At the moment, I am revising the chapters from this book into 3-4 page short stories for posting on my blogs and in literary magazines.
If you are interested in reading the eventual completed revised edition of “The Sage and the Scarecrow”, please email me at ghostsofnagasaki [at] gmail [dot] com
The Novel in Short: Six months after his father has died from cancer, Pierce finds himself in a state of anxiety and crisis. In his mind, there are two worlds. In one world he is a second-year college student trying to finish the semester; in another world, he roams an apocalyptic landscape searching for scraps of wisdom that will lead him to the perfect society. In both worlds, he is on a quest to find a girl named Jennifer, his best friend, true love, and the only person he believes can cure him.
Blonde as the Ocean is Blue
Magic Mushrooms and Coconut Horses
There is a girl on the beach as the mushroom clouds blossom. The world is ending slowly. She holds my hand. She doesn’t tell me everything will be alright. She’s silent, but her hand transmits a message: Things will survive that are beautiful and one day, the things that gave you great joy and hope will live again on this planet or another.
Her hair is blonde like the ocean is blue and takes me to places far away.
…the memory vanishes and I’m cold now. The professor / wiseman has left me. I decide to tear several pages from one of the books in the satchel.
“Fat heard in her rational tone the harp of nihilism, the twang of the void.” The words of Horselover Fat. And then gone in the blaze.
I take pages from another book. “I closed my eyes and listened carefully for the descendants of Sputnik, even now circling the Earth, gravity their only tie to the planet. Lonely metal souls in the unimpeded darkness of space, they meet, pass each other, and part, never to meet again.” The words disappear into a blaze and keep me warm.
The fire burns crisp and clean and I try to remember what it’s like to feel her hand in mine. I start to lose the memory and with it myself. The fire disappears for a moment, and then I’m truly alone.
Enough time had elapsed for me to think that Angie had left. I went upstairs to my dorm, which (to my relief) was empty. I picked up my notes for psychology along with my copy of the Tao Teh Ching and took the elevator downstairs.
By this time it was getting dark, and I was beginning to feel hungry, so I stopped at the food court and picked up a turkey sub and some orange juice from one of the delis. I sat down alone and began to look over my notes for psychology. After about thirty minutes of looking over them, I took a break and began to skim through my copy of the Tao Teh Ching.
A long time ago my friend Jennifer had given the book to me. I used a picture of her as a bookmark. In this picture she’s at school. She gives me the peace sign with a simple smile. She’s impossibly young in the photo.
I had begun meditating some time ago, not because I needed some spiritual energy or something, although it probably couldn’t hurt, but because I wanted to understand Taoism. Jennifer had given me the book on the condition that I begin meditating every day. It seemed silly. At one point I even bought some incense candles and a CD with some ancient monks chanting. I think it bothered my roommate. He dropped out midway through the semester, not because of the chanting, but because of other problems that I really never found out too much about (probably drugs).
I had read the Tao Teh Ching many times since Jennifer had given it to me. Wonderfully abstract, with its references to the synthesis of a whole, it reminded me of the philosophy of G.W.F Hegel, although Jennifer would kill me if she knew I was comparing Taoism to western philosophy.
There are mushrooms in one of the fields. I hope they have magical properties. I need magic to go back. I need to go back to a time in high school where things seemed okay.
The introduction of the book says the Tao Teh Ching “is suggestion rather than statement…a boldness and exuberance of expression for which paradox is the only adequate form…it challenges us at every turn to expand our view of life’s possibilities”; this statement occupied my mind for a long time. At one point late in my freshman year, the passage had even spurred me to write an essay on paradox as a form for one of my English courses (I wrote about the writing of Lao Tzu, but also, Nietzsche, Thoreau, and Emerson). Another contribution to the custom house of literary analysis, as Salinger would say.
I ate my sub and concentrated on the phrase: “The Mystery of mysteries is the Door of all essence,” because it was underlined. I had not underlined it, she had, Jennifer. Because it was her book, I had only borrowed it, and I never wrote in it. I knew I would probably never have a chance to give it back to her, but still, I always thought that it would be rude to write in her book.
Jennifer is there, but I still can’t see her face clearly.
I looked at the photo in the pages of Tao Teh Ching.
“You can see me clearly now, can’t you?”
“But I can’t hold the vision long. If the world were to end tomorrow and I lost this photo, I don’t know how long I could hold onto your memory.”
I’m in my room from high school, in the same house I was thinking about selling with my aunt. On the wall of my room is a picture of Monty Python. They were all in armor from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
We sat, leaning up against my bed.
“What do you want to say to me?”
“I don’t know. I write you letters and then I tear them up. I think about what I would say to you over and over and then erase them from my memory like bad dreams.”
“You don’t want to tell me about your quest?”
“I’m so embarrassed,” I confess. “What am I doing?”
There is a voice in the other room.
“Is that my dad?”
“You can go to him. It’s okay.”
“No. No, I’m here with you.”
“How do you know I’m not in the apocalypse with you?” she asks me.
“Easy,” I say in my best British accent. “Because you don’t have shit all over you.”
That made her laugh.
Her face starts to fade.
“What do you want to do?” she asks.
“Watch you read. Watch you paint. Watch you be happy. I just want to be with you.”
She holds my hand until it’s over.
I am back in the field. There are mushrooms everywhere. I feel my stomach cramp up. I’ll vomit pretty soon.
I could kill myself one mushroom at a time so I could sit in a room in my old house with Jennifer again.
I take the mushrooms with radioactive magic properties and put them in the satchel with my books.
I take a very small piece of one of the mushrooms and put it in my mouth.
There is a city off in the distance. The partial mushroom takes effect and a person appears behind me in full knight’s armor with the two halves of coconuts. I nod to him and then I ride on my invisible horse as the man behind me makes the sounds of horse hooves with the clacking of coconuts.
I ate my sub, sipped at my fresh-squeezed orange juice, which was very pulpy just the way I liked it, and concentrated on the word “Door,” strangely capitalized.
“The Mystery of mysteries is the Door of all essence,”
It didn’t mean anything. It was translated from kanji and the random capitalization of the word door was simply a figment of a translator’s imagination.
My thoughts turned to another door I had found in a novel I had read this semester. Ambiguous and surreal, I had seen the word in a Kafka novel, The Trial, the parable about the doorkeeper and the man who waits until death to enter the door. Both “Door” and “door” seemed so far from understanding. I thought about what Jennifer would tell me to do: She would have probably told me to move in the spirit of the Tao and forget all about understanding–abandon it–and to just make my mind still. That somehow, through this act, I would be content.
So I did. I tried to make my mind still, not still my mind.
Jennifer always said that painting is what happened when you stopped trying.
With my five books, some missing many pages, my magic mushrooms, and the man behind me making the sound of hooves with coconuts, I gallop toward the ruins of a city. I’ll find things there. Perhaps food. Perhaps the library. Perhaps something else. Answers seem too much to hope for.
I start to sing, “Just…re-member…that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving…and revolving at 900 miles an hour…”
My mind was still. My mind was beautiful. I was being moved swiftly along an ocean of pages, memory, and hair as blonde as the ocean is blue.