The stories I write are influenced by thousands of years of genetic memory. They arise from the blood and the mud of my ancestors as they migrated across the globe, ending up at last in this far-flung Southern province, gazing towards Antarctica.
I can feel that primal heart-beat of the Universe and the exploding of our sun. The scorching and cooling of chemical balance and imbalance that birthed the improbability of life. Those first bubbles that rose from the mouths of the first fish and then: those slimy creatures who wrestled their way from the brine.
Those grotesque, slippery beings so different to us and yet—somehow—related, left engravings in the shapes of their bodies on the sand. And where the grooves crossed over one another they almost resembled letters; the very first stories written there, on the beach.
Posted at 10:36 am by Michael, on February 25, 2019
I’m writing to you from a future you would never have imagined.
A man tinged fake-orange, all bluster and bad hair sits churlishly atop the throne of the King of the World; but for how much longer?
The foundations of democracy crack and crumble, supports are hauled in and the structure stands-but-does-not-stand; it is like a House of Cards so fleeting, impending collapse–inevitable. Dust rises from the rubble and it stings our eyes.
Yet, even though our eyes might sting, we can see all too clearly.
The rivers are dry; the fish are dead. The poor and disenfranchised huddle in cages, lashed by salty brine, lashed by sand, lashed by whips wielded by the hands of their fellow man. What will suffice?
WHAT WILL SUFFICE?
This world will do away with us. As we hurt her she will hurt us back. Already she withdraws, but not because we are killing her–oh no, to make that lofty affirmation would be to greatly overstate our abilities.
She–the Earth–is far greater and more powerful than we will ever understand; and it is at HER bidding that the buildings tumble and fall, it is at HER bidding that the oceans rise.
She has seen this all before.
The Deluge lingers in the ice, eager and obsessed. It awaits the order to rush free and roar and drown mankind and all of our sorrows and woes. To punish us–again–for our collective wrongs.
We cannot escape this fate, we cannot placate the Earth. Nor can we escape Her.
We are bound here, it is a simple truth. This tiny orb as viewed from space cannot be defined: it is more than Earth or “Mother”, it is both of those things and more. It is fragile yet protected, surrounded by a thin bubble of atmosphere, swaddled by the star-lit brilliance of a Universe so, so far away.
Posted at 3:27 pm by Michael, on February 15, 2019
In the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Last Action Hero, the lines between reality and fiction are blurred as an archetypal “magic ticket” allows the characters to pop into (and out of) films themselves (for more on “popping in and out” of things read Godel, Escher and Bach).
An Action Replay is a cheating device for computers and gaming consoles that wedged in-between the game and the machine and let you input codes that could grant invulnerability, the ability to walk through walls (we spoke of this unsacred power, called “no clip”, only in hushed tones) and whatever else you can think of.
In a way, the Action Replay was like the magic ticket from Last Action Hero.
In Last Action Hero there’s a bunch of action-movie rules that allow Arnie to perform death-defying feats without feeling pain (or taking bullet damage). In a horror movie, y’all know better than to say “I’ll be right back!”
In video games there’s heaps of rules, like:
The “real world” (this one) has plenty of rules as well and we’re especially good at thinking up names for them, like “Common Law” and “The Laws of Thermodynamics” and “Thermomix Instruction Manual”.
But here’s the thing: in movies the rules can be adjusted. Sometimes this rule-bending is embedded into the story itself. Other times the characters might have an innate awareness of “the rules” and thus be able to bend them to their advantage. Sometimes, as in Last Action Hero, there’s a magic ticket involved.
In video games you can use an Action Replay or input a bunch of button presses on your controller, or, if you’re feeling especially brave, you can type”no_clip” into the console.
What’s out there, beyond the darkness? Does one see Truth? The Face of God? Or merely more emptiness?
Here, in “real life” the rules are much harder to break. But lordy, how we try.
We build Large Hadron Colliders. We read self-help manuals. We gaze into crystals and and cast nets and cast runes and cast faces in bronze and cast “hot new talent” in “spectacular retellings of old family classics”.
Each thing that we build is a ritual; every word that we speak is a spell.
In an attempt to further unpack such an idea I will now attempt to draw a parallel between the underrated classic Arnold Schwarzenegger film Last Action Hero and the Action Replay cheat code device. Because the Action Replay was kind of like the magic ticket from Last Action Hero.
We spend so long pretending that we are, or seeking to make ourselves, “whole” that we have been distracted from the truth—we come in pieces. From the cells in our bodies to the hairs on our heads, our thoughts and words and the hypocrisies to which we fall victim. From our first squealing breaths as we emerge into this world: attached to a cord, attached to a placenta, attached to a mother, from all of which we are detached.
These are the pieces from which we are made. Our minds, no less, our knowledge, also comes in pieces. It is relayed to us as propaganda, education, opinion. We fill in the blanks, we assemble ourselves, we reassemble ourselves. We are the ultimate transformers. Even now, your cells are reforging themselves, dying and being reborn.
On a school excursion, I once watched a scientist extracting DNA. She held up a tiny vial and used a pair of tweezers to tease a pale, viscous substance into the light so that the whole class could see. This is what you’re made of.
It’s nonsense, of course, but that’s not to say it isn’t true.
And so, assuming that you are willing to accept the proposition that us living beings come in pieces, the next logical realisation is that so does everything else. The entire world is in pieces. The Universe. And as such, it quickly becomes self-evident that any concept of wholeness is a fiction.
Why then this yearning, this constant search for togetherness?
There are functional concerns to consider. A machine does not work without the union of its parts. And human beings are nothing if not spectacular machines. Our blood would not flow if not for our hearts and our hearts would not pump if it weren’t for our brains.
An origami duck, unfolded, becomes a sheet of paper. A sheet of paper, laid flat, reveals a recipe for soup. And just like that—our yearning for wholeness—carries yet more subtle realisations, hidden between the folds.
We know nothing of what existed before the Universe came into existence. But somehow, out of that murky, incomprehensible void something changed. Something… came together.
Out of that cosmogonic collision was a rapid exhalation, creating space and time and matter and, even, eventually… on a certain spinning rock, perhaps the most fantastic thing of all: an awareness with which it could perceive itself.
And so, from the absoluteness of a void in which nothing existed, was born a Universe
diverse enough in its constituents to create life. In order to know itself the Universe had to separate itself. And we must do the same, no longer seeking wholeness—some entropic void in which to melt away—but by seeking to comprehend the disparate pieces from which all this has been assembled.
We can do this by acknowledging the pieces that make up our world, and our lives. Firstly, we must accept that there is not one unifying truth but a multitude of complexities, patterns within patterns, cells composed of atoms composed of… strings? Perhaps vibrating to a tune we cannot hear: a cosmic symphony playing out in the explosions of stars and emotions.
It is overwhelming to think that way. The weight of it is crushing. It is far easier to dispel the shades of grey and view things in black and white; life as a set of IKEA instructions, some paradoxical Escherian nightmare.
Instructions are useful. We cannot dissociate ourselves entirely from order. But we must steel our constant search for it against the fundamental understanding that we come in pieces.
Order from chaos is a lofty ideal, but even that simple supposition is based on
the idea that chaos exists at all. And if chaos exists, once we have built our Towers of Babel, everything is still—at its core—composed of chaos. A cake is not an egg, but it has eggs in it.
In accepting this we come closer to understanding ourselves and our place in the Universe. Our imperfections define us, just as the undulations of gravitational waves reveal their existence to researchers.
We must work towards smaller, achievable goals. We must ignore the picture on the front of the jigsaw box and instead focus on how the individual pieces fit together.
We will get old this way. The years will slip past and, one day, we may find ourselves at the communal table of a nursing home and realise that the jigsaw laid out before us is still incomplete. Perhaps a few pieces are lost, or have simply fallen from the table.
Sometimes, a passer-by, a stranger, an acquaintance, a friend, will offer up one of these pieces as they pass. Invite them in for a closer look, because others are often uniquely capable of fitting things together where we could see no way forward.
And even then as the shadows lengthen and the dinner bell rings, will we realise that there’s no pieces left—that the picture is whole. But it does not match the picture on the box.
Sometimes, we’re left with a picture we did not expect; something that we have never seen before and could never have imagined. And it is in that moment, as we struggle to catch our breath, that we finally achieve the exact intention with which the Universe—and we—were created.