[revised] guidance [from two years ago]

There is nothing where you are going.

What do you mean…nothing.

I mean what I say.

That means nothing.

I understand it to mean something.

I think it’s just something to say…

[shrugs]

But there are things here…around me.

Are you certain.

Yes.

Describe them.

Leaves scattered on the sidewalk. A car’s headlights flicking on in the predawn gloom. The distant whistle of a train.

And do these things have meaning to you.

I-I’m not sure.

Take a closer look.

Well, I notice them.

And what about faces—do you see faces.

They are obscured.

Do you wish to see them with more clarity—to distinguish one from another.

Perhaps.

Now it is you who are evasive.

It is in my nature.

And everything that came before—what happened between when you left and when you returned—is it now gone.

Yes, for the most part. I see only glimpses but I cannot bring it all into focus.

In those glimpses you see more than in what surrounds you now. The latter is of little consequence.

How do you know.

It does not matter. What matters is in between.

In between what.

The words.

100 Years of Leonora Carrington

As they rode along the edge, the brambles drew back their thorns like cats retracting their claws.

This was something to see: fifty black cats and as many yellow ones, and then her, and one couldn’t really be altogether sure that she was a human being. Her smell alone threw doubt on ita mixture of spices and game, the stables, fur and grasses.

Riding a wheel, she took the worst roads, between precipices, across trees. Someone who’s never travelled on a wheel would think it difficult, but she was used to it.

Her name was Virginia Fur, she had a mane of hair yards long and enormous hands with dirty nails; yet the citizens of the mountain respected her and she too always showed a deference for their customs. True, the people up there were plants, animals, birds; otherwise things wouldn’t have been the same. Of course, she had to put up with being insulted by the cats at times, but she insulted them back just as loudly and in the same language. She, Virginia Fur, lived in a village long abandoned by human beings. Her house has holes all over, holes she’d pierced for the fig tree that grew in the kitchen.

—from ‘As They Rode Along the Edge’ by Leonora Carrington

This story is now available in The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington published in the USA by The Dorothy Project, and in The Debutante and Other Stories published in the UK by Silver Press. Both titles have been published as part of a 2017 centenary celebration of Carrington’s birth, which also includes the NYRB republication of her asylum memoir Down Below and her children’s book The Milk of Dreams, as well as Joanna Moorhead’s biography The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington.

For a breakdown of the differences between the two supposedly ‘complete’ collections of Carrington’s short stories, read ‘Hyenas, Horses, and Rabbits, Oh My!‘ by Selena Chambers at Weird Fiction Review. Over time Chambers will be reviewing each of Leonora’s stories found in the two collections, as well as evaluating the other books listed above.

There could hardly be a better time to be reading and appreciating Leonora Carrington!

(Click here to read my review of the out-of-print collection House of Fear, which includes a selection of her stories, the novella Little Francis, and the memoir Down Below, and here for my review of The Seventh Horse and Other Tales, which paired another batch of her stories with an abridged version of her novel The Stone Door).

[personal note 1.1]

Several months ago I left the enclosed city where I used to reside and moved to the outer regions in order to pursue my research on the condition. My initial research pointed to the probability that the act of living in an enclosed city is a significant contributing factor to an individual’s development of the condition—this separation, an unbridgeable gap between the individual and reality. But the results were statistically insignificant, given the small sample size and purely qualitative nature of the inquiry, which was only ever intended to be formative research. Now I need data from outside the cities for comparative purposes.

On the whole I have found the people here to be simpler than the city dwellers, almost childlike in their ways, as well as incredibly tenacious. Life here is difficult. On the best days, residents eat a subsistence diet consisting of what few edibles they can forage from the spindly native vegetation and the meager crops that persist in growing in this hostile environment. On the worst days they fast and wake early the next day to attempt gathering again. I do not see stress in their faces, though. Certainly their frames are lean, yet they are also muscular. To me they appear healthy, though I am not a medical professional.

From what I have observed so far, those living here who are afflicted with the condition are only in Stage I. For these individuals, management is straightforward provided that access to the herbal protocols continues unimpeded. Without taking the herbs, slipping into a dream state and staying there becomes an increasingly commonplace event. Many times there is no awareness of the transition from waking life to dream state. Return becomes more difficult. Stage I cases are marked by briefer periods in dream state than cases in the later stages, when return time lags even more and searchers must be sent out.

When I first arrived at this particular community I identified those individuals who required the protocols in order to stabilize. I launched a small-scale public health campaign of sorts, disseminating information at the weekly community meetings held in the square. The people had been aware that something was not right, but for the most part they had not discussed it with their families and friends. Once I put a name (albeit a vague one) to the phenomenon and explained what I knew of it, uptake and adherence to the herbal protocols occurred rapidly and I took my treatment outreach to scale immediately.

The people here trust me and I am determined not to fail them.

[personal note 1.0]

baseline data collection [personal note 1.0]

The people assembled in the square, not knowing why, only feeling a vague compulsion to be there. Some among them know more than others, but collectively they know nothing.

It is an overcast day; the sun has not shone in weeks. In the distance, a thick band of mist obscures the ring of bare mountains surrounding the city.

A few minutes ago I stood among the crowds still filling the square, holding the instrument I finished constructing only this morning. With the compact machine tucked beneath my tunic, I moved slowly through the crowd, taking covert readings at specific intervals that I had painstakingly determined the night before.

My goal is straightforward enough: to establish what percentage of the populace exhibits signs of the burgeoning phenomenon known as ‘the condition.’ The instrument is not sophisticated enough to provide stage-level data, but a statistically valid estimate of how pervasive the condition is will still prove invaluable, not only to my own private research, but also in establishing a baseline for the benefit of Ministry of Public Health officials, to whom I intend to present the data.

My loose association with the Institute for Post-Change Studies (IPCS) secured me the materials and lab space necessary to construct this instrument. I’m not at liberty to elaborate on my exact connection to IPCS, but suffice it to say a long shared history exists between myself and its founders. The Institute provided the funding for the first round of research I led on the condition. The resulting treatise, entitled The Condition: An Inquiry, includes two volumes of field narratives and a formal report. It remains as yet unpublished.

Most of my ‘colleagues’ consider me a rogue scientist-at-large. Primarily I work alone, although I do utilize a small cadre of trusted research assistants when needed, usually for field work and data cleaning. Over the years I’ve cobbled together bits and pieces of formal training in between extensive periods of field study. My methods are often criticized for being too ‘extreme’ but no one can argue with my results. I maintain rigorous standards throughout the research process to ensure my data is never compromised.

This note is the first of an intermittent series of informal documentary records I plan to maintain adjacent to my formal research. In this initial entry I have introduced myself and my work in the event that these records are ever discovered following my inevitable demise. I suspect that I have contracted the condition, but I believe it is only a Stage 1 case at this juncture. For now I am preventing its advancement through use of the herbal methods I learned from one of my research subjects. I have no knowledge of their long-term effects.

grey man

Grey Man, whose real name may be Bork, surveys the valley through half-lidded eyes.

Nothing must happen today, he thinks. Too much has been happening lately and it must stop. One time something happened…but he can’t bear to even think about it.

Grey Man stands on the bamboo platform surrounding his mountaintop hut. Mist gathers far below, swirling through dark hollows, clinging to the treetops as it floats up from the warm earth. In the eastern sky the unholy sun flexes its rays as it prepares to destroy this predawn gauze.

Grey Man turns away from the impending spectacle. Inside the hut he makes tea and sits at the wooden table. All must stop, he thinks. Once begun, though, it is so hard to halt the creeping progress. I cannot control that. But I can prevent certain progressions from starting. I can choose not to act in the first place. All else is beyond me. All else will never stop. He grips the table, his knuckles whitening.

Outside the unholy sun has fully exposed its horrid face. Its hot tongue darts down among the mist-wreathed trees, lapping up the unsuspecting gauze from its resting place atop the forest. Heat first swells the valley then debilitates it, the vegetation falling limp. The animals crawl to cooler lairs. The insects scuttle beneath crackling leaves on the forest floor.

The ambient temperature inside the hut changes little. Grey Man appreciates this quality of his abode. The hut sits sheltered below a canopy of cedars. Perched near the edge of the ridge, the hut receives the full benefit of daily mountain and valley breezes. It is a comfortable dwelling place.

Grey Man rests his forehead against the tabletop. Outside the hut a raven croaks from its perch in a nearby cedar. A cicada rattles as if in response. Grey Man rouses himself, stands, and begins to walk in a circle. He moves heel-to-toe at a slow, steady pace. His lips move in silence. Nothing will happen, nothing will happen, nothing will happen.

For years the dread rose up before him each day as the sun waned, ushering in early evening’s gloom to take its place. The relentless nature of this phenomenon wreaked havoc on his ability to function in society. Events transpired. He lost everything. Everything he never wanted in the first place. It was too much. Everything happening. Acquisition. Unwanted relations. Naive openness to possibility. The dread funnel cloud tearing it all to shreds, leaving an empty husk behind.

But that was decades ago. It matter not now. Nothing matters now, only that nothing should occur. Until the end which is right and proper.

Grey Man completes his circuit and steps out onto the platform. The unholy sun has surged high overhead, having since erased all traces of mist from the valley. It is full of itself, this sun, it knows no boundaries. One day it will burn itself out in its hubris. Grey Man peers down into the valley and sees only dense foliage. The sun has silenced the birds, except for the raven which again croaks from its perch in the cedar. Grey Man returns the call and the raven flies off, heavy wings flapping as it catches a thermal on which to soar.

[written March-April 2016, abandoned and forgotten until now, possibly still unfinished]

death of the archive

The encoding was all wrong, he kept thinking, as in between last minute data entry he packed up the few meager extensions of himself decorating his workstation. It had been rushed. Everyone leaving after the funding dropped and there just wasn’t enough time. He’d done the best he could. But the fact remained that the archive was dying. Its electronic body was hemorrhaging records, each of them representing a sector of his time he could never regain (nor even recall). Hours of research, flipping through the 20-odd dictionaries lined up above his head in the dim cubicle. All of it slowly slipping away through gaps in the system’s memory, now ravaged by worms and bots crawling and marching in after unpaid bills led to the inevitable security breach. Ones and zeroes subdividing into anonymous content—data freed from its container only to lose all context and thus its purpose.

He watched the stream of suits marching toward the double glass doors. As they passed his cubicle they dumped their unwanted office effluvia into the vacant cubicle next door to his. Already these discards had begun to reach the tops of the dividers and spill over onto his modular desk topped with the false wood veneer. A box of paper clips fell, striking his enormous ancient monitor, where it erupted and showered the keyboard with tiny silver missiles. He typed on.

What’s laughable is that there are no other jobs for the suits to take. It’s all over. Officials sealed the city last night and from this day forward it is a closed system. So their rushing out the door is all for naught. They only have their sterile quarters to return to now, where they will wait, popping pills, desperate for an end to their newfound stagnation. He thought about that for a moment, his fingers paused above the keyboard, hovering in space, before one finger, the pinkie, extended slowly to the right and clicked the Enter key, thus enacting the command to shut down his machine for good.

(That is not to say there is no more to be said, to be written. Indeed, more has been written and more will continue to be written on these matters. In effect there is no end, now or ever. The death of the archive is only one death waiting among many to be noticed, to be recorded, to matter to someone, somewhere, at some time possibly centuries from now. It waits alone for an inquiry into its condition.)

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.

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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