Chase.
kitten   October 31, 2004

Dear Alexis,

In general, when I'm writing, no matter what the reason, I have to think about what I'd like to say, carefully structure it, know where I want it to go, and consider the meaning of each word to have just the right sort of impact intended. When I write to you, though, no matter how prolix these missives get, I'm able to sit down and just say what's on my mind, without the usual editing and self-censorship that occurs. Having that sort of direct output from me probably makes these letters both more honest and less coherent than they could be, but I hope you're able to make sense of them nonetheless.

I heard that there was going to be a meteor shower last night. Like I said before, a place where you can see into the night sky is no easier to find here than it is at home, and it's never bothered me before, but this is something I wanted for myself, something I hoped would help me solidify myself and focus. So for a week beforehand, when I had the time, I drove all around the edges of the city, searching for a place that would be quiet, isolated, dark -- someplace that I could go and see this little cosmic storm without interruption. I never did find such a place; it seems that people want to put lights anywhere they can, as bright as possible, illuminating every square inch of ground and sky to hold back something as natural and necessary as night. Everywhere I went, I was stymied by another set of enormous streetlights, searchlights, billboards, marquees, security lights. Some of the more ignored back roads might have been dark enough, and I got out on some of them, testing, walking along trying to find the perfect spot, but the problem with out-of-the-way streets, at least for these purposes, is that they're so inconsequential that no one has bothered cutting down all the trees yet to make way for another store, another building, another stacked filing cabinet full of people. With trees in the way you can't see the sky and with trees out of the way you can be assured that someone will put up an other dazzling fixture, effectively blurring the darkness. It was an almost hopeless expedition, and maybe if I'd had more time I could have found a good venue, but it wasn't to be. Kind of a disappointing story, don't you think?

That's the reality of life, though. It's disappointing more often than it isn't, and never quite measures up to the expectations and fantasies we construct for ourselves, hoping for the perfect outcome. If only this, if I could just get that, if I manipulate and scheme and strive, I can make the universe do what I want and get to some consummate endpoint -- that's what we tell ourselves. Sometimes it works. Usually it doesn't. The trick, I think, is to do it anyway, and to take what good does come from the effort, even if it isn't the expected crowning acheivement.

I didn't find an obscure corner where I could watch the meteor storm, but with all the exploration I was doing, I found something I thought was remarkable, a clock tower. A real clock tower, not a modern one made to look impressive but driven by a simple electric motor. No, this one was very old, though how old I can't say, and supported by a large building that housed all the internal machinations that drove it. I know all this because I went inside, though I'm sure I wasn't supposed to. Certain parts of the superstructure had been converted into offices or something similar, and people always leave doors unlocked, so in I went, free to roam through the hallways until I got to the basement. I didn't do this with any concious motive; I simply wanted to see what was in there, but once I was down in the buried foundation the entire framework of the building seemed to pulse, one second at a time, with a low droning hum of massive turning gears. I'm sure the people who come to this building on a daily basis and go about their working days are dimly aware of the clock, but they've tuned it out, dulled it into the background by sheer repetition. So as I worked my way upwards through the scaffolds and the maintainance elevators, I felt like I was sort of behind the scenes of the world, part of the stage crew that keeps the show running but whom the audience never sees, focused only on the final display.

How much recognition do you think you need for your accomplishments, Alexis? Would you be satisfied toiling in obscurity, knowing you're making a real difference, behind the scenes where few know you're there? Or do you want to be in the spotlight, the one everyone sees, all the while knowing you owe so much to the unsung heroes? Life isn't that black and white, of course; there's rarely such a sharp distinction to be made, but I think the question is a little less academic than it seems. If you want to know the truth, fame or notoriety never meant that much to me, and I'd be happy just being the supporting role in your life. So long as I can make a real difference to you, what other legacy I might have doesn't concern me.

At the top, just below and behind the clock face itself, I could see most of the mechanics, the huge steel escape wheels, the weighted pendulum, a recoil spring. With every swing of the pendulum the pistons would turn another small amount, and the motion was eventually transferred into the hands of the clock. I don't know nearly enough about how such things operate to give a truly accurate description, but the complexity and energy put into this endeavour was clearly enormous, for the simple task of keeping accurate time in an era when time probably wasn't the valued commodity is is today. It's kind of an elegant irony, don't you agree?

I stood there for a long while listening. It's not something that would normally occur to someone, but these clocks are loud, deafeningly so, with constant ticking in seconds and intervals of seconds as each gear, small and large, clicks into place along its little dance. I suppose it couldn't be any other way, with the sheer weight of the components and the constant motion, but it isn't something I'd ever given any thought to. As mesmerising as this exhibit was, visually, it wasn't long before I had to get out, away from the noise that threatened to take control of me, like if I stayed too long my synapses would start firing in sequence with the rest of the gears and I'd become just another cog in the machine. Going back down the way I came was one way. The other way was a small vertical access hatch, and that's the route I took, up a tiny ladder that didn't even reach the platform I was standing on.

When I opened the hatch and climbed out, I found myself on the rooftop of the tower. It wasn't a particularly high affair, five stories or so, and it was much the same as the rooftop you and I used to go to, slinking our way through corporate development offices until we stood on pebble-lined roofs overlooking the city. This was nowhere near as glamorous, but it was dark, above the din and glow of incandescent streets and right then, I knew I'd found the place. This is where I went to watch the meteor shower, on a rooftop full of gravel and sitting back against a humming industrial air conditioning unit that provided the backdrop of white noise to keep things soothing for the few short hours that it took to get the full vision. And it was quite a sight, I should say, despite the occasional cloud drifting by -- beautiful luminescent streaks materializing from nowhere, sometimes dozens of them at once, burning fiery rocks screaming through the sky and never reaching the planet that had called out to them with songs of gravity, each of them dying in the attempt to make it. Sparkle and fade.

It's something I wanted to share with you, Alexis, and couldn't. But it reminded me of one reason I write to you without expectation of response. There was a brief period of time, a little after I first met you, when we fell out of contact for a while. I'm sure you recall, and it was just one of those things that happens on occasion, no real decision behind it, the gradual drifting that occurs with no rationale. But if I may atone, Alexis: in that short time, I felt a horrible, singular guilt, as though I'd driven you from me, and in doing so lost a great potential we'd never gotten the chance to explore. It took me a long time to shake that guilt, and the neglected feeling that went with it, the one person I could entrust my thoughts to gone. When we encountered each other again, I was confused, unsure, and felt like I was walking a tightrope, always apprehensive for the next false step that might send you away again. I don't know if you ever realized any of this, but ancient history though it may be, I don't want you to experience anything like it. These letters are for you to know that I'm here not because of some desire to be away from you, and that you remain my focal point, distance be damned. If this doesn't make sense to you now, I know it will soon, and I hope to be there with you to prove it. Nil desperandum, Alexis. There's someone who needs you.

Until then,

Always yours,

kitten

Unresolved controversial issue: A treatise
kitten   October 30, 2004

While it is true that this issue may be considered obscure by those not in the fields in which the topic is generally discussed, it should be obvious that the outcome of this issue has the potential to affect virtually every area of government and industry, even extending well into academia. Should this be allowed to occur, the very foundations of our society -- law, capitalism, and education -- would not merely decay, but implode under the weight of turmoil. It is therefore of paramount import that a resolution to this unresolved issue be not only sought, but obtained. Since the inception of this controversial issue in the latter half of the nineteenth century, decisions have been made based on current philosophical and sociological interpretations of the issue, but it is sheer folly to allow a topic as contested as this one to be subjected to the whim and fancy of whichever arbitrary political trend happens to be in vogue at the moment. No, the time for a resolution to the issue is now, for we are rapidly approaching the aptly described point of no return, after which the issue will have reached such epidemic proportions as to disallow any further decision-making. We are in danger of permitting the issue to cascade into chaos, and so we ignore the importance of a timely resolution at our own peril. In the final analysis, my position on this issue is the correct one and, if extrapolated to its logical conclusions, will lead to a satisfactory resolution of the controversy.

My position is of indisputable rectitude. While detractors have pointed out that there is, in fact, a dispute surrounding the affair, thus making it something other than indisputable, this is nothing more than a devious tactic to shift attention away from my position. I cannot and will not deny that the issue itself is under contention; I merely maintain that rationality and logic dictate that my stance on the issue is the only correct approach.

The most initially evident merit to my position is the well-reasoned and thoughtful tone with which I have presented it. The controversy which looms about this issue is often an emotionally-charged volley of absurdity and ill-researched or deliberately misleading points. My position, contrawise, has been reached through an objective and dispassionate investigation into the topic, as well as careful scrutiny of previously suggested resolutions. By examining all facets of this issue in an unbiased and strictly impartial manner, I have been able to incorporate only relevant facts while discarding the usual hysteria and ardor that have so often clouded the subject in the past. Therefore, my position has been well-researched and includes only the most salient points regarding the controversy, each subjected to a rigorous scrutiny of relentless skepticism, and this is apparent from the superb manner in which I have offered my viewpoint.

Some would be so audacious as to contend that this issue is not a controversial one. It is a travesty of logic that the opposition would suggest that this issue is anything but controversial, given the well-documented emotional maelstrom surrounding it; a cursory examination of the extensive amount of data available regarding the issue will lead to the irrefutable conclusion that a distinct controversy exists. Indeed, the very argument is self-defeating, for the nature of the objection demonstrates that the issue is far from being axiomatic and that multiple stances can be taken. When this riposte is considered, the objection quickly becomes flimsy and transparent, and we are right to dismiss it.

Others have freely admitted that the issue remains controversial, but continue to disagree with my position, asserting that the issue is resolved. This rebuke is a standard tactic among dissenters, and while it is erroneous, it is necessary to deconstruct it in order to fully understand why. As noted, my position is the correct one, but an oft-overlooked implication in this statement is that I had to have profess a position initially, an action I would not have undertaken had this issue been resolved. To intimate that I would assume any stance on this issue, much less the correct one, without having first investigated possible resolutions would be to utter nonsense. Furthermore, this devious objection is once again merely a grotesque attempt to mislead, for it fails to address my position at all, and shifts the focus in a subtle manner to the nature of the issue itself. Though this may be a valid approach when selecting a topic for discussion, once the topic has been selected, it becomes nothing more than a cheap, if cunning, resort to wordplay. We are, for purposes of this discourse, interested only in the topic at hand, which is the unresolved controversial issue. If the detractors of my position wish to demur, they are obligated to do so within the established framework of the topic, not attack the topic. But perhaps most fatally, this ploy falls victim to the aforementioned zeitgeist, and mistakes interpretation for resolution. The fact of the matter, which may be verified through numerous credentialed authorities and well-reviewed sources of documentation, is that this controversial issue has yet to be resolved, and so when a resolution is sought after, my position stands alone as the only legitimate one to hold.

Contrast, if you will, these commonly raised objections -- little more than desperate gambits -- to my position, which is straightforward, concise, and does not hinge on subtle nuances of semantics in order to be understood. It should be apparent from the ease with which I have dismissed counterarguments that I am more than passingly familiar with the issue and its controversy, making my opinion on the issue of considerably high worth. Therefore, when I say that my position on the unresolved controversial issue is the correct one, I may be considered an authority on the subject. The fact that I have taken a position at all means that I have a bias, but I have been balanced and nonpartisan in my presentation of the facts and the manner in which I address protests.

Clearly, my arguments are cogent and demonstrate a superior display of linguistic prowess. This, coupled with my exhaustively researched plethora of factual information divorced from doctrine or emotional prejudice, should be sufficient evidence that my position on the unresolved controversial issue is the definitive word. If my position is accepted, the issue will cease to be controversial and its status as unresolved may be abolished.

Theory.
kitten   October 19, 2004

Dear Alexis,

It seems to me that writing to you is something of a catharsis, a way of getting my thoughts in order. This is not to say that I'm writing for myself, instead of to you. It's just that for anything I know to the contrary, these letters are piling up in a warehouse somewhere stacked to overflowing with packages and postcards that have no home. It's a chance I take with every missive I send to you, and I think it's worth that small risk, but the returned silence from you puts me ill at ease. I suppose it's my fault for not putting an address on these, or giving you enough clues to figure out where I've gone, but like a gambler putting everything down on an unlikely roll, I'm trying to see if the universe is on my side, and somehow I know that if I'm patient, fate won't let me down, and neither will you.

This morning I awoke to the sound of a seagull. I can't say for certain that's what woke me but at any rate it's the first thing I heard. I thought it strange to hear a seagull's cry so far from the ocean, and figured it must have gotten lost. Do you think it will ever find its way back, or is it destined to wander the skies above this city for the rest of its life, entirely removed from all the things it knows to be familiar? I've decided I miss the cry of seagulls and the discarded tracks they leave on a new morning shoreline, along with all their associations. It reminded me of Maine, of being able to sit up on the piers at night and watching lighthouse beams strobe into the darkness. Most of the lighthouses there aren't in active use anymore, radio beacons and other modern navigational systems having replaced the antiquated systems of bright lights and guesswork. Sometimes I think we've lost something in that, because the increase in accuracy meant a decrease in soul, with all those lighthouses sitting empty on small rock outcroppings, useless. I can't be the only one who thinks this way, because the lighthouses still run on occasion even if they aren't needed, so someone out there with the right influences must have done something about it. I'm glad they did, because I spent many a content evening on those shores with the slow and frustrating sexual rhythm of the tide, and focused beams of light from those towers piercing the night above like my own private surreal theatre.

In those sort of theatrical settings I sometimes feel like I'm in a different world completely, one that's like this one but twisted just off the axis and the me in that world is really the one calling the shots to the me in this world, which is why I can't always make sense of the things I think. Do you ever get tired of feeling like you have to justify your emotions, Alexis? Have you tried just letting yourself feel without trying to defend those feelings? You were always a brilliant one for logic, not wanting to merely assert without cause, and I know that explaining yourself is your way of making sense of your thoughts. I've always been willing to hear you out, to be your little sounding board, and before too long I will be again. But I wanted you to know that I'd accept what you say at face value, whatever those wishes and feelings may be, and you don't have to explain yourself to me.

Forty-seven days here and the first hint of winter was yesterday, the air heavy with the smoke from wood burning in fireplaces. I don't have a fireplace in my little apartment but if I did, I think it would help make the room seem a little less confining. Every now and then I'll feel trapped in there, with some urgent primitive kick telling me I need to leave, and so I do. You know I've never been one for long pointless walks without a destination in mind, but when the four walls suddenly seem to collapse a few feet, I can't think of anything else to do, so I walk. This city on foot is an entirely different experience from driving through it. For one thing, in the car, all that strappy nylon securing me in place and an empty seat next to me makes me discouraged, and I try to drown it out with music, which doesn't afford me the opportunity to get the full sensation of the place I'm in. Walking, especially in this weather and at night, traffic is down to a minimum and I can go for quite a while with the only sounds those of my own muffled footsteps, and the occasional draw of a siren in the distance. That sort of airy silence really forces you to pay attention, in spite of yourself. I've found places where I can stand and if I look straight up, I'm surrounded on all sides by lofty towers of concrete and patch of black sky above, like standing at the bottom of an impossibly deep well. It makes me feel very small and insignificant, but in a strange way that's comforting, because at least it's familiar, but I'm unnerved by the notion that I can take solace in a feeling of isolation and irrelevence. Maybe it's possible for something to be completely wrong, yet exactly as it should be. That's something of a paradox, don't you think? You've worked hard to erase these regrets from me, Alexis, and I never wanted to disappoint you. I hope you'll forgive me my lapses. They're a vice I'd rather be without.

When I was in high school there was a pretty girl in my class who I was absolutely intimidated by, and she knew it. She'd leverage it to her advantage, too; cold and calculating and manipulative, she'd torment me, insult me, and point out my every flaw if did anything that she didn't approve of. She was like a cat toying with her prey, and I adored her for it, though I doubt she knew that. You could call it something of an awakening in me, that epiphanic little epoch when I began to discover something about myself that I didn't know was there before. You already know what that something is, Alexis, but I'll tell you something you didn't already know -- what first caught my attention about you was that same predatory look along the edges of your eyes. I've always found it delicious, even before you figured it out on your own and carved your keepsake into me.

I have every confidence in you and your self-reliance; it's always been something I admired, and I know you'll work your way through your situation when the time comes. I can't tell you the number of cigarettes I've lit just to keep myself from ringing you, if only for a moment, but I think I was holding you down the way I was, and when we meet again I hope to be absolved of that. But I still give a lot of thought to you and the way your lips curve when you're puzzling something out, and I trust that, at least sometimes, your mind turns to me as well. That sort of trust is another risk I take with you, because it opens the way to fear, being open and exposed to you, you could eviscerate me with a few sharp words if you wanted to. But that's another risk I'm willing to take with you, much larger than letters without return addresses, and I know you won't betray that conviction. Either way, you have my devotion.

Until next time,

Always yours,

kitten

Try me on; I'm very you.
kitten   October 16, 2004
kitten

The first one's free...

More...

erinn
kitten   October 9, 2004

erinn.org. Debian development. Just don't mention Ubuntu around her and you'll be safe.

Continuity.
kitten   October 5, 2004

Dear Alexis,

In my mind, I imagine you drinking hot cocoa, carefully melting little chocolates and sugar and stirring in the milk at just the right time, before you open these letters, pouring it into a mug and sitting on your fire escape with one leg curled beneath you in your little trademark way. I don't know that you actually do this, but it gives me a certain sense of harmony to think so, kind of a book end to the way I write them, because I often make some myself before putting pen to paper -- at least when it's addressed to you.

This city is beautiful and terrible, all gritty cracked pavement and choked with smog. In some places near the core it's so thick you can't see the tops of the skyscrapers, and sometimes I wonder what it looks like to the office workers in those buildings, trying to see the street below. Is the visibility limited both ways? Do they just get a sense of a grey fog that goes all the way down into nothingness? It must be strange to look down and not be able to see the earth your building is supposedly anchored to, don't you think? I'd find it hard to work in a place like that; I'd be too busy trying to seek reassurance to get anything done.

Once, before I met you, I worked in a small building not far from your old apartment. There was a cemetary right next to it, and on cool days I'd usually leave my window wide open. Sometimes, if no one was looking, I'd sit on the windowsill and lean way out, and if I got the angle just right, I could get a pretty good view of the cemetary, with white grave markers lined up in perfect rows like the teeth of some ancient dinosaur. It was distracting but I couldn't resist it. Every now and then I'd see a new grave being dug and wonder what fresh victim it awaited, and every once in a while, an actual funeral. My window was too far away to really hear anything, but I'd always try to imagine the speeches given, using the number of people there as sort of a starting point. More often than not there'd be a fairly large turnout, but one time I saw a casket get interred and nobody was there except for the priest. I went so far as to check the obituaries in that day's newspaper and the day before, to see if I could find the name of whoever that was, because it didn't seem right that someone should die and not have anyone remember their name. But I couldn't find a notice in the paper. I guess if anyone had cared enough to place a notice, they'd have cared enough to show up at the final resting, so it was a long shot. Still, I never quite got over that sight, and I turned in my resignation the next week. Maybe you think that's an odd reason to quit, and maybe it is, because I've never told anyone that's the real reason I left, but I know you won't use it against me.

I'm told this city can be magic if you have the right guide. I expect I'll be here long enough to become a pretty good guide myself, and maybe someday before I return you could come here and let me take you through it. I will tell you that it's a place you've been to before, but only in passing, so I suppose that's another clue for you. I hope you're still trying to figure out where I am, exactly, but for the moment let me just say that whatever magic is supposed to be in this city, I haven't found it yet. I think it's because that sort of magic only comes from sharing. There's not much point to taking in the offerings if you have no one to tell, is there?

Despite all that, I've already found a few places where you can almost feel it, like if you just reach out and hold at the right moment, you could capture it. There's the airport, which I already told you about, and the mill, which I haven't. I call it the mill, because that's what it used to be, but now I think it's just an events hall, the mill itself shut down long ago. I've never seen any events held there, because I go late at night, but in some of the windows you can see white cloths draped over long serving tables, so I figure this must be where people have wedding receptions and such. It's a nice place for them to do so, I suppose, since the mill used to be operated by a waterwheel powered by a river, and from the converted hall you can see down into the channel where the river still flows, and the tops of trees that rise above the valley floor in an almost endless sea of evergreen lining the cliff face.

But at night, when I go, it's a different sort of beauty entirely. You can't see the trees or the river unless the moon is particularly bright, and even then you'd have to really look hard, but you can still hear the dull roar of the river, permeating everything. On cloudy nights, or if the moon is new, the valley vanishes, and the sound of all that water just seems to come from an abyss, and sometimes it seems almost musical, like a slow violin song that never starts and never finishes. To tell you the truth, it makes the entire place seem haunted, but I find that sort of stark and naked vulnerability to be beautiful. There are lots of other places besides that reception area, and most of them are unlocked, so if I'm lucky I can go inside and wander through the maze of this abandoned mill. One night, I made it all the way to the back of the building and found a small fountain set into brick, and it was still going, water being forced up through it by the pressure of the river itself and cascading back into a small pool. I stood there watching it for nearly an hour, feeling like I was right on the cusp, but it never happened. Maybe I needed someone to push me over. Maybe I needed you, Alexis.

The place I'm staying in isn't much. It's really little more than a dorm room, just a single square area and a door. I've got my bed shoved off into the corner furthest from the door and a table set up near the tiny kitchenette, which I hardly ever use because trying to cook while standing in that cramped space makes me feel anxious and edgy. There are a few pictures on the wall and on the nightstand, things I put up when I first arrived to make the place seem like a home, but it isn't. It's simply where I go at the end of the day, kind of like a hotel room, except in a hotel room you know you don't have to stay there, and it's sort of a refreshing break from the usual. But this place isn't anything like that. They say home is where the heart is, and my heart certainly isn't in this place where everything seems flimsy and artificial.

Have you ever found a home, Alexis? Do you think your apartment is a home? I used to wonder about that on those cold nights when I could stand on your balcony with the wooden deck leeching the warmth from my bare feet, and stare through the screen door at the two radio towers in the distance with their blinking red beacons at the tops, slowly syncronizing with each other and then falling away again. You always had such nice things, even if they weren't worth much. To someone just looking in, it probably just looked like mismatched furniture, old and worn, with all the little eccenticies you'd stationed around, a rock fountain or a lamp made out of a wine bottle and your clothes on the floor. But I'll tell you something now that I couldn't tell you then: to me, they felt like home. The whole apartment did. A place about which I wouldn't have to stifle back laughter or regret if I said "Let's go home." I hope it's a home for you, Alexis, and I hope you find some small measure of tranquility when you're there, even when you're looking out at the freeway and not at the pictures on your walls.

Still, for all its sterility, this little dorm-apartment will have to do for me, at least for now. I'm too far entrenched to come back just yet. I know you don't quite agree with the reasons I left, but I also know you understand, and that's something I always appreciated about you -- the fact that you don't easily sway to my point of view, but you's listen anyway, and though you'd usually still not agree, you'd always understand me. My views may be wrong sometimes but they're mine anyway, and I was always thankful that you'd let me speak my mind without ridiculing me for it later or making me feel ashamed.

Of all the pictures on my wall that I've put up and forgotten there's one picture that stands out and doesn't get lost in the clutter. Do you know which one I'm talking about, Alexis? It's a photograph of you in the park in autumn, arms outstretched catching leaves in a polished steel sky, and a gigawatt smile so pretty above your black scarf. I remember that day and I remember taking that picture of you. These are the things I hold onto to forget that I'm far from the things I know to be familiar and they keep me sane while I'm here.

I doubt you've found resolution to anything yet. I think I'd feel it somehow if you did, in the tips of my fingers or the scar on my back. But I know you're still trying to reach it, and I hope you know you have my support, even if I'm not there. I wish I could be, because I know you sometimes need to talk, and it pains me to picture you needing and not having an outlet. But when I do come back you can use me again, just like you always have, and until then, there's nothing wrong with letting simple tears express it all. You once told me that, and you need to believe it yourself. You're beautiful and strong, but please don't let that get in the way of how things try to unfold. And who knows? Maybe if you try, I'll feel it then too. With you, Alexis, I've found that anything is possible.

Until next time,

Always yours,

kitten