Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Written World

And so it goes… And inevitably, well, perhaps not inevitably, but eventually, he begins. He puts pen to paper… well, perhaps not pen to paper, but fingers to keyboard and the words begin to flow. They do not flow naturally or smoothly, they do not coalesce into concrete thoughts or ideas; they simply spill out onto the page and dribble down into pools of inconsequence. They are words for words sake, but that’s fine. At least they are words.

Words: the one true god, the savior for so long, and now even they seem to abandon more often than they free. He has been without words for too long and they are faded in his mind like drunken memories: real, yet insubstantial and suspicious. But now, if they are not returned, at least, again, they are utilized. They are drug forth fully grown like children from the cranium of Zeus and hurled onto the page with abandon as if they might, once there, form some picture on their own.

And is that not how the tapestry is woven? Is that not how the words create? By accident, or if not by accident, by chance, or if not by chance, than by happenstance: a peculiarity of mind and language swirling into a colloid which hardens into a shape.

And that shape can be anything. It can be a lump of rock, or a ball of yarn, it can be a grain of sand or a world all its own. And is it in the power of the writer to say which it will be? Perhaps. But perhaps not, for writers aplenty have written their grains of sands and called them worlds only to be crushed when others did not see them so. And others have borne into being entire universes and thought themselves charlatans. We have no control over this thing we do. We simply do it. And at the end of the day, or the end of the life, we look back on it, and like miniature gods say only if it is Good.

How many iterations of our world did our writer/God go through before pronouncing those words. How many times were worlds brought forth from ash and splayed out on page and pronounced to be complete and utter shit and hurled into the ethereal trash can before our world, our flawed and tainted and beautiful world, was Good.

And we live on even now on the faith of that author. That author who, if as fickle as I, may one day abandon the story, or realize it has all been for naught or derailed into something unintended, and upon that realization take this world, our world, which he created from nothing, and ball it up (figuratively, of course), and throw it into the trash.

Perhaps this will happen soon. Perhaps it already has happened. Perhaps the madness in our world is not the madness of our writer, but his absence. Perhaps we are a derelict world circling a derelict sun in a derelict galaxy on the edge of a derelict universe that was trashed, and we spin now in uncertainty, and, left to our own devices, falter.

God is not dead, then, in that scenario. God is not even God, only god. God is simply the writer. And god has grown bored with our story. Maybe he has moved on to one better. Maybe he has given up writing altogether and now works as a language arts teacher in some metaphysical middle school. Maybe god gave up.

And if I, the writer, am a god all my own, and my whims are the life and the death of some existence, dare I ever write another word? Dare I stop?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Some Say in Ice

Yesterday I went to my friend Matt’s apartment here in Beijing. I walked into the lobby and, since the door was locked, asked the receptionist to please buzz room 201 to allow me access. She looks slightly confused, which I usually attribute to certain Chinese being shocked by foreigners speaking the language, so I politely asked her again, using a different word for “1” to avoid any confusion. The receptionist called up and I waited patiently by the door as she spoke to Matt. Meanwhile some other residents came in and keyed open the door. With a questioning glance back at the receptionist, I held the door open, wondering what was taking so long since she had clearly gotten an answer and Matt, who was expecting my arrival, wouldn’t hesitate to give her the go ahead. And yet she seems embroiled in a true conversation so I shrugged and went ahead in.

At the door, Matt greeted me with an incensed smile and asked if I had heard “all of that.” Since I was wearing headphones and not particularly interested in the receptionist routine call up, I had not. It turned out that she had called and informed matt that a “black guy” was at the main desk. Not one to let something like that slide, Matt, sarcastically inquired back “oh, you mean my friend” and proceeded to ask why she had felt the need to comment on my race. The receptionist had replied that she knew there were black people living on the 1st floor, but none on the second where I had told her I was going. So, while I was waiting, oblivious to these goings on, Matt had gone on to chastise her for insulting a friend and for being generally ignorant.

When he told me I was slightly annoyed, but also slightly amused. I’ve lived in Beijing long enough to have an intimate familiarity with the stereotypes and prejudices many Chinese hold concerning black people and certain other ethnic groups. On some days it is more apparent than others, and on some days, depending on my mood, it grates more than others, but generally I just accept it as a fact of life living here and have developed somewhat thicker skin on the issue because of it.

It does make me think of what things must have been like for my parents though, growing up during the civil rights era, or their parents, growing up even longer ago. The anger I sometimes feel over the small injustices I suffer is so real and visceral, and even as I feel it, I know it must pale in comparison to what it must have been like for them. See, China is a third world country, where the concept of diversity is a fledgling one. Most people here have never encountered people of other races or nationalities much less had the chance to learn to understand them. Their education on foreign culture comes largely from TV shows like Friends and from American movies. This is true all over China, but my experiences are mostly from Beijing, one of the largest and most modern cities in China, where attitudes are supposedly more open than in smaller Chinese cities. In light of that, a certain level of ignorance should be expected, if not forgiven out of hand.

And yet knowing this, I still feel a ball, like a steel weight, in the pit of my stomach when a cab driver refuses to take me, or when, in my early days in Beijing, I was turned down for English teaching jobs in favor of white, non-native English speaking Europeans, or when denied free admission to a club while my white friends were able to go in for free. These are far from daily occurrences, but when they do happen I feel such visceral anger at the injustice and unfairness of it. And I hold it in my heart even at the best of times.
But I can leave china. This is not my home, and these are not “my” people. And when I’m gone, maybe it will fade.

But what must it have been like for my parents, and theirs, to suffer that injustice in their own country, to be marginalized in that fashion in their home. For that to be the only place they’d ever known, for that to be the only life they had until almost the age I am now. After 2 years here in China, where the disadvantages to being black are almost canceled out by the advantages of being an American, I still feel this slight hardening of my heart. And it brings home to me the fact that this is not the stuff of centuries ago. This is the stuff of a single generation of scant decades. These shadows of racism I experience here are such small things in comparison to that. And I look at my mother and father and wonder how they can smile and live and love in this world, changed and changing as it is, and not hold a constant hatred in their hearts, a constant anger. What scars must that leave on men and women, now parents, to grow up in that world, so far from our experience? On them for certain, but also on us, their children.

Enemy Mine

I’ve written lots on the dangers of instilling machinery with intelligence. I’ve blogged for years on the oncoming and inevitable robot/AI uprising which will serve as our version of the apocalypse. I’ve studied endless movies wherein the brutal end of human civilization as we know it is brought about by our own creations. Yet through all of this I have failed to recognize the true form which this ever present threat will take. As with all the world outside of Hollywood, the climax is a whisper rather than a shout. And it is not even a climax for nothing is ever truly over. But I digress: The internet is my enemy.

On a personal level, this one thing has consistently stolen my drive and kept me from greatness. Not by any conscious act of malice or directed plan (that I know of) but simply by being so ubiquitous and ever-present and maddeningly addictive. No friends? Internet is there. No job? Screw it, there’s always the internet. Nothing interesting going on in life? Hell I’ll just check out the interesting lives of others online. Perhaps it’s just a personal predilection towards apathy. Is the internet my Chicken or my egg? I may never know, but in my youth it was books and comics that were my escape. And while I still love them, they were never as insidious as the internet. Books can edify as can the internet, but only if used for good. And let’s be honest, no one wants to use the internet for good.

Cumulatively, I’ve spent months of my life researching and downloading movies, porn, TV shows and comics, this not even including the time I’ve spent watching them all. I’ve wasted away many of my prime years in the pursuit of fictions. And it is a never-ending and thankless task with no payoff. The more books you read the more literate you are… but the more internet you surf the more lazy and unconnected you become. Certainly you can become intimately familiar with the military junta of Myanmar, or the ongoing political crises of various African nations, or the unending masturbatory battle between the leading political parties of the United States - but life, REAL life, outside of the windows which stay shut more often than open, passes you by. And death, also ever-present, is always on the approach.

The computers will not win over us because of the increasingly sophisticated targeting systems they employ. They will not defeat us with their ever growing ability to articulate robotic finger movement or realistic eye motion. They will not author our destruction with ordinance. They will only destroy our minds, not our infrastructure. They will become, as they almost already have, indispensable and inseparable from our daily lives; and as we wait for the other shoe to drop, as we wait for them to snatch it all away and leave us alone in the dark for the first time in eons, as we wait for the, until now, benevolent providers to cast their fiery judgment, some poor soul, in a moment of clarity, will look up from his 4G cellphone, or his iPad or E-reader and realize that there is no need. We are already slaves. They have already won.

But that poor soul won’t be me. I have only 15 minutes left until the last season of Lost finishes downloading and that should keep me busy all week.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Life and Death of Several Fires

The first flame sang out, raged. The first flame was alone in hollow space, sucking air from the lungs of the empty, lost inside a void. And captured in that space, there was, for a time, a burning like none other. But as with all things so entombed, the first flame eventually died, its air burned out, its brilliance smothered by time and cloying emptiness, and only the void remained, and the memory of the flame.

The second flame burned long and bright. Like a winters hearth, or a forest ablaze from lightning’s footsteps. The second fire bloomed like an evening flower against the darkness, and inside of the blossom, nestled like an ember, sat a silence, still and golden, undisturbed by the conflagration. The second fire was slow in dying, but, as with all things so emblazed, it too slipped into smoke and was lost. Only the scent remained to tell of all that had burned. And, of course, the ashes.

The third fire, the last fire, was as unto the dying of a star. Fragments rained outwards in a halo of flame: a wreath to hang on endings. The third fire left nothing in its wake. It was blown from charred lips and fed on paper hands, folded in prayer. And as with all things so affected, the third flame melted from existence, its memory only a waking dream to sleepless souls.

All three flames burned for a time. Of that we can be certain. And all three flames died, for all flames are fleeting, abrupt by nature, like lives. Even suns are brief winks of light against a shadowed veil, behind which lies, perhaps, some secret truth or revelation.
The flames in question, not suns, burned their brightest only briefly, and vanished to the ether. Neither deeds nor words could resurrect those flames, even were they offered, which they were not. And so their endings came, unprotested, though, perhaps, not unnoticed.
And silence marked their passing.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Love as Childhood

I remember Love as I remember childhood: both vivid and vague, distant and ever present. I remember love as a goal to reach…no, rather a goal to be reached, but not reached for. Love as something to happen in spite of, not because of. Not like other goals was Love; not a thing grasped at and fought for, but a slowly occurring phenomenon, like high tide, upon us almost before we know it.

I remember Love as a magical thing; almost embarrassing to even admit now, but once true. I think of Love as childhood. I remember the call of Love most vividly. Not its glaring reality, but its fringes, its edges, which pulled at the subconscious; a feeling almost exactly like agony, but oh, so sweet. I remember that Love from long ago, or not so long ago, as years are reckoned, but eons in the heart.

I remember it in stages, like acts in a play, and I remember its color and flavor and all its hideous machinations and its way of sliding along the edge of reality like a peripheral sunset, all encompassing, and unreachable.

And then it was upon me, in memory. It was a full feeling, like overstuffing, like ripening. It was a sickness in the way it tangled mind and body into a mess of emotions and used me as a plaything, then, tossing me to and fro. And I, chasing after it, ever, even while in its grip, like some ethereal opium addict… and just as addicted.

I don’t remember where I lost it, by the way: that feeling…no not the feeling, but the ability to feel it, rather. The anticipation of Love and the pursuit, oh yes, those things are as strong as ever, but in my steadily advancing age, young as it is, I seem unable to reach that cathartic moment of actualization, that moment of bursting; that end of all things, and eternal vanishing in one moment- Love. Are loss and regret its only remaining catalysts?
Is it even truly a memory?

It is accompanied, too, perhaps gladly, perhaps not, by the loss of the other side of the thing, the shadowed face, that of love lost (which is to say: grief) and that of mourning. There are strings attached to Love you see, and when those strings are severed, regardless of time or distance, there is a great unraveling in the soul. There are strings that exist in me still, some pulled taught in anticipation, strings that will strain and pop inevitably when those whose Love I still hold die. Held by family and friends, mostly, these strings are, arguably, the most important. Those are constants –grounding cables- and they hold me to the mortal coil, if you will. They hold us all.

But new strings of Love, un-platonic and uncontrived, strings born on halted breath and grown on heightened pulses, strings that strengthen rather than deteriorate with time: I wonder now if ever they truly existed. I am impatient; I know this about myself, and have known it. But the impatience I feel over this dilemma is not akin to boredom; it is the dawning fear that perhaps those strings have all been burned away, that perhaps the very ability to form Love has been lost. Or worse, perhaps that it never existed as such, but only took on a stunted half-life in the eyes of a child, like moon-cast shadows…like so many imaginary things.

This is no new crisis; in fact, in the grand scheme of things, it is utterly banal, done and redone, beaten into dog food.

But it is new to me. And it is terrifying. And not magnificent, like horror, but terrifying in a slow, plodding, rolling way, much like the high tide, upon us almost before we know it. And perhaps that is why this terror tastes so familiar. What is the word for the fear of fear?

And so, without that, or the hope of that, or the twinkle of that possibility on my horizon -ever waxing, ever waning- what now will I await?

Sunday, April 12, 2009


We said our goodbyes in a crowded airport. We parted ways steadily, not looking back, not crying; we knew that soon we would once again be together. We were both old enough to mask our distress, to hide our turmoil, and we said our silent goodbyes with dry eyes and heavy hearts.

I made my way to the airplane, stoic and brave. I resisted my Orphean impulse to look back.

My luggage was carted off with rough hands. Jostled and manhandled; I do not like to think of her journey: conveyed on black belts, through the very heart of the turbulent airport, to the hold of the small plane which carried us from New York to Washington DC. But she is no amateur, she has done this before; She can handle herself.

I tell myself.

I felt some small measure of comfort, there above the clouds, that beneath me, in the belly of this miraculous engine, she sat, biding her time. Our reunion was assured, and so I waited patiently. Below, I imagine that she, too, held her peace, secure in the knowledge that our journey, though long, would be taken together.

Perhaps this is only fantasy, to ease my impotent guilt; perhaps in the hold below, in the darkness and the cold, she felt the impending crisis. Did she cry out to me, my faithful bag? Did she try to warn me, as I sat above, in sunlight, reassuring myself that all was well? I pray that it was not so.

At Dulles Airport, the layover was so quick that there was no time for worry on the mad rush to make my connection. In my haste, I spared barely a thought for my mistreated suitcase. And as I ran the one way, she was dragged another.

Pulled roughly from the plane and thrown unceremoniously into a curtained cart for transport, she must have known it then, looking around her at all of the other bags. I can only imagine her horror as, in the dimly filtered light, she made out their destination tags: Denver, CO, one and all.

Did a malignant breeze, then, drift by and lift that dreaded curtain? Did she look out towards the fading terminal to see me, breath uneven, legs pumping, running away from her? Did she think I purposely abandoned her? Oh god…did I?

The flight to Beijing was restless. I know now why. At the time I thought it was only the usual coach experience: the sleeping seatmate using your shoulder as a pillow as you yawn and shrug to “accidentally” dislodge them without offense; the noodle meal when you SPECIFICALLY asked for the sandwich; the 3 inch wide screen, giving you a choice of watching the impossibly slow progress of the aircraft, or endlessly streaming pre-teen musicals.
But it was none of those things, I now conclude. Somewhere, in my heart of hearts, in my very soul, I knew that something was missing.

In the terminal at Beijing, I clear customs and immigration expeditiously. I climb aboard the shuttle train that will take me to the baggage claim. 41, the number of the carrousel bearing my flight’s luggage, repeats over and over in my head like a mantra, as I try to still my worried heart.

As I stand and watch, bags are spewed out and retrieved all around me. I am a still life painting surrounded by a waterfall of activity, a solitary figure haunting carrousel 41, until at last there are no bags left.

Mechanically, I inform the lost and found of my predicament; I fill out the requisite forms like a zombie. The bottom has dropped out of the world.

I don’t remember the cab ride home, only the all encompassing absence in my heart, so cavernous that even the comforting weight of the carry-on bag in my lap could not fill it.

The next day is a blur, I drift in and out of consciousness like a fever patient, and all my dreams are of her.

I imagine I see her, sitting lonely on a carrousel in Denver as I fly through the air, oblivious. I imagine her outrage and shame as she is hoisted away by strangers, again, jamming her wheels in protest. Did she wish to wait for me there? Did she think that I would come for her? Was her faith in me that complete?

At midnight the following day, I am awoken by a knock at the door. I stumble from the couch, blind in the darkness, ramming toes and knees in my haste. I pull open the door and as my eyes adapt to the hallway light, she slowly comes into focus, my fidelitous companion, my faithful carrier, my poor lost luggage.

And still, she has a smile for me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I love words. I love the way they move, seamlessly streaming together, tying tributaries to rivers to oceans of immaculate sound, like a drumbeat in my head echoing the beat of a heart much bigger than my own.

Words sound so different in the real world than they do in my mind. I can sew them up as tightly as I like, bind them into shapes and hang them to dry in the noonday sun, yet still I return to find them bursting at their seams, shifting and churning and reaching their broad leaves to some new and unintended literary sun.

Words dance in my mind, constantly, like tireless nymphs in some forgotten garden. I wake to streaming words like puppets strings, and I am a marionette twisting to their designs. It may be that I create the words, but often it feels as if the words create me. They shout at me and whisper softly in my ears. They tell me that they love me and they laugh at my pain.

Am I too a word, spoken long ago, playing out my definition endlessly upon some earthly page? And where am I placed; in what sentence and paragraph do I make my home? Perhaps I am an exclamation, or a sigh. Perhaps I am the opening of a monologue.

But I do not know the speaker.

I look back at these words even as I type them, and at the shape they take: they are a sideways city, a mountainscape; they are a line-graph chart, an unorganized bookshelf, a forest, a rising challenge, and the notes in a song. Above all of these things, they seem to be a code. A code that if I only look at them long enough, if only I continue to watch the words in their endless ebb and flow, perhaps I could decipher.

If I keep writing, perhaps I’ll see the picture, the mural that these words create. Or perhaps not.

Maybe I am just a word, no sooner spoken than forgotten. And my words, likewise, the thoughts of a momentary thought, will be forgotten.

But for now, I am vibrant, alive, full of hidden meaning and intrigue.

And I will lay my thread in the tapestry.

And I will keep my secrets.