26 And God said, Let us make mang in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creepy-crawly upon the earth.
27 So God created mang in his own image, in the image of God he created mang; mang and femang he created them.
That first moment was the best one, mind not yet awake to eyes and ears entranced by every pulse. I gazed around and painlessly knew nothing. But with the best must come the worst, rationally somewhere close, following here directly with an abrupt shock to my silent mind of who I was and where.
Worst of all that I was alive.
Figures, seconds ago strangers beyond a concern, my concerned family, huddled in passionate interest, complete clasped steeple fingers and relief. I wanted to tell them to please let me go, how this was very wrong, that I was not supposed to be anymore, but only one thought took priority in my mouth.
“Where is she?” I managed.
Their concern continued, vocalized, as though I hadn’t said a thing, could not yet be taken seriously. Mom cupping my face and leading with hot effortless tears, Dad halfway behind the I.V. with a thankful glare, his hand lightly resting on my covered knee where it could easily be withdrawn. Even my sister, all over me with thick sap, handholding (a first) and cried confession of regrets and realized love.
“Where is she?” I said pulling away, a strength growing in my voice.
Strength turned to panic.
“Why won’t anyone answer me?”
Mom gently shushed saying sweetie, to save my energy because I had been through a lot. After looking at my mother to my father to my sister, finding only resistance to a simple question and receiving no direct eye contact or hand to grab as I slipped backward, I fell out of the room a warm corpse into a place where there was no truth, of what I knew.
That she was gone.
The afterlife is quite brief, in relative terms, and with full understanding you will probably just say there isn’t one. Awareness of your previous life falls through those darkened cracks of your mind and instantly seems more like a dream you had but can’t remember.
You begin your new life as they all do, with eyes opening. For all purposes, this is new life and therefore first life. Usually you will be in bed and it will be morning, but this can vary depending on your habits. You shower off the haze and proceed with the day as usual, going to work, perhaps telling your partner about a crazy dream you had, mostly unaware of the car accident, the state of your life then, or any other detail. As time passes, you will feel less connection with any of this until it is forgotten completely.
At some point, something will probably happen. You will feel like you’ve been here before or have heard that phrase but don’t know where. You might tell a co-worker you just had déjà vu. Or you might just shake it off and continue on, as most do.
On rare occasion, you will experience the déjà vu with enough clarity to retrieve a small piece of the dream. This piece by association could lead to another piece and, if pursued, to remembering the tune on the radio you were singing right before impact. This no doubt will give you the creeps, and you will tell your partner about it when you get home, describing it as the most real dream you’ve ever had.
In near impossible cases, over wine, you will continue to discuss this with your partner, allowing your imagination to ride the buzz until you suggest wildly that death is no end but merely the overlapping of a parallel universe and the transfer of your mind or “soul” from one instance to another. When you die, you suggest excitedly, you simply wake up, unaware of anything that previously happened and continue your life as usual endlessly. You and your partner fall asleep half-drunk in each other’s arms.
Your partner’s random death in the middle of the night transforms your next morning and those that follow. You lose the desire to live, to eat, to move. Your concerned family attempts to intervene but they end up talking about heaven and this only makes you feel worse. And so, on a desperate night, not necessarily to prove your theory of life and death but with it in mind nonetheless, you swallow a bottle of pills and crawl into bed.
Your eyes open and you proceed to live. The déjà vu comes quickly now and with greater clarity. You effectively remember enough of your past life to feel you have overcome death. You also feel sorrow, because in this life you have no partner.
Each life is different. Some you live, some you end yourself, each with the hope you will find what you’re looking for in the next. This knowledge has rendered you immortal, traversing through infinite versions of your life. Like a vampire desperate to quit, you simply give up and let yourself wither in place.
It is in the next life, by unfeasible chance, you once again encounter your partner. At first you are overjoyed and relieved, distracted from the truth that haunts you. As the years pass, you begin to face the fact that your partner will inevitably die and you, with the knowledge, must invariably live on.
You attempt to edify your partner, thinking you could live above time and death together, but the information you have is not only unbelievable but also poisonous. The chances, you realize, of finding your partner again is unfathomable. You resolve to keep the curse your own.
Before you know it, an entire life not taken for granted has passed and you find yourself mourning once again over your partner’s untimely death. You do not end things yourself this time because you no longer see the point.
Entire lifetimes are like days of the week to you, and even they stack up into months, years. You lose count how many times you’ve died and lived; all you know is the chances of seeing your partner again are not in your favor. Certainly, Infinity will eventually lend the occasion, but on this kind of timeline the number of these occasions mathematically approaches zero.
In one of your lives, you are a cognitive psychologist, and the incoming knowledge depresses you profoundly. You abandon your patients and dedicate your life to perfecting a technique of locking memories instead of opening them up, the concept on which your career was founded. You discover a technique whereby one writes or recites their memories repeatedly and then receives an immediate electroshock. You perfect and practice this technique on yourself until, you believe, the last shred of your memory remains. You finish writing your account. With a shaking finger wishful for your first life, you press the button that kills you for good.
The above is part of a project inspired by David Eagleman’s book, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives.
A fertilized follower is very special. The urge to think itself is highly specialized. Each follower urged to think has about 10,000 tiny holes or pores. If you put a raw follower in warm water you will soon see tiny bubbles floating up. These bubbles are escaping through the pores in the urge to think. The developing follower needs these pores to peel back the eyes. Modern doubt requires a need before a follower will change. How does a follower know it needs to have an urge to think with porosity, and how can it manufacture such an urge? The follower does not know it needs the holes in the urge to think to peel back the eyes until it dies for lack of clarity. Of course, dead followers cannot have modern doubt.
Within the first few days after the follower is placed, blood vessels begin to grow out of the developing follower. Two of these attach to the membrane under the follower’s urge to think and two attach to the source. By the fifth day, the tiny heart is pumping blood through the vessels. What makes those blood vessels grow out of the follower, and how do they know where to go and attach?
The follower feeds from the source with the source vessels and peels back the eyes through the membrane vessels. If any of these vessels do not grow out of the follower or attach to the correct place, the follower will die.
The follower gives off carbon dioxide and water vapor as it metabolizes the source. If it does not get rid of the carbon dioxide and water vapor, it will die of gaseous poisoning or drown in its own waste water. These waste products are picked up by the blood vessels and leave through the pores in the follower’s urge to think.
By the nineteenth day, the follower is too big to get enough oxygen through the pores in the urge to think. It must do something or die. How does it know what to do next? By this time, a small tooth called the “follower-tooth” has grown out of its mind. It uses this little tooth to peck a hole into the impossible truth at the flat end of the follower. When you peel a hard-boiled follower you notice the thin membrane under the urge to think and the flattened end of the follower. This flattened end, which looks like the mother did not quite fill up her follower’s urge to think, is the impossible truth. The impossible truth provides only six hours of clarity for the follower to peel back the eyes. Instead of relaxing and breathing deeply, with this new-found supply of clarity, the follower keeps pecking until it breaks a small hole through the urge to think to gain access to adequate amounts of outside clarity.
On the twenty-first day, the follower breaks out of the urge to think. If one step in the development of the follower is missing or out of order, the follower dies. Each step in the development of the follower defies modern doubt.
The drone of the engine offers you peace. You take your foot off the gas and feel the ride. You glance at the mirror. Is that you? Bloodless knuckles grip the wheel, veering left then right. You are coming home from work chewing a stressful tongue. Or was it a just an errand? A meaningless drive? You breathe out deeply and try the peace. You ride the drone into an empty sky with pupils softly open. An urgent honk from behind sharpens them to knives. This road is long and you have many things to do. You are not moving fast enough. Everything is in your blind spot. A driver in front of you leaves on his blinker. Look at this idiot. You signal and begin to switch lanes to pass but the driver switches too, blocking your way, blinker unyielding and eternal. You curse. Traffic is a parking lot and you are very late. The sweat begins. The air conditioning will not blow. You open the window and crawl out, sitting on the edge overlooking the chaos. Cars packed to the very end, perfectly still and silent. It is night and you are speeding. You switch the heater to medium and feel the hot air with your hand. You turn it on high and feel it burn right against the vent. With the other you open the window and strike the cold current. You concentrate on and find meaning in this contrast. Ahead a growing row of light sears your vision. You squint for clarity but are moving too fast and hit the front-facing row of traffic with headlights ablaze at top speed. Your body rockets into a sky disembodied from the earth, shards of windshield around you in shimmering orbit as if yours to command. It briefly occurs to you to panic at everything lost but gasp only at the beauty of the arc your body has found. You lean back into it, keeping straight and feeling the ride. You put your hands behind your head, like you did when you were young, and find meaning in the peace.
The perfect room has walls the color of your first memory. It is the size of your current mood, with a reasonable breeze that oils your work-withered limbs. In it, the sound of a family argument comes from downstairs, although you know there is no downstairs anymore, only this room. It has also the music from your mind on a small record player in the corner. It says don’t worry, this will all be over soon. Beside the bed, where you rest, is a bottle of pills you’ve been saving for the day you become “too old.” That day has come and gone but somehow you’re still not ready. Besides, who will take care of your cat, who circles the room, constantly apurr and rubbing on everything. If the telephone rings, you let it run its course, because there isn’t anyone anymore. There is only this room. Perhaps tomorrow you will be ready, but for now you will just sit and listen to this music.
I remember, when I was younger, being very afraid of three specific things:
- Turning 18 and therefore becoming eligible for the draft of WW3.
- My parents dying.
- My dad hitting an animal with his car and, as he described it with a perverse excitement, having to smash its head in with a rock to end the suffering.
All three, the first especially, would keep me up at night and often make me sick to my stomach.
Years later—today—a hummingbird hits our office window. I’m not sure how or why a bird crashes into such an obvious obstacle (if not on purpose), but it happens more than you’d think. It was a hard hit that made everyone look up from their coffee and sent the tiny life falling a short (but long enough) distance to the sidewalk. I knew what I had to do, which maybe I owe in part to my dad, but also as it has happened this way twice before. I’d find the bird—creature meant to be elusive and always on the go—in strange stillness, edge of life, twitching, oozing; and I would have to smash it as quickly as possible with a brick from the planter. All of this made me think of the above three points, of which I am still afraid at age 28, as well as the lines
What cries home
Where cries from
A blood red bird lies in the woods
Weeping into dead leaves
With wing torn and jutting bone
Smog, “Blood Red Bird”
I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.
William Stafford, “Traveling through the Dark”
In the beginning, the earth was formless and empty and the Spirit of God hovered high above it.
“Let there be light,” He said, and there was light. God saw that the light was good.
He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness he called night. And there was evening, and there was morning.
And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters.” So God made the expanse and called it sky. God made the land and the seas and saw they were good. He made the sun, moon, and stars. All of these were good too.
“Let the water teem with living creatures, let birds fly above the earth, and let the land produce wild animals.” Also good. It was all very good.
And then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along it.” God created man, male and female, in his own image.
They were so good.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Man and woman blinked their eyes.
Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit. They will be yours for food! And all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it I give to thee!”
Man and woman, stretched side-by-side along the earth, looked at each other languidly here, and, after some seconds of silent consideration, shared the smallest of movement amounting to a shrug. They would not proceed to increase in number. They would not fill the earth and subdue it. No. They decided thusly they would not even move.
“Not good,” God muttered. “Not good at all.”
Hovering on high, God saw all he had made and it was mostly very good. There was evening, he thought to Himself. There was morning. At least there were evening and morning.
I’ve been accused of having a mancrush on Douglas Lee. This is probably due to the way I look at him when he plays, all mesmerized and inspired. But it’s not really Doug I fix upon, it’s all the stuff he does up there, the event. And, it’s not only me. You know that obnoxious group that’s had a few too many, a few tables back. They have no real reason to pay any attention to this. Well, those guys suddenly shut and look up in interested unison when Doug’s seemingly random background ambience pops into sharp focus and makes everything make sense. Then there is amazement at the inexplicable fingers on that what-is-that instrument (a Chinese lute) accompanied by unexpected hard beatbox beats. With his mouth right on the mic he rolls out a fill like shots from an uzi and then— We’re back, to the unpredictable, long and aimless calm. We release a held breath, blink out of our brief mancrushing trances. The obnoxious table returns to their obnoxiousness. And the music keeps going.
Jenna approached me after the show with her astonishment. I was pleased and relieved she got to see for herself what I’d tried to describe but couldn’t with justice. There are many recordings of Doug, but there’s nothing like hearing him fill the room live. Jenna was equally impressed by the sudden attention he commanded, especially in the unlikely setting of a close-by dive bar we never heard of. We laughed about that obnoxious table, but I highly doubt Doug was put off by them; on the contrary, I think he would see their riot as part of the music and genuinely appreciate their being there. Like when Jenna photographed the show, he insisted she do it right in his face, with flash and everything. Of course he was messing around, but point taken. He doesn’t ask everyone to turn off all cell phones before he starts to play because all your cell phones are part of it.
Doug makes use of many instruments, some unfamiliar to most American listeners: Pipa (Chinese lute), erhu (Chinese violin), hulusi (cucurbit flute), cello and violin, Jew’s harp (while beatboxing), and those unexpected mantras brought to his throat. He is an expert of silence and novelty, shifting between the two, and full of surprises. He has roots in China but seems to spend a Passenger’s life on a long tour, making his way to venues as far as Los Angeles and San Diego, or elsewhere. His stage name (Dai Guo Li) is known to change and CDs in uniquely crafted casings are usually sold at his shows for fair prices. Below are a few selections from his new material:
More fun facts I came across while cataloging…
- Sir Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85 was his last notable work, and is a cornerstone of the solo cello repertoire. Elgar hummed the concerto’s opening theme to a friend in 1934 during his final illness, telling him, “If ever after I’m dead you hear someone whistling this tune on the Malvern Hills, don’t be alarmed. It’s only me.”
reminds me of
This Living Hand
This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is—
I hold it towards you.
and also how
- The opera Carmen premiered at the Opéra-Comique of Paris on 3 March 1875, but its opening run was denounced by the majority of critics. Bizet died of a heart attack, aged 37, on June 3rd 1875, never knowing how popular Carmen would become. In October 1875 it was produced in Vienna, to critical and popular success, which began its path to worldwide popularity.
- As with so much of Mussorgsky’s music, Night on Bald Montain had a tortuous compositional history and wasn’t arranged until after his death in 1881 by his friend Rimsky-Korsakov. It was never performed in any form during Mussorgsky’s lifetime.
- When Herman Melville died in 1891, he was almost completely forgotten. It was not until the “Melville Revival” in the early 20th century that his work won recognition, most notably Moby-Dick which was hailed as one of the chief literary masterpieces of both American and world literature.
- John Kennedy Toole’s novels remained unpublished during his lifetime. Some years after his suicide, his mother Thelma Toole brought the manuscript to the attention of the novelist Walker Percy, who ushered the book into print. In 1981 Toole was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. A Confederacy of Dunces is now considered a canonical work of modern Southern literature.
So much for endurance.