Journaling at Stonehenge

Civilization and Duality

A morning talk, as given by Marelle.

Civilization, fundamentally, separates the true from the false.

That's not to say that everyone in a frame agrees on everything. Of course people argue all the time, and much profit is made on conflicts of perspective.

But underneath those peaks of disagreement is an iceberg of shared assumptions that no one notices because that's just "how the world works".

Assumptions about what's true, and what's false. How much things should cost. What has value. What someone deserves. What is normal, what is just.

You might think that, out here in the wastes, we're not defined by civilization. But it's not something you can escape by just walking. We can't but live in relation to civilization.

Some of this is good. Without civilization we wouldn't have medicines, we wouldn't have screws, clean water would be harder to come by.

Some of it is unhelpful. We bring our old angers, our unhealthy desires, our biases. And we live amidst others' trash.

And we bring these assumptions of true and false with us, too. They're tied in with the way we think.

They're baked into our stories.

We come from different places, from different frames. That helps, some.

Yet how can we escape the duality of true and false if we're still entangled in the places we came from?

But thinking of it as an escape is wrong. Fleeing something is just chasing a contrast.

And pursuing nonduality in these terms is like asking a stone to fly.
Journaling at Stonehenge

Death

Liloa goes to Marelle, late one evening. The fire's died down, the sun's long gone, and clouds cover the stars. She speaks quietly. "Are we dead?"

Everyone's used to you listening, perhaps, or maybe she doesn't notice you sitting by the fading coals. Marelle smiles back at Liloa, but seems a bit sad. "Why do you ask a thing like that?"

Liloa's words come quick, like they're bubbling out of her. "Because the campfire's the same each night, no matter where we've traveled to. Because the stories you all tell make no sense. Because you grow strange crops I've never seen before. Because the stars are wrong."

She pauses, there, but Marelle says nothing, waits expectantly. You think about the stars, but you could barely see them as a kid even when the sky was clear. You don't know what they're supposed to look like.

Liloa starts again, hesitantly. "Because I went back to my village."

Marelle nods slowly.

"Because I went back to my village, and I saw someone that I knew, and I called his name, and he looked away and didn't respond. And the paths I knew so well seemed strange and uneven. And I ate a banana, and it tasted of ashes and dust."

Marelle sighs. "The Liloa you used to be is dead, perhaps. You certainly can't go back. Those choices have already been made." She seeks Liloa's eyes. "I'm sorry."

Then, more firmly. "But the person you are now is alive, just like the rest of us. We're alive, and making new choices. And maybe you can write yourself a new story."

Marelle looks away from the ashes, off into the darkness. "And if you can, maybe I can too."
Journaling at Stonehenge

Stability

 You approach Meda one evening, after the circle's done but with the fire still glowing. Marelle had pointed her out to you, one of those early days, but you haven't spoken and she's never told her story, at least when you've been around.

"Don't say it," Meda says without looking, before you've even opened your mouth. "People only ever say two things, and I'm sick of both of them. And your face tells me it's not some architectural emergency."

"Sorry," you say. "I'll leave you alone."

She doesn't respond, just keeps staring out into the darkness.

***

It's a few nights later before Meda comes and sits next to you as you're finishing your soup. She's not apologetic, but she's at least less harsh. "It wasn't about you at all, really. I don't get on well with people."

You gesture broadly at the crowd around the fire. "Why live here, with the camp, then?"

She shrugs a little, looks off to the side. "I lived off by myself for years. But even then people saw me as a monster to fight or a weapon to use."

"And it's better here?"

"At least sometimes, they leave me alone when I ask." She pauses. "It's not that they don't know I'm useful, but at least I'd still be welcome here if I weren't."

You nod. "You help with maintenance, right?"

She laughs. It's not unkind, but you feel like you're missing the joke. "Occasionally, yes."

You're not sure how to respond, so you change tack. "I notice you listen to the stories a lot. Do you at least enjoy that?"

Meda considers, her gaze flitting between the others in the circle. "It's something to do, at least. It reminds me that I'm not the only one who got a raw deal. But it feels pretty pointless after a while."

The nightly circles, the openness people show here, still feels pretty alien to you. That's hard to say out loud, though. "Marelle thinks it's important."

Meda shakes her head. "Marelle thinks it's still possible to fix the world. But I think the world was always broken. I just wasn't always someone who got cut by its edge. And how do you fix something that's never been whole?"

You nod slowly. "Yeah, it seems hard enough just to build something stable for ourselves out here."

"Well, if there's one thing I'm good at, it's stability. But stability isn't happiness."

"You're not happy here?"

"Trying not to be what I am certainly wasn't helping. I've gotten it through my head to stop doing that. Doesn't mean I don't still feel like a monster or a tool. And I'm not sure I even know what happiness would be."

You remember times you felt happy, so long ago they feel like dreams. And more recently, a quieter form of happiness. But not really one you know how to share. "Well, what do you want?"

She doesn't respond for long enough that you're surprised when she does. "I guess for what I am to mean something that's not just my reflection in others."

There's nothing really you can say to that.
Journaling at Stonehenge

Tidepools

"It's like a tidepool," she says.

You're sitting next to her, on a rocky peak above the beach. If you don't look to closely, it's not hard to imagine the waves are washing over seashells and rocks instead of broken bottles and rust.

"A tidepool is small. It has boundaries. You can know every inch of it, who lives there, the rules it follows, its balance. If you live there, it's your whole world, and you know how the world works.

"And then the tide comes in, and you're swept into the ocean. And you don't know where you are, or if you'll ever see anything familiar again. You don't know the rules. You don't know how to live. There are no boundaries, any more.

"And maybe the tide goes back out, and you find yourself in another tide pool. And you try to pretend it's the way it was before, even though it's a different world, and it's not the one you know.

"And maybe you're caught in a riptide, devoured by the open sea, never to return. You'll never have a world you can make sense of again." Her gaze is steady, far out to the horizon. A gull glides overhead, silent amidst the sound of surf.

"And maybe you end up like us. Tossed onto dry land. Looking down at the tidepools and wondering how we ever survived."

"It's pretty," you say. There are tide pools below, little rocky things. You can't tell if anything's alive in them, not from up here. "But it's not quite right. If I were a fish in a tidepool, I'd die stranded on dry land."

She doesn't shift her gaze. "What is death, if not a world unknown? And what is life, except to hope to that you're a crab?"
Journaling at Stonehenge

I’m not bold enough to write this as a “Speculative Queerness Manifesto”

(reposting because I want to be able to link to this somewhere other than Tumblr)

I don’t really write or talk about being genderqueer or queerness in general. It’s hard to talk about things I haven’t really figured out, I guess. I don’t really have self-consensus on much.

But in some ways, the story I’m the right person to tell should be based on who I am, I guess. (Technically I’ve written more with DID representation than genderqueer representation, but that just sorta happened.)

Anyways, a while back Jennachat folks, largely @geostatonary and @laenan, had some discourse about what a Queer Narrative might be, as distinct from queer representation. I won’t try to present their perspectives; I’m sure I’d get it wrong. But that, in combination with some other stuff like @templeofshame‘s Flying V JoCo show, Where The Water Tastes Like Wine, and my continual desire to figure out what a non-fanfic response to Hitherby would look like, has had me thinking about this stuff a lot.

The way I’m seeing it right now, there are different “levels” a… non-defaulting, or whatever, work can operate on. (I’m primarily thinking about queerness, but hypothetical distinctly queer examples are also hard for me to think of and insert concisely, and I feel like this same analysis also applies to other things like “feminist” gender-role subversions as well as other types of marginalization I’m less well-situated to speak on. I’m gonna mostly say “queer” here and handwave the fact that some of my examples are more properly gay, because it’s my party, but I think the same analysis applies to other forms of non-defaulting to varying extents.)

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Journaling at Stonehenge

Your Job

Prompted by I Wrote Mr. Tambourine Man by John Craigie, and perhaps Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō.

They say that a calling is a job you'd do even if you didn't need to work.

I guess we all work for different reasons.

Money, of course. Recognition. Satisfaction? The feeling of helping someone? Raw enjoyment?

Does anyone really enjoy a job so much they'd do it just for that, alone?

I feel like wouldn't call that a job any more.

But what do you call this, then?

It's been three years, you reckon.

You were worried about food, at first, but it turns out the ash is good for growing things. You'll run out of cans eventually, but you think you'll be okay.

It's not that no one notices you, of course. There's not so much to talk about as I'd have expected. The weather's more of a constant drain. But you attempt it, now and again. Sometimes there's a basket of zucchini. Sometimes, you offer water or tea.

You don't try to talk about your work.

It's not that it's private, really.

It's more a habit, a compulsive tick you haven't confronted.

It's not like any of them would try to steal it, or have anything to do with it if they did.

But old burns linger.

Most of the daylight, you're quiet and alone. You tend your plantings, listen to the raw breeze. You take short trips, these days more to know the land than to scavenge. You pump water. You hum half-remembered songs.

And then you go back, to your basement beneath a ruined office building surrounded by gourds and apple trees.

Sit in the dark, there, with your guttering lamplight.

Your dusty, heavy, slightly moldy books.

Your binders and binders of notes.

And write briefs for a shattered court that's been empty and ash for three years.
Journaling at Stonehenge

Certainties

Prompted by One True Thing by Tylan (and brainstorming for Dreampunk with Sarah).

We don’t have much in the way of certainty, least ‘round these parts.

A knife feels good and solid. But ‘less you’re real careful, it’ll be as like to cut you as the one you’re tangling with. And that’s if they don’t wrest it from you.

A friend you’ve known for years, stuck with through hunger and thirst? Like as not, come a bad dust season too many, they’ll act like you’re any other bugger.

Used to be the sky was always there, above us, careless to our petty murders. But that’s burned up too, now.

If you think the only one you can count on’s yerself, then you’re in for a rude awakening sooner than soon. I’ve let myself down more’n can be counted.

What then? Well, death o’course. Taxes, depends on how you fight.

Broader-wise, decay. Entropy, y’dsay. Stuff runs down. Nothing stays.

And that each day, each hour, each breath we fight against these certainties exalts us, refines us, makes us diamonds rippling out against the ashes of the sky.
Journaling at Stonehenge

That Less Faster

Prompted by Bottomfeeder by Amanda Palmer.

"That's not how karma works," she said. "There's not some Universal Karma Authority that measures how much you tipped your last cab driver and adjusts your expected time to hail your next cab accordingly."

It was raining, of course. I told her to stay in the shade. We didn't have any sunscreen.

"They did an experiment, you know. Goldfish and catfish."

I was halfway in the street at this point, with my arm outstretched. Another cab drove past. Its light was on, there was no one in the back seat. The driver didn't even slow down.

"Goldfish can only remember things for three seconds, and catfish are immortal."

I reminded her the goldfish thing was a myth. I decided against bringing up lobsters.

"So they make the fish play prisoner's dilemma, see."

The woman at the desk had assured me that a cab was on the way, would arrive at any minute.

"Each fish can push two buttons, and they get food based on the result. Then they play again the next day."

I pointed out the foolishness of iterating assuming short memories.

"That's exactly the point."

By now, my jacket was soaked through. A speeding car splashed me up to my knees.

"The goldfish do way better than the catfish."

By playing randomly, I supposed.

"No, dummy. Goldfish have karma."

Another empty cab drove past, ignoring my frantic gesturing.

"See, goldfish can't remember because they're backwards. They pick based on the future."

I told her to get back in the shadow. A cab drove past while I was distracted, but I couldn't tell if it was occupied.

"That's why they don't mind when we kill them, too."

I saw a flash of lightning out of the corner of my eye.

"So, here, your problem is you're going to tip poorly because you're in a bad mood."

I insisted that was none of her concern.

"Lend me $40. I'll pay the tip."

A burst of thunder echoed lazily.

"'Cmon, the sun's getting high already."

I shrugged, pulled my wallet from my sodden pocket, and handed her the money.

"See, it's all about credible intention."

I shook my head, looking down to try to keep the water out of my eyes.

Just then, a cab pulled up, slowing down enough to only splash my shoes.
Journaling at Stonehenge

Dagger and Hand

Prompted by Pearls by Antje Duvekot, though I didn’t stick very close.

We all sell ourselves, in the end. Don’t have any illusions about it. I just cut a little closer to the violence, is all. Or I did, at least. Who knows what I’ll do now.

It’s not that it doesn’t matter what you do. I could be a saint the rest of my days and still not get these hands clean. But that’s true of more ov’em than anyone likes to admit. Taking someone’s roof, their medicine, they hide all that behind a wall of math and sip fancy kalch. At least a dagger’s honest.

And everyone’s gotta eat, in the end. If I lasted longer'n most, earned a nicer level of keep, I was still doin'a same as anyone.

So why am I here, with you, under this scrap heap? Well, it’s a funny thing. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, something still manages to surprise you. I’m used to marks begging, offering bribes, invoking fell curses. I don’t pay such things any mind.

But this mark. A small-time warlord of a minor settlement. He was up in one of those blasted-out ancient towers. Just sitting there, by himself. Like he was waiting for me.

He shouldn’t have been able to see me, but he spoke. “Thank you.” I thought nothing would throw me, any more, but that took me aback somehow.

But I was a professional. I only paused a moment, then pulled out my gun and fired.

He lay there bleeding as I gathered my proof, but he scarcely seemed to be in pain. Must’ve been hopped up on something. Just said “I’d gotten tired. Now I can have something new.”

I don’t really know why it broke me, but it did. The world wasn’t the same after that. I didn’t want to kill, the money, to follow orders, any more. I didn’t want to be someone’s tool.

And, since my life wasn’t something you get to retire from, I had to leave, go into hiding. And now I’m here, I guess. Who knows how long I get before it catches up to me. But somehow huddling here, hungry, I don’t seem to mind.