Friday, August 13, 2010

material objects

what does one see? there is a long white hard object intended to be filled with water so one may cleanse one's external surface. by it is an item for use of excretion, which one finds oneself calculating may exist as many as one per person on this world, so numbered into the billions. on another world it would doubtless also exist but be of a different shape or size or method of disposal, perhaps buried in sand or compressed into tiny pellets.

and in the next room are many rectangular objects made of nonliving plants, large and solid ones to be sure. these may hold items on their tops or along inner surfaces. similar items of other materials also exist, as may cylindrical containers holding living plants.

and along the inner surfaces of the tallest item one finds many small rectangular items made of similar plant substance, but in thin flat sheets held together at one side. and on these sheets are symbols, processed by scanning the eye from left to right (or sometimes right to left) and with the brain interpreting them into words, and building stories or systems of information. one may also use this cylindrical item containing a dark liquid to create such symbols of one's own, often on blank sheets of this substance.

on another world, how this could be done differently? the symbols might be pressed into clay or wax perhaps (as may have been done here long ago), or woven onto cloth. or even tied into cords. but this is so linear! one at a time from left to right or right to left or top to bottom or even bottom to top! what if we departed the linear for a while? you say our eyes can only process that way, but they can also see larger, so if we had encoded clumps of symbols in 3-space, and perhaps connected by colored could see the pattern of one's area of interest, and then follow its color from clump to clump, unfolding each as it arrives, and perhaps even adding new information. or use the pattern itself to tell one where to go next; the overall shape as the summary perhaps, or the introduction. and indeed why stop at straight lines, in any direction?

and then again why stop at the eyes, or use them at all? perhaps on another world we could encode all information tonally, and perhaps even follow a line of tones from place to place. or perhaps by touch, or scent, beings with delicate feelers or noses capable of infinite distinguishment, and the texture and shape or the shifts in odor tell all! "the odyssey" written in mustard and nuts.

and yet while this is endlessly fascinating to one, one must even now remove one's forelimbs from this flat textured item and end the flow of symbols appearing before one's eyes. for one must put on one's lower limbs long pieces of woven plant material, and foot coverings of the same, and depart the premises...perhaps to hand over many pieces of colored symbol material and round metal in exchange for food and other items, often enclosed in plant or mineral-based containers. and then in time return to the room first mentioned no doubt, but of that we shall say no more, for like civilized beings everywhere we prefer to keep our excretion to ourselves.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

sitting there, a grassy hollow, and them around it, loosely spread across the slope. we join them, curious. the music is simple, alien, but not so much so; tunes we can follow, intervals not far off our own. "music is universal!" cries edward, who brought his tapes along, and it seems like a triumph to all of us, though nowhere near as interesting as digging-sticks or their primitive notation system. they're dull people really, plant-eaters, no aggression, no drive. nothing here has much of that, a placid little herbivorean world, but it's friendly and peaceful and we feel there's plenty we can learn.


all the time

and something moving
back and forth
down the line

we see it coming going but
we never know

and it's part of what it is
nothing changes!
only shifting
letting go


we see from outside as always. we measure everything! the inner world is still an illusion to us, a place to plan or think over our "real" activities.

so each of us is a machine walking around with a little box in our hands, a talking box that sounds like us and helpfully fills up any temporary silences.

and we can't get out or break it! were we made all wrong or did we do it ourselves? we come into a universe of light and all we do is get out a spectroscope!

a box, a camera, a measurerer, a shell pasted together hiding nothing - a naked animal that would run away if it could.

but it can't go back and it can't go forward. on the other side is emptiness and nothing and maybe we stop there, god's joke. peel away our outer layers and nothing is left! we're all hot air and noise and it evaporates and we die and we might as well never have been here. or maybe we were used as a tool for something real, something out there that sometimes needs to measure things.


we sit there politely all evening, as the sky slowly turns dark, shifting from red to purple and pale lavendar and beyond. the music trickles on and though we soon lose interest it's soothing enough, almost sleepy. even edward puts his recorder down, muttering something about endless repetition and a lack of any real musical qualities. the natives sit on alert, we don't know what they hear in it but no doubt it's as far as their primitive minds can go, a one-two rhythm and this thin wavering sound. i didn't study musicology in college but some of the others took a class or two and there's some idle discussion of it, quietly so as not to be rude. but really that's more than enough for all of us, and we're relieved when the evening is finally over and we can get up off the dampening grass and go back to the lander, pour some coffee, write up our notes, maybe a round of cards before bed for those who aren't sleepy yet. there isn't much in the way of entertainment here, obviously, but we make do!

in the morning the tune (if you can call it that) still lingers for me, popping up over breakfast and running through my head in the most annoying way. but i liked the sky, and the way the music went softly through the sunset, and i remember that for a minute before i clear my mind for action - today we will be surveying the fields and doing an agricultural grid!


and i feel the connection
between it all

it's just below the surface
and i doubt myself
something happening!

and we talk and talk and talk
each unto our own

it's never like you think!
we see
something very primitive
an idea like concrete
a lumpy little block

like: "all their minds are linked"
and immediately!

a group entity
lurches by
like an anthill

what did i say again?

and shifting up in time
the singer sings me through

and everything!

falling all around
shifting me back down

where was i then?


and this is what we think: we pity them! the poor primitives, in their mud huts and treehouses, sitting by their riverbanks, listening to their simplistic music. their faces are empty like their minds must be, and their houses have no machinery no comfort zones magic beds image projectors money units food processing parlours at all! how do they live with it? a blanket on a dusty floor and a window to look out of.

we pity them. and gibber away in our mutinous language all hard edges exact concepts and definition! we insist that they think like us and will teach them correctness whether they like it or not. "a different concept of time" - you mean you're LATE and you're KEEPING us WAITING! we clearly said we'd be back in ten days and we even showed you how to count to ten, but is anybody there waiting for us? do you have the supplies we requested? hardly! i suppose you're all out there in your fields staring at the sky or something!

and they float on past us, invisible, pitying us, with no idea what to do. we won't listen to their music, we won't look at their sky; we want nothing but data and exact instructions.

but once in a while one of us listens, or looks, and looks again, and everything changes. a door opens for a moment and they can come in.

i hear you all around me, all through time i know it. you're shifting now, playing me. i don't know who you are, or where; are you over there on the hillside, months ago, back before i learned to listen? which one are you? did you look at me? did you send a gift to me, even me, in my arrogance and emptiness?


and nothing
the same again

coming down

i know where i am!

i know you
where you are
i see you now

and seeing see forever

and it doesn't matter
where i am
i'm never lost again

and where i am
is everywhere
and all of you are there

and i can never say enough
to thank you
but you already know

and someday i hope
to bring the others in
to speak to them
through time or space or sound
as you spoke to me
long ago and now