Photo Credit: Craig Foltz, Samoa 2010.
Can I tell you something? I’ve never run into the ocean at full speed. I’ve never crashed into utility poles or ruptured my spleen. I’ve never read the books of strangers nor tossed the pages from the books of strangers into the fire. I’ve never spontaneously decided to visit a foreign country or crossed the border without proper documentation.
Two groups of protesters heckle me as I make my way towards the entrance of the building.
I slip into the elevator and push the button for the third floor. I float in between glass walls and float over a blindingly white corporate plaza. The buildings draw attention to our passion for open spaces and soft pastels.
The room I step into is filled with neatly arranged desks and cubicles. There are randomly placed flowers and brittle physical materials. The office is quiet. I’m the first one to arrive. I walk up to the window. In one direction, the Pacific Ocean, in another, a spiderwebby jumble of freeways with competing narratives. Vast spaces produce fear.
On the street below, barricades have been permanently set-up to jostle the protesters into the periphery of the plaza. The simple fact is that human suffering cannot be composted. The simple fact is that underspecification is still not officially recognized as a word.
My co-workers show up late. One of them, a woman with headphones, sends me a blank email with the subject line: Please follow me.
* * *
In order to achieve dissonance, the protesters split into smaller and smaller groups. Their clothes are color-coordinated. The red group sets out to obtain footholds on all four corners of the main intersection. Police move in with plastic shields to parry their advance. The blue group sets off towards the ocean, in an attempt to occupy lifeguard towers and enlarge the minds of beach-goers and road-weary tourists. The green group heads off towards the sloping lawn above the fountain. They will emulate the behavior of chlorphyll, absorbing light from energy. Absorbing pain from blows. Absorbing life from death. The black group wears heavy sacks over their faces to obscure their identity. They burn everything in their path and chant, “Death to Everything”.
* * *
The woman with the headphones lives at the end of a cul-de-sac. Her car is tucked neatly into an open garage.
I knock on the door. There is no answer. I push the door open and enter into an airy foyer neatly lined with rows of shoes. I make my way further inside.
She says, “Let me see your hands.”
In the way that military drones circle the globe, I hold them out. Then, she begins to slowly grate the skin of my fingers into the soup. The edge of the bowl is lined with downy feathers whose origin is a mystery.
She says, “Can I tell you something else?” I hold still, nod. “Now that I’ve crunched the wings of strangers and ne’re-do-wells between my teeth I find that I’m no less fussy.” We’re finicky. We nitpick. Our goal is to mimic the actions of terrestrial insects and migratory birds.
The woman with the headphones tells me now that we’ve exchanged pieces of our flesh I may as well use her name—Eva.
In this way, Eva slowly convinces me that it’s not enough to sacrifice myself for a larger cause, I must also implicate those who are unwilling or unmotivated to join in themselves.
Put another way: It’s not enough to encounter a palindromist, one must also be prepared to hold their head under water until small bubbles begin to pop through the surface. Likewise, it’s not enough to be tolerant of shade, one must also be prepared to crouch in the middle of an intersection and pour gasoline over their body.
She pulls open the curtains, “By the way, I like the way you like the way I like the sun.”
* * *
As predicted a swan-necked women steps up to a bank of microphones to announce sweeping reforms. The word austerity is carefully avoided but the markers of austerity are still outlined in front of us. The woman refuses to predict a future without nematodes. She refuses to acknowledge the drama of the recent past.
We’ve scratched our names into so many caves that the dust from their soft reddish walls has permanently lodged itself into the stitching of our clothes. Wherever we sit down, we leave a faint rust-colored impression behind.
* * *
Back at the office, our team leader schedules a team meeting. Behind him we can see a battle raging between the red group of protesters and the authorities. Heavy machinery has rolled into the square. Our team leader seems conflicted, he tells us we’re not the only ones. “I care too.”
What’s a team leader for if not to facilitate mossy growth and damp vestibules? What’s an ocean for if not as a placeholder for the silhouettes of mountains on the horizon? Pen-clickers revenge, perhaps?
I lean in closer to Eva and tell her, “I have always liked the idea of jumping from tall buildings. I’ve always wanted to know what it feels like to fly.”
In this way, the species advances, through genetic mutations or flights of fancy. I look over at Eva to confirm she is thinking the same thing, but somehow, when I wasn’t looking, she slipped out of the room. In fact, I’m all alone, face pressed to the glass, looking out over the horizon, watching the groups of protesters break-up and reform. In the background, a group of surfers lazily paddle out towards the horizon.
* * *
I want Eva to be able to peruse the insides of my ribcage. I want her to tunnel down into the furthest recesses of my inner ear. I want her to deconstruct my words into their individual syllables. The syllables into morphemes. Morphemes into clicks. Clicks into molecules. I want her to hold my protons up to the light and say, “See, now that’s what I’m talking about.”
But Eva doesn’t talk about anything, she simply abandons me for the wall of books in her living room, gently running her fingers along the spines.
* * *
How does one scan their eyes across the page? How does one harvest white space without moisture retention? How does one imagine a world without contrapuntal systems? How does one imagine the world without the outputs from lumberyards, pulp mills, and cardboard boxes?
* * *
Objectivity has nothing to do with specifics. My co-workers crowd around me as I walk down the corridor. One calls himself The God of Self-immolation and stores paraffin-saturated cloths in an airtight box beneath his desk.
He says, “Lest you forget, we’re talking about that curious point in time before there were curious points in time.”
Another interprets the violence of mass transit as a clear sign of his impending death. He’s constantly separating the way things are from the way things used to be. But all too often, he seems to conflate the two. A billboard outside the window indicates freedom through low-interest APR. While another suggests we steer clear of clover honey and unpasteurized milk.
* * *
Eva speaks to no one. She speaks only to me. After work, she suggests we meet at a local bar. Over the sound of the jukebox she says, “The world is divided into two kinds of people. The kind of people who attach names to things and the kind of people who are named.”
Next thing I know, she is handing me a match and instructing me to scratch it against an appropriately frictive surface. She’s telling me my limbs are little more than splints of flesh dipped in sulfur and antimony trisulfide. I follow her suggestions. Little balls of flame float to the ground between us.
She wriggles in closer while I slug my beer. Now I remember why I liked her so much in the first place.
She tells me about growing up in suburban Ohio. She tells me how she first discovered the field of search engine optimization and the simple uses of chromatic plates. She says, “Often I wonder, should we attach symbolic meaning to certain objects, or just to the things that people have said.”
* * *
Despite our overly long list of qualifications, we are constantly asked to repeat our assignments. I walk through the office to the room where the printing machines live and find that Eva has taken it upon herself to pour bags of sugar into the areas where the ink cartridges are housed. Later, I catch her in the CCTV outside the door to my apartment, quietly scanning the hinges.
* * *
Every pursuit begins with a series of tasks. Task 1: Consult satellite imagery, print out directions. Task 2: Leave a little piece of paper next to the bed of the person you love with the words Sleepover Jesus written on it. No afternoon is complete without a well-worn couch, or oceanic trenches. Task 3: Continue to move forward in time until a point is reached where a variety of adversarial perspectives blur into one. Task 4: Consider things from the protester’s perspective. Consider camphor and other topical solutions. Consider the relationship between business partners. Cause: The principal sneezes. Effect: An associate to the principal apologizes for invisible pollens of grain. Task 5: Ask the person nearest to you to describe the difference between assumption and knowledge. Knowledge and illumination. Illumination and energy consumption. Energy consumption and thermocline. Cicadas and locusts. Leafhoppers and spittlebugs.
* * *
Eva leads me down the stairs and into the tattoo parlor. She wants the barcodes on her skin to mirror the barcodes on my skin. She wants the actions of governments to be remembered rather than forgotten.
To demonstrate the power of memory, she asks me to trace the outline of her lips with the edges of my little finger. Then she winds a piece of string so tightly around the tip that I can’t feel it and then she asks me to do it again.
Finally, the work of the tattooist is finished. He wipes little drops of blood off of his work, and says, “If it’s ok with you, I’ll stop here.”
* * *
Next thing I know I’m standing at street level amidst a throng of people chanting simple, three-word slogans in some sort of cyclical, formalized pattern. Somehow, time moved faster back then. Eva takes a look at the explosive device strapped to my torso and says, “No way. I don’t believe you.”
But before she can tell me she was only kidding, I pull the lever backwards and watch a shower of red and purple flowers descend from the sky towards the people closest to me, strangers all.
* * *
Our public status will forever be linked to the tethers of capitulation. It’s easy to tell two objects apart when they are contained within different sentences, but put them together and then see how far you get. The God of Young Lovers appears from my distant past and says, “Power structures are not the solution.”
Circumstances dictated the eradication of clouds. Circumstances dictated the removal of healthy tissue. The soup Eva serves me is comforting and tastes good. I remember when I could remember when. I remember when meaning didn’t need to be beholden to language.
Sitting in her kitchen with an endless amount of time on my hands, I finally gain a more holistic sense of her aesthetic. There are areas in her apartment with minimal arrangements. Just the occasional painting on the wall, or a small sculptural element, really. In other areas of the house, there is a sort of controlled chaos. Pulsing fields of light, oscillating waves of sound. Now that it’s impossible, I want to hold the moment for just a moment longer. Fictive devices are the realm of domesticated subjects. One guards the notions of beauty with loaves of bread. Another suggests how a person should behave.
Craig Foltz is a writer and photographer who has published in numerous journals. He has published two books on Ugly Duckling Presse and currently lives and works on the slopes of a dormant volcano in Auckland, New Zealand. Ideas for collaborations are always welcome: www.craigfoltz.com