Scaling the Hours

Experiments in measurement.

An experiment in time, the idea for breaking it at the hours. You can, if you are willing, do what most children won’t. You can carve them as one would with an animal at the harvest, follow the joints––or lumber, into pieces to be assembled again, one segment at a time, the collected tasks the bearings for the dizzy hand, some terms that a body less willing to invite the dizzy spins can hold. Only by these cuts can we arrive at the conclusion, so often remarked by the aging, about how short it is. A child knows that a while a moment may be short, a glide, a song––Again, again!     

    ––it may also be made of so much forever that it becomes impossible to tell a body’s beginning from its end.

First Flights

Tracing the texture of a dream.

Here is a book of time, someone told us, to translate a voice in the heart of the sky. It reminded us forward to the hour of the story inside the essence of the dream through which we flew to the beginning of the word on a current of makers.

Sighing creation, we ran, particles of ourselves in waves at the shore, piling sand into a world we could live in, and we admired the work of our hands until the tide took it back. 

We borrowed the insights of distant lightning to hold back the night, and with wet hands we peeled the dawn to eat it raw, dew dripping from our laughing chins.

Soundscapes

Dreaming with echolocation.

I am going with the divers. To immerse myself in their world, so to speak. The landscape: evanescent jellies over shadowy blue-green depths. Spider crabs over brown boulders. Sound bubbles murmuring like echoes of the lost continent. Muffled pings of distant sonar. Voices of the others, recording as I am now. 

We used to play a game in pools. We called it see if you can tell what I am saying. We’d face one another underwater through goggles and the speaker would shout-scream, making exaggerated facial movements. We would interrupt ourselves with eruptions of laughter, come up coughing, decide in unison: try again

Observations: submerged in this cylindrical ship, we become a collective cyborg. Once called the silent world, it becomes sonorous, an exercise in transduction. Transduce: to alter the physical nature of a signal; to convert variations in one medium into corresponding variations in another medium. Accoustemology: a sonic way of being.

It has been observed that in rural France, the circumference of a village could be defined by the reach of reverberating church bells. 

And what are we doing here? If vision is for surfaces, hearing is for the interior. I think we are all here waiting for the sounds of the bells we missed, that we might gain access to a village we haven’t yet imagined. 

We are listening. We hope that when we hear it, we will know.

***

Inspired by something I was wondering about last night, related to dreams and echolocation, which led me to Stefan Helmreich’s 2007 article in American Ethnologist, An Anthropologist Underwater: Immersive Soundscapes, Submarine Cyborgs, and Transductive Ethnography. I am intrigued by Helmreich’s idea for an anthropological take on the ecosystem within a submarine.

Velocity

Odyssey in color.

How could an artist not dream of painting the cosmos? It moves like glitter in ink. No less than a moving image would do for forms that would never submit to stillness. I only hoped to mirror some small impressions of their vast choreography, like rubbing a leaf to honor the tree whose form has become synonymous with shelter.

The running bodies, ray after ray. To give chase, you tilt the lens, use the widest aperture there is. One form explodes into the next. Now the limbs of frost, extending down like the appendages of seraphim, mycelium networks from the heavens in real time, and now the globes of jellyfish forms, collapsing parachutes of color and light; now rain falling up on the sidewalk––no, stardust, or maybe the minutes among us––watercolor aftermaths of the painter’s brush, baptized.

The living floods us, exploding symphonic spectrums raining light, catching the curves of a body––of time? Gravity, maybe, or the skin of an upturned face, the blooming leaves of this collective soul, haunting our future forevers all the way back to conception. Sometimes we can’t help making comparisons between these forms and what we know of irises, and who can blame us for being yet unable to resist the temptation of looking into that which might be, forever looking back?

***

Inspired by the short experimental film, “Velocity,” by Vadim Sherbakov, which the artist describes as “a colorful journey through uncharted cosmos.”

The Missing Magpies

Redefining collaborative research.

Today, there are magpies singing.  Loud, proud, and magnificent, you can hear them if they are near you. But there are some who prefer to get away, and I wanted to tell you about these magpies. We wanted to hear them. We were compelled by their song. You can’t hear the complexity of those notes––over three hundred, we estimated–– without wondering about the brains of the creatures that hold them in place.

It is said that these birds can remember up to thirty specific faces. They remember well whomever has caused them trouble in the past, and only attack these one or two people in their region. If the number of people in their vicinity surpasses thirty, they start stereotyping. For example, they are known to be biased against preadolescent boys. They are also known to hold funerals for their dead. Who wouldn’t want to follow? We could no longer settle for mere appreciation at a distance. We wanted the bird’s-eye view. We wanted bird’s ears, too. We meant to track them, record their private exchanges, and publish our findings to international acclaim.

It was a simple device, but it took countless trials to get the right fit. We didn’t want to hurt them. It was tiny enough that they wouldn’t even feel it. It was also impossible for a bird to remove one from their body once it was on. It took our team of experts six months to get these fitted.

It took the birds three days to get them off. They helped each other. It took one twenty minutes of feeling around to find the weak spot, a single clasp at the back, barely a millimeter in length. One clip with a beak and it was off.  

So now we can’t hear them. At first, this made us very depressed. What a colossal failure, we thought. But then we began to think that the magpies were making an interesting point, and that we almost missed it, stuck as we were on the lost data. Proud creatures, they wanted nothing to do with being data, but this is not to say that they were unwilling collaborators.

With pitch-perfect humor, they alerted us to an obvious flaw in the design of our study. We were asking the wrong questions, and the worst among these was about how much of their music we might capture. 

***

Inspired by this article in the New York Times, “Australia’s Clever Birds Did Not Consent to This Science Experiment,” by Anthony Ham.

Time to Seek

What calls in response.

Consider a cornucopic mind, 

tumbling out into its own 

collapse 

while gestational stars 

assemble before first light 

in light of other known principles 

for living

––challenge, adaptation, change, 

and how these forms grow by 

call and response, into what will 

persist when life is threatened, 

and then try to hold some 

stable notion of time. 

Whose watch 

is the reference?

Why Breadcrumbs?

The point is not to get a clear answer, a complete picture, but to remember how incomplete the picture is, to embrace the process once again, of discovery, of questions, to notice the stirrings of wonder. To leave crumbs behind, for the next traveler.

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
​Where you are. You must let it find you.

— David Wagoner, “Lost”

I am here to let it find me. To listen, with you. That is enough, or should be, but I am not always as strong as my intentions. So I carry breadcrumbs in my pocket, just in case. I look for more, just in case. I share, just in case. Because someone else is always looking, too.

Wake, make coffee. Open notebook. If the familiar bogeyman shows up,
growling that there’s “Nothing” to offer, call the monster out, and offer anyway. Try memory. Try looking. Try a walk. Try a photograph, a work of art. An old story. Try typing in today’s date. Notice what happened on this day. Notice how you can, if you want, see flickers of all of history in a given day. Blake’s eternity in an hour.

 “Ladder in the Woods” by Claudia Dea on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. 

Gather crumbs: historical events, feast days, holidays you didn’t know about. Who was born, who died. Who did both and then was listed here before you ever knew them. Follow the breadcrumbs they left for you. Trust that they are there. Make notes of what you find. Not forever, just for a few minutes: 5, 15, 30. The point is not to get a clear answer, a complete picture, but to remember how incomplete the picture is, to embrace the process once again, of discovery, of questions, to notice the stirrings of wonder. To leave crumbs behind, for the next traveler.

If an historical figure is involved, you may converse with them. Arrive not
at an end, but some beginning. Or a natural pause. Share the conversation
not like a lecture but like dancing in an open field. No explanation needed.

Go about the rest of the day, noticing how you are changed in a small
but meaningful way, from that small dance in that open space, how doing
so, reminds you of something vital, something about this wild, single life
that the machine would train you to forget. Be grateful for the change.
Repeat. 

This is all. A simple act of faith, connection, communion. Essential in
the unknowingness of it because the point is to be reminded back
to the mystery.

We are here to build the spaces that let us live inside it. We are 
here to welcome others to come in. To say, Here. Look. This
is where we are. In the presence of a powerful stranger. 

This is me, bowing to you, in this strange space. 
I see you. I honor you. Let’s begin. 

Family Albums

You think you know someone, and then here is a whole other person.

One possibility, when it comes to telling what is commonly called one’s “own” story, is to take one’s own memory out entirely, and is to limit yourself to the favorite anecdotes of family members. A person can create childhood memories based entirely on the number of times a given story has been told. 

Parents can be especially amusing sources of these tales. The time you had your mother, eight months pregnant with your sister, just up three flights to the third-floor apartment with the laundry, go back to the basement to retrieve your imaginary friend. Another time you were in hysterics because your father sat on that same friend. 

How you cried when the street sweeping truck came by, the horrible beep-beep truck, you called it. And there was that redheaded boy, do you remember? He would push you down, take your shovel, walk away, and you would sit there, not wailing, just quietly sad.

“Bubbling” by Kimli on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license.

And the gravy! How you loved it with croutons from a box. Your concerns over the new baby, over your mother getting up and down the stairs. Your favorite hiding place behind the couch. How you could speak nonstop or not at all.

Huh, I think, remembering by power of suggestion what it would never have occurred to me to know on my own. You think you know someone, and then here is a whole other person. The fact that there were even specific moments to remember is what really gets me. I recall only a constant susurration of light and color, sound and touch. It lends credence to the idea that a person may have parallel simultaneous lives: the one they remembered, and the one I felt I was living. They have images, even pictures, and there I am, and it must have been me in that bowl haircut with those eyes looking back, holding the garden hose, but all I remember is the colors of light filtering through shallow water, and the way I would fly in my dreams. Palms and fingers in bright paint, and the hollow space among bushes in the back yard. How I would go in and wait there. The sense that I had of finding a secret, tiny room in an endless forever, and it was quiet all around, and safe except for the possibility of snakes and other monsters I had not seen except on TV and in books.

Funny, the pictures they show. This is what is, this is what was. They shaped me then, as they do still, these stills. But the image I had was constant, and I wasn’t in it because there was me watching, squinting sometimes, as I took in was the shifting light and colors on the surface of an ever-moving stream, wondering about the world just beneath it. 

Up, up!

You could feel it, the way no one could help themselves, the way we were laid bare in our reaching wonder.

Here’s an idea: consider something you used to do often. Or be. Trace a line of relevance to the moment. 

Once I was a runner. Once titled, there were days when I would put off beginning, and it would take me until late afternoon just to put on my shoes. Then there were also moments near sunset, and into twilight, when I could not bear to stop. I knew there was a risk of injury; I knew that these would come later, and they did, but in those extra dusk miles: five, ten, fifteen, I would feel the potential forevers in each stride, and all I wanted to do — all I had ever and would ever want to do, it seemed then as much as now — is keep reaching. The difference between running and walking is the liftoff. In a walk, one foot remains always on the ground. But in a run, there is this moment– and it gets shorter and shorter as age advances and pace slows — when neither touches. There was something about that moment, how quick it would come and go, that invited repetition, as if with enough practice, it was possible to leave entirely, and float somewhere just beyond gravity’s reach. 

 “shades of sunset” by July Dominique on flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No-Derivs 2.0 Generic license.

I am no longer a runner, just a lady who runs on days when this is scheduled––jogs, even,  an observer might say. There’s nothing loaded about it, just exercise. But the reaching part, that doesn’t leave. I thought of this as we walked and ran among the streams and streams of other pilgrims, up the long hill, to see the big sky. How we waited for the telescope. Is it time? Is that it? What is that? The faces, bathed in dusk light, everyone looking, pointing.  You could feel it, the way no one could help themselves, the way we were laid bare in our reaching wonder.

We looked and looked. It went on. Gravity holding us where we stood, tethering the moon in its orbit. There was Venus, and was that Mars or a satellite? It was our eyes we looked with, and of course whatever we could find for looking through. But it was something else doing the reaching, as it always was. She was now my height but once she had held her arms up and the fingertips of her widespread hands did not reach past my legs, singing out, “Up! Up!”