Listen, an Ongoing Series

4.27.2018

Listen. A few weeks ago, it was the anniversary of me changing my career path. A year since I started learning a whole new trade and to dabble in several others. I’ve learnt a lot of stuff but perhaps the most important thing was not a new revelation but rather an affirmation of something I had felt for a long time: knowledge, like many things in nature, is as poisonous as it is healthy. Think of silver or garlic or certain chemicals; the touch of Eir is within these things but too much of them can overload you and reverse the scales. In the case of knowledge, it’s more of a case of Paean than Eir. Knowledge heals the other faculties, just like Paean heals the other gods. It fortifies your resolve, your courage, your intellect, your self-assurance. Too much of it does not reverse the scales but it does become poisonous, supercharging those traits. In short, knowledge easily makes you too much to handle, both in an inwards sense and to your surroundings.

Listen. Whenever I leave places, even if I’ve stayed in them for only a few hours, it hurts. It’s part of how my emotions have always been amplified; I feel strongly and quickly. Naturally, the more time I spend in a place, the more it hurts but there too, the orders of magnitude are much too high. That is, the difference between an hour and a day are closer to what you might expect between a day and a year. It’s the kind of pain that feels like an absence; a routine has died. A familiar place has died. A way of being has died. A template of spending this ever shifting attempt at tight rope walking that is called life has died. This is exacerbated by the fact that I don’t believe in return but long for it, always. Thus, when I physically go back somewhere, it hurts even more; now there are two absences, overlaid pictures, one slightly less fading than the other but both of them bound to one day meld in their yellowed out frailty.

Listen. Staying alive is being suspended. All situations are transitional, especially inward ones; our selves are not some static cores of god-given light, rationality beaming from out of our eyes like lighthouses. We are lighthouses in reverse, not calling to ships in their stability but going towards a harbor in the fog in our instability, returning to where we originally meant to stand but never reaching that place, using light to reach a hollowness in the shape of us that doesn’t really exist other than in the memories of our foundations, the lowest places in us remembering musky dirt, remembering reaching downwards and, with the concrete of our assumptions, grounding themselves into a place that felt like forever. But the place that feels like forever doesn’t exist. All that exists is the yearning, the intention, the stretching of the neck, the impossible suspension between where you were and where you’ll be, a suspension which creates what we call now.

I don’t know what to do with any of this but I know that coming to terms with the poison of knowledge, with the pain of leaving, with the suspension of life, is the only way I can keep living. So that’s what I’ll try and do. I don’t know if this is for you or good for you. I don’t even know if this is for me or good for me. But it’s what I have, it’s the flimsy embankment on which I rebuilt my life after it fell apart. That is, my relationship with these ideas and feelings, not the ideas and feelings themselves, are the embankment. My position towards them is the foundation; a shift of the shoulder, a setting of the chest forward, a reaching of the neck, an intention towards.

I hope you’re doing OK. I love you.

4.28.2018

Listen. You ain’t never going back, OK? The bus that is you only unravels the weave in one direction and there is no knot quite the same. So you ain’t going back; that moment you cherish? It’s gone. With it is home gone, the mischievous wind on your cheek, the anger, the feeling of steel on rusted steel, a slight hint of laughter, it’s gone. The only pain in this world is the pain of wanting to go back, of your mind insisting on a U turn when the road is unmarked, falling apart, scrubbed away. This is where religion comes from and literature and music and all else. So, we won’t chuck away that pain, even if we could. Which we can’t. But we wouldn’t anyway because there’s just too much baby in them waters and you know how the saying goes.

Listen. Being in the presence of pain is the most tautological way to describe being alive. It is the basic tension of existing, a proverbial crucifix on which we hang, pressures not just pulling us in either and all directions but in no direction, in an indescribable direction. This might sound like a bad thing and it is, in many ways. But what choice do I have? To grow lax is to die. And one day I will but not right now. Right now, the suspension is all and me in the midst of it, suspended and suspender both.

Listen. So many words have been said about all of these things that I feel pointless writing this. By virtue of logic alone, by the unconquerable power of statistics, it is likely that someone has already written or said the answer. It’s also likely that I’ve read or heard it or both a million times. And yet, to cling to that answer (which even now probably nestles within the backwards reaches of my mind, like a wyrm wrapped around the best metaphor there ever was, Yggdrasil, the language tree) is to cling to return and, like I’ve already said, there ain’t no going back. Cruise control is locked in; this rig don’t break, not for anyone.

Thus, we converse on this, our road, you and I. Friends by virtue of the bus, of the inexorable direction in which our lives always hurtle in. Time’s cruise control; eternity’s flight path; the beginning’s itinerary; the end’s blueprint.

We’re going home baby. It’s going to be OK. I love you.

7.7.2018

Listen. There was a time when you didn’t know how to tie your shoes. These days, I do it without even thinking about it, just pausing my daily routine and performing a dexterous task I once didn’t know how to accomplish. Someone taught you how to do that, even though there were no books. They taught you through their skill and their attention. They spent their time on me, leaning in from above (I assume, I don’t remember. My mind isn’t good at remembering times when I was shorter than people) and showing you something that they took for granted. Do you understand how hard that is? If you don’t, try teaching a kid how to tie their shoes. Try to break down a task which you never think about while performing into its disparate elements. Try taking those elements and putting them together in a way that another person will understand. Then you will realize how much people that love you, love you.

Listen. I don’t know how to die and that’s OK. I hope there will be a time when I will. I’m not sure who will teach me to do that; who will take apart the disparate elements of the most obvious action, living, which generates the least obvious object, life? Who loves me enough to put their hands on their own existence and slowing, ever slowing down, take apart the knots that tie their memories to their emotions, their emotions to their actions, their actions to their loved ones? Who will teach me to untie my life? I think it will be you. I think you will one day reach down (from a height of otherness that I can barely imagine) and put your hands around your own life and pull in the exact right angle and with just the amount of requisite force. Then, your life will splinter into shards and I’ll look inside and you, with the calm gentle voice of a distant but loving friend, will show me how all of the parts fit. I believe this will happen although I’m sure it won’t. I can’t wait.

Listen. We learn, alright? We can’t help it. I wish there was some way for us to stop. I wish there was some way to get off of this road surrounded by potsherds, surrounded by the dismantled actions, memories and intentions of everyone else that suffered through this thing called life but there isn’t such a way. Listen, one day I’ll learn how to die and you will too and we will all stop. And that will be a good day. I’m afraid. But that will be a good day. There will be a laying down of burdens that day and there will be an end that day and there will be a road a bit less dusty with the detritus of life. And we can make that day happen, you and I, because we are friends. We can reach in together into the laces of the lattice work called our relationship and we can help each other carry just a bit less. Will you let me show you how? Will you show me how? How to care a bit less, how to cry a bit more, how to feel a love that has no bounds in my heart, how to feel it as a warm fuzz behind my eyes whenever I see you, how to get lost inside your hug? Will you teach me how to lose myself in you and will you teach me how to find myself again? Will you teach me how to be a friend?

Listen. I don’t yet know exactly how to go home but I know you’ll show me the way one day. Take your time.I know that one day you will show me a silver path through a forest and I will smile and take it gladly. And that’s why I love you. Because even though the day has not yet come for you to teach me, I know you’ll one day do it. One day, you will show me the way out and I’ll grab your hand and say “hey. thank you. I love you. Let’s go”.

And we’ll go back home. Don’t forget to tie your shoes. I’ll do my own.

7.15.2018

Listen. There’s a shall casing around our senses. Like all good armor, it imprisons us and protects both; in fact, serving that dualism is its inherent function. I walk around the world, like a bullet looking for a target, and my shell casing hugs me. There are motives and thoughts behind those voices which seep through the alloy of my casing but it robs them of momentum. Think about armor; what does armor do? How does it protect? It, first and foremost, absorbs momentum; it turns that which is volatile into that which is inert. There are as many types of armor as there are things sleeping in the world which is to say, there are infinite types of armor out there. But ours, mine, is of an especially subtle type. You can’t see it, it’s all powerful and I don’t even notice that I’m wearing it. But nevertheless, its effects, once it meets something volatile, are instantaneous; all it needs is the touch of a voice, a hint of emotion, a smattering of volition and in an instant it springs into action and smothers that trajectory with stereotypes and presuppositions and established fact and entire narratives we’ve built for ourselves and about ourselves and, most importantly, about the constantly exploding ordinance that’s traversing the world out there called other people.
Listen. There’s one more universal trait of armor we haven’t covered here: all armor contains within itself the means with which it can be stripped away. All suits are made with a misericorde in mind, a thin shaft of substance that slips between the plates, all nouns and conceptions and ontology, newfangled into sheets of protection, and takes them apart. That thin slice of compassion, of love, of thought, of unbridled, physical joy, of physical activity, of alcohol, of sweetness from far away, of companionship, of any number of things which are hot, hotter than the hottest exploding shell of embodied humanity, hotter than the hottest derision which I drilled into myself, that thin slice of mega-hot empathy strikes right into the core. And it wounds you. We’ve forgotten, in our day and age, why wounds are dangerous; they’re not dangerous because of pain and rarely because of the wound itself, something so terrible that it severs critical systems and leaves us to die. No, wounds are dangerous because they make us susceptible. They strip away our defenses and open us up to the world, putting the outside in, taking the inside out, painting a huge target on our bodies that tells the infinite infinities of bacteria “Here’s the feast; help yourself”. This wound is no different; it lays me bare. It leaves me frazzled, like an electrical wire snipped by a kind hand, un-spooled by a gentle touch, now flapping in the wind for the steel beaks of others to nip at. And I feel every bite, every twitch of their necks like a faint burning, a strip of fire lashed across my skin.
Listen. Remember that the equation which draws a straight line between “pain” and “bad” is purely in your head; this pain is much more than something which can be classified as “bad”. It is beyond ontology, beyond definition, beyond a dictionary even though a dictionary constantly mutters in our minds, yet it’s intimately knowable, completely allergic to mystery, lies just at the edge of your grasp, inside the casing, coating it from within, like so much cleaning spray on a sink, something which burns, something with irritates the pale marble of your core but, in irritating, cleans. Have you ever rubbed your skin thoroughly to get rid of dirt? Have you ever seen the pink skin which signals rebirth, have you ever washed it with hot water and felt that terrible, amazing, healing burn? Have you ever walked down a street and suddenly felt all the stories of everyone in the street, and in the balconies, and in the windows looking down at the city with their lights on, carefully and subtly mirroring those of the planes in the sky, of the stars in the heaven, have you ever felt them in the eyes of those around you? Have you ever looked into the eyes of a stranger and felt a jolt and missed a step, your version of their story bulging behind your eyes but suddenly silenced by empathy? Have you ever walked down a boulevard and were suddenly struck by a multitude of pillars of fire, all human, all around you, all you, burning away the borders, burning away the shell casings, burning away the intricate armor which they and you have donned? Have you felt the potential of their stories screaming at you, their vocal reverberations stripping you of strength, until you almost fell to one knee, not knowing if you were hurting or elated or healing or hurting or if it was just the alcohol?
Friend, have you ever felt the flame that is recognizing an other? Have you ever suddenly had your perspective zoom out and saw all the points of fire surrounding you and knew them for yourself? Whether you have or not, something you said, something you did, a posture you took, a wisdom you gave, a gesture you made, led someone else to that place. That cliff side above and beneath and inside where no one with armor can come, where we must stand alone and shivering in front of a flame, cold for the heat, alone for the company, hurting for the cure, surrounded and yet singular. Even if you’ve never been yourself you have brought someone there.
And for that, I will always love you.

The Augmented World – On Our Duty to the Stars

Stories are templates for how to see the world. Or, rather, stories are templates for how to see ourselves within the world. Being sentient means not to know where you fit in and needing stories to tell you. Everything which slumbers, stone and plant and river and mountain, slumbers in its place; only those of us who are cursed awake, walk. And so, while walking through a sleeping world, alone, we tell ourselves stories to pass the time and gently light our path forward, even as we create the next few steps. Because we have walked and will be walking for a long time, there are many stories. Some of them are terrible and some of them are joyous but all of them are important and the really good ones are sad. I’m about to tell you a sad story. I am about to tell you an important story. I am about to tell you the story about a city, a City, a lighthouse and your parent.

The parent lived alone. From whence had the parent come? This was unclear but also unasked because there was no one except the parent to ask questions. The parent was half asleep, half awake, wise as they were, and so had no need for questions. The parent lived by the sea (because of course they did) and were mostly concerned with nothing at all which is to say, they were mostly concerned with living. There was hunting and fishing and shelter making and thinking and passing water and much more to keep the parent occupied. There was, in short, life. And so, the parent lived for an amount of time that is unknown but it was probably much longer than a week. And in that time, the parent knew many other forms of life, all asleep to some extent and dreaming beautiful dreams. The fish dreamed of the river source and of the sea to come. The trees dreamed of giving fruit and of the wind that whispered in their leaves. The sea dreamed of everything else and how it would one day reclaim what had been lost. The stars dreamed of the parent.

This shocked the parent; you see, the parent could experience all of these dreams. Actually, everything could experience all of these dreams; the trees listened as the fish stirred, restless, imagining themselves in the frigid waters of the mountain source and the birds overheard the trees dreaming of the same wind that buoyed them up and laughed loudly in birdspeech at the trees’ rough mental vocabulary. But only the parent was half asleep and half awake and so, only the parent thought about these other dreams. And when the parent listened to the stars, they saw themselves and were stunned. This wasn’t the shock of simple recognition; after all, the parent had seen themselves in pools of water by the river and in the eyes of bears. The parent knew what they looked like. No, this was the shock of the uncanny, of semi-recognition, for before them, in the dreams of the stars, stood the parent transfigured, as if they bore within themselves a million other minds, a million other people. Which, of course, they did, as we all do.

But because the parent was half awake, this frightened them. They felt off, they felt invaded, they were worried about what this said about the future. Seeing their fear, the stars took pity on them and came to them in the waking/sleeping world which the parent inhabited for, as we all know, the stars come and go where they please and categories such as wakefulness or sleep do not apply to them, seeing as they come from a time when the universe itself was still asleep, curled up around itself. So, the stars came to the parent and they spoke saying “Parent, why are you a-feared?” and the parent said “Oh great stars, mighty beacons of light within the infinite darkness”, upon which the stars cut them off and said “oh do go on” to which the parent replied with a brief awkward silence. “Yes, well” the parent continued, “I am afraid because I saw within you a vision of myself which disturbed me, a version of myself which I did not know. Within it, I was not myself! I was so much people overlaid on top of each other!” The stars chuckled, their crystalline voices echoing across the sea and driving the fish mad with ecstasy. “We apologize, parent” they said after their bout of contained laughter, “we had no intention of scaring you. However, what you saw is simply the truth! All you are is just a palimpsest, the many versions of your people who are to come overlaid on one point of time and space”.

Hearing this, the parent was distraught. They liked being themselves. They did not like this idea of being many others overlaid here, in this cave by the river where it spilled into the sea. So many others would make so much noise! The bear would probably not come around anymore to share his dreams of softly speaking trees as they susurrated in the wind and his dreams of bounty. The river would probably go silent, embarrassed to tell its story in the face of so many people, turning to whispering it to the fish alone who would, in turn, whisper it to each other as they swam along the stream, keeping it from the multitude of people upon the riverbank. Even worse, what of their own dreams? Must they now share it with so many others? Must they, heaven for-fend, listen to the dreams of so many others and give up their precious time asleep to the visions and wishes of a horde? This would simply not do. But they were also drawn to this vision of themselves, this idea of a multitude contained within them and of the idea of those versions walking in the world, like them. They would have others to tell their story to and others to hear stories from. They would have countless ears that would listen and mouths which could speak and eyes which could see their beauty. And so, the parent turned to the stars and said “Oh mighty stars” and then, remembering themselves, went on to say “yes, well, you stars over there, can you not save me from this fate? I do not wish to be a palimpsest! I wish to be myself, separate, alone, in sleeping and in waking. I wish to listen to the dream of the bear, alone, and converse with the river, alone, and dream of myself, alone, and, in short and in conclusion, to be alone! But also, I wish to meet these versions and exchange words with them. I wish to be alone with them and to tell them my story and hear theirs!”

The stars, hearing this, were saddened. Being themselves a multitude, singing with joined voices through the spheres of existence, never a second alone but always in a whirl of different colors and intensities, they could not understand this desire to be alone. But, they were fond of the parent and did not wish to refuse this creature of anything; for, if they were true to themselves (and, like all dreaming things, they were), the stars were more than just fond for the parent. They were in love with them. They had never seen a more attentive creature, open to the dreams of the world around it. The parent was much more attentive than them, to be sure, caught in a constant astral choir as they were. But they were also more attentive than anything else, than the bear in its slumber, than the bird in its flight, than the fish in its journey, than the river in its babbling tongue. And so, with sadness in their heart but also love, the stars told the parent this: “Listen, parent. We can do what you ask of us. But, there will be a price and it won’t be simple. What we will do is we will give you the means to separate yourself, slowly. We will give you the means to take those versions of you that are embedded in you and make them separate of you. But it will take time. And it will hurt. And you will need to build something so that these new versions will have a cave of their own. You will need to build a city. Things won’t be the same; the bear will come but haphazardly and some of the other things of the forest even less so. And you will have to hurt the trees for their skin is the perfect abode for the new yous. But the river will still be there and so will the fish and definitely the birds; there might even be more birds than before. And the sea as well, to be sure, for the sea will always be there, no matter what. Do you understand so far?”

The parent understood, or thought they did. They said to the stars “Oh brillia…yes, we understand, stars, please make this happen!” And the stars laughed again, a mighty, throaty laugh this time, and all the peaks of the mountains around lost their snow in a flash thaw. “Oh parent, please do not go so fast! We have still not discussed the price. This will all be your reality in this city but we don’t want to give you any city! Because you want to be alone with these versions of you but still experience them, we want to give you a true City, a place that will befit your charming self and the dreams you are so fond of listening to” (this compliment made the parent blush but they let the stars go on) “thus, you will have a lighthouse in this City and you will have lighthouse keepers. But no flame will they tend nor will their job be guiding ships (though mighty sailors they will have to be). No, instead, these keepers will be guiding dreams. They will make sure that, even though night surrounds your City and the bear is a-feared and the trees are far way and the river’s voice is smothered beneath the clacking of wheels and you are surrounded by so many voices, they will make it so that even then, the dreams can find their way into your ears and hearts and make you as joyous as you are today, although briefly. For we love to see you happy and to hear you laugh. But, know this” and here the stars’ voice fell deep and ominous and the parent shuddered at their power “these keepers will suffer. Your other versions will be afraid of them. And rightfully so, for they will be your messengers to us and we will guide the dreams to them so that you may have them. But no dreams will they themselves have save for one dream, a dream that will haunt them, a dream of us and our servants. They will live this dream only once in their life and but briefly and the rest of their existence will be as ash in their mouth.

But live they shall, among you, their faces constantly craned towards us, constantly gazing at us, knowing that, one day, they must come and meet us and that for that moment, they have died and will live only for a few moments. What say you to this?” Then, the parent thought for a while and in the end of their thinking, with the memory of the river and the bear and the trees and the sea already fading from their minds, and their own dreams of the City already taking root in their heads, and their own stories already spinning in their minds, the words of their truth and their narrative already shaping the world around them or, rather, their perception of the world, and with the callousness of heart that only hides the sadness that’s always been the parent’s due, and with the light in their eyes already turning from the stars to the manifold versions of themselves, to which they will never stop to be drawn with a kind of fear mingled with fascination, they told the stars “Let it be so”.

And it was so.

The Augmented World – The Straits of Understanding

The reason they go insane and I don’t has to do with their conception of time. No matter how many times they’ve been on this journey with me, and some of them are descendants of others who had traveled this far as well, they still cling to the idea of “before” and “after” the Straits. For them, this section of sea, flush between the City and some other place which only members of my family can name, is a definite thing. It has borders, it starts and it begins, in both space and time. By clinging to this delimitation, they believe they can preserve their sanity; it codifies their reactions and emotions regarding our journey. When we’re “before”, they are worried. They have a dozen soldier’s rituals, who are well used by sailors on every water, little anxious tics revolving around gear and vassal that gives them something to do. “After” is something to be looked ahead to, a time of calm and relative stability “after” the Straits and before our destination. These templates of thought take a lot of the load off, denying their minds an escape into meta; how to do things has been predetermined by these mental categories and what things are there to do has been predetermined by me, in my stand in role as tradition.

Thus, the journey is filled with song and the creak of greasing gear and a million other sounds that make up a ship and I let all of those things happen, worthless though they are. To be honest, it also takes some load off of my shoulders. My men ease into their routines and away from my thoughts, slow moving caterpillars of ice that are already moving towards the other place. But now, as I stand on the prow of the ship and the narwhal crests the waters, waters teeming with millions of lives, those routines snap around them like shackles, tightened by the truth all around them: there is no “before” or “after” the Straits. Everything we know and see is but the skin surrounding the core of being that makes up the Straits and the lives within it. In essence, all lives are within it; to say that it’s a source would be to misunderstand the point exactly but it would also not be wrong. The narwhal’s horn crests our mast and its body keeps going, a gigantic mass rising towards the sun in a gesture that feels coordinated for us but is, of course, only coordinated for its own sake.

By the time its shadow lies across the full berth of the vessel, the wails of the crewmen have died down, collapsed as they are on the deck. Now, I am alone to witness something that has been promised me since I was a child old enough to understand. To understand that life outside of this moment, insomuch as it even existed, was but a pale shadow of this; that it wasn’t really that everything before this was a preparation for this but that this was the cause and reason of all that came before. That nothing had really come before; that now, as I was looking out on a stretch of ocean that seemed empty of water and instead filled with gold (that much life was teeming in its midst, golden flickers of energy drowning out the blue) was the first time that I was truly living. All of this raced across my mind as the narwhal, great Gatekeeper, Lock and Key Both, a distant prince to end all princes, rose and fell back to the ocean. From here on out, even though time had ceased to exist the moment the gate had been unlocked and the my body was drowned in the shimmering of shadows, I would be judged by how I dealt with this event. How I dealt with never returning here, with never being alive again. This was, beneath all the mundane secrets, beneath all the rumors the denizens of the City told about us, the real secret of the Galadcar; we were all dead for most of our lives, breathing and actually existing for a brief instant, in the time it took the narwhal to crest, overshadow us and then fall again, in the time that it didn’t take to cross this stretch of ocean, in the time it took to navigate the Straits of Understanding.

My watch had ended here and a different duty lay ahead; what it was, I didn’t know. I never found out whether my ancestors in the tribe were just unwilling or incapable of telling me what happens beyond the Straits; it’s possible that language fails beyond that which is infinite, beyond the only thing/time/place that really exists. I was about to find out, all in due time. But it was clear to me that, no matter what shared wisdom I was already the recipient of (the lifeforms in the water, manifested as fish of many hues, were whispering to me stories and facts that would feel a thousand books, could they ever be printed, words that every one of my ancestors had also heard, multitudes of lives and perspectives now contained within me, like so much reagent in a stoppered beaker, reacting furiously within), that this time would be different and unique. Somehow, even though “before” the Straits was an illusion, even though all steps on the road that led to here were already measured, I had done something different. Who knows how? Who can say, even now that I have been touched by the shadow of the narwhal (even as its bone once again peeks above the water, letting in just a bit more of magic into the world), how I managed to stray from the course, how I had managed to tell the story differently? But I did; the evidence was right there besides me, in the form of the guardsman who was, somehow, awake and (relatively) sane; sane and furious. His eyes encompassed all he saw, the endless multitude of life in the ocean, the truth of the Straits of Understanding, the reality of it all, and his heart exploded within is chest with fury. I knew this one would be a problem; his rage was already being beaten inside of him into a sword, a blade which ran with the words that were already echoing in his mind: “how could they keep this to themselves?”. And, as we all well know, once a sword is forged, it will find a target. It will create a target if one is absent and, for human rage, for human demands for explanations, for human limits of time and space, for the need of humans to get their answers, there is no shortage of targets where we are going, beyond the Straits of Understanding, into the realm of that which not only exists, but exists beyond.

The Augmented World – On the Pulling Away From Things

The white color of the clouds on the golden ambiance of the sky makes everything seem flat. In the distance, I can just make out the outline of the buildings under whose shadow I’ve made my life. One of those shadows seems larger and it is; it’s hard to define but the wall towers over even the horizon. And yet, it’s the City behind it which captures my attention, my heart, beating under a crimson not unlike the color of the blood which it pumps. I grasp the rails slightly harder as a particularly tall wave shakes me from my reverie. They tell me that this is nothing, that we’re not even out at sea proper but, for me, it seems as if the sea is doing its best to buck my balance and unsettle me. Not that it needs to do much work; I am already unsettled and me admitting that is a sign of it. After all, the whole point of what I do is that I am never unsettled.

That’s what people get wrong about guards or other such characters which are there to “enforce the peace”. They think that, like coiled springs, we are measured when the action begins, when the tension in our tendons is released and we, excuse me, spring into action. But that’s not the case at all; the action is the boring, unimportant part. Rather the containment of potential, the embodying of a possibility, is where we are most measured. By ourselves, that is. Competence among guards (and those other characters I mentioned, like painters or architects) is a ranking of restraint, a hierarchy of control. “Who are you before the water rushes from the mouth of the mountain? What is the depth of your aquifer, how deep do the waters in your bones go?” these structures ask.

This is, naturally, a result of the role we play. People have gotten this wrong as well, for centuries; guards aren’t there to stop crime or to fight wars or to eject the undesirable. They’re there to anticipate those things, to be there right before the spring uncoils and the mechanisms of action take over everyone. None of us high up on those lists kid ourselves; it doesn’t matter how fast you get or how calm you train yourself to be, when the ideas turn into words and the words turn into bodies moving through space, all of that flies out of the window and you’re left with guts and pain and grunts and willpower and just being too goddamn stubborn to die. All the stuff about uniform and tactics and commands and the rest comes before that. And that’s why they’re so important, the only thing that’s important in this line of business; with the rest, you just throw the die and lower your shoulder and barge through and hope for the best. The stuff that comes before is the art.

Here’s the problem I find myself in though, as the City slinks past beyond the horizon and the odd tricks of light which gave the Shimmering Sea its name begin to occlude my ability to scan the horizon. The problem I’m in is that the sea doesn’t care about any part of that. It doesn’t care about the before: ever tried to bark commands at your friend to impress the sea? Doesn’t work. That in and of itself is not that big of a deal; lots of things don’t care about the before and to deal with those things, we carry big swords and we train with them a lot. But the sea doesn’t care about the after either, the moments that come once words are done. For what shoulder can push against the waves? What willpower is there stronger than the inexorable pressure exerted by the sea on anything in its path?

Thus, the sea stands more than just aloof, apart or distant. People have gotten this wrong as well and that’s their worst mistake; the sea is not just a place to which you go but a road leading away from all places. It is what you must go through when you leave the City. It’s more than the other; it is the road to all others, it is the ultimate instruments in the act of pulling away from everything. And the thing about pulling away, the thing about leaving the City, is that it un-spools your meaning. That’s what the wall stands for; that’s what makes the City exist. That is the one true weak point of guards and police and painters and architects and street cleaners. They don’t exist without context and context doesn’t exist without relationships and relationships don’t exist without multiplicity and on the sea there is no multiplicity. There is only one. There is only the water.

And so, I am left with little choice but to form context. Turning away from the City and its walls, turning away from the fading brightness of the fading day, my red cloak billowing behind me in the rising wind, I walk towards the gullet, towards the stairs descending into the belly of the ship. They’re waiting there for me, my new family, the only family I have here, on the monolithic water. I have no choice but to speak with them, have no choice but to secure my own meaning in relation to them so that this sea doesn’t swallow me whole. Even if their language is blood, pain, violence and aggression, I must converse with them. I can already hear the whir of the bone drill warming up below. This is the art. The before. The how you deal with potential. With who you are before the pain begins. The what will you do to belong, knowing that belonging is the only hope any of us have against eternity. Knowing that, on the sea, pulling away from things is only natural but that in naturalness lies the death of all you are, the un-spooling of the ligaments which keep your identity alive.

The Augmented World – Brittle Bones

I stand on the sleek boulevard overlooking the dock and my bones are filled with frost and duty. They tell me someone from my family has always stood on this spot, this or one very much like it, looking out towards the Wavering Sea which lies outside the City. My hands ache, tugged towards the water as if the ice in my veins longs to return to its former, more relaxed state, to roll gently to and from both sides of the body of water. I can’t help but lean a bit further on the rail, as if the salt has one hand on the small of my back and two fingers in my nostrils, pulling me closer and closer to its abode. Around me, the busy traffic on the boulevard is as brisk as ever, although its easy to detect people picking up their pace as they pass by me. I snort, causing two boys who were just getting close to skip their stride and cast frightened glances towards me. From their reaction, slightly more than I am used to but nothing too out of the ordinary, I can gather that the storytellers have been plying their trade well recently. The man next to me, clad is he is in his crimson raiment, walks softly towards the boys and assures them that everything is alright in his golden voice. This one will be a problem.

They tell us, my family that is but also all denizens of the City, that the sea was here before us but not by much; right after the glacial melt turned this massive dust bowl into an enclosed ocean (“right after” in geological scale, of course), a Galadcar came from…somewhere and looked out across it. That somewhere constantly changes, revolving around a choice of tired tropes; we either came across a mountain or from a forest or from a land so far away that its name only means “The Far Place” or some other nonsense that the storytellers feel would loosen people’s purses. Wherever we came from, we’ve been here for ages; now there’s a City here which mistakes us, me, as part of it, rationalizing our presence so that it makes sense inside their municipal narrative. Almost a physical extension of that narrational effort, the lights of the City spill out over my shoulders and towards the sea, obscuring the stars and lending the wave-foam a glitter, as if a thousand pearls were scattered into the night air with every susurration of the waves. The lights of the City spill over me just like any other person, enfolding me in their possessive embrace, luminescent versions of the City’s attempt to incorporate us into something which makes sense.

Like the people now walking around me, to and from their early evening business, who smell the ages on me, the storytellers and mayors and aldermen created a vacuum around us inside which they could cast us, me, into appropriate roles. Guardians, watchers, those who stand at a border, perhaps the least understood border of the City, the border with the sea. A border which never stays still, which constantly moves and from which comes the dual blessing of magic. They call it the Wavering Sea because, like all bodies of water, it defies definition and demarcation. But they also call it that because, without it, the City would waver, and they feel that incosistency, that dependence in their bones, in the same place frost and duty live in my own skeleton. As the crimson-clad man returns to my side,  I consider his kind’s role in all of this. They are the visible sentinels of the City, patrolling its streets and assuring everyone that everything will be just fine, that all is in order since they, their sentinels, had killed all there was to be afraid of. They, by which I mean both the citizens who occupy its streets and the shadowy structures which rule them, don’t like to recognize the unusual nature of their demesne, shoveling the remnants of how the world was made into the realms of stories and histories, so that they can ignore that the stories are real and that they walk their streets. And we? We’re the postman stationed at the door underneath the bed, the portal through which the magic pours in, holding the portal closed enough to keep the worst of the night out but not so closed that the nocturnal part which makes brains exist, disappears. While our more visible counterparts destroy the odd thing that makes it in.

A perfect balance then, one which affords the City the wavering of reality on which its existence relies while keeping out the worst of what would seek to undo its precious routine and stability. Which is, of course, nonsense. Magic does indeed pour in from the Wavering Sea but we were here long, long before the City ever needed a psychological scapegoat, a guardian whose job it is to allow them to forget that which he is guarding from, long before these…Guards ever began their assignations. The pain in my fingers increases and my heart starts beating faster. My sailors must have hoisted the sails; I can feel it deep within, my own personal, internal glacier shifting in the face of the prospect of return, another voyage on the skin of its ancestors, its liquid forefathers. The voyage is inevitable now, not that there was ever a real doubt of that; the narwhals have been riding high recently, the tell-tale surges of their presence increasing in size, the more philosophical parts of their existence pushing against the proverbial door. I knew this was coming, as always; I had woken up last week from dreams filled with horns braying over open water, a sound no human should ever be forced to here as frequently as I have, right before the City Guard had knocked on my door. I walked up and opened it before he had the chance to rap on the wood and prepared my best cynical smile, a preparation which proved for naught as his eyes captured me for an instant.

The blaze of conviction there was something I had seen only several times and not good times, either. Down here in the warrens and alleys of the City’s neighborhoods most close to the Docks, that kind of eyes was a boon to a Guardsman looking to do his job. But out there, on the ever shifting skin of age-old glaciers, that kind of conviction would only serve as a lure, a draw, siren song to the primordial forces that still swam below/above the Wavering Sea. Nevertheless, I knew he would be joining me on this tour, this beacon of civic duty, this towering mountain of red-clothed flesh and willpower. I put on my smile, finally, already setting in motion my vessel’s preparation with a few hand-signals thrown towards the lookout always keeping watch over the portal to the Galadcar abode. “Listen closely” I said, cleaving through his astonishment at my timing, “if you’re to come with me on this trip, there needs to be an understanding between us. Out here, you shine your light into the shadowy places and the shadows recoil

Out there”, I point gruffly at the sea from the boulevard, drawing the soldier’s attention from the scampering children, “the brighter you shine your light, the bigger the shadows become. Do you understand?”. He nods and tries to swallow his panic stealthily, so that I don’t see it. But I do; he is not ready. His mind is too sharp and there’s too much weight behind it; the bones of who he is, the words that make his story and his family’s story and the story of his house and his street and his City, are too brittle. My bones ache, the terrible onus of my family’s years and calling descending upon my shoulders, the frozen torrent of eons running alongside my blood, freezing the core of me. We’re all going to die on this tour, probably. But when has that not been the case? The sails are fully hoisted now and the wind catches them, the wind which blows from the Wavering Sea and I am no longer my own person, no longer in full control of my own body. Duty rides me now and I spring over the rail and on to the docks, only slowing a moment to see that the soldier follows suit. He does and thus, with the first salt spray that plays across his brow, the sea claims him.

The Augmented World – Doublebreeze

The City (obviously[naturally{of course}]) exists in many versions of reality. I don’t like the word “dimensions”, which you might have expected here. It’s too rigid, too quantifying. The City’s existence alongside these axes is much more fuzzy, much less clear than the word “dimensions” would allow; there are no manuals to all the different directions a street can bend within it. However, most (and by most, I mean “almost all save me, perhaps there’s someone else but I haven’t met them yet”) citizens of the City don’t interact with these realities beyond the possession of the knowledge that they exist, a faint awareness of the possibilities lurking just to the side of the cobblestones they know and love. Thus, any exciting tales of travel, whether through time (now there’s a “dimension”!) or the self or genealogy, any exciting ideas of alternatives, of a very safe jaunt into what-could-have-been, are snipped in the bud by the impossibility of access. The denizens of the City continue to live their singular lives, whether boring or exciting, without the thrilling possibility of encounter, of conflict, of friction that is generated when one faces choices they have made and perhaps should have made differently.

Except for on one street. Silver Street lies in the western part of the City, but not so close to the water that you’d call it a beachfront. Instead, it’s one of those winding paths you get in neighborhoods that used to be docks,  a narrow passageway which recalls warrens, carts plodding along and brisk commerce managed from the same houses in which the owners lived (every building was “mixed use” in the past, before the curse of modernism). On good days, when the wind was coming off of the waves in any measure, the smell of salt, fish and wood flooded its air. The people who lived on Silver Street were wholesome if not fancy, dotted with the odd protogentrifier, the smell of money but not too much money mingling with that of the salt/wood to create a weird scent that was not entirely uncomfortable. Now, the area had changed but not all for the worse. Not for the City clear divisions between good and bad, sharp lines in the sand/concrete, easy definitions of what does or doesn’t make sense. Eventually, while the traditional storefronts are all long gone, they were replaced by boutiques of many types, people trading either their niche crafts or the niche products made from said crafts, catering to those who frequented the area for its “charm” and “allure”. Oh, and in Silver Street the veil (“border” is much too tight a word, going well with “dimensions”, which I had earlier discarded) between realities is thin.

It isn’t thin enough to allow people to fall through. It wasn’t thin enough that Silver Street became a hub, a center from which spokes struck out to other realities, facilitating tourism of the oddest kind. No, it wasn’t thin enough for any of that but it is thin enough for oddities to assault the senses and often take those unaware (which again, as far as I know, was everyone but myself) on a heady trip through uncertainty, self doubt and double guessing as they muttered to themselves things like “Argent Street? Pretty sure I turned on to Silve…oh, that’s odd” or “My barbershop is gone! The City changes so fast these days. Oh! It’s…on the other side of Silver Street? What an amusing lapse of memory!” and so on, and so forth. It is thin enough to allow the odd thing to travel its loosely defined tundras and prairie lands (some of the realities had actual tundras and prairies, realities where the City had never come to be) such as small animals, trinkets, food, or even a peculiar smell or some other trick of the senses. Oh, and it also allowed those with the right knowledge, perspective and internal makeup (that is to say, me)  to ever so slightly push on the elusive ligaments of Silver Street and emerge in some other place.

Alright, I’ll cut the flowery structure and get to the point. My name is Edmond Doublebreeze. No, Doublebreeze is not my given surname. Yes, Edmond is my given first name. No, I won’t tell you what my actual surname is. Doublebreeze is what I mostly go by, a moniker I had selected for myself quite a few years ago to play a game with those around me, a game like a decidedly devilish criminal might play on the police before the clever detective comes along to defuse, a game whose central move was to hide who you were in plain sight. Ever since I can remember myself, I was the fulcrum of two, internal winds. Not mutually exclusive, they would often blow at the same time and mingle into a strange regiment of prevalent winds, a barometric map of my psyche. One isthe afternoon/evening breeze, an intoxicating thing blowing off of the sea the City resides on. It is a frivolous thing, like a child pregnant with the mythical knowledge awarded to children which is, at the end of the day, mystery. It leads me winding through the streets, heart full at the sight of a couple kissing, or a tree blooming, or shadow falling on the corner of the street like so, alighting everything by contrast.

Its fellow is, in a city which, again, does not suffer clear divides, a darker but not more malignant type of wind. It is the heavy wind of night, of pre-dawn, a stifling thing all jagged edges and whipping coattails. It sends me into a contemplative mood, a bloated melancholy that feasts on loops and internal speculation. And yet, I have done some of my finest work under its auspices, my eyes made sharp by the churning air, prickled to sensitivity by the acrid flavors of the latter wind. Why am I telling you all of this when you clearly care about Silver Street and its, for lack of a better term, magic? It is because these streams, these double breezes, somehow tie me to that street’s character. How? Don’t ask me; does the sailor know how the wind fills their sails? Of course they do but I’m not a sailor and none of this is a trade or science. It is just the way things are wired; when the breezes blow strongly through me, whether together or alone, I am inexorably drawn to Silver Street and its strange twists and turns and I can make that street twist and turn.

It’s nothing so conscious as those words might hint at; there is no will, no magus’s gesture. Often, when the winds are blowing especially strong and it feels like my fingertips might catch lightning, I don’t even notice I’m there, not to mention heading there. I stumble into the familiar square, where Silver Street adjoins with Coronation, and pass the wide-door’d knick knack shop that coronates Silver Street. I walk a few more steps, laughing or crying or shouting, and, suddenly, I am somewhere else. Once that transformation happens, the breezes disappear as suddenly as they came and my psyche is becalmed, left to motivate itself by its own devices. Usually, that’s not a problem; the alternative to Silver Street is motivation enough by itself. It’s not often dangerous (although some versions I’ve stumbled upon have contained some form of weird, urban violence) but it is always fascinating. The other Silver Streets don’t exist in a vacuum; it’s not a universe full of alternatives of just this one street! How dull would that be?

Instead, the entire world around Silver Street (now there’s a Jerusalem for you) is also alternate, different, reconfigured. Is it because of Silver Street? That is, is Silver Street somehow so important that any changes to it are reflected in the world around it? That thought depresses me and so I answer, to myself since who would I have this conversation with, in the negative. It’s just that every Silver Street needs a world within which to exist and thus, whatever malevolent hand set the world(s) in motion, gave it a place which corresponds to it. On the aforementioned Argent Street, the City is a small commune that lives on the trade generated by nearby apple orchards. On S.I.L.V.E.R St., the neighborhood is dominated by personality merchants who cut and tailor opinions and moods to suit their customers’ wishes for the day. On Sterling Alley, the people wall wear top-hots except for on the 23rd of April where they shower each other with books and gives children roses. On S Way, talk is only allowed in whispers and serifs are currency, the rich owning all the sharp sounds they might wish for. And, finally (and one of my personal favorites) on Mercury Drive, the lights are all inverse and they make the most beautiful paintings in the world.

“Doublebreeze must be rich”, you’re now probably thinking, my dear guest. “How is he living in this, frankly and not to be rude, run down apartment? He has probably traded on the riches of a million versions and made a fortune!” your head is telling you, in that behind-my-eyes voice we all have. But, my dear guest, the fact is that I am not rich, not in the way citizens of our own City think of wealth in any case. I have always had my eyes and ears and olfactory senses geared towards one thing and one thing only. When the breezes blow through me and make my gait light as ball lightning or ponderous as a pachyderm or a mixture of both (resulting in a lurching dance of sorts, one part of me flying through the air after my own heart while another drags itself into the dirt), they eventually take me to the ever-winding ways of Silver Street in search of only one thing.

Dessert. In all versions of Silver Street, like all things are different, there are desserts. There are patisseries and boulangeries and boutique stalls and family owned bakeries and glazers versed in the Seventy Arts of Cooking and wonderful alchemists that wield their science in the ever elusive search of culinary perfection. And I shop at all of their places of business and I take back with me that and only that; desserts. I am the knight of the buttressed cake, a duelist of the rarest Order of the Pastry, a marvelous baron in the byzantine court of desserts! And here, in this shabby apartment, living my not-quite-ordinary life in the prison of my double breezes, I, Doublebreeze, partake and store and catalog said desserts. Come, come my guest, up you go and do set aside that dreadful cup of coffee I make for those not initiated (for I have had this conversation with select citizens of our City before, because eating alone, and especially dessert, is boring) and follow me into the Solarium and gaze upon

Apple dumplings from Eastern Pennsylvania, shipped to Argentate Boulevard at ludicrous expense, sachertorte straight from the hands of Franz Sacher while Metternich calls in at 361 Bright Lane, kunefe from Acre, sweet as dreams, chajá from Uruguay so fresh it still remembers the green plains where its dairy came from purchased at quite a price on our very own Silver Street from a lady underneath a pecan tree, mamounia from Aleppo, cream-y surface steeped in the history of ages pilfered for a smile by me from a lovely gentleman with quite gentle hands on the turn of Pearl Avenue as it spills into the ocean, marzipan from Toledo, still ringing with the sugary love that made it, Saint Honore from the well-lit streets of the City of Light blessed by the touch of the Living Saint who still walks its cobblestones at night, whispering to chefs who come to speak with him from all over the world, and all sorts of cakes, donuts, pastries, chocolate, and delights besides and all of them sampled and returned here by me from the alternate versions of this City. Possessed by my winds, set alight by flickering fire and doused by unplumbed depths, I gallivant from place to place on an endless quest for the perfect Chalice, one which I complete again and again: a quest for dessert.

Now, my guest. Shall we eat? I feel a light breeze blowing from the sea, carrying with it magic and peace and sanity and pleasure. Come, let’s eat! The doublebreezes blow.

The Augmented World – Yggdrasil Rising

My personality is a tatter made of bits and pieces of other people. The wind is high in my ears as I step outside of the school, briefly chill before I hug my coat tighter around me; it smells of rain and far away places, maybe the hill I am on acts as some sort of geographical receptacle for other points in space. The sun is setting but it’s not dark yet. Magic hour. I collect parts of people’s personalities that I find beautiful, useful, or fitting (all words for the same thing) and attach them to my own. A tree towers above me and, even though I am not stranger to the sensation, I take special note. This memory will be carved into my narrative, I suddenly know. The chill is heightened by the way the leaves’ green tinges the shade thrown by the tree, pink light of the climaxing sunset scattered between the organic holes in its tapestry. It gets colder but I don’t move; the wind is still blowing. I am a hub; I am the connector of disparate memories, disparate monads, disparate holes in the tapestry of the universe that we call “perspective”.

In the south-eastern periphery of my sight, quite long during magic hour on a hill, lies the City and a tree towers over it. Ağaç Ana reaches its hands into the sky, holding it in place. I smile. My own tree seems smaller (which, like all trees, it is) by comparison and that makes it seem more intimate (which, like all trees, it is). I take a step towards it and the wind increases. It is decidedly cold now. As my personality broke around the hardest day of my life, I realized that in rebuilding it, I could not repeat the same mistakes of my youth; monoliths are too fragile. Hours I set and tried to plan my own self while it, of course, coalesced silently into this hub. The wind suddenly changes direction and the air is filled with pollen; the tree is blossoming in the middle of the snap freeze, an Indian Winter. I raise my chin slightly into the wind and let the air blow around me, drawing tears from my eyes that are then whisked away. The tree stands in the midst of a roundabout and, around us, is a town.

Starting to walk is hard but I manage it. I have appointments in the City, mechanisms of ritual that the social unit does not suffer delay in. My tree walks with me, in the sense that I never really leave it; I leave behind a part of me that I, perhaps, picked up a month or a week or a lifetime ago. The hub molts, periodically (do not ask me of the cycle, I don’t know) and is an agile thing. As more pieces of people are added, so too pieces leave. This is useful; I am in may places at once. The road, slightly in need of repair, curves down the semi-golden ranges of the hill, leading to a highway. A highway towards the City, naturally. I have appointments. Above me, closer now, Ashvattha encompasses the sky, its multitude of branches reaching to the stars themselves. Count them: Cygnus, Alshain, Zhinü ducking underneath the cover and spinning her threads which hand across her million siblings. Walking the road, my thumb out for the kindness of strangers, I hug my tree.

Lights stop and then accelerate again and, suddenly, I am moving much faster towards the City. I will make my appointments. “What do you do” asks a voice beside me. “I gather people’s lives and store them inside me, forever branching into my own firmament” I reply. They nod. “Yes, that sounds reasonable, good idea” they follow up and a warm silence stretches besides us. They can tell my tree is swaying in the wind and they respect that. The cobblestones of the roundabout are welcoming and I feel at home in this town, even though I know nothing of its pathways and alleys, don’t know how it feels on Saturdays, have never seen its park crowded with people, have not tasted its myriad ways of being. It, like all towns and people, is a hub.

In the south-east, Yggdrasil rises and eclipses, finally, the sun. I have appointments and so does the City. I have tasted its markets in full bloom; I know the gentle curves of street and sidewalk. The lights stop and with a “good day”, I depart. Breathing deep, I turn down the boulevard and smile at its shadows waving hello to me. Yes, my friends, I’m back but only parts of me; a part has been left behind. “Yes, of course” they say. They are practical, being shadows and boulevard shadows at that (the most practical of shadows). “You’re a hub”.