11 Death (Imagined)

I noticed I was dead when I saw myself lying dead in my bed; looking down on myself from a great height: there I was. Gone. A lifelong flirtation with significance, over. And nothing dreadful in consequence. No pain, no loss, no uncertainty. Just the remorseless ease of an expired existence. Of almost failure. Of having nearly been. Something or other. Someone? Then I woke up and realised that it had been a dream. I don’t like to say ‘only’, but it had been ‘only’ a dream. I had dreamt my self dead. What new joys. Wait on me.

It’s hard now to say what perplexed me more. Being dead (in my dream), or being alive (after all). But finding myself thus among the quick in a hitherto slow existence, I believed I had heard, and was minded to heed, a call for action: I got out of bed and made coffee.

Mug in hand I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, naked. I do that a lot these days, I examine my body. I marvel at it, not admiringly: bemused. I don’t look for blemishes or signs of decay, I look for signs of familiarity; for something that says: this is you. I don’t find it. The person standing naked in the mirror in front of me could be anybody. It’s not that I’m alien to myself or strange, just: unfamiliar. I’m roughly fifty and not beautiful. What I marvel at is not beauty. What I marvel at is the fact that I don’t recognise myself in the shape I’ve become. I’m not even unattractive. In fact, I may be more attractive now than I’ve ever been. And I’m not even sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m not sure it’s a thing. Any more. ‘Attractive.’ To what and to whom and to what end. Nevertheless, I’m a little alarmed because it seems late in the day to suddenly start feeling attractive. Alarmed but a little reassured too, because perhaps it just means I’m not over the hill. What is the hill? Going down is supposed to be easier than going up. What ride am I in for? Now?

Mug in hand I stand in front of the mirror naked, looking for signs of familiarity. The eyes maybe. Or the nose. Maybe the lips. I’m stubbly and I like it. There. That’s something to hold on to: seeing as it is that I’m alive there’s one thing that I’m happy with and that’s worth holding on to: my stubble.

I remind myself I am sitting opposite my young self and I had promised my young self – not so much promised, perhaps, as enticed him over by means of the prospect of – a question. My mind goes blank. The memory of imagining my own death, even just as a dream, and the image of my standing in front of the mirror naked, mug in hand, and content that I have inexplicably become ‘attractive’, possibly owing to stubble (which has since grown somewhat into a near-mature beard) sends a shudder down my spine and I put down my Mojito too firmly.

‘George,’ I say, sensing that something – anything – is required from me at this point, ‘what are you doing in Istanbul?’

This is not, obviously, the question I’d had in mind for him, but then I can’t begin to conceive of what question I might have had in mind for him, and since it’s a question that is playing on my mind about myself (what am I doing in Istanbul?) I feel it is pertinent, or if not pertinent then perhaps justified, or if not justified then at least maybe useful, useful in as much at least as it might open the conversation and at this point in the proceedings (are these ‘proceedings’, and if so what are they?) I yearn for a touch of conversation.

I startle myself at realising I also yearn for a touch, his touch, any touch, some contact beyond verbal, visual, aural, and I want to place my hand over his in a fatherly gesture. I don’t. But there are now two versions of us sitting at this table in the garden of the Limonlu Bahçe: one, the ‘real’ one, in which he still holds his glass in both his hands and has his eyes not exactly fixed but nevertheless on it, whereas I look at him in my ongoing state of bewilderment, and one, the ‘imagined’ one in my mind where he has put down his glass and I have cupped my left hand over both his hands and I look him in the eyes and he looks back into mine.

‘Not exactly sure,’ he says – in one version examining the glass in his hands and twisting it slightly, in the other holding my gaze with a blend of confidence and the uncertainty his words imply – ‘I was doing Interrail with a friend, I had no intention of coming here really, but maybe circumstances conspired…’

I know at once that they did, even though I still don’t remember this scene from my past, and I am immeasurably relieved; he is, although he doesn’t know it, similarly displaced from his own reality: we are on the same page, more or less.

I imagine squeezing his hand and cupping my right hand around his neck and pulling him close so he can rest his head for a while on my shoulder, but instead I pick up my glass and lift it up to him and say, as if I had any authority to do so: ‘welcome to Istanbul,’ to which, in both versions, he too raises his glass and clinks it with mine and, once again gamely, says: ‘welcome to Istanbul.’

The Snowflake Collector – 2: His Task Would Be Immense

At first he didn’t know how to collect snowflakes; he did not even know whether it was possible to do so at all. All he knew was that if he were able to preserve and collect snowflakes, then he would have something meaningful to do for the rest of his days, because there would never come a day when he would chance upon a snowflake that would be identical to any he already had in his collection, and so his collection would never be complete.

This, he also already knew, would be both infuriating and reassuring. There would be times when he would feel like throwing out all the carefully crafted wooden cases, into which would slide all the cautiously cut plates of glass, upon which would rest—for the relative eternity of any civilisation in existence being conscious of them, let alone able to appreciate them—the snowflakes in their time-frozen state, and burning the lot in a bonfire. But he would not do so, he was certain, for deep down he knew how precious his collection would become, and how singular, how unique.

The wood for the carefully crafted cases would come from the firs on his land by the stream. Since he heated his hut in the cold months with wood from his land by the stream, he planted two young firs to replace each mature one he cut down, and this way, he thought, the balance in the valley (and therefore in the universe) would stay intact, even tilt a little in favour of trees, with his presence.

He knew well how to craft wooden cases, even intricate ones as these would undoubtedly have to be, because they would need to have slits in them at regular intervals, just so spaced and so fashioned that a small plate of glass, in size about one inch by three, would slide easily in and out of the case, but stay firmly in place once stowed. The cases would have to be sturdy and each have a handle, so they in turn could glide effortlessly—apart from their weight, which would be considerable—in and out of a larger box, and this larger box would need to be stackable, because he knew that over time he would collect snowflakes enough to fill many of them. He would have to, he realised, build a shed. And he would build that shed from the same fir trees that stood on his land by the stream.

It was clear to him now that his task would be immense. Because not only would he have to carefully craft wooden cases, and for these wooden cases make strong wooden boxes, and for these boxes build a formidable shed, he would have to cut glass into regular plates, one inch by three, on which he would capture the snowflakes.

And he would have to catalogue them. He felt unsure about how to catalogue snowflakes, since he had no experience or expertise in this, but as with most things that he had ever attempted in his life before, he also thought that he would find a way. What didn’t appeal to him was the thought of giving his snowflakes numbers. Numbers, he felt, when they are not being used for elegant thinking, are not poetic, certainly not poetic enough to record snowflakes. No, he was sure, from the very first moment, even before he had gone out to collect his first snowflake, that he would have to name them. And since—as everyone knows and he knew—each snowflake would be different, he would just have to find a specific name for each one.

As he sat down, that evening, outside his hut, having so made his decision to collect the snowflakes—not all of them, only some—and contemplated the great task ahead of him, and experienced the tremendous delight in not knowing which snowflakes he would catch and collect, and which snowflakes would elude him, and therefore what names he would have to find for those snowflakes he would keep, he felt a deep glow of happiness fill his heart.

This is who I shall become, he thought to himself: The Snowflake Collector.


< 1: Barely the End of October

3: ‘I Need to Know How to Collect Snowflakes’ >

 


10 Choices

He wanders over, languid, slow, and sits down at my table, at a right angle from me, with a tentative smile: it’s most familiar this, this almost smile, this nearly-a-smile-but-not-quite, with an almost glint in his eye, but also a question.

He is frank but not so frank as to be forward, his mind is open, just as mine was when I was him, but also naturally cautious. I don’t remember this scene, this encounter from my youth at all, which makes me think that maybe this is a complete stranger and I’m projecting onto him my own invention of a version of my youth; and, seeing that I’ve lost my grip on continuity and the concordance of time and space with no possible explanation for how it is that I’m in Istanbul, none of this would surprise me.

‘Hello…’ – he looks at me as if he registered something from his own future or his own past (though that, too, may well just be in my mind), but he doesn’t recognise me, I’m glad: it was brazen to ask him over; I could ruin everything. What, though, is ‘everything’?

‘…I’m George.’

I want to say: ‘I know,’ but that would be certain to confuse him.

‘Good to meet you George, my name is Sebastian.’

He gives me another frank look with an almost-smile that this time round might just tip over into a grin, a benign one, but it doesn’t; instead his face settles into a look that says: you interest me and that alone is worth something, go on then.

I’m in. I don’t know what I’m in, or in for, but I can tell from his unjaded eyes that he likes the curiosity of this situation. He likes curiosity, and he’s not scared. He never was scared, I think, as I watch him look up at Ahmed who returns with our Mojitos. He likes Ahmed, he finds him attractive. Can you blame him. Ahmed thinks nothing of it and smiles at us both, in almost equal measure, though I sense a nod more towards me than my younger self George, but maybe I flatter myself thinking so and also I know what I was like then, I was incapable of flirtation. Nowadays I just surrender.

How to proceed? Am I going to tell George: look at me, I am what will become of you. That would be insane. And horrendously cruel, surely: what if he doesn’t want to look his self-to-be in they eye, at this particular juncture, right here and now and without warning or opportunity to think about it, what if he just wants to have a Mojito with an oddly familiar seeming stranger twice his age and maybe hear something about the world that nobody’s ever told him?

Nor, clearly, am I going to tell George my life story, the twenty-eight years or so that will constitute the distance between him and me. That would be simply unfair, and take forever.

So what am I going to tell him? Ask him? Want of him? For a brief but potentially panic-inducing moment it occurs to me that if we were to get on so well as to decide, maybe after a few cocktails or so, to go for a walk and then maybe dinner and then his hotel (seeing that I haven’t got one), I could end up quite conceivably in a sexual encounter with myself, in the most unorthodox way. That would be taking things way too far, I decide, and resolve to not let it come to this under any circumstances: this one Mojito, that’s it. (What are our circumstances, I continue to wonder…) He raises his glass and offers me cheers. I let it go and return the compliment.

The Mojito is – much as the Bloody Mary had been – near perfect with an appreciable kick to it, and I further resolve not to resolve anything more for the moment and instead allow myself simply to be there in that moment and see what next might unfold.

Ponderage

There are, I come to realise, an infinite number of infinities.

When I put this to my young Mathematician Friend as a question, he interprets it mathematically and gives me an explanation I do not comprehend, but of which I have a faint feeling it appertains to something entirely different, though nonetheless relevant and important. Maybe I did not phrase my question well, and he did not understand it. Or very possibly he did fully understand the question and gave me a perfectly valid answer, but one that makes sense to his young mathematician mind more than it does to mine, which is twice as old and really not scientific at all.

I have enjoyed my young Mathematician Friend’s company, and I miss him and think of him often. He has a lovely smile, though it be slightly downward inclined, which makes him look just a tad sceptical when he smiles. Then again, he is a mathematician, so he has every right to be sceptical, and his smile is no less lovely for it.

I am fairly convinced that since there are more infinities than just one, there may well be several, and if there are several, there may well be many, and if there are many, then conceptually it strikes me as obvious that most likely there are an infinite number of infinites. Not being a mathematician, or at all scientifically minded, I only know of three infinities, two of which are of the same kind, and a third that is of an entirely different kind.

The reason I know that there are more infinities than just one is that there is the infinity of rational numbers, which perch on the unending line in the plus/minus direction where you can always add one more or take one more away. This means you in a sense already have two infinites, a positive and a negative one, but they are, in character, the same and should therefore probably be considered, if not one, then of one ilk.

But there are also the irrational numbers, which, like anchor points or switches on that line stretching from negative infinity into positive infinity, branch off into another direction, or even dimension, by leading into the unending sequence of never repeating numerals after the decimal point, which we can’t simply add to or take away from, but have to calculate, and which is therefore specific but unpredictable, but predictably unending.

So, simply looking at these two types of infinity, which are easy enough to understand though they may not be instantly recognisable, my hunch is chances are there are perhaps—I would venture quite probably, so probable as to seem certain—other infinities that may be even less easy to recognise, but that are nonetheless real, as real as these two (which could be looked on as three); and so, since there are an infinite number of numbers and an infinite number of ways we can configure these numbers to express an infinite number of things, there are likely, I like to think, to the level of this being probable, and in fact quite possibly so probable as to seem certain, not just two, or three or four, or one or two dozen, but an infinite number of infinities, not least because there are bound to be an infinite number of universes. 

The thought that there are an infinite number of infinities to me is beautiful because I like the idea of infinities, but it is also tiring, because while I can imagine the one or two infinities that I’m already familiar with, I can barely conceive of any beyond that; and right now I wish I could have my young Mathematician Friend with me and curl up with him, just to feel his calm body in the presence of his beautiful mind and know that there is someone who may not see the world quite as I do, but who can handle abstraction and make something of it.

We spend some time together at the Science Museum, and on my terrace, and in my bed, and then he goes back to Austria, where he’s from; and I think, this is true: we actually met on a park bench in Kensington Gardens. It feels like we’ve known each other for years, but we really just met last Thursday by the Italian Fountain, when he asked me for a light, and we talked and exchanged numbers.

I lost sight, a little, of my young Mathematician Friend, after he left London, but he didn’t entirely escape from my mind, and so we met up again a few months later, this time in Vienna. That was a little strange, because now a few things had happened—none of them to do with me—that had troubled this beautiful mind of his, and while he was better again, in fact well, I now worried about him, and we talked about all manner of things, but not infinities. And then we spent a whole night together, first going out, drinking many pints of stout in an Irish pub, and then at a nice little hotel, and I thought no more of or about it, until it occurred to me that this, probably, is what most of life is mostly about: chance encounters, and where we take them, if anywhere at all.

We didn’t take our encounter much further, my Mathematician Friend and I, but that matters not; what matters is merely that we made ourselves some memories on a pin prick of an infinite number of possibilities, and for that alone I like him still.


Alignment >

 

9 Memories of the Future and of the Past: Walks on Water

Linearity, unhinged. The flashforwards keep coming: not premonitions. Memories of things that haven’t yet happened. I have no explanation other than that I’ve stepped outwith the continuum, I know not how. Time and space disjointed. Perhaps that’s what comes from not taking either too seriously, ever.

I walk through the snow in Kensington Gardens: about three inches of a softish sluggish powdery white that has its own decorative whimsy, now that it is sodden and trodden through. People have spent the weekend rolling snow balls and leaving them dotted around the park. Plus the occasional snowman. Mostly though only accumulations of snow the approximate size of an average snowman’s rump.

I wander and ponder my diagonal position in life. I use too many words, I am told. Frequently. All the time. Words words words words words words words. I use seven when one would do. But would one do? Would one word, would one word do? Would it now. And would it do what? And for whom? And says who? Rhythms and patterns. And repetitions. Nobody likes them as much as I do, it seems. Relishing words, the love of words, words in their own right, to no end and no purpose, propelling no plot, describing no thing, put there for their very own sake. Superfluousnesses:

Abundance.

Words for what they are, not what they’re worth. A picture paints a thousand words; a word, when pictures in their thousands fail, may say it all. Nobody gets that. It follows that nobody gets me: I am my words, that’s what I am, they are me. I’m little else, nothing. Else. Really. I am obviously not my body. The ways in which I neglect my body are subtle, I don’t actively abuse it. I don’t damage it, or only slightly, sometimes, and not wantonly. I’m not vain, though I am, I perceive, as I tangent the bedecked lawn with its broad traces of snowballing on it, a tad narcissistic. I don’t want to be, but I am a little in love with myself. Damn, another unwelcome insight. But I have to be a little in love with myself: I’m single and somewhat singular. If I don’t love me at least a little then nobody loves me at all and that would be heartbreaking, sad. The differential between lone and lonesome; lonely, alone. Now that I know I am troubled, troubled I see that nobody knows the trouble I see. In all likelihood it is true: I do have a bit of a Messiah complex as well, but then so did Jesus.

I remember walking through the snow in Kensington Gardens once before, though there wasn’t as much then, snow. There was ice, however, on the Round Pond and my girlfriend, my girl friend, then girlfriend, and I came up towards it in deep conversation and we liked the idea of walking on ice, it was a London Park in January thing to do, and I was new to London in January and she was visiting me and we tested the ice just a bit and found it sufficiently strong and so we started crossing the pond. There was magic abroad in the air, or would have been, had I felt towards her quite as she did towards me.

She was, I believe, in love with me, deeply. I liked her. And found her likeable and attractive as a human being but I wasn’t ‘attracted’ to her. We came to the middle of the pond and looked around and enjoyed the ducks and the geese being comical and clumsy, and then we walked on, and shortly before we reached the other side we happened upon a sign that said DANGER THIN ICE and we laughed and we came off the ice and continued our walk, talking.

That’s how young we were, how unencumbered. I’m a little in love with that boy, that lad, that young man. I was never really a lad, I don’t think, I was hardly ever a boy, I was a very young man though. I certainly was never a guy or a geezer. I was earnest and a little pretentious, in fairness; maybe a lot. And possibly just on the borderline end of the autistic scale; maybe just eligible, by today’s standards, for On-the-Scale-Asperger’s, though of that I can’t now be sure.

And now I know that within seconds I’ll be sitting opposite him, that exact young man, of exactly that age, who still, I imagine, thinks of that girl as his girlfriend, even though he already knows he can’t love her, not in the way she loves him. Shall I tell him? And if I tell him, shall I tell him also not to walk on the ice, as it’s nowhere thick enough and he and his girl friend might die? That would be the responsible thing to do, surely, to warn him. After all, this isn’t just about me any more, this is also about her! Imagine how I would feel today if we’d crashed into the water in Kensington Gardens and both of us had drowned. Or worse still, if I had survived, so I could feel something, anything at all today, but she had drowned, and try as I might I could not save her?

My heart feels a jolt of guilt and remorse at not having saved her, though sincerely I tried, when I remember that we walked off that ice and laughed. And that laughter I remember completely. That is a memory of the past. It is real and proper and warm and good. We were a little in love with each other, perhaps, after all. That laughter, that unencumberedness. That not looking back on the ice in horror to check how thin was it really, that just walking on. Hand in hand. Laughing. I love him for that, I love her for it too.

The Snowflake Collector – 1: Barely The End of October

Up at the end of the valley, the far end, before it yields to the glacier which reaches down from the mountain pass, slowly receding now with growing temperatures, lives an old man who looks at the world still with wonder.

He is not as old as he seems at first glance, and much older than his years all the same, for he knows. He knows, deep inside, what holds the universe together and what tears it apart, and what being these molecules, what being that energy means. He knows it but he can’t express it, and so he won’t.

He won’t talk about it, he won’t, in fact, talk about anything much, he appreciates silence.

When he was young he used to meet up with friends for a drink and a chinwag, and then it began to dawn on him that much of what he was being told, and even more of what he heard himself speak, was an array of variations on themes: things he’d heard said and had spoken before, in this way, or that, or another. Self-perpetuating reiterations of what everybody already knew and keenly agreed on, or hotly disputed, as was their whim.

And so he let go, he let go of his friends whom he loved but could no longer bring himself to like, and let go of the circuitous conversations that did nothing but remind everybody that they were still who they thought they needed to want to be.

He was tired. And being tired he got old, older than his years, older than his looks, older than the oak tree in the oldest garden. And he moved, once or twice first, then twice or thrice more; and each move took him further away from those whom he had been, had made himself feel, acquainted with. First to the country, then to the coast, then the foreign lands, then the mountains, then the valley, and then the end of the valley, in the mountains again: the remotest place he could find.

It was not that he was happy here, it was just that he was content. Content not to need to desire happiness any more. And here he sat and walked. Sat by the house he’d bought for very little, and walked over the fields and the meadows and up to the vantage points from which he could see the peaks and the woods and the villages, in the very great distance. He liked that distance: distance was space, distance was calm, distance was perspective. Unencumberedness. Distance was good.

Winter came to the valley, and it was barely the end of October, but going for walks was harder now because everything was covered in snow. And this being the far end of the remotest valley he could find, nobody came to clear the snow or pave the paths or even the lane that led up to his hut. So he was stuck, in a way, and he liked being stuck, it meant, in a way, being safe. Safe from visitors, safe from the desire to go out, safe from choices. The persistent demand of decisions, abjured. Simplicity. He’d craved that. And now, he had it.

What he was able to do still was to sit on the bench in front of his hut and watch the world go by. Except the world didn’t go by here, it stood pretty much still. Or so it would seem. And he knew, of course, that this wasn’t true, that nothing stood still, that everything was in motion, always. He found it comforting. Disconcerting too, but comforting; and he had said so. He’d said so and had been quoted as saying so too.

With each day that passed, winter became more present and more unreal: the snowflakes tumbling from the skies like clumsy, half-frozen bumble bees out of a freezer up in the cloud. There was something in him still that reminded him of the kindness of people, and he let one or two of these snowflakes alight on his hand, and they melted and ceased to exist. How sad, he thought to himself, how just and, yes, how poetic. And he recalled once upon a time being a poet, and that’s when he decided to capture and keep them. Not all of them, obviously, only some. And to collect them. To preserve them.

He knew this was futile and went against nature, but therein exactly lay the exquisite sensation of thrill and deep satisfaction. To do something that was futile and that went against nature, but that would be indescribably beautiful.

That was more than existing, that went beyond breathing and eating and sleeping and defecating and shaking in anger and dreaming and imagining and sitting and thinking: that was living. That was imbuing the accidental presence of clusters of mass-manifest energy in this constellation with something that surpassed everything, something divine, something purposeful and profound, something quintessentially and incomparably human: meaning.


2: His Task Would Be Immense >

 


{Vibe}

What kind of a consciousness is it that knows itself to exist but doesn’t know why? In what way does that make sense? In what way does it not? The quest. The longing to learn. The yearning for answers. The learning to yield. If only my brain were better at retaining information. What is ‘information’? Remembrance of things past and future. The energy stream, and the particles. Obviously, the waves. The idiosyncrasies. Material flaws. Cracks that let the light shine through. Nonuniform irregularities. Quantum behaviour.