This is where I keep the various bits of prose that are all ( more or less ) untrue ( or, perhaps, more-than-true…? ) — including excerpts from “Jacob’s Ladder” ( a novel, which I am currently failing to complete ), vignette, aka “very short-stories” ( I call them sketches ), hypothetical discourses, nonsensical shreds of fancy that I’ve snatched from the winds of my imagination, & so on…
Below are excerpts from “Jakob’s Ladder” — John Laurits’ up-coming book, which tells the strange story of Jakob — a mechanic, stalked by the persistent memories of his failure as an artist — who struggles to repair his own mind after he finds himself being persecuted by a mysterious God that Jakob himself unwittingly created….
The reason for all of this reaches back (or perhaps down, like roots) into the past and the seemingly simple but dark and impenetrable soil of childhood, from which each of us grows and yet only sees the surface of — laying there beneath us, as if it were just a few handfuls of plain earth. And yet nearly every element or fiber of a person’s being can be traced into that darkness, where it derives itself from something different altogether, which is its origin; and just as different flowers rise up, open, and fall above the different kinds of earth that produce them, each one in its own place and season, so do people spring up however they can, with only the colors that are given them from below, into the weather’s lottery, toward whichever stars the heavens have draped so blindly above them.
Geologists believe that the earth which slept beneath and nourished Jakob Luther clawed its way out of the Pacific ocean fifteen million years ago, into the violent shadows of the Ring of Fire; smeared with ashes, what emerged from the cool depths of the Pacific was then broken and scorched into its present shape beneath molten tides of basalt that burst their way from the Cascades’ ruptured peaks and smoldered down their faces. While the earth was writhing in that crucible, cycling through the tentative shapes of a thousand possible worlds, tectonic collisions were breaking like massive waves of stone behind the nascent valley and that fury raised the undulating crests of the coastal ranges that shelter it to this day. If fate had wanted, it could have remained there like an empty chalice forever — but when the northern glacial sheets thawed below the growing pressure of their own immensity, a centennial pulse of ancient cataclysmic floods tore westward through the Columbia River Gorge for millennia, scouring the nutrient-dense soils and depositing immense loads of fertile silt between the open thighs of the Willamette Valley, which has bloomed and burned with greenness ever since.
As the last ice age ended, nomadic humans spread southward over the Americas, settling and stratifying into hundreds of distinct cultures with countless languages, branching out and blossoming with mythologies whose fragrances left records painted on the stones and their collective imaginations were impressed in hieroglyphic brocade that stretched itself across the continents and coiled around the massive pyramids that woke and raised their heads above the southern jungles. But historians are still piecing together their stories and unearthing the remains of entire civilizations that were burned or baptized into a historical oblivion that yawns like an unrecorded void ten-thousand years wide, a grave to millions who lived but whose lives were blotted out by the colonies of imperial Europe.
Because of those genocides, it was not that ancient, deeply rooted, and forgotten world which surrounded Jakob, but a new one that was built with the original world’s broken pieces. And the soils out of which he would eventually spring were mixed with indigenous blood and Protestantism, culminating in the strange cultural milieu of rural western Oregon that was conceived when the first white colonizers, in the name of God, carved their way through the treacherous Blue Mountains.
The first had been Methodist and Presbyterian missionaries with what they called the ‘Book of Heaven,’ believing it their moral duty to redeem the indigenous heathens from the godless darkness that was believed to exist in the wild reaches west of the Rockies–but with their Book of Heaven, they carried also smallpox, then malaria. Of course, like every emigration, there were also the poor among them. With the hope of owning land, they fled the newly-mechanized factories and the social unrest of the claustrophobic city-scapes in the east, fitfully tossing and turning over the Great Plains, praying the West might wake them from their disappointed dreams of inequity and squalor–and soon-to-be nightmares of civil war.
But whether spurred forward by religion or the hope of prosperity, it was certainly a kind of thirst that drove them over mountains, away from what they had always known, until they reached the sea and could go no further. It was this thirsting for another world, physical or not, and the rejection of the industrialized cities, that was fermenting in the pacific north-west–but in the end, their civilization pursued them and prevailed over the godless darkness and all who belonged to it. The union army, now recently victorious over the confederate south, with all their cannon-fire and progress, poured in after them to tame the wild, establish trade, and drive the natives into the sea or onto the new reservations.
The frontier receded before them, and like a mirage, it was gone. With nowhere left to emigrate to, the pioneers and their westward dreams all died there in a way or were finally broken–and so it remains haunted by that to this day. Cities have been gouged out here and there but the spirit remains, of that reckless thirst, its obstinate pioneers, and the native bones left in its wake. Even the earth protests and, as those who live there know, her greenness silently rips the concrete into pieces. And, living as they do, in the shadow of all this, as a whole (if people can ever be spoken of as a whole), the rural peoples of western Oregon, precariously balancing a religious culture and a social liberality, have preserved both a deep religiousness and an appreciation for the fringes of things–as if in some way, without knowing it, they remembered the old world that had been lost forever. This is the soil out of which he grew, the culture, and the fabric out of which Jakob Luther was cut.
Raised in the small towns of the Willamette Valley, well south and west of Portland, the child had taken for granted the eclectic, anti-authoritarian, but strongly Christian world-view that flourished around him. Many there, like the Pentecostals, believed in both the immanent presence of god and of the devil, whose hosts of angels, demons, and spirits were engaged in a war over the fate of human souls; they practiced exorcisms and faith-healing, believed they could speak in the tongues of angels, and some fully expected Jesus Christ to descend to the earth on clouds of glory during their lifetimes, punishing the wicked and heralding a thousand years of peace. Naturally, as these beliefs were passed down over the generations in a land of crumbling pioneer cemeteries and old native holy-places, Christian and Mormon stories were often cross-pollinated with local legends and indigenous beliefs, as well as the new-age and eastern mysticism that was propagated in places like Portland, Eugene, and Ashland in the south. Regional stories proliferated about towns cursed by the last breaths of dying witches, vortexes where the laws of nature were overridden, and forests haunted by the shades of natives and the early settlers.
Because of this, Jakob’s childhood was populated by spirits and–after revolving a thousand times from public school, to bible-studies, to the silences of Oregon’s abundant wild, and back again–the borders between the religious and the scientific, the empirical and the intuitive, were often blurry or, in some ways, non-existent, for Jakob and other children who grew up in that way. For instance, his grandfather had taught the nine year-old boy to treat everyone he met as if they were an angel or the Lord Himself.
Because God wears many disguises, he had explained. And you never really know.
This all changed, as everything does for children, with the onset of adolescence and all the hormonal turbulence which, having disoriented them enough, sends grown children into the cruel wildernesses of autonomy, where all that they were told must be tested against reality. When first the world their parents so tediously built around them begins to crumble, how heavy the betrayal falls that so much of what they took to be so unchangeable and solid in the dawn of their lives now melts like wax or gives out beneath their feet. Some flee and some remain; some spend entire lives restoring the devastated temples of their ancestors, while others flee across their days in search of sounder shelters–but very few will bear the silent wild between. There are nests for the birds and every fox has its hole but the children of humanity have no place to rest their heads: to be human is to crave the shelter of belief.
But no matter how utterly someone may later deny the culture that conditioned them or how vehemently they may reject those who brought them up, there are very few who are ever truly free of it; and as high as something may grow, it cannot deny the roots which first drew its very life from the vastness. In the same way, although Jakob actually learned a great deal more than many ever people manage to, he never did, nor particularly cared to, transcend the conditions of his birth or the beliefs that nurtured him. Even up to the present time, (though he was not always aware of it) somewhere in his neural circuitry, he was wired to feel that there were angels or demons watching him, and to to keep his ear to the ground, watching and listening for God and Its messages, even in the strangest places and behind the most wretched eyes.
And so it was from this point of view and with that kind of upbringing that Jakob–who was now a penniless, disillusioned artist, a little too young to starve–resolved to make the hundred-mile journey back to the town of his birth with the old man’s words — what you have inside of you is what you will see everywhere — still revolving between his ears.
[ end of excerpt ]
Jakob had always liked to work with his hands. After leaving the city, he had discovered a sporadic source of income in fixing broken cars to resell, a skill which poverty had taught him. He found that there was something meditative in the repairing of machines and the veneer of busyness gave him an excuse to be alone with his thoughts more often — thoughts which, since returning home, had taken on a new and unusually grave character, full of questioning. However disparate, the thoughts were bound as if by gravity and seemed to orbit in greater and lesser ellipses around some massive thing that he could never quite articulate — and how strange that, for all the immensity of its gravity, it remained undefined, nameless, and unable to pull even one thought into its embrace. But at other times, instead of holding all of them in order, it seemed to collapse into a singularity or a profound feeling of inevitability and anxiety, as if his time were running out and he was supposed to give an answer, needed to give — no, being compelled to give or somehow take his life and mold it into an answer for a question he could not remembered being asked.
This question, or at least the sense of being questioned, had relentlessly gnawed at his mind ever since he returned home, where he supposed that he was created, in a sense — whether by God, his culture and parents, himself, or something else entirely — at any rate, it was where he began.
And it was along these lines — the lines of beginning, that is — that Jakob was now thinking when he reached his hand into the crowded darkness of the engine compartment, behind the throttle-body, feeling his way with blackened fingers toward the clamp that held the torn coolant hose in place —
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, he thought, echoing the first words of the book of Genesis; then, calling to mind another book, he added: but then, something went wrong. That’s why God created Adam — to fix the world —
His arm was growing tired, blindly maneuvering the well-worn handles of his vise-grips to close their dull, beak-like, metal jaws around the stubborn clamp —
Adam was made in God’s image — simultaneously male and female–but small enough to climb into the broken, blown out engines of creation, to figure out what went wrong, to fix it, to fix everything —
— the sound of coolant pouring into the drain-pan gurgled and glittered below the motor as Jakob extricated the torn black hose from the dark tangle of corroded wires and the smooth, stiff, hydraulic lines —
But Adam’s eyes —
…the smooth, stiff, hydraulic lines that, bending, dove into the dark, emerged and tapered, wending through the chassis like branches, dull and silvery-grey —
But Adam’s eyes, Jakob continued, were made in the image of God’s Eyes —
…like branches, dull and silvery-grey, that spread from their cylinders above the river-like sound of the gushing, green coolant as it lessened, lessened —
— God’s Eyes could only see perfection–
— the sound sputtered out.
God’s Eyes could only see perfection everywhere.
Jakob stared at the ruptured bypass hose in his darkened, calloused hand and the quiet afternoon was meted out between the intermittent, crystalline drip of antifreeze from the engine block.
And Adam knew the only way a human being would ever understand Creation was by becoming broken, too.
These are sketches & stories that don’t really connect with others — some are simply “sketches” of things & others may be a short story or a monologue or, perhaps, something else…
“Time is really a very strange thing,” he said, taking another sip of his coffee.
“Let me explain why that is with an example,” he continued, visibly more awake, “Imagine that I’ve taken a video of a rock – but this isn’t an ordinary video camera because the video I’ve recorded is one billion years long; now, on account of this video’s extraordinary length, we obviously aren’t going to be able to see the whole video without significantly altering the speed at which our special VCR plays the video, so that’s what we’re going to do. First, let’s look at the footage being played at an incredibly languid pace, perhaps one millisecond of video per hour of watching. There’s nothing very interesting happening on the level of the rock as a whole because when the speed of the video is going this slow, there isn’t enough time for anybody to skip it across a lake and you can forget about any real erosion occurring during the course of such a short appointment. But if our video camera also worked like an electron microscope (which it does), then we would be able to observe all sorts of interesting events taking place – like the rock’s electrons dancing in weirdly pulsating probability circles around their nuclei or the sharp, crystalline shower of light particles from the sun that are scattering off of the rock’s surface in three-dimensional fractal continua that our eyes would interpret as color under normal circumstances. Now, as I speed up the tape, these scattering tessellations of light particles are going to accelerate into a blur that gradually bends into a bizarre sort of lens or filter through which we will more or less suddenly realize that we are now recognizing the color of the rock. At the same time, the electrons’ weird pulsating dances are increasing in speed until their incoherently rapid orbits seem to coalesce into the quality of solidity that a rock should properly have. Here, we have arrived at the “normal speed,” the tempo at which human beings are accustomed to perceiving things; it is at this speed that events like skipping the rock across a lake or kicking it down the street are able to achieve their full effect and significance. This is the usual story that we tell about rocks. But at the slower speed, the idea of the rock skipping is basically incoherent because “skipping” is something that happens so imperceptibly slowly that it is impossible for it to have any measurable effect upon the coherent events like electrons scooting around or light particles scattering at different angles. Let’s move on, though – shall we? If we don’t pick up the pace a little bit, we might never get through this video (and I know how valuable your time is to you). So, let’s say that I skip the rock across the surface of the lake because that’s obviously the most reasonable thing to do – but, as the rock sinks to the bottom, I’m going to increase the speed of the video again and, as I’m doing that, you’ll notice that the color of the rock is beginning to change again. This time (or rather, as the speed of time increases further), the color that we recognized earlier is going to become increasingly vague and slippery as we approach geological time-frames; it will keep bending in this direction until you’re fairly sure that you can’t call it a single color anymore because rocks, not being able to move on their own, find themselves repeatedly afflicted by many differently intense lights over long periods of time like this. At this speed, the electrons dance becomes even more hopelessly remote and meaningless because their individual actions are so unimaginably numerous and negligible that they can only impart their effect indirectly through generalized trends that are no longer recognizable in terms of electron-ness, which makes the electrons feel uneasy about themselves and their ultimate significance in such a vast universe. This is why electrons have the reputation of being a bunch of broody wet blankets. Anyway, while this shimmering, shivering rock makes its long way from the lake to the riverbed and from the riverbed to the abrasive floor of the ocean, you notice that millions of gallons of water and sand are whirling around it and its size and shape seem to be diminishing rapidly into a vague kind of roundness – but using the electron-microscope-like capabilities of this particular video, you realize that the rock isn’t ever going to actually get any smaller. In one way, the rock’s stature seems to be diminishing but it’s really only spreading all of its parts out in ever-widening circles that grow thinner and thinner while they sort of drift around this increasingly insignificant pebble that ultimately ceases to exhibit even the slightest hint that there ever was such a thing as this rock in the first place. At the end of the video, the rock dies. Or at least it stops existing. But this doesn’t mean that it’s gone nor does it help the feeling that you now have of their being an infinite amount of widening circles which are somehow leaving their tiny footprints everywhere across eternity.”
It’s not just people that reincarnate – things reincarnate, too, along with non-things, ideas, and even problems. This is because there is a spirit behind everything and that spirit wants to express itself. Often, it takes more than one person or thing for the spirit to get its idea across which is why sometimes, even though its body gets broken or wears out, the same spirit will put on another one so that it can finish what it was trying to say – and it will continue in this manner until it is sure that the message has been received. This is really a lot like how an artist will persist with the same motif for a long time; they receive an impulse from their spirit which they immediately express with paint & canvas, or pen & parchment, or even a dance. It often comes to pass that the impulse isn’t able to achieve full expression the first time around and therefore the artist must experiment over and over again until the spirit of the art has fully translated from the invisible to the visible, the tangible, the real. And that’s what’s really going on here: everything is trying to become real and, depending on how big, or great, or terrible it is, the longer it might take and the more trouble it might be. The greatest things that ever were always have the most trouble coming about which is why things like peace or justice always seem to be works-in-progress. And the Greatest Thing will always be becoming. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself! Look at love. Love almost never fully happens the first time around because it’s far too great and terrifying to be said all at once and it can often take hundreds of attempts with hundreds of different people. But each time someone tries, love becomes a little bit clearer, stronger, and more terrifying. Eventually, once it ripens enough, the meaning of what love was trying to say the whole time becomes clear and love finally becomes real. At this point, (if they don’t die of fright, which happens more often than you might think) the person involved will understand the reason behind anguish, loss, and defeat, and why those things have to happen first – sorry, what’s that? No, I’m sorry but I’m afraid I really can’t tell you that – weren’t you listening? The greatest things are always the most trouble – a great deal more trouble than I can fit on this page and more than you can fit through your eyes! But don’t worry, no matter how hard you try (and believe me, you will try), you won’t be able to strop it from happening to you at the end. In the meantime, everything in the universe will often seem incomplete, confusing, or even meaningless and cruel, but that’s because most things aren’t real yet and birth is painful. But once you’ve become as helpless as you can, you’ll look around and you’ll see that the whole thing is sweating, and crying, and screaming, and slowly opening wider and wider; then, you’ll recognize what is happening and become a sort of midwife that just holds everything’s hand while it’s happening, knowing that it’s too late, that it’s always been too late, not trying to stop it anymore, not wanting to change it. And the whole thing will get very loud and scary for a long time – but all of a sudden, everything will look up at you all at once with this astonished look on its face because you’ll be leaning forward, smiling between two streams of tears as you press their warm, newborn self to their still heaving breasts. That’s how everything began and that’s how everything will end: everything feels mysteriously grateful for its pain and nothing knows why but everything will find out too, eventually.
Verb, “To bloom,” to cause to yield blossoms
He could never remember exactly what words she had used to answer the question; he remembered the slanted way the brightness of the sun washed the driveway, casting shadows along the cracks; he remembered how impossibly tall the dry, uneven planks of the fence behind the garden seemed and that they were the impassable border of his world; he remembered her slender, callused hands and the tranquil power with which they wielded the trowel or the secateurs – decisively, but gently, cutting off from life one branch and sparing another; the quiet effort in her breath as she tore out the roots of some flowers but left alone the others for mysterious reasons which he never thought to question because he still trusted in the simple way that children trust. “What does ‘blooming’ mean?” was the question he had just asked. He couldn’t remember what she had said but he could remember how she had paused before she had said it, leaning over the bluish asters; how she was kneeling in the grass at the edging when she lifted the brim of her hat and turned, blinking in the mid-morning light to face the small boy who watched over her shoulder. Linda carefully considered his question for a moment. She weighed the different ways that she could answer and the corners of her eyes creased with that kind of subtle humor which is necessary to distill an answer pure enough to befit the earnestness of a child’s question. What words could the child understand? she wondered, but whether or not he understood, he never could remember. He did remember that later that night as he was laying down to sleep, he saw flowers opening up and streaming through the sky toward the sun, lifting like arrows from the soil as if flung by invisible bowstrings, stretched tautly in the roots – the more widely they opened, the faster they rose through the sky, and when they had opened so widely that he could no longer imagine how they would possibly open further: they returned themselves to the teeming soil of his imagination by bursting into light. When he awoke the next morning as the sun reached between the blinds, he decided to keep all of this a secret and because of this secrecy no teacher was ever able to correct these sorts of mistaken impressions – “bloom” is a verb which means “to cause to yield blossoms…”