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Sleep No More

I went to see Sleep No More last night and it was one of the most incredible things I've seen. A wordless and rambling production of Macbeth set in a Noir hotel, it's alternately roaring, incoherent, moving, shocking and exquisitely grotesque. Ballet replaces language, and the sets cover nearly 100,000 square feet of intricately constructed sets and spaces that you're allowed to fondle and nearly twenty actors rush from space to space, putting on urgent scenes.

Some spaces seem merely to exist for texture and mood. The illumination is so minimal I often put my hands to a wall and crawled so as to not risk a tumble. A ruined garden with three statues (or was it still-life artists draped in drapery? I didn't want to touch them to find out, but I stared closely at the drapes over their mouths and didn't see breath stir the fabric.) Up and down at least five stories of stairs and steps through hidden doors and stair cases, after an hour of chasing scenes, running from place to place, I was exhausted but my stamina kept me moving.

There are very large stories of regicide, guilt and lust, and there are very small stories of voyeurism theft and love unrequited. All are equally enthralling and you ricochet between characters and tales at a breakneck pace. It's impossible to see anything in the first viewing, it would at least three, and actors alternate roles in performances making this even more exquisite to return to, a hypnotic fever dream that repeats with no rhyme or reason but with a dreadfully precise tempo.

And the sound design is glorious - each space has its own soundtrack, and the actors seem to use it for cues - pay close attention to their actions and the music. Dreadful thundering slabs of strings crush a room while a man is shaved closely by another and the way the actors exchange glances you might imagine anything could go wrong at any one moment, and when you're standing no more than three feet away from a man when he looks up at the barber, his lips trembling, eyes watery, mouth open to scream but unable to since the blade is at his throat and the scene pauses while the strings keep climbing, climbing, climbing... anything can happen.

At other points, every gesture made is mimicked in the sound, when a glass of wine is poured, countless marbles tumble in the soundtrack. When an actor makes an appearance through a hidden door, the bang of the door mutes an uptempo ragtime tune and brings in those slabs of strings again.

These transitions are vital and when actors argue, and fight, the dance is tightly choreographed and the actors rush at each other, the space opens up as the audience gives them room rushing backwards, like a gang that was goading a fight and on getting it, rushes backwards to take its due amusement. At other points, a  lone actor will dance, expressing anguish, rage or impotence in the grand ball-room and these are just are exciting.

And by the end, I knew a lot of secrets about the space, how to get very quickly from place to place, what floors were more for scenery and which ones were vital - what drawers held the stationary with letters from Lady Macbeth, where I could find notes written from the girl in the bedroom about the voyeur. Pick up any of the countless phones - they are heavy, and full of a dialtone I no longer hear. Such is the detail in the sets - sit in any room and begin to paw through the funeral records, the tailors orders, the birth records, and you will find them properly laid out.

In the end, we the audience are just as important to the show - a sea of white masks (for everyone is masked) - and the actors stare at us at times with fear, as we witness their acts, and at times for succor, with yearning, as if for understanding or company. We are as ghosts caught in a timeless eternity, watching moments unfolding, seeing partial scenes that seem disconnected from the grand symphony but no less moving for that. Within the first hour, I had become a character in the play, moved along chaotically, a puppet with broken strings that jerked only spasmodically. For the first time, I felt the fear and confusion, the awe and glee, a ghost might feel at witnessing the acts of the living, taking cold comfort, feeling dread and smirking behind opaque masks at the actions of the living, knowing things they didn't, and being unable to act to make any difference whatsoever.

This is amazing art. Music, dance, acting, writing, set-production - the level of detail is mind boggling. Absolutely the impressive work of art as a gestalt of styles and mediums (I don't know if its theater, or ballet, or performance art or what!) I've seen in a long, long, long time.

A few tips if you go to see it - don't try to stick together, follow at your own pace and interest, it's a solitary work of art, loose yourself in it. Be ready to move around a LOT and hydrate and eat before you go. And don't take a break at the bar. It's a really nice concept, but the bar destroys the immersive experience (at least it did for me). And lastly, go early, like, 7:00 or 7:30 but no later. You want to spend at least two and a hours hours if not the full three horus in there.

Oh, hello

I use words like spare change, collected in my pocket, leftover after days of spending, so I treat them like nothing, cast away on cheap and meaningless drivel like this, when they could be saved up for something more substantial, but that requires a commitment and who has time for such things any more?

But then, in words, I find a comfort and a familiar anxiety, an escape and a return to reality. They come to me unbidden, and I can't help it, I'm taken in every time. An old flame that never dies, a face that never fades from memory. Time heals all wounds, erases all love, and I know this perhaps all too well, but this is one lover I will indulge, let it reel my heart out every single time, watch it drawn down on bloody heartstrings, on and on, into shadow woods and red sun sets.

Here we are, alive, as someone said, in the (super) unknown, but we can't even hide behind that veneer, can we? No, too much exposed, recognized, too much offered out already, it was easier when no one knew us, it was easier when there was no validation. The recognition only makes us keenly aware, like scars that throb with pain, imagined or real, aware of everything we could be, should be doing.

The question is, do we? Or do we descend into a menial, mechanical, mundane mediocrity all too ready to receive us? Not much at stake, just our humanity. So many promises made, so many broken, so much ventured, so little gained. What's one more bet when we have nothing left to gamble but our dignity? The only answer is all too adult - we'll see and we'll see and we'll see.

Old

Old music reminds me of snow-caped graves under dull, color-less lights.

A broken song for empty places no matter how full they seem to be. We used to walk on soiled frosted sidewalks, in the cutting wind, in the endless winter, pulled black masks over our frightened faces, and walked in search of some identity that was more than ours, in narrow places, in thin aisle, we sat and flipped through discarded pages, words cut out of better books left to float in a forgotten backwater, and a red sun hung above us never rising, never setting, and the light was cruel, exposing all our weakness.

Shame found me there, and failure, and redemption was too much to hope for, even forgiveness was more that what was deserved, so I settled for time and the salve of forgetfulness. Lines settled into complacency, we mistook anxiety for adventures but though it all, there was a shelter we could find in the shadow of the day, in the smallest hours of the night.

Encased between two black circles and the loneliness of midnight, illuminated by the glow of warm light from an otherworld, we found an escape, and the sun set at last, leaving us alone, for a little while. There we found words growing among fields of wildflowers and plucked them and strung them together into garlands of story, and the smell and color of a million flowers elevated us, for a minute, and when a chill crept through the room, when the light faded, and the door opened at last with the sound of a weary tread returning home, the hour was a surprise, the location, a mystery, the journey - documented, stamped, inked and approved, witnessed and notarized.

Old music drags me back into cold days, in the shadow of dead trees, boots crunching frozen snow, tread marks left on concrete bunker underground chamber steps leading into black open metal gates that offer shelter, and swallow into the underneath and something is lost there forever, wandering alone and lost

Abyssal

Never saw the sea and all the days are gone. A handful of miles to drive but they proved too much and it remained out of reach and there was no reprieve from dolorous anguish in endless crashing cycles. Autumn hovers in the wings, nights grow teeth, screaming lunatic chill mania, and the hours of darkness stretch their shadows tugging them along. In an under space there is a sound so loud and impossible to hold, it goes on and on, subsuming, consuming, enveloping the heart until it drowns, in a black sea that is just as unseen.

This is the now. Catalog for the then. Look back and see what it was. On the eve. Black Swans sail above us, out of reach, and the world erupts in their titanic shadows. Unfathomable change, incomprehensible chance, an unwinable hand, an impossible dice roll, snake eyes with fangs to bite, and tremble at the thin, empty sky, the swans are gone, but touched by their shadow, nothing is the same as it was.

Decades ahead of us, decades of this dull anxiety, and the shudders come like on a winter night with no light in sight. Trembling, squirming bones inside of the flesh cage, hear the spine crack, snap, curl, shuddering in the cutting wind blown over white fields brittle with frost. Put one damaged foot in front of the other and hope the ground doesn't give way again and swallow the world whole in an endless, bottomless, black abyss.

Lack of Focus

I can't focus on a project to save my life and I don't know why.

It's not that I can't focus, just not on certain things, and this is one of those things. When I sit down and start to write, it works, I can write, I can see problems and fix them, or spew up new words without a problem, but I can't stay focused. From sitting to sitting, I switch stories, switch books. And that's causing me to loose focus and rendering me unable to progress with anything.

A large part of me wants to focus on a book I wrote a long time ago and re-write it in a new, linear fashion. But I have three or four other books competing for room in my head, and yes, these are books, which means a multi-multi-month commitment and I kind of want to make sure that I'm focusing on a worthwhile idea rather than throwing my time behind one that isn't. Of course, writing a book in my position when I have nothing on my CV to make an editor take notice is pretty stupid, but I just can't find interest in short fiction lately - reading or writing it. Like a good depressive, though, I'm completely ignoring the facts to gaze instead into the murky shadows beneath the bed-sheet.

The big problem is that I can't tell if this is actually a writer's block/lack of motivation/creativity thing or just a symptom of my depression. It's gotten to the point where I can't even tell if I'm depressed any more other than by actually examining my symptoms like the inability to focus, the overwhelming need to sleep for hours at a time, the procrastination, the inability to draw pleasure from work, the exhaustion from the smallest physical effort, the anti-social anxiety (which'll be interesting to see how it holds up at GenCon in a few days).

I'm about a hop, skip and jump away from actually starting a dose of anti-depression medication. I just need some kind of a nudge to make it actually happen. But I'm almost there.

Stirring

I've been thinking about picking up the pen again, starting to write again, rejoined the writing group that I worked with briefly last year, and have been reading more and more to get back into things, both my old material and some new authors to stir my writing style and habits up a bit.

I read some Sheri Tepper, which was fine, if mechanical writing. I re-read Tolkien and actually realized the depth of his work this time, rather than reading on the surface like I did back in high school and college. Last week, I read McCarthy. I was familiar with his work in film (No Country For Old Men, The Road) but I was not ready for the force of language, for the brutality of the written text, for the accelerated gravity of ones eyes that roll across a page and are unable to keep from reading the next line, the next word, and arrive at the terrifying and terrible events outlined in stark black ink against pale page, and the horror is naked and quivering in the dim bedside light.

Somewhere in-between the neurotic, womanly madness of Shirley Jackson and the meticulously architectural terror of McCarthy, somewhere been of lines of poetry penned by Leonard Cohen and the verse of Ian Curtis. There is a communication there, there is a conversation across genres, across decades, across media, and I feel like I am being informed by all of this dull, blunt terror. The shrieking madness of Jackson tempered by the steady time of Joy Division songs, the calm recollection of human failure noted by Cohen given flesh in unbearable prose in McCathy's text.

There is more, of course, there always is. These horrors are illustrated within the poetic imagery scribed by Alan Moore, there is the everyday apocalypse of having tea with Elliot, there are the cliffs in England atop jagged-stone beaches where a ship piloted by a dead man carrying coffins full of dirt smash themselves, there are swamps where cursed houses are sinking into black, sucking muck, there are forgotten castles where giant armor smashes the guilty, and a manor in Ireland where pig-creatures squirm out of the bowels of the earth, and...

And I am informed by it, attracted to it, absorbed in it. They paint a universe for me, and it makes sense.

A universe that compels only atheism in the face of planetary death, a present that demands walls to be raised around that which is loved, a time where the only shield from violence is apathy, and the only security is found in committing unfathomable quantities of violence mindlessly, effortlessly, thoughtlessly onto unknown entities squirming naked in the dark, screaming from respite in unknown babbling languages.

Fevers

Numb teeth chewing numb lips, clouded eyes staring through a haze of tears, fingers slowly pressing keys as if through gloves of intoxication, and the sound of clocks ticking, ticking, ticking. Isolated and shipwrecked, deserted by oneself, under an apocalypse sky, a sky full of holes, a world full of sinkholes, stepping left and right to dodge the obvious while missing the mines cleverly disguised as islands by a frail and treacherous subconscious, we sit here, again, past midnight, exploring old worlds again, in search of something that was lost.

Find the fumbling hand in the shadow, and grasp it, cling to it, bring it back with you, out of the sheltering dark into the light, bring its broken and neglected body into the storm, let the dry skin soak in the freezing rain, this weather is so fickle, cold then hot, and the nights are frozen and this thing, this bag of insecurities, this identity constructed from doubt and mistrust and disgust and loathing, this vessel of negativity that has hidden within it, some core, some vital secret, the seed of creation that it has swallowed up so that without it, we are dead, so we cling to its hand with the crumbling skin, we stare into its needy eyes, reassure its madness, let it feel some comfort, so that we might steal from it.

Pin ourselves wiggling to the wall, no trees for us in this blasted afterland, only stone walls, of woe or otherwise, and pinned, spreadeagled, vivisected by this cadaverous thing that has been hiding for so long, we remember this old discomfort, this torment, this psychosexual act of masochism, that opens some door within our selves. Heed the sound of hinges turning, the brush of sightless ghosts, the lick of some twisted secret buried for years, feel the shameful and frightened hand of some innocent memory turned against you by this sickly thing rescued just now by your own hand and in that torment...

Door and door and doors fling open, flooding with a golden sound, a golden dawn, and the apocalypse is worth it. A payment of blood is cheap, so much of it, so much left to give, so we pay the price, cuts and cuts and cuts, grown up scars vanishing beneath new ones, textured skin, textured soul, textured life, but you're too busy staring through the doors, at the new avenues opening up and the colors, unseen but in some vivid dream, you can no longer remember, except as an afterthought, synesthesia making you think of a scent, not wrong, but not entirely right either.

Here we are. Here we are. Here we are.

Sometimes

You write something and it surprises you, frightens you, delights you. Words come out of nowhere and fill the white space before you know what's happened. They arrive like a rain out of blue skies, like rising flocks of dead leaves in an autumn winds, a blanket of rustling orange and yellow, unfurled across a wide meadow, like these words coming out now, even as I type I barely pause to collect them, catch what I can and press them down while dozens of other images and sounds rush by lost in chaos.

What gets written down and what gets forgotten, missed? How much of it is accident and how much is deliberate? The writer has to become an editor at some point, recollect the vomit of an enthusiastic imagination and make some meaning of the words left in the wake of brush with some brilliant shining moment that rips one out of the here, the now, and skies are golden with a shining light, or red with apocalypse, clear crystal blue of an epic landscape or the roiling black of nightmare.

I haven't seen the sky in so long, a real sky, not a sky glanced and caught between building-tops like a tarp flung over a construction site. A sky stretching over ocean, a sky reaching into mountains, a sky that runs on forever, and never returns a sound, swallows up every thought in its immensity and leaves nothing in its wake. A sky like that lives in my mind. This is a red sky, a hungry sky, and I fear for the things it swallows up. There is no blue of infinity there, no clear crystal ringing sound of mountains, no, it is the hunger of madness and jealousy.

More and more, the madness consumes things and spits them back out, jealous of their prettiness, angry and hateful, it chews every figment of the imagination and renders it useless so that the only option left is to vomit out what one can, in the depth of the night, in the claws of exhaustion, in the extreme limits of consciousness when one might as well be under the ether, so the words may run, like sweet syrup, unencumbered by that red sky, just throw them out like grains in a basket, cast into the air to separate the seed from the chaff, watch the leathery-skinned women on the roadside draped in colorful-sari's lined up and casting them into the air with their woven baskets, shake, shake, toss, and on the hill, the red hill, the crimson hill, the blood hill, there are boys flying kites with strings made of glass, watch the sun shine off of the blades, a sliver glistening in the blue sky, an endless canopy at the edge of the plateau where the river marks the end of the desert, and splits the old from the new, and on and on, subdividing, forever, until the divisions, divide me, into an infinite, recursive, fractal.

Now and then

Now and then, here and there, in and out, up and down, and days and days and days I need this flow of life through me. Watch the clouds and it doesn't matter if it's hot or cold or indifferent all around you, grass or snow, the clouds still race by. Bands play the same songs in lockstep time. Time contracts, time shortens, so even hour is like a minute, every day is gone in the blink of an eye and so much left to do, so much work left to do. And so much is missed.

And in it all, in the last week, I have lost so much. I have no words for the loss. Words fail me here, they fail me utterly.

It started on Saturday night. My family holding me while I shook and shook and shook and shook. My world grows small, my past grows smaller, everything seems so much more urgent. The phone calls come, at 2 AM, at 3 AM, at 4 AM, at 5 AM and I toss and turn, listening to voices in anguish from far away places, trying to sleep but my mother's agony keeps me away, from India, from Pakistan, the voices call and scream in pain, if shared sorrow is lessened, it didn't seem that way on Saturday night, Sunday morning.

Mercy, I wanted to say, but there was none to be had. The stark realness of loss, the naked reality of a person vanishing into memory, just a memory, a voice I will never forget and never hear again, a person reduced only to what I can remember. "I saved her shawl for you," my mother said over the telephone, five days later, and is it enough? 

Is anything?

It was raining in the graveyard. It was raining in the house, it was raining in the funeral home, it was raining in the mosque. The day was gray as it gets, and cold, and the sun never dared show its face, so dusk ate the day with the luxurious slowness of a cat with easy prey. And we moved her from place to place, and I saw him come outside, too late, only to stand in line again, and I saw him touch the body, too weak to carry it further, and I did not know how deep the pain could cut until that afternoon in the parking lot. And then, helping carry her down, doing the work with our bare hands as my cousin stood ankle deep inside the grave, it cut deeper.

Afterward, after everything, I sat in the car and called my wife and purged one last time while sickly, a world away, she said, "I'm so sorry," and "I'm so sorry," and "I'm so sorry" and somewhere in that final flood of tears and snot and complete breakdown, in there, I found some small sense of closure.

A week later almost now, a blink of an eye, yet it feels like forever ago. Undulating memories, undulating thoughts, and memories building up in me, pouring out of me, I remember everything, the locks on the folding top of rickshaws, the pattern on the walls of our house, the color of bougainvilleas, the smell of the mango tree in bloom, the walls of my school where she took us, the meticulous pattern of roads taken across the city, manors hundreds of years old still walled and penned in against attack. Memories that are so old that I thought I no longer had them.

Mercy. If there was any to be had, I found it in my family. In the embrace of my cousins, my aunts, my uncles, my parents, my brother. And my grandfather, stoic and patient as rocks. Over and over, he said, Sabr. Sabr. Sabr. And I couldn't bear his patience, and I couldn't bear his courage, and I couldn't bear his sickness. And I couldn't bear this. And I couldn't take it. And it was too much. And it was just this one word - Sabr. Patience. Or Courage. Or Be Stoic. Or something I was not. Could not. Be.

It rained all day and it rained all the way back and after being awake for two days, my shoes caked in graveyard mud, I walked through the door, shed my clothes, stood in scalding waters for a minute and then laid down next to my wife and I closed my eyes and slept, until noon the next day.

Becoming an orphan takes a lot of losses and this was the first. When I woke up, there was no rain in the sky, just some clouds, racing by, as if nothing had changed, liars that they are.

The God Business

December runs headlong into January and here we are, another million million miles away from where we started but somehow still in the same place. Still here, still now, and that seems important, the timing of things.

Green is now white. White is really gray. And I sometimes confuse gray with green when they get too close under certain lights so really all time is the same in the end. If things were brown or red, then we would have some real color, some way to tell things apart. Red like the blood in my skin, ink to write with, pigment to paint with, wine to cultivate the fields of words.

A million million words with nothing real to say, just a way to keep the keys moving, maybe find some rhythm or pattern in the pitter-patter of letters falling like rain from a shaken dictionary, turned upside-down and whipped through the air like a bed-sheet. A black, literate rain, but without the impact of real words, just something to keep reading, a trail of letters to keep your eyes moving, so that I might exhaust myself or you, and somewhere in between these run-on sentences there might be a gem worth keeping.

That has worked for me before. Regurgitate a dream, vomit up some images, purge up vital detail remembered from a long night of pot and whiskey. And then get to work. Edit. Prune. Clip. Stitch. And there it is, my patchwork Prometheus.

Last year was a wash. Nothing achieved, nothing created, nothing to hold onto but the memory of places long ago and far away, people long ago and far away, and they were never mine, just borrowed for a little while.

It's time to get back into the God business. Take ownership.

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