warrior, arise.

Towering over you, a geological Rorschach absorbing the frustrations and dreams of a new species of ant chasing the wind up its sides, the 50,000,000-year-old distention of rock recently nicknamed Mount Silenus endures, aroused from the sleep of nothing by the same Source that concocted man, remaining at the orgy of existence on the same invitation. And when man is gone, regardless of how many crept across its sides, it will endure just the same, until it doesn’t.

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Lay with Cudahy?

The gloomy, taciturn Dr. Harris, glaring at us through bifocals and removing them to intensify his sulphurous gaze, stroked his unkempt beard and shook his head when we proposed a joint independent study titled, A History of the Cudahy Taverns: Packard Avenue. We returned the following day to plead our case, wielding the deadly argument that his dismissive reference to Cudahy as “some small, blue-collar abutment of Milwaukee” was no less contemptuous than describing the Temiar of Malaysia (his dissertation subject) as a group of uninteresting savages with absurd religious beliefs. A twenty-minute session of furious beard stroking ensued, probably infested by the realization that we had actually perused his dreadful, meandering doorstop.

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Estimations

Purple People, seated under the purple lights in the Phil Zone like surfers of an eruption, we envy you on 12-31-80, the first Estimated Prophet of 81 and last of 80, the metaphysical glue of their connection. Focus on Phil during the Jam until some Helen Keller awakening shatters the shell of your mind and reveals to the stunned hatching within a world beyond all wonder. The intrinsic peculiarity of the song is never covered by the gray blanket of familiarity wrapping most things. It’s as different and mysterious and off-the-wall and triumphant and creepy as the first time you heard it.

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Serial Killers Who Worked Security

Why are there no paralegals moonlighting as Grim Reapers, no librarians driven to carnage by inquiries about Dan Brown? Security fields a disproportionate number of the empathy challenged. Practitioners of this noble calling succumb to dark nights of the soul, wondering if the property they defend requires blood to sustain its existence. Why is it always the loners? What happens in the cold vacuum of solitude, time spent with the ultimate stranger? Consider ten instances of this cruel occupational hazard and wonder why “going rent-a-cop” never joined the lexicon.

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Petronius Who!?

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Existentialism, Literature, Ontology, Truth

The Book Party

A room without books is like a body without a soul.   Cicero

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“It’s the purple building with the domed roof, a few blocks down on the right side,” the attendant said before I could open my mouth. Oil stains covered his uniform like continents on a globe and his rolled up sleeves revealed huge but flabby biceps.

“It?” I said, not used to mediums plying their trade in this line of work.

“The book party,” he sighed. “I must have had fifty people stop in here and ask me about it since noon.”

“Book party?”

“Yeah, look at your invitation.” He retrieved a green three-by-five card from beside the register and tapped an elegant sketch of the structure with a greasy finger. “Some guy left his here.”

“Utterly fascinating,” I said, trying to decipher the black enamel calligraphy. “But could you tell me how to return to the interstate?”

“It figures,” he said, shaking his head in defeat. He gave me directions and I asked if the party was invite only.

“You can have this one. The guy who left it hasn’t been back in hours. With all the people that come and go it can’t be too hard to get in.”

“Who is the perpetrator?”

“The what?”

“The featured author.”

He blinked.

“When did it begin?”

“I’ve been working here over six months and it’s been going on since then.”

“What manner of book party lasts that long? Few merit six seconds of celebration. Most should be inaugurated by a requiem. This one must feature a different work each night.”

“You got me. But it’s a strange crowd. You should see some of the people who stop in here for directions. Most of them are pretty flaky. But some of the women — You wouldn’t believe it.”

“They are drawn to exhibitionists like peahens to peacocks. Whether it is a hirsute guitarist, a steroid-addled gamesman, or a pulp-excreting word-processor jockey makes no difference.” He crinkled up his nose as though blinded from the light of my analysis. “You have been most helpful,” I said before returning to my car.

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“Lost indeed.” I handed Sandy the invitation. “I wanted it to be a surprise. We have found the literary nexus of the world, a fête without end.”

“What book is it for? The invitation doesn’t mention the book or the author.”

“This is a top-secret affair,” I said, heading for the domed building.

“I’ve never seen a great novelist.”

“Nor shall you, absent a time machine.”

“I meant famous.”

“I will catch you if you faint.”

Upon entering we walked through a long limestone passage. Smooth slabs gleamed from Chinese lanterns. We emerged in the humbling vastness of a dark marble lobby. A huge window looked out on a pond at the foot of a hill covered in dandelions. Dwarfed by a statue of a zebra perched upon one leg, two men in white suits and matching visors circumnavigated the pond with the speed of a minute hand, staring intently at it. After a prelude to eternity, one pointed to the surface. His comrade ran to his side. They took turns framing it from different angles with their hands, looked at one another, and nodded. One picked up a metal pole with wire mesh on the end and scooped something out and gingerly laid it on a tray. He put the pole down and they resumed their encirclement.

Sandy tapped my shoulder. Opposite the window, seated in a folding chair, the lobby attendant faced the wall. I shrugged and walked to the door across from us, its existence only discernible from a silver knob. Like a man poised to tour Bedlam, I paused before opening it, bracing myself for encounters with MFA students, free-verse poets, English “majors” unfamiliar with Shakespeare, and worse. Sandy watched the aloof attendant. Above her, the ceiling spread to uncertain dimensions, as though something was leaking out, or, more ominously, Nothing was trickling in. She looked to me, puzzled, then to him, concerned. I jerked my head, imploring her to follow.

The smell of strawberries overwhelmed us. Lavishly attired literati crowded around three tables disappearing into the abyssal depths of a narrow room. Their whispers accrued to the hiss of a deflating tire. Unable to sneak a glimpse of what digested their attention, I assumed that a plague of novelists were diligently signing their latest exudations. We choreographed an elaborate dance through the gathering to arrive at a tiny bar in the corner. The bartender hunched over to avoid scraping his head on the ceiling. Thin brown hair plastered to one side matched his leathery complexion. Eyes dead like a shark’s stared into the crowd. In the distance between his shoulders stood three patrons. Sandy gasped at the sight of a zebra pelt mounted behind him. The green clock in its center had blue Roman numerals but no hands to mark the minutes or hours.

“Excuse me,” I said. “What book is this for?”

As though a hand inside it tensed to catch a ball, the bartender’s face contorted. “That book,” he hissed like a serpent provoked, pointing to the tables.

Revelation: the people crowded around the tables were reading the book. The pages must have been spread sequentially across them. “So much for fruitful miracles in the midst of solitude,” I said. “Are you selling hot dogs? Are there any cheerleaders?”

“Are you trying to make a joke, sir?” a pudgy little man beside me asked. Like most of the male literati, a Fu Man Chu beard garnished his face. Flaunting rubicund cheeks, his ponytail constrained long dark hair. A baggy paisley shirt tucked into tight jeans tucked into cowboy boots. He and the bartender vivisected me with their eyes.

“Who is the author?” I said.

The bartender shook his head in disbelief, perhaps disgust. The little man squinted at me like he had discovered a precious jewel. “Sir, the book is not finished. And it has no author. How could you not know this?”

“I am acquainted with the noxious trend of denying that books have any fixed meaning, but this must be something new. How exciting.”

He stood on his tiptoes and put his mouth to my ear. “You came here thinking the book has an author?” His hand covered his mouth and his eyes extruded. “He’s only joking,” he told the bartender. “Drunk as a skunk. Fix me another. I’ll take him outside for some air.” Sandy and I followed him to the lobby. “My name is Cletus Empiricus,” he announced, vigorously shaking my hand while engaged in a staring contest with Sandy’s chest. I could scarcely begrudge him this enchantment. Those sweet, ripened, succulent, luscious fruits of the Orient had brought me more bliss than a fête of real writers could describe with a million sonnets. “You weren’t joking about thinking the book has an author,” he said, diverting his gaze. I shook my head. “Mr. Jablonski, the book comes from the pond.”

“You mean that pond?”

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“Correct. Do you see those men? The pond is filled with tiny letters. They search for words or phrases. Sometimes they find complete sentences. They scoop out the words and put them on a tray. When it’s full they bring it inside and put it on the table. This isn’t like other book parties. It celebrates the book as it’s written.”

“What’s it about?” said Sandy.

“That depends on who you ask.”

“That depends on whom she asks,” I corrected, following the wise principle that it is never too early to establish dominion in a conversation.

“Some people are quite taken with it,” he said with a shrug.

“How do you like it?” I asked.

“I was ambivalent, but I’ve grown to hate it,” he said, as though delighted to answer the question, perhaps hoping to influence our opinions. “Can’t deny it’s technically well-written, teeming with interesting characters, lots of action, complex themes.” He sniffed his drink and stared at the pond. One man pointed to the surface while his partner brandished the pole.

“But?” I said, severing his trance.

“But all the surface activity can’t hide the hollow ground underneath it.”

“Could you phrase that so someone who has not spent his life chasing the wind after an advanced English degree can comprehend it?”

“At least he declared a major,” said Sandy.

“I will declare it as soon as they remove symbolic logic from the requirements. Did Socrates torture himself with those absurd squiggles?”

Cletus smiled, drank, rubbed his chin, and said, “There are so many tiny pictures you hardly notice the lack of a big one. But once you do, the tiny pictures don’t interest you.”

“Sandy, go fetch an English undergrad to translate.”

“I know what he means, and there’s something sad about it: interesting small things trapped in a meaningless, authorless giant thing.”

“Exactly. That’s exactly why I don’t like it.”

That they were on the same wavelength fascinated me. In my demarcation of the circles of benighted academic pursuits, communications occupied the lowly fifth circle, four full circles below English. Exchanges between them should have been impossible.

“The underlying hollowness compels a lot of people to either force the story into some interpretation they’ve cooked up, which is like trying to get an elephant into a straightjacket, or they say the pond has mysterious powers that guide the writing. That way it’s always possible the meaning is hidden or not fully revealed.”

“Why is that so hard to believe?” said Sandy.

“Look at it. It’s a scummy little pond with millions of letters floating around in it.”

“But it’s writing a book,” she said.

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“You have to judge an author by what he, or it, writes, not by what you think they could.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “Aptitude is obviously irrelevant to literary matters, if not all matters. How long is the work?”

“Too long. It might be repeating itself thematically, but it’s so long this is hard to verify. It just rambles on and on and on and on,” he said, bobbing his head to accentuate his aversion. “One damn thing after another.”

“When will it be finished?” I said.

“No one knows. Those men out there just scoop out words. They aren’t proofreaders or editors. There are no editors. There’s no one to say when the whole silly mess is over.”

“But the fact that it’s all being created by a pond is incredible,” said Sandy.

“The regular use of alliteration, anadiplosis, and anaphora has been convincingly explained in terms of the consistent breezes stirring the water. Patterns arise.”

“But the structure, the complexity of –”

“If it were my book I’d be ashamed of myself,” Cletus said, throwing his head back. “I would only publish it with a pen name to make a quick buck.”

“Then why do you come here?” said Sandy.

“One, the drinks are cheap. Two, the chicks.” Cletus winked at me. “Don’t get me wrong. Once in a while the book has its moments. Hell, once in a while it’s great. It’s just that overall it’s nothing I’d put my name on.”

“Have you ever written anything?” said Sandy.

“No. But he has,” Cletus whispered, pointing at the lobby attendant.

“Why is he facing the wall?” I said.

“He’s jealous.”

“Who’s he jealous of?” said Sandy.

“Of whom is he jealous,” I corrected.

“He’s jealous of the pond. He’s the most frustrated writer who ever lived, at least that’s what he’d like you to think. As the story goes, the books he’s written have an underlying significance that ties everything together in the end. But his novels fall stillborn from his printer while people stand in line to read a foofaraw written by a scummy pond. That’s why he sits facing the wall. He can’t bare to look at it.”

“A foofaraw? May the gods deliver me from all English majors.”

“At least they don’t think they’re smarter than everyone,” said Sandy. “Philosophy students are the worst.

“Why doesn’t he pursue employment elsewhere?” I said.

“The money’s probably good, and of course, the perks.”

“Such as?”

“Mr. Jablonski, you’ve been inside the other room. They come through here, see him all despondent, ask him what’s wrong. That’s when it starts getting deep in here — if you know what I mean. They bring him drinks, ask if there’s anything they can do, and one thing leads to another. You know, I’ve thought about pulling up a chair next to him. In a sense he’s one of the most successful writers of all time.”

Sandy gave him a quizzical look.

“Forget all that junk you’ve heard about literary ambitions. It’s a veneer. The brooding genius routine is an act they go through to appear mysterious and sensitive. The tormented writer shtick wreaks havoc on a woman’s compassion.”

“That’s not true of all writers,” Sandy said.

Her literary judgment devastated by a diet of “commercial fiction” (a euphemism for graceless drivel about the basest instincts unfolding in clichéd situations), she thought highly of both the perpetrators and their motives. Having had several of her favorite novels inflicted on me, I conceived a hypothesis concerning their origin: those authors must have secret ponds of their own. Such work is not the product of intelligent design, but mere randomness. The prose itself is what one would expect from letters drifting aimlessly in a pond. The numbing regularity of the themes (coming of age, the indomitable nature of the human spirit, who killed whom, a journey filled with conflicts, etc.) are explicable in terms of the same natural forces that create regularities like tides, eddies, and whirlpools in larger bodies of water.

“Don’t be fooled,” said Cletus. “The difference between what he’s doing and slipping your date a knockout pill is a difference of degree. Some writers are craftier than others, but deep down they’re all the same.”

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“Don’t listen to him,” said the attendant. The wall muffled any inflections his voice contained. “He doesn’t understand. To write a book is to pour your soul into a canyon.”

“Here he goes,” said Cletus. “He’s practicing one of his pickup lines. I need a drink. Come to the bar when it gets too deep in here for you.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “Take a good, long look at the book. Decide for yourself.” The hissing of the crowd filled the lobby before he closed the door.

The camouflage of the attendant’s dark hair and jacket fostered the illusion that the wall was speaking. “An echo may ring through the canyon and the people below will look up and see who shouted. But even the clearest voice can only echo for so long. Soon it will fade, absorbed by the rocks, and the canyon will be as quiet as it was before. This is true of the greatest shouts. For most, they are lucky if their voice echoes at all or if anyone looks up.”

I cleared my throat, reflected on the greatness of Pericles, and began an oration that would change his life. “Cletus and yourself may think otherwise, but over the course of conquests innumerable I have found that an air of supreme self-assuredness is the most powerful aphrodisiac. Whining about your failures may occasionally net a stray mongrel, but if you wish to mount the prize bitches you need to project confidence. Your very being must radiate strength and –”

“What the hell is wrong with you?” said Sandy.

“Disregard this conversation. I am speaking as a man to one aspiring to that status. May the gods strike me dead if my father did not say the same words to me. Perhaps the fiery rhetoric offends you, but it is necessary for inspirational purposes.”

“Just stop it or I’ll call Dave to come and pick me up.”

“Your ex. Speaking of aspiring to a manly status. Very well. Cletus told us you are an accomplished author.”  

“I wrote several books,” the wall said. “Their shouts were great and clear, but none of them echoed.”

“Why does every shout not echo?” I asked, which seemed like the proper question. Even if his detestable strategy proved successful in practice, it was grievously wrong in principle: a man must never forge inroads to a woman’s maternal instincts, only her carnal ones.

“Clarity does not entail volume,” the attendant said, coming back into focus and sounding perturbed. “And a great shout does not connote a loud shout.”

“Why is writing a book the saddest thing in the world?” said Sandy.

Because the foredoomed paths of solipsism, megalomania, and self-abasement intersect in the depths of Abaddon, I thought. And the injudicious use of metaphors and similes leaves the writer with irreparable brain damage.

“Where do all books end up?” the wall said as the lobby attendant faded from view. “Moldering on a shelf, packed in a box, abandoned and forgotten on a hard drive.”

This routine indubitably cast him as mysterious and sensitive. But to what abysmal depths has civilization plunged when sensitivity is a trait willfully sought by a man?

“So you don’t write anymore?” said Sandy, falling prey to the loathsome vice of pity, in accordance with the attendant’s strategy.  

“I do. But my books will not be subjected to burial on shelves or in boxes. They end up underground.”

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“And underground is a metaphor of what?” I said. Ask a writer for the time of day and you need an Enigma machine to decrypt the answer.

“It’s no metaphor. I literally bury them. Six feet deep.”

“No one ever reads them?” said Sandy.

“If there are no echoes you never have to adjust to the awful silence that comes when they stop.”

“That’s so sad,” she said.

“No, it is natural.”

“The Kafka gambit,” I laughed. “You are aware, I hope, that he did not bury his books; he asked a friend to burn them. Clearly you are unaware that his proficiency with the ladies was not exactly –”

Sandy turned to me, only the whites of her eyes visible. An arctic breeze blew through the room. “I won’t tell you again.”

Piqued, I looked out the window and watched the peculiar fishermen.

“But perhaps it is only outrage that leads me to this.”

“But it can take years for a writer to get recognized,” Sandy said. “You should be proud that –”

“Not that kind of outrage. I’m outraged that where a book ends up is a far better place than where other things do, that even the worst book has the potential to exist longer.”  

“What other things?”

Go and sit on his lap, I thought. How much further can he debase himself? What final act has he planned for this play of helplessness, this self-degradation, this sensitivity? Will he now curl into the fetal position and weep?

After scooping several words from the pond, the men lifted a silver tray at least six feet long and four feet wide. Their cautious handling would have sufficed for an atomic bomb. The man in front held it from behind and they marched with synchronized steps. I flirted with the idea of pounding on the window to measure the depth of their concentration, but I suspected the book’s fans might not view my behavior as a lighthearted prank. Cheers erupted from the next room. The attendant began to sob. Sandy pressed her lips to my ear. “Let’s go read some of it.”

“Of course. I’m going to fetch my notebook. Save me a place in line.”

Excerpted from Jablonski’s Magnum Opus

rna-world

Petronius Who?

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