the saddest prison in the world

Posted in a person, Transformations on July 8, 2016 by Christy Rodgers

Today I got my release papers from the Castle. Twenty years I served behind its shimmering walls, day after beautiful day, eating the finest food, drinking the best libations. Walking the silent parks under the great, dark trees. Each long, quiet day was an eternity. I was filled with dread and despair, and yet somehow I felt I would not die here. But I had begun to fear that the reason was that I had already died, and forgotten it somehow. And this was the afterlife, what some called “heaven,” and it was forever. Or perhaps I had never been alive.

But that’s what the Castle does to your mind. You stop being able to tell the difference between the living and the dead. There are others all around you, but most of them can’t see you most of the time. If you try to speak with them they frown and wince, as if there were a whining insect in their ear, or some other unpleasant thing. After a while you stop looking at them, because the blankness in their eyes is impenetrable. You stop trying to get any acknowledgment as you pass close to them in the street. I began to fling out my hands to ward them off when they came straight toward me, but my hands just passed through air.

I once read a story of a scientist who tortured a dog that he kept in a laboratory: every time it tried to leave its cage when he opened the door he would give it an electric shock. Finally when it had been shocked a thousand times or so he could leave the cage door open all the time, and the dog would simply lie inside the cage, its head on its paws, looking at the door, and never move. He left it for days without food and water, still it would not move. He had broken it. (I believe the scientist received some kind of military award for his work.)

The people in the Castle act in that way upon one another. They make you give up. Love, companionship, even the mildest amity – you can look and look but you won’t find it among them. You might as well try to befriend a rubber ball.

Whatever else you want, though, you can have. The Castle provides many pleasures. Every vista is a feast for the eyes. The air from the sea is sweet and fresh. And those pleasures are free. There are pleasures available at every price in the Castle, from low to infinite. The pleasures are all as light as air, and do nothing to make you feel alive.

I had long ago forgotten how or why I had come to the Castle. You never intend to come; you just end up here. I don’t remember now how old I was or what I was doing. The trick is that from the outside it just looks like a pretty place, where anyone might want to live. You wander in, intrigued, not realizing the Castle is built like a Venus fly-trap, and once inside you won’t find it so easy to leave again.

But I knew I would be able to leave one day. I understood it was a question of money; it’s always a question of money.

I served, I endured; I knew better than to seek release in pleasure, and so did not waste my time trying to alleviate the dullness of my existence with drugs or purchases. Every empty second yawned into eternity, but I piled them up, second after second, hour after hour, day after day, for twenty years. I grew older; everyone grows older in the Castle, although perhaps more slowly than outside. You don’t notice much outward change, you simply wake up one morning and realize that the time is gone – the time for romance, love, adventure, whatever you might have imagined life would bring. The Castle takes your time away so gently you don’t even know until it’s gone, as if your blood were being drained so gradually that all you felt was a slight fatigue that increased incrementally over time.

Then just the other day, the message came: we’ve gotten enough from you; you can leave now if you want to. Expect your papers soon.

I felt an indescribable sensation of pure joy, for one brilliant moment. And when I felt that, I knew I was still alive.

Almost immediately afterwards, however, the terror set in. Leave and go where? To do what? I knew the Castle, and how things worked here, and I was comfortable in every physical sense. I knew what each day would bring. I worked, and my work was dull, but I didn’t have to work very hard. Other than the pain of loneliness, my life was free of pain. Who was to say I wouldn’t be just as lonely outside, and suffer physical pain and deprivation too?

What would I find out there? Where would I live? How would I survive?

And today the papers arrived. I have them in my hand, and I know that if I’m to leave, I’ll have to walk away, just walk away from this place I’ve lived for twenty years, leaving everything behind, never to return. Just walk away with nothing, into an unknown world.

Now I’m standing in the doorway, with my freedom in my hand, but I can’t bring myself to step outside.

I feel only a surge of hatred for the scientist, and pity for the dog.

Or is it the other way around?

 

biophilia as extreme sport

Posted in Transformations on June 30, 2016 by Christy Rodgers

This review first appeared on the CounterPunch and Dissident Voice webzines. 

The renowned biologist E.O. Wilson gave us the term “biophilia,” which he defined as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.” As the world’s human population goes on expanding and walling itself up in cities, and the Sixth Extinction gathers steam, this urge is often expressed as an increasingly desperate kind of nostalgia. It drives support for conserving wild places many will never visit, as well as pastoral landscapes in which most will never work. Not to mention the proliferation of pretty floral, animal, and landscape images on our laptops and phones.

We know we’re missing something – we just don’t seem to have the time or inclination to get out there and look for it in the natural world. We turn instead to extravagant machine-made sound and light shows and other pseudo-experiences to replace the sensory and cognitive richness of the biological affiliations we’ve lost.

Charles Foster, the author of Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide, is thus a something of an atavism. An English gadabout and veterinarian with Oxfordian university credentials, he has written a memoir of his gonzo-naturalist attempts not just to observe wild animals, but to live like them, to experience their world from the inside. He is not nostalgic by temperament, but his book is likely to be read by people who are. His personal antidote to our increasing disconnection from the biosphere is not one it would be likely – or beneficial, especially to the other animals – for many of us to follow.

Continue reading

notes from the island

Posted in Tales on June 6, 2016 by Christy Rodgers

This story first appeared in Zahir Tales Magazine (nom de plume: Diana Swift)

by becky liddiard, http://cargocollective.com/beckyliddiard

Two Islands by Becky Liddiard – cargocollective.com

I decided to start keeping a diary today. Yes, it is ridiculous. There’s no one else to read it here, of course. Nor will there ever be, here or elsewhere, if what we believe has happened since the last Visit is true. Years have passed since then; we’ve no reason to doubt our belief. So why write anything? But I’ve decided this will be company for me, of a kind. My diary will be like the invisible friend a child has, and I had once upon a time as well. With all that has happened in my life, I don’t suppose I ever imagined I’d want an invisible friend again. But there you are. Today I do.

Lars has his music, and his solitary nature, and he has me. He never needed other company much. When he was exiled here, after the first shock, he adapted quite quickly. When I chose to follow him rather than to become one of the slave-women in the Director’s household, I, by contrast, had to relinquish my pleasure in a small society of friends, family, a circle of acquaintances. Because his preference for solitude and the sparseness of his family had not added anyone to that limited circle, the connections we lost were almost exclusively mine. I was never entirely dependent on society; in fact, I had learned to be independent of it from living with Lars. But it was still almost unbearable for a time, the loss.

It was more difficult for me, yes. But that was so long ago; it’s funny I should decide to take this up now, after twenty years of life on the island, after forgetting even to miss any other human voice, any words but his terse daily commentary. Nothing particular has happened; that’s the beauty of our situation, the strange beauty of it: we’ve grown into our routines like plants, and nothing disturbs them any more. So I really don’t know what made me do it, finally. Nothing I could name. An ancient instinct, perhaps.

Continue reading

life after wartime

Posted in the country, Transformations on May 10, 2016 by Christy Rodgers

This piece first appeared on the Dissident Voice and CounterPunch webzines.

Burned all my notebooks
What good are notebooks?
They won’t help me survive
My head is burning
Feels like a furnace
That burning keeps me alive

You haven’t been to war until you’ve learned to flinch at the sound of a traffic helicopter overhead, as your body waits for the pop of machine gun fire spattered on the crowds below.

You haven’t been to war until you fear having your back to the street as you turn your key in the lock of your own front door, because of how easy it would be to take you out from behind as you stand there.

You haven’t been to war until you look into the shit-filled toilet bowl before you flush and imagine a hand on the back of your neck forcing your head down into the filthy water. Holding it there until your lungs burst, and you gasp for air and swallow shit and piss instead. Until your fingers curl periodically with the sensation that someone is about to pull your nails out with a pair of pliers.

You haven’t been to war until you transpose any loud sound in your dreams to a pounding on your door as the troops storm in to drag you from your bed and fling you into a waiting van.

You haven’t been to war until you wait, behind the thud of distant fireworks at the ballpark, to hear the scream of the diving planes, the shriek of the guided missiles, the rumble and roar of the tanks as they roll in.

You haven’t been to war until you look around guardedly in a crowded street and know without a shadow of a doubt that anyone you see, anyone, could be about to kill you.

And because you haven’t been to war, you cower at the images on the TV screen and you say to everyone you know (all of whom, who haven’t been to war either, will nod supportively and say, yes, of course, that’s true): the police, the soldiers, they have to do whatever they must to protect us. Who are we to judge them? We are not in their place.

But if you have been to war, all of this is waiting for you, all day every day, lurking in the silence of the suburban streets where your neighbors are invisible hostiles, or the clangorous city streets where no one looks anyone else in the eye, where the suit on his phone bumps into you and moves on past without breaking his stride, in the plastic-coated food, and the gas-soaked pavement and the cheesy, piped-in music everywhere – so one day you flip out, you say no more terror, no more dread, no more waiting for the ax to fall. Not enough to go for a drive and blast the car stereo till your gut shakes. Not enough to drink yourself stupid and beat the wife or girlfriend bloody when the rage takes hold.

You plan your operation; you assemble your weaponry (so easy, that part!) Then you head for the highway, for the demonstration, for the shopping mall. You know exactly what to do, because we gave you the best training in the world. We built you, we sent you out there. Ambush. That’s how we roll. Catch the enemy by surprise.

And because we taught you what justice is: it’s kill the other guy, the one who wants to kill you. It’s as simple as that, the justice we taught you, our military justice. You don’t have to ask why he wants to kill you, what made him that way. Just take him out. Make him pay for making you afraid for your life. It’s him or you. If you learned nothing else during your stint, you learned that.

You know it’s a hopeless mission, and you will probably die in the attempt. But what kind of life can you have anyway, now that the war is everywhere?

Others will come after you, and finish what you started.

Rolling Stone, July 11, 2016: Micah Xavier Johnson, thanks to his military training, knew what he was doing, targeting and dispatching police officers with ruthless efficiency. Footage from the attack showing Johnson weaving in and out of pillars and shooting one officer from behind is a brutal testament to what powerful weaponry in skilled hands can do in the right environment, against even well-trained and armed opponents.

complexity theory

Posted in Concerning literature, culture shifts, Transformations on May 8, 2016 by Christy Rodgers

There really is a butterfly effect at work in the Homo sapiens sapiens story: Imagine, tiny genetic anomalies reverberating into distinguishable types of physicality and cognitive processing, expanding into historical acts in the world altering aspects of large-scale material reality – the climate of a planet! (the largest if not the happiest example) leading to concatenating unforeseen and unforeseeable consequences through great spans of time.

Missing from what we call complex civilization today: the ethic of humility, attentiveness, and care that a real understanding of the nature of this effect would seem to demand.

That civilization looks like our last best hope for comfort, sophistication, and abundance – until you visit its sacrifice zones. Then, like Shevek in The Dispossessed, all you want to do is run.

But Shevek has a home outside of the murderous, gleaming, extractive civilization of Urras to which to flee. We don’t. For now, our stories are the only door to the sky.

another may day’s come and gone

Posted in culture shifts, Transformations on May 2, 2016 by Christy Rodgers

Against the dream of a universal human family that haunted the last century: “all things in common/ all people one,” the times have given us a strange array of nearly disembodied tribes scattered about the globe, who rise up here or there in fearful ecstasy against the extermination of unprofitable difference by capital, and its establishment of a venal, phony meritocracy with the rentiers at the tiptop and the rest (numbering in the billions, mind you!) to blame for their own misery. Then these stirrings fade – under bombs, tear gas, buy-offs, internal divisions, media defamation, political accommodations – leaving capital reeling on, largely indifferent to anything but its own increasingly unmoored manic-depressive cycles, in its happier moments blithely ecumenical, calling anyone with cash, no matter what color or creed, to come on in and buy. And its gloomier ones, of course, all chilly premonitions of the inevitable and yet unpredictable Armageddon that shadows all its busy-ness.

How strange, in a small, dim, sparsely populated hall in Berkeley, California, amid determined voices singing the stirring and lilting songs of failed struggles for the universal goal: venga, jaleo, jaleo… a ragged band they called the Diggers… arise, ye prisoners of starvation… to see again with mournful clarity that the Old White Left in the US is another such tribe: the tribe of internationalists, people who want no tribe, people who fervently believe in The People, now one of the smallest tribes of all. (For whom, I should add, the Senator from Vermont is to be taken at his word as an Eisenhower Republican). As fragile and yet tenacious as the old ones still clinging to an Amazonian riverbank or a depopulated Mediterranean village.

Oh the decades that have crawled by, and we get older, ghostlier; we keep saying the same things because they are still true and yet the words are without agency. Like the chiefs of a landless people who can’t call the rain anymore. Like Ghost Dancers.

What will it be like, the time of fulfillment, the time of transformation? We will die without seeing it, as have all the rest before us. Instead, imperfect wonders and horrors unpredicted by those who will experience them will unfold, as they always have, and those people will keep finding ways to trap them in dull retrospective chronicles as we always have.

Until such time as those people become something entirely unrecognizable to us as we are now, or else vanish from the earth.

the irish have risen (to the top of nob hill)

Posted in the city, Transformations on April 25, 2016 by Christy Rodgers

This weekend the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising was celebrated with a concert at Grace Cathedral. In that grand space the words rebellion, oppression, socialism – set to a new operatic score – reverberated down the chilly nave, absorbed in the folds of the comfortable flesh of a flush-faced, suburban crowd.

Interspersed with the cantos of high style were some old country laments – pipes, flute, harp, fiddle, drum. Plaintive and joyful at once, heartrendingly beautiful. The music of exile and loss to which you must dance. Composed by people whose names are gone forever from our collective memory.

From these heights (the biggest flag you ever saw atop the Mark Hopkins Hotel across the park) Jones Street plunges down to the darkest trough of the meanest city blocks, where the hopes of the new Irish come to grief at the hands of the cops, politicians, and bureaucrats with the lyrical names.

All true human music is the sound of exile. Our comfort surrounds an abyss; our freedom is only an absence. Let us at least keep making music, then. The streets are rivers of music, and rivers flow where they will.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 63 other followers