Sunday, 16 January 2011

January 16- Classified

Like most people, I often feel I have failed in life, so was delighted when I saw a company had sprung up offering to tell me if I had or not. Because of the power of the internet, they said, they already had all my relevant personal details- all I would have to do was send them a cheque for them to be able to tell, once and for all, if I was truly a loser.

The next twenty eight days were agonising, of course. I quickly realised that I'd never really thought I was a loser, and that when people had criticised my lifestyle there was always a part of me who thought they just hadn't understood why I'd spent so much time accomplishing so little. If the envelope I got back begged to differ I imagined I would have to accept a number of uncomfortable things about my life, which I knew I'd spent a very long time just running from. These thoughts were still in my mind on the day when the tiny, sand-brown envelope clinked through my letterbox, and rushed through me for the last time as I read what it said:

Subject 82345025601: LIFE HAS NOT FAILED

Well, I was stunned at that, and (I confess) a little disbelieving. When I showed it to the people I knew they were surprised as well, and in no uncertain terms told me exactly what they thought of the company. But before long thousands of people were sending cheques to their address in Utah, and the unparalleled accuracy of its algorithms became the topic of conversation for every magazine and dinner table. In desperation I wrote to them asking how it could possibly be that I was a successful man, but all I got back was a terse reply stating that their methods were a closely guarded secret, and that in any case I should probably be happy about their findings about me. I couldn't really argue with that, but deep down I was not happy at all.

So eventually I forged a new note, explained that the one I'd shown everyone was a lie and said that I had in fact been branded a loser all along. People were shocked at first, but later accepting, and said to themselves that (after all) what I had done was the kind of thing only a true failure at life would do. Once again I could talk about my mistakes and laugh about them, and only occasionally would feel worried about what I had done.

Eventually, I met a woman who laughed that bit louder when I spoke and smiled slightly more when I told her of my failures. After we had been dating for three months or so, she produced her own letter declaring her a loser, and said that it was a relief to meet someone who had accepted their sentence quite so lightly. I tensed at this, but she smiled, and I tried to put my guilt out of my mind.

The day before my wedding, it got too much. I took her to one side to the room we would keep the presents, and told her I had forged the letter that said I was not a success. Her eyes widened, and she laughed and said God, she'd done just the same thing, but behind the eyes and laughter were tears, and by the end 0f the day we would no longer be married after all.

In the coming months, I recieved the stack of bills and angry letters that comes when you do something as stupid as cancel a wedding the day before you go through with it. Tucked away within it was a tiny, sand-brown envelope, explaining that there had been a mix-up, and the letter I had recieved was intended for someone who was much more special than me. They would get compensation for being falsely branded a loser, but the company thought that getting to believe in my own success for as long as I had was reward in itself. I laughed to myself, and thought of how the successful never really understood these matters, before I went back to my mess of a life feeling liberated, a free man once again.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

January 15- Complaints

"I've noticed", said the character of this story to me, "that the characters in the things you write never really seem to get to speak. It was alright at first, but as the days have gone past it's begun to bother us- Penelope from that thing you wrote on the 6th thought you hadn't really captured what she'd been through at all, you know. Still, I said to her, at least she had a name- most of us are just defined by our role, and do you know how confusing that becomes when you're doing your day to day buisiness? When people ask me my name and I tell them it's "the character of this story", they look at me as though I've gone completely mad. I can't get a passport, Robert!"

"I sympathise", I said, although of course I couldn't really. "I find when people tell stories about me, a man who is not a fictional construct, that often the person portrayed in them is really the image of the man they think I am, who is often in some way the image of themselves. For me, this doesn't matter much, but I determine what you say and what you do, and so it must frustrate you when you are in fact thinking something completely different, which I will never understand."

"But that's not it at all!", cried the character. "You have a life entirely independent of other people, you have seen and thought things many will not think and, more importantly, have failed to think many of the things others have thought and seen. If you are my master and can only write about things you think, and you know, then I'm denied that, I'm subhuman. It's a disgusting state of affairs, and it makes me angry just to think of it."

I stared at my shoes for a while.

"The truth is", I said at last, "that I don't make you speak because I that it's me speaking through you. I feel embarassed enough to have created you, and wretched to have given so many of the people I've made such miserable lives, that I feel that to make you speak my words is just to violate you further. It would be to pretend I understand all the people in the world, and from what you've said I think I don't even appreciate the lives of the ones who exist in mine. But I'm sorry for everything I have done, and I am sorry for creating you like this."

I looked her in the eye.

"Would you like to get a drink?", I said.

She nodded, and happily agreed. For the rest of the night she barely said a word, and I wrote that she had enjoyed everything that happened next, because, if I kept believing I had power over her, I thought there was a chance that it might somehow be true.

Friday, 14 January 2011

January 14- Serendipity

There once was a man who believed in serendipity, the idea that things that seem like marvellous coincidences are in fact willed by the universe to happen, that nothing is a result of chance alone. His life, of course, was destroyed by a thing that was entirely a result of chance, but it was an odd enough thing that it is worth recounting here.

It happened like this: the man who believed in serendipity was a chemist by trade, and invented many marvellous liquids that could teach plants to speak or mountains to breathe. Because of this he was a very famous chemist, and he was regularly praised by the people who read about him and feared by the people who were in power. Despite this, the man was not entirely happy, because none of the chemicals he created could be used to teach himself to do anything remarkable. If, he reasoned, he could create a substance to get a chair to write a poem, it surely followed that he could make something that would allow a man to do things that were truly unheard of- and he saw no reason why that man should not be him. And sure enough after many years he did indeed make such a chemical, and after a day examining its structure and bonds he decided it was safe enough to swallow.

He had intended that his substance would make him all powerful, but this was not the case. Rather it made him all-seeing, and in a flash he saw the world as it truly was. He saw that for every wonderful coincidence that had led him to become the man he was there were a thousand near-coincidences that had never happened, and he saw how many times his one true love (God rest her soul) had been on the bottom floor of a shop he was in, or had entered a cafe a minute after he had left. He saw, too, how the order he had always seen in chemistry was dependent on a world of chaos lurking just below it, and that every reaction that ever took place sat beside many millions who had failed. It was all too much; after an hour he was howling for it all to stop, and after a day he was too distraught even to howl any more.

After that, the man who once believed in serendipity stopped making chemicals, and retired to be as far away as possible from anything related to science or society. The world was sad to hear of it, because they saw him as someone truly special -a truth, the man now realised, that was entirely down to coincidence- but before long they were interested in the man who believed angels governed gravity, and the former chemist could retire in something that was miles away from peace. Quickly he forgot his former life and his former creations, for -while he had created both- he no longer felt either had ever belonged to him.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

January 13- There is not much time to tell this story

There is not much time to tell this story, but then it is not a story where much ever happened. When God made time He made it too soon, and discovered that He no longer had time with which to fill in the universe. So instead of putting in stories, as He had intended, He made it so our lives would just happen in a random way, but forgot to remove the parts of our minds that looked for the stories and doomed us all to look for them. When we couldn't find any we began to make up our own, and that is why there is not much time to tell this story, as we are too busy telling ourselves lies because of it.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

January 12- Archaea

Most people do not know about archaea, the tiny creatures that mind their own buisiness and never bother us much at all. The archaea, however, take an enormous interest in most people- and if you could listen in to their babble in hot springs and the bottom of oceans, you would not like the things that they say.

For the archaea -who live everywhere people are, and everywhere they are not- regard our world and everything within it as a ridiculous shadow of their own. While they might take a trip to the mantle and feast on uranium or soar to the atmosphere to munch on its plentiful gas, often they settle in our cities to mock us as we go about our lives. They read of what we think of ourselves, about our dominion over the earth and our place in it, and when they do they laugh as much as a unicellular structure allows. Because dominion, they say to each other, is exactly not what we have- stuck in our gigantic bodies we can only breathe air and eat the disgusting husks of other creatures we find. How much better, the archaea say, to be able to eat anything, to live anywhere, and how much more control over the world we have than the giants up above us ever will.

Happily, there are some that take pity on us, and it is to them we owe our lives. Whenever a rogue archaeum would begin to develop the ability to breathe what we breathe and eat what we eat, the others decend on him in a flurry of protection orders and legalease. They have decided that there is one part of the world they can spare, and leave to the creatures that grow ever larger and stranger to eke out what they can upon it. It's a small restriction on archaen freedom- but they feel, at least, that it gives them something to laugh at.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

January 11-Glass

Scientists will tell you that our world conforms to a small number of universal laws- that everything works in specific ways and that there are some things which, though they may sound easy, can never be done by any man. One such law dictates that there is a small chance that a person may wake up one day to find they now live in a place identical to the one they left, only with every man and woman inside replaced with glass statues of themselves. Scientists are not likely to tell you about this law, because it's not very often that this happens to them.

But if it happens to you, listen up: it is not as great as it seems. At first, of course, it will seem fantastic, as you will be surrounded by creatures that look just like you and (because they are made of a very special kind of glass) think and speak like you. This, if you are vain, will be a form of heaven, and if not you will be able to smash the statues, which will be a form of therapy. Yet as the days wear on you will discover that a world run by glass people does not function especially well; the hospitals will fill up with yous whose limbs are shattered beyond all repair. You might have expected this and it might not bother you, but you will be bothered when you find out the statues chief impairment is not that they are made of glass. For these are creatures identical to you, who share your insecurities and failings and, above all, your complete lack of most skills that are required in a functioning world. Soon you will find that things you had always thought you could master would have in fact always been beyond you, and you will find out in a mess of falling planes and shattered souls.

Take relief in the fact there is another law of the universe: when the glass world has completely fallen and the last statue lies shattered on the ground, you will be returned to the place we live. Here, you might talk about what happened to you -there is, at least, no law against that- but you will find that most who have been to these worlds decide not to. Instead you will recognise your fellows only by an aversion to glass- although whether they are afraid of the material or their reflection, you will never be able to tell.

Monday, 10 January 2011

January 10- The Story and Introspection

It's a diary, yes, but is it a lie as well? Even in our diaries we worry- I worry- that there we are refining ourselves into something our future selves will find impressive, and that they will think in their flying cars and swimming chairs that they were jolly good people, way back then when they were us. That's why we can never read them once we become the future- our past lives may be embarrassing enough, but nothing is quite as bad as discovering our past ideals.

A story is worse, as it pretends. In its grasp it leads us to believe that its thoughts are our thoughts, that its chain of logic has a command that is more than the writings of the dusty and dry, that a man can be heard more if he talks in riddles and wears a hat. When it is at its worst -and here it is- then the writer too may come to believe in his own story, like a father imprisoned in the jail of his child.

And so I think it is better that a story -this story- remain in the open like secrets and infidelties and all the other things everyone should be told about. In the cold light of day it can be humiliated, and against the might of other minds its conciets can be reduced. If nothing else it can help a man become his future self that bit sooner, so that when he cringes at what has come before at least there are no wrinkles on his face.