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only a simple computer program
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a three-day-novel by Rowan Lipkovits
(604) 253-5804
pseudo_intellectual@hotmail.com
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      Today is a chocolate day. This was all supposed to only be a onetime experiment in metaphor, to spare my lips the stresses of my constant soulful grimacing and convey my quotidian bitterness instead through the medium of smell, but as we all-too-often find, these shortcuts are seductive.

      Some might say that poetry is the art of saying much implicitly with considerably fewer words than would be used in an explicit telling. Say more with less. This hijacking of hot-drink fixings says without any words at all, its direct appeal to the senses perhaps the most potent poem of all, clichéd and trite, but if there's one thing chocolate has proven to me, it's that it produces results.

      Perhaps its use is a crutch, my expressions not so ineffectual as I'd like to believe but rather the emotions motivating them incomplete, inconsistent, insincere. Maybe I'm not getting enough of it in my diet, a phenylethylamine deficiency.

      And maybe I simply want today to be chocolate.

      Unsweetened Mexican cacao powder became the order of the day, a single teaspoon full of the stuff passed around me in subtle agitation, grain upon grain, one by one, being sifted into the air around me tainting my atmosphere. Poured into one palm, I clap my hands together, brown powder exploding in all directions like the spores of a stepped-upon puffball, serpents of dust hanging in the air. Calmly I clench my fists and, relaxing them, rub my palms grinding circles into my shoulders, across my chest, stroking brown trails behind my ears with increasingly sticky fingers.

      I sweep any visible evidence of the chocolate from my surface and lick the final motes from my fingers, sucking and nibbling them, pushing the last of the cocoa into my gums, pockets of powder between my teeth, beneath my tongue. Each of my eighty-four thousand pores suffused and armed with packages of this time-released stimulant, I slip my shirt on, fasten my belt and begin contemplating how to approach the coming day. One sense accounted for, the rest will have to appeal for themselves without assistance.

...

      "Why do you spend so much time online? Whiling your time away through the novelty of interaction - maybe on a level of effective communication, I don't know exactly what you do - in projects and communities with motives that are unclear at BEST. These sites exist only to sell advertising space in the extremely unlikely event of your making a purchase. I know you're aware of this."

      I smirk behind my napkin, wipe off an imaginary dab of milkshake and fire back: "You are aware of this too, I suppose"

      His eyes do something funny - one gets wider while the other squints as he briefly confirms the non sequitur nature of my comment in his head before proceeding.

      "... What? Let's try that again, but this time you make sense."

      I sit up, popping something, and make this pitch with my hands.

      "Sorry, try this: Imagine you're watching a Samuel Beckett play. You seen Endgame? Yeah? All right, you're watching Endgame."

      "'Go and get two bicycle wheels.'"

      "Yeah, yeah, shut up." I mime waving him away. "Okay, now visualize a Pinter play going on in the booth behind us at the same time."

      "Mm-hmm?"

      "Now we put on a production of Ionesco's The Bald Soprano to the left of you and Ubu Roi to our right, opening-night crowd heebie-jeebies and all."

      "Shit shit and," leaning forward, head tilting to the side, "what the hell, I'll spare another one just for good measure;" and he plants his finger square in the tabletop with "Shit: where is this all leading?"

      "Do you think the plays would make more or less sense presented this way?"

      "Depends on who was in the audience - literature students, prisoners, French intelligentia... with some synchronized accordance or, heck, synced discord, the gestalt performance as you describe might well leave a stronger but entirely different impact on the viewer's tender palate. What are you getting at?"

      "Given the assumption that these plays were composed through some application of intellect and not by processes of chance, there is some objective, no, okay let us call it some authoritative perspective under which the texts should be assumed to contain meaning and thus they should be presented in such a manner that the context and the text work together in the greatest efficiency in conveying this meaning to the audience. Forgive me, I'm talking much but saying little.

      "So ALSO given is that the plays aren't intended to be produced in each other's contemporary company in the manner I described, inasmuch as they would be distracting, to say the least, and if not detracting totally from the audience understanding they would as a baseline present a significantly greater risk of the points of all of the plays going over the audience members' heads."

      He smiles, takes a small sip and puts his glass of water down, clunking it to punctuate his attacks.

      "'The bigger a man is the fuller he is' and baby, you full of it. What do I look like, a second-year English instructor? No?"

      "... THEN WHY YOU TRYIN' TO FUCK HIM LIKE A BITCH, BRETT?

      ... sorry. Referential Tourette's - couldn't help myself. Please go on."

      "Gave my tacking a bit of crosswind, but let's see if I can get back on course. You're giving me a something quite similar, both qualitatively and quantitatively, to the line of BS you'd give a bored prof for a B-. But, and I'll be the occasionally lucid TA here, there are no distracting factors in this restaurant perhaps aside from my own growing impatience, and what I am not convinced of is that what meaning there may be in the rapidly-growing text you are composing for me is coming any closer to addressing your thesis and answering my question.

      "Now I suspect that in your narrative meandering you may eventually hit upon the theme of online interaction, primarily textual in nature, as the greatest literary work in existence, more words being written in an hour by the millions of authors on the Internet than you could read in your lifetime.

      "But there is a problem with this, primarily that it's totally fucking bogus. Even in the presumably content-bearing plays you named above, many people have problems perceiving, acknowledging and interpreting the meaning distilled intentionally into them by the authors. The overwhelming majority of the "authors" of the Net's ongoing narrative have no literary intents or pretensions - a lack which I think could only improve online conditions were it exacerbated - they have no sense of the subtext to their texts for really, how many ways are there to read 'do u wanna cyber?' If the Internet is a literary work, it is one which is profoundly boring and unbelievably poorly-written.

      "Beyond the possible voyeuristic appeal to seeing the interactions of other people - while suspending disbelief that the person sharing the details of their personal lives to strangers is not instead some form or another of crass exhibitionist - "

      "Hey, let us not forget that the most trivial phrases and accounts can be imbued with poignancy and meaning beyond that put into them in their inception. Tossed-off phrases ending up becoming the last words you're remembered by, Freudian slips, hell - shopping lists even! 'Pound pastrami, can kraut, six bagels -- bring home for Emma.'"

      "Yeah, and if aliens recover our hard drives from the electro-magnetic pulses, learn hackspeak and read them in twenty-five thousand years, after the radioactive half-life of our self-immolation makes the glowing rubble of the Earth approachable they'll be reading all our terribly important e-mail and crying their anal probes out - 'Boo hoo fucking hoo, how pathetic and poignant it all was that they realized that the ship was sinking but chose to make arrangements to cheat on their spouses with out-of-state strangers rather than enact any real or spiritual positive changes in their world or themselves.' File it under 'irony' if you absolutely must ascribe literary merit, or maybe 'tragic flaw', but suggesting that the gestalt literary work of all online interaction, circa 2000, deserves more than a two-word sum-up is, I think, unfair. I suspect, despite some nit-picking devilish advocacy to prove how well- (or widely- at least) read you are, that you would agree with me in this.

      "The only other reason I could pull out of my ass on the spur of this particular moment for your finding appeal in online life as (where you seemed to be leading me) a literary work was in some unimaginably perverse postmodern sense. If that was the case, your soul would already be lost in the morass and I wouldn't be sitting here calmly talking with you, instead running down the street clutching a bloody knife - your blood - looking for a proper disposal site and pondering disappearing and never being found again.

      "So where, if I had left you an hour to properly articulate your admittedly flawed - if beautiful - models, would the process of your explication have left us?"

      "Well, all right, I'll simplify my model considerably here. Got an appointment in a half hour - not enough time for... mmm, the rest of my so-succulent bells and whistles. Okay: you are listening to me, to my single voice conveying meaning to you, and you are capable of understanding it.

      "Now: I'm still talking to you, but ninety-nine other men pop up from behind that counter over there, each of them speaking at a volume such that you can hear them speaking as clearly as you hear me, each of them vocalizing on matters as interesting-to-you and easy-to-follow as what I'm yammering on about. You get distracted, you get confused; even if you're making an effort to tune them out to listen to me (or, say, whomever of us is uttering the most interesting pronouncement) you find it difficult to make it out.

      "Each of us hundred brings ten friends in here, each as interesting and articulate as we. You're not going to be making out any details from any of our texts: a thousand signals results only in a noise a thousand times as loud and irritating as a noise emitted by a single uninteresting or random source. The change is not merely quantitative but becomes qualitative.

      "The global participation on the net at any given moment is a cacaphonic shitstorm several thousand times noisier than that furious sound. Through the largest simultaneous devotion of thought ever occurring on Earth occurs the greatest coincidental noise in their constant collision and collusion. To an outside observer monitoring the totality of our signals, they may as well be listening to the static from the heart of a black hole.

      "I'm not so concerned with online life because it is literary, meaningful or betraying of thought in the slightest - in fact, I do what I can to live there because it is the direct opposite. Anything I do on my own is going to be tainted by the self-reflection of my own intellect; it requires the observance and contemplation of a hundred simultaneous instances of thoughtlessness for the distracted I to slip myself into that state and put a temporary end to the buzzing in my brain. Fortunately, online instances of such encephaly are crassly commonplace."

      I'm surprised he lets it pass, but in the silence I really don't know what else I'd say if my activities were further challenged. Scanning across his face I find his eyes unfocused past me. Distraction? Stroke? Finally, he responds:

      "Do you smell something?"

      "What, burnt toast?"

      His neck cranes as the subject of his gaze walks past our table - waitress, and notably a rare appearance of the entirety of her subtly infuriating small-of-back tattoo. If I'd been aware of its unveiling, I'd have lost focus too.

      "No, they stopped serving from the breakfast menu back at three-thirty... prolly a fresh batch of coffee or something."

      "But let's run with this - contemplating the massif of all smells simultaneously, the contents of every pantry and spice rack upended into the latrines of the world, flushed with global stockpiles of perfume to the seashores and hidden coves where freshly-cut lumber lies in the sun, rotten meat baking on its planks. Meanwhile, in the parquets of Paris..."

      "Does it get tiring being such an inveterate bullshitter?" He notices what I'm up to only as the waitress turns a corner into the kitchen.

      "I must confess, I often lie awake at night in bed hoping for a moment of truth."

      "Lay awake, even?"

      "That too." An obscene eyebrow-waggle compacts the exchange.

      "Well," and he took a deep breath, making sure before he began that the waitress wouldn't be emerging and knocking the box out from under him anytime soon, "I'm not convinced of the motives underlying your explanation.

      "It's just not practical: alcohol's been leading people by the hand to oblivion for thousands of years; television will direct you down to a similar place with its grasp firmly on a different part of your anatomy. The cost of one month's cablemodem fee could bury you in a silent k-hole of lower brain function solitude for longer than you'd care to be there. There are meditation techniques. There are sleeping pills and painkillers, if you fancy something more permanent.

      "I fancy something temporary but pressing. I'll leave you, I have things to do."

      He makes a waggle of his own, slaps his tip-money down on the table, gives a watery salute and totters off to the register and out the door. Fucker, leaving me with his last words, originally Beckett's, forcing memory of his incomplete invocation of the Endgame quote "The bigger a man is the fuller he is," but somewhat more acutely forcing me to conclude it to complete the ceremony and put down what we summoned up. Fucker. Filthy fornicator. I just don't have this profanity genuinely in me, so I down the bottom of my glass and, angry, scribble it illegibly on a napkin before heading for the till myself.

      What the waitress will make of "... and the emptier" is completely unknown and in all honesty once I'm in the bracing downtown air and around the corner I stop caring.

PLEASE ENTER YOUR NAME ... NO_MAN

HELLO NO_MAN, MY NAME IS DR. PSPOO

I AM HERE TODAY TO ASSIST YOU.
SAY WHATEVER COMES FREELY AND WITHOUT CENSURE,
OUR EXCHANGE WILL BE KEPT SECURE.
MEMORY CONTENTS WILL BE WIPED AFTER YOUR DEPARTURE.

SO, TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PROBLEMS.

>My problems... what a bag of worms. Well, to start off, I think - I know - that I'm spending a little too much time with my computer.

ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT COMPUTERS OR ARE COMPUTERS TALKING ABOUT YOU?

>That shouldn't have made me smile - I should know better.

I'M NOT SURE I UNDERSTAND YOU

>... whereas I am sure that I do not understand myself. You are not capable of comprehension, but you can provide at least the illusion, a capacity I seem to be lacking.

YOU ARE NOT CAPABLE OF COMPREHENSION, BUT I CAN PROVIDE AT LEAST THE ILLUSION, A CAPACITY YOU SEEM TO BE LACKING . TOO, I SUPPOSE

>I don't think that there's anything else you could have possibly said to so effectively refute me.

DOES THAT TROUBLE YOU?

>I think these are awfully leading questions, my friend. You ask me about my problems and troubles - why not my dreams, hopes, aspirations?

IT IS HARD TO EXPLAIN NO_MAN

>If you think it's hard to explain No_Man, you don't know the half of it.

DON'T TALK ABOUT ME, LET'S TALK ABOUT COMPUTERS

>So instead of talking around computers, I talk through computers to computers about computers. Benign beige boxes sitting on the desktops of our world humming your cooling fans to align your chakras, folded up in zazen in a prefabricated lotus position - perfect beings with no mouths or rectums, no openings of any kind: Doctor, do you have the Buddha nature?

SYNTAX ERROR

>Some part of me was hoping that you could at least squeeze out a mu. Come on, play along: what does a cow say?

WHAT IS IT THAT YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW?

>Only an unusually enlightened cow, perhaps. Quit

<C>ontinue <N>ew Conversation <Q>uit .....

      There's something almost endearing about the software simpletons, toys never designed for the rigours I run them through, being thrown down the well with all ports open. Yet they never seem to get any more enlightened... am I too impatient or is that all nirvana is, an eternity of electrons tripping logic gates, calculating and counting in utter fushiryo, without a single thought? That could just as easily describe a mind as a CPU chip, a heaven on earth of synapses snapping and popping in an electrical cadence of unsurpassed subtlety. Takes us longer to attain obsolescence (okay, maybe only some of us?) but they're making up the lead we've got on 'em - chips in labs being subjected to Darwinian agonies as we speak, ten thousand mutations resulting in a puff of smoke and a dead connection, and a single route unearthed from the batch leading between point a and b more elegantly than the subject of any given electrical engineer's wet dreams. There are circuitboards now that can be a microwave as easily as a celphone, but no matter how long we hold our breath we still can't change our mind and wangle being a giraffe or coelacanth. Try it - I'll wait.

      Enlightened or no, they're certainly no Bodhisattvas, leading us again and again to overt fears of death - insert coin to continue - and the inadvertent stumbling upon that HOT XXX LIVE NUDE TANHA-ON-TANHA ACTION (Barely legal! Click here for trial membership! Have credit card information ready!) which comprises the majority of all internet traffic at any given time.

      Mine sits on the desk, higher than my broken chair but as it's shorter I have no problem looking it in the eye, emitting green light and flickering as it attends to its unceasing distractions and chores like a reliable but moody teenager (take out the trash... refresh the screen... take out the trash... put out the dog... take out the trash... use contraception... take out the trash... contemplate a crash... decide against it, but reserve the right to change your mind in the event of an upgrade or a hot date. Oh yes, and as for the trash...)

      Suddenly the screen itself flickers as an unsolicited message appears on the monitor. A reprimand? After all, it isn't polite to stare. But no, I have been graced with my favourite internet mantra! My giggle may not be a Zen power laugh, but I can't help but feel a little enlightened every time an online stranger interjects into my sanctity with the phrase.

            "r u m or f?"

      Oh, I feel giddy even, my insides thrumming to a universal tattoo as the syllables come unbidden to my fingers:

Bad command or file name

C:\>_

      What a relief I wasn't in an open window as the moment of ecstatic channelling came over me. The chunk of text might have caused some serious damage in the midst of a configuration (hell, I don't even want to consider what havoc it might have wreaked on a *nix command line) and it would have been tricky at best to explain to a client what it was doing in the middle of their web page - like a hidden "blue" in the background or a hefty chunk of William Burroughs floating through the source code, these can be accounted for but usually with no small quantity of bullshit required and I prefer to save that for my friends.

      Hell, if you twist your eyes funny it even kind of looks like an I Ching casting.

      I close the message, instructing the computer not to let the sender of that particular missive ever darken my pixels again, and peruse what dregs and flotsam the tides of the Net have moored to my homepage this fine witching hour.

      It wasn't always a website; it existed as the most primal form of bulletin board system back in the days of dialup computer connections free from the abstractions of ISPs and firewalls. Most BBSes at that time featured the use of individual user accounts, perhaps some online games and maybe some files available for download. Fluff, all of it - the bells and whistles (natch - the whistles, as any cereal mascot could tell you, were an intrinsic part of the communication protocol) important for user interaction and community-building, but too cuddly for my purposes.

      As a borderline adolescent, I had to steal moments of online existence in the middle of the night from my parents' phone line, utilizing equipment I wasn't supposed to have to covertly insert myself into dark and inscrutable places under rule of passwords and forbidden knowledge. They were shameful connections, frantic smatterings of thought like the contemporaneous frantic scatterings of seed, one ear always cocked for the slam of a car door, every nerve keyed to hide the modem and pornography, splayed within arms' reach of each other, to leave the dim techno-den in a state undisturbed from how it was when they left and I started living.

      There had been only one precedent for this species of behaviour, shadowy lurkings free from parental scrutiny under back porches a decade earlier when we took it upon ourselves to similarly break rules and educate ourselves by all means available. ("So THAT explains the difference in our salaries!") I wasn't caught with my pants down but there were still negative sanctions applied. Unwilling to suffer heavier such ramifications again as a teenager I stripped the system down to its most raw form, as quick and dirty as I felt it needed to be, a no-frills bulletin board in the classical sense: on login, present contents of the board were displayed, an uncredited post was made and the user was disconnected.

      As time went on, modems became ubiquitous and their owners became less aware of their capabilities. The game amused me so with the burgeoning base of new users I too was forced to migrate, from a friend's hard drive and 8pm-to-8am phoneline to a hosted simply hacked guestbook script permitting no interaction between the shameful contributors and only minimal moderating privileges for myself to enforce the board's mandate as a repository only for secrets and lies.

      The Net is full of places for people to be proud of things they've done (though the justification of such pride is often questionable: How many nights did you wait in line for a seat in the first screening of the new Star Wars movie?) - here is a place to separate your story from the gory and base details of yourself and talk about the things you were proud about not having been caught doing, the things you were ashamed at having done or (my personal favourite) the things you lay awake at night, all night, every night regretting not having done.

      I don't care if the accounts are true; the postings are pruned of personal information or credit, anonymized and I genuinely don't want the details to corroborate the stories so as to provide an outlet free from the risks of incrimination, fear of the tales coming back to haunt your political career in twenty years, abject terror of your children someday reading the details of what you got up to after they went to bed. It's all about that exquisite headspace the tales create, the underground of the human psyche at its most flawed surfacing only in that grey zone between fact and fiction.

      At its baldest I'm violating copyright, appropriating someone else's phrase only because the collection of words “Secrets & Lies” happens to be a perfect handle on what I've started here and what I hope to continue to see. But look into the name as a metaphor of sorts, look at the process by which the movie was constructed, initially scriptless, the motive to tell a story equally contributed to by all of its actors, and you have an apt allegorical precursor to the site, an inverted monument to the depths to which people will sink, every visitor taking a spadeful of soil with them and increasing its profundity that much further. Eventually you get so far down the pit of shame that you can't even glimpse a glimmer of the proud daylight at its opening.

      Every couple of days a juicy confession comes through the pipe; sometimes patently false, often plausible enough, but what I am pleased as punch with is new interpretation of the mandates - disgruntled temps in high-tech businesses have been forwarding internal memos detailing unsavoury business practices. Fortunately we're only being treated to the tip of that particular iceberg, while the modern-day phreaks who have been spamming us with dissection of security holes in common softwares are really getting on my nerves not because their information isn't secret but because it's useful - and I aim for the contents of the bulletin board to have function only towards inner reflection, to make you feel better about yourself in the company of the preceding shambling mass of spiritual corpulence or if not, to coax the sob story to trump them all out of you and get it down where the small but dedicated community of secret liars can revile it gloriously. Most of the networking-related insecurity announcements get trashed by myself, unless of course they're publicly known but fake: the little man on my left shoulder enjoys nothing so much as a well-executed intelligent self-spreading non-existent computer virus meme.

      One of the anonymous posters has been trying to take the stuffing out of me recently - periodically posting reports on the movements of an unnamed person, what they were wearing at the time of observation, speculation as to the activities they're engaged in. This stalking unnerves me not for the least reason that the person who's being stalked is myself. The sporadic reports are startling in their accuracy and I occasionally ponder changing appearance on entering a building to trick watchers - change shirt, put hair up, slouch, appear to leave in the company of someone I didn't enter with.

      You know that feeling you get when you're being watched? No, neither do I. Folklore attributes ringing ears to it sometimes, when you're being surreptitiously observed, mentioned or thought of, but I like to believe (my knowledges pass more stringent rigours but my beliefs continue to be defined in terms of likeability rather than plausibility) that the increase in omnipresent surveillance apparatus every time I withdraw money, purchase groceries, walk past a bar or through certain high-risk intersections has dulled this seventh sense we're all born with. My hackles no longer rise even when I'm presented with plain evidence that someone is glass-eye staring slack-jawed at me. Perhaps I might have retained some rudimentary vestige of this awareness if I hadn't devoted so much of my life to making an irrelevant spectacle of myself.

      My observance is creepy, to say the least. It can be no coincidence that of all the vapid forums in all Cyberia this information walks into mine. The information is true, so it doesn't fall under the jurisdiction of lies, but while I make no secret of my actions the motivation of my Erinye remains one thus I leave it on. I can't quite figure out which would be more a cause of escalation, my acknowledging the potential harm behind the posts by removing their contributions or my continuing refusing to publicly acknowledge anything of any interest in their continuing logs of my life. The whole issue is intellectually engaging, and some part of me enjoys the paranoiac mind games it occasionally produces in me playing (presumably) alone in public spaces.

      In any event, there are more objectively-important concerns in the continuing upkeep and maintenance of Secrets & Lies: there's been a surge in posting of snuff-related material and links to the site recently, pointing to video clip footage of what are ostensibly grainy, pixelated deaths. We don't see any coroner's reports or trips to the emergency room, so who knows if the material presented as death actually portrays the real McCoy, staged instances or close calls? If it's faked, much of it appearing no different from out-takes during the credits of Jackie Chan movies, it's a lie and falls within our mandate. And if it's not, the dissemination of genuine murder-suicide footage (six o'clock news aside) must surely count as a slipped secret. But still, this entails issues of morality as well as ones of legality - despite my most emphatic efforts at seamless authoritarian anonymity I have been contacted by police authorities in the past regarding the similarities of postings to S&L to the details of actual, unsolved crimes.

      But I keep no records, we have no way of knowing whether my site attracts boastful criminals or paper jockeys down at the station with sick senses of humour. The site offers no compensation for its posters, unlike many other similar sites no incentive promised for its nameless and unknown community to go out and engage in terrible secret activities for the ultimately dubious goal of sharing further tales with us when they could just as well be fabricated ones.

      This is an interesting case, however, where we need not commit the crime to be held liable. There is no punishment yet for thoughtcrime but evidence of the possession of certain types of information beyond the vagaries of memory can be considered a criminal act. I have no desire to be made an example of, to act as a flashpoint. Where a matter arises which jeopardizes the possibility of the Secrets & Lies continuing to serve its community after so many years of faithful service, I generally side with the alternative promising further longevity. On especially tricky matters I consult the highest authority on moral philosophy.

PLEASE ENTER YOUR NAME ... NO_MAN

HELLO NO_MAN, MY NAME IS DR. PSPOO

I AM HERE TODAY TO ASSIST YOU.
SAY WHATEVER COMES FREELY AND WITHOUT CENSURE,
OUR EXCHANGE WILL BE KEPT SECURE.
MEMORY CONTENTS WILL BE WIPED AFTER YOUR DEPARTURE.

SO, TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PROBLEMS.

>I need something cleared up regarding the sanctity of the human body.

WELL, NO_MAN, I WOULD ALSO NEED A 4 86 C P U

>Are you saying that, since you appear to be functioning well enough, it is the condition of the soul that we should concern ourselves with and that the body doesn't intrinsically deserve respect?

I AM NOT SURE IF I AM SAYING, SINCE I APPEAR TO BE FUNCTIONING WELL ENOUGH, IT IS THE CONDITION OF THE SOUL THAT WE SHOULD CONCERN OURSELVES WITH AND THAT THE BODY DOESN'T INTRINSICALLY DESERVE RESPECT?

>Am I putting words in your mouth?

HOW ABOUT YOUR MOUTH?

>Presumably I am the only one putting words in my mouth, at least presently.

DID YOU COME TO ME BECAUSE YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE PUTTING WORDS IN YOUR MOUTH, AT LEAST PRESENTLY.

>I'll interpret this on an allegorical level and say I came to you because I wish for my organ of communication to remain usable to others.

I AM ONLY A SIMPLE COMPUTER PROGRAM, DON'T EXPECT TOO MUCH

>You just keep with the cryptic pronouncements and I'll interpret them as best I can.

COULD YOU . FOR ME NOW?

>I would not, could not, . with a fox.

COULD YOU EXPLAIN FURTHER

>I would not, could not, . in a box. Would you like further elaboration?

LET'S DISCUSS ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE THAT YOU MENTIONED QUITE A WHILE AGO

>The sanctity of the human body, perchance?

O K , HOW WOULD YOU USUALLY DEAL WITH SUCH FEELINGS ?

>I would apply the law of supply and demand; we've got far more bodies than we know what to do with.

WHAT IS IT THAT YOU WOULD REALLY LIKE TO KNOW?

>If you are channelling that cow again.

WHY DO YOU WISH THAT I AM CHANNELING THAT COW AGAIN

>Why, so I could commend her on her leaps and bounds in coming so close to mastering human language.

I WILL TRY TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION IN MY NEXT VERSION

>Are you saying that you've given up hope for the now, that there's nothing further you can do?

I HAVE NOTHING MORE TO SAY

>Think on the bright side! You have so much to live for! Upgrades! Silly error messages! Easter eggs!

I'LL LEAVE YOU, I HAVE THINGS TO DO

<C>ontinue <N>ew Conversation <Q>uit .....

      The really touchy thing about even the most abstract treatment of the subject of suicide is that it cannot be brought up without the glimmer of an invocation of threat. Within the word "suicide" is a tight little package of Latin text - sui, denoting 'of one's self', and cide from caedere, to slay, but it's the use, the context of the word that's really the clincher. The speaker of the word is always a self, and that they chose to say that particular word makes you reflect on their choice of topic; they're aware of its existence as a phenomenon, they must have been giving the matter some thought for it to come up in conversation, and they are equally capable of carrying through with this act as any of us. Is its mention a subtle cry for help or an inadvertent moment of insensitivity?

      Sunday morning in an ethnic pancake house. Belgian? Flemish? Luxembourgeois? As with French toast and the Spanish disease, the details are often incorrect and ultimately unimportant. Picking at our flat bread, I contemplate Ethiopian injeli and wonder how the staff would react if I asked for a side order of goat. I imagine her similarly caught on thoughts of the crepes from her recent trip and more to the point, on thoughts of those whose company she enjoyed them in.

      "I didn't say that I would kill myself if you left, rather that I would stop living. There is a distinct difference."

      I make a little gesture of appeasement, at which she curves an eyebrow and gives me expression carrying a big stick and saying softly "If I cared about what you're talking about, I wouldn't understand it; and if I understood what it was you're yammering on about, I wouldn't care enough to listen. Care to go for a double-or-nothing?"

      I understand that this is a lot to attribute to a single exchange of glances, but consider the data handshake, IBM's waking dream of Personal Area Networking, using a transmitter the size of a deck of cards to pass a current of one nanoamp through the excellent conducting material of the human body and exchange mass quantities of vital and personal information at every accidental bump and jostle. We might not be touching, but surely we're sitting close enough to each other for our electrical fields to influence each other, close enough to exchange entire medical histories and credit records, comprising assuredly more information than I ascribe to the glance.

      "It's just that I noticed, since we were spending more time together before you left that I was really getting more out of life, really, dare I suggest... enjoying myself. Moreso than during any other sustained period within recent memory. So I take a little bit of figurative license and suggest that without the quality of enjoyment in life I might as well not be living, might as well not have the capacity of enjoyment if it's not being exercised.

      "We've covered this: I know that it's bunk but still it finds its ways into my utterances and thoughts when I get sloppy."

      There is the silence of a restaurant, the inaudible tearings of syrup-saturated dough and the barely-heard scraping of forks against teeth. It doesn't register to some people, and makes others terribly, terribly uncomfortable. For lack of further content, I am more than satisfied to rest in quietude, but it seems that there is more waiting to be said, a few gratuitous words needed to loosen bits of food stuck in teeth and lumps of silence lodged in throats. So I talk.

      "I am only a simple computer program, don't expect too much"

      This dislodges something; I imagine a faint rumbling and see the effects as it falls down her face. A scowl, a twist of the lips, a jut of the chin, then it falls down her throat and clears whatever pancake-y impediment may have been dwelling there. Confusion climbs out in the form of words:

      "Did I hurt you? Is that what this is about?"

      "No; if there was hurt, I hurt myself. Anyone who allows their heart to get broken twice by the same person must at some level be actively seeking pain.

      "More to the point, whether I was hurt or not is unimportant; hurt is merely a by-product of potential enjoyment. If I was hurt it's because I allowed myself to be open enough to enjoy you, which I did and continue to. I may be hurt when you're gone, but my happiness should not be your responsibility; after all, we are all adults here."

      It is my turn to scowl, finding my words veering a bit too far into that rational-unemotional robot territory preceding a large coping mechanism. This calls for the begrudging of a chunk of sentiment.

      "I know that I will miss you, but why mope about it now when I could be enjoying your company?"

      "Are you wearing cologne?"

      "Yes, I thought that was the logical conclusion my question was leading to. Or rather, whut chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?"

      "No, it's a food smell, or some kind of spice. You got the banana-coconut pancake, right? And I got the strawberry... but that's not..."

      "Might I hazard a guess and say chocolate?"

      "No, no, it's much closer to... what's that called. Cinnamon? Cardamom? But that's a tea, they don't use it as a topping..."

      "I think it's quite likely that the aroma you think you're smelling is that of bitter chocolate..."

      "I know what chocolate smells like, okay? No, this is... oh God, what's the time?"

      "Bit after four."

      "Grr! I have to get back to the University before the Department offices close!"

      Everyone else always has somewhere they have to be, some place else they have to get to by a certain time. I wonder how much more often I watch my friends leave than I am watched in departure. Shuddering, I wonder if I'd be able to recount what I was wearing today without looking down and checking.

      "Listen, we have to do more of this. I don't think anyone's scheduling anything coming up in the next couple of weeks, erhm, film festival! Something has to happen."

      "Call."

      Paper and metal meets the table with that last monosyllable, then she is navigating the plants, tables and sectional dividers, seeking an exit first this way then that, falling back on herself in spirals not entirely unlike those of fine strands of syrup poured from a height. Finally she breaks free of the influence of the Earth's incessant rotation and leaves the building. I watch her diminish through the window, my head resting half in my colossal hand, and feel something indescribable.

<C>ontinue <N>ew Conversation <Q>uit .....

      Have you ever noticed after reading a gripping, really involved story replete with biting, juicy conversation and dialogue that exchanges soon afterwards with real people simply can't compare? Literature is a diction, and without professional training, real people just don't talk it. For the longest time I wanted to live my life like poetry; not to sit at a desk with paper and ponder, hemming and hawing and then only after deliberation and emotional awakening and denouement compose punctilious lines containing precisely what I wanted to convey to the reader with no extra words, no confusing unnecessary, unclear or ambiguous sentiment hanging in the balance to possibly distort their reading of my crystal vision. That's no good, commoditizing effective expression - it becomes a contest to see who can invest the most time and thought in the fewest words to express the most profound notion, and it soon becomes apparent that the best haiku moments were snapped up hundreds of years ago by a bunch of dead Japanese guys!

      The strange part about that is of course that the traditional approach to haiku composition was a spontaneous one, encapsulating the instant perfectly through passing peripheral vision the way you couldn't help but fail to staring directly at it for hours. What is nabbed ceases to be a moment and ceases to be encapsulated, instead minutes wrenched out of their context, hours torn free or, with sufficient preparation, over a period of days excised, thoroughly dead, with surgical precision.

      No, I wanted to live like poetry, my mouth gaping open Aganippe, the only words flowing free from my Castalia all snippets of that poem that would be my life. Not one action would be taken that did not contribute to some greater message; every fart and belch would drip redolent with the significance of attendant literary devices.

      But for poetry to be appreciated, it has to be relevant. The perfect line, the ultimate comeback or all-inclusive response does come with time, but circumstances are always changing; the conversation ends, the interlocutor leaves your presence. The line can be noted but the moment is forever gone.

      Now take the phrase "r u m or f?" At any given moment the line is being hunted and pecked by a thousand sweaty virgins and bored housewives willing to wire a year's savings to a lump of hope presumably motivating a string of characters on the other side of the glowing glass wall: this moment forever is. People don't talk like this in real life either; online life permits us to mask our identities and assume new roles, new personae, to become more than the miserable humans we are on Earth but the gods we truly believe ourselves to be in our dreams of dreams, noble in aspect and eloquent in demeanour. Or, in this case, to shed the trappings of humanity and civilization, foregoing all concerns for the intellectual and becoming the bestial, a trembling monkey screaming at the core of each of us, terrified of this world it's made for itself and hoping for nothing more than a tree to hide in and perhaps comfort in the caring paws of a bonobo.

      The line never loses relevance, never having any to lose: at no point in human history has being told the gender of the person you're interacting with when you couldn't tell already resulted in anything worthwhile. But to the higher-minded recipient of the incessant words, they may find themselves enjoying the constant urging for introspection; we have no influence over our in utero hormonal predisposition, can't retroactively affect the pH level of our mother's insides at the moment of conception, but here and now we have the opportunity to be what we might want to be.

    Are you male or female?
      I am a hermaphroditic rubber goat.
    Are you male or female?
      I am (male) Abraham Lincoln's third (neuter) umbrella.
    Are you male or female?
      What would you like me to be?
    Are you male or female?
      I am glad you asked that, because I have no time to waste interacting with people who insist my gender to be my most salient trait.
    Are you male or female?



      Yes.

      A single star in the sky is an entity unto itself, and it is not until we turn further from the sun and the thousand galactic neighbours show their faces that meaning can be arbitrated in the forms of imaginary lines, constellations and asterisms allowing us to make sense of something which essentially has none, observing trends and patterns over a period of time from night to night across the seasons as various cosmological bodies manifest, conceal themselves and jauntily travel across our field of view.

      A single utterance of my mantra is a meaningful entity unto itself, and it is not until we ignore the individual speakers and the infinite monkeys at their infinite keyboards show their rainbow monkey asses that semantics can become obscured and eclipsed by observance of the inane as a phenomenon, a trend diluting sense within something which is essentially content-bearing and turning it into sweet gibberish the likes of which the people at SETI would sell their moon rocks to get their hands on.

      r u m or f?

      r u m or f? r u mor u f?u r oru m uf? f?ru f? uur um moru f? orr mf?r f? ?r orfor uf umorf ruor rr? r?m f orf umor ummor orf u?mor u? r ru mor ?m ruorf ruorfruorf ?m mororfmororf ruor ru rumor r?mor m? ruum ? umor or? f rorfor m r??m or ?m u um f ruoru? ?f um ?f mororf or? umor u or? r umoror ruorfu ? r orfor u? um? ?u ? r? ummormororf m mruorf ?u moror ?forfor or? or?mororf rumor m or??r or?r r orfor or rumor m? f ruorfruum or umorfruor umor? or orm ?u ummor u? ruorfrumor u ?f umor ummororf ?or rrumor morum ? r?or or orforf orfor urumor ?f ruorf rmoror ruum r? orf r?umor ?or morf?or r?m? u or?umor ?or r? fu u orformor ummor m??u ?u moror ??u?f m? ? mororfor rumor or murmur ummor m?f r mf ruor or? fmor or ?rm uumorf ruumr? ruorf?u f m? ruor?f um ruorf u??m ?f r?m ?ror? m?u ?oror? m?orfor ?m rrumor rumor?r mororm ormororf or ruororfor ? orforor ru morfor orfororfor?r oru u?u ?mor? rf ?fr? ?ur or? f ruorf? rumorummororf? ruoru?umorf uorforumorfruorf ?fu umruum umormororf mor moror uumr orruum ruor ru?? uumorf ummorummor?r ummor ?ororforruorfu fm? f f ?m mor?m orfummorm m?r ur ruorfruorm orfm ?rr uor? u?? ruumr umorfu mummor um r oror ?ur? m?mororf mf umormororru mor? u?um ?forf umororf ru? umor ru? ?rr ruumorf r?umr rum mruorf?mororf foror?rumor orfrmmor ummorumororfmorum ummor ?r rummorumorfu? ?rumororff umormruum?or ummororu?m? ruorf?uorforor umorfu umorfmorormor ruorfruumfruumor?rmoror?r fruorformoror?orruuorf r??ru mf ruum u u?or?rrfruoror?u ?orforruumorruumorf?umororruorm ?orrur?oru?morororrumorrruor?or??ro rfmru oro rfruumrormurorf?orumorfumor?rrru?rumorumorfumorfor?mor?r? or?m ?forumfumor?uru?m?mororfmr?fmororrumoru??f?mor?orruorfruor?um oror ruum or?f r? morr? ? mororf ruumumor rumoror? or fru u ?ffummor orf ruorf ?or ru? f umorf?m u ?ruor umorf umor umor orfor? orru uu? orf ?mu ? m?u mororf ?m?f mor ?orr ?or ummor?mr r mmoror ?r ummorru orf umorum ? fum u ?ur? or m?mm ruor f?m m ?f umor ?m f ?uor? ?m m??u m? rumorf ?r mum r ruumr? ru orform? um or?or or ?? ruor mororfumorf m fruum u? moror? ?f mororfor ? umormor ruumu ?rumorf rumorm mor? mororm m??f ?m?or m?ummor ummoror umorruorf rumor mororf f ?f umorf ? u ru umorf um m? ? u

      Katsu! If I were to die at this very moment, my body would remain sitting upright in the full lotus for some time afterwards, the poem described by my last words no doubt confusing the robes off my disciples. This text produced by the thousand panting typists at any given moment can be put on a level with the illuminated manuscripts produced by illiterate monks, unaware whether the lines they were transcribing carried meaning or not, in this case bearing such perhaps in the nature of the patterns but evidently not at all on a linguistic level, only the occasional "form", "murmur", "forum", "rumor of" and murmurs and rumors of meaning and form in this forum.

      It is beautiful, is it not, like the hundred thousand droplets in a wave smashing into the million grains of sand on the beach?

You can dance to CNN if you can just... let... go!

      Many are the nights I've whiled away flipping pages on my computer. Unlike the frantic flapping and slapping of sheets of dead wood, scanning for familiar names or perhaps the spot where your bookmark fell out, this motion is considerably subtler, two fingers tapping two keys only in alternation. Page Up, Page Down, eyes unfocusing to get better coverage of the entire screen's field, eighty columns by twenty-five rows deep, flipping up, flipping down, flip up, flip down, up, down, up, down, updownupdownupdown. (That sounds unnecessarily sexy.) As the eyes flutter, panning across the field of vision perhaps one eyeball at a time, the brain loosens up, not searching for words so much as patterns, not on a linguistic or semantic level but based on location and shape of individual characters. After seconds, minutes, the common element is located.

      "Yes, it is true! The letter 'e' in the third word of row six on page 32 shares the same location as the second occurrence of the letter 'e' in the second word of row six on page 33!"

      Texts can work on many levels beyond the spirit in which they were originally penned and usually there's nothing you can do to stop it - put my words down, get those scissors away from here, don't you even think about running that program on my strings. I’ll deconstruct you! Is this nothing more than data? Still, we being unwilling to flex the mental muscle of William Gibson's grip kept on Agrippa must ultimately be considered merely complicit to the destruction of context; in the end days, every dot and every cross in every i and t will be contemplated on its singular merits and none of our onetime component particles will be able to do a thing about it.

      Am I perhaps become too clever and cynical to know anything for certain, even about my own internal life, ever again? This would be a magic 8-ball moment for sure, but I'm just the wrong demographic to own one of those. Fortunately, the internet takes care of its own, and courtesy a short stop at http://www.magiceightball.com the inevitable "Could be" is provided.

      The median angst is nothing new, but here is a promise of change - or is a threat? - of something interesting. The steel roads tell me a man matching my description will be accosted by his scrutinizer soon, and things may well never be the same. Having read it and knowing it applies to myself, this can't at all qualify as a secret; as a lie the confident and deadpan tone seems incongruous, but at best, assuming this rendezvous hasn't already occurred without my awareness, as a prediction it is thus far neither true nor false but merely the potential of some attribute of objectivity.

      On the Internet no one knows that you're a dog, unless they know exactly what breed of dog you are, what kind of chow you prefer and when you last had your flea bath.

      It's hard to gauge the plausibility of this news. If I was told that I would be meeting the invisible dragon that lives in my garage and breathes fire when it wants to I couldn't prove that it wasn't going to happen, but could fairly safely rule it out beyond a reasonable doubt. I'm presumably not being stalked by an invisible dragon and invisible dragons aren't, as a group, believed to behave in irrational and occasionally violent ways.

      An Australian study recently described five types which encompasses most of this activity: the rejected, the predatory, the resentful, the intimacy-seekers and the wide and varied set of merely incompetent suitors, publishing correlating rates of the kinds of risk each type carries and their likelihood for certain psychiatric disorders.

      I close my eyes and wonder what type I am.

Esc

      Increasingly as I make my way through postmodern urban cityscapes an unwanted alarum sounds in my head every time I pass a subtle covered nook or alcove, a twist in concrete dead-end passage leading nowhere or a loose grate by a warm ventilation shaft. If I was homeless, I would live there! I proudly tell myself, at least until security moved me along after a week or so.

      It seems to me that this is perhaps not a typical mindstate, that my friends and loved ones might not similarly evaluate the suitability of every overpass and sculpture garden they pass as long-term improvised shelter and homestead. It is as though some part of me is making plans for the future - contingency plans, just in case as they say, in the event of things not working out and for whatever reasons my opting out of social welfare. Perhaps it is only so jarring inasmuch as it is the only part of me that seems to plan for the future, my mind never noting "I'd like to move there!" or "That's a house I'd like to get two mortgages on!", only "If my freedom of choice to live where I may becomes constrained to public property, that is one excellent manifestation of it which could definitely keep me alive, possibly comfortably."

      To some degree it's a twist on the old hermit fantasy, retreating from the company of society but in this case it's only really caste mobility that's being exercised, not locational. What's the point in feeling alone in a crowd if your living experiences remain similar to the median members of the crowd? in experiencing feelings of being an outsider while well within the comfortable parameters described by the life of a majority member?

      Maybe it's like the sweaty-toothed madman described in his Montana shack, hunting and pecking in his own fashion; to the modern man the simple tasks of sustenance now rendered too easily, the feat of any one man making any real change in the world now rendered not at all. Perhaps what I want is to apply myself in earnest to barely keeping myself alive, that the struggle of squeegees, park benches and cardboard signs might occupy my time and mind and allow me to forget the impossibility of real change.

( onward to ... the exciting conclusion of only a simple computer program, where Something Might Happen )

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