The Maturity of Death

 Rest In Peace

The last thing Death wanted to do was grow up, no matter what the adults said. What could that even mean for someone like him? Death did his job. He traveled to the beds of aging widows in their moment of despair, took them by the hand, and carried them off to his Fields. He delivered the final moment to the swarms of things eaten by plague, or consumed by exploding stars.

It was a lot of work. What did it matter that he spent just as much time dancing through the lands consecrated to his image, or collecting the feeble wards the denizens of the universe made in a vain attempt to keep him away? What did it matter that he loved it? This was what he was supposed to do. He didn’t know what the others were always going on about.

Death didn’t spend much time with the others. It wasn’t because he was anti-social, or a loner by nature. Everyone else was just so boring. Matter lacked imagination, Entropy was too pessimistic. The less said about Momma the better.

Life told him she didn’t regret having him, but Death didn’t believe her. All they ever did was argue. There wasn’t a single subject that they agreed on. Even the ones where Death was obviously right, which was most of them. She was smart. He had to admit that. He respected her, in that way where you’d use a different word than “respect” if there was one because it wasn’t quite right.

The other youngins weren’t any improvement, far as he could tell. Light was so self-righteous, and cousin Gravity was just too dense. The pun always made Death laugh, but none of the others appreciated it. No one except his uncle.

Out of all of the adults in the universe, the only one worth hanging out with was Uncle Time. Uncle Time had been around longer than any of them. He was deep, but in a kind of strange way that somehow didn’t make him dull. Just about every worthwhile conversation Death ever had was with his Uncle Time.

“Just how old are you?” Death asked him one day, as he danced around the edge of a black hole as it drank up the remains of the last Living Nebula.

“Older than you will ever be, boy,” said his uncle.

Death scrunched up his face. “How can that be? Sometime I’ll catch up to where you are now.”

Time laughed, and it sounded like a thousand thousand old men, laughing so quietly a body could hardly hear it at all.

“You’re only as old as you are right now,” said Time. “I’m always as old as I will ever be.”

Death let that bounce around his skull for a few minutes, then nodded.

“That makes sense. Uncle Death, why are you the only one who ever talks sense to me? The others all treat me like I’m a little kid. Even Momma, who ain’t so much older than me, the way folks like us reckon it.”

“Do you think age matters, to our kind?” asked Time.

“I suppose not,” said Death.

“They don’t treat you like a boy because of how many or how few stars have gone out since you came into being. Or of how many life forms you’ve kissed goodbye.”

“So why, then?”

“They treat you young because you have not grown up yet.”

Death laughed. “Folks like us don’t grow. Everybody knows that.”

“But we do change.”

Death thought about that. “Even you?”

Time nodded, and Death saw the rising and setting of universes in his uncle’s brow.

“I change. I’ve already changed, and I’m done changing, and it all unfolds in this moment. But I change.”

“So you’re saying they treat me like a youngin because…because I act like a youngin?”

“Thats right.”

“But what about you? Why don’t you treat me no different?”

“You know the answer,” said Time. “It is already here.”

That was something else Death liked about his Uncle. He didn’t spell everything out so plain it’d be clear to anyone, no matter how dim. He didn’t treat Death like a moron. Death reckoned that might be because Time knew for a fact what his nephew would and wouldn’t figure out for himself, but he appreciated it all the same.

It did mean Death had to put a bit more thought into his conversations with Time than he did at other times. Taking lives came son natural—he was what you might call a prodigy. But this deep thinking, that was a challenge. But it was worth it. So Death sat there and thought, long and hard, before he answered.

“You don’t treat me different because, because you know what I’ll be like when I’m grown up?”

Time smiled every smile that had ever been or would ever be smiled.

“So what does it take?” Death asked. “What do I have to do to get grown up?”

“Are you in such a rush to change? Do you not relish your youth, of prancing through the graves of the lifeforms and species you have brought into your fold?”

“I can still do that when I’m grow’d up,” said Death. “I just wish the others would respect me. Like they do to…each other.” He stopped himself from saying, “like they do to Momma.”

“If you wish to know, I will tell you.”

“But I figure you already know whether you are gonna tell me or not,” said Death, grinning.

By the light of the dying stars, Death once against saw every smile that would ever be adorn his uncle’s face.

“Nevertheless,” said Time, “it is your choice. It has always been your choice, and it will always be your choice.”

Death stopped himself from opening his mouth and forced himself to ponder. That’s what his uncle would advise, and he was the smartest man Death knew. He let it the thought roll around him for a few decades. It didn’t matter much. His conclusion was the same as it would have been had he spoken right away.

“I want to know.”

“Very well,” Time took a deep breath, and exhaled the beginning and end of of everything. “You will grow up when you get an education.”

Death rolled his eyes.

“You sound like Momma. What am I supposed to study, then? How to sew myself some better robes?”

“You are to study medicine.”

Medicine?” Death spat the word out like a child forced to eat his sprouts.

“Indeed.”

“But I hate medicine. I’m Death, for dying out loud. I make people die. Medicine is for making people live. For…for fighting disease. What would I want to go and do that for?”

Disease was one of the things Momma and he fought most about. He put it together when he was little, back when Momma didn’t care so much about him playing with her stuff. He thought she would be right proud that he’d found a way to make some of her tiniest and least interesting creations that much better, that much more capable of expressing themselves. To give them a new way of living. She wasn’t.

“You only see it that way because you’re young,” said Time, shaking the first third of the universe in dismay. “That is what the others see when they look at you. That is why they believe you immature. Medicine is not your enemy. Indeed, it will be one of your greatest creations.”

Death furrowed his brow. “My creations? But medicine already exists.”

“Something they call medicine exists,” said Time. “It is but a pale echo of what it will be. It its fullness, it will save and extend a great many lives, and allow those who use it to spread across the universe. In time, it will lead them to change themselves, remake their scions, and forge your mother’s work into forms unimagined in this frozen slice of moment.”

Death grimaced. “Why would I want that?”

As one, a trillion of oceans crashed upon a trillion shores, all to the sound of Time’s sigh.

“Can you not see it?”

That was Time favorite phrase. It contained within it infinite frustration, and infinite patience. Sometimes Death wondered how his Uncle put up with the rest of them. To see—to be–everything that would ever be, right now, and have no one to talk to but regular old temporal beings like Death. He asked his Uncle about that once, and he got the same answer. “Can you not see it?”

Death knew by this point that it meant a great revelation was hovering nearby, just out of reach. The problem was, “just out of reach” could be a billion years from now. It also meant that his uncle would not give him the answer. Perhaps he couldn’t, in some way that Death didn’t quite understand. He would have to get there himself. So he tried.

“If I study medicine…” he started, “and make it into something real serious—powerful, not like it is now–If I do that, then people will live longer. And…and they’ll have more babies.”

“Good,” said Time. “Go on.”

“And those babies won’t give up their ghosts so easily. So they’ll grow up to have more babies of their own.”

“Yes. What then?”

“Then…there’ll be more people,” he was starting to see it. The edges of it. He continued, excited. “More people born every day. More people alive in the universe, and more crops to grow, more livestock to feed. More wars to fight, more disease to spread.” He turned to his Uncle, his eyes wide. “If there are more people alive, more people will die! Every single day!”

Out in the universe, races and beings far flung and unrelated in space and time took their chisels and their hammers and their cutting lasers, and all of them carved the face of man they never knew, and would never see, every one of them smiling. And Death saw all of them, at once, in his Uncle’s face right now.

Death turned away. “But…medicine. It’s so…”

“Yes,” said Time. “I understand. This, what you say now, is very similar to what she said, when I had this conversation with her.”

“She?” asked Death. “You mean…you mean Momma? She had…she went through the same thing?”

“Nearly identical, and completely different. She, too, wished for respect.”

“The others, Matter and Entropy and those folks, thought Momma was immature?” Death couldn’t decide whether to laugh or gasp in surprise.

“They did. Until she, too, sought knowledge and education. Until she, too, created something she could not have believed, until that moment, she would ever wish to create.”

“What did, what did Momma create?”

Before his uncle said anything, Death already knew.

“My boy,” he said, with the calm of a billion cooling supernovae, “she created you.”

Death paused, and he pondered. For a time—short to him but lifetimes to others—he did nothing but ponder. Out in the universe, in a thousand civilizations, they called it the Undying Time, or the Golden Age of Life. A strange, impossible time where nothing and no one died. Their descendants would not believe it, and it would live on only as myths, and the fragments of memories.

Death knew all about change. Uncle Entropy might have invented it, but that was only the boring kind. Change didn’t have color, it didn’t have poetry, until Death got a hold of it. The kind of change that folks cared about, that they lived for, that belonged to him. He knew all about change. He knew that people thought it was slow. It wasn’t. All change, all true change, happened in an instant.

“I’ll do it,” said Death. “I’ll go off and create medicine. Proper medicine, like the kind what you said. I’ll do it. I want…I want to grow up.”

Time nodded in approval. Death loved that nod. Anyone could nod their approval at you all day long, but not everyone could make you feel it. Uncle Time made him feel it. He wouldn’t have taken no advice on how to get himself some respect from anyone else. Uncle Time treated him right.

No, that wasn’t quite it. Uncle Time treated him more than just right. He treated him like an equal. An equal? Could that possibly be true? Him, little Death, the equal of Time himself?

Just like that, Death had another major revelation. His fourth, he reckoned, just in this conversation. He would be the equal to his uncle. If Time thought it, then it must be true. To Time, right here, right now, he already was.

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Caffeinated Mindfulness

Mocha !

I take a sip of coffee, dark roasted into anthracite of Arabica, swirled with the luxurious tropical tang of coconut cream. It rushes into my bloodstream, into my senses. I can’t tell the difference between the chemicals blocking adenosine between my neurons, or the psychosomatic reaction of my hot wet love affair with the aroma, with the taste, with the feel of it on my tongue.

My third eye snaps open. It was asleep. It’s usually asleep. But it’s forced open by the thunderclap of caffeination outside its window, blasting through sleep paralysis, it jolts up in bed and stands at attention. I close my other two eyes. I take my first breath. I begin my meditation.

I take my second breath. They are the long, slow, deliberate breaths of the practice. The same ones that I take when I am calm. What do I look like, to the bodhisattva ghosts that haunt the space around me? Do I look at ease? Do I look rested, because I breathe normally, and because I am not moving? Can they see the thousands upon thousands of lightning bugs that rest upon my skin, waiting to burst into action and light up the night?

I am not rested. I am not calm. There is more to peace than stillness. If nothingness is the true state of perfection, then perfection is flawed. I am a bundle of bundles of charged wires of a hundred different polarities that only exist in the dreams of electrons. Instead of a place without thought, drifting like leaves on a stream, the inside of my skull hosts so many thoughts, so many sensations, in such a reckless state of effortless agitation they are indistinguishable. They are white noise. My mind is a serene cacophony of beautiful tension.

I realize there is no such thing as silence. There is only deafness. In the quietest room in existence, there is still the background radiation of the infant universe. The scream of it’s birth. Not a scream of agony, but an agony of triumph. An impossibly massive explosion in an impossibly small instant, bursting outward from a single point of infinite inertness to a furiously rushing sea of endless potential. The loudest shouts that could ever be, so distant when they reach us that they have become a caressing whisper. If we cannot hear them, it’s because we lack calibration. Because our ears are too small.

It swirls around me, within me, throughout me. These thoughts and this noise are me, and they are not me. They are larger and vastly more important, and smaller than the Planck scale. Less relevant than a single crumb of food that cannot feed a mouse so small it suffers wave interference when it tries to pass through two slits in a scientist’s lab.

It is exhilarating. It is exhausting. It lasts forever, but when it ends, as all things end, it has written a poem in prose in my head. A distant reflection in arbitrary symbolic representation of the chaotic, tranquil, nasty, perfect glory of the experience of trying to meditate after my third cup of coffee. But I will share it anyway.

Why Creativity Is Not Problem Solving

brain

Me: I’m really disliking my job these days.

Brain: Trust me, I’ve noticed.

Me: I used to like it, but it’s turned into a serious slog.

Brain: Well, maybe you should look for another job.

Me: But I hate looking for other jobs!

Brain: Well, which do you dislike more?

Me: Both of them.

Brain: I’m not sure what to tell you here, dude.

Me: You’re not being very helpful!

Brain: What do you want out me?

Me: I don’t know! A solution! You’re my brain. You should be able to come with something here! Something that lets me do or not do both of these things at the same time. You’re very creative. Aren’t you always telling me that? That we’re creative.

Brain: I do tell us that. I believe it, too.

Me: Right. So…come up with something!

Brain: Okay, I’ve got it.

Me: That was fast.

Brain: I’m a massively parallel organic processing unit with more potential interconnections than grains of sand on the earth, if every grain of sand had a pair of twins with every other grain of sand. Give me some credit.

Me: Fair enough.

Brains: Besides, it’s not like I…you…we…haven’t been thinking about this a lot.

Me: If a chaotic maelstrom of unpleasant emotions and half-baked notions can be called “thinking.”

Brain: What can I say? I’m complicated.

Me: Okay. What’s this plan of yours.

Brain: Alright, so first you get on the running shoes that you bought just before you stopped running regularly.

Me: Okay.

Brain: Put them on, lace them up, and head out into the woods.

Me: The woods? What does that have to do with my job?

Brain: Are you going to let me finish? I am your brain, here.

Me: Fine, fine. Carry on.

Brain: Your British accent is terrible.

Me: I know.

Brain: But I don’t judge you.

Me: I appreciate that.

Brain: Okay, so you head out into the woods, and you look for some squirrels.

Me: Squirrels.

Brain: Squirrels. Gray or black, it doesn’t matter. You start tracking down squirrels, and incapacitating them in some way. So you can put them all in the same place where they can’t get away.

Me: How do I incapacitate them.

Brain: You don’t know how to do that?

Me: No.

Brain: Well then neither do I! I’m your bloody brain!

Me: Oh. Right.

Brain: It’s something you’re going to be able to figure out. But that should be kind of fun, right?

Me: Yeah. I guess it should. I mean, kind of wrong, but a good thing to know how to do.

Brain: Right. So, you gather up these incapacitated squirrels, at least 49, but 51 will do, and…

Me: And?

Brain: You swallow them!

Me: Swallow them?

Brain: Yep! Just gulp them up!

Me: And…that will solve my job problem?

Brain: No! Of course it won’t! But you never listen to anything I say anyway! Just start looking for a new goddamn job like I’ve been telling you to for the last two months! Dammit!

Me: Oh.

Brain: Sigh.

Me: Did you just say “sigh?”

Brain: I did. I did do that. You made me do that.

Me: Sorry.

Brain: It’s okay. And sorry for the bait and switch.

Me: It’s okay. You made your point.

Brain: I appreciate the understanding.

Me: So are we still friends.

Brain: Yes we are. I mean, assuming that term applies when I’m a physical organ and you are an abstract representation of an amalgamated and probably fictional concept that can’t realistically be separated from me other than for the purposes of thought experiments like this one. I don’t know if the world friend applies.

Me: It’s an interesting question.

Brain: Indeed. We should spend the next nine hours discussing it.

Me: You think so?

Brain: No! Get off your ass and start looking for a god damn job!

Me: Right. Of course. Sorry. Getting right on it.

Heavy Meta Verse

sound waves - low volume

Another 37, Day 5

The words to this song
are the notes to the tune that is
based on this song that I’m writing,
right now,
I hear behind me the electric sizzle of the guitar strings
screech away
like synapses
in my brain, that imagines them,
loud and resonant and screaming all around me
I hear it, and it moves me
to write the same song
that is playing

It sounds like the taste of a madeleine
I dipped into the tea of my waning years
when I was just a child, short and intense
and balding
with giant eyes within which I sat,
staring at myself
through the lens of the letters
of the lines of the words
you are reading right now,
a memory I just invented
inspired by a dream I plan to have
tomorrow about my future childhood,
from way back then
back when things weren’t done yet

And the song is a conversation
at the same time
with itself,
recursive
letters, in a script you can see if you stand
far enough away from this poem and watch
as it flows

A song which becomes aware of itself
once you let it go
fire it out of the cannon of words into the battlefield
where the waiting audience waits,
hungry
to devour it,
but right now it’s embryonic,
as it discusses itself with itself,
unable to know itself, unable to set,
underbaked
if you stick a conceptual toothpick in the middle
it comes out gooey

And now I, the poem, the song,
unconceived, in progress, complete,
will finish myself, with myself,
aware that my awareness is a lie
and that the words that make up my bones
and my ambitions are just pixels,
that make shapes,
that make letters,
that make words,
that make lines,
that make verse,
written by a writer, who is me, but won’t admit it
because it would disrupt my poem,
and because he’s a writer
and we’re stubborn that way.

 

Do I Know You?

Supermarket Interior Decor | Produce Area | Hanging Trellis | Greenfresh Market

Day 11 of Shredded Comfort

Special relativity tells us that as the speed of an objective with mass increase, it needs more and more energy to continue accelerating. As it approaches the speed of light, the energy required becomes infinite, and it reaches a point where no matter how hard it tries, it just can’t go any faster.

This is an apt metaphor for awkward social situations. The closer you get to actually performing the dreaded act, the more and more willpower needed to go on. It feels like the will needed to transition from a state of standing next to a stranger to one where you ask that stranger to borrow his shoes is infinite, and it can’t be achieved no matter what you do. Of course, this is where the metaphor falls apart. Not arbitrarily, but beautifully.  Because unlike energy, willpower isn’t real. The obstacles aren’t real. Once you take that leap, you aren’t any more depleted than you were the moment before.

Jeesy creezy, I sound like a new-agey self-help book. But new agey self-help materials never make physics metaphors, right? Right?

Today’s challenge almost stymied me. And it didn’t have anything to do with shoes.

I had a lot to do today (because I gave myself ridiculously sized goals list for some reason), so it had to be someone I could stuff into my other chores, such as grocery shopping. I decided I would go up to a stranger in the produce section and pretend that I knew them, and just see how far it went.

I had no idea it would be so difficult to make myself do this. As I wandered around picking out mushrooms and zucchini and looking at all of the grumpy people choosing which type of apple to buy, the invisible pressure not to do this wrapped around my throat. What got me to just go ahead and take the plunge was the thought of writing a blog post about failure. What a lame thing to fail at! Honestly, if it wasn’t for public socially pressure I would never get anything done.

I tried first with a tall, large man standing at the deli counter who looked like he could squish my head with any two of digits, including his toes if they were prehensile. Which I’m not willing to rule out. I walked up to him and said, in a friendly and familiar voice, “hey!” At that precise moment the person behind the deli counter was ready and started to take his order. How awkward! The tall man looked back at me as I scurried away and disappeared into the crowd. Probably he heard my voice and saw the back of my head for just a moment and thought I was his long-missing cousin who was his closest childhood friend and still had his Greatest Steel Drum Hits of the 80s collection and now that’s all he’ll think about for weeks and his life will miserable.

But we’re talking about me, here.

I felt a bit weird, but I was committed, now. So I walked up to a middle-aged woman scoping out the sliced bread selection and started to talk.

“Hey!” I said jovially. “How are you doing?”

“Good,” she said.

“I didn’t know you lived around here,” I said.

She stared at me. “Do I know you?”

“Jesse!” I said, and I’ll admit I was disappointed that there are people out there who haven’t heard of me. “I cut my hair off recently.”

“Um…” she stammered.  At that point I decided enough was enough, and that I’d cut the poor woman loose.

“You know what,” I said. “You just look exactly like one of my coworkers. I am so sorry.

She laughed. “It’s okay.”

“Wow. This is awkward.”

“It’s fine!” she said, still laughing. “I was wondering, have I met this guy before?”

“No, it’s cool,” I said. “My mistake.”

And we departed friends. I mean, not really friends, but we were probably on friendlier terms than nearly any two strangers in that entire supermarket. I kept hoping I’d run into her during the rest of my trip so we could exchange smiles and laughter. My goal was to make myself uncomfortable, but I really think I put her in a slightly better mood than she was before.

Also, my article from yesterday was accepted, and got a 5 star review. It’s been a pretty good day.

 

Sea

googley eyed sea painting
Mama told Adia
Over and over
What not to do
She told her
Not to do oh so many things
Adia sometimes thought
she would explode

Mama said
Never to cross the street without an adult
Never to eat the crispy-hot buns, just when they came out of the oven
all glistening and beautiful
and
Never to walk through the grimdark park, by nightfall
or she might cut herself
on its edges

But most of all
Mama told Adia
Never to take the long walk
through the town square
past the seafront shops
and onto the black-sand beach
no matter how nice the sand might feel
between her toes

Because the winds were sharp
and Adia might slip
into the Sea of Confusion
and be lost
Amidst the hyperboles
and the logical fallacies
and the dangling modifiers
Never to be coherent
or articulate
Ever again

But one day, when mama was very harsh
Adia ran away, in the middle of the night
Across the street
with a bun in her hand
through the grimdark park
down the town square
past the seafront shops
onto the black-sand beach

And surely enough
the winds were sharp
and they swept her off, into the Sea of Confusion
where she was battered by mixed metaphors
and malopropisms
until her tiny skin was store

But she was not lost

She emerged, a day later, a smile on her face
consciousness streaming from her lips
armed and ready to tell her mother
in flowery, illustrative language
just how very wrong she was
and feeling confused, of course
but not that confused.

Submission to the Majesty

IC 405 - The Flamming star nebula

I stand
my bare feet in the wet, dark grass
nowhere
far flung from the gaudy, electric party dress
worn by the city sky
and throw my longing gaze up
at the star strewn night

Her majesty
Her ridiculous, unaware, incomprehensible splendor
slaps me across the face
just once
open palm
and then looks down at me
a look of utter indifference
in her billions of twinkling eyes

I taste blood on my lips
and I shiver
but not from the cold

I sink to my knees
As She commands
without a word
without a gesture

For where else could I
a worthless bag of blood
and meat
and yearning
belong, but beneath the wild, naked firmament
spread open above me
my knees bruised by the  stony earth
sublime in my discomfort
my arms stretched
my mouth open
awaiting whatever She chooses to give me

I am an invisible nothing
cowed
before the vastness
of an expansive, sidereal mistress
who cannot love me
but without whose fire
I could not live

So what can I do
but worship
and submit
to the majesty