these days it appears
attractive to young men
attracted too, of course, but that’s not news
and not newsworthy: young men are
even people who aren’t generally attracted to young men can see this
and even if they can’t see it, they are still
attracted to them
their gender their inclination their
their emotion their wisdom their inhibition, their assessment of any given
whether they want to or not and believe that they are or that they aren’t
(except those few who are not and they are few and are not and are therefore the
what’s new is that more than before
more than ever
as far as i ever can tell
(and often i can’t)
or recall (and i could if i would)
men half my age or just slightly older or occasionally just slightly younger still too
come to me, seek me out
not i them
of the men i have met, spoken to, spent time and been with lately
most, though not all, have been those
that are half my age or slightly older or on occasion slightly younger even
and who have come to me, sought me out
not i them
this flatters me, of course, maybe honours me, but more than that does it
because i don’t do anything to attract them, not
consciously: if anything i do the opposite
i grow a beard
i wear a jacket left me by a friend more than ten years ago, which was vintage then
my shoes are worn out and my jeans
i don’t go to the gym i don’t wear my lenses i don’t
a young voice or vocabulary
more than they have ever done before, even when
when i was their age
come to me, seek me out
i don’t go after them. on a park bench at a party in a bar
i mind my own business more or less
i say hello maybe, or
greet a smile with a smile
but that’s it
i don’t do anything more; maybe
that’s what it is
maybe that’s what makes me
to young men: it may be that
in the past, when i was
i was just trying too hard to be
something, someone, some other
person than the one that they saw
because they saw through me then to me now
what they see is what they get
and if they are friendly and kind and intelligent too
(apart from being attractive: being young, they’re always
i see no reason
why they shouldn’t get
what they see if
what they see is
what they desire
is life not give and take after all and are we not in it
to share of ourselves
as we lose ourselves in each other?
my summer of love leaves me warm-hearted light-headed and simple of soul
Though he be strong, he is not fierce; though he be powerful, he is not violent. Although he be dependable, righteous he can’t be; though he be wise, he is not heard. He is a Fire Breather: his word burns like a torch; like Elijah’s does it purify – but can it ever be understood? By whom?
He casts a curious figure in the wilderness, as he stands by the shore, by the riverbank, on the mountain, on the traffic island in the city; in the square; shadowless, peerless, ageless. The inner beauty of his mind obscured and masked by the dust on his brow and the mud round his ankles. His hair all a-tangle, his white beard streaked now only with the occasional charcoal, with a strand of dark blond here, or there ginger. His scent is not sweet, nor is he a joy to behold, at first glance.
At second glance the wrinkles around his eyes show as laugh lines, and they are merry with wisdom. At third glance the light in his eyes shines bright as a flame: the oxygen of an insight beyond.
Through meditation and study and practice he has mastered the art of putting his mind above matter, and so he has learnt to walk on water, but he can only do so when nobody watches because he knows that if anyone were to see him, they would turn him into a miracle worker, a prophet, a freak. A messiah. A wonder of no more worth than that it defies the simple laws of contemporarily understood physics.
He will not have it. He will not be entertainment. He will not speak of his understanding, nor will he surmise his premonitions other than to those who are able and willing to pause. And stay silent, but for a while. Ere they ask questions. Those who are capable of phrasing these questions from a hunger for knowledge, a desire to learn. They are not many. The shouting, the screaming, the screeching, the demands for explanations, the sarcastic tones and the jibes, the heckling, the laughter, the desire—the instinct—for tearing him down, the lust for his failure, for his destruction, for him to be hung drawn and quartered, for his undoing, are great.
He knows this, and he inwardly smiles. He has the capacity in his heart to forgive. He is magnanimous in his disposition towards those who hate him, who wish him silenced, who relish him misunderstood. Because he knows: one day something or someone will catch fire from his word and the fire will spread and will cause a great conflagration from which the lands will emerge purged and fertile for new thought to grow.
That is not his aim nor his goal nor his intention, that is just his purpose. His purpose is to quietly whisper into the din of the crowd that will not heed him, and plant the seeds he was given to sow. Until one takes hold. Until from just one or just two or just three or four, and then four or five more, some thing starts to grow.
He doesn’t even know what that could be. He has no certainty that it will not be dangerous, poisonous even, or be made such by others who will take what they find and turn it upside down, inside out; who pervert him and his gentle teachings into dogma and strife. He cannot prevent this from happening, if it must. He can only be true to his purpose, his purpose being his word.
Fear not the Fire Breather, but neither dismiss or ignore him. And doubt not the might of the Word.
There need to be nooks and crannies; there need to be inbetweennesses.
There need to be othernesses and odd-ones-out that defy gravity, expectation, formula, form. The enemy of perfection is impatience, I know, and yet I find me a-longing, what for I know not. Could it be as banal as attention? This Monday was bluer than I have rhyme for or reason. Or song. And it was the Blue Monday, by name. Need I dramatise myself better, spectacularise myself? Invite preposterousness, scandal, sensation, or noise? Or simply dress up and say: ‘oi!’?
‘The problem,’ Sedartis muses, in what seems a conciliatory mood, ‘with standing in the room shouting loudest just to make sure you get heard is that you don’t hear anyone else in the room, let alone perceive what is happening quietly, under the din. The greatest menace and greatest wisdom have this in common: they enter the fray in silence. The menace by stealth; it creeps up on you, seemingly harmless, sometimes friendly even, or if not friendly, then maybe quaint. The wisdom though simply spreads, where it can, unspectacular, slow, like the proverbial dawn, until it is really quite splendid and inescapably heralds the day. I’m mixing my metaphors. You get my meaning.’
I inwardly nod. None of this seems new to me, or revelatory.
‘The problem with standing in the room silently, or muttering to yourself, is that you may not just be forever ignored, which is one thing, and bad enough, but taken for mentally unstable, dangerous even, certainly weird. There is nothing in itself wrong with weirdness, but when your task is to be taken seriously, it’s unhelpful. Your task is to be taken seriously. Accept the challenge.’
This piques my interest: how then, I wonder at Sedartis who has been with me for the last twenty months now, dispensing his snippets of ‘insight’ liberally, as a Father Christmas hands sweets to children, do I make myself heard while being able to listen, do I speak but not mutter, do I send signals, not simply make noise?
‘That is easy,’ Sedartis, unsurprisingly, now that I think of it, claims: ‘You stand in the room, upright and tall as you are, not flustered, not blustering, not puffing yourself up, not screaming, not shouting, but saying what you have to say, with confidence, clear. When you’re spoken to, listen. When you see someone in the room who isn’t being paid any attention, go to them: pay attention. Give yourself a rest now and then and sit quietly in the corner to observe. There, if somebody joins you, you may yet have your most meaningful conversation.
‘Keep an eye and an ear out for the people regaling themselves, roaring with laughter. More often than not they are harmless, even if they’re annoying. But be alert. Keep a feeler out for the subtleties, the changes of tone in the room, the small movements, the quiet arrivals. The sudden departures.
‘Listen out for the music that’s setting the mood. Who do they dance to, who stand aside for. And then you may just have to pick your own moment. Because this room has no host. So it may never happen that someone who knows you invites you to say a few words and bids the others, “pray silence!” – You may have to pick your own moment and command the attention. As you are. Without fuss, but with authority, flair. Then, though, know what you’re talking about. That moment may just be brief. So be prepared and worth listening to, even if just to one or two, three or four. That’s enough. Be patient. Be humble. Be strong. And if you speak any truth at all, prepare to be shouted down, even chased from the building. Such, I’m afraid, is the world that you live in. Your reward may never materialise: do not expect a reward.’
I do not expect a reward, do I?
‘Yes you do,’ Sedartis thunders, now vehemence in his wrath. ‘Rise above this need to be appreciated.’ Is that even possible, I now seriously ask myself and Sedartis in tandem: isn’t being appreciated simply another expression for being loved?
Sedartis is quiet. Have I managed to shut up Sedartis? Really? I feel a minuscule pang of guilt, but triumph as well. It doesn’t last long:
‘George.’ I don’t think Sedartis has ever called me by any of my names before: ‘Your need to be loved is only human. You cannot, nor should you, be super or let alone subhuman. But learn to be loved in manifold ways, unspoken, unreciprocated, unneedy, generously, unspectacularly. Appreciate love when it is not shown, not expressed, but still felt. Yours is a singular path, maybe lonely, at times: fear it not. You’ve been given advice on this matter before, and you will be again: heed it, it was sound. Accept love, don’t crave it: give love, don’t take it for granted; don’t overstate it, don’t desire it, don’t keep it: be love.’
Sedartis thinks we are far from doomed as a species. That, he makes me understand, is the good news. The bad news, as far as he is concerned, is that we are hopelessly inefficient. We evolve, but reluctantly so, and so slowly. He makes me feel this is my personal responsibility, and in a way it is: we have some ten, twenty, thirty thousand years of civilisation behind us, and we still allow ourselves to be stuck in our ‘from zero’ troubles: the wars, the bloodshed, the struggle for survival, the hunger, the despair, the fighting each other over trivial issues and slices of land, the ideological battles, the religious zeal, the blind and wilful stupidity.
The blind and wilful stupidity. That, above all, is a crime. Sedartis doesn’t mince words when he thinks his essential thoughts:
‘Stupidity is a crime.’ Not, he hastens to add—aware and fearful in equal measure that this part of his thought may get lost, and he now forever be misunderstood—‘not,’ he emphasises, ‘not the crime of the stupid. You cannot blame the people who are imprisoned in an unevolved mind for being stupid. The responsibility for allowing the perpetuation of lethal stupidity—the kind of stupidity that leads someone to speak of “deplorables,” which is undiplomatic, but contains an essence of truth—lies with the educated and the informed much more than with the trapped; the leaders much more than the followers. Unless you’ve been given a taste for learning and an insight into what insight opens you up to, you cannot —not unless you’re exceptional—rescue yourself from stupidity. Dullness of mind begets dullness of mind, enlightenment enlightens, it has ever been thus.
‘But,’ Sedartis continues, with a note of concern that troubles me just as much as his observation: ‘your problem is not that you don’t have wisdom: you have it in spades.’ I like the way he uses the word ‘spades’ in the context of ‘wisdom.’ It seems incongruous and grounded both at the same time. ‘Your problem is that it reaches nowhere near far enough fast enough, and you allow the majority of your species to treat it with disdain. You grow entire generations in whom nine out of ten individuals don’t ever entertain any notion of wisdom; don’t even know what it means, let alone recognise it as something that might just be worth aspiring to.’
I realise this is true. And sad. Who even uses the word ‘wisdom’ and doesn’t inwardly smirk? Have we lost, entirely, the way of the wise?…
‘Your problem is that you have to keep starting from scratch. Every human born has the potential to be wise and enlightened, gentle and kind; generous, strong, humane and embracing of human nature as well as of nature itself, though evolved from the baseline of simple survival. And yet only a fraction reach their potential.
‘Never even mind your developing nations, the poverty stricken and the destitute—why are they poverty stricken, still, why, after all this time, after so many centuries of science, of progress, technology, wealth, are they still destitute, why?—never even mind these (and they are your responsibility too), but your most advanced societies, your richest and best connected: you still allow half of their populations to get to the point only where they can barely fend for themselves; where they still feel they have to fend for themselves. How is such a thing possible?’
His inflexion tells me that this is no rhetorical question. It beggars belief, I know, and I wonder. Often. And I know Sedartis thinks me these thoughts in response to my puzzlement at where we are.
‘Your problem is you keep having to start from scratch.’ I appreciate the nuance. ‘Every single individual specimen of your species is born with an empty brain. It’s a beautiful thing, this potential, this clean slate, this Innocence Innate; and you think of it as inherently human, because it is.’
I believe it is. This Innocence Innate: it is inherently human. Could we love our children, if it weren’t so?
‘It’s also incredibly inefficient.’ This, I fear, may be more bad news. Sedartis thinks not, he thinks it a challenge, he wants to convince me that this is not a good thing nor is it a bad thing either, it is just a thing, and one we need to embrace:
‘If you want to advance to the next level, if you want to take your next major leap, you are going to have to do something you may think of—paradoxically—as inconceivable, but that will become as normal to you as walking upright and speaking in sentences has become normal to you now: become hybrid. With your own invention, information technology. It is part of you already, you created it: far from being separate from or alien to you, it is you. Augmented intelligence. You’re already augmenting your physical capability all the time, you’re building body parts, you’re transplanting at will, you’ll be printing organs ere long. You shy away very briefly before you embrace the advantages of a body that works, and overcome any squeamishness you may have about manipulating what you were given by nature. Your next step, unless you want to stay stuck in this repetition of ‘from zero’ learning—which entails all your quirky, adorable failings—is to tap your brains into the network and allow new generations to start from a base above zero.’
That, I instinctively shudder, is surely wildly problematic. ‘Indeed,’ thinks Sedartis, ‘it is. Your ethical challenges have just gone exponential. You have a task on your hands; there is no way around it, because this is as inescapable as reading glasses or pacemakers were at their time, and you’ve quite readily got used to them too; but this is a step of a different magnitude, and, beyond magnitude, of a different kind altogether: you will have to think about what you want your species to be. You have to actually, consciously, define what it is to be human.
‘Shudder you may, and recoil for a moment, but then you have to get over yourself and grasp this nettle like all the others you’ve grasped, and take your people with you. Allow not half of you to be left behind and become the servants—the, dare I say, slaves—of those who push forward. Allow not your species to be torn apart into two, three tiers with some going all the way, and some being left stranded, and some unable, unwilling or unallowed to proceed, simply because they do not understand. If they understand and choose different, that is another matter. But help them at least understand. You’re on the brink of a development that will set the tone for the next few hundred, maybe few thousand years of your species. Do this well: you have everything riding on it.’
Do this well…
My mentality makes me leap as close to the sun as I may without being burnt, without floating adrift, without losing my sense of belonging, if not here, if not there, then in the universalness of it all.
There is something wondrous about being me, still, at this age, at this point, which is never a point only but always a wave just as much; at this juncture which is never a coming together only, but always as much a moving apart, through this phase which is never as much a beginning as it is also an ending, only more so, which means it just is; there is intemperance, folly, wisdom and wit to be found where there’s light, and there’s the mischief of knowledge: am I really just information?
Here on Mercury where a day lasts a couple of years at least by perception, my mind is blasted by solar winds, and I take hold of my wand, meaning to keep it. The power to lull the awake into sleep, to awaken those lost to slumber, to ease the agony of the dying and to quicken the dead. The quickness, the quirkinesses, the quintessentialness of it all.
I race around the sun looking out into space, and I enjoy the ride more than ever I did before. How come youth arrives at an age when it is all but gone? How come it happens twice? The first time with no experience on the fabric of sensations to handle it well, the second time with said fabric so worn that it feels all but threadbare? Will there be a third instance, maybe a fourth? Is it necessary, possible, even, to count?
My brain cells refuse to collapse, and my curiosity gets the better of me, so I keep carving open new synapses, firing new thoughts into a continuum that is already awash with ideas.
No time, no space, no respite, no rest, no melancholy here, no decay: this iron is liquid is hot is alive with pure energy, not organic, not systemic, not caustic, not quiet, not loud: effervescent in its potential. This place may be small, but its capacity to astonish is great, nay unlimited, nay infinite and profound.
Can lovers be friends? Can pleasures bedevil the heart that has grown to be kind? Can connections be the meaningfulness of it all? The essentiality? The reason? The cause? The spark and the fire, but also the balm? Can this toxicity heal as well as inspire? Can this generosity of spirit ask more than questions? What is there beyond the surprise, the delirium at having recognised I am able to speak? Am I the medium or the message or merely the conduit? Would I mind if I knew, could I know if I cared?
There are now too many possibilities, too many strands, too many fluctuations, and too many rotations; too many rules that like laugh lines adorn me for me to worry: care I may, yes, and consider; learn I can, and communicate, lend a gentle ear, sometimes, and a generous eye, and embrace the love that is not mere emotion, but more than instinct is intellect, and say yes: I comprehend. Not understand, perhaps, not everything, yet, quite possibly not ever—things move so fast, so all over—but I can take it all in. I can be it all. I can be little and insignificant and still mean the multiverse. That’s just what I wanted to sense. There is no mirror here on this planet, Narcissus has settled on Earth, and my ego today is not needy, nor never will be, no more: my eccentricity here is at its most extreme, at its most exquisite, most extraordinarily acute, and I’m comfortable with that too.
I call on my younger self to excuse my inadequacies, as I know my older self will be looking across to me now as I am and merely encourage, not chide, because I have here now forgiven my older self its obliviousness, its perfection. Its contradiction, in terms. This, for all its unreasonable demeanour, is maybe the best position I’ve been in. And I’ve been everywhere, but not yet. Soon this, too, must come to a premature end if it is to last forever, and that’s what it is.
The caduceus though I shall treasure…
While he knew well how to craft wooden cases, and for these wooden cases build sturdy boxes and for the sturdy boxes—many as there would be—construct a formidable shed, and had the tools in his hut and the fir trees on his land by the stream to make all these things, and while he also possessed a diamond glass cutter and knew where to find good solid flat glass to cut into precisely dimensioned plates of three inches by one, over time in very large numbers, The Snowflake Collector did not know how to collect snowflakes.
He had never before given any thought to the possibility that he might one day decide to collect snowflakes and thus become The Snowflake Collector, but now that he had determined to do so—as certain and as irrevocable as if it had been set in stone, and yet, of course, from a wider, much longer perspective, as transient too—he felt compelled to research the matter, in detail.
It would have appealed to his great sense of distance, which he had so sought out and which he so cherished, to undertake a long journey and walk down into the valley and from there take the yellow bus to the very small town and from there take a little red train to the nearest small city and from there a bigger and faster and greener or whiter train to the bigger (though still fairly small) city and there go to the large stately library kept by the university and ask a bespectacled and certainly not hostile but perhaps slightly weary librarian for a book on Snowflake Collecting, but he knew that such an excursion, which entailed the expense of time and resources, was an unnecessary and therefore wasteful exertion, and while he did not believe that time could really be expended any more than it could be kept in a jar, he nevertheless found any temptation that might have drawn him from his valley and into the city, overpowered, readily, easily, by the comfort and safety of his mountains.
So, instead, he walked down to the inn, an hour or so from his hut, in the outpost hamlet some few miles from the village, and there he was greeted with a smile by Yolanda, the waitress from Ukraine. Yolanda had come from Ukraine to find work here as a waitress, and she liked the landlord, because the landlord was not interested in her, he mostly spent his time with his mostly young friends. Like everyone else, Yolanda knew The Snowflake Collector, although she, like everyone else, did not know yet that that’s who he was. She greeted him with her smile that she never needed to force, and started pulling a dark ale for him, because in all the years she had known (or thought that she’d known) him (for nobody really knew him at all), he had never wanted anything other than a dark ale from the tap.
‘Is Yanosh around?’ he asked her, having thanked her, as she brought the heavy beaker to him at the table in the corner with a small view out of the square window onto some very brown cows.
‘He is, I can call him for you if you like?’
‘When he’s not busy.’
The Snowflake Collector knew that Yanosh would not be busy now, because Yanosh was Yolanda’s son of about fifteen, and he didn’t like his peers down in the village too much, so he mainly kept himself to himself in his room, playing games on the computer or writing songs which he never played to anyone, or fantasising about travelling back in time to the past or forward into the future, or being naked with an actress he had recently started to fancy.
Yanosh came down directly when his mother asked him if he would, because he liked The Snowflake Collector, and although he didn’t know yet that that’s who he was either, he, unlike almost anyone else in the world, sensed that he did know him a bit. They both knew each other, a bit. And they liked each other for knowing each other a bit, but not more, and for mainly leaving each other alone, but when necessary being able to spend time in each other’s company without ever having to say or do anything.
Sometimes, when he felt particularly bored or lonely or uncertain why he was even here, or just wanted to be out of his room, but not anywhere where there were people, but also not anywhere where there were none, Yanosh would stomp up that same path that The Snowflake Collector had just come down now, and simply sit outside his hut, in the sun, or if there was no sun, then in the rain. It didn’t matter to Yanosh whether there was sunshine or rain, or no rain but clouds: he liked sitting outside The Snowflake Collector’s hut, because here he could sit in absolute peace with no demands being made on him and simply watch the world go by, which it didn’t, up here, because up here, the world stood pretty much still; but Yanosh, much as The Snowflake Collector, knew of course that nothing stood still, that everything was in motion, always, and while Yanosh did not find this either disconcerting or comforting—he had little need, in his life, yet, for disconcertion or comfort—he nevertheless found it soothing. And sometimes The Snowflake Collector would already be sitting there too and they would nod at each other and perhaps mutter ‘hello’, though with hardly any tone to their voice at all, and then sit there; and sometimes The Snowflake Collector would not be around but would find him there and join him, and they would similarly nod at each other or, not expending any unnecessary breath on words, perhaps mutter ‘hello’, perhaps not even that, but sit there in great silence, which they both so greatly appreciated, Yanosh quite as much as The Snowflake Collector.
Over the years that Yanosh had come to sit with The Snowflake Collector, there would have been the occasional short conversation, sometimes perhaps inside the hut, over a glass of Chrüterschnapps or with a slice of Bündnerfleisch, and so The Snowflake Collector knew that if he ever found himself in need of any information at all, the person to ask was Yanosh, because Yanosh spent most of his waking hours—when he wasn’t sitting with him here in front of his hut or in his very small kitchen—on his smartphone or his computer, and he therefore had access, any time night or day, to all the knowledge in the world, if perhaps not all of its wisdom.
Yanosh sat down and they nodded at each other their familiar nod that did not demand any words, and The Snowflake Collector said, to the querying glance of the youth, who in spite of his pain never once betrayed any sorrow: ‘I need to know how to collect snowflakes.’