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 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 braincells 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 potentialities. 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 rupes 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 elegant, 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 preposterousness, its perfection. Its contradiction, in terms. This, for all its unreasonable demeanour is maybe the best position I’ve ever been. 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…


1 Design

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 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 stupid for being imprisoned in an unevolved mind. The responsibility for disallowing the perpetuation of lethal stupidity – the kind of stupidity that leads one of your leaders to speak of “deplorables” – lies with the educated and the informed much more than 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 was ever so.’

‘But’, Sedartis continues, with a concern that troubles me just as much 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 incongruent and endearing both at the same time. ‘Your problem is that it reaches nowhere near far enough fast enough, and you allow the majority of you to treat it with disdain. You grow entire generations in whom nine out of ten don’t ever entertain any notion of wisdom; don’t even know what it means, let alone recognise it as something that’s 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, but evolved from the baseline of simple survival. And yet only a fraction reach their potential.’

I concur.

‘Never even mind your developing nations, the poverty stricken and destitute – why are they poverty stricken, still, why, after all this time, after this 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.’

I wonder. And 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 as inconceivable, but that will become as normal to you as walking upright and speaking in sentences has become 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 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 hand; 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 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 it, 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 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 in your species that will define the next few hundred, maybe few thousand years. Do this well: you have a lot riding on it…’

Do this well.

5 Surrender

There are plenty of reasons to suppose that we should, and should be able to, learn. In every other sphere of life this seems to work just fine: you burn your hand on the hot handle of a pan on the hob, you know better next time. Maybe not next time, but the time after. You wobble on your bike a few yards as a boy with your older brother or your friends or your dad holding on to it and they shout ‘go!’ and ‘faster!’ and you go faster and they let go of the bike and you stay upright and you have the hang of it and you can now ride a bike. You may still fall off occasionally, but the principle is down and you can tick that off your list. You practice and practice and practice the piano and if you have a modicum of talent and a bit of a musicality in your ear you will become passably good at playing. If you have a lot of talent and a great deal of musicality and you love what you’re doing you may become exceptionally good and turn into a professional musician, a concert pianist: if you are God’s Gift to Steinway you may become Keith Jarrett. Languages. Mathematics. History. Even writing, people even teach writing, which suggests some people learn it. Chemistry. Not love though. Not the chemistry of love. Not the mystery of love. Not the vexation of love. Not the love of love.

Leonard [who’s not really called Leonard, I’m changing his name too, though I doubt he will read this] does to me what dozens of men before him have done, never deliberately, hardly ever even aware, most certainly not with any ill intentions: he infatuates me. In him. Is infatuate a transitive verb? In a passive sense? If I am now infatuated, that would suggest I have been infatuated and since I can hardly infatuate myself – unless I suffer a substantial streak in narcissism – the person who infatuates should, if logic had anything to do with it, be by definition the infatuator. With the person who’s infatuated the infatuatee. Logic has very little to with it. Leonard is a little taller than me and a little younger. I’ve always wanted to be a little taller than I am (though I am not, by averages, short) and while I spent the whole of my teens wanting to be older, and never really in that sense since have wanted to be younger than I actually am, I relate well to people who are a little younger, partly because part of my brain has not really caught up yet with my actual age and partly because another part of my brain has always been far ahead. Age doesn’t really matter to me. Or so I like to believe.

Leonard [and I like the name Leonard, not least because I now associate it with the man I have off the top of my head given it to], is German, though you wouldn’t immediately think so: his accent makes him sound more like a Dutchman who’s spent a lot of time in the States, or a Europeanised American. He and his girlfriend have joined the choir together and on the first evening of the new term he sits next to me and I feel like a schoolboy. I feel like the schoolboy precisely who fell in love with Michael when he joined our class, he aged 7, most of us then aged 8. This is ridiculous. I know it is ridiculous and my young brain infuriates at the idiocy of my heart while my old brain manages a smile that sits halfway between condescending and benign. Of course you are now infatuated, it says, my old brain, to heart. Worry not. Like all previous infatuations this one shall pass and you will laugh about it later. Soon, in fact, because I have so much experience now, so much insight, very nearly wisdom to give you now and to ease the imminent transition from infatuation to friendship with love of the friendship kind, love that is unentangled, appreciative, mutual, but free. You idiot, says my younger brain, you child, you pubescent teenager: you, at the age of fifty-one are allowing yourself a crush on somebody who has just introduced you to his girlfriend and who is absolutely certain to fancy you about as much as his grandfather’s drinking buddy Ralph. (I like the idea of Leonard having a grandfather with a drinking buddy called Ralph and feel slightly flattered that I should remind him of him. That’s how absurd I am in this moment…)

There is nothing to be done. When he misses a couple of rehearsals, I miss him. When he returns, my heart leaps. In the break, when he’s standing, chatting to his girlfriend, I join them. I make a point of talking to her as much as to him, so she doesn’t feel left out, but I really only have eyes for him. It is ridiculous, even pathetic, but thoroughly enjoyable too. Maybe that’s what this is about: maybe the reason the heart won’t learn is not just because it doesn’t really have to, and not so much because it can’t, but simply because it doesn’t actually want to: the pleasure of being a little in love, of being infatuated, of being just a tad drugged by endorphins is just too great to forego forever. And why should it: it’s not causing any harm. It’s not even causing pain, curiously. In the past it did. In the past, I would get over my infatuations through pain. That is no longer the case. Probably because while the heart steadfastly refuses to learn, the head is really quite capable now of putting it all in its place.

Also in the choir is another sweet man who is quite a bit younger and quite a bit shorter and maybe also a little bit rounder than I. And he’s roundly lovable too. I just want to hug him, every time I see him. He reminds me of Paddington Bear. How could you not cuddle Paddington Bear? And until not so long ago there was a young man who was just very beautiful. Or so I thought. I don’t think I ever spoke more than about three and half sentences with him. And of course there was Edward…

George looks at me puzzled. ‘I think you should go with the heart,’ he finally says in a calm measured tone, looking me straight in the eye. ‘Really?’ I mean: I agree with him, but isn’t he the one who too often has precisely not done that, and now he’s telling me?… ‘Yes.’ He speaks with a slight accent and a tone that makes him sound a little aloof and a little bemused and a little detached and a little curious, too. I remember being all of these very well, but I don’t remember sounding them. ‘The only times I’ve ever been unhappy was when I did not follow my heart. You know: “you regret the things you haven’t done, never the things you did…”’ Yes, but: you’re telling me? If I knew this then, and he’s probably right, I knew this then, then how come I still make exactly the same mistakes… hang on. Did I not just say they’re not, maybe, mistakes, at all, they’re maybe just: my modus operandi.

‘Assuming, George, you could find the ideal partner for yourself, who would that be?’

‘Oh I don’t think such a person exists.’ – He doesn’t even have to think about it.

‘Why do you think so?’ I’m beginning to feel a little inadequate, talking to myself, aged twenty-one.

‘Well, because there is no ideal person. For anyone. People just accommodate each other and get used to each other’s foibles and when they find somebody who they can bear more than they can bear being alone, they settle with them; for as long as that’s true, and sometimes quite a bit longer, mainly because they can’t be bothered going through the hassle of separation. Or because they’re just comfortable enough. Or because they’re afraid.’

‘Not because they need someone?’

‘Maybe that. But isn’t needing someone the same as being able to bear someone more than being able to bear being alone?’

‘If you put it that way. – And you?’

‘Oh, I can bear being alone.’

I thought as much, but:

‘And you’re not afraid?’

‘Afraid? Of what? I love being on my own. I love being with people and I love being on my own. I need people around me and I need a lot of time and a lot of space for myself. I function exceptionally well on my own.’

That is so true. That was true then, that is true now. Thank you, George: I function exceptionally well, on my own. But does that necessarily mean I couldn’t function even better with someone? Ah, here we go again…

The Snowflake Collector – 3: ‘I Need to Know How to Collect Snowflakes’

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 so had 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 the Ukraine. Yolanda had come from the Ukraine to find work here as a waitress, and she liked the landlord, because the landlord was not interested in her, he mostly spent 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 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.’

2: His Task Would Be Immense <  

> 4: And He Had Many Memories