Thursday, November 15, 2012

Abscence (Revised)

An edited / spiffed-up version of a short story I put up on this blog previously. 

"Some miracles are unwanted."


S.E. Nordwall

It was being called “Spontaneous Cellular Regeneration” and by a few other “science-y” sounding names that he couldn’t quite wrap his tongue around so as to avoid the inherent religiosity of the term “resurrection.”  There were some terms he found insulting and, thankfully, only a few people in the media used them before getting the idea that they should stop.  It didn’t matter what anybody called it, the fact that it had yet to be explained remained to frustrate everyone involved, not the least of which was its subject.

Alfred Stiff (and that was his real name) rubbed his left arm where blood had been taken as he walked the pleasant paths of a sunny cemetery.  It was close to the hospital – a few blocks over.  The man had not needed to drive, which was a good thing, as he had yet to get his license back.  The legal hang-ups with that were nightmarish. 

“At least it wasn’t bone taken this time,” Mr. Stiff muttered to himself.  Why the staff had to use huge horse-needles on him, he did not know.  It was then that it occurred to him that he’d seen a horse being given veterinary treatment once and the vet had used very tiny and delicate needles on the animal.  Lucky beast.

Alfred walked to the plot where his own grave lay.  It had yellow police-tape staked up around it.  The tombstone reading “A. Stiff” was still there.  If nothing else, Alfred thought, his family had a sense of humor that came in a lovely shade of black.  The grave had been kept separate on the request of people who were investigating his case.   

The man vaguely remembered clawing his way through dirt.  He had no idea how he broke the seal on his coffin.  According to investigators, it had popped loose on its own somehow, but a busted coffin was hardly the miracle here.   

Alfred Stiff had been alive just about a year now.  Before that, he’d been dead for ten years.  He was being called the “Great American Zombie.”  Most of the country seemed to regard him as a huckster even though he’d had very little, if any monetary gain from his adventure.  His status had brought him enough suffering to make him wish he’d stayed dead.  Alfred really wasn’t a zombie, though.  He may have been one in the most technical sense and that is where he preferred to use the term “resurrect,” even as his doctors were trying to find some other term for him.  “Revenant” was likewise okay with him.  “Litch” was absolutely not. 

His body was currently healthy.  If he were a “zombie,” he would be rotting, or at least not be in possession of his own, sharp mind.  He was inexplicably healthy for someone who’d been pumped full of embalming chemicals and buried for a long time.  If there had been no witnesses to his “wakeup” or said witnesses had not been confirmed as mentally sound, what had happened to him would not have been believed by anyone.  As it was now, accusations of a hoax and of severe mental illness ran rampant. 

Mr. Stiff felt profoundly sorry for his witnesses. They’d been the family and friends of some other dead man, gathered for a funeral.  That man had not returned.  Because of the accusations of mental illness, Alfred got the impression that these people were considered by many to be even less “human” than he was for being merely a freak.  He’d had some trouble with that.  His legal status was still “deceased” – since there was no precedent for someone in his situation. 

Alfred sat on a bench at the edge of the trail and looked at the sky.  “Wish I could remember Heaven,” he said to himself.  “Maybe it would be easier.  Hmm. Maybe it would just make things more complicated.” 

Mr. Stiff did not remember anything between his falling and rising.  He remembered dying, yet he had not fully registered what it was at the time.  After that was the sensation of cool fresh air, the feeling of dirt under his fingernails, and after that, the discomfort of people poking and prodding him on a hospital bed.  It was all vague, but he didn’t remember a misty Heaven, a fiery Hell, or a life spent reincarnated as a squirrel or whatever else was supposed to have happened to him.  He greatly annoyed disbelievers in those sorts of things as well, on account that he did not dismiss the possibility that his spirit went somewhere and that he simply did not remember it.  “We all sleep.  Not all of us remember our dreams,” he’d say. 

Mr. Stiff had quite a time when he was on one of those cheesy talk shows.  He’d been hesitant to appear on one of those things that served, in his eyes, to perpetuate the stereotype that people who watched daytime network television were idiots.  The spiritual guru that had been on the show had pressed Alfred intensely on the subject of the afterlife and of spiritual “awakening.”  Mr. Stiff had felt sorry for him, or something along the lines of “almost sorry” simply because he’d always found it hard to feel much for the rude.  The way the guy leaned into his personal space was something he found creepy. 

He’d had nothing to give the guy, having decided to remain honest.  No light, no peace – not even darkness or a “void,” to disappoint some members of the studio audience as well as the strawman-style skeptic that had been brought on the show.  He’d apparently hoped to hear that his experience had been like deep sleep – maybe not the “death” part, but the “dying” part.  From feeling a “punch” and realizing he’d been shot in the chest, to the sensation of falling to the floor, to the vagaries of “waking up” – for all that was in between, the element of Time had not existed for Alfred.  He’d let the skeptic down mightily when he’d failed to see his “lack of time or anything” as proof that there was definitely no afterlife.  As far as Alfred was concerned, his experience wasn’t proof or disproof of anything at all.  He was letting people of science try to figure out why his body was alive again, but all he could give them was his body. 

That was the way those talk shows worked:  They put two people of opposing views on along with a main guest because not only does debate get going, the studio audience gets riled up into a frothy mass.  Conflict attracts viewership, and if the truth lies somewhere in-between, the truth be damned for the ratings.  This was one of the reasons why Alfred saw them as “television for idiots” and only made an appearance because of the money that was offered.  He had the need to upkeep himself and felt the need to help out his family.  Being a famous victim-of-something-strange pretty much meant fortune for being a freak and all-but guaranteed exclusion from ordinary work.  Still, he outright refused the televangelist that had come to him.  Morons and sensationalists he would work with while cringing just a little, crooks he would not work with at all.  The smell of sleaze on that one was as thick as the scent of his hair-gel. 

Alfred wondered if he had any right to owning such standards.  There were times when he’d wondered if he should have left honor in the grave.    

“What’s wrong with a cross on your tombstone?” Anne asked as they stood before Alfred’s grave. 

“Nothing, really, but…” Mr. Stiff answered his sister. 

“You are not lacking for company,” Anne suggested, “and you always believed in your own way, even though none of us have been active in the church for a long time.” 

“It’s not bad in and of itself,” Alfred answered, “It is what you thought I would have wanted.  I do not find it an offensive symbol; I just fear others might someday” 

“You fear others might someday...?” 

Alfred sighed.  “I think that sometimes symbols are more important to people than reality… or actual people.  Reality and real people are complex things.  Symbols are simple.  With the way the world’s going and all of the bad stuff we hear about hypocrites and criminals in the churches, well… along with a lot of other unfortunate associations… I just fear that someday our world will change enough that people in the future will see crosses like we see swastikas today.  The stupider ones will raid graveyards like this, knocking over the headstones in hopes of desecrating the memories of folks they don’t think deserve to be remembered… not that it will really hurt them, being already dead, but still…”

“That’s a harsh vision.”

“Even swastikas weren’t originally and always evil,” Alfred muttered, “They’re symbolic of fortune and suchlike in some cultures – some Far East luck-symbol, at least before the West got a hold of it.  Most folk think in the negative, I suppose – Easier to gain a bad association than a good one.  A little bad use or bad press can wipe out thousands of years of good fortune.”

“So, you’re saying you don’t want people to assume things about you.” 

“Exactly,” Alfred said with a smile.  “The cross is not a bad symbol; it’s just that it has both good and bad associations.  As long as I have breath to speak, I can justify whatever I happen to be associated with.  I can explain why I follow the good parts of something and reject the bad.  Maybe people won’t believe me, but at least I can have my say.  I am powerless when I have no breath, though.  I know that better than anyone alive today.”

Alfred Stiff had moved in with his sister and her family shortly after the media storm had begun to die down and the hospital released him.  Anne had to procure him lawyers to win that right.  Having been deemed a subject valuable to science and having legally given up the rights due to the living upon his death, his general personhood was something that had to be earned for him in court. 

There was mention of vivisection and even dissection after “killing him again” to get a thorough look at all aspects of his body and brain early on.  The individuals that suggested these things had been quickly dismissed from the project.  The team that worked with Alfred in trying to figure out what had happened to him and what was going on with his body, for the most part, cared about his welfare and happiness – if for nothing else than the fact that a happy, cooperative subject was the easiest kind of subject to work with.  More, too, could be learned from one “undead” body than one simply made dead again.  

They had not wanted to release him to begin his life anew, preferring that he live at the hospital twenty-four-seven, but that was most of Mr. Stiff’s contention with the main team.  He came to the hospital as a study subject as to a job now.  He had eight-hour days with two days off per week.  Their tests and sample-taking often hurt, sometimes, quite a bit, but the man knew his value to science.  He hoped that study on him would help people someday.  In the keeping of a willing subject, giving Alfred Stiff his freedom and basic rights helped his morale, but he was still glad that his sister got lawyers involved.  It was a comfort to him that his humanity was down on paper and in record so that people like the mad-scientist idiots who’d first observed him couldn’t get their way without ramifications. He remained “deceased” in most of the practical, legal documentation, but was, nonetheless, declared a “legal person.”  It was a strange in-between.  He couldn’t drive or buy a home, but he could live and expect not to be tortured. He was still fighting for his remaining former rights.  As he saw it, no one in the world ever had rights that didn’t have to be fought for.  He was grateful to have people on his side.

For his part, Alfred’s hope was that knowledge gleaned from the studies would save people near death or bring back people lost to sudden tragedy.  He hated to be selfish, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to see everyone in the world resurrected as he was – at least with the world as it presently existed. 

He sat in a chair in a clean room decked out in tones of white, blue and machine-chic  watching a favorite old television series on a laptop resting on a desk before him. 

“Oh, I love this episode!” one of his doctors said.  The red-haired woman leaned over his shoulder to watch. 

“It’s a bit mind-trippy,” Alfred replied.  “I’m not sure physics would actually work that way on the ship, even in the weirder depths of space.”

“Not to mention the giant space-octopus.” 

“That, too.” 

She turned to him. “You really like space operas, don’t you?” she observed.  “They’re all I’ve see you watch while you’ve been here.” 

“Better than talk shows.  You haven’t seen me watch the couple of cooking shows I like.  I figure that’s our future.  Not the octopi, but the stars…”

“I bet you wanted to be an astronaut as a kid.”

“Doesn’t everyone?”

“I was always more interested in biology than astrophysics.  Find me a space-octopus to study and I’m in!”    

“Well,” said Alfred after calming his laughter, “If you crack me, figure me out… I’m… kind of hoping the world will save the widespread resurrecting until we reach the stars and find some planets to terraform and all that good stuff. Some might say that we need a ‘new heavens and new Earth’ for such a change in the dynamics of life.  We might need a really big heaven and lots of ‘Earths.’  Think about it.  If we bring people back willy-nilly, folks will have to stop making babies for…Earth to…um…work.  As it is, I still get hungry and need to breathe and, of course, I take up space.  I don’t think I’m immortal, just…returned. We’d glut up the planet real quick if everyone who died got brought back as a normal, everyday thing.” 

“Have you ever wanted children?  It would appear to be possible for you, given that all of your systems seem to be intact.” 

“My ex-wife and I thought of it when we were first married, but held off actively trying until the time was right.  Good thing, too, since we didn’t last long.”

“She hasn’t come to visit you.  I’d think she would, Miracle Man.

“Eh. The breakup was ugly and so was she.” 

“Such an evil grin!  ‘Miracle’ or not, I guess we can’t call you a saint.”

“Don’t you even dare.”

Alfred Stiff decided at once point or another that people were more or less fictional to each other.  He didn’t think that reality was a subjective matter or that human beings did not actually exist or anything as overreaching as that.  What he concluded from his observations, however, was that people had a tendency to create their own narratives concerning others.  People made guesses as to what a given other person was like, what their motivations were and their thoughts based upon appearance, position and a few mannerisms. 

Since there was no way of knowing what and how a given individual thinks apart from what they chose to share with others, this shorthand and the little narratives that came with it were, in Stiff’s reckoning, the best mere mortals could do.

If everyone’s mind was like his own, the world was made up of people living complicated inner lives that they’d never share with even those closest to them, not just out of privacy but out of sheer complexity.

This was apparent in a study of history.  It seemed that when a person had made themselves some fame and were long-dead, everyone quoted them.  If they were vindicated by history and people thought of them as “good,” their every speech-quote and every scrap of writing that they left behind were used as evidence of being on a group’s side.  If a person was infamous, their every quote was analyzed and used to connect them to their enemies. 

Alfred hadn’t made much use of the Internet ten years ago, but his sister had a fast connection and several household computers – some old and scavenged, one expensive and new.  Alfred had read that the name for a particularly popular phenomenon on some of the forums he’d take a look at was “Godwin’s Law.” It applied to quoting Adolf Hitler and comparisons to him.  He wondered if there was some kind of positive form for it, a “Jefferson’s Law,” considering how often the quotes of Thomas Jefferson were used by people of every political party as supposed support for their more-often-than-not purely modern agendas. 

The longer you were dead, the longer you were “nice and safe,” and moreover – “useful,” it seemed to him.    

This realization was a little more unsettling when it came to the rewritten memories of people who knew a deceased person in life.  After a while, those could become distorted, too – “absence makes the heart grow fonder” as was the common saying.  Alfred learned this intimately in regards to his own life, his own death and his own family.    In the case of his ex-wife, who bothered to meet him just once after his “awakening,” he’d become more demonized over the years in her personal narrative of him.  She’d definitely wanted him to stay dead.  For his part, he felt sorry for her new husband. Alfred had suggested a good local bar that served some very strong concoctions to him.  He had not reacted positively.

Dealings with his sister were more distressing in that she had never stopped loving him, but had changed him slightly in her mind. He found that she was surprised and offended by some of his little mannerisms.  Alfred cursed rather causally, for example, except around her two boys.  It wasn’t anything novel that had come about after his awakening – he’d always remembered firing off an expletive every once in a while when something wasn’t working right, when he was untangling electrical cords or had received a particularly annoying bill in the mail.  (He asked Anne how his dept collectors got word that he was alive again.  Her response was that they’d never acted as if he’d died.  They just forwarded bills to next of kin, addressed to him, for the entirety of the decade.  The same thing had happened with requests to re-subscribe to magazines).    

“Could you tone it down?” She’d asked him when he was trying to fix the hinges on the screen-door of the family porch.  The woman had yelped as though Alfred’s casual swear had physically hurt her.  She spoke to him as though he were a child she wished to discipline. 

“I dropped a screw.  They’re hard to see, the little buggers.  The boys are at school, what’s it matter what I say?” 

“You never used to be like that.”

“Hmm?  I don’t recall ever doing anything different…” he grumbled.  You act like a meaningless word is dangerous.    

Anne stood still for a moment. 

“Something wrong with you?”

“I just realized something.”


“You’re right.  I guess… I just didn’t remember how you spoke in the little moments…”

“What are you talking about, Anne?” 

She began weeping.  “After you d-died…” she whispered… “I forgot…It seems like I just forgot so many little things about you.”

“I’ll watch my language for you if you really want.”

“No!  Please, be yourself! It’s just… this whole business is weird.” 

“I know,” Alfred said, stepping over to his sister and wrapping an arm around her.  “What’s happened to me is something that hasn’t happened since the time of myths. I wonder, like everyone else, if it really happened at all…”

“I don’t believe in collective hallucinations,” Anne replied, “And I know you weren’t a twin. I saw you in an open casket after being done up.” 

“When a thing happens that everyone tells you shouldn’t have happened, you begin to doubt it and doubt yourself.  It is okay, Anne, don’t cry.  Maybe some would rather I stayed dead than gotten lucky so as not to disturb what’s ‘supposed to be,’ but I know that you aren’t one of them. You’re my little sister and nothing’s going to change that.

“Has your medical team figured out hide or hair of it?” Anne asked. “It’d be nice to have some explanation beyond it just being a ‘miracle.” 

“Eh,” her brother said, separating from her and picking his screwdriver up again.  “Maybe I was revived by a fairy or someone, somewhere made a pact with a shadow-demon that can bring people back from the Land of the Dead.”

Anne laughed.  “Dylan and Francis will have to show you the little game-room they have set up.  Compared to the games we used to play, the graphics on theirs will blow you away.” 

“I never asked what you did with my old consoles.” 

“We kept them. They’re also in the game room, though the 1980’s- beast is up in the attic.”

“Have the boys ever played with that one?”

“Nope. The old games are with it, though in an old crate.”

“I shall have to dust it off and bring it down and school them,” Alfred said with a grin.

“This is all we could get,” Francis said as he showed off a game-case of some title that “Uncle Al” had never heard of.  “It’s from a few years ago, outdated…”

“But the used stuff is cheaper, anyway,” Dylan finished for him.  “I like used games better – that way I can read reviews online so we don’t waste our money on lame-ass crap.”

“Your mother shouldn’t hear you say that,” Alfred scolded. 

“We say worse!” Francis said, sticking his tongue out at his older brother. “The trick is to listen for her at the door when we’re playing one of the fighters so she doesn’t hear us…” 

“I bet you come up with some creative insults for each other,” Alfred said.

“Play with us, Uncle Al! We’ll play whatever you want to play first!”

“Yeah, and maybe next week, you can talk Mom into taking us to the game store in the city.  They were going to build a Lana’s Castle a couple of blocks from here, but…”


“When you… what mom said… you know…” Dylan struggled.

“What he means to say,” Francis butted in, “is that there was this big protest from the town council and people, since the guy who killed you liked videogames.” 

“Oh, that…” Alfred said, biting his thumbnail. 

“We’re lucky Mom even lets us play stuff,” Dylan explained.  “She doesn’t let us play the really cool stuff, though, nothing really bloody and awesome.” 

Among the game-cases, “Uncle Al” found an old favorite of his.  He and Dylan sat side-by-side on the carpeted floor with controllers playing a player-versus-player swordfighting title.  Francis watched, eager to play the winner, but cheering on his uncle.

Mr. Stiff had known Dylan.  The child was two years old when he’d embarked on his adventure in coffin-stuffing.  Francis was new to him, born a year after his murder.  It warmed his heart that the children had an appreciation for some things that he did not think they’d have an appreciation of.  Videogames were expected, but not the titles he knew.  Though the game he was playing at the moment had a roster of characters with fierce and sometimes improbable-looking blades, the carnage was bloodless, with damage shown in light-flares and effects to the character’s hit-point bars. 

The man thought, as he played, to the young man who’d killed him.  He had not remembered his face very well from the incident.  Most of what he knew came from news article archives he’d read.  The kid had been twenty-two years old and had been an ex-employee of Steve’s Market, a small grocery store that Alfred had stopped off to in the evening after work. 

Alfred remembered the contents of his shopping basket that night: There was a frozen chicken-fried steak dinner because he didn’t feel like cooking anything for himself that night, nor picking up another burger from a sack made transparent by the grease.  There was a box of nasal-decongestant pills because he could feel himself coming down with a minor cold, and he’d grabbed a bottle of some cheap off-brand cola.   He’d walked to one of two staffed registers (Steve’s had yet to install a do-it-yourself scanner station) when the kid had come in – dark, messy hair, black denim jacket and white tennis-shoes that were falling apart (Alfred had no idea why he remembered that).  The next thing he knew, the kid had pulled something from his coat and there were several sharp popping sounds, some screams, and something that felt like a mule-kick to his chest. 

He felt wetness before he felt the appropriate pain, but he suddenly could not breathe.  He looked down to see red splats on the floor, felt his knees buckle and that was just about all he remembered before the sensations of cold grave-dirt on his fingers and some doctor shining a light in his eyes.

According to what he’d been told and what he’d been able to see in news video and article archives, he was one of four people killed in the rampage, including the gunman. There had been very few people in the little market at the time.  One other man who was a customer of the store had been shot in the head.  A little girl had taken a body-shot and died at the hospital.  Her mother was wounded as well as the clerk at one of the registers.  The young assailant had, after seeing what he’d wrought, eaten his gun before police even arrived.   

Alfred Stiff had visited the graves of the victims other than his own, including the grave of the murderer.  From what he’d read, the boy had been very troubled, not that it was an excuse in any way for what he’d done, but the man felt more a sense of sorrow over the whole ordeal than a desire for revenge.  He did not hope for a Hell for the boy for having died by his hand.  If he carried any anger, it was over the dead little girl and the random man he never knew rather than for himself.    

He had inexplicably “gotten better,” after all.  He thought the little girl should have “gotten better,” not him.  If it was the whim of a God, perhaps a dark sense of humor or trickery was involved. Perhaps his fate was the doing of a capricious writer.  Maybe the little girl was very happy in a Heaven he couldn’t remember and wishing her back wasn’t something she’d want anyone to do.  Maybe nothing was involved save some bizarre quirk of biology and there was no one to blame or to beg a different outcome of.  All he could do was to leave some flowers beside the headstone of the girl he never knew and move on… 

And play videogames with his nephews, who were glad to have an Uncle Al.

Reports on the young killer noted, among other things, that he had been quite an extensive videogame hobbyist and a few of the kid’s favorites - according to his relatives and what had been found in his home that had been listed in one article - were some of Alfred’s own favorites.  There was a title or two he’d never heard of and a few he’d avoided (although an adult gamer, he generally found himself much more fond games featuring swords and sorcery rather than gun-filled historical simulators or gritty things that were supposed to be set in real-world locations).  Still, to keep a gaming store – something he would have welcomed in the community – out even partially “in his name” seemed a little harsh. 

The articles also had what he felt was a disturbing emphasis on the killer being a “loner.”  Alfred wondered just why, whenever someone who was gregarious did a notable mass-murder or attack with that as an intent, the news media would print and do sound bytes proclaiming how “appalling” it was that such a normal, social person would act out like that.  Whenever someone who happened to be an introvert flipped their pancake for whatever reason, their introversion was portrayed “normal for unstable people.”   Alfred was living under the care of his sister’s family at present, but in his previous life, he’d lived alone and liked it.  He’d tried the marriage-thing, and it hadn’t worked out.  He’d enjoyed his solitude and, like friends of his he rarely saw because they also enjoyed their solitude – he’d stockpiled books in his apartment, not guns.

Being an unwilling and unwarranted “martyr” for keeping gaming culture out of the neighborhood wasn’t as bad as being used as an unwitting shill for other things, but it still annoyed him. 

It was another reminder of how powerless the dead were.  He assumed he’d be in that state again eventually.  Given his basic mammalian survival-instinct, inevitability had always bothered him, but now it bothered him more than ever.  Right now he knew keenly that his “name” could be used for or against damn near anything and in his absence he couldn’t do squat about it.  

Perhaps he’d request to have a symbol from a game-universe etched on his new eventual tombstone instead of a cross.  He knew of a harmonious arrangement of triangles that could be nice.  Considering that a local trash-collection company and a local accounting firm used similar symbols, it would confuse people. Alfred considered that a bonus. 

The misguided memories of those he’d left behind had deepened to an extent he never could have predicted. 

Alfred found himself hugging his sobbing sister again.  This seemed to be happening on an ever-more-frequent basis.  Some little mannerism would set her off either because she’d remembered it from their youth together or because it seemed, somehow, out of character for him only for the woman to be given a reminder that it wasn’t. 

More than that, Anne had constructed memories of her brother that never were, because they never could be.  She had so many scenarios for which he’d been absent that she’d imagined “If Alfred was here” for.  By his off-hand comments and the small actions of his day-to-day living, he’d been shattering her illusions without even meaning to. 

“When did you change politics?” she’d ask.  “You never liked shows like that,” she’d say… 

“The Al I knew wouldn’t put up with that garbage they’re doing to you at the hospital!” she demanded, “You were always so defiant, what happened to that?” she moaned.

“Ssssh,” the big brother told his little sister, rubbing her back after a particularly hard conversation.  “Isn’t it natural for people to change?”

“But…” Anne said with a tiny choke, “You haven’t… you really haven’t.  It’s only my mind that’s changed you!  I feel like… I don’t even know you anymore sometimes, but it’s not even your fault!  You do something unexpected, then suddenly my mind tells me I should have expected it, that it’s my addled mind to blame!”

“Your mind isn’t addled.  It’s just human.” 

“I-I…I’m worried that I cherish the memory of you more than I cherish… you. You, Alfred.  It’s almost like…”

“You wish I’d stayed in the ground…”

“No! Never that!” 

“The dead are supposed to stay that way… you said your goodbyes. You had closure. Then I had to wake up and mess it all up. I reopened all of your wounds and I can’t even be the person your mind wrote me to be, what your heart really wants me to be…”


“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.  It also distorts the memory.”

“I can make new memories of you.”

Alfred sighed.  “I received a miracle I never asked anyone for, but that doesn’t mean a miracle was a good thing.”  

A. Stiff looked at the grave with the marker that read “A. Stiff.”   He plucked a small wildflower from the path-side and placed it before the stone, bending down past the police tape.  The man smiled at the thought of laying a flower on his own grave. 

In some ways, existence itself was just a kick in the pants, but it had its bright spots, too.  He’d been made a stranger in his own world, a foreigner to his own life.   He was largely out of the news now, his “miracle” having become mundane – it wasn’t that it had been replicated in any way or even figured out, it’s just that life went on.  There were always new stories in the world to chase.  News would be a breakthrough on his case or another one like it occurring.  For now, he was relatively free.   

He was not sure that the miracle he’d suffered was a good thing, but for the time being, he’d make the most of it. 


Friday, November 2, 2012

A Post Full of Crazy

A Post Full of Crazy

I’ve been analyzing why I like certain themes – in fiction and in life. 

On the heels of last night’s nutty post about things I want to believe in, but feel weak for doing so, I’ve realized… that yes… there are reasons that go well beyond fluff-bunny and sentimentalism and other things of “weakness.” 

I think I really want to believe in the duality of the soul / the existence of the “soul” because I fear conformity.  Yes, I am aware that sounds crazy, but I really have analyzed it out, mulling over my thoughts, and that’s where they lead back to.

Whether or not a “soul” is even “eternal” is beside the point, ultimately, I just want there to be *something* beyond the chemicals and the meat.  Even if a person’s “soul” is merely “the sum of their experiences” I want there to be *something,* *anything* about us that the world *cannot get its grubby hands on.* Ironically, my desire to believe in an esoteric “something” inside of us, or about us that’s “more than the dance of flesh, fats and acids” comes from how little material evidence for there being anything more than that. 

I know more intimately than most just how chemistry can affect the brain, moods, personality.  I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (mixed type) at the age of 26 after a lifetime of “trying to figure out what was wrong with me” – being bounced between teachers, school staff, child and adolescent psychologists, getting an “avoidant personality disorder” diagnosis and a “clinical depression” diagnosis (bipolar is notoriously tricky to pin down) and getting put on Paxil (a medication that has been found to make bipolar symptoms WORSE).  When I was first diagnosed (apparently properly, finally), I started taking Lithium and it was like night and day.  I remember being on the phone with my family telling them that I “finally felt like myself again” – more “in control than I’ve been in years.”  Its’ not a cure-all, though. I have to remind some people in my life when I get “uppity” or “antsy” that “YES, I TOOK MY MEDICATION TODAY, DAMMIT!” 

I also occasionally take an anti-anxiety medication, sparingly, as-needed as it has an addiction-risk associated with it.  It doesn’t always work.  If I’m presented with something like acute physical pain or a fear of mortal danger, that stuff will burn off quicker than lightning, but it has helped me through a few of the periods I’ve been in of constant “grinding” anxiety.   

I recently watched an episode of “Dark Matters” on the Science Channel (I love that show… it deals with some of the darker and weirder experiments in scientific history, some of which lead to breakthroughs)… the subject of the recently-aired show being the man who invented the frontal lobotomy.  Apparently, his first victim (patient) was a severely bipolar woman whom no one cared about because she was just one of the many poor creatures locked away and forgotten about in a mental institution because people just didn’t *care* in those days.  (Before anyone thinks that Science is a pure shining good of holiness that has never been used to justify anything “bad” – take a look at the breakthroughs and backups gained from a history of experimenting upon the vulnerable – mental patients, prisoners, the poor, Black people…)   Anyway, seeing that, (and, well, anytime I watch or read something about lobotomies)….scared the poo outta me.   People were made “calmer” and “easier to manage” through the procedure… before it was found to be barbaric.  I remember a article on the subject describing it as “people getting their souls cut out.” 

The fact that we are so vulnerable to changes in the physicality and chemistry in our brains makes me really *want* there to be more of “we” there… deep inside, or made of our experiences or some other thing that, no, cannot be touched by a lobotomy, or by someone giving you a cocktail of drugs, or by the ravages of age, or even by yourself as you try to take the edge off.   

Whenever I read about or hear people talk about the quest to understand the Brain and to figure out just where and how consciousness arises, on one hand, I think it is a noble pursuit because we, as a species, are curious monkeys who want to understand everything and because a lot of the motivation is “helping people.”  (Even the guy who created the lobotomy was motivated by trying to help his patients).  However, the idea that “all that makes us people” can be understood makes me wonder just how long will it be between the understanding and the manipulation?  It seems to me that everything Humankind has begun to understand has been something we have tried to *control,* and if you think that those of us who live in “free” and “civilized” societies are tolerant, accepting, diverse and totally into at least the illusion of free will enough that we’d totally respect it and never create the land of ye olde goose-stepping, think again.  It seems to me that most, if not all of us, if we had the power, would mold people and the world into *our* image and “force people to be better” than we think they are.

From what I’ve read/heard, lobotomies, in their heyday, were once used to try to cure everything from homosexuality to “uppity wives.” 

It’s not so much that “we are only meat and carriers of genes” scares me for its “robotic coldness” – it scares me for the idea that someday, people in high places might be able to *program* us like robots.  I’ll happily be an unaware meat-puppet for my genes, but not for “The Man.”    

(I actually explored this in one of my bad stories here… in a magical world, no less… once people of a certain culture learned the secret to controlling people’s dying dreams/near-death experiences, they started sending people to a contrived “Hell” just for the fun of it, because they thought “certain people” deserved that kind of torment).  I think it would happen… because, while my views on individuals vary and can be quite optimistic, my view on Humanity is quite dour. The character in that had “something in him” that escaped from that brain-manipulation.  He did not know whether or not his experience was “real,” but he still had the “override,” something in him that the horrible people and the world in general *could not touch,* even as he didn’t have full control over it, either.   – The story is “Overriden” for anyone who wants to search for it here.

A lot of my stories are like that – isolated characters, non-conformist characters, people who stand apart and/or must face the pressure of the “world” around them, suffering for it and/or defying it… Or else, the world has ended and they are quite happy to be alone… as the case may be.  In other words, “World, get your nasty hands off my soul. I don’t want to be “one” if I must imagine only want you want me to imagine!”

Which brings me to another theme:  I recently blurted on a comment on Slacktivist that I’d realized why I was able to read the (first half of) the Left Behind books and be a genuine fan for a while, despite the unlikable “heroes.”  I also expressed a desire to tour Pripyat, Ukraine.  I’ve always liked apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic settings… Heck, I got to walk around in a disaster area – aka, my neighborhood – just after weather events.

Analyzing my love for this particular theme, I first go back to my childhood.  I grew up in Arizona where many a school and family trip was spent touring ancient ruins left by extinct Native American cultures.  – Anasasi ruins, Sinagua, Hohokam… Also, Old West ghost-towns with their mining-tails left.  I’d always wondered what it was like to be one of the people living in a high cliff-dwelling back in ancient days. 

What I go to in further analysis is … dark. To but it bluntly…dark, as in I think I may just be a little bit evil.  When I was reading LB, it was just after I’d gotten out of high school.  Now, as I said above, I was a kid who had “something wrong with me” without being able to pin-pointed.  Everyone knew there was “something wrong with me” and acted accordingly – that is, as beasts do when they find out someone in the herd has a defect. Frankly, I didn’t have a whole lot of attachments to people and thought “yeah, the world can totally go to Hell / Hell can happen around me and caring for only my own and maybe not even some of them because, honestly, some of my family and church-family sucks, will be the only thing on my mind.”  It’s been years since I read any of that series, and even then, I thought the protagonists did turbo-jerk things, felt sorry for some in their “party” (poor Hattie…), would skim through protagonist chapters to get to the Antichrist chapters because he was a more interesting character, and was generally “reading for the explosions.”  Looking back while reading the eviscerations on Slacktivist has me wondering why I put up with such horrible “heroes” for so long and, yeah… I think I was coming out of an “angry at the world” time that a worldwide-revenge-fantasy tale really fed. 

I like to think I’ve gotten kinder, but the fact that I love watching “Life After People” on History Channel and think “Land devoid of Humanity, what a paradise!” I realize that I still don’t have much love for the majority of my own species / my species as a whole.  Caring about people in the abstract (as in, I hope there’s a “God” who really does ultimately love us and we all get “Heaven” in one form or another, wanting an ending to war and disease…blah, blah, fluffy-fairytales…) is a lot easier than caring for people in the concrete (“You cut me off in traffic!  *Middle Finger! Middle Finger!* Crash into a ditch!”).   Or even, (“Lookit that tree that fell on that stranger’s garage! Keer-poosh!”). 

I read a self-help article about betrayal today… it made me realize that I’m so used to it in my life (between actual betrayals and people trying to “edge away from me in the nicest way possible because they cannot deal with my crazy”)… that I just kind of expect it to happen and have this notion that most, if not all people (including you and me) “hide fangs behind our smiles.”  The novel I’m trying to get published now is one that I’m not sure I actively set out to write “trust no one” as a theme, but it turned out that way… In the end, the two main characters do learn to trust each other and they have each other, but… everyone else is gone. Everyone else has either betrayed them, was against them from the beginning, or cannot help them. (A friend of theirs who was genuinely good?  Too busy holding his own severed head in a criminal’s grave by the end).  They wind up “just having each other, but maybe that’s enough” and feeling damn lucky for it, because “if you only find one person you can trust, you are fortunate.”  It’s not even complete, either, as some earlier events rocked their trust for one another…

Meh… who needs healing from the crazy?  It leads to some entertaining themes to write.  I currently have an idea I’m mulling around involving mind-uploading to an Internet-type system, the possibility of it becoming “eternal life” for some people who don’t mind being inundated by cat-macroes, but the “powers that be” who created the system are vastly disappointed that all attempts to rewrite and “cure” the mind-patterns of crazy people who’ve been uploaded have failed, and run a danger of infecting all in the system… eh. If I do it, I think it will be a tale of philosophy, flamewars, and random annoying cats.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Final Hour and Forbidden Desires

The Final Hour and Forbidden Desires

I survived Hurricane Sandy and got off fairly easily, all in all. My area (Pennsylvania) was strewn with downed trees that looked like fallen Colossi and my place lost power for 24 hours.  There are some lingering effects.  One of my guy’s co-workers had a non-hurricane-related medical emergency right when it was going on and her place is still out of power. She’s okay now on the medical front and I’m glad, but think her power situation sucks.  We cannot do our laundry because our Laundromat is still without power. (Okay, Word, why are you capitalizing “Laundromat?” Oh, well…).  It is not a fun situation when your undergarments are in a limited supply…  

I spent time during the power outage painting by candlelight.  Yes, I am that nuts.  When I have a personal art project and am on a tear about it, I will not be stopped, even if I’m ruining my eyes.  I listened to my MP3 player while I painted as the wind howled outside and “The Final Hour” music from the videogame “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask” came on, which as anyone who has ever played that game knows, is about the perfect tract to have playing when an apocalypse is raging outside your walls.  I went outside in it with my guy to check things out… very briefly because the wind-whipped trees were scaring me, though seeing the blue flashes of electricity in the air from blowing transformers, diffused in the clouds, was pretty cool.  And, the next day, with the power out, we took a drive and a walk to look at the amazing wasteland. 

I think it was somewhat appropriate that the project that I was working on (and am still working on) was one of my bone-art pieces.  A couple of days before the storm, I opened up my storage-boxes with miscellaneous leg-bones and jawbones from creatures I’ve found on walks and cleaned for later use and decided to make a mish-mosh sculpture project representing the equality found in death.  It’s appropriate in tone because at the time I was busily painting half of a carnivore’s jawbone, I was worried about trees crashing through the windows and walls… Just the unpredictability and impermanence of all things; and the triumph of indifferent Nature… All that which reminds us that we are small.  

In thinking about my project, I’d decided from the beginning to title it “Equity” and to write up a description for it regarding how I feel that death is the ultimate equality because it comes to rich and poor, successful and unsuccessful, smart and stupid, humans, dogs, cows and horses… If death is Oblivion, then… well, you really have no business being proud of being “smart enough to realize it” more than other people because you ultimately share the fate of the “superstitious.”  If death leads us all “back to God” in some kind of Universalism, the same kind of thing applies, perhaps in a happier way, depending upon your perspective… even if you believe in an afterlife that’s un-equal, with some going to Heaven, some to Hell, or some being reincarnated well and some poorly, it’s still equal in my mind because *the lives we live now will be over* when the Reaper comes.  I’m actually kind of hoping that when my time comes, whatever I experience (“all in my head” or otherwise) that my current “familiarity with death” will make it easy on me, help me to take it all in stride despite the fact that I am very aware of my basic animal-survival-instincts. (As far as I’m concerned, we all fear death, even if a lot of people like to lie about it - because we have instincts, dammit). 

At the same time, despite my easy attitude toward natural cycles, I realized (today, particularly) how much I really want to believe in the supernatural.  I’ve never had any blatantly supernatural experiences (and probably would worry about sanity-slippage if I did)… Considering I live next to an old graveyard and like decorating my home in animal skulls I’ve turned into art, I should be so freaking haunted – and I’m not.  The closest thing I get is the “cat curse” joke that goes on in my household centered on our cat. 

I’ve been reading many random blogs on Patheos lately.  I’ve ventured into the “Spirituality” section (I took a linked quiz on one to find out what my aura color was and I seem to be more of a “Lavender” than anything else, which basically means I’m a space-case. Accurate, I’d say… I like taking stupid online personality quizzes like that, they’re fun).  I was channel flipping and watched one of those “medium” shows today – that large blond lady who strikes me as a charming eccentric and utterly adorable even though I’m not ready see her as much more than a charming eccentric.   I’ve also been reading on the Progressive Christian channel (besides just Slacktivist, I’m a longtime Slacktivist-follower) and spent this evening reading post after post by “Exploring Our Matrix”…

I like a lot of that blogger’s ideas, I really do, particularly his defenses of science as a GOOD THING, but when I read a couple of posts of his where he talked of a monist worldview (no real “soul” apart from the intricate dance of our chemicals and physicality) and his view on Christianity being a type that seems more philosophical in nature and devoid of the supernatural elements, I felt mildly “betrayed” as I often do when I read such people – like I’m reading someone whom I relate to in a lot of ways, but who, if they met me, would metaphorically pat me on the head and think of me as childish and unequal/of less-worth than some for “still clinging” to certain ideas that are stuck in my personal psychology right now.

What I mean is… there is so much I agree with in these kind of progressive and world-focused religious views. They seem to be pragmatic, rational, and they hold this life to be of utter importance, which I think is good because too much focus on a hypothetical afterlife or “miraculous” things can make people forget to do the hard work of taking care of the lives they know they and fellow travelers have right now.  However, I *really, REALLY* want to believe in “something more” than the physicality or the monist view.  Sure, it’s rational, and it makes a believer seem really grounded, but something about it just rings… hollow… to me. 

The blog post I read about finding a “Transcendent Life” – that is a post in which he spoke of how the resurrection of Jesus could not be proven or dis-proven, but “does it matter?” because he definitely transcended history and how beyond worrying about or hoping for anything else we should hope to create a “transcendent life” by doing good stuff to be remembered for… well, I couldn’t help but go back to the perennial thought I have on this matter of “What if your life is broken and you *need* another one?”   

Transcendence in memory and a life well-lived are pretty ideas, yet I cannot help but think that very few achieve it.  I think most people wind up like those marked by tombstones in the cemetery across the street that are so weatherworn I cannot read the names and can barely make out the dates.  “1855” and so forth. Those people aren’t just dead, they’re DEAD, as in no one who remembers their voice, their smell, or conversations with them is still living by now and if anyone at all visits the graves, it’s probably for some kind of genealogy thing.  The tombstones remain weather-worn, un-cared for, never replaced because these people are *not* remembered.  Transcendence? What transcendence? Not for them, for Time has conquered them.

To quote/paraphrase a character a film I watched last night in which an idealistic character had died (or was actually just thought dead), “What good are all your ideals when the moment you die, they’re gone?”  - If you have followers, people who admired you, you might be “born posthumously” and “live” greater than ever, but if not… well… sucks to have been you. Goodbye.  

Hmm. Maybe my objections are more like the kind of “consistency and fun” arguments I’ll make in fandom.  It seems to me that a “Christianity without resurrection” or “Christianity without something beyond the material/ an almost-atheism-that likes some of Jesus’ pretty words but that’s it” is… no fun for me.  It’s like playing a “rationalized” “Legend of Zelda” game in which no magic or magical items exist – “What’s the point? I’ll play a different game if I want pragmatic themes!”  It’s not that such a thing is “bad” to have, it’s just… you know, some of what drew *me* to that particular “game” in the first place is something I want to continue to be a part of what I’m playing, even as it all progresses and evolves in scope / in my life.  

(Incidentally, I once co-wrote a long fan fiction for the “Legend of Zelda” series that did play with themes of “the magic going away,” the world’s canon three ur-Goddesses not being as divine as advertised and certain kinds of magic being technological in nature, but my co-creator and I *still* had some “real” magic and an all-encompassing magic/life-force as part of the story because it just didn’t feel right without it.  Even when writing a slightly more cynical “Zelda” world, you don’t destroy all the magic because it’s just *not right* for the setting).     

Honestly, though I still consider myself a “Christian” (despite having not been to church in years, and being one of those wishy-washy Prog types who doesn’t much like the idea of a literal Hell anymore and doesn’t care if you’re gay),  I do have a bit of agnosticism sometimes, and moreover, I feel WEAK for my apparent need to believe in something supernatural – things like the possibility of an afterlife, or a soul that’s not *entirely* subject to our bodies, (and the whims of my wonky brain-chemicals that I know to be wonky!) or some kind of thing or force I can call “God” (or at least “The Force” if I’m feeling geeky).   I mean, some people only “believe” in all that they know *right now* - what they can see, touch, feel, smell and taste *without* being called crazy and that’s all they *need* to see meaning in life.  Meanwhile, I’m here, thinking about worn graves and how the world doesn’t care about you if you’re small and broken and inconsequential and how as a small person, I’m greedy and stupid and weak because I *want* more than that. 

Of course, maybe wanting it for everyone – for everyone to ultimately to find peace and get just what they want makes me less greedy, but probably not.  I worry that I really am just a stupid, worthless beast for even having these desires that are “forbidden” by the rational mind.  In the meantime, I shout in the dark, trying to assert “I exist!” to those who are not listening, which is probably why I’m brave enough to post my inmost thoughts on this blog. (Who reads this thing)? 

In the end, if a tree comes crashing through my window due to the next hurricane and gives me a fatal hit to the head, I doubt I’ll care what’s “real” and what’s not in that moment, and as much of a fool as I was in life, all those who are smarter than me will only be in the ground, too, eventually.  All will be equal. 

Graveyards and hurricanes remind us all that we are all small.