Wednesday, November 23, 2005


"So, tell me, how does one take a break from something that isn't really anything?"

"Well my friend, It's all about priorities - and getting them straight. Using this little unit of time for something more productive. More important? A measure of energy to be spent somewhere else doing something else."

"You're being very vague."

"It's the best way to be."

"I guess."

"Besides, I think I may have finally figured out a simpler way of saying things."

"Oh yeah? And how is that?"

"By saying nothing at all, of course."

"Well now, I can't really argue with that. So, a break then?"

"Sort of. More of an interruption than a break, I suppose. And more of a lapse than an interruption, really. But certainly it would be more of a, um, of a-


"Yeah, but even far more sinister than that - an open-ended hiatus."

"You'll have to create a new word then."

"I'll use my time off to think about just such a thing."

Monday, November 21, 2005

house rules


Sitting in Casey's study. His writing group. More a support group, I suppose. What did you write, then? Nothing, really. In those days, stories of the fantastic came easily, like tall tales from the lips of a drunken sailor. Just as false. Every bit as empty. Casey, locked in the illusory world of accidental fame and fortune, wholeheartedly encouraged such pursuit of mediocrity. He saw how easy it was to make something from nothing. To take a second rate collection of words and feed it to the gluttonous masses. Have them eat it up. "You can easily pay your mortgage with the undiscerning over-consumption of others," he said. He had faith in his system. He walked his talk.


Then the critics came. At first there were only a few. A less-than-favourable review in this journal, an antagonistic article in that paper; damage control was easy. "So I've a few bad reviews," he said. "What great man does not attract a handful of detractors? Let's have another look at those sales figures, shall we?" Then came the flood. A mob of critics emerged on the horizon wielding their grotesque weapons. Rushing forth, ravenous, they tore poor Casey apart. And to see you scurry, as fast as you could go, as far away from Casey's fetid corpse as you could get. It was precious, really. Everyone feared the taint. His body was battered so beyond recognition, that his funeral would be held with a closed casket. Not that anyone would actually show up for the viewing, anyway. In fact, no-one would ever see Casey again in any shape or form. The critics swarmed on. Devouring. dismantling. Destroying.


A new life now, like that of a participant in the witness protection program. Placed in a nice suburb. Barbecue out on the back deck. Nights spent in the hot tub beneath patio lanterns. You shield your eyes from the sunlight, and peer out into the afternoon blue. A smile comes as you think of Casey's ghost. "Successfully convince others that you're a writer," he said, "and you are one. Play the part well, and you'll live well, but drop the guise even for a second, tip your hand, and they'll tear you apart. Blackballed. You'll never be forgiven." It was through Casey's own implosion that you finally learnt something. Something about essence. Something about substance. Or at least the impression of substance. That's what it is, isn't it? All a big game. No-one really knows anything. We'll make up the rules as we go along. Alter those fake rules to suit our own needs. Boil down those modified fake rules as is convenient. House rules. No-one ever wins, no-one ever loses - except for guys like Casey.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


Save some face-
seven shakes,
hold the vermouth.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

time, the tailor (a mending)

At the sink, trying to scrub away the lines. Wishing the pillow lines away in hopes the age lines might follow. Cool water splashing onto face. Washing the sleep from eyes. Looking up, the mirror is trying to tell me something. "Go back to sleep," it says. "There is no need to be awake this early." Fragmentation. Seven time zones away, another me, in an alternate universe, is sleeping soundly in his bed. Foetal position, knees tucked up to chest level, drool on the pillow. A phone rings, and we both wake up.

"Hello? Hey, man. Yeah, I'm up. All right."

Sure, I'll wait. Pouring myself a cup of strong coffee, I just stare out the window for awhile, unthinking, listening to the thump and bang of the hotel radiator. Morse code. "Just go back to bed," it tells me. "It's much too early for this kind of business." Rubbing my eyes again. It's just the weather here; dry and cold. My skin itches, eyes scrape with each blink of reddened lids.

Haven't seen you for awhile. What's it been, three years? No big deal. We're the kind of friends who can just pick up where we left off. Easy. None of this what-have-you-been-up-to? bullshit. None of that matters. What was it that you said to me all those years ago? We were sixteen years old then, I think, running down an alley with a cop car on our asses. You turned to me and yelled, "let's never allow a girl to come between us!" I didn't question the statement. Adrenaline pumping, I just continued running as fast as my juvie legs could carry me. I didn't miss a goddamn step. "Of course not!" I replied, breathless.

That was two days before you screwed my girlfriend. Or at least two days before I found out you were screwing my girlfriend. But it didn't matter. She was out and you were in - because that's just the kind of friends we are. Besides, inside of two years I'd get you back by comforting your girlfriend after a fight. Met her at that place we used to go to drink down by the rail yard, about an hour before last call. Stayed until the bartender kicked us out. Spent the night in her flat. Drank cheap red wine until daybreak. Went with her the next day to sell her fall semester's texts. She dropped me off. I didn't even think about you once - not that I recall. But that's just the kind of friends we are. One doesn't stand in the way of the other.

The radiator taps out another message urging me not to be so stupid. Telling me that I need more sleep. But I see you now, your car, long and black, creeping around the corner. Diplomatic plates. It won't be long now before we're holed up in the corner of a pub, lost in reminiscence. Two stupid kids hanging out, laughing and bullshitting over some pints. No discomfort. No fragmentation. No time lost.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Let's just get this one little thing straight: image is all there is. Is it important for a man to have a clear view of himself? For a man to truly know who he is and what he stands for? No, not at all. To know a man who has fooled himself into thinking he knows himself is to know a fool. Identity is a delusion. What is truly important is to provide a clear view of yourself for others to see. What is most important is the image projected to the masses, for who you are is nothing more than the summation of the opinions belonging to those around you. What of the man who lives his life unknown to the world, shut up in his basement, never venturing outdoors? He does not even exist, and, in fact, is not even living a life.

You're widely thought to be a fool, so that is what you are. Nothing more. Not until you succeed in changing popular opinion, anyway. "A man ought to know where he's been to completely understand how it has shaped him - to completely understand who he is in the present." That's what you said. Something like that. And you couldn't even begin to believe that load of rubbish, yourself. Nightmares come so easily now.

Who was I, then, curled into that tiny chair in the musty lecture hall? What unspeakable deeds were committed by a past me to have had the present me sentenced to such horrible punishment? Condemned to a life of speaking the words of the dead, thinking the thoughts of those who were jailed before me. Whose hand wrote those notes? Whose eyes read those books? Whose ears heard those words, heard those words, heard those words, lies passed down, generation to generation. Certainly not mine. A stack of boxes sits in the closet, full of yellowing paper, fading ink. Pages filled with regurgitated suppositions and inaccuracies. Pages filled with wasted time. I'll never open that door again.

But you do. You can not help but to open that door every so often, peeking through the half-light. The boxes sit there still, never moving. They lurk. You're held back by a simultaneous fear of failure and success. Torn apart by it daily, you can't allow yourself to even live the life that has allowed your very existence. A comfortable life in 21st century North America. A life of collecting pieces. A lovely wife. A solid job. A cosy home. A reliable automobile. You look down on such a life, attempting to brush it off as the worship of the material. "To live a life of any import, a man's got to spend his energy in pursuit of greater truth." But you don't know how easy it is to waste an entire life trapped in such a pointless pursuit. There is no truth. There is nothing greater to know, but comfort. You're much too aware of yourself and your ideal, and if anyone should know this it is you: to be overly conscious of any action - be it physical, mental, or spiritual - is to have that action doomed to failure. And that path to failure is the one you have apparently chosen for yourself.

"What of the man who lives his life unknown to himself, projecting false images, allowing life to just take him? He does not even exist, and, in fact, is not even living a life." But there is not much to see here, either, it seems. Little more than the shell of a dead projector sitting on a dusty shelf in some little-used storeroom, I dream that one day I might be outfitted with new insides. I'll really be something, then. A bigger, better me. Horrible visions fill my sleeping hours. An eternity trapped in contemplation, evaporating one molecule at a time. Thinking myself to death in this bloody closet. Nostalgia brings me back to a time when I was whole, even though I didn’t know myself then any more than I do now. The rust creeps. Here, I may sit forever, deteriorating - or until the custodian comes to throw me away.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

the bad tourist (an interlude)

There's an acute resistance, a refusal to allow yourself to become fully immersed in the culture of our adopted home. Two weeks in Tangier, and each day I'm met with a refusal to leave the resort. Can I blame you for preferring the feel of your sneaks on the cool marble floor to the feel of your bare feet in the hot sand? The ease of conversing with Americans over the embarrassment of displaying your lack of finesse with Arabic? The consumption of hot dogs over cous cous? Yes, I can, and do, blame you. Like wearing a wetsuit in the bathtub, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I guess you just prefer to stay dry at any cost.

Transplanted. Like the transferring of a sensitive plant to a new home, we had to pack you in the dirt you were familiar with so as not to have you die of shock. And here you are in a breakfast nook in a five start Moroccan resort, eating Doritos and chugging an imported American beer. You just sit there looking out the window, day after day, watching the girls on the beach saunter by in their skimpy bikinis. Not even they could bait you. I know, we tried.

Approaching, I watch your arm muscles ripple with one more hoist of the bottle. Easy now. Choose your words carefully. A tat crawls up the side of your neck, flames licking with every gulp. "Where'd you get your work done?" I pull up the chair, opposite. Confident.

I'm met with a look. That look. That same look I've been given for the past thirteen days. It was easy for the guys at HQ to take one look at you and make assumptions. He'll be easy, they said. A guy like that, a real pit-bull, doesn't argue. They thought you were stupid. They were wrong.


"Pardon me?"

"Vegas. That's where I get all my work done."

"Ah, I see - well, it all looks really good, um-"

"I won't be goin' anywhere today."


Friday, November 11, 2005

now and then, here and there (a migration)

A home could be made here - made here by someone. Made here by someone other than me. She rocks, she rolls through the waves, her massive hull creaking with every mighty lean. I dated a girl like that once. That's what you'd say. I laugh to myself in the darkness. I just lie there snickering, until that snicker turns to a chuckle, til that chuckle turns to a cackle, and til that cackle turns to a howl. Just me and the darkness. I'm lying there, head resting on a sack of something, feet up on a crate of something else, and laughing to myself. And I'll laugh myself to sleep if I bloody well have to.

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, 1998

We're younger now than we will be. Younger and just a little more brash. Well, you use the word brave, but in my language, that signifier does not match up with the intended signified, so I throw brash out there - and you smile that smile. Full of teeth, eyes crinkling comfortably in the corners, genuine. You've smiled this same smile often. I can tell.

"What we are doing here?" you ask. There's a shuffling of feet on sandy floorboards. A running of rough fingers through thick, black hair. A dry cough through drier lips.

"Just having a beer," I say, lifting my glass. "Afya! Vifijo! Drink up - we've time for but a single pint before going on to the next place."

We're just passing through. We're always just passing through. And we'll pass through the next city, as well. We'll pass through this city, the next, and all cities thereafter as unnoticed as extras in a dream. A man will wake up tomorrow with the vague recollection of having seen us, and in a sweltering Tanzanian police station, he'll give his dubious account. He'll talk for hours, sweating into his chair, rifling through his memory. He'll leave, go back home to his wife and kids, and our paper counterparts will sit on a great oak desk tormenting the inspector. We'll exist as vague facsimiles shuffled into a thousand piles of paper around the globe. Invisible.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

convenient concord (a dissociation)

You're pointing out the different constellations, hushedly labelling, explaining them, voice hovering low on bated breath. Dampened excitement. You're made self-conscious by your own brilliance in the same way a teenager is much too aware of her awkward gait. "Corvus, Eridanus, Centaurus, Canis Minor," you go on. I'm lying in the grass, gazing up at the night sky through beery eyes. Body, earthbound, mind, a trillion miles away. What is it that keeps you tied to the stars, while others suffer through life disconnected?

Detachment. A military base in southern Djibouti. "When most people look at the sky," you say, "they assume they are looking at the same sky as every other person on earth. But if they only knew how different it really is on the other side of the globe!" Listening. Half-listening. Thinking: I'll get out of here someday. Soon. Contract work. I pull you closer - if only to get you to shut up - and you tumble neatly into the crook of my arm. Just for a second, I want you to see the same sky I see. "So, what do you call this job we do?" A change of subject. And it's a start. "We're labourers," I reply. "We're all labourers here. I try not to lose sight of that."

Drinking ourselves blind. It's what we do, how we cope, with the loneliness of travel, with the loneliness of being truly alone. You, beside me at the bar - both alone. Shots lined up, filled, then emptied, I see you learnt more at university than just astronomy. I've a tattered map spread out on the sticky bar, Africa, and I'm pointing out different locations, hushedly labelling, explaining them, voice hovering low on bated breath. Dampened excitement. Who knows who's listening. "Uganda, Djibouti, Senegal, São Tomé & Príncipe," I go on. You're staring through the map, I can tell. Through the map and through the bar, beneath. Through the bar, through the floor, and through the earth, below. Through the entire globe and at the sky, opposite. We sit like this, listening to one another. Half-listening, half-there. Me, planted in the ground, you, soaring through the sky.

Saturday, November 5, 2005

traveller (a reclaiming)

So, we're just going to go ahead and gloss over some stuff here. Lost amongst the trees for two days after the ingestion of an unknown hallucinogen. Psilocybin, but more so. Not quite acid. Baby woodrose? Argyreia nervosa. Maybe. High, so high. Don't look down. Or do. A shaky walk over a rope bridge. Ropes stretched taut, cliff to cliff. Fray, ignore the fray. Or join in. Dancing, and firewater chugged from a clay pot. Serious firewater, really on fire. Alcohol set ablaze, it burns my tongue and lips, singes my beard. Then comes the vomit - and more dancing.

The serotonin tap has been left on, and I'm dry. My guide tells me it's okay, that it's normal. They've a phrase for it, he says, adato ehisdv. Soul pain? I shake my head - and even that hurts. Can not focus. Consciousness stretched like the frayed ropes of that rickety bridge from a couple days ago. A week ago? It's stretched taut from one corner of the universe to the other. Impossibly long, thought simply can not make the journey from one end to the other. There's a disconnect. Synapses broken. Like untethered cable, unwound, stretching out to space, strung out to space. I'm a bloody mess.

The pursuit of words and the pleasures they bring. The dreams come like I was told they would. Attention is short the first night due to cold shakes and mild fever, but the second night is clear. As clear as those dreams from childhood, and infinitely clearer than those non-dreams of adulthood. When did the dreams end and emptiness begin? Mid-twenties? Late-twenties, certainly. The dreams stopped, and in their place a dense void - a veritable black hole - squatted in the unconscious. Ingesting ingenuity. Consuming creativity. Snacking on my style. Something had to be done. Sometimes one has to go in and set things straight.

On the plane, ass planted comfortably in manmade luxury, head back, arms relaxed on the rests. A film of sugary gin clings to the inside of an empty glass on the tiny fold-out table ahead. Ice cubes slowly melting. Tucked in my head now, taking a little trip. A cloud of dust mushrooming out, expanding, like an unexplored universe. Clusters of sequoias standing around, their lives yawning, stretching, before me. Visiting an old friend. A flock of birds bursts from the branches ninety metres above and into the night sky. I'm with them now, one of the flock. Flying high, I see everything. I bloody well see it all. Every goddamn stone, every drop of water in the brook, every ant crawling on the ground - my eyes pick up every detail.

Thursday, November 3, 2005

visvi owe`nv`sv

A family of sequoia trees in my headlights - mammoth bastards - seen through the thick cloud of dust after a sudden stop. Let's start here. My chin resting on the steering wheel. I'm staring, half-dazed, at the bark of one great tree in particular. Zoom in. Thousands of ants - maybe even millions - crawl up and down, marching through the deep grooves etched into the thick skin of this ancient tree. I see everything. I bloody well see it all. Every goddamn ant, every woody rut, every bead of sap - my eyes pick up every detail. The excruciatingly slow dripping of this trees lifeblood. Its slight sway in the wind. Roots worming their way through the ground. Having already spent 1,723 of its expected 2,057 years, this tree's life yawns, stretching slowly, as it prepares to enter the era of gradual decline. I was there at the planting of a tiny seed. I came for important moments along the way. And I will be there at the end.

And this is how it is when darkness creeps into something good. In an instant, the Jeep is thrown into park, and I'm at the tree, hands gripping roughened skin. Oginali. Hello, old friend. I feel its slow, sad pulse, the timeworn heartbeat of a millennia gone by. A deep tremble at my touch. There was a near miss once - a great fire in 1857. We took that near end and turned it into a new beginning. But that can't happen now; nothing can be done about the persistent march of time. Gaestost yuhwa danvta. I'm sorry, old friend. There will be a decline, and then death. A few centuries of rot. A slow return to earth. The completion of a circle.

Turning, I place my back against the tree's trunk, and slide down until I'm sitting at its base, squinting into the headlights of the Jeep. My head leans back, my eyes close, and an ant plays at crawling onto my neck. Utlvquodi ayawisgi. Proud warrior, not now. Keep away - and tell your friends. I tap a cigaret out of the pack and light it, filling my lungs to capacity. I hold it until my head goes all light, and my consciousness floats above me, mingling with the realisations of countless other souls. There's a thank-you whispered into my ear. Wado. An exhale. Of course I came. I had to. And I'll see you again in a few hundred. I'll walk with you, then, across the threshold. Together we will find our way. Donada`govi.