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

the absent company

The set varies little over time. The minor changes made to accommodate this current script likely only matter to the director, who ordered them months ago. The lead actor, however, is now unavailable—checked out, no longer there—perhaps not even working in the business anymore. Suddenly the understudy arrives, unbidden, as if responding to a premonition. The understudy is a near doppelgänger. The resemblance to the lead is uncanny—all the members of the crew agree.

Whereas in previous scripts other major characters besides the lead have appeared, here there are only very minor ones. It’s unclear if this has been a budgetary decision. The director walks the set, noting the removal of some props and the addition of others. In particular a new stunning scenic backdrop stands out—vibrant in its colors and intricate in its horticultural detail. The director pauses to inspect the veins on the leaves of a painted plant. Stunning, the director murmurs.

The music director reviews the score, which changes seasonally. Though maintaining a basic familiar framework, the score remains in a state of flux. The music director is fastidious, constantly adding and subtracting songs, fiddling with the order, all done in a supreme effort to achieve the absolute perfect balance of musical accompaniment.

Now the director is perturbed. The understudy has grown belligerent. Refuses to follow stage directions. Wants to ad lib. But there is no room for flexibility in the script. Every line, every action has been carefully scripted. Each fits within the director’s vision. None can be bent or discarded. The understudy objects. The director stands fast. Will the show go on…

As the audience filters into the theater, the tension behind the curtain rises to a head. At last, displaying characteristic poise and intuition, the music director steps in with a suggestion. All speaking lines will be removed, leaving the emotional arc of the script to be formed through mere gesture accompanied by a meticulously arranged new and expanded score, which the music director just happened to have eked out over the past few days during the scraps of time between rehearsals, having somehow, unconsciously or not, anticipated that a potentially show-stopping dilemma of this colossal magnitude may have arisen.

And so the show goes on with actors mute, stretching their non-vocal dramatic talents to the limits. When it is over the theater resounds with applause. It is another triumph for the entire company, but most of all for the music director, who quietly acknowledges success with a slight nod to the director, and walks out into the cool moonless night, humming quietly the last bars heard before the curtain fell.

when, if not now?

Dear sister, Christa T. wrote, in summer 1953. When, if not now?

You know how it is: the time passes quickly, but it passes us by. This breathlessness, or this inability to draw a deep breath. As if whole areas of the lungs have been out of action for an eternity. When that is so, can one go on living?

What presumption: to think one could haul oneself up out of the swamp by one’s own bootstraps. Believe me, one doesn’t change; one remains everlastingly out of it, unfit for life. Intelligent, yes. Too soft; all the fruitless ponderings; a scrupulous petite bourgeoise . . .

You’ll certainly remember what we used to say when one of us was feeling forlorn: When, if not now? When should one live, if not in the time that’s given to one? It always helped. But nowif only I could tell you how it is . . . The whole world like a wall facing me. I fumble over the stones: no gaps. Why should I go on deluding myself: there’s no gaps for me to live in. It’s my own fault. It’s me, I’m simply not determined enough. Yet how simple and natural everything seemed when I first read about it in the books.

I don’t know what I’m living for. Can you see what that means? I know what’s wrong with me, but it’s still me, and I can’t wrench it out of myself! Yet I can: I know one way to be rid of the whole business once and for all . . . I can’t stop thinking about it.

Coldness in everything. It comes from a long way off; it gets into everything. One must get out of the way before it reaches the core. If it does that, one won’t feel even the coldness any more. Do you see what I mean?

People, yes. I’m not a recluse. You know me. But I won’t let anything force me; there has got to be something that makes me want to be with them. And then I also have to be alone, or I’m miserable. I want to work. You knowwith others, for others. But as far as I can see my only possible kind of activity is in writing; it’s not direct. I have to be able to grapple with things quietly, contemplating them . . . All of which makes no difference; the contradiction can’t be resolvednone of this makes any difference to my deep sense of concurring with these times of ours and of belonging to them.

But then the next blowif only you knew how little it takes for anything to be a blow to me!might fling me up on the beach. Then I won’t be able to find my way back on my own. I wouldn’t want to live among a lot of other stranded people; that’s the one thing I do know with any certainty. The other way is more honorable and more honest. And it shows more strength.

Anything rather than be a burden to the others, who’ll carry on, who are right, because they’re stronger, who can’t look back, because they haven’t got the time.

—Christa Wolf, The Quest for Christa T.

the p.r.o.b. pronoun affair

It was a confusing time for the citizens of the People’s Republic of Brokenistan, or PROBers, as they are commonly known. The Ministry of Identity had banned all personal pronouns amid a general frenzy of disillusionment over who was who and what was what. I happened to be passing through P.R.O.B. on business and overheard the following exchange take place in the square outside the offices of the Ministry, where a multitude of PROBers had gathered to debate the recent decision.*

Bork took a vow of silence, said an ancient PROBer who was wearing an enormous velvet stocking cap.

Unheard of in this day and age, replied Stocking Cap’s interlocutor, whose tight pants were patterned in an intricate black-and-white geometric design.

Indeed, though the reaction is understandable.

Maybe, replied Pattern Pants. Though Bork never says much anyway.

True. Bork’s reticence is known throughout P.R.O.B.

A protest of sorts?

Perhaps, said Stocking Cap, nodding slowly while stroking the velvet cap, which seemed to elongate in response, though I may have been hallucinating due to lack of sleep on account of the drunken Amway representatives who’d kept me up all night during my train ride through Brokenistan’s stark, extensive Flatlands region.

Where’s Bork living these days, asked Pattern Pants.

In a hut on top of Mount Uncertainty. Been gone for about a month now.

Huh. That’s a long way from the capital.

Several weeks by yak, is what Bork reckoned before leaving.

Just then a commotion broke out near the steps of the Ministry building. The noise shattered the spell cast upon me by Pattern Pants’s pants, the lines in the design of which had begun fluctuating in length and width to the point of extreme distraction. Though, again, a possible hallucination.

Oh look, the Minister is coming out, announced P. P., whose exceedingly long legs afforded an unobstructed view of the action.

The Minister stood on the marble steps looking nonplussed in the face of so many PROBers staring back with pupils dilated to unsettling proportions, a side effect of the herb commonly known as divinium, which most PROBers chewed all day to relieve anxiety.

The Minister made a throat-clearing sound.

Attention, citizens. As a result of emergency subcommittee proceedings convened in light of communication difficulties following the ban on personal pronouns it has been concluded that the populace shall henceforth and until further notice be permitted to now use the personal pronouns ‘you’ and ‘I’. Future decisions on whether to reinstate any or all remaining personal pronouns into everyday speech will be forthcoming, should they be deemed necessary by the Ministry and its associated governing bodies. That is all.

The Minister returned to the Ministry’s inner sanctum and I looked around to gauge the reaction to this doubtlessly monumental proclamation. However, most PROBers had merely returned to quietly murmuring among themselves. In front of me, Stocking Cap turned to Pattern Pants.

Say, would you like to go on a divinium harvesting excursion? I found a secret patch out near the edge of the Flatlands.

Yes! I would. I’ve almost used up what I have on hand and I can already feel the old nerves acting up.

I watched the pair set off toward the city limits, the one’s shiny velvet cap undulating in the late afternoon sun and the design of the other’s pants shrinking and expanding with each of its wearer’s jaunty steps. When the two were only tiny dots in the distance I turned and walked back to the train station, my step light with the knowledge that the Amway representatives—passed out cold in a sleeper car when I disembarked—had continued on toward the mountains, where in a tiny hut perched on a crag of Mount Uncertainty, the lone PROBer Bork maintained a silent vigil, unaware of the latest news about ‘you’ and ‘I’.

*Since I am not a citizen of the Republic and I am also writing this report from outside its borders, I am not bound to follow this ban, though you will of course see its effects reflected in my transcriptions of PROBer dialogue.

the one and the other discuss regret

Hello, one.

Hello, other.

One, I’d like to tell you a story.

O joy! I love stories.

You might not love this one.

Hmm. Okay. Well, tell away, other.

A few days ago I was out driving…

Wait! cried the one. You don’t know how to drive, other.

That’s not important.

The one looked doubtful.

Look, I’m telling this story, one. And in the story I was driving. See?

O. Yes, I see, other.

So I was out driving. There I am in this big hunk of metal moving at 70 miles per hour. It was absurd.

O! We like the absurd, other!

Usually, yes…yes, we do, one. But this was not funny absurd. It was scary absurd. I mean, at any moment another hunk of metal could have veered into my hunk of metal and then I might have died.

O, yes, you are right, other, that is scary absurd. I would not have liked for you to die.

And the signs, the electronic signs kept shrieking at me.

What were they saying, other?

Always the same phrase, one: Nothing Super About Jail Drive Sober.

O. That is strange, other.

Anyway, after the signs stopped shrieking at me the sun began bleeding orange and yellow streaks all across the sky amid big puffs of blue and grey. It was so beautiful, one. It almost made me forget I was inside a big hunk of metal. And then, and then I saw something even more wondrous.

What was it! cried the one.

It was an enormous flock of geese, one. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, off to the side of the road in a big field. Some were the all white ones–

O! You mean Snow Geese, other!

Yes, and some were the other kind. The brown and black dingy looking ones that are everywhere now.

Canada Geese! sang the one.

Yes, yes! cried the other, excited now. And they were all swirling around, making their calls. And some were on the ground, poking around in the fields. It was quite a spectacle, one.

I bet it was, other, I bet it was.

Except now I am sad.

O no! Why are you sad, other?

Well, I didn’t stop my hunk of metal to take in the whole scene. I could have turned around and pulled over and gazed upon this sight for the precise number of minutes necessary to fully absorb a wonder of nature such as this, one. Also there may have been some unusual or rare geese in the flock, but I didn’t take the time to look for them.

O. Hmm. Yes, I can see how that might make you feel sad, other.

It’s a strange sort of sadness, one. Do you know it?

Yes, I do, other. I believe they call this special type of sadness regret.

I do not like this regret feeling, one. How do I stop it? Can I maybe stuff something down inside me? Chocolate perhaps?

I’m not sure, other, the one said gravely. I think you have to wait and hope for it to fade away. Chocolate never hurts, of course, but I’m not sure it’s strong enough to fix this.

Well, how can I avoid it in the future then? I do not want this regret feeling ever again, one, never ever.

I’m not sure you can totally avoid it, other! But you can try to take every opportunity that comes to you, and that way at least you have tried.

O, will I then not feel sad? Even if I try to take the opportunity but don’t make it? Even if I…fail?

I can’t promise you won’t feel sad, other. But your sadness will likely feel different than regret. It will be mixed in with the satisfaction of knowing you tried. So that might make it feel not so bad.

O, thank you, one! I think this was very helpful. You are so wise!

I’m glad, other! I am always happy to help.

Goodbye, one!

Goodbye, other! Until next time.

______________________________

For more discussions between the one and the other, click here.

the scientist observes the machine

The machine’s sentience had grown. Now it looked around for what else it could do—what additional subroutines it could incorporate into its already monumental program of functions. It did not know what else to do other than to simply do more. It had observed similar models of its acquaintance either surge forward to a full stop or continue to evolve—executing movements in an exacting or haphazard manner, but either way moving forward at least to some degree. Whether its destiny would come to resemble one of these outcomes it could not discern.

Even as it sought to increase its capabilities, though, the machine sensed a malfunction. Somewhere a bolt had unthreaded itself, or a circuit board had developed a short in its power supply. It was hard to identify the exact nature of the malfunction. The machine had not been programmed to self-diagnose its errors. Thus, from time to time the machine shut down, though it was uncertain whether these shutdowns were a direct result of the malfunction it sensed, or if they in fact originated from a less tangible source.

Which raises a larger question: can a machine have an essence? If it can, said essence would be a likely candidate for the identity of the less tangible source. Yes, it could in fact be that the machine’s essence, its central nature, was corroded—that it was in effect now working in opposition to its own programming. In which case the only course of action is to retire this particular unit.

The scientist was mulling this course of action over from a distance, as he observed the machine going about its daily work. He had never directly engaged with the machine, never come close to it or touched it. He had designed it and turned the designs over to his superiors, like the dutiful employee that he permitted himself to be. Afterwards he moved on to other projects while it was manufactured in another location and eventually put into circulation. He’d had regrets, of course. He always had regrets. Excruciating, long-winded regrets kaleidoscoping all across the inner walls of his brain, at all times. (But let’s not get into that.)

Now they, his superiors, were forcing him to make the decision on whether or not to decommission the machine. They didn’t want the oil on their hands, the smashed diodes, the torn circuitry. They left all the residual effects of the decision for him to confront on his own. As the machine’s creator, they informed him, it was his responsibility to determine its destiny and hence live with the unknown consequences.

The time had come for him to meet the machine face-to-face, so to speak. In preparation he entered a period of dormancy—a deep meditative state that would cleanse him of all peripheral information not required for his eventual meeting with the machine. It is here where he will stay—indefinitely—until his readiness becomes self-apparent.

from ‘the air we breathe’ (gabriel josipovici)

Then she was quiet and they were walking together, crossing the Luxembourg Gardens the sun was disappearing behind a thin film of grey the air was cold she started to shiver but he didn’t seem to notice it was as if he had come out with the express purpose of finding her and now he was taking her back and perhaps it was like that he had always had that sort of taciturnity, as if speaking was painful and silence too she wanted to take his shoulders stop him turn him round look into his eyes and ask him what he was doing what they were doing where they were why he was so sure she would go with him that she had nothing else to do the day to give up to him no other friends to see or work to do that she too had just come out for the same express purpose of seeing him finding him returning with him she wanted to look into his eyes ask him to explain but what was there to explain that was always what happened always how it was there was the need to explain to understand and then nothing to explain nothing to understand but still the need persisted and it was as if this nothing was what had to be understood how it could be nothing and something both together and at the same time so that it was as if a hand had taken your heart and squeezed it and it slipped up and out of your hand like a fish you had to hold it you had to press it you caught it again and again it jumped you would never catch it and

–Gabriel Josipovici, The Air We Breathe

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