The Case of Amos Avery Blodget

The doctor lowered his hand. "Oh, Mr. Blodget, you know very well what happens. What happens when God becomes man, through Christ, is that He is crucified. He is crucified on Golgotha. And He is crucified here as we speak—in you, in me, in Matthew, and in this tree."

"But I'm afraid I don't see that, doctor."

Dr. Uyterhoeven nodded. "Well, I'll grant it may not be as obvious a notion, or as popular, but I promise you, if you look directly, you will see—" He leaned forward on his elbow and held up his hand between them, as if to display it. "In order that we may live, that we may have this experience, the Infinite has clearly taken a very finite, very limited form, a form which places such a tight yoke on its infinitude that it apparently must expend its captive energy by scrolling it out, so to speak, through time." The doctor closed his hand. "Or we may choose to look at it the other way: that Eternity has entered the moment—it has done this for our sake—but that the moment places such constraint upon Eternity that it likewise must expend its captive energy by spilling off this vast expanse of space."

The doctor smiled. "Either way, the same obtains for everything you'll ever know of this life, Mr. Blodget, everything you can touch and taste and smell—everything you can confirm—casts an otherwise infinite and eternal being, God, into a very limited, very fleeting and fatal existence. But such is man, alas. Such is our lot. Such is your lot, Mr. Blodget, that you should only ever seem to be where these vast planes of time and space intersect, here and now. That intersection would seem to comprise your existence, I know. It would seem to sustain you and distinguish you, but it also literally crucifies what is divine in you. Understand that much: man crucifies his Lord. He cannot help it. It is his nature, for man is his Lord crucified, as is this day, as is the whole of this domain—an infinite and eternal being, wrested into a finite, momentary world and pinned there, to live and die, over and over again.

—Brooks Hansen, The Chess Garden

The Former King

John had told Azharan many times that when the light revealed itself, it was not like a lantern on a prow. It was more like the swallow’s song: To hear it upon waking was to wonder how long the swallow had been singing, and to realize that everything that had come before—all the faces and the words and the fears and yearning—had been nothing but a dream.

— Brooks Hansen, John the Baptizer

The Staunton Pawn and the Vandal Girl

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“No,” he said. “Don’t be. But I have to go.” She was before me, looking up. “This is not what I came for.” He touched her cheek. “I have felt you already, much better that this—just as you feel and think, just as you are. But these hands—this is not how I am. And that”—the Staunton stood vacant in the corner like a bedpost, stiff and limbless—“that only holds my place. All of this is temporary. This is flesh and wood, and it’s not why I’ve come, to drink or smoke your pipe. I am only here to tell you, tell you so you can hear it with your ears—“ Her eyes were brown on green. “What the old man said was true. From the moment you appeared, I have been in love with you, and I grow more so every time you return.”

She pressed my palm against her cheek, and I could feel her tears.

“Here.” He opened my hand, and rolled the thread from my finger. “If strings are for remembering, then I want you to wear this.” He hooked the thread over her ring finger, which was so small he had to loop it twice. “So that you will always be reminded, when all these things are ash and dust, you and I shall be together.”

He tried to pull my hand from hers, but she held to it fast. “Please don’t go.”

He stroked her hair. “But I am not going anywhere,” he whispered. “I will be here.” Her forehead was warm. “And I will be here.” Her heart was beating.

—Brooks Hansen, The Chess Garden

Crack my heart open when I die, and you will find a map of The Antipodes and something from Eugene’s rook there.

Memento Mori

I talk to myself. A lot. I don't feel like I've actually lived a day unless I got to spend at least 20 minutes of it talking to myself. Because I am a goddamn crazy person.

It started when I was a kid, I think mostly because I had trouble holding a coherent thought in my head unless I wrote it down or said it out loud. There was a semester or two there when I would study for philosophy exams by breaking into lecture halls and pretending to teach the course material to the empty room.

Yep, that's nuts. It's embarrassing. Doesn't seem like the sort of thing that a normal, healthy person does, right? But it's been over three decades now, and I'm not sure I know how to stop. Plus, confession time: I like doing it. Maybe it's narcissism, maybe it's my weird and contradictory relationship with quiet, I don't know. But I love talking to myself. It comforts me, grounds me.

So I'm in my car the other day and I've decided to spend my lunch break driving around and talking to myself. I'm driving around and I'm talking to myself about, I don't know, JavaScript or an ISO formatting issue or my kids or Neil Gaiman or whatever. I don't know. But it was nothing of import, just me thinking out loud. Like a crazy person.

And then a thought popped into my head, a derpily-obvious but nonetheless-there-it-is thought:

You are going to die.

It hit me as though it were going to happen sometime in the next ten minutes.

Earth-shattering, I know. But I had a french fry in my hand and form validation on my lips, and it broadsided me. I recoiled and gathered myself and said it out loud: "You are going to die." Then I said "Fuck." Then I asked myself a question.

Say you're going to die in three hours. You've already said goodbye and thanks and I love you to your friends and family. You even got to shake Grant Morrison's hand, to hug Brooks Hansen for writing The Chess Garden, to tell Tom Waits a dirty joke and join him in a round of "Goodnight, Irene". They've all been pulled away, and now you have three hours to do what you want with your time. What would you do?

You'd want to leave a marker behind, however temporary, right? I'd want to make something, and I'm better and faster with words than anything else, so: I would write.

What would I write? That's where it gets hard. But I think I would once and for all completely untether myself. Not a confession of sins, but one last stab at reaching for your hand and talking about the things we have in common and hide from one another.

Maybe it would be an essay, maybe a story. Maybe I'd do something clever and address my children while really talking to adults. Lord knows that's never been done before.

But I would write, and I would write something that mattered, if I had it in me to do so. I'd go deep purple on that motherfucker, too.

Which raises the obvious question of why I'm not doing more than dabbling infrequently with that now. Good question.

No, this isn't the typical "I'm going to quit my job and find my way as a writerly writer" revelation. I'm too smart to just shitcan what I've spent years building to pursue a life of poverty and frustration and predatory contracts. I like my job, I do, I just don't care about it all that much.

I think that has to mean that I'm going to start doing this more, so I have built myself a system that allows me to take writing breaks from my coding. Right now I'm typing blind on a covered iPad while staring at a monitor that says this:

    xtype: 'hiddenfield',
    flex: 1,
    fieldLabel: 'Label',
    name: 'documentationIndicator'

I'm writing this while I stare at that and the whiteboard at the other end of the table, just as Chuck Palahniuk wrote Fight Club while pretending to take notes in meetings. I'm going to write blind, every day, and when things come out that are post-worthy, I'm going to post them. No promises on frequency.

I'm going to do this because I've learned this about myself in the last year: My brain does not have a stable state. It's growing or dying, and only learning makes it grow.

Every day I fertilize it or poison it. I can fertilize it with a technical challenge even if the work I'm supporting is boring and mundane, but that all goes Agent Orange when I'm pushing 200 fields around a form or debugging a validation routine.

So I must fertilize, and if I cannot find a way to make my living doing something I truly love, then I will bring my love into my work, and I will do it in secret. Don't tell anyone.

I'll do it because I may be dead in three hours, and I want my children to open my Dropbox (kids: look in the "notesy" folder after Dad croaks) and find something sublime in there when I'm gone.

I was cleaning up that folder and found this in an unnamed textfile the other day:

It should have fun
It should be funny
It should have adventure
Heroes should fall
Heroes should rise
Things should go boom
No boobs, unfortunately
Han Solo should science a mammal

Yeah, I don't know either, but any ground where I can lose and find stupid shit like that needs to be tended.

Look: None of what I'm saying here is particularly profound or daring, I know. But it's hard. It's hard not to hide from it. When I was young, I used to sleep to hide from my anxieties and fears, and though I threw away that pacifier long ago, I found other, subtler ones. Now I'm trying to rid myself of them. Only in the last year or two have I felt like I'm waking up. And wow, the stuff I missed.

So the new plan is I'm going to spend the back half of my life writing my obituary, though I'll be damned if I know what form it will take. I'll try like hell to make it an honest one and a good one. There will be overwrought and overwritten weepy time stuff, and there will be dongs. Just you wait. But it will be my obituary, my testimony.

So I'll write the opening now, and then we'll start figuring out the backstory together.

Matt Reed was born on the 110th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's assassination and died on its bicentennial because stories are tidy like that. He died, appropriately enough, in a theater, though he was not murdered.

He was watching a stage production of Daniel Pinkwater's seminal novel The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death when the nanobots in his bloodstream malfunctioned, swarmed to his brain, and over-stimulated the neurons that housed the combination to his brother's first bicycle lock. Experts are still trying to determine why this caused him to combust.

Onlookers reported that Mr. Reed had shouted "Sic semper tyrannis" in the manner of Marcus Junius Brutus and John Wilkes Booth, but a scan of the nanobot logs indicates that he had instead shouted a slurred "six two three two", which analysis suggests was the bike lock's combination.

Mr. Reed leaves behind his beloved if overly-sassed wife Jennifer; his son Jack, inventor of tiger invisible robot technology; and his daughter Georgia, Roving Warlady Empress of the Fourth Obfuscation.

Mr. Reed died as he lived: terrified, confused, and on fire.