before the show begins

The translator’s communicator was malfunctioning so while she consulted with technical support about a repair or possible replacement I took the opportunity to whisper into the speaker’s ear. For many years, I said, I’ve been hoping for this moment, this interstitial space in which to build a wall of speech brick by brick in your ear, blocking the canal to keep out the sound of hundreds of millions of screaming humans on their deathbeds, each of them living in their own personalized squalor, sleeping under the stars winking out one by one, for isn’t that what you want, isn’t it what we all want, to not have to hear it, the sounds of our own world dying a slow strangled death—a pool of poison molasses creeping toward our personal boundaries at the edges of which we teeter, peering down and around, anywhere but at the death sludge soon to be upon us, enveloping us, drowning us. But wait, you said, what about the other ear, I can still hear out of that one. Ah, no worries, I replied, I have plenty of bricks stored upon my bowed back and a bucket of fresh mortar mixed up this morning after I arose against all odds what with the usual black fog in my head and rusted anvil sitting square on my chest. I feigned cheerfulness as I continued to whisper, now in the other ear, in case the speaker didn’t quite catch that last part about the other bricks and the fresh mortar. You see, I said, some of us have always known it was coming, maybe we were born under the wrong sign or something, that nonsense about carrying the weight of the world, even as infants (maybe that’s why we were so fat), then shedding pounds, stretching out, an entire planet’s worth of anxieties whittling away at us, stripping the flesh from our sides as the reality of what we’d been born into sank further in, spreading through our cells like a raging infection intent on nothing less than total destruction of life. However, I said…lucky for you, for those of us who know, who have always known, who will continue to know until the very moments of our very likely premature deaths, we are here to help the others, such as yourself, to block it all out, to keep you out of the know, so that you may continue to dwell in your blissful ignorance and follow your own self-serving interests. Well, you said, that’s all fine and good to hear and I appreciate your telling me all of it but you know I really must go now, I have a speech to give, I must reassure all these people in this great hall that it’s okay, the world’s not going to end, we’re all fine, it will be fine, stay calm and try not to think about it. Uh-huh, I said, sure, you go ahead, I’ve said what I came here to say and now it’s your turn to go out there and say what you came here to say, only just one second, just a moment, if you please, there is this one other bit of information I’d like to convey and that is, well, frankly, I think you’re a liar, I’ve always thought that, and it’s not just that you’re a liar, but you’re also a really bad liar, and I’m pretty certain that everyone out there in the great hall also thinks you’re a liar, they see through your ill-conceived, small-minded deception, and they’ve come here not to be reassured, as you think you’re about to do for them, but in fact they’ve come to bear witness to your final pack of lies because this is the end for you, it’s over, your time has now come and we’ll not be hearing your lies again, not here, not anywhere, it’s all been taken care of in advance you see. So goodbye, good luck, break a leg, enjoy the next few minutes, your last moments in the golden spotlight before your grand departure, before the darkness descends and your journey into the void begins …well, I won’t belabor the point…besides I really must go now, the translator is heading back this way and my friend is holding a seat for me in the front row. You’ll be fine, I said, smiling, and patted the speaker’s shoulder, who looked up at me with an expression that can only be described as blank. I slipped out around the curtain and down the steps into the darkened hall, where I took my seat and waited for the show to begin.

the infiltrator

The infiltrator had grown tired of infiltrating. Just once, said the infiltrator, I would like to be somewhere for a legitimate reason. No pretenses, no cover, just me at a place, any place, simply being myself, my real self, if such a self even exists anymore. I haven’t encountered it in so long, you see, that I fear it may have evaporated out of my false pores into an air that was already too heavy to hold me in all of my now free-floating particles.

Infiltration is demanding and wearying work. It wears on a body and on a mind. So much time living ‘in character’ to the point where the lines between self and character blur, the two ever beginning to merge in unpreventable ways. So much so that if you knew me outside my infiltrative self you might not know the difference. You might like me or not like me for the character that I am currently playing. You might never see beyond that character because what is beyond, as I have theorized above, may no longer exist.

I suppose the infiltration began in adolescence. More of a hobby at first, or rather a defense mechanism that grew into a habit once I discovered my aptitude for it. Adolescence being a time when personal identity is at its most fragile point—slippery and malleable—subject to change at a moment’s notice for a myriad of reasons. As time passed I grew to exploit this psychological state of development to its fullest potential, donning and discarding identities like so many flimsy drugstore Halloween costumes.

When I reached my late teens my skills were suddenly noticed by a recruiter and so it was that I turned professional. Since then it’s been one job after another—sometimes only for a few days, other times for months. I even did one gig that lasted for two years. The pay was phenomenal, but I shed so many layers of my identity that by the end I knew not who I was. I now live in fear that I never fully recovered from that experience, that I crossed a line every infiltrator knows well should never be crossed, the one that cannot be stepped back across, the one that strips away the last vestiges of one’s original identity like the husk of an overripe fruit, leaving behind a pulpy indeterminate mass.

And so now I exist in this liminal state where every direction leads to a potential new identity and not moving toward any of them means a sort of hovering in place, neither here nor there, nor really anywhere…said the infiltrator, to no one in particular, somewhere in between the empty moments of a forgotten day.

oxbow – letter of note

thick, slimy species taking over beaches

The Weather Channel website: Best source of clickbait in the form of alarmist propaganda?

elm – on golden wings

a ‘two bittern’ day

 

An American Bittern 'skypoints' at Black Marsh Natural Area, North Point State Park, Edgemere, Maryland, USA.

An American Bittern ‘skypoints’ at Black Marsh Natural Area, Edgemere, Maryland, USA. © 2018 S. D. Stewart

Bitterns are notoriously elusive wading birds. Members of the heron family, they blend in with the reeds common to areas which they frequent, particularly when they point their heads to the sky, exposing their long streaked throats (see photo at left). Throughout the winter I made quite a few fruitless expeditions to see this particular American Bittern, which was overwintering at Black Marsh. Finally, this past Friday my persistence paid off and I happened upon it actively feeding in relatively open water. I even saw it catch a fish, though unfortunately that wasn’t caught on video. I could easily have watched this bird all day. I find all herons fascinating to watch as they feed, and this bittern perhaps most of all, given how secretive it is and how many times I’d previously tried and failed to see it.

Coincidentally (or not), I had literally just come from another park where I’d seen the American Bittern’s smaller counterpart, the Least Bittern, which is perhaps even more difficult to get eyes on due to its diminutive stature. Given how unlikely it is that I will have another ‘two bittern’ birding day anytime soon, if ever again, a commemorative blog post seemed appropriate.

A Least Bittern does its best to avoid the camera at Patterson Park, Baltimore, Maryland, USA. © 2018 S. D. Stewart

A Least Bittern endeavors to avoid the camera at Patterson Park, Baltimore, Maryland, USA. © 2018 S. D. Stewart

the excavation of gil orlovitz

Recently I received the good news that a new volume of buried writer Gil Orlovitz’s poetry and prose is soon to be published. I’ve previously bemoaned Orlovitz’s fate on this site, as well as posting, at the time, the only known review of his experimental novel Ice Never F to be found on the internet. Now, champion of forgotten poets Rick Schober will be publishing a collection of Orlovitz’s early stories, poems, and essays through his one-man operation, Tough Poets Press. Rick needs our help, though! He’s started a Kickstarter campaign to cover the initial costs associated with getting this important anthology out into the world. Rick has done these campaigns before and he knows what he’s doing. All donations go straight into production. Take a look, read Rick’s biography of Orlovitz, and if you feel so inclined please give what you can! The book will be published June 7, 2018, the 100th anniversary of Orlovitz’s birth.

zine review: cul-de-sac #7

Cul-de-sac #7
The Adult Geek Issue
by Liz Mason & Julie Halpern

I’ve known Liz Mason through zines for many years, probably since I first began selling my zine Thoughtworm on consignment through Quimby’s in Chicago in the early 2000s. We traded zines, too, and I always enjoyed reading hers, both her own perzine Caboose, and the zine Cul-de-sac which she co-publishes with her friend Julie Halpern. Zine time can be very slow, though. It had been 20 years since the last issue of Cul-de-sac appeared! So when I heard there was a new one out, I was really looking forward to it.

As someone who hasn’t been reading perzines lately, it was interesting to read one written by two people close to my own age (that is, a bit older than most people I know of who tend to write perzines). This new issue, subtitled ‘The Adult Geek Issue’, addresses the shifts in one’s milieu associated with aging, though not always at a straight angle.  Liz and Julie take turns penning essays on topics ranging from the light-hearted (changing taste in pop culture, celebrity encounters both direct and indirect, love of the television series Ancient Aliens) to the more thoughtful and serious (the regrettable disintegration of one’s D&D group, the experience of feeling like a square peg in round subcultural holes, a personal history of miscarriages).

Two of Liz’s essays particulary resonated with me. The first is one in which she discusses how she has never felt like she fit in with any subculture (be it punk, geek, zinester, etc.), despite her best efforts. Her point that ‘when you start to identify with the idiosyncrasies of what makes you you, you have to exist outside the group’ is an insightful one. In order to make peace with one’s status as an individualist, one must eventually learn to accept this somewhat bitter truth. The other essay of Liz’s that struck me was a rather rambling one titled, in part, ‘It Is Normal to Have a Shitty Time at the Party.’ In it, Liz hits on topics such as aging, personal identity, what it means to leave a legacy, and the importance of making honest human connections. This essay, like much of Liz’s zine writing, is funny, pensive, poignant, and pleasantly digressive all at once.

I suspect that many people approaching middle age who have struggled to fit in, lurked around on the fringes of society, however you want to phrase it, will find something relatable in this zine. And it’s been a fine reminder to me of that special type of raw, open writing I often find in zines that I so rarely encounter anywhere else.

Cul-de-sac #7 is available through Quimby’s, both in-store and online. Or you could go the old-fashioned route and mail $3 to: PO Box 477553, Chicago, IL 60647.

odd bird juxtapositions

A mallard interfaces with a fish crow at Lake Roland, Baltimore County, Maryland, USA. © 2018 S. D. Stewart

A mallard attempts to interface with a fish crow at Lake Roland, Baltimore County, MD, USA. © 2018 S. D. Stewart

Sometimes during the many hours I spend observing birds I encounter interesting interspecies interactions, such as this one occurring between a male mallard and a fish crow. Crows are always fascinating to watch because they’re such curious and intelligent birds. I’m not exactly sure what this one was doing at first, but I think it had just dropped in for a quick drink. There were several mallards milling about in the vicinity, but this one particular drake made a beeline over to where the crow had perched. Who can say why? The crow didn’t appear to mind the proximity of the mallard as it indulged in the vulnerable activity of drinking. Neither, though, did it seem to share the mallard’s interest in perhaps forging some sort of connection. From my perspective, it was just one more example of what drives me out into the field over and over: one never knows what one will discover.

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