Myth of the Ultimate Anti Page Turner (Part 2)

You know how email, and SMS texting, and Twittering, have replaced letter writing.  It’s sad in away.  People do not appreciate long emails.  It’s an instant medium with instant reading implied.  If you cannot scan the message at a glance then don’t bother sending it, right?  With old-fashioned letters there was the intensity of purpose made all the more frantic because to get a letter delivered often meant posting it before the mail cart or postal service collected the day’s envelopes.  Beethoven had just enough time to state this rush in one of his Immortal Beloved letters.

Beethoven Immortal Beloved Letter

Fifth scanned plate of Beethoven’s letter to his (unknown) “Immortal Beloved”.

There is something sharp about an email though.  And it’s something you do not get with text-messaging or IM or Tweets.  Since emails can be long, as long as you like, without even threatening trees for their paper pulp.   You are not days out-of-contact from the sender, so a one-liner can be considered pretty reasonable and not rude or dismissive in the slightest.  And it can even be alluring and mysterious.  “What is really going on with my friend?”  “Did she really mean that? or was I supposed to get some joke there?”  “What’s he up to that he cannot give me a full reply?”    “I wonder when they will realise their attachment was not attached and re-send?   Or should I tell them?”

The nature of email that makes it so convenient also makes it intriguing.  Not many people realise how artful an email message can be.   My cousin’s message lacked a lot of detail, but one thing at least was clear.  The Ghost Drive Manual was not an ordinary textbook.  How though?  What was keeping it page-turning for my critical cousin?  I had to know.

*       *       *

A week later.  Still no messages from my cousin.   But I had enough sleepless nights in debt now to worry myself about it, so I called her.  No answer.  So I emailed her again, telling her I think I’d drive over soon and knock on her door to see if she was still alive.  That elicited a reply at least.

Hey Bij,
Cant explain right now.  You have to read this book.  
i'll catch up with u soon.

So I’m thinking, “OK, she’s still into Ghost Drive.  How phreakin’ bizarre.”   And then I’m thinking, “Damn, I’d like to see that manual.”‘  And then I’m thinking, “Waitaminute, she did not refer to it as a manual this time.  It’s a book.  Big difference right?”  Well, maybe, maybe I was just exaggerating her words. “I’m going to find out soon though.”

Then an hour later another email.

Hey cuz,
Don't drive over just yet. plz.  i got 2 sort some thing sout ok?   
u won't b disappointed.

Hmmm.  An intriguing, short, polite email.    I’m licking my mental lips now.  It’s hard though.  Having something potentially awesome within reach but not being able to reach out and take it.  Being at the mercy of another person’s whims.   I’ve always wondered if bondage sex is like this, and maybe people get addicted to that feeling of anticipation and simultaneous helplessness?   I’ll never know.  But I do suspect the same vulnerability and apprehension can be felt if you open your mind to ideas, and particularly if you expose yourself to the full torrent of opinion of an enthusiastic genius who has found you worthy of conversation.  Such a person can strip you mentally naked, and toy with your ignorance, and then, if they are kind, they can touch your mind in places that you never before thought had a sliver of erotic potential, but nevertheless, their intellectual caress can make you feel like you’ve just been kissed by a god or goddess.

The good thing is that it never feels weird.  Not like the way I’ve just described it!  You do not at first appreciate it was some heavy intellectual sex you just had, instead it takes a while to sink in, and the afterglow can last for ages.  And it is genderless sex.  Not hermaphroditic, but just genderless and buzzy.  OK, ok, it’s nothing like sex!   But you now what I mean?   And if not, then I’m so sorry for you.  You should visit more places where you are likely to meet such people.

It’s enough for me — to not feel cheated out of life’s pleasures — to get this feeling every so often doing science.  Even when an experiment is within your control, you know that nature has a way of revealing herself at her own leisure.  That’s the way it can feel sometimes.

If you knew the outcome of the experiment you’d probably not be doing it, unless you are doing a follow-up project.  Those aren’t the motivating kind.  So you don’t do follow-up research entirely willingly.  You do it because you might be skeptical.  Or you did not believe the results the first time around (which can be fairly exciting, because then maybe you’re on to something right?), or because you wanted to get different results (that’s the dangerous kind, the type of science where you are not respecting nature, hoping she will bend to your will, and you are in the grip of your fanciful theory, the type of science I avoid).

Checking one’s ego can be unpleasant.  Someone gets to a scientific discovery before you.  You feel cheated out of all heaven.   Waiting ahead for you, for the next few weeks or months, is the hell of jealousy or bitterness.   The cure for this is simple though.  You need to abandon your ego and remember why you are doing science in the first place.  Because you are looking for truth.   It’s a wonderful thing.   And it doesn’t matter if someone else uncovers it first.   You get to be one of perhaps a handful of people to first appreciate the discovery.   You should be celebrating and feasting on the results and analysis and conclusions.

My cousin had discovered this ‘most excellent manual-book’ and I was going to be her first confidant.  The Ted to her Bill.   What the heck was so engaging about it though?   Or was she playing an immense practical joke?  (Sigh.)  A few more sleepless nights perhaps.

*       *       *

Myth (mîth), n. [Written also {mythe}.] [Gr. myqos
myth, fable, tale, talk, speech: cf. F. mythe.]
1. A story of great but unknown age which originally
embodied a belief regarding some fact or phenomenon of
experience, and in which often the forces of nature and
of the soul are personified; an ancient legend of a god, a
hero, the origin of a race, etc.; a wonder story of prehistoric
origin; a popular fable which is, or has been, received as
historical.

— [1913 Webster]

In case you never have this sort of experience I should tell you what it’s like.  Being alive and witnessing the creation of a myth.  Not just being present.  Knowing.  Knowing this is the origin of a myth.   It’s quite safe to record this because my particular presence at this birth will never survive through history.  It will not become a myth, as you will see soon.

*       *       *

My cousin was not teasing me.  She wrote again from Palm Springs, California.  A longer email this time, which was nice (I love reading long emails, they are the closest analogue I know of modern letters, and I love a great letter) and I saved her subsequent emails, all preserved as-was, full of typos and the impression of haste and excitement.

 From:     "Kari Fairbairn" <flaming.sweetcheeks@gmail.com>
 Sent:     Tuesday, July 12, 2011 11:16 PM
 To:       "Bijou Smith" <one.over.epsilon@gmail.com>
 Subject:  ghost drive in Palm Springs

Hi Bij,
I guess Francesca told you I would be in Palm Springs California 
for the ICC (4th Annual Intelligent Content Conference).  FondBooks 
wanted me to attend and then present the highlights to them.  It's 
ok, some good talks, but really geared more for commercial interests 
and branding/marketing and that sort of (necessary?) crap.  Some 
nice people, but I hav to tell u they are all a bit boring compared 
to Ghost Drive.  ive been escaping from the conf earlier and earlier 
to get back to the hotel and order sandwiches and espresso from the 
bar and race back to my room to have a good long read.  i have a 
shower and then get all snug and cosy (hard with teh AC running a 
bit noisy, but get used to it).   I have to tell yo about this, 
can't contain myself much more... 

Not sure if I told you, but when I pulled it off the library shelf 
I knew it was not an ordinary manual.  Being a techie geek you 
probably know Ghost was an older generation of archiving software. 
You probably weren't wondered what "Ghost Drive" meant?  Its not 
what you think.  It's not anything about maintaining ghosted disks.  
Where do I start?  From the beginning I suppose!

The introduction starts off just listing a bunch of specifications 
for "different users".  It reads a bit like a human inventory.  Then 
I realised it is describing every possible human psycho-type. 
Generic profiles of humans.  THen it starts to seem like it is 
extending to alien beings or something.  Perhaps possible psycho-types 
that are unknown, but possible?  I haven't quite figured it all out 
yet, and not sure if yr supposed to!  It's fascinating.  I thought 
maybe it was an unusual sort of film script and this was a VERY weird 
way of introducing the characters.

It doesn't get too boring either.  (That's the weird thing about every 
section of the book.  It looks like it should be boring, but it's not.)  
The opposite in fact.  And this list of generic humans becomes very 
abstract after a few pages. and then very profound.  It goes into what 
you'd tell me was an "axioms schema"  Like how you once explained 
those Zeno-Franklin axioms or whatever.  It's just brilliant.  I read 
it twice over, and then had to read it again, and I keep going back to 
it.  But you'll see for yourself.

Then, it gets in to describing your ghost drive.  (That's first-person 
"your".)   At first I took it as a joke.  But then I realised it was 
serious in some way, but I couldn't figure out how.  I couldn't even 
figure out where it was going or what it was about.  It seemed like a 
kind of Kafkaesque or Gibsonian journal or manual on how to live 
digitally.  There was some weird stuff.  Best I can describe it, for 
flavour, is as a cyberpunk kabbala.  Only it seemed, to me, a lot more 
per=sonal and meaningful.  Not mystical iow.  More enlightened and 
clear.  Lots of clarity, nothing obscured.  But so many layers of 
meaning.  Just incredible.  Clear and pure.   But gain, u jst hav to 
read it.

The more I read the more I didn't want to read.  It was too deep.  
Hard to describe.  Just want to fill my head with every sentence and 
let it course through my neurons and allow it to take over my mind.  
To read it is a psychedelic experience, only without the bad 
side-effects.

And god,... Bij!  I just want to find out who wrote this and get 
whatever else they wrote and devour it, and expand my mind with it, 
and become gluttonous over it, and leave Ghost Drive for the grand 
final dessert a thte end of my life.  Did I tell you there is no 
author and no copyright, justa  minimalist imprint.  Soooo frustrating. 
Am i gonna have to scour every sodding library in th wrld to find 
something else by this writer? 

ANd CUZ!  I know you, right?  I know you'll wnat to read this fresh 
yourself.  So I won't do you the insult of summarising any of it for 
you.  I know you'll understand right Bij?  (Write me if you don't 
sicne I won't mind writing some excerpts.  But I bet u won't, haha!) 

I will write more to you later.  THe next bit is amazing. I shoudl scan 
it and send it to ya.  God... I shld def do that!  what if this is the 
only copy in existence?  But why aren't there more?  It's unbelievable 
there wouldn't be millions of copies.  It's not like it'd be illegal to 
reproduce ... but for now too much on, and too absorbed in reading 
it... slowly... pouring every page into my mind like it was 
intellectual nectar from the gods.

OK, gotta sleep.  Will write soon.
KuzKari.

*       *       *

Probably I should comment here that my cousin is not a fan of obscurantist mystical babbling.  So I knew exactly what she meant about her book being  ‘Clear and pure’.  Also, she was absolutely correct about my preference for reading something fresh.  I really do not like it when people give away a plot, and reading a book I already know about is basically an impossible task.   At least for works of fiction.   If I can get all I need from the back-cover blurb on a book then often I will not bother reading it.  The first few paragraphs have to be pretty mesmerising to draw me in.   The poor literature is bit like the romantic comedy films these days that keep getting churned out of Hollywood, if the plot is obvious I will not watch much past the first five or ten minutes.  I might ask my daughter’s, “How was the movie?” later on, but they never fail to disappoint.   So my cousin knew me well. (Damn it!)

By the next email it was clearer to me why Kari had become so engrossed.  But the essence of Ghost Drive still eluded my imagination, or, rather, it was disturbing my imagination and filling me with quite intoxicating thoughts, yet highly abstract.  Like pure ideas rather than images.  Visual sensations without geometric form or colour.   Like I could hear a story in my mind but not understand any words.

The best way I can describe my state at the time was like someone who has just met a stranger and fallen in love with him or her.  (Let’s say “her” for the sake of argument.)    You do not know her name, you know nothing about her, other than that she is beautiful and moves like an angel.  So you might find it hard to sleep that night, thinking of her, being excited by the thought she could be fond of you, but not knowing.  This makes it so hard to dream a fantasy.  You want to though.  In case you never see her again.  In case she is unattainable.  You want to just once dream of loving her.  But you cannot, because the idea is so abstract and other-worldly that your mind, your imagination, cannot conceive of any single realistic event involving the two of you.  But you try.

You force yourself to imagine holding her hand.  Her hand slips through your fingers like an ice-cloud which has been over-heated by your passion and dissolved into vapour.  You try so hard. You force yourself to imagine her voice, talking to you, telling you she finds you attractive and wants to spend time with you, but the words never form, and the mundane worries of your working day intrude and break your dreaming.  So you try harder.  You imagine she might be your lover, and she sleeps beside you, but her body will not rest, and it rises above your bed and floats away, every time you reach out to hold her the thought of becoming too possessive haunts your dreaming and so you have to let her go, to let her be free.

And so it is not too far from this sort of detached abstract state of pure longing for something that my mind could hardly imagine, that I found myself opening my email inbox a lot more frequently, and suffering the plummeting sorrow of emptiness when nothing new from my cousin had arrived.   Are all the worlds emails suddenly on postal delivery time?  Waiting for a league of overworked and underpaid postal employees to deliver them by hand into the ethernet slot of our computers?   Patience.  The next instalment will arrive soon.

CCL_BY-NC-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/legalcode)

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