Presented by Two Small Blocks

DAYS:

Copyright 2006 Hannibal Taubes. Don't frickin' touch.
Also, thanks to all those teachers who put up with my space-cadet antics long enough for me to write this. Kudos to you.

My day begins like this: I rise up out of the dark and it’s cold. Sometimes, I am up and I don’t know why; I go through the first half hour like that, almost asleep. I know what I am doing, but I don’t know what it means. I take a shower. I’ll hit myself to wake up, and even in nescience, I find this funny and maybe sad; me standing naked in the water, smacking my own face because I don’t know what’s happening.

Breakfast. Breakfast usually happens without incident. If I am awake, I read. If not, I eat.

The school day always starts unremarkably. Even when I’ve woken up a lunatic that morning, (it’s happened more than once) I make it through my first class (English) without trouble. The teacher thinks I’m stoned. They all do. She has to say things twice to me, usually because things aren’t interesting enough the first time.

Second class is usually physics, which can go one of two ways: 1) I am asleep. Breakfast buzz has worn off, and I’m worse than I’ve been since I woke up. I am upright but gone. When I wake, later that day, I find my notebooks full of angry scribbles. I think I make these searching. On a bad physics day, I can feel the lines down there, somewhere, but there's no way to find them. They are buried somewhere under layers of sleep and peat-moss, and I must content myself with scratching.

The other physics day 2) is more enjoyable and less noteworthy. I am more or less awake, so I draw and am insulted by my neighbors. Once I and a friend constructed an oracle, which worked by means of a specially notated bingo board and three lucky charms. The Oracular Bingo board informed me that Descartes’ Dog would find Justice, and I dearly hope so. There is a story behind this: In a philosophy class, the professor once told me that Descartes believed humans to be the only conscious creatures on the earth. To be an animal was no different than a brick, according to this theory. In an anecdotal snippet, I was told that Descartes thought it perfectly permissible to kick his dog, since that dog was no more conscious than a cobblestone. That dog is now an icon of mine; I draw him simply, shaggy, and with his head precluded by an enormous Cartesian vortex. It represents all sorts of things, and this is why I added the picture to my bingo board. It is pleasant to think that justice may be served. On a somewhat related note, my friend used the Oracle, and discovered that he would receive Free Herpes.

 

            Things heat up in Latin class, which is next. Anything can happen; if its been a Physics 2) kind of day, I’ll draw on the blackboard. I have a small box of colored chalk, and the run of a black-board of four square divisions, each about three feet on a side. I always think left to right; I suppose my eyes just run that way. I always wonder what an Arab would think of my chalkings, whose natural impulse would be to scan from right to left. I suppose the effect would be lost, or opposite.

When I started out, it was all abstract. I know some lines like I know how to ride a bicycle; I can find them with my eyes closed and the chalk taped to my tongue. They curve like distorted sound waves, and roll up and down and spiral in to tight-drawn ends. These were all I could think of, for a while, partially because I still hadn’t exhausted them, and partly because I was afraid to draw literally on such a large scale. My early chalkings ended up looking somewhat cosmic, because interwoven with the lines were spheres and spirals and voids. The whole thing was invariably some kind of intergalactic tentacle-scene, which was interesting but strange. By the third universe drawing, I had exhausted the genre. I drew one landscape, which everyone seemed to like except me.

Now, I draw literally on the Latin-room black-board. It's angels, these days, that I see burning on the board, and dead men and great deserts and forests. People tell me that I draw like a Native American, with wild spirals and stout, brutish, agonized people. Their wings seldom fit into the space the way I want them to, and I’ve learned never to have more than one person on the board. I always botch the second angel. I have no idea why. No one quite likes these literal chalkings as much as the old abstract ones; I think these newer pictures have a personal meaning that I never quite intended. They are very sad, in some ways; I can’t help it. The angels I see on the board are never smiling: sometimes they are severe, and sometimes in grief, and sometimes in despair. Sometimes I think they are on fire, and sometimes they are visibly doused. There is always an element of emptiness and fullness happening; the angel or person is falling out of fullness into a void, or the angel itself is full, while surrounded by desert.

The teacher doesn’t entirely approve of me drawing on the board, but he’s elected not to stop me. I can’t very well stop on my own. The empty board is fascinating. It makes my hands twitch, especially since my seat is right up against it. There is such a great gaping black maw there, I can’t resist the urge to fill it up. Even when I’m not drawing on it, the board has an effect on me: after it has been written on and erased, I can still see the washed-out outlines of the words, effaced but still vaguely meaningful. On days when I’ve woken up a lunatic, I can start to wonder if the board is trying to get something across to me. It doesn’t have to be supernatural. Everywhere there have been minds, minds thinking, minds writing, minds making communications. Everywhere and everything is a remnant of those communications; from the communications of ants to the greatest communication of all: whatever communication it was that made this world. On the board, half-erased, I can see part of those communications, written in intriguing epitaphs in a dead language. They weren’t intended for me, obviously, but that doesn’t mean they can’t speak to me. Their originator didn’t give them any meaning, but isn’t that a meaning in itself?
I think I am talking to angels.

On the days when I see the board talking to me, it's usually not the kind of day I chalk on. If it’s been a Physics 1) kind of day, things can get bizarre in Latin class. I swore once I had found proof of god, just by walking into the Latin room. I was struck dumb with amazement by this thought; it left me mumbling furiously over my notebook for the rest of the day. It was a thought about cosmic symmetry; consider this: every day the sun rises, and with it I rise. Every day I walk the same route to school, and every day I see the same sight as I walk into the same Latin classroom. The chairs are all arranged in the same way, the corners are in the same relative places, and the blackboard is still at the same angle. I walk across the same gridwork of tiles, I see the same oblong windows and tubular table-legs. I sit in the same seat, and from that seat I see the same thing. Even if time is relative, all of this takes place at the same interval from day to day. It is, to be certain, an epicycle of the earth’s rotation.

Is this not cosmic symmetry? Is this not a divine order laid down by some great geometric demiurge, who has laid out the very face of time in spheres and tangential lines? Is this pattern not imposed upon seeming chaos? Is this not history? Is this history not patterned, and plotted out by some effect beyond my control? Is this world not the work of god? I had proof, for those few hours. I had proof of god, and I was bent over it in blurred, ecstatic awe. This was no butterfly’s wings. This was no Chaos Effect. I had seen the divine order, seen it where I had always looked, and never before found it. I was struck dumb. I had found meaning. If I could follow these tangential lines of time, and trace back the angles of effect, I could find the Godhead itself. I didn’t know what the Godhead might be, but I suspected that it was inside myself; since I had perceived and described this order, the spark of divine must be in my head, and in all of our heads. Chaos had been conquered. It had been conquered by order, by communication (which is the same thing). Now that I saw the writing, I could with effort decipher its meaning, or make for it a meaning of my own.

The effect of this wore off, eventually, and I never did find the Godhead.

In retrospect, the whole affair made me wonder about my own religious convictions. I had none in particular, but I noticed that I seem to connect the idea of God with the idea of Geometry. I think this is perhaps my very own first Conviction: if there is a God, then He must take the form of order imposed on chaos. Maybe my second Conviction is this: There is a God. I suspect that we have invented Him. Even if He does not exist in any physical sense, we have an idea of Him, and that idea influences our actions. Either we have an idea of a Christian demiurge, or we simply have an idea of pattern conquering chaos. In either case, we make God in our image, for in all aspects He imposes His order and mind upon the heedless world. We make God a human, who is surrounded by chaos and names that chaos, right or wrong, and gives it direction and labels and classifications. We make God the mathematician, we make him the Namer of Names, we make him the conqueror of the great Deep.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m an atheist. I don’t think God exists in an objective sense. Subjectively, however, God is epitome and vindication of mankind. We have an idea of Him. Atheist, Muslim, or Christian, we think of Him. By necessity, those thoughts influence our actions. Hence, through our works God makes an impact upon the physical world, and through our communications He is born. God is an idea, and what idea is real? This is why I say that the Godhead is within us; we make Him or slay Him simply by thinking of Him.

I think God is in the significances of things. Since we imbue significances to begin with, the insignificant can become crucial simply by our consideration. This is another thing that happens in Latin class. I start to wonder, “what significance?” I write it on my papers, like this:

“WHAT SIGNIFICANCE?”

All capitals. What meaning? Why? What does it impute to me? Or, rather, what significance to I impute onto it? (This is all we can really consider, in this subjective world.) I ask “what significance” of a whole bunch of phrases. The really good ones, the ones that make me crazy, the enigmatic and bizarre and fascinating ones, I keep in a deck of notecards in my bag. Here are a few:

“ULTIMA RATIO REGUM”
“SINCE HER WOMB WAS PARADISE”
“AND THAT STORM WAS GOD”
“AND WE SHALL BE DANGEROUS”
“WHERE BITTER JOY CAN HEAR THE SOUND OF WINGS”
“YOU ASK ME HOW I BECAME A MADMAN. IT HAPPENED THUS…”
“ECO-PORN”
“WE TWO REMAIN AS THE EXAMPLES OF MEN”
“SOCRATES ATTACKS!”

Some of these make me laugh, and some of these make me jump, and some of them make me want to become a monk, just to spend decades meditating on the meaning of the phrase. They all, of course, make sense in their respective contexts, but that isn’t the point. Taken separately, they are enigmatic communications. They are apparently meaningless, but it makes me wonder. If none of these phrases have contexts, than what’s to prevent me from giving them contexts? Each one is a little snippet of order, a microcosm of meaning. Wielding one or all of these, (I think), what chaos could I conquer? Or are these comments themselves chaotic, reverting thus when they are cut away from their original contexts? Is order, then, to be formed from the raw materials of the void? Could I reform these epigrams into new orders? Or should I make my own?

Once, for an English assignment, I combined two of these snippets with a sentence of my own, to form a peculiar haiku. It goes like this:

“And now what design
Since this earth is paradise
And that storm was god”

Ostensibly, it is a poem about the Katrina Hurricane, entitled “Aftermath.” Since the assignment was to write a poem relating to Transcendentalism, I suppose the poem is something of a sarcastic jab: it’s easy to speak glowingly of nature with a solid roof over your head.

 

After Latin class, I am seldom able to sustain my state of insanity. In Math class, things come in flashes and bursts. The Latin class fire is dying, but it flares up on occasion. I enjoy Math class more. I still have some of the revelation in me, but now I am partially back on earth, so I can get more done. My best drawings are done in Math class. I can still see the angels, but now I can also see the lines on the page. When I get both at once, incredible things happen. My favorite pictures are the ones nobody likes. They don’t understand that when I draw an angel, I am drawing myself. The fury on those faces is mine, and that flame is in me; those wings are my power and those hands are my words. My angels are always making things. They don’t make physical things, but from their fingers grow wild plumes of flame and graphite. More often than not the creation is hurting them, but they do it anyway. They are engaged in genesis; like me they have geometry burning behind their eyes, and like me, it’s rarely a feel-good kind of geometry. They see order, and everywhere they seek to impose that order onto the world. They see order, and that order burns. They see light, and what they see becomes true.

I think these drawings have taught me something about the nature of art. Art speaks to us because it encapsulates the act of biblical creation. Art is the hidden pattern in the white noise of the world. Even in an abstract painting, we admire the intent of its creation. We admire not the chaos, but the geometer that bore that chaos in him. In a field of abstract shapes, it is the lines we pick out, and the fields of colour. We see division, everywhere, and we part here from there. Artistic composition is the creation of an idiosyncratic order, which invokes emotion by its division of the void. Art is differentiation. Art is the act of walking across the deep, and cutting that deep apart and forming with it the heaven and the earth and the sea. Art encapsulates the human imposition onto the world, the projection of self that makes us see gods in the stones and the sky.

My drawings consider this. They are always playing with strictures. I love to draw on graph paper, because the interaction of lines and squares fascinates me. Even better is a succession of widening parabolas, drawn and intersecting across horizontal lines. Once an algebra teacher gave me a sheet which detailed a series of interlocking hyperbolae. I bent over that paper for days, fascinated by the mutating geometries. Even now, I draw on lined paper, and my drawings are often coloured according to their respective lines. My angels, who scream for freedom, are themselves products of the constricting grid over which they are drawn. They are all composed in some part of order, and in some part of chaos. I drew it this way even before I started to think about it, and I draw it this way still. A canvas without divisions has little interest for me.

Unexpected things happen in Math class, as inspiration goes out in spits and bursts. Once I sat back and wrote the words “AUM SHIVA” a thousand times over, in different shapes and sizes. Sometimes, I would add in “HARE KRISHNA” here and there, for variety. When I was done, it occurred to me that my combined words formed a sky overhanging the blank space at the bottom of the page. That blank space was curiously flat and empty, for a landscape. I drew a child in the center of it, staring up at the AUM SHIVA sky. The blank space around him was the desert, and AUM SHIVA was interlocked across his clothes. I still don’t know what it means.

I sit by the window, and can look out onto the train tracks. Once, when the train passed, I could feel its shaking force beneath me. I wondered what it would like to die beneath those wheels. I was terrified. Worse, how would it be not to die? Merely to be maimed? To be divided at the waist and lie bleeding, in the snow, or in the mud, or on the gravel, and wait helplessly. What would I think? How could it be, to look and see one’s own legs lying a few feet away, and know that time was running out? Or if time wasn’t running out? If the medics were hurrying to me, anxious to cart me off to an amputated future. I think my fear had to do with being powerless. Where could I run without legs?

The next time a train passed, I tried a different tact. How does the train feel? I forgot myself. How must a train feel, every day? It would be like traveling in thunder. The earth would shake at my feet and the trees would quail back from the track with the roar of my passage. Besides the speed and the power, though, what fascinated me was the purpose. What significance? What rushing, overriding design might send me thundering like that? That purpose was an incredible feeling. That purpose was incandescent, filled with all the lines of logic and fire that I had always wanted to behold. That purpose was like gravity, inescapable, inexorable, a force that can hurl a person at impossible speeds, and bring things down with fantastic power. I and the train were built for that purpose, were intended for that deadly rush of inertia and destination. I never forgot the feeling. I never forgot the feel of my heart in my throat, and my eyes closed in exhilaration and illumination.

I don’t know the architect of that purpose; some technician, somewhere, probably dead. That was the second time, though, that I thought I had experienced God. He had deigned me GO and that was my purpose, that was the line laid for me across the face of this earth. It didn’t matter whether I imagined that line, or in the train’s case, if that line was physically proscribed. All that mattered was the purpose and the force, the sheer power of fire and steel and intent by which that line was being traversed. I felt it for a few seconds as the train passed, and then it was gone. I never imagined myself a train again, but I’ve always been looking for that purpose.

 

By the time art class has come around, my revelation is gone. I draw pretty pictures and ride the art-room tricycle. When school is over I walk home, not thinking much, and eat lunch. When I’m at home, I try to write. These days, it never goes well. I am sucked dry. I try to revise my novel, highlight sections in red, then go back and highlight them in blue. Some of them are yellow now, and some of them in odd fonts. I’m trying to organize my work, and I organize it well. When it comes time to actually doing it, though, I just stare. I feel dull. I can’t think. I draw on the desk, little squiggles and circles and nautilus shells. Then I got back to staring at the computer. I decide the music is wrong, so I change it. When I’m not getting anything done, I check my email. No one ever emails me. I check the news. I check for updates on sites that amuse me. I stare some more. Then I check my email again. Instant messaging is an admission of failure, so I go back to my book and stare at it again. I have no ideas. The trouble is that its done, already. Parts of it are god-awful, but its hard to just go in and change things in a finished work. I’m terrified of messing it up. I don’t write as well as I might. I stare some more.

I play videogames. Playing high-quality videogames is another admission of failure, so I play trashy ones. “Laser Dolphin.” “Penguin Racer”. Etc. Now I get angry. I’ve been here, telling myself I’m writing, for three hours. I have erased two sentences in that time, intending to write more. I haven’t done it. I doubt I’m going to. I get angry. I want to draw apocalypse, but I don’t have anything big enough to draw it on. Doing homework is another admission of failure. I am angry and disgusted. There is a terrifying dullness in my mind, a numb inability to think. I have lost my discipline. I have slid. I read hippy poetry, and it doesn’t help. I dream of literary glory. I can’t write. All I can do is draw. I dream of artistic glory. All I want to paint is the apocalypse. All I have to paint it on is 8 ½ by 11 computer paper. Its no good. I hit things. I stomp around. I plot anarchy. I tell myself I am a genius. It doesn’t work. I have writers block. Sometimes I’ll drink too much Mountain Dew, and then I’ll spend more time peeing than writing. This is sometimes constructive, sometimes not. Once I started to write, but then began watching the gleam of light on an upturned CD. I kept on watching it. When I looked up, I realized I had spent an hour and a half staring at a CD refraction. I am going insane.

Sometimes, inspiration will hit me from behind. That’s the only way I get anything written. I went to Cambridge, once, for a Philosophy Class. It was night, and I had time to kill. I walked along the Charles River and crossed it on a foot-bridge, then kept walking to the road. Another footbridge crossed the road, so I walked up on this and looked down at the rush-hour traffic. On one side, the Boston apartments rose in shadowy tiers, their windows lit, their bricks dull in the night. Above the high rises were visible in the distance, glowing against the city night. On the other side, the river glittered in the dark, deep and turbulent and beautiful. The skyline was filled with light.

I bethought myself to create a personality test. Given the situation I was in, do you A) stand on the bridge over the road and look down at the traffic coming on, or do you B) look the other way, at the traffic going away from you? I thought this would be fairly indicative of personality traits, so I oscillated between the two sides of the bridge in psychological indecision. I looked down the bridge, and an old man was leaning against the rail. I went over to him to see where he was looking, and I swear to you, he was staring up at the moon.

The moral of this is kind of saccharine, but it had me going. I ran down off the bridge and found a streetlamp, under which I sat and wrote a long poem describing the experience. It later proved to be trash, but these days trash is better than nothing.

Occasionally I’ll just have dumb ideas. I found a wooden red circle once, about an inch in diameter and an eighth of an inch thick. I decided to create my own currency. The beauty of it was this: I would write my denominations on the circle in pencil. When I wanted more money, I could erase the numbers and write bigger ones. I would call my new currency “The Dinero” and it would rate quite highly against the dollar. How many Pesos go into one Dinero? How many RMB? Euros? I had no idea. The only problem with my idea was that I only had one coin, so I could only spend it once. I figured I would have to put it in an international bank, and try getting the interest in some other currency. I didn’t have a pencil, either, so I put the Dinero into my pocket. I never found it again.

On another occasion, I decided to challenge the idea of a national identity. The premise was this: there is no absolutely concrete definition of a nation. Therefore, it’s not actually necessary that a nation has to rule over a physical territory. I could secede from the United States and start my own nation on the internet, issuing citizenship and passports to all comers. It would be a nation of exiles. A virtual Diaspora. The beauty of it would be that it would make international trade much easier, because anyone dealing with trade restrictions could simply renounce their current citizenship and join my Virtual Republic, which imposed exactly no laws at all. I wrote this idea into a long essay, which I sent to an Anarchist website. I got a polite email from the head Anarchist, who explained that the website hadn’t been actually operated since 1998, and that no one remembered the address of the server, and hence no one could post essays. I’m not sure whether I believe this, but I still have the Virtual Republic essay on my computer, waiting for the day when I get motivated enough to send it out again.

By this point in the day (night) I have forgotten all about Chaos, God, and Art. I eat dinner and go to karate, where I am the Salutary Hippy. By the time it’s nine or ten in the evening, I go for a run. I always run barefoot. I had another glimpse of cosmic symmetry on one of these runs. It was December, 25 degrees Fahrenheit, and I was jogging along barefoot, with my T shirt and radio. (A note on this: These days, radios are considered hopelessly outmoded. Anyone using one is a guaranteed hobo or subversive. The Ipod has made a curious impact on the modern cool. Rebellious teenagers at my school buy and play radios, just to be retro and suspicious.) On this particular night, I was stopped by a cop on a motorcycle. He was polite; I can’t really blame him. I wasn’t running from anyone, I wasn’t on drugs, I wouldn’t be cold unless I stopped moving. He drove off. I watched him go, and noted this: Premise 1: this was an extremely wide motorcycle. Premise 2: This was an extremely wide cop. It almost floored me. Cosmic symmetry revealed.

When I get back, I go to sleep. I have strange dreams. I dreamt that I was being hunted by some ineffable force. I was an archaeologist, and I dreamt of great golden eyes in the night, and woke to find my archaeological partners gone. My hunter found me in the dark, and came slowly toward me, its eyes burning like suns that cast no light. I could only fend it off by waking up, but this was all I couldn’t do; The monster was my own creation. I had imagined it to be, and it was; I could imagine it gone, and it would go. The trick was to break the illusion, to wake from the dream and sit up in my bed. I did, eventually, but it almost got me.

There are the strange dreams, and the funny ones. Sometimes I think my sex drive has gone awry: I dreamt that I was standing naked in a crowded room, bowling at the people with trash cans. I had never had so much fun in my life. It was an infinite sea of shouting pins, and an infinitely powerful ball that I hurled. I danced, nude, mad, destructive. I woke up laughing fit to burst, then went back to sleep. I dreamt again, that Death was chasing me across endless, graffiti streaked roofs. On another occasion, I dreamt that the CIA had me in a custody. They were brainwashing me, trying to wipe away all my art, and all my humanity. The only way to fight back was insanity; If they were order, I was disorder. I shouted randomly. Crazy things. Things that made no sense. The less reason I had, the more I could hurt them. A gun wouldn’t kill a man. A banana might. I lost the fight, in the end. I ran out of bizarre things to yell, and there are only so many blunt instruments of madness in a CIA cell.

My favorite dream of all is this one: I dreamt that I empirically proved myself to be a Polish Aristocrat. How? Only a Polish Aristocrat would be able to think so clearly in his sleep. I love this dream. I use it as a koan wherever I go. Who can prove me wrong?

 

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