The Snowflake Collector – 8: It Was, in Every Imaginable Sense, a Disaster

No matter how Yanosh tried, no matter where he looked and what he put in his search field, the world did not seem to possess for The Snowflake Collector an answer. Innumerable were the sites and video clips that explained how to preserve snowflakes on microscopic slides or small sheets of acetate, using either—as he had been doing—superglue, or hairspray, or an artist’s fixative; and they all arrived, going by the evidence Yanosh could find, at results similar to the ones that The Snowflake Collector so far had reached.

But this, Yanosh knew, for The Snowflake Collector had told him, would not suffice. He would need, The Snowflake Collector had said and determined, a way of collecting his snowflakes in the fullness of their dimensions. And while it may have been the case that in their majority these snowflakes seemed, at first glance, so flat as to fit neatly within a thin layer of superglue trapped between two small plates of glass, The Snowflake Collector knew that this was nothing but a deception. A deception and a crass simplification by the lazy mind.

In reality, all these snowflakes—even the flattest among them, but most certainly those that came in the shape of short studs or even, as often they did, in a formation of nearly flat hexagonal structures enjoined with, or indeed by, short column shaped ones—were miniature crystals of infinitesimal complexity. To squeeze them between two glass plates and store them flat in a wooden case, no matter how carefully crafted, was, to The Snowflake Collector, as looking at the world and declaring it a disk off the edge of which one might fall…

The Snowflake Collector knew, then, that he would have to develop his own substance. He would have to acquire some knowledge, and applying this knowledge he would, through a process of trial and error and elimination, have to come up with a liquid, a gel that would have just the right consistency, that would be clear as glass, and that would dry, at habitable temperatures, with untarnished translucence and would keep the shape and the intricacy and the character of the snowflake he would encase in it, in three dimensions, for the relative eternity he or any other human being could envisage; not an eternity, then, perhaps, but a lifespan of civilisations: the extent of a physically appreciative intelligent presence on this planet.

A deep crisis of confidence soon engulfed him, for Yanosh’s extended research online remained fruitless. The Snowflake Collector now even undertook his rare and adventurous journey two or three times, by yellow bus and little red train and larger green or white train along the lakes into the biggest of any of the cities in his country, and to the enormous library of the university there, to study the properties of chemical solutions at different temperatures and their reaction to coming in contact with ice.

But hours and days and nights and weeks and months of toil both in theory in the city and in practice at home in his valley did not yield up to him any liquid or gel or substance of any kind that would catch a snowflake and leave it intact and absolutely unharmed, suspended in a glass cube in three dimensions, one inch by one inch by one.

The Snowflake Collector sensed the end of the season draw near, and with it he felt this abyss of despair once more gape open before him, calling him to fall, drawing him close to surrender, willing him to give in. He did not feel, The Snowflake Collector, that if in this undertaking, as in so many others before, he failed, he would find the strength, the courage, the spirit to pursue it again the next winter. Or any other endeavour. He was now, he felt certain, exhausted, spent. He had given the universe his all, and the universe had, once more, rejected his offering. Yet again, crushed by defeat and destroyed by his own, maybe lofty, ambition, he had exerted himself, but he had not excelled. It was, in every imaginable sense, a disaster.

The snow melted. The stream, where he had a small plot of land on which he planted two young fir trees for each mature one he cut down, had already swollen with the water from the fast disappearing masses of white that had covered the meadows and the sharp inclines of the mountainside, and The Snowflake Collector was no more. He had ceased to exist, his purpose evaporated like the miserable puddle of water left on the window sill from the erstwhile snow, with the warm morning sun. The devastation was drawn into the furrows of his troubled forehead, and when Yanosh now came to sit with him outside his hut, their silence was one of sadness and loss.

The stale stench of failure now clung about him, The Snowflake Collector knew, and he felt despair not just for himself but also for Yanosh. This friend. This loyal lad, still growing up, still becoming a person. Had he not let him down terribly too. Had he not drawn him into his project and made him a part of it, and did the ruins of it now not lie scattered before his innocent eyes, his young heart cut and bleeding; for what? A delusion? A whim? A fantasy? For a false and forever frustrated illusion that there could be such a thing as meaning, as purpose, as friendship and love?

Tears ran down The Snowflake Collector’s face and fell on the cold folded hands in his lap and he felt he was already dead. Yanosh could not bear to look at him. But he sat still by his side and bore with him his pain. And thus they remained, awaiting in silence the dread bounce of spring.


< 7: Every Day Brought New Gifts Now

9: So as Not to Chase Away its Wonder >

 


Counsel

‘Enlightenment,’ proposes Sedartis, with troubled eyes turned toward mine, ‘does not keep on its own, forever, sweet, like honey in a jar; it needs nurture, refreshing; the darkness around it is strong, and it forever encroaches. Without care, the flame will go out: the flame of enlightenment requires our hearts, indeed, our soul; you live in a soulless world where your science and your money have made you sceptical, cynical.

‘You do not believe in a soul, because your science has not found a measure or word for it yet. Be not so hostile, my friend’—this is the first time Sedartis addresses me ‘friend’—‘to things you can’t see, you can’t measure, you can’t understand in your mind: being so would be arrogance supreme. Generations before you thought not things would ever be possible that to you are now commonplace, why would you assume that today you know everything?

‘Allow time to infuse you with humility and passion in equal measure. And feed, forever, with these the light, as, if you do not, it will go out; but if you do,’ his eyes now newly aflame, ‘the light conquers darkness for certain, and always, just as it must.’


< The Sedartis Effect       Projection >


Read Sedartis in Paperback or as eBook

 

6 Domesticity

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Shakespearean Lunch No 3

The first three Shakespearean lunches take place at almost exactly monthly intervals in April, May and June. The first two more or less set the tone, but they still don’t entirely prepare me, for the third.

The first one happens at a beautiful Spanish tapas place just by the entrance to Borough Market, and—like all of them—is scheduled to last for about an hour, maybe an hour and a half, starting at one, but I don’t remember leaving before four, maybe four thirty. Still, there is much to talk about—writing, crowdfunding, and, of course, Shakespeare—and so my stupendous Writer Friend and I take our time and order another bottle of wine, but eventually we decide to have done, mainly really because the place, beautiful as it is, isn’t entirely cheap, and both of us are effectively skint.

For the second one, the tapas place is full up, and it’s raining off and on, and so we head a few doors into the market to a nice fish restaurant, which is all covered in glass and lends a view onto Southwark Cathedral. Much as on the first occasion, we meet at one, and we talk about writing, a little less about crowdfunding, a little more about adventures with agents, and about Shakespeare, a lot. I have another drink to go to that evening, so reluctantly, somewhat painfully, I drag myself away shortly after six.

For our third Shakespearean lunch we are fortunate in that a small outside table is available back at the tapas place on the corner, and my excellent Writer Friend is already parked there by the time I arrive.

I have recently written a play about Shakespeare and his relationship with the recipient of his ‘Fair Youth’ sonnets, and my friend is researching a story about William Shakespeare’s brother Edmund, so on this occasion our conversation for obvious reasons focuses almost exclusively on Shakespeare. Not having strictly learnt my lesson from our previous lunches, one and two, I have once again brazenly booked another drink on the Southbank at seven, but with a friend who has stood me up so many times and has so frequently been so unreliable that I think not too much of it when, around about seven, we just really have nowhere near exhausted our topic and order another bottle of wine.

It is at around this time that our luncheon turns epic. There is a fine line between an ordinary writerly lunch, which can easily last five or six hours, and a lunch that turns into something memorable, noteworthy. This is approximately the point at which that happens, because at approximately this point we have, between the two of us, had between four and five bottles of wine, and in all seriousness our conversation is likely by now to have drifted off said topic somewhat. I don’t remember onto what. I am pretty certain my formidable Writer Friend doesn’t either, though I haven’t asked him.

I feel a little reluctant to ask him what he remembers of our third Shakespearean lunch, because I would not for one moment wish to embarrass him or make him feel uncomfortable. Not that there really is much reason for either of us to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, save for the fact perhaps that we first pay our bill at five thirty, but when we finally say goodnight to each other some time close to eleven, another bill for wine has been clocked up and paid for, and I have given up any attempt at catching up with my other friend, two or three increasingly incoherent text messages having failed to establish where exactly he was, or why exactly he wasn’t, as I suggested, simply joining us, ten minutes’ walk from where we had arranged to meet on the Southbank nearby.

But there’s also one bottle of wine that’s unaccounted for. At some point after the second bill, we must have decided to have just that one more, and our brains at that late stage of our lunch were no longer, it seems, capable of placing paying for it into the category of ‘things to do before leaving’.

Not that we were trying to do a runner. When I phone the restaurant the next day, on my first attempt there is nobody there to take payment for the bottle, but they say they will phone me back. When they don’t phone me back, I try again, and this time round a Maître’d who doesn’t seem in a particularly appreciative mood recalls: ‘Yes, you paid for the first ones, and then you kept hugging the guy, and then you were gone.’ He is still for some reason unable to take payment over the phone, but promises to call me back, for certain. For a second time, nobody calls me, so I accept that last bottle as a drink on the house and consider the matter dealt with: thank you, it was much appreciated.

But when he says: ‘you were hugging the guy,’ he is, I think, being diplomatic. Or is the term I’m looking for ‘euphemistic’. I am fairly certain that by the time we finally staggered to our feet we were effectively snogging. This is slightly unusual and also unexpected behaviour from both of us because we’re just mates. Also, my affectionate Writer Friend as far as I know has never yet been gay. Then again, it doesn’t really matter whether or not anyone is or isn’t, and I don’t hold with these labels in the first place, and so I really don’t have any concerns about this, at all.

Still, the image that I couldn’t have seen at the time, but that is now ingrained on my imagination, cheers me no end: the two of us, men in our no longer quite forties, winding up our lunch at a Spanish tapas place in Borough, at close to eleven o’clock at night, cuddling and kissing with really, by that time, not a care in the world, and still so much to talk about for, I would hope, many a Shakespearean lunch yet to come…


< Reprise       {Threesomes} >

 

The Snowflake Collector – 7: Every Day Brought New Gifts Now

Every day brought new gifts now from the universe. There was Alison and Cassandra. Timothy, Lou and Lysander. There was tiny Frederick and the majestic Cassiopeia. It snowed for several days, and each day The Snowflake Collector got up with a spring in his step and, before doing anything else of significance, went outside with three glass plates prepared, no fewer, no more, to welcome these snowflakes into his world. Lavinia. Esteban. Roswitha.

He had no system, no method; he had a passion and a beating heart, he had no words to describe these snowflakes he so collected, but he gave them names. Balthasar. Emilio. Blossom. Alexander. He realised that it was easier to let them settle onto dry cold glass plates and then fix them with just one drop of superglue, than it was to catch them into a drop of glue that was already there on the glass before it dried out. He learnt he had best cool down the glue too. Once or twice he made a mistake and instead of a single snowflake ended up catching a cluster, and sometimes he damaged a snowflake he had caught while applying a dab of glue to it, but with nothing else occupying his mind, and little else making demands on his time, he soon perfected his technique and sharpened his eye for the snowflakes that wanted to be part of his life now, accepted his invitation.

He learnt to be at ease now with his calling and considered it an invitation he extended to these snowflakes, a welcome, and not a trap. Not a prison. And before long, the first of the sturdy wooden cases he had made began to fill up, and when Yanosh came to visit him now, and nodded his wordless ‘hello’, to be answered by The Snowflake Collector in kind, he found on the table in The Snowflake Collector’s very small kitchen, and on the window sill and on the short shelf, these glass plates which had in them indescribable treasures: imprints of crystals, characters written by nature. And Yanosh brought along now not just his smartphone but also his camera for which he had bought a second-hand macro lens online with money he had been given by his mother Yolanda’s employer, the inn’s landlord, for a few hours’ work every week in the kitchen, and he took these glass plates and photographed them, finding new, better ways of taking his pictures each time.

When Yanosh showed The Snowflake Collector the pictures he took of his snowflakes on the display of his camera, The Snowflake Collector felt a well of love surge through his heart: a love for Ramira, Zahir and Kamala, but also for Yanosh for capturing them in their utter perfection and for taking the time and for having the care and for witnessing what he was doing, and for allowing him to share.

He had not, in years, maybe decades, felt a love such as this, for another human being, a friend, or for the world and that which was in it and for the soul that infused his existence.

And he was grateful. More grateful, more gracious, more humble, for it. More whole, he sensed, than he had ever been. Yes, he was able to say to himself now, looking at the pixels in which a snowflake he had captured was recaptured and re-rendered with such exquisite clarity and detail as his eye alone could never have seen or let alone shown, I am thus become The Snowflake Collector: it is so.

No sooner had this thought formed in his mind, this sensation expanded into his body, this certainty grown in his presence, than he also was sure that what he was doing was wholly inadequate. He almost felt a rumble of anger thunder up through his chest, but since anger was so alien an emotion to him, so futile, so unnecessary, he allowed it to disperse into simple dissatisfaction: it will not suffice to do this, he said to himself, and to his unending surprise and the even greater surprise of Yanosh too, he said it out loud: ‘this will not suffice.’

‘These snowflakes: they deserve better. These glass plates that I have cut for them and this case I have built: they are wrong. I cannot flatten these snowflakes! They are not created in two dimensions. I have to find a whole new solution.’

With this he went around his kitchen and he took each one of the glass plates he’d cut, into which he had already preserved all the snowflakes that made up his collection so far, and he looked at each one and apologised. Anna. Matthias. Rodrigo. Filomena. Lucas. One by one he held them up before his eyes and bade their forgiveness. ‘You have all been wronged,’ he told them, as he put them away in the case he had built for them with wood from a fir that had grown on his land by the stream, and he breathed a sigh of deep sorrow and said to Yanosh: ‘I will have to start over again. I shall keep them, of course, they are now collected and to destroy them would be sacrilege, even though I have wronged them.’ And he took all the glass plates he hadn’t yet used and sat down at his kitchen table while Yanosh was watching in silence, and he started cutting them up, twice each again, and began to assemble them into cubes.

After an hour or so The Snowflake Collector had made maybe a dozen simple, clean-edged glass cubes, one inch by one inch by one, fixed and closed on five sides, with the sixth side left open. ‘I will have to,’ he said to Yanosh, ‘find a liquid, a gel. Something that will preserve these snowflakes just as they are, that won’t flatten them, won’t deprive them of a dimension.’ Yanosh nodded in quiet agreement and said, ‘I’m going to look it up for you.’


< 6: A Snowflake Not Unlike Him

8: It Was, in Every Imaginable Sense, a Disaster >

 


5 Surrender

This post has moved. You can now find it here.

 

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Reprise

My Science Communicator Friend takes me right back. Back to when everything was different and new and a little bit daunting, but also, obviously, exciting. He is up for things, he’s up for seeing some local art on a spur of the moment, he’s up for hearing Morcheeba, he’s even up for a book launch next Tuesday, though that is now unlikely to happen as he seems to have mistaken Thursday for Tuesday and realised he needs Tuesday to cram for a deadline Wednesday morning. Either that, or whateverthiscouldbecome has got stuck in its tracks now and shuddered to a sudden but not in its entirety incomprehensible halt.

When I say ‘whateverthiscouldbecome’, I should first of all quickly check back with the reality I am currently vaguely familiar with. The last time we saw each other, there was a moment that went like this:

We’ve arrived at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and the place is as yet fairly empty, with only a couple of dozen people or so huddling near the very front, by the stage, so we are able to get ourselves a couple of drinks and leisurely hang about the part of the stalls that will soon fill up with  gig-goers, standing.

I don’t remember what prompts the question, but it comes mid-conversation, as an aside, almost, or a sub-clause, certainly not a big deal, when he asks me how old I think he is. It’s a question in parentheses (a by-the-way kind of question that may or may not have slipped into another, much more pertinent topic of conversation) and I say, ‘well, putting together the information I have, I think you’re probably a bit younger than you look’—bearing in mind I originally thought he looked comfortable in his very early thirties—‘so I’d say possibly mid towards late twenties, about twenty-seven?’

‘Yes, I am twenty-two.’

In view of this, any notion of ‘whateverthiscouldbecome’ acquires its very own peculiar kind of perspective.

It takes me right back, all of this, to when things were new and a little bewildering, but also mostly handled with aplomb. There was a period—I’m not sure where it started, where it ended or, if not ended, was left dangling, suspended—when we faced each day with a healthy nonchalance. For me, it wasn’t my twenties. I went through my twenties with extreme caution and an at times crippling level of self-deprecation, but even then a tingling sense of thrill that anything at all might happen (even if very little happened, or nothing at all) was more or less always there. It was there now, with my very young Science Communicator Friend who had agreed to see me again, but then cancelled, but then—yeay!—agreed to, and did, see me again…


< {Vignette}       Shakespearean Lunch No 3 >