A Contemporary Re-appropriation of the Tao Teh Ching for a Western Audience

 

 

            The Tao Teh Ching was written during the fourth century B.C. according to the oldest documented text that has been recovered (Online). With documents as old as this, however, nothing can be certain, for even the authorship is highly debated. The credit is given to a man named Lao Tzu, which translates to “Old Master,” who researches believe to have worked as the record keeper at the imperial court (Online). The Tao Teh Ching consists of eighty one “chapters” each of which has been translated into poetic verses; the focus of these verses range from advice for kings and emperors, to advice for lay men, and plenty of advice in between for artists. Traditionally, this text has been interpreted as a general philosophy of life, but in my reading I looked at the words of Lao Tzu from a new perspective, trying to find the Taoist paradigm for writing.

            Through my reading I discovered a universal perspective that not only applied to the artistic applications of writing, but also to composition and rhetoric. Though most of the text rejoices in the metaphysical realm, I found that it also addresses more concrete issues such as receiving criticism, writing to an audience, the weakness of an argumentative essay, and how revision should be approached.  My methodology was simple: when Lao Tzu refers to the “sage” in a verse, I simply crossed out that word and replaced it with “writer.” This simple change in diction did not alter the meaning of the text, but it produced a wholly original reading, in which I discovered the tools that would allow the writer to tap into the universal flow of energies in a virtuous manner in order to approximate truths in his writing.

In my analysis of the Tao Teh Ching, I believe I managed to bridge the gap between the present and the deep trenches of history and none of the dust and cobwebs remain despite the age of the text.  The largest gap I bridged was the disconnect between Western and Eastern culture, for I had no choice but to approach the text from the perspective of one indoctrinated into Western Rationalism. I found that the areas of the text that carry the most meaning are where Eastern and Western philosophies intersect; I found references to Freudian psychoanalysis and even Nietzschean philosophy. Nietzsche wrote that the final stage of the artist’s evolution is to become the child, and the Tao Teh Ching refers to the same idea: “In the midst of the world, the [writer] is shy and self-effacing, / For the sake of the world he keeps his heart in its nebulous state, / All the people strain their ears and eyes: / The [writer] only smiles like an amused infant” (113). For year I have struggled unsuccessfully to attain this transformation, but it was not until this reading that I understood how it could be done. If a writer strives to keep his heart in a nebulous state, then the writer will abandon all of his firm convictions. Doing so will alter the form the writing process takes, changing it from a “knowledge-telling” medium into a search for understanding. This shift in the writing process will eliminate the hubris that discourages the reader, and the self-effacing style will put the writer and the reader on a level playing field, where the reader will be much more willing to accept what the writer has to say.

            The idea that writing is a process through which the unknown can be discovered should be self-evident, but that does not make it any less intimidating. The Tao Teh Ching acknowledges this dilemma, as this writing process requires the writer to “Open the passages! / Multiply your activities! / And to the end of your days you will remain helpless” (119). The writer must be willing to make himself vulnerable, because that is the price of having an open mind. If the writer maintains any wall of defense to protect himself, the reader will not be able to penetrate this wall, and no meaning will have been found.

            The hesitant writer may still have reservations about making himself helpless, but this fear can be assuaged through the invention process, in which the writer must tap into the wellspring of the Tao. Lao Tzu describes the Tao in purposefully ambiguous terms, as ambiguity is the point through which reality unfolds itself. The first two lines of the Tao Teh Ching are: “Tao can be talked about, but not the eternal Tao / Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name” (3). We have all encountered the phenomenon where we have something we desperately want to say, but for which we can never find the words in which to say it. For a writer this will always be aggravating, but the writer must understand that writing can only hope to be an approximation of actual thought. Metaphors are the strongest tool of the writer, because if an idea is spelled out as a truth, the writer will have ignored the ineffability of reality, and the desired meaning will dissipate into nothingness. If the writer understands the difference between words and thoughts, and seeks only to approximate thought, then unknown meanings will be conjured in the mind of the reader, which should be the writer’s goal.

            Even as Lao Tzu acknowledges the Tao as being ineffable, he follows his own advice and conjures deep meanings through his use of metaphor: “Between Heaven and Earth, / There seems to be a Bellows: / It is empty, and yet it is inexhaustible; / The more it works, the more comes out of it. / No amount of words can fathom it: / Better look for it within you” (11). In this metaphor, the writer becomes the forge, where words are shaped. The Tao becomes the bellows, which intensifies the potential of the writer. It has been powering the writer’s soul from birth and the writer’s potential continues increasing as he ages. If the writer can only learn to tap into the energy provided by this Bellows, the writer will never run out of words to write. If the writer learns how to balance introspection with metaphor, then the writer will have perfected his craft.

            By following the ideals established in the Tao Teh Ching, a writer will be able to use his words to influence others, but if the writer is not careful his egotism will prove his ruin. Lao Tzu often refers to the importance of humility in verses such as: “Therefore, the [writer] wants to remain behind, / But finds himself at the head of others; / Reckons himself out, / But finds himself safe and secure. / Is it not because he is selfless / That the self is realized?” (15). By lowering himself, the writer will find a much more accepting reader. In order to instill the most power within his words, the writer must remove himself from his written text. He must allow the text to take on a life of its own, for the words that the writer transcribes derive from the Tao, which is the invisible flow of energy that exists separately from the writer. For the writer to claim ownership of this impersonal force would imply such gross arrogance that the writer would lose his self and no meanings would be conveyed. Only by respecting the energies of the universe will the writer learn to see himself as a part of a greater whole, and only then will the task succeed.

            By nature, writing strives to transcend temporal reality, to find the immutable truths of our reality. The Tao Teh Ching could be the most transcendental text ever written, for only hints can be felt of ancient China within the text. Lao Tzu not only provides the rules to be a successful writer, he also demonstrates every claim he makes within his own writing. I firmly believe that the Western tradition is inherently flawed because it tries to exist separately from the Eastern tradition. There is no reason for the two traditions to be incompatible, but the combination of Eastern and Western thought is still a new phenomenon in our world. While the Tao Teh Ching does not qualify as a new form of writing by itself, when it is re-appropriated into our own world view, it does create a drastically new way to view the writing process, and I believe that the patterns new writers will take in the future will be increasingly influenced by Eastern philosophy.

 

A Return to Nature

Greetings. My name is Jebuiz Y’har. If my calculations are correct, you should be receiving this transmission in the year 2014 AD. We calculate our years differently where I’m from, but to make things simple, I am writing from the year 49,170 AD.

There is so much I need to tell you. But I must be wary because any manipulation of time could have unforeseen consequences. What has happened to us, the few humans that remain on Earth, must be told, but I have no exact goals for this transmission; rather, I hope merely to inform you of a possible outcome for civilization, and perhaps this little foresight could allow. . . maybe we did make the right choices, but just in case.

There are laws—even though we have fallen apart, there are still laws. But I keep asking myself what the laws mean. Those of us who survived—we were lucky, but what sort of future could we hope to rebuild? I lost Niko. . . we lost so many people. That was three days ago, and I can still see her face, the last time I ever saw it.

It had been a perfect evening on the INS Ammavaru: dinner in the large ballroom, where Master Akirabe gave a lecture on the singularity of mind. Afterwards I retired to my cabin with Niko, and we discussed ways to erase the void between minds. This was our entertainment, sitting in armchairs that faced each other from across the room. As she spoke, Niko gestured empathically, a fierce light in her deep brown eyes, severe lines in the bronzed skin of her face, her satin shirt billowing with each motion.

“You know,” Niko said, “all we have to do is to wire our brain into a computer and then connect to a router, and through this portal we are able to see into another’s mind.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “It is possible to erase the void using our technology. You remember when we all tried that?”

“It wasn’t all that bad,” Niko said.

“It started with good intentions, but we went too far. The technology allowed us to connect with the collective consciousness, but we severely underestimated the pride of the individual. The original plans for the unification of mankind were forgotten so long ago I feel like I am the only person who remembers them.”
“I think you’re looking at it from too large of a scale,” Niko countered. “The whole of the collective consciousness would have turned me into a single drop of water. But when I was there—it was our house. You were there and our friends were there. We had such good times, and so much possibility was open to us.”

“Infinite possibility.” I laughed, but the expression never changed on Niko’s face. “Our house was nice, but I feel like we started to grow away from it.”

“What do you mean?” Niko asked.

“You became obsessed with your infinite possibilities.”

“If I remember, you were just as obsessed as I was.”

“Right,” I said. “But I knew there was an entire world you were creating that I could never see.”

“All you had to do was look.”

“Don’t you think I tried that? By that point I had grown too far away from the house. I had become obsessed with this program that let me create my own universe. I had watched the evolution of an entire civilization from a single cell. They were my children. So when I tried to look back, to find you, I knew the technology had been corrupted because I found myself adrift in the midst of the void.”

“But with infinite possibilities…” Niko said.

“You don’t need to say that anymore,” I interrupted. “I was just trying to be. . . ironic.”

Niko rolled her eyes. “Fine,” she said. “Whatever you believe, whatever you did—you were able to do everything you wanted and you still were there for me.”

“But don’t you see?” I said. “I was too distracted to be able to see the part of me that you saw.”

“Is that why you unplugged yourself?”

“It must have been my fault, but I couldn’t see any other way. Completely surrounded by my own artificial constructs, I knew the house we shared was in there somewhere, but I was lost. I felt nostalgic for the old world.”

“This world.”

“Right,” I said. “A long time had passed since then, but I could remember the last thing I saw before closing my eyes.”

“What the last thing you remembered?” Niko asked, resting her chin on her entwined fingers.

“First I could hear the drone of the machine. I like to think of that sound as the sound of creation, like om. A week before we plugged in, I had been so excited. I had ordered the most expensive mattress I could find. I figured if I was going to be lying in it for the rest of. . . it felt like I was preparing for eternity.”

“I’m glad you bought that mattress,” Niko said, a soft smile on her lips.

“I remembered the mattress, but I couldn’t remember how it felt. I wanted to remember that feeling so badly, so I taught myself how to open my eyes again.”

“Sometimes. . .” Niko began. “Sometimes I wish I was back in that bed.”

“You think that other life was better than this one?” I asked.

“I was in control there. I don’t know if any of it was real, but that’s how it felt. What are we even doing back in this world?”

“Well,” I started to say.

“We built ourselves a ship so we could avoid the world.”

“Without the technological capacities aboard this ship we would have been stuck in one place.”

“And what’s wrong with being stuck in one place?”

“There weren’t many of us. I thought it was our duty to try to convince others to come back.”

“That’s your problem!” Niko said. “You got bored so you had to go bother other people.”

“I still think what I did was right,” I said. “You are with me, and the others are under the impression that this reality allows for more fullness of experience. Doesn’t it thrill you that, together, we are all creating a new civilization out of the ashes of the old?”

Niko stared out of the porthole for a minute before replying. “It feels like a storm’s coming.”

“We should take our rest so we’ll miss it,” I suggested.

“May the morning be calm,” Niko said, and she began to disrobe.

I pulled on my night clothes and climbed into my hammock. Niko’s hammock was hung along the opposite wall of the cabin, and I can clearly remember how she looked climbing into it, a ray of moonlight illuminating her ankle for an instant.

“Good night!” I said.

“Sleep well,” Niko whispered.

Did she really mean it when she said she missed the digital world? She always talked about how I had been the perfect husband, but she never would acknowledge my version of events. I still believed in the mystical potential of technology to bring people together—the possibility of a singularity of mind where all consciousness is permeable, but most people seemed to have chosen fantasy.

When I had first opened my eyes after all those years, I looked to my right and Niko was right there, a faint blush on her cheeks, fast asleep—peaceful. But when I touched her arm, she did not stir. No amount of shaking would bring her back, so I had to plug myself back into the system. She was somewhere in there, and I had to find her.

It is hard to describe the journey I took. Once hooked back into the system, I was accosted with all the distractions I had built for myself. My universe was finally starting to get somewhere, and it seemed no less real than the one in which I was sleeping in my bed. It took all my willpower to look away from it.

Every few days I would open my eyes and catalogue all that I knew to be real, and with patience I managed to retrace my steps to the house Niko and I had built when we first migrated to the digital realm. I slipped back into the space that Niko considered to be me, but it took months for her to be able to see me again. During this time, it felt like there was always someone else in the room who Niko was speaking to even though only I would respond.

Once our consciousnesses were recalibrated, I was finally able to talk to Niko about the existence of another world. I told her that all she had to do was open her eyes, but she was hesitant at first. I could not understand what she had become, but I persisted with my argument, and she finally opened her eyes.

That night I fell asleep at 10:30 PM. At 12:37 AM, the dark matter reactor in engine block three experienced a meltdown. The tremor lasted about thirty seconds; the sound of pictures falling off the wall woke me up.

“Jebuiz!” Niko screamed.

I leaned to my left and rolled out of the hammock. Falling to my knees, Ilooked around the cabin: Niko was holding onto her hammock as it rocked back and forth, her head sticking over the edges, her eyes wider than I had ever seen them. Several more books toppled off their shelves, and then silence gratefully returned.

“What was that?” Niko whispered. Her whisper sounded like a shout.

“I’ll have to go check…” I said. “I think you should go up on deck after you get dressed. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

“Where will you go?” Niko asked as she rolled out of her hammock, landing on her feet.

“It sounded like something happened below deck. I’m sure the others are heading down there too.”

After pulling a shirt and pants over my nightclothes, I opened the door and let Niko pass into the hall, then I stepped out of the room and faced her.

“Be careful!” she said, her hands clasped over her chest.

“I will,” I promised. “I’ll see you on deck in just a couple minutes.”

Niko turned and walked down the hall. I watched until she turned the corner, then I turned the other way. As I walked down the hall, I saw several doors hanging open, men and women gazing down the hall, hurriedly whispering to each other.

“You should proceed to the deck to await further instructions,” I told them as I passed.

I took the stairs down a level, and as I emerged into the hall I ran into my old friend, the engineer Calixo Lorriat.

“Jebuiz!” Calixo said. “Do you know what happened?”

“No,” I answered. “I’m going to find out.”

“We should hurry. I didn’t like the sound—it sounded like an explosion.”

“That’s what I fear.” I gritted my teeth and picked up my pace. As I went down the stairs to the cargo level I jumped the last five steps, landing with a thud that vibrated through my knees.

The cargo level was a wide open space filled with all the supplies we needed—along one wall dozens of spare hyperbolic tubes were stacked to the ceiling. A refrigerated container stood in the center of the level—three meters tall, twenty meters wide and fifty meters long—with enough food inside to last us a year. Close to a hundred cages were stacked along the far wall, where we kept the animals we mostly used for scientific experiments. A cacophony of roaring, snorting, screeching and cawing was being played out over there. The entire level was filled with smoke and a sulfuric odor that conjured forth the image of hell.

“It’s coming up from engineering level!” I said.

“Shit!” Calixo yelled, and he sprinted across the room, disappearing around the side of the refrigerated container. I jogged behind him; when I passed in front of the container I saw a group of people standing around the staircase to the engineering level. Calixo was talking to them as he waved his arms around. As I approached them I could hear snippets of conversation, and shivers started going down my spine. My legs started shaking so badly I could barely make it, and when I did I leaned against the railing. It felt like the skin on my hand had caught on fire; when I pulled it back, blisters had already bloomed across my palm.

“So…” Calixo said.

“McLaughlin was down there,” Captain Remar said. “About ten seconds before the explosion he had sent me a message over the radio.”

“What did he say?” Calixo asked. I clutched my hand, unable to think.

“He said, ‘Something’s wrong with the reactor… what does “coolant flush” mean?’ But then the radio went silent, and. . . I think the dark matter reactor experienced a meltdown.”

Calixo and the others started shouting over each other, but I started backing away. I knew the nearest restroom was up one floor; I had to get to the cold water. Running as fast as I could, I couldn’t bring myself to look at my hand, fearing that the skin was beginning to melt off.

I shouted as I sprinted up the stairs and down the hall. The bathroom was at the very end, and I shouted the whole way. When I burst through the door, I twisted the faucet to full power with my and stuck my burnt hand under the flow.

The pain didn’t lessen, so I kicked open the nearest stall’s door, knelt on the white porcelain tiles and dunked my hand in the toilet bowl. The pain gradually dispersed; I sighed as I remembered that the dark matter reactor had exploded.

I took my hand out of the toilet bowl, but it started burning in the air. When I submerged my hand again, a second explosion echoed up from engineering level. The floor shuddered for ten seconds, the stall door banging against the wall. Faint yelling echoed down from above as the floor tilted off its axis, and I had to hold onto the toilet to keep from slamming into the wall. I tried to focus on something pleasant—a giant bowl of ice cream. I would have loved to stick my hand in that bowl, to feel the squish as it melted.

I jumped to my feet, bracing myself against the wall. The pain—no, I had to get to the main deck. As I climbed out of the bathroom I had to hold onto the wall with my left hand so I would not fall and slide deeper into the bathroom. Climbing past the row of mirrors, I saw my reflection in the mirror—my cropped black hair was sticking up in the back, my eyes were boggling in their sockets, and my copper skin was covered in a thin layer of ash; I was the perfect picture of madness. Clawing my way through the door and into the hall, I leaned against the wall and dragged myself towards the stairs. I climbed up, and when I emerged onto the main residential level, people were running all around—men looking for their wives, women looking for their husbands. Everyone was carrying whatever valuables they could hold in their arms. None of them noticed me as I stumbled past, and soon I was climbing the stairs to the main deck. When I emerged into the cool night air, I felt a raindrop splash right between my eyes, and I had to blink several times for my eyes to adjust to the dim light. I could hear people wailing all around me—dim figures that seemed a dream to my pain-wracked mind. Above the wailing I could hear someone shouting orders.

“Help me with the lifeboats!”

The deck was lopsided by about thirty degrees to starboard, and another forty degrees to aft. Someone recognized me as I looked for Niko, coming up behind me and touching my shoulder. “What’s happening?” he whispered in my ear.

“Explosion…” I said without turning around. “Meltdown. Get to the lifeboats!”

The bridge stuck up fifty feet in the center of the deck, and a floodlight cast an island of light in front of the bridge. I walked in this direction purely through instinct. When I passed from the darkness into the light, I heard a familiar yelp.

“”Jebuiz!” Niko cried as she wrapped me in an embrace. “I was afraid you wouldn’t come back.”

I did my best to stifle a cry. “Please,” I said. “Not so hard.”

“What’s the matter?”

“My hand.”

Niko grabbed my wrist and I howled at the sky.

“Oh my god,” she gasped. “What happened?”

“Stupid. Explosion—fire, engineering level.” I gritted my teeth. “We need…”

“Is the ship sinking?”

“Lifeboat. Come.”

I leaned against Niko, and she supported me as we walked towards the lifeboats. The slope was so much that we slid half the way to the railing. The first lifeboat had already filled up—maximum capacity was forty, but it looked like sixty people had crammed themselves in it. The water was less than ten feet beneath the lifeboat, so when it was lowered, it hit the water while forty feet of extra rope started spilling into it.

Another lifeboat was being latched onto the pulley system, but someone—an old friend of mine, Daniel Smith—yelled out, “The deck’s about to go under so what’s the point of using the fucking pulleys?”

The crowd that was lifting the lifeboat up pushed it further beyond the railing and let it slide overboard. It hit the water and immediately was propelled away from the ship by the turbulence of the ship’s sinking. Daniel Smith, a good man, climbed over the railing and jumped for the lifeboat. He smacked into its side and slid into the frothing sea. The others who had been helping were quick to follow suit, launching through the air but coming up shorter and shorter. Soon they were all clawing at the side of the lifeboat trying to climb into it.

The water was starting to seep over the edges of the deck, and those of us left—Ankara, Sanjay, Alberto, Joshua, Simi, Falak… twenty of thirty of us in total—stared with grim eyes at our fate, anticipating the moment when the ocean would take us. A couple rushed over to another lifeboat and began tugging at it, trying to turn it over, but it was too late.

I held Niko to me and kissed her forehead.

“What do we do?” she asked.

“The ship will soon slip beneath the surface,” I said.

“So we swim.”

The seawater crawled up over the edge and started inching its way up the deck. My slippers got wet, so I took a step backwards.

“I think we should jump,” Niko said.

“Okay.” I let go of her waist, grabbing ahold of her hand. Niko looked me in the eyes—her face was set in stone. She did not look scared, and her voice did not quiver when she said, “Okay… on three, two, one…”

We ran towards the railing—just the top rail was above water. I aimed for this rail, taking a step and launching myself into the ocean. I held onto Niko’s hand until we hit the water, then the turbulence tore us apart. I could not tell in which direction I was being pulled, tumbling head over heels. Salt water went up my nostrils as I clawed at the sea. My eyes flashed open and I could see the ship sinking even lower, the bridge halfway submerged. The floodlight still illuminated the deck—all the bubbles kicked up by people fighting for their lives

I saw all of this in an instant, and my lungs started to burn. Up—I had to go up. Kicking my legs, I reached for the air. My head broke the surface, and I gasped for breath. I treaded water until my breathing slowed, and then I looked to my right where I expected Niko to be floating. I looked to my left then I swam in a circle. The antenna atop the bridge was sliding underwater, and I could see over a dozen people floating in the ocean. As I scanned the area, five more people broke to the surface. Everyone was looking for their partner.

“Niko!” I shouted.

I could hear other shouts float over the waves. I saw a woman with brunette hair floating twenty meters from me, but as a wave crested I lost sight of her. But that was too far away—it couldn’t have been Niko. I swam in another circle. A few meters to my right I saw someone break above the surface before being sucked down again. I swam in that direction and grabbed her in my arms, treading water to keep us both afloat. It was Simi. She started gasping like she was having a panic attack.

“Did you see Niko?” I shouted, despite our close proximity.

Simi looked up at me, pushing herself away. “No, I haven’t. Have you seen Josh?”

“No,” I said, spinning around in a circle. “Niko!” I called.

Raindrops began spattering upon my forehead as the ocean raged all around me. I had to battle to keep my head above the surface. I saw someone floating close by as a wave lifted me up, so I swam over to him, the physician Alfons Komachi.

“Have you seen my wife, Niko?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “But I can see the lifeboat over there—” he pointed behind me. “I think someone has gotten in it and is lifting others up.”

Alfons swam on, and I swam to the next person I saw—Kara, a scholar.

“Have you seen Niko?” I asked.

“Everything is ruined!” she cried. A wave pushed her under the surface and she spit out a mouthful of water when she came back up. “I’m going to drown!”

“Have you seen my wife?”

“Niko?” she asked. “I can’t find my husband! We were mid deck when the ship went under.”

The pain throbbing from my hand returned full force as if conjured from memory. Salt in the wound—but I had to find Niko. Kara swam in the direction of the lifeboat, but I just treaded water, surveying the waves. Everyone was swimming towards the boat. Ten people were already in it, and they were all reaching overboard to pull others up. A woman started yelling as it tilted to the side, and several of the people went to the other side of the lifeboat to keep it level.

I followed the stragglers towards the boat. Reaching up for the edge, someone grabbed my hands and pulled me up. I screamed as I rolled into the lifeboat, falling on the person who had rescued me. It was Erikur, a sailor of massive proportions. He held me up until I found my balance.

“Thank you,” I mumbled.

The lifeboat was ten feet wide and twenty five feet long. Rows of benches filled it—over half the seats were taken, everyone talking about who was still in the water.

“Niko!” I yelled, stepping over a bench, my feet splashing in water. I felt exhausted and my clothes were dragging me down, so I slumped down on the bench.

“Jebuiz? Is that you?” someone shouted.

“Daniel?” I replied.

“I was worried about you for a second,” Daniel said.

“Have any of you found Niko?”

“Has anyone pulled Niko out of the water yet?” Daniel asked.

Nobody said anything.

“Has anyone seen Nigel?” Kara asked.

I felt the lifeboat rock and I looked to my left in time to see Erikur pull a woman out of the water. She clung to Erikur as he tried to put her down.

“Jeanette!” A dark-skinned man named Dante called out, stumbling over benches in his haste. The woman let go of Erikur and jumped into Dante’s arms, and they both sat on my bench with a thud.

“How many people are still missing?” Daniel asked.

Several of us shouted in unison: Niko, Nigel, Darshana, Raj, Olga, Andrei, Brad, Rohanna. . .

“I need some of you to grab the oars,” Daniel said. “Let’s find everyone!”

I sank into my weariness as the others rowed the lifeboat around the area where the ship had gone under. The rain picked up and the wind turned the ocean violent. It felt like I was riding a bucking horse as the lifeboat crested each wave.

“Olga!” someone called out. “Darshana! Nigel!” Someone different called out each name. Although I stayed silent, I heard Daniel call out, “Niko!”

They rowed the boat one hundred yard in one direction, fifty yards to the left, a hundred yards back and so on. On the second sweep I heard someone yell “Help!”

It was a woman’s voice, and I held my breath as I watched Erikur bend over the edge. He pulled up the plump Rohanna, her brown skin dripping water. In that moment I hated her.

We searched for survivors for hours, but as the moon began to go down, grim feelings clutched my heart, making me sick. My nerves screamed in agony as they had been doing for as long as I could remember. The others decided it was too dark to continue the search.

“I’m sorry,” Daniel said as he slid onto the bench next to me. I couldn’t even look up. He studied my face as I tried to will myself into unconsciousness. Putting his hand on my shoulder, he dug his fingers into my skin.

The lifeboat drifted where the waves pushed it, water spilling over the edges with each dip. I was drenched to the soul, shivering violently in the breeze. Far beneath us—ten thousand feet deep—the ship we had called home for over a century, the INS Ammavaru was coming to a rest on the seabed.

I can’t remember the last time I updated.

Actually, I can’t believe this is telling me I wrote something here may 20, 2012. Which was exactly a month after april 20, 2012. I can’t remember what happened that day. Either of them.

The point is that was over a year ago. Or to put it in more appropriate terms, that was about a million words ago. Ones I have written and pasted to some barren wall, and hundreds that I can’t remember having said.

It was only recently I was exposed to this information. Of all the hundred words I’ve said, how many thousand have I only thought? Those are the most important. But there is a void that separates speech from thought, and it is so lonely on the wrong side of the fence.

That’s where the internet comes in. It is a totem set up in the center of the village that channels all our spirits together. It is as if we have become telepaths and we can communicate without actually speaking the words. And words are telepathic symbols, runes both uttered and written, that connect each person to the wellspring of knowledge of both good and evil. What you call this does not matter, but the word you choose does matter because this provides you with your lens to interpret the hidden images floating underneath the surface.

The taste of this water can be bitter. You just have to try to take small sips. It is like medicine, so you can always chase it with sugar, but don’t spit it out. And don’t take my word for it, what do I know anyway?

There are people in the forests whose jobs are to burn it to the ground. The charred ashes of the forest provide mulch to nourish new growth and a new forest grows out of the old one. The mythos of the Pheonix resembles the process of life, for new generations are built on the skeletons of the old.

You must have read somewhere about explorers digging through the rubble in Ancient Greek and Turkish cities. Or even the Vatican, where the old city can be accessed through the basement. We have really dug ourselves in deep–nice and firm, a sense of security. We can take comfort in the graveyards and mausoleums; we can honor our dead and live for the living. Live for life, not death, and the city will continue rising. We can lift it onto our shoulders even while standing on the shoulders’ of our parents.

But if we are going to put forth this effort, what we are lifting must be worth it. We have to agree on some idea, but there are some many different ideas out there that nobody can seem to agree on anything.

You cannot look outwards and follow someone to the right answer. You have to walk the paths within until you find a way out of the forest, and whatever beacon draws you in will draw you in. There will be others who choose the same path as you, so find these people and stick together. They will be the ones who provide you shelter from the storm.

That is almost a cliche, but the sound of rain and acorns falling on the roof can make it hard to sleep, but if you have someone to laugh with and complain about the racket then you won’t worry too much about the fact that you have to wake up in a couple hours and drive to the office and act like you’re present from far too many hours.

That doesn’t matter, you can grab a Red Bull (I don’t know how to do the tm) in the morning and then who gives a shit?

Sorry for the tangent, I got snared in the trap, but that doesn’t lessen the importance of the fact that the more people you have lifting in unison, the heavier the idea you can lift, and the heavier the idea is, the more it is worth lifting.

Later on you can mine it and the gemstones you find could fund the expansion. But the key word in that sentence is “later.” For now you just have to trust how it feels on your back as you climb uphill.

The image of a mountain reoccurs is everything I write, but I think that’s just the image that I will have to leave you with. A gentle scattering of clouds and the bright rays of the sun and miles of endless expanse. A lake at the base and a river carving into the distance. Smoke on the horizon.

We will never think what there are no words for,
What no one has spoken aloud,
or so they say.
The shackle of semantics
traps many a-man and/or woman
Express yourself, they say,
but bend your knee before my judgment.

And the bums rejoice.
He wears tattered rags and praises the heaven
White-washed by the anonymity those in public spheres hold
They give you so many words, oh
I could drown in their vomit, but
still not approach anything resembling humanity.
Their cold, glassy eyes, oh–
You can feel it in your bones:
The anger held towards the individual.

We were supposed to be a nation indivisible–
United under a common cause,
but time passed and the world changed.
Still we cling to tradition
like a lifeboat floating
through a sea of flaming flotsam.

Every way I turn another danger threatens me,
And you–you are draped across my shoulder
as I navigate the pits of despair.
Have faith in something, if not me.

I never was one for drama,
but I tended towards melodrama.
Not one to be at a loss for words,
even as I shone a light
into the gloom of my heart.

Do not take it personally,
I wanted to make you like me,
but I chose the wrong words.
Now we’re miles apart, and
though we survived the storm,
there still is no sign of land.

Take not what does not belong to you.
Submit yourself on bended knees.
The hand that feeds has turned on you.
Take any precaution you need:
Hire thugs, taste-testers and someone
to guard you while you sleep.
But even while you are surrounded
by your ardent admirers,
Remember all the time I gave.

I took your carcass to the temple.
I invoked a reincarnation.
Do not deny the truth:
The new masks you wear change
every day with the tide.
Are these not stencils
you once took from my mind?

How you behave, the things you say–
I know my own image shines
on the carousel of memory.
And, while I avert my eyes,
I am comfortably aware
you are peaking between the horses
as I hurtle forever behind you.

The set and the setting
of our moment spent together
covered years, but on the page
it is not even a chapter–a side note to history.

Flinging my arms in the air to attract your attention.
Why did I ever start out this way?
What turned me into a hopeless romantic?
I speak in cliches yet you once told me
I was so provocative–what does that mean?
In the absence of one true emotion,
what feeling could I provoke?

I felt the same way when you went away,
as if to surrender to the pull of fate.
I stumbled and fell with your disappearance through the door.
I slept my entire life away that night,
but, lo, morning proved I had not moved a single inch.

I cannot believe in a force without a palpable impact
on the material world.
Why should I concern myself
with that which does not affect me?
Vague superstitions are imposed upon
by rational dialectic and humanity
had progressed beyond the need for war.
But even with the world settling down–
the war wages on in the cavern of my soul.

We will never t…

Song for Erin

Can you believe time passes so quickly?
Too soon you are gone.
But I remember the sweater you wore
while we sat and talked before the fire.
Would you believe it–
when I saw you last week
That is the one you wore:
the rags now stained with mildew.
But the flow of time pulls you away again
and before I could grasp your hand, you disappeared
in a puff of smoke.

[Refrain]
It has happened.
All this time I knew you’d leave me.
I don’t blame you, for the world
owes you its due.
It’s not for me to choose
whether you choose him or me.

3 o’clock in the morn’
The pale moon casts its shadow
through the blinds.
All this time I had the answer,
but only now do I realize it.
Soon, I know, this gloom will fade
and you will return to me,
or just your memory.
I will shape the mold into a statue,
pay my tribute before the storm unravels you.

[Refrain]

The mirror reflects light to show you
the truth you cannot see.
Looking for this truth has dangers,
namely losing people, places, things.
But time comes cheap–
We have all the time in the world.
I could sit so patiently,
night after night, just to wait for you.
The answers you seek are not mine to give,
so tell the same old story:
Your father was a musician
and you were his creation.
Don’t edit out the details, like
the way you smile at me,
or at my memory.
But you still do not let go.

[Refrain]

We shared a time and place together–
many times and many places.
I have many faces, don’t you see
how we can change our identity?
And so we made up stories
about how we came to meet.
I remember, I was much stupider,
but you were so smart.
You cracked me like an egg
and my heart soared.
How I wish we could relive those days
but time keeps marching forward.

[Refrain]

How could a Christian Nation have a television show called American Idol?

Sure, the ten commandments are in the Old Testament–a product of Judaism–but Christianity is Judaism’s child, and all Jesus did was point out the parent’s flaws. The ten commandments was one thing they got right. Today, anyone with morals would instinctively obey these laws, as recorded by Moses, which includes the statement: “Thou shalt not worship false idols.”

The context out of which this statement emerged were highly superstitious groups of people who would build effigies to symbolize the incorporeal energies at work in the universe, and these people would make offerings to golden statues to convince themselves that this universal energy would help them survive and even succeed in this unforgiving world, which was exponentially more unforgiving in the ancient past.

The ancient Hebrews believed this this universal energy had but one true manifestation which they called Yahweh. They believed that they were the chosen people, so when they saw people worshiping other manifestations of the universal energy, they were frightened that maybe they were no better than other people.

In reality, there is no true manifestation of the incorporeal, universal energy, but without an image, this energy exists beyond the grasp of human understanding, so it is customary for every culture to create metaphors to personify this energy so it can be understood. Different cultures simply use different word, but all cultures perceive the exact same universal energy.

The best metaphor for this energy is that every culture is climbing the same mountain; they just choose different paths to the summit.

People just have difficulty in accepting that they are no better than anyone else, so they create extensive systems of delusion to convince themselves that they are special. So when Moses ingested some psychoactive chemical which made him think there were words written on a stone, he came up with one way to convince his weary peers that they were the Universal Energy’s chosen people–he convinced them that everyone else was wrong and that anyone who had a different understanding of the Universal Energy would be forever damned.

But, although all superstitions crumble into dust at the touch of logic, most people are not intelligent enough to understand this. Forming your own opinion takes a large investment of time and energy, so good Christians are not supposed to question the establishment. Only people like Martin Luther questioned the establishment, and while he attempted to encourage Christians to analyze the literary work of the Bible on their own, people still preferred to have a priest read the bible to them and they just borrowed the Priest’s analysis instead of forming their own. But this leads to immense cognitive dissonance as contemporary Christians know it is impermissible to worship false idols even though they worship celebrities and singers as idols.

But this is not a new phenomenon at all. Although Christianity pretends to be monotheistic, although people believe it is impermissible to worship false idols; although they say there is only one God–albeit with several avatars in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; despite all of this, Christianity has elevated an entire pantheon of people into the Godhead. It has long been practiced to worship the Saints–hundreds of whom exist, each with a direct line to God. And it is the Christian belief that one could speak with God by praying to the Saints.

This phenomenon had a perfect description as Christianity merged with Pagan African beliefs as Africans were taken away from their culture and thrust into the middle of a Christian culture. Hoodoo/Voodoo understand how polytheism and monotheism can coexist within the same religion, like in Christianity or Hinduism. What this new culture understood was that all the Saints were channels to the one God. That the messengers can be personified and understood although the Universal Energy exists far beyond human comprehension.

I believe that people only insult other religions out of ignorance and their desire to ignore their ignorance. It is purely nonsensical to think everyone should understand reality with the same words. Eskimos have a hundred different words for snow, but the Mongols have more experience with sand–and to try to compare these two cultures is meaningless. There is no reason to understand a different culture in relation to your own–you must understand a culture as its own entity. Culture relativism is now a choice. It is the only path.

The Universal Energy, better known as God, exists far beyond understanding, so why would people base their belief system around the incomprehensible? It is because people are scared of dying, and they tend to react poorly to this fear. So, instead of focusing on life, people are indoctrinated at a very young age to focus on what happens after they die. It is wrong that children are being taught that they will have eternal life in Heave. Holy shit! Children have a long fucking life ahead of them, but they are being told not to focus on this. They are being taught that life is short. By forcing children to focus so much on death, they forget to pay attention to life.

What happens after death is another thing that exists far beyond human understanding. Different cultures use different words, but, in this case, all the words are equally useless. The two most irrelevant things a person could think about are 1) What is God? and 2) What happens after we die?

Neither of these things will ever affect your life. What does affect your life are people. Instead of focusing on bullshit, it is recommended that you focus on how your actions affect others and how others affect you.

I cannot say how many times I’ve heard some assholes debating whether God exists–and every time I hear one of these bullshit conversations, I want to punch them in the face and yell “Why don’t you talk about something that matters?”

For example: the biggest piece of bullshit in Christianity is when the council of Nicaea decided that Jesus was going to be purely divine. This is such a disservice to humanity, and it completely ruined the point of the religion. As a confirmed Catholic, I believe I am qualified to say that Jesus was not the son of God any more than you or I. As a child I realized this teaching was bullshit–because we are all children of the Universe; we are all the children of God. So to say the Universe/God only manifested itself into one person is ridiculous. In fact, this is a belief also found in Hinduism where various Gods had avatars on earth. The council of Nicaea posits that Jesus was an Avatar just like Rama and those folk over in India. But Christianity is not Hinduism, and Jesus was just a person, just like you and I–just like Plato and Aristotle.

But there is one thing that sets Jesus apart from most–he was a very good person. Christianity should be a humanistic religion based around the teachings and philosophy of Jesus Christ, and to be a good Christian, people should try to model their own lives around Jesus’s. You would be hard pressed to find a better role model than him. Unfortunately, the Church, in its infinite bullshit, really screwed humanity over as they created the idea that Jesus was not human. And this bullshit created the idea in the minds of their brainwashed followers/sheep that it is impossible for them to live their lives like Jesus–that by being human they are damned to lives of perpetual sin and woeful imperfection, and that the only thing anyone could do is to constantly apologize for being human. And this is all because of the lie that Jesus was not human.

Anyone could see that Jesus was of the animal species homo sapiens–he was a bipedal primate born into the culture of the Hebrews. That is the only difference between Jesus and you or I. I was born into the late 20th Century American culture.  But still I am fully capable of living my life like Jesus, and walking in his path. Anyone who does not try to live in a comparatively virtuous fashion does not have the right to call themselves Christian.

As far as I am concerned, people who are not concerned with living virtuously are nothing but blood irrelevant atheists. Because atheism is the biggest crock of bullshit. Who the fuck cares what the incorporeal, Universal Energy is called? Atheism is for people who are so blinded by semantics that they don’t understand that things exist beyond the words. Who cares if one person calls this Universal Energy God? Who cares if another person calls this Universal Energy Science? Beneath both words lies the exact same Universal Energy. The difference is that religions and philosophies focus on the subjective manifestation of this energy while science focuses on its objective manifestation.

As I stated earlier, the most important thing in life is people. clearly, it is essential for everyone to have a sense of the mechanics of subjective reality, to allow them to have pro-social and healthy relationships with the people around them. But there are no answers in subjective reality; there are no notches in its walls for you to get a firm grasp of it. Subjective reality is an amorphous entity that changes shapes as people come and go. Society is a closed system that abides by the second law of thermodynamics. Entropy constantly increases, and chaos is the base state of subjective reality.

So, it becomes clear that the only way to understand is to focus on objective reality. Because objective reality does not change from one person to another. Objective reality exists entirely separately from people and it is manifested as the neatly ordered entity of Science. And while Science has only been in development since people have been looking for answers–maybe 30,000 years or so; and, even though the questions have plagued humanity have only found their answers in very recent history, the answers have existed since the beginning of existence. The scientific process ensures that the answers it finds are the only possible answers; science is so unabashedly ordered that it does not offer any room for deviance.

In a sense, objective reality stands as the photo-negative image of subjective reality. Most people tend to favor one side of the grand picture over the other, and this has the unfortunate side effect where people tend to ignore the other side of the grand picture. As Flannery O’Connor said, “It takes all kinds to make the world go ’round.” So there is nothing wrong with one person focusing on objective reality because another person will focus entirely on subjective reality–and the world will be balanced.

Although their is nothing wrong with this, that does not mean you should settle for an incomplete picture. It is a flaw that can be improved upon. People are flawed, but you should not consciously choose to be flawed. Flaws tend to be the result of ignorance, so if you can understand which perspective you tend to follow, you can practice using the other perspective. With conscious effort, you will improve yourself  and you can overcome your flaws. Though you cannot become perfect, you can become less imperfect.

Do not treat your identity as a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you are a scientist, know that you do not have to have poor social skills. Just because you enjoy doing math problems and performing experiments to find the velocity of falling objects, you do not have to bemoan your inability to forge lasting relationships with your peers. You can easily learn to be at ease in social situations–you just have to accept that you can refine your social skills.

And if you are a socialite who has a large group of friends who you can rely on and who will treat you with the same respect you show them; that does not mean you cannot have enlightened conversations with them about scientific progress. You may have the perception that people are not looking to have meaningful conversations, but do not believe that it isn’t cool to be smart. Elevate your personal paradigm to a higher level and learn the joys of thinking about meaningful questions. learn to separate the good conversations from the thoughtless banter of small-talk. Stop asking questions that no one cares about. Do not dumb yourself down to make yourself more likeable.

As Nietzsche teaches, it is everyone’s duty to become the Ubermentsch; it is everyone’s duty to become the Shepherd–it is your duty to become the leader of your peers. But, at the same time, it is your peers’ duty to become the leader of you. Ideally, you should be  leading the person who is leading you. And although more people are followers than leaders, it does not have to always be this way. Do not ever settle for yourself; keep on growing and changing, and fight the good fight.

On Scene in Iraq circa 2003

“So, this is how it will start?” Asked the one-legged man.

No fireworks shot off in the sky. It was like the universe was crushing his spirit. Someone had once made a prediction, so when it came true, the continuation of logic became a futile endeavor.

In the United States of America, all the citizens were safe from harm. The entire landmass could not afford to bring another super power into play. The only nations we fear are so far beyond our reach, it doesn’t add up right. Surely, this debacle was the result of some misunderstanding.

They would have us believe their method is tried and proven. This leaves no room for error, becoming an issue of trust. But when you can’t trust your representatives, what good is the vote anyway?

No matter which way you cut it, the smoke on the horizon proves Thanatos is all too real. But what good is a cripple when the bombs start to drop?

He shared the night watch with one Private Isaakson.

“Hey–didn’t this place get sacked like a decade ago?” the cripple mused.

“Yeah, I heard your mom took care of ’em, if ya know what I mean,” Isaakson quipped.

“Hey! Fuck you,” the cripple growled. “But, seriously: you’d think they would be sick of fighting by now.”

“Ain’t much else to do in this god-forsaken hell hole.” Isaakson had a knack for finding the most negative way to spin things. His words had long since lost their power.

“I don’t know about you, but I feel sorry for the bastards. It’s so goddamn hot.”

“Ain’t that the truth.” Isaakson laughed, “Only reason someone would live here is if they had no where else to go.”

“So, essentially, we’re making it a hundred time worse for them,” the cripple mused. “Not only are they stuck in the middle of a wasteland, but they have to watch out in case we bomb them.”

“I don’t envy them one bit.”

Ain’t that the truth? The movies don’t show their side of the story, do they? Histories are written by the winners, and we conveniently forget the suffering of the losers.

Those who suffer will seek to spread their misery–you can count on this. That day had come at last. For a week, the sparkle of campfires had outlined the horizon and the soldiers’ fingers were itching to squeeze the trigger.

The campfires had drawn steadily nearer with the passing of each day. Yet no more than thirty soldiers stood in the way of this army numbering in the thousands. The plan was to draw the enemy together and then call in a bomb strike.

It was 3 A.M. when the sentry entered his sergeant’s tent. “You better have a good reason for waking me,” he growled from his cot.

“Sir, yes sir!” The sentry saluted. “The campfires have all gone dark. I think they are planning an ambush.”

“Right.” The sergeant said, hopping out of bed. Lifting the receiver of a phone to his ear, he spoke: “This is battalion omega reporting–there are reports of enemy movement. Code is Gamma Gamma Epsilon. Coordinates are 52’213.”

There was a sudden feeling like the air had gone empty. The roar of a jet engine set the stage and the line of explosions tore it down.

“That takes care of business,” The sergeant muttered, and he returned to the shelter of his tent.

As silence resumed, the cripple gave a nervous laugh. “Really makes you wonder why we have to be here.”