The Bell, The Silence, And The Hour That Never Was

bell

I just got back from my first meditation retreat, at Cloud Mountain Retreat Center. If you’re not familiar with meditation retreats, they are an experience where you go to a secluded place for a while–in this case 3 days–and spend the entire time meditating. With no talking, no electronics, no reading or writing material of any kind. Just you, and yourself, for 15 hours a day.

I’ve wanted to do this for a while, because the science shows that the lifetime benefits of continued meditation practice are even more correlated to time spent on retreat than they are with daily practice. Also other reasons, but mostly science.

The experience was many things. Amazing, bizarre, challenging, effortless. It was too short, and also I couldn’t wait to come home. I plan on scheduling a longer retreat as soon as I can, and also I don’t know why I anyone would do this to themselves. It’s hard to describe what the retreat was like in a substantive way. This kind of thing is extraordinarily experiential. More than almost anything else a person can do, I think. Because all of the practical details are just there to make room for the more rarefied stuff.

I could describe the tangible features of the experience, and I plan to do that in a subsequent post. But I had a specific experience while I was there that captures the surreal feeling of the whole endeavor. It involves a bell.

I pulled into the parking lot at Cloud Mountain, and my chest was full of that feeling that includes discomfort, excitement, and the almost-comfortable confusion that comes when you’re in an unfamiliar environment and you have a rock-solid excuse to not know what the hell you’re doing. I followed various signs to drop off my things, I wandered aimlessly for a bit, and finally I found the registration room. Which was also the dining hall.

I entered a door to find several tables full of women and various forms. They were very friendly, and each one walked me through their part of the process, told me what I needed to fill out and what I need to know, and then passed me onto the next woman. I got my room assignment, signed up for my “working meditation” (which means the chore I had to do; I chose chopping vegetables over any of the cleaning tasks, because duh), and got a map of the grounds. There was a building called “Mist Haven.” I was instantly enchanted.

The last woman, Diane, helped me with my chore assignment, then passed me a slip of paper with various times on it and slots next to the times. Most of the slots had a person’s name written in. I looked down at the paper, then up at the Diane.

“There are a few times here for bell ringer,” she said. Then she stared at me. I expected her to keep talking, but she didn’t. Apparently she thought that sentence she just said was somehow a complete explanation.

“What does that entail?” I asked, after what I’m fairly confident was 25 minutes of awkward silence.

“It’s to ring the bell to call people to meetings,” she said. “Here are the times available.”

Almost all of them were filled. The only open slots were 6:20 AM, and 6:00 AM. Next to 6 it said “Wake up bell.”

I laughed. “I guess no one wanted to do the morning.” I started to fill out the 6:20 slot.

“Yeah, no one wants to do the early morning,” said Diane.

I paused. I was here. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it. I filled out the 6:00 AM slot.

“There’s a training this evening after dinner,” Diane told me. “You meet up at the big temple bell and they’ll show you how to do it.”

“Actually, the wake up is a hand bell,” said another woman. “You take the bell and walk around.”

“Oh?” I asked.

“Yes. The bell is in Diamond Hall, on top of the shoe rack? And the instructions are there. You can take the bell and the instructions to your room. Feel free to come back here and ask us if you have any questions. And thank you so much for volunteering to do this.

She really emphasized the “so much.” As in, “Thank you for your sacrifice.” What the hell had I gotten myself into?

“No problem,” I said.

I found the bell easily enough. It was a small hand bell, the kind someone might walk around ringing in Victorian London to let people know about an upcoming event. Which made sense. I also found the instructions. They managed to fit them all on one page.

I took them back to my room and read the card over and over. My job, it turned out, was to wake up before everyone else, then tour the entire grounds, walk into each of the residential buildings, and ring the bell outside of everyone’s rooms in an attempt to wrest them aggressively from their peaceful repose. Hopefully, no one brought any rotten fruit to throw. Or if they did, I’d be able to run away quickly enough.

The instructions also had a suggested route, and most of the buildings listed in the instructions were on the map. Most of them. I had to find out about the other ones. Also, I had no idea how long this would take, so I had to do a practice run. Anything I had questions about I had to figure out before this evening, because that’s when the silence began.

I need to explain about the silence. This retreat, like most of them, is held in Noble Silence. That’s a translation of what I assume is a much cooler word in Pali or Sanskrit. The way that vipassana is more beautiful than “insight.” Or saying that the first Noble Truth is Buddhism is “life is dukkha” is much more nuanced and interesting than the usual translation, “life is suffering,” which just makes the Buddha sound super emo.

In practical terms, it means that no one talks for the entire retreat. The teacher talks to give lessons, but the practitioners do not unless it’s completely necessary. I was looking forward to the silence and it did not sound difficult, despite how hilarious the idea of me not talking for 3 days probably sound to my friends. But I will admit that I thought that the silence was an incidental feature of the retreat. Like the vegetarian menu and the Buddha statues, something that is part of the spiritual tradition but not vital to the mechanics of the meditation practice itself. I was completely wrong.

The teacher explained on the first day that the silence is the most important support structure built into the retreat to assist in the practice. This is because–and these are my own words based on her explanation–the silence makes it so the retreat is not a social activity. It’s a group activity. Normally those are the same thing because humans are so social. And we can still be sociable in silence. But Noble Silence takes away the social element.

Let me explain. Normally in a group, we put a lot of time and effort into other people. Into the way we come off, into following social norms, into assisting others or definite our relationships to them. Silence takes all of that away, or at least most of it.

Here is an example. When we sat down the next morning, and the teacher sat in front of us, she looked out and said, “Good morning.” This is common for the start of a class. Normally, when a teacher says that, there is an expectation of response, and that creates a host of complexities. Maybe you don’t want to respond because you’re tired but you feel obligated to anyway. There might be some resentment there. Maybe the class half-half-heartedly responds, and you feel sorry for the teacher.

Also, is that an indication that this is going to be a low-energy group? Is the teacher about to be one of those people who says, “I can’t hear you!” and then everyone has to shout? Is that the miniature hell we’re about to be subjected to? But with silence, there is absolutely no expectation of a response, from you or anyone else. She says good morning, and that is as far as it goes. You can respond how you will on the inside, but that’s as far as it goes. It is yours and yours alone, and you owe nothing to anyone but yourself. Noble Silence is very, very important.

It also meant that anything I needed to ask, I needed to do it before the silence. So I did that, and I felt reasonably confident. After the evening practice, I went to my room, set my little digital clock, and tried to go to sleep. It didn’t work. I knew this would be my biggest struggle.

I felt coming in that I could meditate and do nothing else for 15 hours a day, but fall asleep without an audio book or a TV show to listen to, the way a normal person does? What do I look like, Spider-man? Oh…really? Well, thank you, that is a very flattering and justified comparison, but I assure you, I’m only a man. Specifically, a man with ADD who hasn’t fallen asleep without the aid of electronic narrative for something like 19 years. Not once. I’ve tried it a few times. A few nights of sleeplessness and misery.

But I had no choice. I did fall asleep at about 9:30, almost immediately. For 20 minutes. Then I woke up with the energy of a toddler whose DNA was spliced with that of a ferret. I tried to go back to sleep. I went for a walk in the dark, I went to the dining cabin and had some toast and peppermint tea. I lay in bed for an hour. Then another. During the third hour I tried to run through the soundtrack of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer musical episode in my head, but it made me too depressed. Then I tried Steven Universe songs, which was better, but I got stuck after Strong In The Real Way I couldn’t remember what came next. I felt grateful that I hadn’t bought a phone charger. If I had, I might have plugged my phone in and cheated my way to the ecstasy of unconsciousness.

I did, eventually, fall asleep some hours later. I woke up every hour after that. Finally, my alarm went off. Most people at the retreat didn’t need to set an alarm. But I did, because of that damn bell. I woke up and immediately turned off the alarm so I wouldn’t disturb my neighbors. I got a single room–one of few–but the walls were thin. I looked over at the clock.

5:45

This was it. Time to get up. Time to walk outside in the dark, head towards every other person’s room, and clang my bell outside their door. I walked to the window and opened the blinds. It was black outside. There were some lights on, but nothing like what I was used to in a city. There was nothing to indicate that it wasn’t still the middle of the night. Nothing at all. I looked back at the clock.

5:46

All I had to go by was that tiny digital clock. The one my wife dug out of some recess in the archaeological dig site that is our house. The clock that probably dated from the Carter administration, and might well be full of vacuum tubes. What the hell was I thinking? I couldn’t clang people awake solely on the word of this thing. It didn’t ping any cell towers. It wasn’t verifying the time with any cesium-based atomic clock in Virginia. No, I couldn’t trust it. So I did what I had to do. I turned on my phone.

It had power, but I didn’t want it to die before the end of the trip. I also didn’t want to check my email, or even know if I had any text messages. I would just power it on, look at the time, then shut it off. I waited as the Samsung logo lit into being. Hopefully no one would be able to hear it. That would be embarrassing. I watched, and I waited, and finally it came on and I saw the time.

4:47

I paused. That couldn’t be right. I looked again.

4:47

I looked back at my digital clock.

5:47

What the hell was happening? I looked at the cell phone again. Its answer didn’t change. I knew that my clock had been right the previous evening. Had I changed it unknowingly in the night? I took a deep breath. I was exhausted, in an unfamiliar environment, and I could barely think straight. What was going on here.

Then it struck me. Was this a Daylight Savings Time thing? Was last night Daylight Savings Time? I never know when it is. It was fall. The end of September. That could have been daylight savings, right? God damn that stupid phenomenon! No one ever knows when it is, so it’s distinctly possible it passed me by. Maybe everyone else knew and didn’t think to mention it? Or, no, everyone always seems to realize it just before bed time. So maybe it occurred to people, but they couldn’t spread the word because we were already in Silence. Dammit, was that it?

Not for the first time, it occurred to me that this retreat would be a fantastic setting for a slasher movie. The twisted paths through the old forests. The patches of light at night that created tiny islands of illumination amidst the pervasive darkness. It could see it now.

The killer would roam the grounds, murdering meditators and covering them in foliage and prayer beads in a sick imitation of the local shrines. Revenge, no doubt, for his apparent death when he attended the center years ago, due to a prank involving a Buddha statue and a vat of overcooked millet. A prank that went horribly, horribly wrong. Only in the version of the movie that occurs to me right now, none of the victims scream as they’re being murdered, and no one who finds the bodies tells anyone. None of them want to disrespect the Noble Silence.

Then I realized that I was holding my smartphone in my hand, and I could look up when daylight savings time occurred in two seconds. So I did. It’s happening in November. I looked back at my clock. It would have been very easy to set the time an hour forward during the night. It took one button press. I turned off my phone. Apparently I had another hour before I needed to get up.

Jesus Christ. I had come very close to wandering every residential hall and ringing my damn bell an hour earlier than I was supposed to. What would have happened? Would everyone have showed up to the morning sit an hour early? They would have been confused. But these people took the silence seriously. Would they have discussed it? That would have been a disaster. Enough so that I still didn’t trust my sources. I had an hour to kill and a 0% chance of falling back asleep. I decided to walk to the dining hall and check. They had a clock. It confirmed what I phone told me.

So an hour later, I gathered my bell, and set off on my route. It felt very weird. Darkness still blanketed the sky. Dawn hadn’t yet arrived. It didn’t feel like 6 o’clock, whatever that means.

I trudged up the paths towards the first hall, climbed the stairs, and walked through the door. It was black. I’d seen people in this hall and in these rooms the day before, but now there was no evidence anyone was awake. No evidence anyone had ever been there. I’d hoped someone would be around, or their light would be on. No such luck. So I took a breath, and did my job.

It went fine after that, although it didn’t stop feeling strange. I walked all around, ringing my bell outside of everyone’s door. I tried to hold it with the bell upright at first, and it didn’t sound right. Eventually, I figured out I should grip it handle-up, like a dinner bell. I ran into someone coming out of their hall a little later. That made me feel better.

I got back to my room and checked the time on my clock.

6:06

The whole thing had taken be six minutes. Well, I wanted to be fast. Wake up time was supposed to be 6, not 6:15, after all. Still, part of me didn’t trust my assessment of the time. So I lay there, in nervous silence. Until the temple bell resounded throughout the grounds. It was supposed to happen at 6:20. The ringer was a little late. They rang the bell at 6:22. Amateurs.

Later on, I sat down on my cushion to meditate with everyone else. As strange as that experience had been, it wasn’t until that moment that it fully struck me how bizarre it was. Because I couldn’t do, right then, what I would normally do in a situation like this.

I couldn’t tell anyone. These people had very nearly had a strange, confusing, and likely unsettling morning. It might have disrupted the tone for the entire retreat. Maybe some of them, already anxious from the challenges of the retreat itself, would have go into full blown panic and never recovered because the reliable routine had lost all trust and descended into chaos. That had almost happened. I had almost done that.

And none of them, not a single person to whom it was relevant, would ever know. It wouldn’t be a funny story I could share. A way to bond, a way to mark myself in their memory. Those are my tricks. That’s what I do. But not this time. This experience, what was, what could have happened, and what would never be, they were for me alone.

On the third day of the retreat, a fog descended onto Cloud Mountain, and shrouded the entire grounds in mist. On the walk back to my room after breakfast, I looked up, and the sight took the breath from my lungs.

The trees–towering maples and even taller Douglas firs–stretched into the sky. The kind of moss that only grows in old forests clung to their branches, and billows of mist clung to the moss, as if it, too, was growing out of the wood. Rain pattered down, but the forest canopy let none of it through. That water belonged to the trees, and they chose not to share. It was the world, singing softly to the earth, as I stood upon it.

I wanted to stop the other people as they walk by, and tell them how beautiful I thought it was. I wanted to do this so I could share it with them, because maybe they hadn’t noticed. I wanted to do this so they could know how beauty affects me. I wanted to do this just to express what I felt to another. Maybe I had all of these reasons, or none of them.

But I couldn’t. I couldn’t and so it didn’t matter. In that moment, I felt connected to the world, but at the same time, all that mattered was inside of me. The entire world was inside of me, and I was inside of it. Just like the morning bell and the hour that never was, this, too, belonged to me.

And to me alone.

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People Like Me

The stage

This is exactly the kind of poem I try not to write, because my English teacher told me not to, which sentiment I generally agree with. But this was on my mind, and chaotically experimental verse mostly woven from abstractions and lacking structure is how it wanted to come out. So…here we are! It’s called

 Silhouette

People Like Me

people like me are amazing
sometimes
I wish I was one of them
sometimes

they are bold and adventurous
I think
it’s true that people believe that I am
bold
and adventurous
I think
I know
that’s how they see me
I could be
wrong

but I’m not
wrong

I watch
sometimes I watch
this person, who is dynamic, witty
and absolutely full of
life
exudes from him like breath that’s
rich with energy so that others can breathe
it in
and they fill with life, too

I watch this person, I see other
people watching him, watching
me
too, I think, because I want
the life
he has, when other people are watching him

watching him dance

I hate to dance
it makes me feel self
conscious
of the effect I have on people
it makes me look
sometimes
amazing, and I wonder
who is this amazing person
and I wonder
that I know
other people wonder, too

because he is amazing
and I see him
dancing
is the hardest thing in the world for me
when I’m me, not the person
everyone else is watching
me
right now

watching him dance
with words

I live in verse and digital pen
but I
he
dances
dance
on the stage, and looking down
from the audience up at
me
too, I think, I want to be on the stage like
everything thinks
I already am

people like me are amazing
they captivate the room
I watch them
sometimes
I want to be one of them because
I’m not
not really

I’m scared and timid and utterly, endlessly limited
by
the way this isn’t occasional
it’s who I am, all the time
even if it’s not the character
on the stage

people like me are amazing
and it’s both ego
and truth
to say that people envy them
their energy

others think I’m one of them,
but I’m not
it’s just the stage
the people like me
the real ones
I envy them just like everyone else
because they aren’t scared
and I only look
like I’m not

but it does make me wonder
sometimes
I wonder if all of the people like me
who look like me
are like me
so scared of every little thing that is easy for probably every other person why can’t I just do this I’m so useless at everything because of my deficiencies and I’m so
envious of the person on stage
who isn’t them, but wears their face
and they wish
sometimes
that they were one of them
too

On The Shoulders of Giant Idiots

Dunce

At Bellevue, the “internes” ran about in corridors with “pus-pails,” the bodily drippings of patients spilling out of them. Surgical sutures were made of catgut, sharpened with spit, and left to hang from incisions into the open air. Surgeons walked around with their scalpels dangling from their pockets. If a tool fell on the blood-soiled floor, it was dusted off and inserted back into the pocket—or into the body of the patient on the operating table.
–from The Emperor of All Maladies, pg 153, by Siddhartha Mukherjee, describing the operation of hospitals in the 1850s

Take a moment and think about your reaction to the above quote. I’m sure you’ve run into something like it before. In this case it’s about medicine, but you can find similar descriptions regarding every field of human endeavor. The world’s top astronomers used to believe the Earth was the center of the universe and the planets whirled around us in dozens of layers of increasingly complex epicycles. The world’s top biologists used to believe flies arose spontaneously from rotten meat through a process called abiogenesis.

Even the genuine geniuses of the past aren’t immune. Aristotle–who aside from being an important philosopher was the great granddaddy of science–believed that earthquakes were caused by underground wind, analogous to the rumblings in the human gut that produce internal wind of their own. Isaac Newton spent almost all of his working life trying to predict the apocalypse and divine the location of the Temple of Solomon using cryptographic puzzles hidden in the text of the Hebrew bible, and only with the remaining bit left managed to squeeze in the invention of optics, orbital mechanics, and pretty much the rest of physics.

If you made of list of important scientists and thinkers of history and scratched off everyone who believed in phrenology, seances, and that thing that blew tobacco smoke up someone’s ass in order to resuscitate drowning victims, you’d pretty much be left with just Galileo. Stephen Hawking said in 2016 that, “We spend a great deal of time studying history, which, let’s face it, is mostly the history of stupidity.” It’s hard to look at the history of human thought and not think that he’s right.

Most books and documentaries about the history of science and medicine weave this narrative thoroughly into their accounts. Most important developments in science, they tell us, were achieved by mavericks who defied conventional wisdom and proposed fringe theories that were scorned by the supposed experts until experimentation and history proved our heroes right. Joseph Lister’s carbolic acid to disinfect wounds. Albert Einstein’s dismissal of luminiferous aether, and also the prevailing notion that time actually existed and made any damn sense at all. Hell, the guy who invented the 3 point seat belt had a hell of a time getting it widely adapted.

So why is that? Why were the people in the past–leaders in their respective field–such idiots? Why have the experts never listened to the pioneering geniuses who were clearly right and much more intelligent than them? It’s hard to answer those questions, but one thing is clear: We can all be incredibly thankful that we’re all much smarter than that now, and we no longer make those kinds of mistakes.

Right. Definitely.

The fact is, people in the past weren’t stupid. At least, they weren’t any stupider than we are. They weren’t really any more ignorant, either. Or rather, society as a whole was more ignorant by virtue of the fact that knowledge builds on itself and our modern sciences are built on the discoveries, lessons, and (most of all) mistakes of the past. But the individuals who thought that the stars were stuck to the far end of the sky or that hand-washing did absolutely nothing to prevent the transmission of disease weren’t ignorant. In fact, the very people we make fun of for being wrong were generally the most education and functionally intelligent members of their society.

What’s more than that, those maverick heroes that pushed science forward only to be mocked by their peers deserved to be mocked. Or at least, the people in charge weren’t wrong to be skeptical. The mavericks had fringe theories, and conventional wisdom is becomes conventional for a reason. Sometimes–much of the time–prevailing thought is wrong, even dangerously so. But the fact is that the overwhelming majority of scientific development isn’t done through breakthroughs. It’s done through tiny, minute iterations on the prevailing theories, and it can only be done if there is a strong prevailing theory in place.

Chances are, if we ran into the theories of Pasteur or Lister or Einstein today, most of us would initially dismiss them as cranks. Or at least irrelevant. That’s what we do with fringe theories. They’re fringe because most of our evidence for any given scientific theory exists in support of the currently dominant theory. Even when those theories have flaws–which, let’s face it, they basically all always do–they’re still important to the day-to-day work of science. It takes a long time for a new paradigm to take hold not just because the people in charge are stubborn, but because the overwhelming majority of newly proposed paradigms are wrong.

It is easy (and fun!) to smugly laugh at the dumbness of the past, but that attitude is not only ahistorical, it’s also dangerous. Smugness comes from a sense of superiority, and superiority comes from the hard and fast belief that you are right, and whoever you are feeling superior to is wrong. All of those doctors killing patients–particularly the ones who kept doing it even when better evidence try to–did it not out of idiocy. They did it out of smugness.

Yes, the stupid things that doctors and scientists of the past believed are hilarious and bewildering. It’s often hard to imagine how they could possibly have not known things that seem so obvious to us. I mean, they put fecal matter into their drinking water sources, for crying out loud. But the lesson that we should learn from it isn’t that they were stupid.

The lesson is that they were thoroughly trained, highly education, and in many cases legitimately brilliant, and they still got nearly everything wrong anyway.

Well, That Didn’t Work

Confused ...

 

I was doing this thing where I was writing a bunch of stories. Three a week, in fact. I made it slightly longer than two weeks before I stopped. I ended with seven stories. Appropriate, perhaps, but…also coincidence.

The thing is, I didn’t stop because it was too hard. I didn’t stop because I couldn’t keep up, because I can’t write that much, because I didn’t have any ideas.

I stopped because it was too easy. This…is good to know. I thought I had lost the ability to sit down and just write a story, but I haven’t. Not at all. For the kinds of stories very much in my wheelhouse–weird little high-concept slices of whatever that suggest larger worlds and stories beneath their depths–I can do it. I can do that all day.

I just don’t really want to. That is exactly not the kind of story I’m interested in writing right now. And that’s the kind of story I end up with when I try to just pump them out. I tried a few more character-interaction oriented stories, and those are definitely the weakest of the bunch. That’s where I need to put the work in, and I can’t do that at these kinds of speeds.

I’m still writing. I’ve been writing quite a bit. I just don’t have anything I can post. These are snippets, ideas, experiments. Valuable to me but perhaps not interesting to anyone else. Or at least, not anything I’m comfortable sharing with the world. Or my little patch of it, anyway.

But I don’t want to lose my momentum. People seem to like when I write stuff. Not that many of you, but…man, is it wonderful. Very validating. So I’m going to post more. Thoughts and ideas and whatnot, and some stories. I’m also planning on formalizing it and setting goals, because I do find that very motivating.

We’ll see.

Hungry Eyes, Part 1

Scary eyes

People had found Anna unsettling since she was a very small child. She was used to it. But you never got used to it. Very few adults are willing to tell a little girl that they find her creepy, and other kids didn’t talk that way to her. But she knew. She knew before she had words for it.

It wasn’t her fault that her long black hair hung in bedraggled strings that tended to cling to the pale skin of her face. It wasn’t her fault that her strangely shaped bones made whatever clothes she wore look ill fit upon her frame. And she certainly didn’t try to play so vigorously that all of her clothing existed in a perpetual state of raggedness.

None of that really mattered. She could wear a hat to cover up her hair. She could spent more time in the sun and try to get some color on her skin so she looked less like a corpse. She could be very careful with her clothing, only wearing the best materials and discarding them when they tore.

She had a photograph of herself from her second grade picture day, dolled up like a princess, and in one shot where the photographer caught her from a specific angle she looked perfectly normal. Even on that day, she remembered, everyone looked away. Adults and children alike. Even the photographer could barely keep his attention on her long enough to take the picture.

The others didn’t know what is was about her that unnerved them. But Anna knew. It was her eyes. Her eyes were hungry. They were always hungry. She asked her mother about that, once. Why her eyes were so hungry. Her mother just looked frightened, and told her not to talk like that.

It didn’t matter. Anna didn’t her mother’s help with her eyes. She could feed them herself. It had been agony when she was little, when she didn’t understand. All she knew was that her vision ached something awful and it kept her from sleeping. Sometimes it ached so much that she couldn’t eat, couldn’t concentrate on anything at all. Maybe that was why she was so skinny.

Her mother told Anna she had almost died as a baby because she wouldn’t feed on mother’s milk. Anna remembered. It was because her vision hurt. Hunger pains. It was her earliest memory, and it was sharp.

When she grew up a little she learned she could feed her eyes with colors and images. Not the normal kind. They liked red things, bright and runny and vibrant, in as many shades as possible. Streaked through blue and green, screaming their contrast. They liked sharp angles, pressed together. Twisted and broken shards and shreds of glass and metal and paper, strewn over empty tables so her eyes could drink in ever contour.

And they liked to look at flesh. Maimed, mangled, bleeding raw. She had learned that more recently. Anna didn’t like to look at these things, but her eyes did, and she had to keep them fed. They were so hungry.

He Hates Ghosts

Old man on bus

 

I am feeling singularly uninspired today. At least, to write any stories. I’m feeling highly inspired to play video games. I tried a few things, and I looked at some prompts for writing various types of stories online, because sometimes those are helpful. When I ran into a list of horror prompts that included the following:

There is a priest who is a vampire

I decided that inspiration had gone to lunch, and I wouldn’t bother it. So here is a little poem about ghosts!*

He Hates Ghosts

We thought

we had a ghost

in the attic

with the noises

and the moaning

and the creaking of floorboards

at 3 in the morning

Finally, we got tired of it

and checked

and it turned out

it’s only Uncle Steve

and he hates ghosts

*It may not actually be about ghosts

The Scar

Scar

You’re staring.

Don’t worry. Everyone does. They can’t help it. You probably didn’t realize you stared. Even now, when I’ve caught you, you have no idea why you were doing it. You don’t know why you can’t look away.

And you can’t look away. The fact is, someone could hit you in the head with a fireplace poker, and you would still struggle to look away. You don’t know why. Just like you have no clue what’s causing that sick feeling in your gut, like your intestines are full of frightened parasites all scrambling to escape you, like rats from a sinking ship.

Don’t panic. I’ll tell you. It’s not a secret. I have no secrets. Not anymore. You’re staring at my scar.

Go ahead. Look for it. Search my face, my neck, my exposed arms. You won’t find it. Strange, because you’re looking right at it. Right now, if I asked you to close your eyes and describe my eye color you wouldn’t be able to do it. It’s true. You wouldn’t even be able to describe the color of my skin.

You can’t focus on anything, right now. Nothing but my scar. It’s gnawing away at you and you can barely remember why you came here and what you’re doing and it’s driving you insane that you can’t look at or think about anything else and you can’t even find it.

It’s there. It’s right here. You can’t see it because it’s in a place you’ve never paid attention to, even though you’ve look there thousands of times before. Every time you look at another person, or an animal, or a tree. Because they all have them.

You are staring at me not because of what you are seeing, but because of what’s missing. It’s as if someone stripped all of the color from their skin. You couldn’t help but stare at the colorlessness, because up until that moment you had assumed such a thing was impossible.

I thought so, too. I didn’t mean to do it. I was just bored. I was bored and curious and playing around with my knife. This knife. It’s very special. I don’t know if it was special before I used it to do what I did, or if using it made it so. But it’s special now.

This is the knife I used to reach in and gouge out my own soul. I didn’t know there was such a thing as souls. I still don’t, really. I don’t know what they are, or what they’re for. But I know what it means to lose one. I know what it feels like to rip it out.

Maybe I should have stopped after I started digging. It was like a sore on the inside of your mouth. You know you shouldn’t worry it, but you can’t stop. You can’t stop until you’ve ripped your essential essence from your being. It’s happened before.

You won’t remember. You people never do. I could stab this knife into you and slice off your finger and you would have no idea how it had happened. You’d make up a story. Or someone else would, and you’d believe them. Explanations are like souls. Your mind can’t stand when they’re missing.

I could stab this knife into you, deeper than your finger, deeper than your flesh, deeper than your heart. I could make you like me. You’d remember me, then. Then, only then, you would understand.

But I won’t. Not this time. Instead, I’m going to walk away, and only once I’m out of your sight, only once something mundane and fleshy and full of color blocks your vision will you forget me.

But you won’t. Not really. You people never do. You just pretend. You come up with stories that explain the wriggling in your stomach, the panic that nestles in the back of your mind. The stories amuse us, as we watch you. They’re all we have left.

You still amuse me. So I won’t cut you. I won’t make you like me. Not this time. Not just yet.

Sweet dreams.