rocks in hard places: a dramolet

Act I

Setting: An empty greyness shrouding bare rock and withered trees.

Stage direction: Two beings meet and converse.

Where have you come from.

The future, where else.

Ah, and what news have you.

Well, I can’t tell you now then can I.

And why not.

‘Twould alter the course of events.

I care not about that. Tell me.

Why do you want to know.

Have you looked around.

Yes, I suppose.

Well, I want to escape this horrid place.

So what good will knowing the future do.

It will tell me if my efforts to escape are in vain.

And what concept have you of time.

‘Tis to be filled.

‘Twould not be a burden to you if you did not wish for the future.

How is that.

You crave for the better and think what stands between you and it is time.

Never mind your fancy talk. Tell me the future or I’ll brain you with this rock.

Act II

Setting: As for Act I, but fewer trees and more rocks.

Stage direction: One being lies prone on the ground as the other speaks.

Ohh…now why did I do that.

[no answer]

Ohh…now I will never know the future.

[Rustling noises from the ground.]

Hello down there?

Urghhh.

I say, I’m awfully sorry about the rock.

[Previously prone being struggles to sitting position, continues to groan.]

Erm…I don’t suppose you’d still consider telling me about the future.

Urghhh.

It’s just that…some time has passed and I feel no better.

[Being with dented head struggles to standing position, recovers voice.]

The future is much the same as now, ‘cept a little farther down the road.

Well, that’s disappointing.

What did you expect.

I thought perhaps you’d tell me this place has changed.

Into what. It is, and shall always be, exactly what you see it as, just like everything else.

Are you trying to make me use this rock again.

Act III

Setting: A vast meadow.

Stage direction: Two beings recline together in the soft grass.

It’s strange that I can’t find a single rock here.

Oh, they’re around. You’ll come across one eventually.

Look, I’m very sorry about hitting you…twice.

Don’t trouble yourself about it. I’ve survived worse.

Where did this grass come from anyway.

It’s always been here.

Are you sure you didn’t bring it from the future.

What are you talking about.

~THE END~

where it happpened

This is where it happened. Right here, at this spot.
Are you sure.
Of course I’m sure. It happened to me. I’m certain this is where I was standing.
Well, okay. It’s just that…sometimes our memories…
What. What are you saying. That it didn’t happen.
No, I’m not saying that. But we don’t always recall situations or occurrences in the same way that they actually happened.
Who’s to say then whether anything ever actually happened the way we remember it. Back then, I mean, before the way we live changed.
Well, that’s just it. We can’t. That’s why I’m asking if you’re sure.
I have to admit, looking at it now, at the exact spot…
If it even is the exact spot.
Oh, right. Yes, you’re right. Even that is suspect, I suppose.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to discredit you. I mean, maybe if you had some sort of proof…
Yes, but this was before the camera implants.
Of course. I know. But maybe an eyewitness. Someone who could corroborate your version of events.
No. It was just me. I was by myself. I’d just finished dining alone at a cafe. I’d sat outside in the cool evening air, watching the sun descend slowly as I dined. The waiter had come to check on me one last time and on a whim I decided to order an espresso. As you know I don’t normally take caffeine but something about sipping that black bitterness, feeling the jolt of energy…it seemed apropos to the moment. Anyway, after I finished the coffee I entered the park for a brief stroll before returning to my quarters. It was quite dark by then but the sodium lamps had flickered on. I moved from one island of orange light to the next, craving a cigarette while intensely aware of the impossibility of fulfilling that craving. I was not thinking of anything specific, just enjoying the walk, the silence of the park, the cleanness of the air as I moved farther away from the central city’s stench. It was when I approached the fountain, right here where we’re standing, that it happened.
It’s remarkable that you can recall such details from so long ago.
It was a pivotal moment for me. After that everything changed. It was as if my entire self turned inside out and began operating at odds with the way it had before.
But why. I mean, it seems like such a banal occurrence in light of the changes you claim it triggered.
I’m not claiming anything. I’m saying it’s a fact. The transformation was immediate.
Okay, I believe you.
You sound skeptical.
It’s just that it sounds like so many other moments. Our days are full of them.
The mundane can often be life-changing. And even if, as you say, it may not have happened how I remember it, the point is that it altered my course. There’s no denying that.
I agree with you there. You seem much different now than when I knew you before.
Of course your memory could be faulty, too.
Well, that’s why we have the implants now, right. To avoid such uncertainty.
I suppose so. I can’t help thinking that this is not the way it should be, though. That this new certainty about the past destroys our faith in the present.
How do you figure that.
I think that now we’re using our definitive knowledge of the past to dictate the terms of the present—that’s what the implants have given us. A predetermination that we can’t escape. We’re locked into this rigid framework of how things need to be.
But we still have a choice. People don’t have to use the implants. You can opt to struggle with recalling your past, to live with the uncertainty.
For now. I doubt it will be long before they’re mandatory, though. And then our conversation here about my moment of clarity will itself have become a quaint memory—but one that we can instantly call up and review, just to be sure of what actually happened.
You could be right. But for now you’re still free to forget or to remember it however you like.
There is no choice—the moment is already dead. Now how about an espresso. I think there’s a cafe not far from here.

on the roof

She lived on the roof and he would visit her there.
What did you bring me today.
I brought you this broken camera.
Thank you.
She placed it on a shelf she had fashioned from scraps of sheet metal.
What is the world like today.
Oh, about the same. What will you do with the camera.
I don’t know. Probably take it apart.
Do you think you can fix it.
She sighed and looked away.
It’s supposed to rain tonight. Will you be okay up here.
She looked back at him.
What.
Why do you ask questions like that.
I don’t know. I just worry.
No, you don’t. That’s just something people say.
He stood up and walked over to her shelter. He knocked on the sturdy roof. She’d cut a hole in the middle of it for a skylight. He examined the caulking around the plexiglass panel.
What are you doing over there. Did you come to see me or to inspect my house.
It’s not a house.
Says you.
He came back and sat across from her again.
Do you need any supplies.
I’m almost out of rice.
I’ll bring you some next time.
A pigeon landed nearby and began pecking at the tar and gravel roof.
Do you ever think about the future.
No, why should I.
So you think you can just stay up here forever…
What does it matter. And why do you care anyway. I didn’t ask you to keep coming up here.
I find it hurtful when you talk like this.
Really. And what about before. Do you remember before.
I try not to think about the past.
Well, I don’t think about the future. So where does that leave us.
The present I guess.
Right. I’ll see you next time then. And don’t forget the rice.
She stood up and walked over to the pigeon. It cocked its head skyward then flew up and perched on her shoulder.
His restless eyes moved from the bird on her shoulder out beyond the roof line to where the late afternoon sun left a burning orange wake at the horizon. He began to doubt the rain.
As he climbed over the edge onto the fire escape he glanced back and saw her holding the pigeon with two hands high up over her head. When it opened its wings and flew she was gone. In a way he was relieved for he hadn’t the heart to tell her there was no longer any rice. Not now or ever.

old sam peabody

old sam peabody
song of white-throated sparrow
northbound bird visits

a siren sounding

a siren sounding
enters afternoon stillness
i bow my head low

it’s never just about the weather

I do not want to bore you but I need to mention the weather. How it changes so often. Grey one day, yellow the next. Warm then cold then warm again. The brightness, the whiteness, the way the light shifts inside a room. And the way to compensate with the artificial. Our lamps. Our electric manipulation of the shadows.

I am reading this book wherein the main character feels inauthentic. He keeps trying to capture the feeling of being real. He goes to elaborate lengths using methods only possible due to the generous settlement he received following a traumatic accident. He wants to relive his body’s response to the trauma. The natural opioids flowing through his body. That tingling serenity. But he doesn’t know this. So he keeps trying. He exerts control in an effort to manifest a desired outcome. He too is concerned with how the light moves across a room. Yet he cannot control it for the Earth is always changing its position relative to the Sun. He cannot count on it always being the same. I want him to know that it’s all real. That it’s not a matter of recapturing a feeling of being real. That he must awaken to it.

In March the weather changed so often. Now it is almost April and I am learning to walk again. It has been a long and strange winter in more ways than the most obvious one.

I wonder if the world is really different. Is it really changing. Or do we just perceive it to be doing so. A person can pretend that it is not. Quite easy to do that. Everything is happening all at once and one can only choose to pay attention to so much of it. What will catch your attention. A call to action, perhaps. But there are no more manifestos. They cannot breathe in this information-choked environment. So maybe the world is different. Maybe it is different in how words have become both so much less and so much more important. Words spew out around us at light speed. Our eyes and ears are bombarded by them. Words are cheap and they pile up around our feet by day’s end. But there are a few diamonds in that pile. Which of these will we choose to hear? Which ones will we allow to penetrate the filters now affixed to our eyes. And how will we respond.

I continue to ruminate on the act of writing and what purpose it serves, if any. The consensus among writers I admire is that the point of writing is not to say something. As the writer of the book I refer to above quotes Kafka:

I write in order to affirm and reaffirm that I have absolutely nothing to say.

To take it to the furthest extreme, I’m reminded of Enrique Vila-Matas and his novel Bartleby & Co., which chronicles an array of “artists of refusal,” those who chose not to write. Now Vila-Matas clearly wrote his book with tongue firmly planted in cheek, and yet there are indeed writers who have chosen not to write. One can certainly see the appeal, especially when confronted with the dread of the empty page.

In his short story “The Library of Babel”, Jorge Luis Borges wrote:

The certitude that everything has been written negates us or turns us into phantoms.

Even taken out of context from a piece of fiction that sounds harsh. And I don’t agree (nor do I think Borges did). While this certitude can get me down, I refuse to be negated and I am certain of my realness. I am not a phantom. At one time I may have believed I was, but no longer. Writing for me now is an attempt to perpetuate this realness. Of figuring out a way to convey actuality in prose. Of removing the filters and exposing the words in all of their stark, fragile beauty. It is likely an impossible task, but it is the striving that fills the pages.

parts not clear

Our Nervous Friends [erasure]

Erased from Our Nervous Friends: Illustrating the Mastery of Nervousness by Robert S. Carroll. New York, 1919. Courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

her earliest recollection, parts not clear
there were her father, her mother
face so strange, so strange
white cloths, his head, strange faces
not seen before, strange stillness
strange new fear

her father did not move
so quiet, memories blurred
not sure which memories
grown from what she heard
the funeral, never forget
silvered handles, shining coffin
women in black, her touch
the prettiest things ever seen

run away, frightened, empty
her father thrown against a tree
fractured skull
unconscious and buried
shiny coffin, silver handles

instincts of the herd

Instincts of the Herd erasure

Erased from “Imperfections in the Social Habit of Man.” In: Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War by W. Trotter. London: T. Fisher Unwin Ltd., 1916. Courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

first feeling of the ordinary citizen
fear—immense, vague aching anxiety
the individual fears for future
food supply, family, trade

with fear, a heightening of intolerance of isolation
loneliness urgently unpleasant
the individual experienced desire for company
and even physical contact.
in such company aware of
confidence, courage, and moral power

isolation tended to depress confidence,
company fortified it.
the change in frigid atmosphere
of railway train, omnibus, and all such meeting-places
was most interesting

most striking of all was
the strength and vitality of rumour,
startling evidence that a stronger force than reason
was at work in formation of opinion

non-rational opinion so widespread,
such opinion spread so rapidly, established so firmly.
the successful rumours invaded all classes.
the observer found self irresistibly drawn to
acceptance of popular belief

allied with accessibility to rumour was readiness
with which suspicions of treachery and hostility
grew and flourished
about anyone of foreign appearance or origin

attempt to discuss origin and meaning of
various types of fable epidemic in opinion—
we are concerned with their
immense vitality and power of growth

strange sea creatures

Strange Sea Creatures

Erased from “Strange Sea Creatures,” in Pleasant Ways in Science, by Richard A. Proctor. New York: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1905. Courtesy of Project Gutenberg. [click to enlarge]

so-called fabulous animals
the merman, zoologically possible, of course,
the unicorn, the dragon, the centaur,
the minotaur, the winged horse,
recognized as known forms.

the sea has been misunderstood,
land cannot long escape.
the most powerful and ferocious beasts struggle.
savage man must be killed
and the true appearance of the animal determined.

powerful winged animals remain mysterious,
a mighty bird might swoop down and disappear.
from time to time the strange winged monster
would be seen hovering.

savage races of man, animals now extinct.
power of the winged enemy,
sea creatures monstrous.
we remain ignorant.

hidden beneath the waves
creatures of the deep sea expose themselves,
men counter-attack.
great sea creatures, monsters of the deep
seen only for a few moments,
sinking back into the depths, a mystery.

repetition of the story
the creature, its true nature recognized.
understand then the fabulous creatures,
remarkable, the monsters of the deep sea,
understand the truth.

the demise of i-san

In these uncertain times, the demise of the International Society for the Appreciation of the Nonexistent (I-San) was inevitable. Whenever things begin to get real, as they say, there is always an immediate backlash against the rigorous examination of absent phenomena that I-San engaged in. This is tragic, for if ever there is a need for an intellectual exploration of what’s not here (but still could be) it is in moments when we are faced with extreme reality. For example, think about that empty space above you while you sleep. What if it were actually filled by a grand piano strung up to the ceiling by a length of dental floss. Or a herd of buffalo silently grazing in a green field. Have you ever wondered why it’s not. See, this is why I-San exists, or rather existed until quite recently. I-San took on the hard questions, the ones you’re too busy (or afraid) to entertain.

Now, you may be thinking, yes, but wasn’t I-San a voluntary organization? And if so, why would its committed members suddenly choose to cease and desist their operations, especially now when many feel they’re needed most. Well, it’s a fair question, albeit one not easily answered. First, one must sort out the facts from the conspiracy theories. Of the latter there are many. Some say an undercover agent infiltrated the organization and planted the seeds of self-destruction. Others speak of an elaborate I-San plot to feign public disintegration while retreating to the underground. The truth, as it usually does, lies bloody and mutilated in some forgotten alley. There are no facts to be sorted out. I-San eschewed facts like it eschewed all else real. It did not try to obscure them nor did it deny their existence. Facts simply fell outside its investigative purview.

The good news is that there is something you can do to help. Before I-San officially disbanded it released a brief statement. Despite attempts by the powers-that-be to suppress it, the statement has been disseminated through back channels and, during yesterday’s windstorm, a printed copy of it chanced to blow into my face, resulting in a paper cut that despite its innocuous appearance shed blood for some time afterwards. When I returned home lightheaded from blood loss, I transcribed the statement into electronic form which I now share with you below.

Attention Fellow Citizens: We are living in troubled times. Some say we’ve come face to face with the ultimate reality. (We at I-San hope we’re at least facing only the penultimate reality, so that there might still be one last period of unreality for us to study prior to TEOTWAWKI). But never mind that. The point is that for reasons we are not at liberty to disclose I-San is shutting down its operations effective immediately. The good news is we are transferring our investigative powers into your hands. May the crowdsourcing of investigation into the nonexistent begin! We’re counting on you to make a difference. Leave no empty space unexamined. In the face of so much reality, there can only be one response: turn away and concentrate on what isn’t there. We hope to see you on the other side.

In solidarity,

I-San

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