"Hey, what's this all about?"
"I'll be fucked if I know..."
Awash in panic. Alone in my cabin in the high Rockies, I had clearly eaten too many of the innocuous looking little mushrooms, and now I was veering out of control, alarms triggering down every internal subsystem, neural klaxons going off like explosions, each calling for more adrenaline. Suddenly removed from the sky, white clouds, impossible summer sunshine, mountain air: all were mocking, distant, alien. Lost between heaven and earth, I was falling headlong into the wreckage I'd created of my life. Unable to hide, to beg forgiveness, to continue living.
I stumbled out from the cabin to my truck, testing just how self conscious is was possible to be. Deeply embarrassed by the trees, so obviously belonging there unlike my stupid interloping self. What was I thinking to have come here, done this? And how would I survive the next eight hours? A meaningless temporal division in a life so abruptly terminated. More to distract from my patent doom than anything else, I slotted a tape into the deck and hit the play button, closed my eyes.
It took forever for anything to happen after that. Hell is for eternity, just as they say. Curious that Pat Metheny was in hell along with me, plus someone on vibes, a drummer heavily into cymbals, a piano. Maybe it was "As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls"; that was the right year, 1981. The music began as random sound, unbearable, without purpose or direction. I thought to turn it off, but my hand was so far away it was not responding. More panic! I was paralyzed, gripped by iron bonds of aimless yet inevitable consequence. Nothing was worth doing. Yes, I could move my hand if I really wanted to, but why bother? What would it prove, cut off from the human race forever, sitting alone in some automotive contraption on the side of some random mountain in East Jesus Colorado, that I could turn a cassette tape player off? Nothing. I slipped deeper into whatever lethargy had stoned my heart and sapped my will and tried not to fear the fear any more than it seemed to be demanding as its due. I blanked and disappeared. Then back then gone again.
The noise of the music was all there was, and maddening interminable time. Because there was nothing else to do I found myself watching the notes unfurl. I remember noticing the stereo was much better than usual. As I blindly drifted closer, each bit of sound took on a shape, an iridescent color, almost a personality. They were moving against each other as if confused, searching for some better arrangement. Then, wait -- even though all was lost, though nothing mattered -- this was very nearly interesting. They were forming into patterns, then falling back apart. Hard to describe the constellation this created. It held yet shifted, twisted, flowed, like the edge of a Mandelbrot set, fractal recursion collapsing in on itself only to repeat, the same yet different on every iteration. Like rattlesnakes suddenly in fallen leaves. Because of this movement my vision was drawn to something larger that the local piece was just a part of, and in that moment the music shifted focus, dropped into gear and somehow opened to reveal a huge ring of synchronized diamond fire hanging in black space, beginning to turn, to glow, to become one whole and living, breathing mandala. Sharp edged, terrible, immediate, real. Beauty beyond all pain and sorrow. Not of myself or other either: original face.
Nothing left, I rode the music right on through forever and was almost thrown again when it began to slow and faded, finally ending. "Fifty-five..." someone called out matter-of-factly on the tape. And in the far background, "...let's do it again," then laughter. They know, I thought, amazed I hadn't seen it sooner. Skillful brothers and sisters always bring you though.
I opened the truck door and got out. The clouds had massed the sky and the wind come up. My eyes were liquid with ancient knowledge, and the world they took in was no longer outside. I opened my hands to the earth. I breathed and stretched, a certain animal once more. So good to be back.
Later, coming down, cupping hot peppermint tea against my cheek, exhausted, drained, absolved of my humanity, I see the great million-year rocks upthrust across the forest valley. Aztec rocks, it's instantly clear. Jagged, electric, brooding, dangerous. Blood sacrifice as natural to them as the slanting light of sunset they are redly bathed in. It is fifteen years later and I live less than 50 miles from this place. If I went back today, I know they would be there still. Watching.
The plane had left LAX in the middle of the night. What is it about leaving the earth that precipitates such melancholy memories of one's path up to that point? Cusps and passages. Departures. I could see moonlight on the clouds and maybe water, miles below. High over the Pacific, headed for Tokyo.
A few days after the trip described above -- not the one to Japan -- I drove down from Red Feather Lakes to Fort Collins, 40 miles to the edge of the Great Plains where a part of America's manifest destiny had finally thrown in the sponge. I was after two things: a dictionary and a thesaurus. While I didn't have much money, I wasn't looking for anything all that fancy, just simple paperbacks. This is curious in light of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary and the several dozen other unabridged lexicons I've collected over the intervening years -- fundamental documentation for the mother of all operating systems. But that day all I wanted was the bare bones, your rock-bottom basic starter kit.
It seemed to me that no one really understood what anyone else was saying. It still does. We are locked up in our heads with our ideas: memories, longings, aspirations, disappointments, dreams. We try to explain. We fail. This disconnect is so dependable it has become our closest bond.
Moreover, we make noises we act as if we do not own, or even comprehend. For perhaps a million years, human beings have lived and died and, in the course of all that time, have constructed and preserved this legacy of presumably useful signs, first uttered, then inscribed. I tap the keys, you read the words the letters make. This is not given. We created it.
So these things were going through my head in the days after my illuminating descent into a hell I could no longer deny, and my undeniable, even if temporary, rebirth. And I figured the dictionary was as good a place to start as any in examining these sounds we use in trying to convey the things about ourselves we least of all understand. But I would start simple, with "bread" and "tree" and "love." No, not that last one. Way too compound.
It's like archeology. You take a word -- say "word" -- and wonder how it got into your mouth, how it tripped off your lightly typing fingers. So you look it up. And you are back on the steppes of Asia 10,000 years ago. "Word" it seems comes from "wer," a sound invented by a people so obscure we call them only "Indo-Europeans" with little idea of what that means or who they really were. Also from "wer" comes man, a complex concept (from whence also "werewolf"), as well as oath, in the sense of bond. There you are holding your testicles (where applicable) and swearing fealty to some berserker liege who will otherwise lop your freaking head off. You laugh. But this is precisely the derivation of "testament" -- giving your word on your "manhood." As in "word up!" Also as in Old Testament and New. Hang onto your cohones, compadres, we are riding into history. The Internet is not a new thing, though the pipes are certainly faster now. No matter where you get on, though, the Telegraph Road stretches back in time, time out of mind, and in a shimmering mirage of might-have-been, drops below the limen of our collective consciousness. 28.8, X2, T1; doesn't matter.
I grew up in an erudite family. There were books everywhere and I poked through them all, well before I understood why they put all those black marks on the nice white pages. I learned to read early and well, as I am watching my daughter do today. But even before that, there were pictures. As of the cave paintings at Lascaux and Altamira, those bulls and horses still running in the flickering Neolithic torchlight. And one that remained with me even more powerfully. It's a painting of a monk, or maybe an alchemist if there's a difference, sitting deep in thought at his desk, which is strewn with manuscripts and bones, a skull, a set of cartographic dividers, maps and charts of stars and ocean voyages, stones and various unrecognizable minerals, hand drawn tables of elements and corresponding icons -- earth, fire, water, wind -- an open book, a goose-quill pen. And all about the cluttered room are other arcane artifacts, each of which serves as an entry point into a secret and otherwise unknowable universe. Symbols we call them, for lack of a better explanation.
Symbols represent something that isn't immediately obvious, or perhaps that we'd rather wasn't. Words represent mental constructions, concepts, which try in turn to justify experience to itself. Experience is the trace of something that has passed -- always a little while ago -- through the sensorium of touch, taste, smell, of hearing or of sight. Think of a tree falling in the forest of your solipsistic psyche. But is there something else? If you try to find out by tracing these nested representations far enough in either direction -- through introspection or the analysis of socially potentiated memic propagation -- you will either go stark staring mad or become enlightened. Quite possibly both, depending on your expectations of the latter state.
Abruptly, I was awake again and the plane was banking over Tokyo Bay. The next three years would be a blur of artificial intelligence, Lisp, knowledge engineering; zeros and ones concatenating into increasingly complex data structures until, presumably, they would speak back to us from that space beyond which we cannot see. At the time, reinventing God seemed a noble enough vocation.
And then... then I forget. Some other things happened, some of them important, and the next thing I knew I was sitting here writing this issue of EGR. It had to be today, but this is all there's time for. There are so many tasks and projects nagging at me that I knew I wouldn't have another chance for weeks. Whatever this installment may be about -- and I leave it, of course, as an exercise for the reader to decide -- I must get on to these other pressing matters. For one thing, I have a brand new Intel 266 MHz Pentium II Processor w/ MMX Technology (fool!) sitting in my hallway unassembled. It will let me rip through information at demon speeds. It will store 6.4 gigabytes of raw unpurposed data (or as one salesman enthused, "six jiggabytes"). It will let me assemble and deconstruct codes and semaphores, tokens, pointers, arrays, whole documents, websites, networked archives, cultural repositories. But first I have to clean my fuckin desk.
Worst of all is what's inside the box I'm writing this on today. I'll have to move it all over to the new machine. Tools for making words and tools to take those words apart to see what's inside, if anything. Tools to wrap them up and unpack them. Tools to upload, download and distribute them. Tools to read them, store them, categorize and recall them. Tools for trying to engage with a language and those who continue to create it on the fly without stopping to wonder what it is they're doing half the time, but who might wonder, if it ever crossed their minds, why anyone would sit and type on a beautiful sunny Colorado afternoon in a cave of a room so far from the sunlight and the cries of the people -- good, bad and indifferent -- who make up the world, or fondly assume their ideas do.
One off these days I'm going to have to get all this organized. But hey, in the meantime, it's sure good to be back.
Entropy Gradient Reversals CopyLeft Christopher Locke firstname.lastname@example.org http://www.rageboy.com
"reality leaves a lot to the imagination..." John Lennon
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