writer sets pace
line starts again
writer sets pace
line starts again
Every day is the same day. The same as the one before. The same as the hundredth, the thousandth, the millionth.
Today is the very same as a day one million days ago. That’s 2739 years ago.
That’s, give or take, the year 740 BC. This number is only an approximation, as I’m sure there’s more complex maths involved that refuse to allow myself to be distracted by.
Today is the very same day as a day that occurred in 740 BC. The sun rises and sets. The tides surge in and out. Somebody is killed. A baby is born. A cold wind blows. A dust storm strands travellers. War is declared. A treaty is signed. Contracts are made and kept and broken. A forbidden kiss is stolen beneath a light that flickers.
The stars look down, even when the sun is shining. We crush the past. We compact it further with each step new step. Each new brick. Each landfill. Each new building foundation. We build a culture, each one a prototype, each one eerily reminiscent of the one that came before.
Faces beyond living memory stare at us from their portraits. What knowledge would they impart? Could they save us? Can we save ourselves?
At night, the stars sparkle. The moon is there. The moon was there two thousand years ago and was seen by someone like you.
Time swallowed them. History became words, numbers, records. It is incomprehensible. They are so far removed from us they are aliens. They are engravings and wood-etchings and cave paintings. They are skeletons flagged to be carbon-dated.
They were real.
Today is the same as a day a million days ago.
Except: you are here.
I see so much incredible art (in all mediums) that, at times, it makes me hesitant to share my own. I am certain that, similarly stricken with that peculiar malady that marks us all imposters, many others share this curse.
It is time to break it.
Art is an expression of a truth that lives inside the artist—a connection to the person who created it. And by experiencing art we may yet glimpse some reflection of our own selves, some connection shining back at us from the facets of another mind.
This is why—when you’re at a concert listening to your favourite band—you get chills down your spine. It is also why it happens when you’re listening to a busker in the mall.
Art is an expression of truth: not the truth, but a truth. Sometimes the truth is confusing. Sometimes it’s clumsy. Sometimes it’s incomplete.
But only by seeking to break that curse that makes us afraid may we bring these truths to light. And one by one, piece by piece, we can begin to gather together enough of those sparkling, splintered fragments to build something greater.
Perhaps: a castle.
The only rational state for the artist is to despise their audience, and in so doing, clad themselves in armour against injurious comments and opinions.
The artist is a flickering candle, a flame so easily snubbed out by the thumb and forefinger of logic and reason.
If the artist is to believe in science, then how important is it for us to maintain—stood firmly—with a foot (or other limb) in each world.
The artist aligns their self between two incompatible absolutes.
The pendulum of consciousness swings back and forth across this border and the subconscious can only be where the conscious is not.
It is upon this border of irreconcilable conflict that my mind becomes a forge and I strike—again and again—with the hammer.
Is the rock that defeats the scissors the SAME rock that yields to paper?
Or is there an infinite hierarchy of rock, paper, scissors “within which” each game takes place?
And does this hierarchy cycle at the dictate of our neurons, which are attempting to assign randomness* so as to appear unpredictable†.
Will the same pair of scissors always yield to the same rock?
A broken pair of scissors can never cut the paper.
Therefore, the “scissors that cut” must be “remade‡” or “new”.
Down a robust wooden ladder into a darkness where the light shines only out of torches, around an L-shaped bend, archaeologists stepped into a picture of the past.
The walls are decorated with beasts and men, plates piled high with food and beautiful, haunting hieroglyphs. The profiled faces on the wall look down on the explorers, but do not judge them, for that is the domain of jackal-headed Anubis alone.
This is Khuwy’s tomb, and his numerous titles are recorded amongst the hieroglyphs. One of them is strangely touching: “sole friend”. The decorations in the tomb indicate that Khuwy was held in high regard, though his precise relationship to the Pharaoh is not known.
The paintings on the walls of the tomb are especially well preserved. The rich hues of the past rise up at us: blue and green and deep, burnt ochre, the colour of skin. There are patches, here and there, where the paint has worn away—of course—to remind us we are fragile. And there is the mummy of Khuwy himself, dismembered. The urns used to store his bodily organs now containing little more than black ichor.
And yet, amongst all this solemnity: a sudden moment of exultation. An archaeologist, face flushed, calls the camera crew over to inspect a mark on the wall. There, barely distinguishable against the white limestone brick is a small black smudge: a fingerprint.
The mark was almost certainly left by whoever painted the walls of the tomb. Beneath the shapes of cats and birds and hieroglyphs painted more than 4,000 years ago is a lingering, tangible reminder of what it is to be human.
At the press conference outside the tomb, against a picture perfect backdrop of palm trees and sand dunes, Egypt’s Antiquities Minister, Khaled al-Enani, does not only mention the art, or the remains of poor dismembered Khuwy (which are to be carefully examined); but he also mentions that seemingly insignificant black smudge.
There is the art and the pictographs. There is the engineering expertise that was used to cut and shift the limestone slabs in order to create such a robust structure. There is the rich mythology of the ancient people of this land decorating the walls, along with those official titles held by Khuwy himself.
Yet, amongst it all, it is that single black smudge that is most affecting.
Some 4,000 years after it was built, a tomb built to honour a man—Khuwy, called “sole friend”—can perhaps teach us something altogether different than expected.
Life—and history—is not only about the rulers and their chosen few. It is not only about the gods and the demigods that spark our imagination and are born again and again into life on our screens and in our stories.
Instead, it’s about the mistakes that we make—those subtle imperfections, those black smudges, that may yet go unnoticed for another 4,000 years. It’s about those small acts of defiance—perhaps a fingerprint left as a signature by an otherwise unnamed artist.
No matter how grandiose the world around us may seem and how insignificant we may feel beneath the shadows of that grandiosity, remember:
Sometimes a black smudge on a wall may be the most important thing of all.
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.
But there was nobody to read them.
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.
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.
Think of a nail; like you’d hit with a hammer.
Work as hard as you can to form that image in your mind.
Contemplate the length–maybe one or two inches; and the metal it’s made from (iron, most likely).
Hold it in your mind’s eye, and then: with your mind’s hands.
Touch the point of the nail with the end of your finger and notice that it’s sharp enough to prick your skin.
Bite down on it–feel the unyielding metal between your teeth.
Imagine a nail; like you’d hit with a hammer.
Focus on the simplicity of its shape. Ignore, for now, its purpose.
Vanish it–then bring it back. Practice doing this, until it becomes second-nature.
In the coming days and weeks and months, I want you to cast your mind back to the nail you’ve created. Touch it–turn it over between your fingers–conjure it up (again and again): make the nail as real as you possibly can.
Think of a nail, like you’d hit with a hammer.
Put it aside: but don’t forget about it.
You’re going to need it, soon enough.