My grandfather was a farmer, by which I mean he was endowed with all the wisdom and knowledge that one can only absorb through a childhood and several decades spent in dialogue with nature in all her many forms. I used to spend my summers on his farm. He would greet me at the start of my school holidays with the same expression; “you are free to do all manner of things, from pitch and toss to manslaughter, and if anyone says anything you should tell them to come and talk to me. I will tell them that you have my authority and all my blessings.” And with that as my ambassadorial seal, I headed for the mountains.
There was always something new to be found where the earth met the sky as if all things were drawn by an upward magnetism towards the heavens, momentarily delayed only by gravity and larksong. And so all things gathered there to wait and drink hot sweet tea from re-purposed jam jars. “Nottingham.” I ran my fingers over the raised glass at the bottom of the jar, rapidly cooling now as it filled with mountain-top emptiness. Between bites of soft white fresh and thickly cut bread I would pick small blue berries from among the heather that covered the slopes. The berries were both sweet and tart at the same time. They were delicious. They were mysterious too because we could never translate exactly what they were. In Hiberno-English, drawing from the old Gaelic language, they were called hurts. They were known throughout the mountains as such and if you asked people they would speak of them as a half-remembered blessing, an unexpected generosity of nature, like an old 50 pound note found in a tea-caddy. But when I returned to the city, no one knew what I was talking about. I told them they were called wild-hurts but the teachers would stand mute, their black ties as long as their suspicion. I tried looking up the word in botany books in the library but I could not find them there. These ambiguous berries remained the exclusive fruit of a linguistic oasis in the sky.
Between the summers I dreamed of those berries, crushed with the back of a fork, sprinkled with sugar and transformed into an instant smile-producing, eye-closing, white-shirt destroying jam. From some angles they looked gray. From another dark blue. Some were more sweet, some more tart. They were wild – untamed and only ever to be consumed in locations where the wind rushed through your hair and you had to turn your face in on yourself to catch a breath. They were to my childhood tongue and memory the taste of freedom.
As I added the final full-stop to the final answer to the final question in the final exam of my school year, red-curtains, like those on the Muppet Show, would separate in my mind’s eye and I would see myself in the arms of the mountain eating wild hurts. As I grew older and my head became more and more filled with thoughts of progress, standardization, output and the machine, I thought that these wild hurts had frolicked in freedom long enough and that I would bring them down from the mountains and grow them in the low-lands, on flat ground where machines could run through them in summer and we would have hurt-jam – an elixir, the absence of which in the commonwealth to that point befuddled my understanding and inflamed my greed.
My grandfather interrogated me as he saw me heading up the mountain with shovels and equipment with which to dig out the root-balls.
“I am going to see if we can grow them down here and perhaps make something of it.” I replied.
“You can’t. No one ever has.”
“Tosh – I will.”
The wild hurts didn’t have a root-ball like most other plants. The soil on the mountain-tops was less fertile and so the roots spread out close to the surface and were feathery with only an occasional stem here and there aspiring to any sort of woody permanence. It was frustrating, but in the end I had what I thought might be enough – six or seven clumps of roots. I imagined that they would be a little shocked when I took them to the lowlands but that once they adapted they would bask in the nutrient rich soil and grow into cohesiveness. The violence of my labors would be overlooked and a rich bounty of those magical blue berries would come with the harvest.
They died within days. It was not for want of water or sunlight. It was not for want of fertilizer. It wasn’t even for want of their original soil because thinking as much I brought sufficient enough of it that their roots must have been ignorant of their new surroundings. And yet they dried out and faded.
My Grandfather, in passing, said there are things that cannot be cultivated. There are things that are born wild and it doesn’t matter what anyone does, once that freedom is taken from them, they die.
I remember the sight of larks soaring in the sky.
When I realize something, I often look back and see a path connecting things I previously knew so that my realization becomes at once revelatory and obvious. Several neurons in my brain rush to meet each other and then slow as they approach, realize that they have been neighbors all this time and then conclude with a sheepish “wazzup.” Nonetheless, I fantasize that this consistency belies a deeper profound significance and that my unlocking of it has unleashed a universal truth. The trailer for my imagined biography depicts my purchase of a seamless robe and my holding forth on the trading floor of the Chicago Commodity Exchange, converting commodity-traders with every word. That broadcast is soon interrupted by a public service announcement to the effect that I have been such a terrible dolt for so long that a law has been passed prohibiting my consumption of quality meat. I had just such an experience this morning in the bathroom. I was standing in front of the mirror, my mouth open, my eyes staring through themselves. A toothbrush rested on a shy molar and a long stretching minty flavored stalactite of spittle flowed out of my mouth and reached slowly, I would say elegantly, for the exasperated sink-bowl below. Upstairs a number of thoughts were coming together.
In my family, my Grandfather is held in the highest esteem and thoughts of him to this day instantly flood us all with feelings of undiluted love. His profound modesty insured his immortality in our hearts. I think that as a boy I must have been either aware that I was in the presence of a great wisdom or that some day the sun would simply not rise in quite the same way. During one of the magical summers I spent with him I hounded him daily with a single question. That summer I was reading about Alexander the Great and the role of his great teacher Aristotle. I fancied that I was Alexander the Great and so clearly I had need for an Aristotle.
“What advice would you give me that I can keep with me throughout my life?” I asked my Grandfather.
For weeks he avoided answering the question.
“What little do I know of the world that you should ask me for advice about it!” he replied.
But nothing can stop a tenacious child with an endless summer and eventually he spoke.
“I wish I had said less,” he replied.
Not quite getting the tone and suspecting that it was his indirect way of suggesting that I pipe-down I pushed him to assess the sincerity of his suggestion.
“Sometimes I’ve said such stupid things,” he continued, “and I knew once the words had left my mouth, but there was no way of taking them back and if I only had stayed quiet, everyone would have been better off.”
The gaze in his eyes was not fixed in the present. He was in some place before me, perhaps before my father if not before himself. I now felt like my search for Aristotle had cost too much and incapable of bearing a second of anything less than his happiness, I nudged him and tried to make light of the whole thing and said;
“Sometimes we all say things and they are just words, its just talk.”
He was not regretful or sad but the feeling seemed more like a craftsman looking back on something he had made and being a little annoyed by some aspect of it.
“Sometimes its better to say less,” he concluded.
I took this, wrapped it in my own ignorance and placed it inside my heart for a future where perhaps I would understand it better. As the years passed I added to that inheritance something my father told me as I became a young man;
“All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to stay quiet.”
And something my mother said:
“Never use the word hate.”
These three wisdoms are my inheritance. I often unfold them from their napkins at times when I need either guidance or courage. I have looked at each, sometimes excluding the other. I’ve balanced them, favored some and discounted others, often to serve my own ends. But lately they have become in my mind, like the stars in Orion’s Belt; aligned.
In my first lecture at University, my English Literature professor began:
“The world is made of stories. Stories we tell each other about the world around us and ourselves about that which lies within.”
If this is true, and I increasingly believe that it is vitally so, then words are the building blocks of what we call reality. All three pieces of advice, given to me by my family, center around a belief in the potency of words. In alignment they read;
“Words have power, use them with judgment and justice, otherwise you will create a hell for yourself.”
Neuroscience supports the statement that consistently repeated thoughts create neural pathways in the brain that makes it more likely that subsequent thoughts will follow the same path. But consistently used words can also create consistent thought patterns. Change your words and over time you can change your thoughts. Hateful words preserve hateful thoughts and end with our becoming hateful. Right speech can create right mind and words can maketh the man.
For now, it is not important why I am in a wooden crate in a warehouse on the outskirts of Toronto. And you should not let your curiosity fool you into thinking that the series of events that led me to being in this situation is anything other than banal and commonplace. Some of your assumptions you can rely on. This voice is the voice of a fully grown man and not some art-school experiment where you have to appreciate the inner monologue of a mangosteen. You may also rely on the assumption that this event is happening today and that by crate I mean a wooden box of cuboid form of the type in which you might expect to find the Ark of the Covenant. With those three confirmed assumptions and the aforementioned geographic location, everyone will understand how you thought that this was about a curled-up man in a box in Canada. Within that frame, all that matters are my thoughts. It may seem a little brusque to say so, but without wanting to seem any more rude than necessary, let me remind you that there are other boxes.
One of the obvious luxuries of being in a crate is that it affords a perfect theatre in which to enjoy one’s own thoughts. Some people said that cinema was finished once the VCR came out. Now we live in the age of the video and yet cinema thrives. Only mice realize that cinema is a ritual and the screen an inter-ontological elevator of uncertain direction. When four or five people stop in the street to stare at something, say the ever-increasing shadow cast by a suicidal piano, they are soon joined by several more and several more etc. Evolution has schooled us to obtain information as soon as possible, which is why we have rubber necks. Imagine then how that little nubbin deep in our brain reacts to a room of two or three hundred people voluntarily placing themselves in a darkened space, all looking forward, in the same direction, at a single screen. That act is cinema, or mass. In both cases, this ritual tells that primordial nubbin, one single, urgent, undistracted message; God is going to come out of that wall. You see this effect most noticeably in children. With adults it is tempered only slightly by the fact that when it comes to dates, no one can stand you up like God. Hence the crate.
I imagine that all across the United States, in the various technology companies that we have come to think of as secular-Santas, engineers and pre-postal employees in white coats and nipple-rings are trying to develop a single storage solution in which one can keep all of one’s movies, photos, music, and experiences. I already have one of these devices attached to the end of my rubbery neck. It is divided into sections with a common motherboard. The first section contains recordings of everything that I have ever known. A red admiral butterfly caught flapping in a spider-web in the dark wooden corner above my cot as a baby and the sound of that desperate flapping. My first taste of sushi and how the term “raw fish” kept flashing in front of my mind’s eye in the most gag-inducing incarnations of the serif font. Then there is my imagination, part two. It uses a fair amount of the data contained in memory but either augments or synthesizes it to such a degree that it can create images and feelings about things I have never known.
When I am in a wooden crate . . . I should tell you that this is not the first time. (Door-to-door its difficult to find a more economical way to see the world.) When I am in a wooden crate, I spend much of my time imagining because its simply fantastic. Nobody says fantastic anymore because its become too fantastic but for me fantastic will always be fantastic. A whole host of new scenery, sights, sounds, sensations and all filmed superbly, just so, as I would like to be able to do myself; though the time to devote to acquiring that skill has to date eluded me.
Normally at this point I would be naked. Liberally? No . . . urgently. Yes. Applying sun-block in one of either two states of mind; rushing to get it done as fast as possible and consequently missing a spot or, channeling the conscientiousness of a Swiss watch-maker to ensure that I cover those awfully painful spots I previously missed. Its such a pain because its so predictable – down to having to wash your hands because they become so slippery, down to the high likelihood that the molecules in the cheap soap will be too large to get under the film of the cream so that in the end you are just wiping it off on the towel. Guilt, sun-glasses, sandals and out the door. Panic and pants. Relief. I now avoid all that.
Google Software Update is about to be installed. Accept and Install. Loading myplaces.kml. Adding overlays. Toronto. Latitude 43.655830 degrees, Longitude -79.459649, Elevation 101 meters. But in my mind; Lembongan, Bali, Latitude -8.693265, Longitude 115.435745, Elevation 2 meters. Beach. Sometimes, especially when I am alone on a beach, I imagine that I have a personal relationship with the Gods. The Gods are usually Greek, and tall, and on their way to a party at which I will be discussed in passing. I am Achilles and I have been brought to this table of sand and sea, as one does with a hero now and again. Alone on a beach, or in a box, it is easier to imagine one’s own importance. The sea hypnotizes me, swinging the pendulum of the tide back and forth in my ears. Everything melts. Quiet. Warm gentle sun. The Gods are telling me something but I am so out of it. I am lost, drifting in a quiet womb in which time is marked only by the rhythms of my mother’s beating heart. Deus ex machina, ex ante.
For the last nine months I have not written an extended blog entry. Instead, I have posted shorter entries in what I call my “microblog.” In fact, things have gone even further so that now, my Twitters, Flickr postings and Lastfm annotations are automatically gathered into an even shorter form of micro-blogging known as a lifestream. With the gestation period now rapidly coming to an end I feel that I can give birth to a conclusion, and moreover to a comment by way of meta. Narrative is dead. Isative remains.
Life begins with the separation from mother. In that horrendous moment, the other is born. I become we and we become you and me. In becoming the other I become many others. I am the baby, the son, the infant, the grandson, the toddler, the youth, the writer, the teen, the adventurer, the quiet, the brave, the foreigner, the lover, the man etc. Beneath all these labels their remains some common-part of what existed before. It senses the fiction of all signifiers, a semiotic cynic, sloping through doss-houses, for the sake of love and dissolution.
The desire for love drives the search for truth. From tyrants to artists each human longs for acceptance of their true self. In essence; if I could dispense with label and narrative and find my true self, I would know love, and other would disappear within mother. All human activity is equivalent to the scream of the newly born infant. The new does not consent to its separation. Thereafter, everything is valued for its transcendence.
Separated and lost, the self reaches for the paternal narrative. In the beginning there was Chaos and from the void emerged the Word. Art depicts the evolution of the Word and the evolution of art describes the collapse of perspective. Previously, a collection of exhausted hunters, seeking to enlighten and sooth, exchanged at best an oral tradition around an itinerant camp-fire. With the success of agriculture came a societal surplus. Narratives and narrators emerged and the latter increased over time. The single druid became the intelligentsia. From the cauldron of the Renaissance, the Reformation and the Enlightenment emerged the idea of the educated everyman. Through blogs we are all now narrators and Narrative is dead. In literature we can see this evolution from the age of the epic, in which the unlikely is subsumed into the form, through the age of the omniscient narrator to that of the subjective unreliable narrator. James Joyce was close to the end. In Ulysses he took Homer’s epic and substituted the inglorious quotidian. Finally, in Finnegan’s Wake, the hyper-subjective becomes functionally opaque. Since then the blog-train has brought us all to the same terminus. Disembarking. We stand around. It may or may not be Trieste. Bloom eyes the descending petticoats. The station air is filled with the thick soot of subjective rantings, commentaries, analysis, perspectives, debates, overviews, summaries, speculations etc.
Each passenger searches his knickers for awareness. I am breathing. I am thinking. I am seeing. I am sweating. I am afraid. I don’t know where I am. Micro-blogging, a narration of “isness” is born. Plot, arc, structure are no more. We recognize the ignorance of a character in a narrative with no indication of his fate beyond the next paragraph. We pitied them once. Now we live among them. There are no trains departing or arriving at this station anymore. All I can hear is the others, they are, they are, we is. The death of Narrative has dropped us all into a story beyond our control. There are no moo-cows here.