Archive for November 4th, 2022


NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Six

As the sun moves, somewhere outside, the dusty sunbeam moves across the room, across the piles of books (there are never enough shelves!).

We can take up a particular book, and we can sit in comfort on the window seat or elsewhere, and open it. This book begins with metaphors.

“The cars are the wheels of the city,” the book says. “The city is the body of the car,” the book says.

Cities do not have wheels, and cars cannot be wheels. Cities do not have bodies, and cars are much smaller than cities.

If we expected something like truth or falsity from words, in books, this might be a problem. This might be something wrong.

The book says nothing; it is silent. Inside the book, on one of the flat sheets of fiber near the beginning (near the top of the pile of stacked and cut fibrous sheets), there are patterns of differential reflectivity, patterns of darkness, that are associated with the words, with the letters, with the symbols: “The cars are the wheels of the city.” The association between the reflectivity and the symbols is complex.

Why are these particular marks, lines of chemical, situated on this particular flat sheet of fibrous substance, out of all of the many sheets of fibrous substance in this pile, in this room, in this library, on this planet?

What does it mean to ask “Why”? Again we have this circularity, this difficulty that words can easily talk about anything but words, that language can agilely juggle any subject but language and truth. But with what can we juggle language and truth, if things cannot juggle themselves?

“The cars are the wheels of the city.” These patterns on the page are related to properties of the mind of whoever put them there. These patterns on the page are related to other properties of the mind of whoever reads them. Because this is no different from “The cat is on the mat,” or “The sum of two odd numbers is an even number,” we have no particular problem with metaphors, we have (so far) no need for a special explanation.

Even a simple truth (or falsehood) is related to everything else around it, every facet of its conception, its writing, its reading, its comprehension, in impossibly complex ways, in ways that would take a lifetime even to begin to understand. A complex metaphor, a figure of speech, an allegory, is related to everything else around it, in ways that would take a lifetime even to begin to understand.

But we have established that it is entirely possible, indeed it is likely inevitable, to act and experience without full understanding.

The sun is warm, even hot, through the dusty windows. Whether or not we know what it means for light to “come through” a window, or what “a window” is. Or “warm”. Or “light”.

The book says, “Sharp metal softly pierces and separates tissue”. We shudder at the thought, or at a thought that appears after, and perhaps because, we read the phrase. We shudder even if we cannot explain what “sharp metal” is; what counts as “metal”, and what counts as “sharp”? Are there subjective or objective categories? Is there a useful distinction between “subjective” and “objective”? What makes an act of piercing “soft”? Without being able to say, we imagine the separating of tissue, perhaps the unmentioned welling of blood, and we shudder.

So it is also entirely possible, indeed it is likely inevitable, to be moved by, to be changed by, words, by language, without full understanding.

I close my eyes and turn my face toward the window, and the sunlight hits my eyelids, warms my face, and fills my vision with warm living redness. It is bright, even if I cannot explain to you what “bright” means. Even if, as seems inevitable, I cannot explain to you what “red” means.

This one page of this one book could occupy a lifetime. There is no hope of fully experiencing, internalizing, understanding, even one shelf of the books of this room, even one pile (there are never enough shelves). We can function without full understanding. But what dangers does that entail? (What are “dangers”? What is it for a thing to “entail” another thing? What is a “thing”?)

From another direction (we turn our face toward the interior of the room; now the sunlight hits the back of our head, and our face is cooler, the redness less intense, more black). When we feel certain things, when we have certain physiological properties, we tend to make certain sounds. There are correlations between certain sounds and certain marks, certain patterns of marks, made with reflectivity changes on fibrous sheets.

(Another book, whose title (what is a title?) is “Empire of Dreams”, and whose author is “Giannina Braschi”, says “When I plunge into thought, I walk at the foot of the wind.” The wind has no foot. One cannot plunge into thought. These are all metaphors. Even “The wind has no foot” is a metaphor. All language, perhaps, is metaphor, because no language is literally true. But what does “literally true” mean? Language cannot agilely juggle itself.)

The light is warm on my arm, on the side of my head, on my leg. What does it mean for light to come through the window? When we see light coming through a window, we tend to say “the light is coming through the window”. What is light? What is “light”? Without light, we cannot see; without sight, can we know? Literally, yes. Metaphorically, no.

Light is the mother of knowledge. (The cars are the wheels of the city.) Light is the positive, light is motion and life and progress, knowledge and understanding. “[T]he windows give their light generously to the air,” says the book. Darkness is stillness, potential, ignorance and innocence. (Or guilt?)

From another direction. I cannot touch you, except as I can touch you with my words. I cannot comfort you, inspire you, understand you, or help you to understand me, except as I can do this with my words, because I exist for you only as words. Words cannot be constrained to literal truth, or they could not do the things that we require them to do.

(Ironically enough, the original meaning of “literal” is “having to do with letters”, so only words can convey, contain, constitute, literal truth.)

It is not necessary to think all of these thoughts. We can easily stretch out in the sun on the window seat, with a book, and read, and nap, without understanding how any of these things work (so much to know about books! About naps!).

Fling Seven


NaNoWriMo 2022, Fling Five

“So you had another fight?”

“Not a fight really, just, I don’t know…”

“A misunderstanding?” Colin grinned. He’d twitted me about using that word before.

I sighed and helped him get down a particularly steep part of the rocky bank. Colin had some hormonal kind of thing, and even though he was older than me, nearly twenty-five, he looked mostly like a little kid. A little kid with a disturbingly knowing face, maybe, but then lots of kids have disturbingly knowing faces, right?

“I don’t know. That’s the problem! Does she understand? Does she even listen to what I say? It’s like I say one thing, and she hears something completely different.”

Colin picked up a stick from the ground and chucked it off the path, such as it was, in the direction of the river.

“She’s not stupid,” he said, “she understands words just fine.”

“Except when I say them,” I said, sighing again I guess. It’s not like I liked talking about this stuff, but it was happening, and Colin was there. Being who he was, and the whole hormonal thing or whatever, he was kind of outside of society, looking in at it in some kind of amused objectivity, and he could see things sometimes that nobody else could, from being too close or whatever.

“Maybe you aren’t saying what you think you’re saying,” he said unhelpfully.


“You know, we’ve talked about this; it’s not like when you talk you’re teleporting some fact from your brain to hers. You make some mouth noises, and she experiences some ear-tickles, and –“

“Come on,” I said, “if you think about it that way, you can never say anything! Gee, what kind of ear-tickles will she get if I make these mouth noises, and which synapses in her brain will fire? It’s not like anyone can know any of that. You have to just say things, just say what’s true.”

“Steve…,” he said in that annoying voice. We were coming down to the very edge of the river now, and the water was loud, but not loud enough to make it hard to talk. The river was full of rocks here, like it was everywhere, and the water piled up and splashed around and foamed between them, and the air was cool with spray and bursts of mist.

“What? I’m saying true things here, and you’re hearing them. It has to be simple, otherwise we couldn’t communicate at all. A baby doesn’t need to learn, like, graduate semiotics before it can say that it wants a bottle.”

Colin laughed, sounding like a kid laughing because he had a kid’s throat and mouth, but also sounding like an adult because he had an adult’s brain (a nerdy adult at that).

“Yeah, but you aren’t a baby, and you aren’t telling Kristen that you want a bottle. Boyfriend and girlfriend is way different from that.”

“I just want things to be simple.”

“Yeah, welcome to Earth, Steve-lad,” he said, sitting down carefully on a flat rock surrounded by little branches of swift water. He was, as usual, wearing a kid-sized version of like an Edwardian Moor-Walking Suit or some shit like that, looking crazily proper for someone sitting on a rock. “The way of a man with a maid is seldom simple,” and he sighed elaborately, like an actor over-acting a scene.

“Okay,” I said, “this time it was that she sent me this thing that she’d made, a cute 3D simulation thing with secret places in it, and you walk around and these little guys slowly hint where the secret places are, and it was pretty cool.”

Colin looked at me for a second, waiting for me to say something else I guess, and then said, “Yeah, and…?”

“And I don’t know!” I said, a little loud maybe, “I messaged her back saying that it was very cool, and she was all offended or upset or something!”

“What exactly did you say, Steve-o?”

“I said, like, ‘that’s cool!’ I think; which it was! It was a compliment.”

“Not exactly gushing, that,” Colin said.

“Do I have to be gushing? Do I have to say that everything she does is just the most amazing thing ever?”

“It sounds like she probably worked pretty hard on it.”

“I know! She must have! But right when she sent it I was in the middle of tuning my rig, and I didn’t have a chance to go into it deep, and before I got time, she was already all huffy, and I don’t know. I said it was cool like as soon as she sent it.”

“Look, Steve,” Colin said in a serious kid-voice, “think of it from her point of view, she worked hard on –“

“I know, I should have turned off the rig instantly, wasted half an hour’s tuning –“

He laughed annoyingly on the rock.

“Or you could have told her sweetly that it looked cool, and you’d look at it as soon as you were done with the tuning, or you could have not said anything until you were done, or…”

I know I sighed then. “But those would have made her huffy, too. Isn’t she more important than the tuning thing? Or why do I take so long to get back to her?”

“So you want credit because you said that it was cool, and that was a compliment, and you said it fast, right?”

“That would have been fair.”

“And even though that was what you said, she heard something else?”

The river burbled louder and softer between the rocks, nice and simple, no chance of misunderstanding.

“Yeah. She must have heard, I don’t know, that I didn’t like it, or didn’t respect her, or something.”

“Really? She reacted just like you’d said ‘This sucks’ or ‘You’re dumb’ or like that?”

“No, no, no…” That was the thing about talking to Colin, I think; that when you said something, he heard exactly what you said, and asked you questions about it, and you could realize that what you said wasn’t exactly what you meant. Rather than like getting all huffy and insulted.

“This is where we start singing ‘Why Can’t A Woman, Be More Like A Man?’, right?” Colin loves all these weird old books and movies and stuff. He’d shown me and Kristen that Professor Higgins movie on the rota the other week; it was pretty good, if weird.

I laughed, which felt good. “So I should just apologize to her or whatever, right?” I said, resigning myself.

“Yeah, you could. Never hurts.”

“How do I keep it from happening again?”

“You don’t, Stevie, Steve-man, Steveorino,” he said helpfully, “but if you remember that she will hear whatever you say as Kristen, not as Steve or Colin would, it’ll help.”

“Like I know how it is to hear stuff as Kristen.”

“Well, yeah, that’s the challenge. Be easy on her, and on yourself. It’s all good.”

And that’s how conversations with Colin tended to end. It’s all good. Just keep on keepin’ on.

Good advice I guess.

Fling Six