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Chapter 20: Notes (XI)

I had not looked at that thread since I saved it and sent it to myself, back at Spelunk 04! I was avoiding it. I was worried that the separation would begin again. And while I can't say for sure that it the separation should not begin again, I was worried that if it were to occur again, I would not be able to finish my report.

But I have been writing the report -- or rather, pointedly not writing the report -- or, even more precisely, writing not-the-report -- for quite a while now. And it's become fairly obvious that I'm doing this in order to avoid things like that thread. But the Cafe is waiting. I have a duty to do. The separation has not occurred, and that means I think I am safe for now.

I remember, when I was first starting to write, that I kept telling myself I needed to produce something that could stand up to scrutiny not only from within the Cafe but from without. Present self as sane, sensitive. But there is no way to square this circle -- presenting myself as sane and sensitive is incompatible with telling the truth, because in truth, I am not sane and sensitive. Or at least I was not, at the time.

If only it had been feasible to get Jenny to write the report, and not me -- she might have been able to construct a public face that would not undermine itself, both unflinching and apparently credible. But I'm different -- unless I flinch, I won't seem credible. But if I do flinch, I won't be credible.

If only Jenny could have. Wonderful blameless Jenny. Or strange but pure Aaron. If only someone else could, if only it wasn't me, if only.

Present self as sane, sensitive? No. Present self as penitent, wretched. Present self as culpable, loathsome. Present self as responsible for at least three deaths (let's not kid ourselves here). Present self as Eris at the feast and the snake in the Garden.

Let's not kid ourselves here. No matter how much I make myself slick with honeyed words, there is no way to slide out of my misdeed. I didn't pull the trigger, but I provided the ammunition. As it were. I have been blustering about in the hope of building up enough verbiage to somehow overcome the challenge without ever once confronting its core. I thought I could just somehow present a mundane account . . . a sublunary account of what happened, leaving out the poisoned jewel in the middle. No more of that, now. Either the poisoned jewel kills a tyrant or kills an innocent, but I cannot pretend it is not poisoned. Let the light pour in, and fill me up.

Back up. Whence this sudden change of heart?

Well you see, dear reader (and I know, now, that you'll exist, reading these very words I'm typing now), I woke up this morning with, as you might expect . . . a hangover. Cause and effect. Good old arrangements of matter, doing their thing. There was light streaming in through my window, the bleak homogeneous light of a bright but overcast morning. I kept my eyes half-closed, because anything more would exacerbate my headache.

I tried, half-heartedly, to fall asleep again. Then, at once, after maybe five or ten minutes of that doomed endeavor, I suddenly found my eyes snapping wide open. It was unwilled and happened before I could realize what I was doing. The light hurt my eyes, and my cheeks and sinuses pounded. And yet I immediately found myself completely indifferent to the pain, in a way and with a thoroughness I find difficult to describe to my satisfaction.

I loved the light. I recognized the light. It was that same light that had shone over the holy hill over the plain, back at Spelunk 04! I scrambled out of bed, whisked on a bathrobe, and rushed out the front door, eager to see my old acquaintance in its full splendor.

It was an overcast day like so many others: uniform cloud cover making of the sky an unpainted swath of canvas, a grayish glow suffusing everything terrestrial, fuzzing shadows to the edge of nonexistence. Beads of last night's rain revealed themselves on rhododendrons rendered in a minimal palette, no leaf in full shadow, just lighter green here and darker there. The neighbors' red car sported a dully glowing sheen on top, a reflection of the void above. End of the line. Place where there is no darkness.

In this environment I felt a sudden rearrangement of priorities. I remembered the separation,and the plain, and my stint as the avatar of chaos and abandon, thrysus in one hand and caduceus in the other.

I remembered the Cafe, where I felt at home, and I remembered Spelunk 04!, which showed me how much there is to be done for this world which is -- and I have always been right when I have inclined this way -- not a home. I looked about at the capriciously arranged material, the precise curve of the red car's silhouette (why that curve, out of an infinity of possible curves?), at the leaves of the rhododendron, jutting in numerous directions.

I yearned to rearrange them.
I heard the call then, stronger than I have in weeks.
And I,
to all observers a young man standing in an inexplicable daze on his porch,
walked over to a rhododendron bush and began to . . .
put the leaves in place.
I knew where they should go,
and there they went, and I saw that it was good.
A shiver went down my spine and the hairs all along my arms stood up.
I was newly charged.

I broke out laughing. How must I appear? What would my parents, my old hometown friends -- now in the military, mostly, executing duties of a very different sort -- make of me, here, moving to laughter -- to tears -- by the positions of rhododendron leaves?

I am not a man.

I am a hollow vessel into which the machinery of the world's base substance -- of Mundum -- has poured its nectar. I am a piece of glassware (as Jenny accidentally put it in that thread -- felicitous typo, fortunate fault!) which, if it is not filled, is nothing. And I have been filled.

There are two stories running in parallel here.

One is of the story of strange little man with a cramped little mind, ostentatiously furnished but lacking in basic amenities, who helped lead his strange little friends into a drug-fueled, sleep-deprived riot of bad decisions, a failed party so failed it had a death toll.

Another is the story of a unworthy vessel into whom was poured a spark of something Other. That spark may be divine or devilish, but without it the vessel is nothing, and knowing nothing else, the vessel embraces it without reservation.

Another is the story of a unworthy vessel into whom was poured a spark of something Other. That spark may be divine or devilish, but without it the vessel is nothing, and knowing nothing else, the vessel embraces it without reservation.

One is of the story of strange little man with a cramped little mind, ostentatiously furnished but lacking in basic amenities, who helped lead his strange little friends into a drug-fueled, sleep-deprived riot of bad decisions, a failed party so failed it had a death toll.

I am making a bet. I am going all in, and betting everything on the chance that the second story is worth choosing.

Covered in goosebumps from head to toe, I looked up through misty eyes at the blank sky, which, like Mundum, admitted of no variation. I will not shrink, I said. I am a great sinner or a great saint, but not neither. Present my actions to the world and let the world judge. There are others, Salby hoped -- and he was right.

And here is what I saw at that moment this morning, when I looked up at the sky.

I saw a man, a very old man, walking through the English countryside on a day much like this one, hand in hand with his disciple. By all sublunary indicators, it is not a happy day: the man has just had a series of grueling final conversations with family members and former friends, who at long last find themselves unable to put up with his increasingly strange ways. He speaks of old harsh withered things; he has outbursts; he is, in every way, at odds with the world. And what is more, it is the appointed day, on which his disciple, the one man left who understands, is to die.

But Leonard Salby is happy. William Chen is happy, too. They press palm to palm, affectionately. They run together across the fields. They skip for sheer joy. They know they have strayed too far from the world to go back. They have built towers upon towers of recondite theory and lore, towers few could scale, were they inclined, which no one is. It has taken many, many years to build their monument. Many sleepless nights, abuzz with passionate conversation, and many dreary days, filled from sunrise on with the contemplation of minutiae -- will this next keystone in the grand design bear its appointed load? -- and the monotonous clack of the typewriter.

But they have been happy through all of this, and they are happy now. They labor under burdens not quite matched in texture by any endured anywhere else in the burdensome human world, and yet they can sincerely say to each other: "his yoke is easy and his burden light." It is back-breaking, soul-breaking work, and yet it is the easiest thing in the world.

When you see the monument you must leave behind, truly see it, it is harder not to build it than to build it, however your back may cry out as you lug stone after stone to the construction site.

I am with these men if I am anything. I have nothing to hide. I am a terrible thing, but only because I am a conduit for things above. I offer no sublunary defense for my actions, and indeed I still shudder before them. But the heavens, I think, cry out in their favor. If I am wrong, let me be torn apart. I will submit gladly to the onslaught.

So I'm here, now, and I'm not going to lie or hold back, I'm going to tell the story straight. Before the sky, rhetoric is nothing. No massaging, no sleight of hand, no political framing, none of that. This is the report. And I am going to finish it today. And I will be judged as I will be judged. torgo has informed me that he is in communication with Lugnut, regarding the possibility of communication by phone or otherwise. Maybe I'm wrong, but maybe, just maybe, the world is waking up.

I am going to start a new thread on the Cafe, and dump all of my notes up to this point. Nothing to hide. If you're reading this on the Cafe, expect the rest of the story before the day is over.

And now, to write.

Chapter 21: Notes (XII)

So I'm just telling a story, now -- telling a story to you, yes you, Cafe Chesscourt patron. One thing after the next. Where were we?

I had been reading, an hour or so after midnight, and something in me had changed. Jenny noticed it, and asked me if I was all right.

I think it was at this precise second that the separation began. It might have been as much as a minute or so afterward. If so, I don't remember who was reading when it started.

I am not sure how to describe the separation, but I am newly committed to telling the story straight, as straight as possible, and so I will try as hard as I can.

It presented itself all at once, as a composite whole, in a way that is difficult to divide into constituent parts without feeling as though one has done an injustice to the nature of the phenomenon. But divide I must.

First, imagine an almost indescribably intense awareness of the location of surrounding objects. It is difficult to say what I mean, because of course one is always, on some level, aware of the arrangements of objects in one's environment. This awareness, however, is a nebulous and largely unconscious thing, tied up in messy ways with the faculties of vision and proprioception. As an analogy, consider the difference between your abstract awareness of a room in your dwelling which you are not currently inside and the direct awareness you experience when that room is not actually before your eyes. When you are not in your bathroom, you nonetheless know (barring extremely unlikely contingencies) that your bathroom exists, and that it has a sink and a toilet and so forth, which have some spatial relationship to one another. However, these awarenesses do not occupy space in consciousness unless you explicitly call them up. If asked (say) whether your toilet is to the left or right of your sink, you may call up a ghostly mental sketch of the toilet and sink, and inspect this sketch in search of the answer. But the sketch only exists for a moment, and when not involved in such a process you do not have a persistent, unavoidable awareness of these objects and their arrangements.

Imagine, likewise, that your ordinary visual/spatial awareness is much like the "ghostly mental sketch" just mentioned. To some extent, on some level, you are aware that, say, you are sitting in a chair, and that this involves your torso being positioned above the chair. But, unless there is some special reason to attend to this fact, it does not persist in awareness. You cannot avoid seeing what is front of you, but you can and do usually avoid "seeing" (as it were) the fact that there is a chair beneath you, or that this chair is about three feet (and not, say, ten feet, or five inches) away from a neighboring desk. But a hallmark of the separation is that these spatial relations become as pressing and persistent to the conscious mind as vision. I saw, and kept on seeing, vividly and without reprieve, that I was seated on the floor just so, that Aaron was a certain distance to my left, that a corner of his blanket abutted my left knee, that a flat-screen TV was embedded in the wall behind Jenny a very specific distance away, and so forth.

Now, add to this conception another element: not only are you aware of these arrangements, you are deeply aware of their potential to be different, and the fact that you are capable of changing them, and that other arrangements might be better. One way of putting it might be that it is a version of the basic "revolutionary urge," focused not on the structure of society but on the material building blocks of which society, and everything else, are ultimately formed. The revolutionary realizes that the social relations he sees around him are only a tiny blip in a vast space of possible social relations; he realizes the vast, vertigo-inducing arbitrariness of it all, the presence of so many billions of little particulars that could well be different, and perhaps should be. The revolutionary usually thinks in sweeping terms: forms of government, economic systems. But imagine a state of mind (and I urge you, stretch your empathy as far as it will go and avoid to the utmost the urge to giggle) in which this same urge applies to every arrangement of matter, regardless of social import.

I was aware that our seating pattern was arbitrary. I was aware that I might well be on Aaron's left, rather than his right, or in Jenny's place next to Kelsey. I was aware that the couch could be easily slid into any number of places on the floor. I was aware that the utensils in the dishrack were organized according to no rational design and could be moved with the littlest effort into any desired configuration. I was aware that there were food items in the refrigerator, in the shelves, which might be removed or remixed. I was aware that there was a roll of toilet paper in the upstairs bathroom where Aaron and I had talked, and found it remarkable -- I remember this specifically -- that it was all coiled up, pressed against itself, a great mass of material cooped up in a tiny cylinder. It could be so many places, strewn across the house, or eaten, stuffed into ears, used to wrap other objects -- but there it was, all of it, on that rack. A world ripe with potential, waiting for rebirth.

Now, why do I call this feeling "the separation"? This involves a third aspect (much as I hate to speak of numbered "aspects," since, as I have said, it presented itself as one continuous whole). This aspect is something like a deeply felt sense (i.e. a sense felt as immediately, persistently etc. as vision and hearing) that the world is divided, or "separated," into an "upper" part and a "lower" part. This is physically literal but also feels pregnant with metaphorical energies of various sorts.

The "lower" (or, following WC, "sublunary") part of the division comprised me, the other Spelunkers, Marsh's house, and more broadly, the whole of human settlements, clinging to the ground, leaving miles and miles of open air above uninhabited and empty. (I do not think it possible to convey, to one for whom the separation is not occurring, just how comic this image feels: a sprawling, fearfully thin shell spread across the earth, huddling to the ground, cowed by gravity and defying it only as a stunt, or for the purpose -- as in air travel -- of relocating material from one piece of the shell to another.)

The "higher" (or "celestial") part of the division comprised the atmosphere and the whole of outer space. Metaphorically -- although in the terms of the separation, which presents itself as a continuous whole, it doesn't feel right to call this "metaphorical" -- the upper realms are a place of necessity rather than arbitrariness. Rather than a desk here, a couch there, we have the heavens, unbroken and (fundamentally) unchanging.

Once the separation had happened to me, I immediately became convinced of several additional notions: (1) There are correct ways to arrange sublunary material, and incorrect ones, and it is important (unimaginably important, with crushing fear associated with the possibility of failure) for me to secure, as far as possible, the correct arrangements.

(2) Producing correct arrangements would in some way produce a sort of "alignment" between the two realms. At the time, I remember phrasing this to myself (insistently and repetitively) as "the correct arrangement will please the sky."

(3) That producing the correct arrangements would not necessarily ensure worldly gain. In fact, there was an immediate sense (similar in its vividness and persistence to the "perceptions" previously described) that the "correctly arranged" world might be much more unpleasant than the world I was accustomed to. This, however, did not seem especially important, relative to the abject, transcendental horror I felt regarding the possibility of "displeasing the sky."

(4) That I, as a mere human body (thinking in material terms), had very limited powers of rearrangement, and would have to be shrewd if I wanted to have any great effect upon the sublunary arrangement as a whole. The sheer size of the sublunary world -- cities, suburbs, uninhabited wilds, sprawling steppes, forbidding tundra -- was immediately (vividly, persistently etc.) apparent to me. I was small; the failures of arrangement were great; I would need to leverage forces bigger than myself.

It was this last point which led me, with a curious sort of cunning and common sense still remaining in me, to concoct a plan. I reasoned as follows. The separation appeared to have occurred, in me, as a consequence of either reading The Northern Caves, taking Adderall (two pills, where the others had only taken one), or both. Reading TNC had not (yet) produced the separation in any of the other Spelunkers. If the other Spelunkers were, because of psychological differences, unable to experience the separation, then I could not use them (with any efficiency) in the rearrangement project. But I did not yet know this. The course of action was obvious: I should cause the other Spelunkers to consume a larger quantity of Adderall, and see whether this, in combination with the reading of TNC, produced the separation in them as well. If it did, we could build from there, harnessing whatever physical forces the six of us were capable of accessing.

It was clear to me that if I continued to appear visibly distraught, this could only hinder me in my efforts. Thus, I feigned a return to my normal demeanor, and this seemed to work; Jenny was reassured, and I passed the stack of papers to Aaron without incident (aware as never before of the precise geometries involved in the delicate dance of human hands giving and receiving materials, and of paper listing under the action of gravity and unevenly distributed pressure). Aaron, as chipper as I'd ever seen him, took up the torch:

"but lodown amungst there was a silent outcry and the shock struck the multitude and no more chants returned. yet the advancement of our savior, blumissimus all around sprouting out ivy athorn and growing grand whorls of purpled and snottish roses out from the sockets of his symmetrical radiating skull arrangment, the advancement of our redeemer, cleanth yclept, was not hindered by the lowing of the bayed and cowed bussoes, and so readily he sallied with a breaker running off every streaming plindt of his rupt and burr and wept. under strumth we alfull sumeal seak his beating ninefold hearts and every heart apierce with the plums of spring, ungleate and flemmed, fully sull, so that we go under, forevermore, beneath, meneath, u n em suckin bubbles out of the brine mulperial."

While Aaron was saying this, I observed, with my newly heightened senses, the rapt attention which every member of the circle paid to his face -- the face of this man who they all so hoped would remain in this benign state until we dispersed -- and through a sequence of easily calculated discrete movements I rearranged local material so that my fingers were inside Kelsey's handbag and her prescription bottle was in my grasp. No one else noticed. A trick of rearrangement such as this is trivial, when the separation is in effect.

I decorously waited for Aaron to finish, and then asked if anyone wanted more coffee. This had already been established as one of my social roles, and indeed everyone's cups were empty. Everyone wanted a refill, and I went to the kitchen counter. With my newfound powers of spatial attention it was, once again, merely trivial to convert a succession of pills to fine dust and to mix this dust imperceptibly into the brimming pot of coffee I had earlier prepared. This I poured and served. More soon, Cafe.