Possibly the most difficult, demanding and important exercise a writer can ever do?

“This exercise is quite possibly the most difficult, demanding and important exercise a writer can ever do. The poet and critic, T. S. Eliot, coined the phrase “objective correlative” to designate what he believed was the most important element in writing: Rendering the description of an object so that the emotional state of the character from whose point of view we receive the description is revealed WITHOUT ever telling the reader what that emotional state is or what has motivated it.

The late John Gardner, recognized in his lifetime as the leading creative writing teacher in the United States, developed the following exercise for students:

A middle-age man is waiting at a bus stop. He has just learned that his son has died violently. Describe the setting from the man’s point of view WITHOUT telling your reader what has happened. How will the street look to this man? What are the sounds? Odors? Colors? That this man will notice? What will his clothes feel like? Write a 250 word description. ”


He finished talking, I said “thanks for telling me…” and hung up.

I wanted to be home, safe, comforted.
I reached for the side of the bus shelter, something to brace myself with. The colour faded from the picture, the brights were more vibrant than ever but I wasn’t processing it properly. My heart was starting to pound and my hands were shaking. I looked down at them, kidney spots and tremors.
I felt liquid, smelt salt, dried out rehydration hitting the corner of my lips.
I was shaking, felt pale, blood flowing away from the extremities and towards the core, suddenly my hands felt very very cold and I felt ancient.

The other people walking past, so youthful, happy, I felt a distance from them greater than any ever measured.

And a vulnerability I’d never known before.. A young man in a hoodie glanced over, concerned? A possible threat?

I wasn’t shaking any more, suddenly tense.

He kept walking, I breathed out deeply, and suddenly my mind was flooded again.
I thought of other times, started to bite the inside of my mouth, anything else to focus on.
I was old, I’d seen it all, or so I’d thought…

The bus turns up, and I’m getting on board and paying the driver and grateful for momentary distractions, and then I’m sitting, slumping, leaning my head against the window, in the drivers blind spot, you can always tell because the most graffiti is there, and now I’m starting to let go.

Our last war

“The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.”
W H Auden – Funeral Blues.

“Oh, where are you coming from, soldier, gaunt soldier,
With weapons beyond any reach of my mind,
With weapons so deadly the world must grow older
And die in its tracks, if it does not turn kind?”
Stephen Vincent Benet – Song for Three Soldiers

We changed the Higgs constant, killed so much of the multiverse, less competition for our inevitable spiritual domination.
There was once a myriad of life out there, now, now there is nothing where there once was something.
Then humanity measured the Higgs constant for the first time, unanswered questions, too low, the numbers don’t make sense…
Our scientists catching up with our psychic’s, at long last.
So many questions about such a low value; their reality, a handful of other universe’s, everything else from order into chaos and nothing, a laptop with a flat battery and just enough power to flash the warning LED.

But we took it too far, we weren’t killing for “humanities inevitable spiritual domination.” We were puppets, believing we were fighting for a cause, the same way a US grunt believes they fight for freedom.
Brainwashed our high command to fight their war.
Now it’s just us and them, and we’re losing.
Soon we’ll be dead.
And humanity is another failed experiment in the war to defeat them.

The story, the ideas, none of it will be remembered anywhere except in their databases of information, on possible future threats, on co-evolution, to know the past is to control the future, they don’t want our minds to exist, they just want to know our ideas, know the potential competition.
The information, the creative potential.
We failed, and yet I wonder, how could victory have really meant anything different, a rock doesn’t care, a computer only does what it’s programmed to.
Extinction and 99.9% of us never saw it coming and even the best ideas of all existance couldn’t save us.
Not when they mind control the genius’s with those ideas, put their minds to work on their own destruction. What could possibly stop that?
To love like Romeo and Juliet? That’s death, beautiful, romanticised death. And that’s where Shakespeare fails, we need to win this one more than we need anything ever, if we can’t figure out something better we’re gone.
All we have left is hope at the bottom of Pandora’s box, and a technologically superior enemy that doesn’t need sleep, love, anything, has no weaknesses and sees and hears all that we do.
Their databases… Can we recode them?
The surveilled’s last hope, that via surveillance the spy agency ends up on side, any information received may change the conclusions of, can we recode them?

They are letting us run. Or they can’t stop us running. Which is it?

The dankest darkest corners of happiness

So, I like going to festivals. I like hanging with hippies and ferals and people who are relatively self-sufficient.

But, just like any scene, there’s an underbelly.

The same as within the corporate environment, the psychopaths tend to rise to the top, heirarchies and manipulation, all the way up.

It’s no different in festival weather, if anything there are more. Free wheeling summer of love hippies, life without responsibility, all of this lends itself to an environment where those who don’t care, thrive. And who cares the least? And can pretend to care the most?

Psychopaths make up somewhere between one to four percent of the human population.

This underbelly though. This was different.
The festival was called “Disintegration,” hardcore electronic dance music was on the cards; 170-200 beats per minute, faaaaaaaast waves of loud aggressive noise, an evolution of heavy metal and punk rock into an electronic format. Angry, loud, dangerous music.

The subculture… They were sitting around, high on acid and drinking beers, little squabbles happen, ask the blind guy to read the dumb sports question on the bottle cap lid, just petty upmanship. Takers, not givers…

But that was only the start of it. See, death. What it’s like to kill a person… Is that a hit? They started wondering, talking about the idea. All it’d take is a little dose. Who even needs a reason, let’s see someone suffer, let’s wait for someone to disagree, call us out, or let’s just find a target. But it has to be someone noticable. Let’s see someone burn.

We wouldn’t really be getting high properly otherwise… sex… drugs… we’d done them all.. We wanted something different this time, a different kind of hit. Would we even feel anything?
Only one way to find out…

It doesn’t take much, the wrong mix of research chemicals, trip for a bit and then die.

Stroke. Blood clot in the brain. Sudden paralysis down your right side. Your brain still works. Your mouth isn’t moving properly, numb feeling, dentists anaesthetic. No pain. But… Why doesn’t the body work.. Why are the commands not being obeyed… Right arm, move… Please move… Damnit, move! Acid.. Dodgy analogue acid. Like anyone’s got real LSD-25 anymore, what was it really? 25Nbome? Who knows… Most of the punters don’t care..

The numbness.. It’ll go away soon won’t it. In a tent. Alone in the dark. Can’t move. Can’t cry for help. Shit. What to do. This could be the end.

The knowing. The power. The knowledge that we could end you. And you’d never see it coming, you greedy scabby feral freak. We’ll fuck you up mate, our generosity, our kindness is tainted. See, we’re so generous, so nice. Gifting culture… But what to give, except death. We take.
Free drugs for you.

All care no responsibility.

That’s the other code. The I’ll give you the shit, but I won’t sit your trip, you better watch your own back when your alone in the dark, there aint no rescue parties coming for you here, if you haven’t cried yourself to sleep at your own demons before, you are in for trouble now, if the demons don’t get you, the snuff partiers will, there’s always something to be paranoid, unknown side effects, sleazy drug dealers happy to steal ID’s, hit on your girlfriend, and forge signatures and whatever it takes to stay free of responsibility.

You are lucky this time. Just a paranoid trip. Your arm regains movement. A pinched nerve while on LSD-25. But is everyone always that lucky? Is this the happy ending you hoped for? Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Or are you living in a fantasy, did you die that night. Who knows, but the trip is over now, back to the real world.

This sort of thing doesn’t happen. There are no little packs of psycho’s roaming the place dosing people with potentially deadly drugs. You are safe.

Zombies, and real monsters

Time slows down… Or does it… Does it speed up for me and slow down for him. He’s moving slowly and everything is crisp. He’s not really moving slowly. Time seems like that though. Time is strange, he’s about to be out of time.

He rushes into my hide out, I see him swinging his pistol towards me, so slowly, but I’ve got the advantage, my body is already aligned with him and he’s turning and suddenly I’m firing and little metal pieces of death impact on him, I’m holding the trigger, ammo count doesn’t matter so long as he goes down, what use is full clips on a dead man, he’s slumping sideways into the ground, his hands losing grip on the pistol, limp, his central nervous system is down.

Blood beings to flow, pooling on the tiled floor, clean tiled floor, how does a clean tiled floor still exist in all of this…

I killed him. I fucking killed him. I’d never killed anyone before and my body was shaking. You’d think this would be easy, after all the zombies, all the real dead. But it’s different when bullets are flying at you, suddenly it’s not the devoid, it’s a real person, a person like you, who probably just wants to survive.…

Regret… remorse… A wish to have not taken that life… In moments… In other moments, a gladness to be alive, a realisation he pulled the gun on me first, shot at me first… Self defence… Except it fucks you up, it really does. It’s not like some kids fight where people throw hay makers at each other, it’s real, brutal, over so fast and when the rush of the hunt fades it’s left with nothing but a little bit of emptiness and a slow come down, the endorphins fade and sadness hits and fuuuuuuuuuuck why do I feel so alone… Nothing out there… And no-one to trust… If all the other survivors are like him, then that’s the end of us all.

The thing is… the really stupid thing is, there’s still enough food to get by, enough water. Maybe by next winter it’ll all be gone and we’ll be foraging, but for now, what’s he wasting ammo for…

I start looting his corpse on autopilot, he may have goods worth having, things that will help me survive. I wonder, will I ever find other friends, or will they all be like him.

The first I knew of him, gunshots, loud, a hunting rifle? Not fully automatic, they impact near me as I duck for cover. By hide out, I mean literally where I was hiding. I ran from the shots, hiding behind solid objects; a car engine block will stop most bullets, a brick wall will slowly get shredded but it’s better than nothing. Obscure myself from the enemy, I am but weak flesh and those are high velocity rifle rounds manufactured to kill, I cannot allow myself to be hit.

I think he emptied his rifle, I find it discarded outside. Time isn’t always linear. We put pieces together, the moments that matter. Evidence statements, things from the old days, one event happening after another. It’s not like that now, it’s confused, it’s a series of flashbacks, trying to remember what’s important, in what order did things happen. I know he shot first, so there’s that order. And there’s my prime directive, my order, stay alive, that’s what matters.

Action movies. Do you ever see Rambo cry over the dead Russian soldiers in Rambo II? Arnold Schwarzenegger wonder if pulling the trigger was the right thing after he ended a strangers life? That feeling of sickness, of oh my fucking God I want to fucking puke I feel sick at what I did, and shit, that person that I’m feeling that sickness for, they wanted to do worse to me, that makes it okay doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? There’s no counselor around to tell me, “It’s okay, you did what you needed to do to stay alive,” so I say it to myself, and it feels fake and a life this lonely… Is it even worth staying alive…

Blood. Metal iron red water smell. When mars attacks. The war of the worlds. The smell of blood, red weed. Strange things to connect. Our blood, we are all connected my hippy friends used to say, all aspects of the same cosmic being. I never felt that, I’m me, they are them, it made it easier to kill. An ideological difference. When they connected with the rapist, with the murderer, the thief, felt empathy and pity for, I never felt that then.

But now, this corpse, slowly growing cold, twitched for a while. We were so alike, five fingers on each hand, two eyes, now those eyes were open and glassy, glazed over. I’d seen death before, I knew the smell and the rigor mortis was a day or two away. And then the pestilence.

Practical realities. Bodies need to be disposed of. Bodies cannot rot in the streets, in the houses, unless one wants rats, carrion, disease, cholera, all the old diseases come back when sanitation and bodies fail. Food poisoning and worse. I’m still shaking from it, even now. But I’m trying to get my mind together.

Fuck, what if he had friends. What if he’s a part of a team, a kill squad, clear this area and move on. Then I’m proper fucked. I’m going to die. It’s only a matter of time no matter how smart I am, no matter how stealthily I move, something will kill me.

Petrol. Petrol burns bodies. Keeps streets clean. But the burning, the smoke, it’s so visible. Burn down the house around him? What price for hygiene…

The smell of death. That smell on the living. Rotting flesh. Diseased skin. It hit’s me sometimes, healthy people and I know they are just skin and sinew and bone beneath it. None of us are anything more. And when they die, that smell will start. How do you forget that smell. When it was your loved ones. I don’t even know anymore.

I know survive. I know trust no-one. I know function. I know leave the grief and the sobbing til late at night in a place of safety. I know hide ones feelings, suppress, don’t let them impede getting the job done. I don’t know idle chit chat any more, I don’t know first world problems, I know sentences to fill the dead space because something has to lest the demons of memory come out. I know everyone’s been through this. But where is the grief, the pain, the anguish. Where is the room for it.

In the old days, hospitals, waiting rooms, clean mopped floors and lights that worked and doctor’s that smiled and worked hard to save patients, life so sacred simply being alive and maintaining life meant more than a persons will to live.

Suicide… When your old enough… I’m not old enough yet. I don’t know when “old enough” is. When the body is frail, when the mind is going, maybe. But it’s not the same world now.

Detail… The colour of his clothes… Camo clothing. A pattern I don’t recognise. He has no id on him, no writing, no pictures, nothing of sentimental value. It makes sense. I’ve heard of the bandits, the torture. Use anything on a person to threaten, cajole, make a picture of a person, torture, suffering, death. His gear, fuck, his gear.

I strip his vest off him, holes in the chest, soaked with blood, but it’s better than nothing. I don’t think he was diseased. If I’m not careful, dogs will smell the blood. Wild dogs, peoples pets gone feral without food and owners. Once loved, now nothing left where love was. Cold water washes out blood. Hot water is a true luxury these days, so I won’t have to worry about staining the blood in.

More weight. The more I carry, the slower I move. The slower I move, the higher the risk. Everything is a compromise. In practical reality land, a healthy human can carry 1.5 times their own weight. I’d like to see them walk 20km’s with it. Shelter, a tent, or sleep in a building. Fire… Be cold, or risk being seen at night… Water… Purification tabs or bottled water from a safe well… All these choices, all these base needs. And the wrong choice is death. Clean clothing so wounds don’t get infected. Warmth, food, shelter. Weapons for safety. So many needs. All of them add to the burden. I’m not a soldier, I haven’t trained to carry my own weight on my back long distance, it matters now. Really matters.

Will to live… Will to live… Will to live… They say that’s 95% of survival. The other 5%… The stay healthy, don’t get hurt, don’t get shot, don’t get diseased, don’t break a leg or an arm, don’t fall victim to unlucky chance, it’s not just will to live, it’s will to kill to stay alive… That seems pretty important too right now. But will to live. How do I maintain my will to live when suddenly I feel like there’s nothing to live for.

Have you seen your family die. Your friends die. Everyone you ever cared about, ever loved, dead. I don’t think you have. It won’t be the people now that read this, if anyone does. Maybe a generation from now, schools might restart, we might keep writing as a taught thing. For now, people are too busy living to read. Printing presses… So many inventions we’ve lost, so much to re-invent.

The rebuilding of society, of our entire world. They said it would be harder this time around, no easily accessible metal deposits. That’s a problem for the future, not one I face now.

Little things, socks… Maybe I should start going barefoot, toughen my feet, have to keep them healthy. That’s vitally important, if a persons feet fail, if they can’t move, gather food, hunt, and escape threats, they die.

All the little things we took for granted. Maybe in Africa the survivors are doing okay. Maybe that’s where civilisation will rise the fastest.

Little distractions. Little thoughts to stop myself from realising what I’ve done, taken life to continue mine. Divine judgment? What is this fate? This random chaos, that group of neurons connected to the everything stops, this one continues, those electrical pulses fade into the nothing and these ones keep flickering.

Dim candle light where once fires raged, civlisations can be measured by their energy usage, the kardashian scale. We’ve gone backwards. We are the embers in the fire in the darkest night slowly fading out. Will the sun shine ever again, or will these lights die out forever.