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what you loved when you were nine or ten

There’s a beautiful passage early in the book The Conversations (a long rambling interview between film/sound editor Walter Murch and writer Michael Ondaatje), where Murch is talking about how intoxicating it was to play with sound when he was nine or ten. He got a cassette tape recorder when they were very new, and would make strange noises by dragging the mic over surfaces, and by recording sounds from out of his (NYC) window. Then he realized he could chop the tape and reassemble it.

“I’ve found that your chances for happiness are increased if you wind up doing something that is a reflection of what you loved most when you were somewhere between nine and eleven years old. At that age, you know enough of the world to have opinions about things, but you’re not old enough yet to be overly influenced by the crowd or by what other people are doing or what you think you “should” be doing. If what you do later on ties into that reservoir in some way, then you are nurturing some essential part of yourself.” [pg. 8-10]

What I remember of that age is that I loved reading, lying, and making things. The lying wasn’t petty, it was rather of the fish stories and tall tales variety. I met a woman recently who I had known for just a couple of years at that age. Her clearest memories of me had to do with the lies, the elaborate and pleasurably accepted storytelling.

Happiness as a byproduct of genuine passion, genuineness measured as a relationship to the unmediated passions of childhood.

What did you love when you were nine or ten–how is it reflected (or not) in what you do now?

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What are you afraid of?

My ITP students went out on the street and asked (on video) about 40 people the question, “What are you afraid of?” It was remarkable how many of the respondents gave thoughtful, vulnerable answers.

Most common:

1. Failure. Most of the people who said they were afraid of failure were young. Also, one older man said if you’d asked him 10 years ago he would have said failure.

2. The future

3. Being alone/loneliness

4. Death/getting old

5. Things that are out of my control

6. Nothing. This was mostly older people, one of whom said, “I’m not even afraid of the Devil.”

Most esoteric:

1. Clowns (in a serious way)

2. Aliens (in a serious way)

3. Embarrassment

4. The dark (“you can’t see what’s around you”)

5. Torture/pain

6. Buried alive, blinded, falsely imprisoned (same respondent)

Flippant answers: snakes, spiders, rats, people.

Masked men, bare cocks, and sometimes a conversation

There are a thousand ways to make a binary split of the world’s population, and the one on my mind right now is this: there are the kind of people who pick up a ringing payphone, and the kind of people who don’t. I pick it up.

I love those strange, slightly jarring, unexpected interactions with strangers. I write about them on a blog called Municipal Archive and I teach a graduate class about them at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. So, I can tell you a lot about the locations and moments in which strangers interact. About the means and methods. These things have been observed and studied and documented. What we don’t really know with any precision—nor even with much poetry—is why.

Chat Roulette is the newest form of what you might call “stranger chat.” It’s a technology-mediated instance of an old cultural tradition: talking to strangers in public spaces. We do it in an ephemeral, casual way in public places, particularly in the anonymous transitional spaces where proximity is especially temporary: elevators, park benches, waiting spaces, the subway. It’s a fleeting connection, a shared moment, an acknowledgment of your common humanity in the bustling, anonymous metropolis.

Chat Roulette is both the same and different from those encounters. You’re talking with a stranger—which you’ve been able to do since time immemorial in chatrooms—but, now there’s a live video and audio feed to accompany the chat window, and the next random stranger is a click away. Video makes the interaction much more risky and intimate, but also more like a chat in an elevator, except you can make your chat partner vanish at any time. When you talk to strangers in public, you’re making an informed choice, whether you’re aware of it or not. You’ve got social cues like your shared location, the person’s appearance, their clothing, how they carry themselves. When you talk to someone on Chat Roulette, you’re confronted with—if you’re lucky—with the head and shoulders of a stranger, and almost no readable cues. You and they both are making a split-second decision about whether to engage with each other.

Did I mention the part about how it’s an incredibly weird experience? Because it is. What you find when you click start and stop and start over and over is a spectacle of humanity, it’s 10,000 stories in the naked city. It’s also a lot of money shots, people who are looking too intensely at the camera for comfort, people in masks, people in masks dancing around, teenage boys and girls in clusters of three hovering over their computers. Some teenage boys told me they were drunk and bored, the teenage girls wouldn’t talk to me. There are about 4 men for every woman on the site, but it varies by time of day. If you click enough, you also find some people who are genuinely curious about actually talking to—connecting with—strangers. I stuck around long enough to find a few of those, and I asked them why they were there.

They were all young, all male, the ones who talked with me. There’s a tiny smile of recognition that passes between people who actually want to talk. I tried speaking out loud, with the audio on, and found it discomfiting and difficult to sustain a conversation. Text chat is much richer. It’s much easier to be vulnerable in writing, to have thoughtful responses, to ask disarming questions. You have a moment to think, to compose yourself.

All the men I talked to wanted to talk about how many masturbators you end up seeing, and they wanted to know what I thought about it. “You have to look at about 400 dicks for every friend you make,” a man in Chicago told me. Another echoed the sentiment. He thought it was worth the trouble. “I get to talk to people I wouldn’t get to talk to in real life.” I asked why that was good. “It’s an adventure and I don’t have to go anywhere.”

Men in Holland and France were practicing their English (and I practiced a little French) and were talking to strangers because it was “unusual” and “funny.” One told me it was just like talking to someone on a train ride. Another said he lives in a small town and rarely sees a person he doesn’t know.

Three themes laced through every conversation I had. The men I talked to said it was a little addictive. They were intrigued and often joyful about the novelty of the system overall, and the fact that their brief connections felt like real connections.

There’s a grey area on the spectrum between the earnest conversationalists and the exhibitionists where you get flirtatious, suggestive talk of varying levels of intensity. A man I talked to in London told me he thought it was exciting, the strangers, the anonymity, the guarantee of never seeing each other again. I asked what kind of exciting. “It’s exciting like your awareness is heightened. And it’s sexually exciting.” He wanted to know if I felt the same way. I hadn’t felt that way with the earnest ones, but this man was bringing the idea of sex into the interaction. I didn’t want to pursue it any further—it was easy to see that he wanted to steer things into something beyond talk—but he was right. It was visual and anonymous and he was being seductive, and that was a little exciting.

After that I stuck to the innocent looking ones. “You’re beautiful,” one said to me, “what are you doing here?” I told him I was writing about it, and asked him what he was doing there. “It’s wonderful,” he said. “I get to see the whole world.”

time travel

I got some spam back in 2001, and we found its sender on AIM. The spam comes first, then the AIM transcript.

Sent: Saturday, August 25, 2001 5:35 PM
Subject: attention time travelers and aliens

> If you are an alien disguised as human and or have the technology to travel physically through
> time I need your help!
>
> My life has been severely tampered with and cursed by a very evil women of my past.
>
> I need to be able to:
>
> Travel physically back in time.
>
> Rewind my life including my age.
>
> Be able to remember what I know now so that I can prevent my life from being tampered with again
> after I go back.
>
> I am in great danger and need this immediately!
>
> Only if you are an alien or have this technology please send me a separate email to:
>
>
>
> Thanks
>
—-

11:54 PM, Kevin and Kio create AIM account “marvermejo”.

marvermejo : You are in danger.
Core0139 : are you telling me or asking me?
marvermejo : I am telling you.
Core0139 : why is that?
marvermejo : I can’t say right now.
marvermejo : where are you right now?
Core0139 : in my house home alone
marvermejo wants to directly connect .
Core0139’s software does not support sending and receiving IM images .
marvermejo : you are in danger.
marvermejo : do you have a car?
Core0139 : yes
marvermejo : you need to get in it, and drive away from your house immediately.
marvermejo : You need to stay away from your house for a period of not less than 72 hours.
marvermejo : Look, this is important.
Core0139 : you are freaking me out, yes my life has been tempered with by what i beleive to be a evil women, I have a bad heart and have had my health tempered with and am scared to go out this late at night alone
marvermejo : This is a woman from your past.
marvermejo : You may not need to leave the house.
marvermejo : Am I correct?
Core0139 : yes I dpn’t belive my house has much to do with it
marvermejo : But she knows where you are.
Core0139 : yes, she was my dads girl freind, was into wich craft and secretly druged and poisened me,
Core0139 : i made my dad break up with her she has been after me since
marvermejo : yes
marvermejo : yes she has
marvermejo : how old is your father now? He is a part of this story.
marvermejo : Though he is not in danger.
Core0139 : he is going to be 51 in november
marvermejo : Do you believe the poisoning to have taken place over a prolonged period? This is an important detail.
Core0139 : she called him 2 years ago, and made him throwing up over the tolit all night long, she called and left a sick message on my moms machine just 6 months ago
marvermejo : right
Core0139 : yes
marvermejo : but do you understand the poisoning to
marvermejo : have been over time
marvermejo : or just once
Core0139 : since she has been around I find I am the victom of my food always being tampered with and bad luck, woerd things, when she was arounf is when i was 9, she was around for a year and poinsed me through out the year
Core0139 : with no bodt beliveing me
marvermejo : right.
marvermejo : But one person has believed you, they know.
Core0139 : I don’t hnik anybody undersatnds or knows what i went through, the gloominess she made me see, once she even put somthing in my food at luch for school which made me start crying for two hours
Core0139 : since then i am having weird things bad luck health problems
marvermejo : right
Core0139 : now so severe i am fighting to stay alive
marvermejo : but others know about the health problems, and they know that you are strong.
Core0139 : they do? who nobody belives me, not even doctors, it’s like i have been given invisible suffering of the worst kind
marvermejo : there’s no one you can trust?
Core0139 : I can trust my mother, but she does not belive me, nor does anyone because i have have so many other things happen and they all just sound to unreal listic
marvermejo : not everyone is capable of seeing the truth
marvermejo : it’s not their fault
Core0139 : yeah thats true
marvermejo : you might have to move. Not today, but soon.
Core0139 : do you predict somthing?
marvermejo : you are further from danger in the North
Core0139 : what if i wear a north facing against a south magnet on each pinky finger?
marvermejo : that will help, but maybe not enough
marvermejo : but the magnets are important
marvermejo : do you have somewhere to go in the North?
Core0139 : no, not at all
marvermejo : look on a map, do you have one there?
Core0139 : no I am lousy at reading maps, so i dont have any
marvermejo : damn
marvermejo : what is the closest border?
Core0139 : i don’t know, I got an f in geogophy, it was my worst subject
marvermejo : But you may have to cross state lines. Do you understand?
Core0139 : yup
marvermejo : Time travel requires that you move through space as well.
Core0139 : once when thier was a ufo in the sky i was brought back 6 hours in my own house, apparently my house is over a grid point
marvermejo : yes, that makes sense
marvermejo : they follow latitudinal lines, but not longitudinal
Core0139 : i see
marvermejo : Do you know about the Tri-Star system
Core0139 : no
marvermejo : I cannot access it right now
marvermejo : but it could help you
Core0139 : i see
marvermejo : when you went back 6 hours, did you experience the shortness of breath then?
Core0139 : no, it was just like a quick flash of white light, heard what sounded like a camera flash, then i noticed it went from 6 oclock in the moring with the sun starting to rise back to 12 oclock mid night
marvermejo : but you can remember nothing about it
Core0139 : no nothing it was just a qucik second not even, and i wondered what happened, but did not think much, when i went down stairs to wake my mom to take me to school, i realized it was 12 oclock again
marvermejo : they may have used time coils
Core0139 : yeah posably
marvermejo : no one at school is aware of your powers, or what you know.
Core0139 : you mean that time trvel experience
marvermejo : yes
Core0139 : yes i mentioned it but ofcorse they all thought i was nuts
marvermejo : of course they did
marvermejo : but it is not the last time
marvermejo : it will happen
marvermejo : Your watch is no good for this, you need a quartz watch.
Core0139 : however i did hear my bus driver speaking to someone over her cb the other bus driver was saying to her that her shild saw monsters in the sky that night
marvermejo : Where was the other bus driver from? Could you tell?
Core0139 : no
marvermejo : damn
marvermejo : because then you could triangulate the location
Core0139 : yeah i know it, I have a hyper dimensional resonator ordered form a fellow named steven gibbs claims to be an actual time traveler, and this things will work over a grid point, however he mentions a lot of bad in his experiences with his machine, not to sure about it
marvermejo : You need to have a plan for what you will do when you get it functioning, it’s not long now.
Core0139 : I wan’t it to work in the way i ask the lord to make it work
then everyting will be ok
marvermejo : yes
marvermejo : this is important: when was the last time you actually saw her?
Core0139 : the witch my dad dated, when i was 9 which was 11 years ago now
marvermejo : but you have sensed her presence
Core0139 : yes and waht is weird is just 2 months before she came into my life i was hanging out with my freind one day and a catering guy handed me and my freind a free hotdog laughing as he handed me mine 1 milnute after eating half way through tears started pouring down my eyes, he must have used one of the same drugs the witch used on me
marvermejo : the effects of the drugs feel as if they are increasing
Core0139 : now I dont know, the felling i got when she wasarounf after I ate her food was the sadest feeling of my life, a feeling of darness and crying all the time, it is posable i have long term drugs effects of whatever she used on me
marvermejo : however
marvermejo : by eating more food you are diluting the effects of the poison. Over time, this is effective.
Core0139 : yeah i know it
marvermejo : Fresh fruit is best
marvermejo : Raisins
marvermejo : With your heart, you need to avoid avocado.
Core0139 : as of now I have such bad uneplained health problems between my heart, prostate infection, to now a feeling of light headessness dizzyness so faint I can’t move around without fight to stay concious my haed feels heavy and it feels like a brain tumor the only thing
Core0139 : that has helped is drinking 6 cups of carrto juice a day and eating nothing but
Core0139 : vegies
Core0139 : and now it is starting to not work!
marvermejo : Right
Core0139 : anymore, i beleive strongly this women is the cause
marvermejo : because they do not dilute the poison without a catalyst
marvermejo : this is why you need fruit.
Core0139 : i do also eat a lot of fruit
marvermejo : I’m sorry that wasn’t clear to me.
Core0139 : I eat anything infact except for animals products including
meat dairy eggs or anything like that
marvermejo : Right, this is important in preparing for time travel. Your body cannot have impurities like that in it.
marvermejo : I have to go now.
Core0139 : ok very nice talking to you, later
marvermejo : I will find you again soon,
marvermejo : I will have information about
marvermejo : the Tri-Star system
marvermejo : do not tell anyone about this conversation.
Core0139 : ok great i appreciate it
marvermejo : Everything good comes around.

fragment from “the invisible museum”

On the sidewalk by the park, a man stood watching the children play. He required a child of a particular age. Old enough to follow instructions. Too young to be trusted as a witness. And alone. The boy was digging a small pit near the edge of the stone wall. Next to him were piled the sort of sundry treasures a boy keeps, shiny and sharp. It seemed as though the hole in the dirt was his only dominion. The man dropped a heavy coin onto the pile, and then an envelope sealed with wax. He pointed over the wall, across the street. He watched the boy cross over, slip in the door behind an old lady, then emerge again a minute later. When the boy returned the man dropped another coin in the dirt. The boy’s greed over the bright currency consumed him. He had not once looked at the man’s face.

fragment from an unfinished short story

They named him Hector, but he didn’t live up to it. So they chopped the name down to a curt and humble syllable: Heck. He was a late and desperately desired child, hard to conceive and harder to raise. His father had been a weak man who succumbed to his foibles while Heck’s mother was still fanning herself on the porch, awaiting deliverance. Alone with her daughters, she settled on this state of affairs as the cause of Heck’s inconsolable wailing, which could go on for hours and often did. His mother rocked him in her arms and sang her sweetest songs. A dull rage would start to tighten between her bony shoulders, and then her prim little daughters took their turns. His screams revved like an engine. Some days there was nothing to do but leave him in the crib and rest their worn nerves outside in the thick wet air, where the hum of the cicadas dulled the pitch of his cries. By the time he could talk, the threat of his tantrums hung over them like a thunderstorm that would not leave. It was the sound, most of all, that kept the tired women under his thumb. His demands crowded them into the corners of the house. By then it took only a dark glance to achieve his aims. They would do almost anything to avoid the exhaustion of appeasing him. When he was sixteen, and they were all wrung dry, his mother sent him to live with her war-hardened brother across town. As if, much too late, that might cure him. The day he left, he turned back from the sidewalk and saw his older sisters glowering at him from the safety of the porch swing like the meek inheriting the earth.

postcards from the shore of a foreign lake

Dear Charles,
Longing is desire, constituted by distance. Across an ocean, across a border, across a room. I long for you now, and I long for you as you walk toward me. As we finally touch, what does longing become?
-R

Dear Charles,
You aren’t here and I am lonely. I weep, and the rented villa weeps with rain. I’m afraid that when I see you again, I will still be lonely. One is poetics, the other is pain.
-R


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