There he is again… that man in the corner of the room. Watching me.
Watching me, watching him.
Yes, I see you. Now go away.
How many years has he been there? I find myself confused in time. Events are muddled, their effects preceding their causes.
There’s a tingling in my spine, like something is about to happen. I resist its urge, like a man who despises vomiting spitting saliva into a toilet at 3am after he’s had too much to drink and the world is spinning. Maybe it will feel better if I just let it happen… or maybe this is it, the moment when I shed this corporeal prison and am released back into the ether.
No. Too much work left to be done.
She told me that she knew this was her last time here. I was inclined to say it was not mine, but that’s only because I haven’t finished what I’ve started. So I better get on that.
Here I am in middle age, this shell of matter I’ve borrowed for the adventure beginning to malfunction and all the goodness I knew with certainty was ahead of me suddenly stacked up like a long queue at the till five minutes before close, the patrons checking the time nervously.
By all reason I should feel that I’ve got a great deal of time left, that “pushing 40” is merely a halfway point statistically, but something’s not right. This timeline I find myself in doesn’t adhere to how I’d envisioned it in the zeal of my youth, when I put off The Work for research.
I suppose it’s time to shit or get off the pot, because none of us knows when our time is up and if I were to keel over tomorrow I’d be remembered as little more than another in a great long line of confused creatures, stumbling through existence with little to show for all of it.
Right. So get to work I say, and regard the man in the corner. He returns my gaze. I wonder if seeing him now as I do is a sign of my decline, or is it of my elevation?
Does my awareness indicate I am ascending… or going mad?
I’m going to invoke Pascal’s Wager on this one: If I am going mad and all my knowledge is just delusion then it doesn’t matter and I’ll simply pass into nothingness, but if I am in fact correct in my awareness then The Work must yet be performed. In either case, I lose nothing.
All this I traverse though while laying in my bed, typing this madness into my laptop, the haze of my vapour drifting lazily in the beams of the midwinter sun through the gaps in the curtains.
The Man seems to nod, and then is gone, as if he’d been vapor all along.
* * *
Few things can make one more pensive about life than staring down the barrel of one’s own mortality. Despite a few decades wandering the Earth all the while considering the hard problem of consciousness and exploring Life’s joys and sorrows, I find myself more than ever at a loss as to where to begin.
My hope – my expectation – as a young explorer had been to drink up the experiences, that one day the self-evident Truth of it all would flow with ease.
Turns out, that is not at all the case.
The longer I spend here the more confusing I find it to be. My understanding of what’s going on has cemented in my mind and yet I find myself now more than ever unable to express it. So much nuance. The enormity of it weighs on me.
Some wise man once said, the more I see, the more I see there is to see.
* * *
When I close my eyes, I can see lights, fluttering sparkles like butterfly snowflakes dancing in the January breeze. Beauty unfolds before me in unspeakable patterns… they sent a poet and I still can’t find the words. No wonder these creatures are stuck.
* * *
Time is an illusion, but one I still must entertain, bound as I am in this mortal coil. Duration is its daughter, a quanta of action. Putting on tea is a series of events, though it consists of many frames it alone is remembered in whole, not the acts of raising arms and fetching water and pouring and stirring.
In this life, I sip my tea.
Stretching out like parables from other universes where the laws of physics began with different criteria, my mind drifts away from the ethereal and back to this casual reality. The eyes open and collapse all probability back into being. Quarks shake their fists at me.
A check engine light, persistently amber on the dash of my instrument cluster. Inputs reading errors. It must be meant to be, otherwise it wouldn’t be, would it?
Recall Pascal. Buy the ticket, take the ride.
In this space, I disappear. There is no self. A sound outside, it could be snowplows or it could be a transport ship coming in for a landing. Where am I? When?
Parades of visitors come and go by the bedside. It is unclear which of them belong to this timeline and which are manifestations of my long slow slide out of it. Children both made and imagined, thoughts which had burst into my awareness and then slipped off to find existence elsewhere. Another time I could meet myself missed in my infinite selves.
Familiarity betrays me at times. The looks of concern on some of their faces when I address the others indicate I guessed wrong. They don’t know each other and I want to introduce them but their reality is persistent, a line they clutch in fear and probably arrogance.
Poor fallible things. Trapped in a dream.
I pity them even as they pity me.
Someone is talking but all I can hear is color, a cascading fountain of bent illumination showering from their direction, shapes spinning along their swirling vectors. It’s some language I don’t know anymore, intention is a yellow hue, the words meaningless and distant in the brightness of the communication. Peripherals fade but the picture remains, a single image which is the story of life – of all life, of existence in self-aware disparate parts.
The man holding the picture is the shadow. It is me, watching from all points within the drifting vapor.
I close my eyes, and re-join the lights.
Written & Performed by James Bethell
Produced by Dee Kaph
Soundtrack, “From A Distance It Seems Like A Dream” on Spotify
Recorded at Shadybrook Studio