Monday, August 31, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 12

We walk surrounded by death. Only a fine, invisible line separates our worlds.

We all have the power to kill, and to die.

As life goes on, a million packets of life, "beings," cross that line. A million contents of those packets are exchanged.

Our life, our memory, is incidental, and an incredible blessing.

Thank you God.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 11

The old shape changers of the worlds were not totally erased.

The machines that build and maintain the space stations need fuel, parts, energy. And so the planets are scourged, the mountains toppled, the forests cut, the marshes drained, and the shape changers living in these worlds are changed too. Their bodies are broken, their hearts and minds stupefied. Yet their powers remain, although in pieces. Re-animated by the lust and greed of people similarly beaten, the shape changers become golems.

The golems take many forms, and they can infect anyone. They prey on the young and old, the robust and the sickly.

Blasted worlds, writhing with hordes of sick, hopeless people- these are the golem's breeding grounds.

When space people leave their ships, touch soil, planet, and folk, they risk encounter with these golems. I risk such encounter.

I should have read the signs. Signs of ghosts. The fan at the festival drew a strange smile, fearful. The gift I brought from Nacerima had triggered some memory of a golem in a childhood game I used to play. And most of all, I had been sensing ghosts lingering nearby.

I played too close to the mouth of the demon and I was bitten. I waited to see the affects of the poison. I waited, praying not to die, knowing the work left to be done.

This time, there was no poison.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 10

Riding aimlessly through the 7th street market I found a video rental shop. With nothing in mind, I chose two videos, "Che" and Yamamura's depiction of Kafka's "Ein Landarzt" (The Country Doctor). In both, I see the tragedy of sacrificing humanity for service.

Che is about a determined man who finds purpose in guerrilla war. "Kill or be killed." His life ends futilely and tragically. Kafka's "Ein Landarzt" tells a similar tale:
On a cold of winter night, a doctor is called for. However, his horse is dead. His beloved Rosa seeks another horse, but who would loan a horse on a night like this?! She finds a groom who kisses her outright. But, since he offers the horses, the doctor has no choice but go take the horses and go. The groom sends the horses away and quickly breaks into Rosa's house.
The doctor arrives immediately at the house of a strange family. Here, he meets the patient: "Thin, without fever, not cold, not warm, with empty eyes, without a shirt, the young man under the stuffed quilt heaves himself up, hangs around my throat and whispers in my ear, 'Doctor, let me die."
Noticing the girl in the house to be holding a bloody handkerchief, he analyzes further. The boy has a strange wound. He thinks of Rosa and blames himself. Meanwhile, the family forces him, naked, into bed with the boy. After telling the boy that the wound is not fatal, he flees. The horses, now tired, return slowly and he merely "crawls slowly through the wasteland of snow men." The story ends with this line, "A false ring of the night bell, once answered — it can never be made right." (

The "country doctor" and "Che" are both used as tools. Both operate in the country and both are trying to help people. They serve, but where is their humanity? In both films, their humanity seems to come from their confrontation of death, and the pain that they find in this.

Here in Nohin, the spirit of service is very important. People will die to get the job done. Indeed, there was once a famous class of warriors who were called "servants" because of how they embodied, lived, and died for the service of their lord.

If one lives and works in the same breath, if one serves and creates at the same time, in the same place, then there is no problem here. For example, if a shop keeper's business is his home, and his company is his family, then service is also an expression of his humanity. His purpose as a man and his purpose as a servant are united.

When one's work is also an exploration of their creative humanity one can embody this life and death service and also embody their humanity. But to do this requires a very strict sort of life, and it requires a certain kind of social, living, and working system.

When living in space people live in isolated capsules far from the station where they work. Their families and their friends are likely even farther away. Trying to join work and life requires even greater commutes.

Here in Nohin, the strict standard of service, combined with living in space, requires people to channel their humanity through text messages. Friends, values, family, all become memories; the rest is dropped into the void. Life becomes a series of commutes, silent travel through space, alone.

As we walk down a dark road, I confide in S. Pillier, "I fear I am waiting alone, I have lost faith in others." He says, "Let your humanity become your service. Fill it with your being, and then in being, you will see the others. They are all around you."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 9

To be independent is really to be in-dependence. Every object one calls his own is made of a thousand parts coming from a thousand worlds, was assembled by a thousand hands, and has changed a thousand times. After its brief stay in the space capsule, it will become a thousand more things a thousand more times before the end of the galaxy.

Relation can be symbiotic and not parasitic. In the web of being, each knot is a meeting. To live on a planet, in a world, not just visit one with a backpack and an ideology, is to meet each string of being with an open heart. It is to tie something together out of your beings that will become the part of a string of other beings that will in turn be knotted again. In this way, work is art.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 8

In space there is a fantasy of independence and freedom. Sure, looking through big clean windows at an endless void gives these feelings. In space there is the tendency to be believe that one has everything one needs on his or her own space ship, station, or pod. It is wonderful to believe that everything one needs is enclosed within his own walls- his air, his bed, his computer, his TV, his food, his drink, his toilette. "I bought all this. It is mine. I made this world by myself, I can thank only myself. I am so proud of myself."

Space travelers tend to enjoy their fantasy of independence wherever they go. Sometimes they land on some beautiful planet and, taking only a bag on their back, they go hiking into the "wilderness." "Everything I need is right here! Right on my back!" They love to say. They tread into the planet. Some leave only footprints. Others leave trash. Yet, rarely does a space traveler take part in the native dances and celebrations on the planets.

For centuries, people have arrived on some new planet and decided to make it become a mirror of their own world. Unable to see the new world for what it is, they simply tried to remake it into their own old world without taking part in the old celebrations and meetings. Almost always, however, both worlds persevered. The shape changers changed or moved or consolidated their stories.

The movement to space was supposed to end the destruction and replacement of worlds. Yet, by moving into space, the very perpetuation of all worlds is threatened. With nobody left on the planet nobody knows how to bring together the peoples there. Nobody knows how to create meetings.

The goods that a space traveler carries in his backpack or his apartment capsule came from some world, but without knowing where or how it came, the means become dubious. Indeed, the cheapest method is almost always used- mountains leveled, villages and cities crushed into their mineral components- worlds are robbed of their wealth and beauty.

The idea of independence that a space traveler carries is the most dangerous of all. Uncaring of the consequences of his actions, he becomes a parasite. Uncaring of the consequence of his words, he becomes foul mouthed. Work becomes a means to earn money. Money may give momentary satisfaction, but it usually just perpetuates the means to work.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 7

The Imperial scientists and their drones know that every thing, every creature, and every person in the galaxy has its own energy, its own being. They also know that the human mind and body needs to be fed, excited, and sedated. Especially after floating in space for a long time, deprived of live-able refuge and rest, the human mind and body needs treatment.

For this reason, the Imperial scientists have designed special means of sedation. Trifling entertainments can be quite fun when they are augmented by great light and sound. One song, one rhythm, one story, raised to a magnificent volume and brightness, properly piped to the eyes and ears of millions can be quite satisfying and sedating.

Augmenting and piping one central story to billions of human minds and bodies across the galaxy seems easy today. In fact, it is incredibly common. However, it comes at a cost. Even considering that the infrastructure of central Imperial entertainment is already in place, augmentation itself requires a great deal of energy.

Light and sound is released when one being meets and is consumed by another being, taking a new form. At each scale such a release is satisfying, but to someone of larger scale, it is hardly enough, to someone smaller it could be blinding or catastrophic. The sun lights an entire star system, and while a man cannot read a book by the light of a glow worm, a child can enjoy a summer night in the presence of one. To the glow worm the reading lamp is confusing and dangerous.

The power plants of the Galactic Empire crush the existences of billions of tiny and ancient beings so that men and women, deprived of interaction at their own scale of humanity, can be excited or sedated- cool air on a hot day, bright lights at night, an out of season tomato.

I was eating some mint ice cream under the neon lights out by the space port in Otoyk and S. Pillier warned me: "Although fantastic, such things are a waste," he said. "If we meet the a summer day appropriately, say, in the shade of an ancient tree, the heat and the cool are gifts. To burn the tree to artificially cool the heat would soon leave us with barren space. I would rather make a place between me and the tree and dwell there for a moment." By sharing these gifts, meeting each at his own scale, S. Pillier expands a live-able place; I, with my ice cream and air conditioning, expand barren space.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 6

In the galaxy today, with the presence of space always close by, we always have the chance to simply drift off, at relatively little cost, and cut loose from gravity. With space trenches crisscrossing the planet, with a short flight up into boundless weightlessness always at hand, how does one stay grounded?

It is necessary, under these circumstances, to expand place, expand live-able human ground. This is done, not by simply engineering larger and larger space stations; indeed the large space stations are clusters of detached human lives strung like glass bouys in a fishing net, dangled in the darkness of space. In the space stations each person in his or her own globe commutes for hours to seek his or her own personal satisfaction. Expanding live-able human ground is done through encounter.

S. Pellier is infinitely old. His great age comes from his ability to always change, slip into various shapes and sizes, beings. He is capable of meeting any other being or creature at its own scale, and that meeting becomes an infinite moment, ecstatic and delicious. This is the power of the shape-changers.

We mere humans can only live our simple short lives. In the delicious moments we find our living platforms, our places of rest, refuge from the vastness of space. With songs, stories, and memories, these moments, these encounters, come to enrich and lengthen all the moments that they come into contact with. In the songs, in the stories, we seek timelessness.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 5

About 7 generations ago, a long time before people entirely jetted off into space, inventors figured out a way that a few people could draw thousands to them. By cutting a trench of space, about 10 feet wide and as long as possible, people all along the trench would be drawn like magnets to whoever could muster the most power along the trench. If one was willing to give up his original location, he too could have a chance at drawing others to him along the trench. Of course, existing governments and headmen already had the most power for miles around. The sirens call of the powerful trench drew thousands into these places. What was once simply one place among many became the powerful capital of a whole planet. A small group of people that before only represented the tip of a pyramid of reciprocal relationships now actually came to wield direct control over vast populations.

Governments and powerful companies of people cut these trenches long and deep across whole planets. Everything that stood in the way of such a trench- groves, houses, shrines, temples, even mountains, all - was eliminated, erased from existence.

Imagine jumping onto a train of cars floating in such a trench. The moment the doors close, you leave behind the tangled emotions of family, village, visitors, reciprocity. Within minutes, you zip across cities, continents even, soon to arrive in a super-city! Here nobody knows you. You are what you can buy. You are what you can sell.

About 7 generations ago, the central Imperial government of Nohin sought a way to unite the people of the Empire. They sought a way to draw together the diverse peoples of the Empire into one functioning body, a machine of interplanetary proportions. Using these trenches of space, a million villages, a hundred worlds- vast masses of people were attracted to a few super cities. Here, people were fast at work building machines, fertilizer, bombs. These super cities were flattened in the galactic war three generations ago. Thus, the Imperial efforts ended in tragedy.

Yet, following the leadership of the new Galactic Empire, the space trenches were rebuilt with an even greater gusto, and accordingly, the super cities were rebuilt even larger than before.

Today, a traveler, lucky enough to find himself on the surface of a planet, is rarely farther than a few minutes walk from one of these space trenches. Their magnetic pull is always close by, keeping the machines of the Empire running smoothly.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 4

I am a bit afraid. There is a festival fast arriving. It is said that for one week, the souls of the dead return from across the river. They come back to the homes, welcomed by their family. Together they feast and enjoy each other's company. For the natives, this is a joyous event.

I find it a bit frightening. As far as I know, I have no deceased relatives in this land. Indeed, if my deceased relatives are seeking my company, how would they know to cross the river at this point, to enter this world? Do they need to know the language of Nohin? Do they need to know any language at all? Or do they simply creep across, lonely, blindly from that vast other world of darkness. Their presence already leaks into my consciousness. As I write this I am sitting wrapped in shadow in an old house on surface of this planet. Perhaps I am already surrounded by ghosts. Yet, I don't know them, and they don't know me. We are beginning to acquaint ourselves with each other- see! the dim electric lamp just flickered.

In my classes, as I teach the language of the Galactic Empire, there are noises. A creak there, a knocking there. Once there was a kind of crying in the garden, although we found nothing. The students notice these things. Many have lived on this planet for most of their lives and so they appreciate this sort of thing, contrary to those who live in antiseptic space capsules and would not recognize a ghost even if they met him face to face in the street. I too I am listening, and watching. But perhaps I am trying to avoid their beaconing. I don't want to travel to their side. If I were to do such a thing, I want to do it following a strong person- somebody who knows the way back. I just checked the gas stove, no leak. Yet, still there is a bead of shadow in my room, floating about. I rub my eyebrows, an itch. Why?

On my home planet, there is no specific day or night when the dead come to visit, I think. Or perhaps this is just what I was taught in the government school. Yet, always, they were there, in my parent's actions, in their hearts, in mine too. Just by living, whether in space or on the surface, their lives animated our spirits. By eating, I eat the dead and I live. By breathing I breath the breaths of a thousand generations. By washing and drinking we share one river, always flowing...

They say that on this one night the lanterns, lit at temples around this ancient city, are let loose on the rivers, sent back to the pure land. Perhaps. And I wont' see it.

I'm going to the Eastern Capital, a huge metropolis, the biggest in the Galaxy. I will visit an old friend. But I'm worried because of the spirits traveling the roads, to and from their homes. Surely I may have to cross a river or two. And on the bridge? What about the man who rides next to me on that night bus? What about the girl at the station? And even more dangerous- what about the girl I am going to visit? A friend holds the key to places into which others are not allowed, what if a spirit should also enter?

I could avoid the whole thing. I could stay in this ancient city guarded that night by the five great fires on the mountainsides. I could watch and enjoy the festival as a foreigner would, alone, an observer. I could sleep, clutching my assumptions, my answers and my ego.

Or I could go, face the dark road, the dark rivers, bridges... women... and hold my energy, my cool. I won't come unarmed. I'll have the beaded mirror Pat'a Tootsie gave me on Machiit. I'll have a ward for the evil eye too. And all this to what end? To have my wits. Wits, cool, energy. Life is a long road and the mountains cast deep shadows. Every journey requires careful choice of stepping stones, to cross the streams, to cross through the deep moss, to pass through the forests, the fields, the cities. May each stepping stone be its own mountain, with its own spirit. I'll meet it with my own, as an equal.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 3

I am living in the most ancient city of Nohin, Otoyk. Otoyk exists on the planet's surface. Hundreds of neighborhoods fill the city, each with subtle and ancient character. From the fields and mountains of the planet many arts are created in Otoyk. 1000 products of individual nature can be bought in the shops here. 1000 foods can be tasted, each changing with the seasons. In the summer one can find meat of the bony eel, long white noodles, and cool Jellies served on leaves, to name a few. However, even here, among the ancient lanes and ancient houses, space people drive their huge noisy rocket ships. The space people think their shiny metal ships are sleek and beautiful, but how can they be anything but clumsy in this ancient city of dark wooden slats, soft door hangings tumbling in the wind, and gardens that beacon directly to the human soul.

Yet the allure of space continues. Most of the ancient city is inhabited by the very old, those who keep to the old ways. Younger people and families choose the space life. Yet, many don't entirely take to the skies. Instead, they bring space down to earth- they destroy the old houses, the old shops, the old inns, and gardens. In their place they bring the void, dark, black, grey; for the void of space is the only place they can park their big metal space ships.

Slowly, as the old people die and their children come to claim their planetary homes, these homes are turned into space. Empty, nonhuman, space.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 2

Now I have traveled to the other side of the intergalactic Empire. This side of the Empire is called Nohin. Everything here is similar to the Nacerima side, but different. This side of the galaxy developed in its own way and most things are nearly opposite from how they are on the Nacerima side. It was once independent, but ever since the galactic wars, now the whole galaxy has been united in one Empire.

Technically speaking, my job is to teach the Nacerima language here, but I have another mission. I am seeking, with S. Pillier's help, the secret to reawaken the shape changers. Together, we will heal the planets and make them places where people can live again.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 1

There is beauty in space. As long as we are human we will see beauty, even in the vacuum of space.

I grew up in a space station. Long rows of houses, bubbles trimmed and primed to resemble the various gardens and architectural trends of Earth, each with its own spaceport. I enjoyed short spacewalks, drifting through the void, occasionally avoiding passing rockets.

I often looked longingly at the planet below. With each season it would change, green in the winter and golden brown in the summer. If possible, after school or on vacation, my friends and I would descend to the earth and spend long days walking on lush grassy hills or under groves of oak and bay. We filled the quiet valleys with imaginary tales of what life was like for the people who once lived there. Ironically, although I lived high in the association of bubbles of the space station, it was by the creeks and groves of the planet below that my dreams really took flight.

Children have the fantastic ability of filling any place with life. For me, that planet, Dumbe, and the space station of Agarom were places that I loved and filled with life. This space lifestyle is not richer or poorer than living in any other way, although I didn't know how different it was either. It would be a long time before I realized what it might have been like to actually have lived on the planet below, or what it really means to live in space.

At age 18 I flew away to a far away station for college. Still a creature of space, I hardly understood the implications of such a long journey. Indeed, I greatly enjoyed it. On this new planet, Machiit, and it's stations, the people were of a little different hue and the buildings were of a bit different design. But, for the most part it was the same. Indeed, this planet, like Dumbe of my youth, is in the intergalactic Empire. The people of the Empire come in different shades, and the buildings occasionally are of different design, but almost all the residents of the Empire speak the same language and eat fairly similar foods. These foods are produced by vast factories, managed from the skies for utmost efficiency. They stretch, at times, across whole planets- rows and rows of manicured fruit trees and corn, or vast warehouses of quarantined meat and milk producing machines.

As for people on the planets themselves, there are some survivors still living on the surface; some old old people eeking away an existence surrounded by the ghosts of the dead. Occasionally, the relatives of these old people come and visit, spend time on the surface, learn some of the old ways and perhaps enjoy some of the ancient pleasures and foods, totally unique in taste and procurement. Yet, the weight of death usually weighs too heavy for these visitors and they return to the skies and space stations. Going to the surface to live is a very serious move. Who wants to be constantly surrounded by ghosts of timeless generations, or constantly moved by the stench of life and death?

When I was 19 I met some surface dwellers of the planet Machiit. I was taken to a feast by a guide, Mary, who eventually became a good friend. The people were celebrating the arrival of relatives, the Tital tital people. Coming together we sang and ate and danced. I quickly realized the uniqueness of my experience, although I also saw that these people were living in a bricolage of space debris. Yet the joy and sadness in the songs and stories at that feast features much more prominently in my memories than the arrangement of fallen satellite parts on the front lawn.

Before I was 23 I knew the planet of Machiit well, its beauty and its pain. Slowly, I had found the key to travel to and from the planet. I had discovered the means by which to enter that world. It was not by calculation or by mission, but instead by means of an open mind and an open heart. By being silent and by listening, I realized that I could leave space and approach the threshold of the world below, now hidden. I met the peoples of this world many times, each time learning new facets of their cultures and language. It was in this way that I met S. Pillier.

S. Pillier is an old man, if you can call him a man. He is a shape changer. A member of an ancient species, almost entirely extinct. He is a priest of sorts, frozen in graphite many years ago, just before the intergalactic war, along with his relatives, in an attempt to preserve their potential benefit to the planet of Machiit. Indeed, without the shape changers, Machiit will slowly and entirely be converted to massive rows of food factories like so many other planets.

S. Piller explained to me the great problem that the galaxy is facing. For a long time people have been trying to enforce their will on others, but after the intergalactic war two generations ago, seduced by the power they had briefly seen during the war, flying rockets and jets across space, people bought their own civilian jets and rockets and left the surface of the planets all together.

I have a picture of my own grandfather from that time. A young man with brilliant thick red hair, he holds my swadled baby mother while standing in front of his green rocket ship. They were still on their planet at that time, the same planet his people had always lived on. Yet, he, my grandmother, and my mother were about to leave the surface for a brilliant adventure in the skies. They would visit many worlds, but never would they really return to that old planet. Indeed, once you leave on a rocket ship, it is hard to come back to and live on the surface for long.

Most people stopped being born into life on the planets. Those people living there simply aged and aged. Now, S. Pillier explains, as these old people, keepers of the old ways, pass away, the hope of unfreezing the shape changers and healing the planet of Machiit, and every other planet like it, passes with them.

For this reason, S. Pillier was thawed and brought back to life. The surviving old ones sung him out of graphite and, with song and the beating of medicine sticks, they sewed back together his life and spirit. I was witness to this happening, there in the darkness, on the surface of Machiit, in a house surrounded by ancient spirits.