Cascade (From the Lost Notebooks of David Foster Wallace)

Outside the living room’s glazed fenestration the clumpy cover of an overly imbricated sky (almost herringbone with scattered tumbles of bruised indigo specks) was humming a spendthrift carnival tune, and a sharp stiletto of wind had opened up a lofty cataract of bright that came blindingly shimmering down, cutting a Wonder-Bread slice out of the wispy strands of curdled clouds cluttered about in a capacious fishbowl of delirious Bombay-Sapphire blue. I was minding my own business, taking care of business as it were, keyboarding a lot of figures into a spreadsheet on my laptop, which was perched oh-so-carefully on my lap as I sat, almost bovine and at times lotus-esque, but mostly with legs outstretched flat on the living room carpet’s plush tufted pile. That was back in the days when I was saying my prayers with my fingers crossed.

Now, let me just say this: I am not a bad person. My morality is tiptop. I have good hygiene. I make the bed in the morning before I leave the house. I keep my nails clean and cut short. I clip my nose hair and floss religiously. There is nothing even vaguely hideous or egregiously wrong with me on the surface. Nobody could say that I don’t try to do the right thing, to make a good impression on those whom I meet in social situations, nor that I am nasty or malefic or ill-mannered in any sense that would rub somebody the wrong way right off the bat. I keep up appearances. I make an effort to be kindly gregarious and offer a show of magnanimity for any soul fortunate enough to keep my company for any decent duration of time. I am, to use an overused trope, a good egg.

Now, on this particular afternoon I wish to speak of, the day this “event” of most unfortunate circumstances occurred, I was, as I have alluded to already, calmly and benignly sitting on the floor in my living room staring into the slick sheeny surface of my laptop, and just so happened to be in one of those torpid, light-headed moods that arise every so often on a calm, cool day when even the glossy leaves (I always thought of these particular leaves as being Tuscan-kale-like) on the closest tree outside my window seem to be taking a nap or sighing contentedly in a placid glow of levity and eudaemonistic tranquility. My laptop’s internal fan wasn’t even humming its discordant shudder just then. Everything seemed a collective airy drowse. A ribbed partition had clipped off the mimetic, worrying part of my brain, and I was at ease w/r/t my solitary and singular position in the machinations of the world. It was quite something, to be so stoic and collected in my thoughts: a stir-fried, syrupy joy that gingerly walloped the senses without portending even the least tinge of excitement. I’d never experienced anything quite like it before. It was a soft-boiled quiescence, the frequency of which I’ve yet to properly dismantle enough to describe in any lucid way even to myself. My parietal lobe was fouled-up big time with multiple ways to recount the same involuntary twitch of assessment. Needless to say my tautological guard was let down some, at least sufficiently enough lowered that I would allow for such a tentative jab (“mildly pavonian” was how I was evaluating and characterizing the circumstances of its barely perceptible quashing of my ratiocination) to even enter my realm of rational mental discourse as I did on this occasion. I pondered the word “rational.” What was it that constituted behaving rationally? We have the Latin of course: ratio. That would be reason. But what is reason? The Latin isn’t as clear here. Something to do with computation, a mathematical term in this sense, a relationship between two numbers, something akin to “to calculate” or “to think.” There is also a Gothic term rathjo, which gives the sense of an account or an explanation. My brain’s hardwired circuitry began to unravel around the words “rationale” and “reason.” My head was plundered of all cumbersome morality. Step-by-step recipe-following was now stamped into the equation of my raison d’etre. That may be stretching things but this was the kindling I was smoking around in. To wit: it just so was that I heard that proverbial old lonesome whistle blow that day, and let me tell you, it’s been blowing in my head nonstop ever since.

And so my thoughts began to melt, to slip off their abstruse skin and slide subtly and lithely along the crannies of my suddenly suspended wherewithal. It was not unpleasant. Not in the least. Though I remember contemplating, without the usual enlightened raised consciousness and cerebration that one would expect to find in this state of heavenly respite, how it would feel to throw myself through a glass window. It just entered my mind apropos of nothing. This defenestration of my own earthly body, this rigid fortress of flesh and bone and blood thrown willy-nilly through a pane of glass, for no other reason than my own entertainment of a strange notion. Inconceivable as it was, I couldn’t relinquish the idea. It strode through my mind on stilts. It walked on its hands and pranced elated through the roseate and blooming verdure fields of my mood’s pasture. It would not just go away. Like the shadows of palm trees slurrying across the grass as they kind of unfurl a bit, wavering on the periphery of their odd ellipsoid shapes because of the rustle of the fronds, this momentous thought lingered on like pale blue eyes in my head. I lost interest in my facts and figures and my laptop — or more to it: I forgot that those things ever existed as interesting things in the first place. (A conjurer of my mind’s eye’s habitat that allowed for such light-bulb popping whimsy might have listed them as such: things of interest, attention takers, irking distractions on life’s Scantron test, pace setters of the hinged world, commercials for other commercials, mile markers of tipsy freeway driving, the distant memory of old phone numbers and addresses, geometric cat nip.) Everything was just-blown glass. It was liquid sans weight, drippy even, but with an effervescence that was also smooth, as if all things would melt and meld with the slightest contact. I don’t know quite how to express in some thoughtful exegesis the handcuffed charades and Venn diagrams my mind was taking to get where it was eventually going to hurtle off to.

Now, I’ve never considered myself to be anything more than average when it comes to deftness. My small motor skills are not anything exceptional. In fact, they are most conspicuously unexceptional. I’m no good with scissors. Can’t thread a needle. Can’t even tie the ends of a piece of thread together. Learning to properly lace my shoes was a challenge, as I often reverse engineered the whole process and ended up tying them backwards with the loops crisscrossed in abeyance. Also of note: timing is everything with me. I am a person who needs to fixate. Who needs to siphon, to strip and pare and peel off layers of constituent parts and whittle a thing down to its least common denominator of being, until an object or an idea can become something I am able to deal with, to comprehend. Without less there is no more.

So, there was this giant door in my dreams then. It was there almost every night when I scooted out into dreamland, waiting, lurking there like some kind of omen, a locked door that was absurdly large, like that door to the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. That’s how I thought of it, as a Wizard-of-Oz door. Of course I was never able to open the door. Mostly I just gazed up at it, mesmerized, marveling, in awe of its size. It was not only very high but very wide, and thick, like an old growth redwood. My afternoons were being made into meshes because of these dreams. I may have had a potassium deficiency as well. The W.o.O. door was obviously some insuperable obstacle that I was for some reason unable to overcome in my consciousness or what some might describe as the “real” way I was leading my life. I was a bit of a parvenu when it came to all of this oneiric interpretation, as I’d read most what Jung had to say on the subject, and some Lacan too, but mostly I was just an armchair interpreter, a bit naïve, and my grasp of things was filled with gaps when it came down to it. Another pertinent detail: I am not a good dancer. In these dreams I was often gyrating, if that’s what you want to call it, something terpsichorean-like at least, and it felt like I was dancing, and that I was doing a pretty good job of it too, but who knows? It was a dream. Nobody else was watching. So many nights I spent this way, shimmying through my dreams outside of a giant locked door. And my lunulae were growing. These diminutive half-moons that had always lived as slight crescents barely noticeable at the base of my fingernails were now aggrandizing, practically taking over the cramped space of my nails. It was as if these dreams were remapping, by some abstruse form of selenodesy, the way I was able to see the shapes of what it was that I’d always assumed to be me. I cut my fingernails and watched the half-moons grow.

Now, without too much more bloviating and tangential asides, I’d like to describe my motivations in a bit more specific detail. At first I was busy confecting to put together a template I could use as a snare to catch myself in the hesitation of foreboding pain that might cramp my ambition with even a pittance of inhibition to send my body hurtling through glass, which of course I ventured would not be a pleasant sensation. This plan was designed with the express purpose of keeping the conscious, self-aware part of my mind in the dark when it came to knowing what the plan itself was, which of course was that devil-may-care splash through glass. I wasn’t deceitful about it. I just had to kind of create a split, another mindset if you will, that would take control of the deciding actions, which then would make it possible to not have to override the self-preservation part of my ego, and instead would just nonchalantly take charge and rush, without thought, to the task at hand. I believed that if I subjected myself to enough grief, to loads of worrying, stomach-rotting anxiety, and hopelessness, I would then be able to distract myself in a way that would allow for the impossible-to-believe possibility of a felo-de-se type act. Pigeons rarely crash into windows, but sometimes they do, hoodwinked by the transparency of the glass, and the sound they make is horrendous, a dull thud like nothing else. This is something I wanted to avoid. The glass must shatter and let me through to the other side. My reflection must welcome me with open arms. Of course there were other things to consider. The word window means “wind eye” in its most primitive carnation of Old Norse. I thought about eyes and glass and glass eyes and wondered if I would close my eyes as I leapt. It seemed wise. Then I started in on some serious pondering. What kind of glass would be easiest to break? From how many floors up should I jump, if any? Would a ground level sliding door be suitable? Stained glass? And should I go through leading with my shoulder like I was breaking down a door? Or should I go face first, with hands outstretched, Pete-Rose style? These things would all have to be thought out. The plan was becoming more complicated by the minute. Complexities abounded. There were many things to be considered. What would Hugh De Haven have suggested? I made tea. I lay on the couch. I stared at the ceiling. My eyes went blurry as I lay there supine, and all types of variegated images began scrambling around up there. Cardioids flapped like amorphous wings. Frenetic twists shaved away layers of fleeing tilde-like creatures. Pocked rotating moons went from sickle to full in an instant. With that good-old pareidolia kicking in, initially faces were the most prominent, making their appearances on scythe-shaped promises, and then fading into dots of random emptiness. Smiles were abundant. I wasn’t doing any smiling. Seriousness was becoming my métier, and I reveled in it like a pig thrashing about in the mud of a sty. The ceiling soon filled with very distinct boxes of action, like a comic strip I guess, like the stations of the cross. I saw clearly how it would all come about. It was like looking at a topographic map of my future. It was all so simple, so easy, and I knew that it would happen, and that only I could make it happen. I felt better then than I’d ever felt in my whole life.

There was this light fixture on the ceiling. It drew my attention away from my boxes of action, from my plan. It was one of those old light fixtures, the ones with the screws in the metal side housing holding the foggy glass frame on over the light bulbs. There were some interesting designs carved into the fritted glass, like racing stripes I guess, and my eyes followed them around the light’s lucent glow, like some interesting sort of irregular nimbus prickling the dust with its soft radiance. Soon I found my eyes focused on the viscera of the fixture, on the goings-on inside of the thing. There were these two earwigs roaming around on the bottom of the glass. One of them was quite large and had an impressive set of antennae on its head. They were scampering around in circles. It was then that I recalled something that my late grandmother had told me when I was young. She’d related to me — this was during my very impressionable formative years when the psyche is still agile enough to hold many absurd and diametric notions to be equally veracious — that earwigs could burrow into a person’s brain by way of the ear and therein lay their eggs to hatch, rendering one earwig-brained, which I took be similar to some form of mental retardation, though I wasn’t really too pellucid on the details. I watched those little bugs circle. Those forficula auricularia clambering about up there, avoiding each other if they could, circling in opposite directions, circling and circling endlessly. It was more entertaining than watching a ceiling fan twirl. I was entranced. Their light-fixture dance seemed mating-ritual-like, as the larger one would kind of stutter step and twitch this way and that, while the smaller one would peragrate more elegantly, with a svelteness that was at once tender and agile. Whenever the twain should meet at the edges of their private hemispheres, the larger one would stop, wiggle its antennae in a jousting motion at its diminutive counterpart, and rather impede and block its path for a moment, as if shoring up a bulwarks against this insipid intruder into its life’s endless circle. The small fry would wait patiently, kind of bobbing around like a jogger running in place on a street corner waiting for the light to change. I imagined it to be panting for some reason, and I thought of this earwig as being curious, yet not overly concerned with this roadblock. Effortlessness was key to its existence. It just did things. It didn’t have to think about the doing of them. Eventually the big guy would let it by, and they would both go back to their isolated rounds, but I think every time they met in this way it would significantly alter their perception of what they each separately considered to be the world. Though this would not last. Because every time it was the same thing, the little one being stopped momentarily by the big one; and it was as if it were always the first time, as if it had never occurred to either of them before that this could happen, that this was something that was always happening to them. They had no memory of it. I could tell. I knew this to be true. Surprise tingled through their limbs like a jolt of electricity with every meeting. There was nothing to be done about it. Everything was always forgotten, and they kept circling. I loved it. What a show. Nothing could induce me to stop watching. The phone could have rang. I might have heard it, but if I did, well, I do not remember. The doorbell? Knocking at the door? Somebody there on the doorstep like a little kid asking if I could play? Possibilities, yes. Though I would be the incorrect person to ask if you wanted a recounting of these things. I could tell you all about those earwigs; I could tell you that tradition is the illusion of permanence, but not much else. Something ethereal was sneaking through me, bleeding into my ear-wigged brain with streaks of puce and magenta and bilirubin and carmine and a blaze of white-hot cinders screaming into my eyeballs. Caught up in some kind of hallucinatory hyper-intense form of concentration, I was no longer waiting. I just was. That is all. Somehow I managed to avert my eyes for a moment. Who knows why? A sudden spasm. A reluctant divergent tug at the dusty unwed corners of my mind. In the corner of the ceiling a cobweb was shivering with a wispy tremble that reminded me of mucus dangling from an invalid’s chin. I didn’t feel alone. Not at all. I was surrounded by things, by objects and insects and microscopic whorls of cosmic dust. Patching together all of these things, these things with heft, not in the abstract but real things that were most definitely there, in whatever terms I took them for, in whatever ways they had of existing, they were there whether I cared to notice them or not.

Unbeknownst to me my plan was taking shape. The end had begun. Time was not allowed to tread its normative rounds, and became a nominally picayune happenstance, just as dull and unimportant as some potato salad spilled on the carpet, or a piece of lint scraped from a dryer’s lint trap. A long time? A long time was nothing. It had no meaning. It was nothing and it was everything at the same time. I saw the holes in the way human’s perceived of things as occurring. An interval, or separation of two events is not merely some temporal versus spatial pragmatically adjusted viewpoint of causality and let’s-get-from-here-to-there selectivity. We choose what we see and when we see it and, most importantly, how we see it; which of course makes time seem to take the shape of something we can wrap our puny minds around; to become an essence of its own, if you will, when really it is nothing of the sort. In fact, it is not what it is at all. It is not time. Not what we are used to thinking of as being time at least. It was just a survival mechanism our brains had developed in order to adapt and keep us fit for the chaotic world we had to do our living in: merely advantageous instincts drawn through the exponentially slim articulated straw of existence. Natural selection weeded out those beings who couldn’t conceive of their world as happening in a linear fashion, who couldn’t tell when from then and now. I know this line of thinking is disastrously hung up on misconstrued and downright manhandled and mangled forms of logic, but it is not inconsistent, I don’t think, with how the universe moves. Worm holes and the like, I was preparing the Bouillabaisse of my simmering thoughts to coincide with the amorphous, fugacious strictures of the wandering ways of what I’d always thought of as Time, and what it was always doing: just being. Well, and also “not being” as well. Because really there is no difference. Absurdism notwithstanding, I can tell you a few things about eternity. For one, it is tiny. It is nothing. It is a dime thrown into the world’s economy. A yawn amid billions of voices all speaking at once. No. But it is not that at all. It is a reversion and transmogrification of all that is linear and temporally gradual.

Okay. So it seems the only way for me to elucidate my “timelessness of time” hypothesis, and to rid aporia from the equation, is to give a specific case that would illustrate my point. Let us say that one is traveling through a window, that one is jumping out of said window, shattering the glass, leaving one plane surface for another one of a lower position, falling as it were towards this lower surface, this place that is less high in the whole scheme of things than the previous position held by the person’s body in question. Now, a certain interval of time must “go by” in order for the corporeality of this person to change position, to drop, fall, descend, or whatever it is that it is going to do. We are not who we are. This apparent antinomy is reconcilable, though charting its cosmological course through the nature of phenomena and noumena, like contemplating the innumerable holes and patches of Locke’s socks, is not saliently relative to my mission in this particular here and now, if “here” or “now” could even be said to exist in the first place. An object can only exist as it does in its thin carved-out pie-slice of time, its tiny temporary personal space; and without time happening to it, well, that object cannot really be said to exist, or to be existing as it were — that is if one is still moving through things in a time-like fashion. An object loses its own essence, its haecceity if you will, when time stops occurring around it, or more accurately, to it. But if time doesn’t actually occur in the way that we are so used to believing that it does — as if “occur” could be said to even have any sort of meaning within this train of thought — then objects having an existence in space is completely ridiculous, defying any serious types of rational mentation. Seriously. In fact, it becomes meaningless to speak of a point of time extended into space. What is space without time? Nothing. We are all nothing. I was going to jump out of a window. It was a meaningless act. My body would plunge, it would penetrate the window’s glass, the shattering of the glass would spiderweb outward from the shape my body made, and the glass would split into thousands of pieces, shards of glass that would still be the window too, but also shiny brand-spanking new objects in their own right. It was a copasetic thought. The window would never be the same. I would also be something different. Theseus’s ship is never the same as it’s always been. And as James Hutton likes to say, “There’s no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end.” 15 billion years ago things were just the way they will eventually be when all of this is kaput, i.e we’re all goners and there really is no here or there to be here or there in. Time is only change, and without change there is no time, maximum entropy is reached, and without time, well, there is no window to go head-over-heels all willy-nilly flying through. Okay. So, that’s obvious. We’re losing a half hour every 1,000 years because rotational time is out of step with orbital time. This type of nonsense is par for the course in our naïve view of time’s ambit. In reality picoseconds are no more “shorter” or “longer” than centuries. Encompassing everything is the nature of time. My going out of the window was of little consequence, and, also, it was all there was. It was all that was left for me to do. An airplane droned by, somewhere outside, in the world, away, and it was soothing, an anodyne for my maracas-pounding soul. Time was all there was, all that remained, and I was lulled, lying there like that, hungering for nothing, drifting if you will, and all my need for brisance was gone, though I wasn’t sapped. I was merely nothing. Floating aimlessly was all I was. A nothing-sized speck just passing through.

I happen upon things, and they happen to me. There’s a letter of scrawled gibberish in my sock drawer. Then there’s this one too; I found it up a tree one breezy morning while the cats were away.

“Dearest Old Martha,
After living so many years here in this world I have come to the conclusion that there is no difference between the planet and the things that live above or under or upon it. We were not put here. We have always been here, even before we were alive; and we will always be here, even long after we are dead. It is all the same. The bird, the rock, the bow tie, the bacteria, the mountain lion, the drop of poison, the yellow-and-black striations of bees, the microbe, the great painting hanging at the Louvre, the Kitti’s hog-nosed bat, the particle of dust, the ant, the broken sound-barrier’s booming crush, the beat cop, the tardigrade, the yak, the scintilla of spit, the bathroom’s echo, the mansion on the hill, and you. It’s all a cycle that just goes and goes. And you, no matter how insignificant and tiny you might seem when taken individually, are a part of it, which is what makes you matter. You are attached to everything. You always have been; and you always will continue to be. So, take care of yourself. Whatever life that is destroyed will always be your own.

All of ours,
E.O. Wilson”

I don’t know what’s worse: that there’s so little I understand, or that there’s so little left worth understanding. I rest my head on the refulgent edge of a satellite dish in the eddies and gullies of copper light that the afternoons bring. A man who sells postcards with pictures of other postcards on the front is buying all of my possessions. I no longer need them, and I am useless without them, too. That is my sum, my ill-natured sock in the jaw to whomever this might concern. There will be a dwindling, an etiolation of my internal resources as the ruffle and scrunch of me bays limited-to-full on the banks of sunlight-crinkled water spots. Just promise me this, will you? Cascade my name into the ruts and cracks and chasms of this place, throw what remains into the gutter and stomp it out until it dusts the moonlight from your favorite dreams. I am a man in an Orlan space suit throwing paralyzed crickets at emperor gum moths for sport. I don’t have time to tell you anything. Not a thing at all.

Goodbye.

The only writer who matters

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store