What follows is believed to be the first ever inscription of the recursive poem “Meandering Wastes” by the 21st Century writer, Michael Scott Hand. This fragment was recovered using the latest in digital archaeological equipment, wherein data can be extracted from the sedentary level of matter formed during that which we refer to as “Event X”.
beyond the far meandering wastes
an eager writer takes his place
scratching words with a fountain pen
when he ends each line he starts again
Combining this fragment with the only other known version of this poem (the so-called sixth recursion), we hope to be able to reconstruct a final “seventh recursion” representative of the author’s original intent.
Hearts are breaking
Pain that’s stored
Now enraged and flaming: soars
Skies grow dark
The sound of fury
Turns to laughter
The sound of laughter
Turns to screams
Those screams now wake you
From your dreams
And skies lit up
Reveal the schemes
Police line streets
Their visors gleam
Smoke and water
Remnants of society cast
The gulf grows wide
Soon you’ll need to pick a side
Reflected by the fires glow
That spark of revolution seems
So far away and yet it gleams
Like visors worn by armed police
In the eyes of protesters and of thieves
The light of revolution speaks
The light of revolution shows
In the streets the fires grow
“It’s a rough world out there, kid,” I say and I exhale smoke. I’m an old man. I have a small, prickly beard and a moustache and my hair is long and grey and gathers around the collar of my coat. I’m wearing finger-less gloves.
I’m sitting in a small, almost-empty bar. The lights hang from the ceiling, wearing old-fashioned fabric, oriental lampshades. The lampshades are red so the interior of the room is red: red light against shadow. Smoke coils upwards.
The boy looks at me, uncomprehending. I take a sip of my drink.
Outside the bar a sandstorm is raging. But I am only aware of the storm when I look at the windows. The rest of the time it’s silent. I look at the little boy and he is silent. The boy is me–from the past. The old man is me–from the future.
So, what of the present? Where am I now? Am I merely the narrator, the creator of this fiction? Or am I the sandstorm that rages beyond this flimsy half-place; this dive bar at the End of Everything?
Perhaps I am vibration of the window pane, or the truth that spills from the old man’s lips or the curious face of the child looking up at him.
Am I filled with hope, or truth?
Outside: there is a sandstorm.
Jameson North walked the woods almost every day for going-on fifty years. He liked to walk. Each day, around mid-morning, he’d say goodbye to his wife Elsie and follow the meandering stepping stones from the house to the trees. Then he’d follow the trees out to the main road: Pine Tree Drive.
There wasn’t much traffic. Occasionally a logging truck or lost tourist would pass by. Sometimes it was somebody he knew—Sheriff Austin, Ray or Martha Bertram, John Johnson Senior (his son was a deputy now, if you could believe it)—and they’d lean on their horn as they passed and he’d greet them with a brisk wave.
Little less than a mile down the road there was a parking space and a public bin (the spaces were usually empty, but the bin was always overflowing). There was a sign that had stood since the 1970s without being defaced. The sign informed tourists they were only a short walk away from the “World’s Famous!” Woodsfell Falls. The trail had fallen into disrepair and was barely distinguishable except—for here and there—where handrails poked through overgrown bushes.
Jameson didn’t need the handrails, nor did he follow the path (which not only lead to the Falls but also back around towards Blankville). Instead he turned right and strode a path of his own making: one that would eventually lead him home. It would have been easy to get lost if you didn’t know the way: Jameson North knew the way.
What exactly were these walks to Jameson? He had never really thought about it. Jameson didn’t consider himself a deep thinker, though he was, in a way. All he knew was that he found some comfort in the routine of this daily exertion, some communion with nature amongst the scattered pine cones.
Jameson was not far from the track when he realised something was different. He frowned although there were already such deep-set creases on his face that the expression was barely discernible.
One of the trees had been hollowed out; a large strip of bark peeled away to reveal a disturbing, unlikely interior. He stepped in to take a closer look.
“Oh… God…” he said and then he clutched his hands to his face.
Sometimes I think it’s important to share a bad painting. It doesn’t have to be a painting, of course, it can be a poem or a story or whatever. Sometimes it’s good to soften the focus around what we consider to be “good” in order to let “okay” into the frame, or “interesting” or, as is the case with this painting of a desert–even “bad”.
There are several reasons I think this important: the first being that a simple scale of good and bad when applied to artistic endeavours is generally unhelpful. There are, of course, matters of technical aptitude that can be applied to art (in any form) and yet even these rules break down as we switch through mediums and styles, reminding us that art is not a set of rules that cleanly differentiates between what is good and what is bad.
I might add that art is not “the opposite” of such rules, but rather: it exists distinctly apart from them: art cannot be bound by any system of rules or standards, it is an ever-changing living communion between the artist and the world; it is nature and nurture and it is neither of those things. It is the breathless voice of the wind.
Another reason that I feel like it’s important to share “bad” art: although, as artists, we may claim to exist beyond these rules and suppositions mentioned above, we are undoubtedly cowed by them. It is easy to feel obligated to exist within these arbitrary scales and it is no secret that the artist is the harshest (and often cruellest) judge of their own work. However, the simple fact is this, and it’s such an important fact that I’m putting it in a quote block:
You can never trust an artists’ own opinion of their work: this includes your own.
Thirdly, distinct and yet related to the points I have already made–we live in such a society where the much of what we see has been highly calibrated to appear “perfect”.
What we don’t see is that even when something appears perfect it is actually a composite: built from the effort of years, built from practice, built from dozens of rough drafts. For every “perfect” painting perhaps ten bad ones must precede it. For every perfect sentence the same. And still, perfection is such a vacuous concept; if Leonardo DaVinci were alive today would he claim that the Mona Lisa is perfect? Personally I think he’d want to burn the thing, or have another go at painting it. Because that’s what artists do.
By sharing images of the process (which many people do online), or even completed “bad” paintings like my desert, we open ourselves up to learning and we can help others learn. Instead of merely showing the best of myself I also seek to show the imperfections and in doing so, I become more true to myself; I become more real.
My “Bad Painting of a Desert” is a practice piece, it is me messing around with (digital) brushes while the TV is on in the background, it is me studying images of sand dunes and of clouds and of colours and of trying to replicate what I see (or perhaps, even more importantly, what I feel). I consider it a “failed painting” which is to say that I had no intention of ever posting it, but then for the reasons above, I changed my mind.
Maybe, one day, I’ll create “A Mediocre Painting of a Desert”, maybe I won’t. In essence it’s unimportant, because from the very moment I hit publish this work ceases to become a “failed painting” and becomes something else, it becomes exactly what it is and what it always was: it becomes “Bad Painting of a Desert”.
It is art.
And it is not the only “failed painting” I have shared so far. For others, check out Egypt and Shovel; both of which see me experimenting with entirely new mediums. Objectively, neither of them are good paintings and yet, by virtue of their very existence, they are art.
So? Don’t be afraid to make bad art and if you’re brave enough: share it. Because the world needs it. Other artists need it and maybe… you need it too.
Casting south from that exotic port they call Absalom, the Maiden Circe and its crew were at first pleased to be away from that foreign city with all its strange customs and curved blades that are renowned for their ability to behead a man with ease.
Yet as we rounded the cape and the looming walls of the jungle presented itself to us, a great many of the men made utterance that they would rather return to the sandstone walls of Absalom than face the jungle and its multitude of dark places.
Although thick forests grow in the land of my birth, the jungle was an altogether different thing to behold. Ne’er have I seen trees and plants grow in such abundance, crowding amongst and atop one another in a desperate clamour for sunlight. Such was the number of trees that no land could be seen, so it was impossible to tell what manner of beasts dwelt beneath the broad canopies of the trees.
The mouth of the river at once humbled our own great Char, appearing at once less like a river and more like a great inland sea. A good dozen of the Queen’s ships would have had little trouble docking at the sea port of Elangin, though the moorings there are rotted and unsteady in places so I would not recommend it.
The deep blue of the ocean merged with the thick brown outpouring of water from the river’s mouth, but this was not the alchemical affluent that we are used to, but dust stirred up from the bottom of the river. The water was so discoloured by the stuff that it was impossible to tell if anything dwelt in the waters below the ship and it gave me cause to wonder if everything in this place was designed to obfuscate some truth about itself.
I wished to obtain a sample of the jungle water, renowned by some for its regenerative properties and I lowered a bucket from the side of the ship. When the bucket was a matter of inches away from the water a great churning began beneath it and several shapes began to bob up and down in the water, showing a myriad of teeth.
At first the deckhand was so perturbed by this frightening vision that he almost let the rope go, but I ordered him to hold steady and he dropped the bucket into the water, whereupon I promptly ordered him to haul it back up again with great haste. A sample of the brown river water was one thing, but if I could capture one of those toothed horrors in the bucket than I would be happier still.
Beneath the water the bucket was pulled violently this way and that and I was forced to grab the rope and help the deckhand retrieve. Attached to the side of the bucket, locked into the wood by their teeth, were no less than five of the sharp-toothed fish, each one about the size of sailor’s closed fist.
When we hauled the bucket onto the deck the deckhand stumbled away and several others did likewise, terrified of the fearsome creatures, but as with most fish there was little to fear from these fanged snappers once they had been removed from their natural habitat; I watched as they flopped grotesquely and drowned on the air and I made myself the note of never to fall into the river Yolan.