ALL OF THIS
When the drama has faded
and there’s less distraction
something still remains:
That feeling in the first moments
before there was doubt.
Both surprised to learn
the curious attraction
in a world outside of fairytales.
* * *
I sit writing on the train. This landscape, New Mexico, the high desert, a curative for me, for all the usual feelings of alienation and loneliness and getting old and being without a woman’s touch and everything. Something about dragging one’s vision along the rising and falling lines of mountain and plain from this second floor window seems to even things out. I take the ride from one end of the line, Santa Fe, all the way to the southern end at Belen, and then back again. Sometimes I stop for a few hours in Albuquerque. Late in the day the shadows collect in the canyons by the Rio Grande where low adobe houses collect along the river while massively beautiful cloud formations collect above the horizons waiting to be painted by the lowering sun. There’s a combination of colors this late in the day, where the soft greens of desert sage and the dark green of scattered pinions appear almost to glow against the russet colors of the dry desert soil. There’s nothing more magical that I’ve ever seen in this world.
By the time I return the depression I felt has lifted, and I’ve even gotten some writing done. It works a lot better than drugs or drinking.
* * *
Recently I took a trial journey into the universe of EVE Online, probably the most massive multi-participant internet game in the online universe. I’ve always been fascinated with the emergence of parallel universes that we collectively generate in the more imaginative corners of the media sphere. Going at least as far back as the invention of comic books and accelerating with each iteration of the digital age many of us spend large amounts of time participating in some way in massive virtual worlds. From Star Trek and Star Wars conventions to the proliferation of Renaissance Fairs and countless novelistic adaptations in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, based on movies and computer games and television shows the worlds of the almost real abound. With the perfection of digital media these worlds take on increasing concreteness that interacts with the ‘real’ world in weird and interesting ways.
I’d gotten the come-on ads for EVE a couple of years ago when it started up but never took the time to check out more than a few publicity animations posted on You Tube. Listening to a story on NPR’s On The Media the other day about one of the Americans killed at the embassy in Benghazi I found out that he was a major player in the EVE universe, having actually acted as a diplomat in the virtual world, building political structures based on his experiences working in the State Department. What further intrigued me was a mention that EVE accommodated upwards of half million international participants. Worth checking out.
When I looked up the site there was an offer for a 14 day free trail. With little to lose I signed up and downloaded the game (which took an ungodly amount of time – it’s a huge file – over 17 gigabytes). When I signed on I began by creating my avatar/character, selecting a gender, an ethnicity and a culture, a family name, and a look (mine resembles a younger and more handsome and sharply dressed version of myself). When I’d gotten all of this set up I launched the tutorial, and found myself piloting a smallish seedlike capsule, floating in a vast virtual space with other ships and objects drifting around me in the distance.
Almost immediately I arrived at the first and for me, possibly terminal snags. First of all I needed a mouse to properly manage the controls and I haven’t used a mouse in years, having moved around on laptops and trackpads or touch screens long ago. Then, the first real training directive I was given was to find a ‘mission box’ somewhere on the left of the screen, where a large stack of controls and options were arranged, and I couldn’t for the life of me locate it. The result was that I couldn’t summon the mission destination or engage the ‘warp’ drive in order to get there.
So I was left drifting, a floating seed in outer space growing increasingly distant from the mothership from which I’d been launched. Since I knew no one on the site and hadn’t quite gotten the knack of how to effectively communicate the only thing I could do effectively was to rotate the ship in several directions while I drifted, and listen to the strange sound effects and the suggestion of distant disembodied voices. I couldn’t even find a way to sign off.
Eventually I closed the thing down by going offline. I don’t know if or when I’ll go back and try again (perhaps if I purchase a mouse). As I think about the image of a disconnected seed floating free in space it occurs to me that the evocation was itself the most valuable part of my adventure. It gives me a perfect metaphor for the state in which I find my life these days. Mostly disconnected from people, the news, friends, and even for the most part from the internet and its versions of ‘social’ media, I feel my sensory life to be gradually opening up in new ways.
As the years have accrued I’ve gotten so caught up in webs of expectation and projection that I’d lost contact with my own creative vehicle. After years of drifting down rivers channeled by other people; lovers and friends and other voices in the world, I’d forgotten how to listen to the voice inside of me. Rather than trying to crash myself through the walls of loneliness I’ve begun to see that the very fear of being alone is based on illusions and the only way through the walls is to find the part of me that is never really separated from everything.
And I’m thinking as I drift in the game, totally free and out of control, what a great metaphor for my life as I experience it these days, sort of peaceful and content, with most of the activity somewhere at the periphery of my attention. Maybe it’s kind of like a slow and peaceful way of dying. I wonder what if I leave the game on and drift aimlessly until eventually one of those wandering space jockeys comes by and shoots me out of the picture for sheer pleasure or out of annoyance, or maybe just for practice. By that time I don’t imagine I’ll care.
As I continue in this mode I reflect on the people I encounter, with all of their expectations and desires. They appear to me more and more like ghost spirits. They are like the motes in this game that drift in and out of my field of vision, reflections in a cage I draw around myself to tell myself what is and isn’t possible. Can a hungry ghost loose his appetite? Most remarkable, in the middle of this vague emptiness a new character appears, one I’ve never really met before. It’s me.