matrix part 1: looked at your watch yet?

Welcome to the matrix!”  The idea arrives from nowhere.  It is the first thought.   

fuzzy oval

I open my eyes, and a white plane blurs into view.  It fills the fuzzy oval of my gaze like an old movie screen.

“Oh, hello.  I know you,”  is my automatic response.  Then awareness dawns.  “Oh, crap! Again??”

In a single millisecond, a flood of sensory information arrives:  the warmth under my head. . . the lightness pressing against my upper body and arms. . . a soft weight compressing my toes. . . a mild nausea which feels larger than my head. . . a single “clack” from somewhere outside my field of view.

All of this arrives with no premise.

There is a second “clack.”  Wait. . . the sound is familiar.

A third “clack” arrives with the regularity of a heartbeat.  Time?. . . I think vaguely.  Ah, right!  Things happen one after another here.  Something nearby is marking out mileposts in my awareness.  Once they pass, I can remember them. . . but the ones approaching, I cannot.  The sound creates them.   

There is an in breath. . . mine.  Now the breath has duration.  Muscles in my neck contract in a coherent way (how did I do that), causing my head to angle forward, pillowed by the warmth under my head.  The movement brings new impressions into view:  three lines, meeting.  The white plane above meets two vertical planes in a junction.  Identification arrives.  It’s a room corner. . . I am in a room.

I can see the object which has been making the clacking noise.  A quartz clock, hung barely in view, marks out its one-second intervals, creating a past and future.   

points both punctuation

A subtle movement catches my eye. . . there!  Up in the corner, a small, gauzy thing gently wafts up and down on imperceptible currents.  What the heck is it?  For a few timeless seconds, it becomes the sole focus of my existence. 

The motions seems so familiar. . .  do I recall this from another morning?  Or, have I awakened simultaneously in two universes, and in each, a tattered web floats ephemerally in one corner?  The frayed memory feels like a signal, like something that does not belong. . .  I need to focus. 

But abruptly, the matrix knocks harder.  I’m not ready.

A flood of identifying labels arrives:  I have been asleep. . .  I am awake.  I have a life. . . a mate. . . a family. . . a car. . . a job. . . a bank account.

Embed from Getty Images


Information, facts, premises. . .  all come flooding in, grinning like impish demons who fasten themselves onto my psyche with ingenious hooks.  Numbly and without thinking, I take ownership of them (have I a choice?).  Part of me wishes I was still hanging like an unoccupied suit in a closet.

Idly, my gaze remains on the frayed web still moving in the corner.  I’m forgetting why I was so interested in it.

A chemtrail haze begins to form in my mind.  Mental habits are booting up. . .  what things mean. . . who I think I am. . . what others think of me. . . the way I talk to myself. . . how I fit in.  A vague unease steals over the moment like a shadow.  Why?

Oh, it’s nothing, really,” the matrix informs me.  “You are simply inheriting the premises of Earth life.  Everyone does.

They do??  I’m not sure I like this.  It feels like a deal that I – or someone very like me – made, but whose details I can’t remember.  There is a gravitational pull to these premises. . . as though we’re in a courtroom and have just heard the sobering phrase: “Will the defendant please rise?”  while a gavel-bearing judge prepares to pass sentence.  

Life is struggle, featuring dualism in all its glory: debt and freedom, pain and pleasure, luck and misfortune, empathy and hatred, love and fear, right and wrong. . .


You are here now, whether or not you had any choice in the matter.  You are sentenced to toil for the right to exist.


“You will develop attachments. . . sensual, emotional, intellectual; and by these you will be manipulated.” 


“There may be a better world when you die.  Check local listings for details.  But you will surely doubt it, and you will wonder if you deserve it.

Meanwhile, nothing will stay the same.  The world will speed up, and life will grow more chaotic.


Have a nice day. . .    




Doesn’t this sound like a total riot!?  No wonder so many come to Earth.  You just can’t find this level of immersion anywhere else.  The attachments, the drama, the addictions, the linearity of cause and effect. . .  how utterly unique!  I’ve heard there’s quite a waiting line for this particular theater.   And yet somehow, we’ve made it in!  “Consider yourself lucky, mate.”  That’s what they tell the newcomers.

Welcome to the ultimate in massively multiplayer open-world gaming.  What will it be this time?  Destitute?  Serial killer?  Wealthy princess?  Entrepreneur?  Savant?  Just want to “help people?”  Raise a family and experience love?  Or just quietly “trying to get by?”   

Tongue-in-cheek aside, the idea of a mostly oblivious humanity and those who look beyond the veil is a familiar trope and has been with us for millennia.  You’ve seen The Matrix, and surely you recognize it by now as a dominant cultural metaphor for waking up.  Plato developed the myth of the cave.  Jesus spoke of being born again (not merely the shallow declaration of belief it is now).  

platos cave

Well, there is something to this waking up business, and it may run deeper than just “getting a clue” about who is or isn’t in charge of the globe.  What if reality as we know it is analogous to being in a movie theater (Plato’s cave), a hologram (Michael Talbot and others), or some kind of computer-simulation (Elon Musk, et al)?  Well. . .             

Looked at your watch yet? 

Glancing down at the time during a movie typically means the experience has worn thin.  I remember the very first time I did that in a theater.  The sense of being lost in the story had evaporated.  And yet, those around me seemed immersed in the drama.  Why wasn’t I still hypnotized?  Eventually, something happened on-screen to drawn me back in.  But there had been that moment.  

Seeing the light, waking up, having a paradigm shift, getting red-pilled. . .  these are commonplace memes now.  Some say we are experiencing the most significant era in human history.  Do you feel it?  You don’t have to, you know.  Keep your head down.  Stay in the narrative.  Smirk at the space cadets for being caught up in yet another “conspiracy theory,” and get back to your routine.  Life will be exactly what you need it to be.  It will appear to prove your point.  No problem. No difference. . .  No light. 

But what does one awaken from?  And awaken to?   Perhaps to another dream – the one in which we dream that we have woken up.  Now that’s an insidious plot device.  All the hoopla about elites and mass arrests, pedophilia, weather modification, ‘Q,’ et al. . . what if all this is merely part of the dream? 

It is, you know.

As long as we are here, as long as we inhabit bodies and walk around on this planet, we are still playing house.  We are playing at hallucinating reality. . .  a reality where things are concrete, where the rules of causality are sequential, where minds-in-isolation is the de facto experience.  For now, I suppose the best we can hope for is to become lucid in this dream.   What would you do then?

Have you ever dreamed that you had just awakened?  And have you then tried to awaken those around you. . .  even as you still dreamt yourself?  How’d that work out for ya?

The path is lonely.  Lately, I have found that the greatest challenge has been to live each day as if things are normal, usually for the sake of family, job, and friends.  They all seem to require the commonality of the shared dream experience.  To intentionally break that is to generate distance.  That comes painfully as sarcasm, worry, anger, scorn, or avoidance.  How much isolation is it all worth?  This puts a different spin on “keeping up appearances.”  We should talk about this more.

Or maybe we should all just shrug it all off and get back to sleep.  We seem a long way off from meeting one another, Buddha to Buddha.   

Nature Photography

matrix intro: cream and sugar with that?

Mornings are precious to me. There is no news. There are no assignments, no failed responsibilities, no negative self-talk. Yesterday’s narrative still lies in a discarded heap on the floor. Mornings are the childhood of each day.

I take a sip of coffee, and I think of the soft black liquid as a contrivance that culture has provided, causing me to shake off the dream time, to grow up fast, to hit the ground running. Nevertheless, I return daily to that drug. I enjoy the particular shimmer it brings to the body.

As the day moves forward, a subtle change occurs. I become more habitual, more culturally functional. I am growing up. For many adults, the process is automatic, occurring in the same instant their feet touch the floor by the bed. Often, I can stall its onset until much later: the moment my feet touch the parking lot asphalt by the opened car door at work.

On the days I show up there, I arrive early: seven am. The commute at that hour is quiet: a journey south along dark two-laners, usually to a playlist of soft piano and vocals. This time of year, the Virginia predawn sky uses every shade of blue from a starry midnight directly overhead to a soft cyan at the edges. The cyan blends suddenly into pinks and oranges in the east, where the horizon is sometimes streaked with a few luminescent clouds.

As I have aged, something has softened in me.

I have dropped the habit of running an endless jumble of topics though my mind during the drive. An existential beauty comes in these moments, which the heart will not shrug off. Emotion arrives unannounced. Alone behind the wheel, having long ago stopped feeling ridiculous, I feel tears form and then run softly down my face as though along forgotten creek beds. They are old friends, these tears — soul mates from long past — who have stolen into the moment to express something numinous. The unbearable irony of awareness, once experienced, suffers no narrative. I find myself wishing I might inhabit the moment forever: outside of time, outside of the commute and the destination I must soon attend to.

Yeah, some mornings are like that.

Could it be the approaching specter of death? Perhaps it’s the self-doubt which gradually, if inevitably, replaces a lifetime of unfulfilled dreams. Or maybe it’s a bit of melody from the radio that perfectly frames the imagery of a fading dream – the dream of my life – against the changing palette of the sky. There is nothing to inform me whether I am happy or sad. There is only the road moving under the headlights, the leather-covered steering wheel, and the sky.

Other folks are traveling at this hour. Their lights approach and pass. Some follow like distant beacons or appear ahead like flares which wink on and off in the distance. As we reach the lit streets of town, I recognize their vehicles and their movements. They are respectful, and they know how to keep the interval. Lately, we have become an undeclared tribe, a kinship of early commuters. It feels to me in these moments like an age is passing.

For the unprepared, the progress of the day is a microcosm of one’s life, its long-term effect being to kill off wonder, to erase the original dream of childhood and substitute in its place a slick, marketed replacement. It is the same with education. This is why children instinctively don’t want to grow up. Children know their hearts. As they grow and mature, the inner voice is heard less and less. It becomes the wisdom of their parents, and then the teachers around them, and finally their peers. We assume that we have been molding fresh clay, rather than shaping into an acceptable form something timeless.

We have inherited a culture which, while slowly driving us crazy, meanwhile expects us to be both practical and compassionate. There’s more than a little dissonance involved. We rarely stop to think that this world’s arrangement of commerce and competition, with its underside of greed and corruption, may not be the only possible development of history. . . that although ancient in origin, a society rising from survival of the fittest and the struggle between light and dark may be a deeply flawed premise, and its presence on this small blue gem was not inevitable.  Why this particular vector? Why us? Surely there are better ways to exist.  Who has not thought this?

Oh, sweet child.  Do the hard thing, and it will work out.  You will see.”  This is the coffee of growing up, of going to school, of giving one’s life away.  When it becomes our turn to repeat these words, the sympathetic among us realize that we hide our true emotions in these moments.  For it’s the same encouragement given to good and faithful slaves during the time of the New Testament.  They are timeless, these words, and they have always felt both compassionate and inevitable – like a velvet wrapped cattle prod.  Welcome to the world . . . you have to work.  You will cry.  Try to laugh.  Now be careful.

Give your child a kiss and a gentle push. . .  as you feel your lower lip catch in your teeth.

Yes, there is beauty here.  And just as certainly, there is pain.  This post will not become yet another noble attempt to reconcile the two. But, having found ourselves in this world, how does one respond?  What does one say?  ‘Trust in Jesus’?  ‘Work hard and keep your head down‘?  ‘Here’s a joke for ya‘? Or, what most of this boils down to: ‘Don’t think about it.’

It’s true of all attempts to fix what is broken, from the daily ritual of washing dirty dishes, to turning over a new leaf in one’s life, to electing the ‘next Great Hope.’  For a while, it feels like we’ve made a difference, and then, inevitably, the dishes are dirty again. 

The temptation for mature adults (read: having reached a seasoned and mildly cynical retirement) is to hole up at home, sit around binge watching Netflix with a bottle of Jim Beam and some ice, while the annuity checks roll in and you get crustier by the day.  Some will substitute Bible and charity for the Jim Beam and ice. Others become their own version of Sisyphus, preferring to lose themselves in endless activities of cleaning, sorting, and organizing. “All that work that I put in, and the world’s still the same damned place!” 

Surely there are better ways to exist. Well, you know. . . crusty idealist that I am, I still believe there are.

But we’ll probably have to get past this. . .

We’ve gone long enough for one post. I’ve left things hanging, of course, but would like to pick up again in a subsequent one to see where we might end up. Meanwhile, expect a few tangents.

schlumbergera* oh so vera. . . beautiful

Our Christmas Cactus has bloomed about a month late this year, providing a brilliant splash of color to our front window to offset the drabness of late January. Though not yet huge, this year it seems more spectacular than ever.

Lately as I have tended this plant, I have begun to think of my mother who always kept at least one perched in a side window of her living room. 

Mom’s bloomed pink, and they sometimes waited as late as Easter to flower.  Remembering how she would remark on the blooms each year, happily pointing them out when we would visit, forms a precious memory.  

Sometimes I wonder if it is her unseen hand which has encouraged such recurring beauty, even today.

Thanks, mom.

Schlumbergera Bridgesii, S. x buckleyi is a tropical cactus of Brazilian origin.

the memory

The first thing I remember is a ball.  A white ball, with a double red stripe tumbles over and over across a dark hardwood floor.  Blue stars cluster in the white space of each hemisphere.  The ball keeps moving when I push it, and that is magic.  The wooden blocks and the teddy bear stay in one place.  But the ball knows how to laugh.  It knows magic, and I watch the stars disappear into the floor, then rise again on the other side.

We are visiting in the house.  The ball is here, without its owner.  Were they here, would they hide in their mother’s skirts, or march out and take control of my life for the next hour?  My mother and father take me visiting, and sometimes I find little ones like me.  But today, I am alone in this realm of shoes and ankles, chair legs and drawer pulls.  There is only the ball and maybe, if somebody thinks of it, a box of toy men to be taken down and set up.

Then the ball will roll over the soldiers, knocking them all down except the survivors which I will save – graced to watch the persecutions of their companions from the sidelines.  They face the action beside me, and I allow them to think what they want because I can sweep them over with my hand.  I stretch out across the floor on a scatter rug, and I roll the ball across the toy men, and they fall bravely.  And the adults have gone elsewhere in the old house.  It’s a big, cool farmhouse.  A breeze wafts long curtains, ghostlike, into the room.

window with curtains

“Boy, you drink like a dadburn horse!” the farmer says.  I hold the glass with both hands, and my swallows are gulps.  I look up to see if it is okay to grin, but now they are talking about something else.  So I pick up a chicken leg from my plate.  I have green beans there and something yellow, too.  Mama decided what I was going to eat.  I have two catalogs under me in the chair.  The bread tastes good, but the butter tastes funny.  I like the way the table smells.  It’s oily and dark, and the overhead light makes shapes in its surface.

Then I go outside and walk behind the brown birds.  Not really chase them, though I’d like to.  They make little ‘putt-putt’ noises, and I want to touch one.  So I run into the house, breathless, and ask: “Mama, what are those things with the funny faces?”  They look like tiny turkeys and they always walk in the same direction.  And the woman who gave me another piece of bread says, “Those are my guinea hens, child.  Do you like my guineas?”

“Uh-huh,” I hear my voice.  When I look up at her I can leave my eyes wide, because she doesn’t feel mean.  I decide I would ask her for water if I was thirsty.

The sound of the air rushing past the open windows starts and stops like the world is turning on and off.  There is no sound, and then it comes roaring.  I am curled up in the back seat of our Studebaker.  We are going home now.  I see mama and daddy’s heads looking the other way.  I can hear them saying words, but I don’t know what they are.  When I stand up, I hold on to the front seat, and then I see the road.  My little sister is sitting in mama’s lap.  She only sleeps and cries.  The world goes by fast, and the wind will carry your hands away.

tell us a little bit. . . but not too much*

As the years passed, and as jar after jar of peanut butter got emptied, I began to take on a new perspective.*  The world became a continuously updating augury of my internal state.

This may sound off-kilter to you.  If so, consider it imaginary.  Consider it free-form poetry, a spot on your internal mirror, a subliminal vector. . .  You have been lulled into reading this by your assumption that the world – which includes your screen and this post – is an external and mechanistic thing  which moves along independently of your thoughts.  Meanwhile this post may be the literary version of a Snow Crash virus which, at this moment, is rearranging the neural pathways in your brain.

I may have lulled you with my modest profile.  We may still be kids, and your mother may be calling you home.  We may have just grabbed cherry Popsicles from a Tupperware tray in the freezer.  Your History homework may be due tomorrow.  A car may have just run over a blue balloon, bursting it into red shreds.  Peggy Sue may have closed her eyes, may have ‘give up hope.’

You can take the world as it appears, if you want to.  You may find that the easiest relationship with it is one of reaction.  That’s the game where the world is outside of you, and it shows you stuff, and you believe you must make the best of it.  Some days, the world brings you warnings, letting you know that what you have decided on is strife, desire, discomfort.

How you choose to act is, of course, up to you.  Do you like your world?  Do you like the things it tells you on the evening news, in your neighbors’ voices, in your checkbook balance, in the blueredpillconversations during your car pool?  Perhaps it is only telling you what you always knew.  Perhaps it is like a surprise birthday party you secretly wanted but never thought you’d get.  Perhaps it is like the emergence of a cancer: neither the cause, nor the cure, but rather a manifestation of a thought someone held for years.  Perhaps it’s a single sentence sealed in an envelope.  When you finally open it, you realize that you wrote it yourself.  Simple.  It’s simple.  Disagree.

What are the signs?  What is your augury?  You see it everyday – the mirror of your life is everything, everywhere.   Just as you see these very lines.  What do they mean?

555      no555

It’s your house.  Feng-shui the hell out of it.

*Houses in Motion
Talking Heads



I’m contemplating a return engagement here.  Not absolutely sure yet.  This probably won’t bring a perceptible change to anyone’s life other than mine.  But who can say, really?  We are told by the very best apocryphal sources that no one knows the full effect of their actions.

Yep, it’s still me – just a bit older and preparing to hit ‘eject’ from the wage earner hamster wheel.  Again.  There was a foiled attempt at the end of 2012, when I managed to part company with the daily commute for three glorious weeks!  Then came part-time until late 2015, then full-time again until. . . well, roughly now.

You know what?  Steady income turns out to be downright reassuring, especially for sleep-walkers.  A person will give up plenty for a sense of security,  becoming a willing contractual slave, provided it means they don’t have to think very hard about money.  Or about anything.  ‘Slave’ might be a harsh word.  This isn’t meant to be cynical.  It’s just the plan most of us live by.

If this blog becomes a thing again, this ‘writer’ (not real sure about that word, either) probably won’t linger over memoir-based essays, artsy literary analyses, clever one-liners, or boring how-to’s (what I did and how I did it).  Probably not.  Not in the sense that such words correspond rationally to some clearly definable object or situation.

Have you any idea at this point what I am talking about?  Have I??  Here’s the thing, friends.  I have lost touch with reality.  It has taken no small effort to get to this point, and I’m happy with that.  You will have already decided what reality is.  That’s sort of what we humans assume ourselves good at figuring out.  So what is it?  Something ‘out there’ to be consulted for clarity and reassurance?

The thing is, I no longer see a well-defined line between imagination and perception, between truth and fiction.  It could be all the sitting meditation, I suppose, but sometimes I think I was just born that way. . . born to reject the classical logical training which drums into us the idea that something cannot both exist and not exist, cannot be both true and false simultaneously.  That old framework seems no longer adequate to explain our human experience.

Case in point: quantum computers exist, offering trillions of instances of Schrodinger’s cat [1] per second.

Case in point: Trump exists, offering similar instances of cognitive dissonance [2] per Democrat per second.  Actually, I think it’s all rather amusing.  I don’t have a partisan orientation.

You will have to decide for yourself where truth lies. Do you think. . . 


. . . as the old X-Files poster declared?  Do you think there is one correct version of reality?  Do you think there is real news and there is fake news and only responsible, intelligent people get it right?

Fine.  I’m not here to tell you what’s what.  Oh wait, here’s a challenging idea. . .


. . . at least in some parallel dimension or other.  This might make you responsible for all sorts of weirdness we aren’t going to talk about right now. . .

This has gotten weird, I know.  I started out talking about returning to a blog, and suddenly I’m going on about truth and perception.  It kind of follows.

Maybe truth is an outmoded term.  Maybe all we’ve ever had were narratives.  This is debatable.  Or maybe we will modify the whole idea of truth (if not the whole idea of a blog) in favor of something more significant.  This is all meant to say that I haven’t a plan here other than to drift back and forth across these lines rather than fear them.  Does that make me a relativist or worse, a nihilist?  God, I hope not.

How are you with the idea of magical realism, then?

The one thing I will try to do is use halfway decent grammar, although I’ve abandoned those old obsessive-compulsive rules for complete sentences and Chicago Manual of Style punctuation.

So.  Come play.
Life is a game. And yet life is harsh.
Life is virtual reality.  And yet life is concrete;
it’s certainly a place where you can stub your toe quite painfully
. . . the virtual one.


objects in the sky are closer than they appear

the equinox of the afternoon
presses toward Winter
easy silk sliding through treetops,
a single-engine plane, its motor runs 
dry against the distant blue

I remember sitting in the woods
with a joint, hearing 
a contrail scratch slowly
across my mind, the world green and
bird and brown and rustle and gray

tires on a country lane
crackle against loose aggregate
the hazy rumble of its passing. 
the airplane's stern whine
washes back and forth across empty sky

easy now come evening's landmarks:
dark children voices push 
fresh cut air into our ears, 
a distant mower sends news clippings,
the air turning luminous orange 

a warm wind blows against slanted land, 
time billows like a cotton sheet 
unfolding from its center - 
this jeweled and burning moment 
empty, eternal

Letter to My 40th Class Reunion

It was 40 years ago last June, a warm Tuesday evening on the 12th, that we lined up in our green caps and gowns outside the front entrance to the high school. Laughing at each other’s jokes, we waited for the signal to march inside for commencement.  The grass was freshly mowed, a light breeze stirred the air, a few puffy clouds dotted the horizon.  And inside, a gymnasium full of parents, friends and family politely fanned themselves, awaiting our entrance.

We’d done it.  It was 1973, and we were the cocks of the walk: the graduating seniors.  We imagined ourselves experienced.

Last night, I looked out on a 40th reunion, and I saw what experience really looks like.  We were no longer virgin canvas; our faces had been transformed by the process of living into complex statements of character.  Every face there was utterly beautiful.  We had become walking stories.  I wanted to hear them all! Yet at the same time,  every face carried a precious piece of the “once upon a time” that was Nelson County in the early seventies.

I have recently found myself wishing that I could go back and eliminate the wasted opportunities, that I could somehow know every single classmate as a close friend. But you remember high school: the cliques, the shyness, the peer pressure, and of course, the still fresh divisions of black and white in the ’70s.

Now, all those actors’ masks that once seemed so necessary and so compelling – we simply toss them aside.

And so, last night. . . forty years out. . . we show up. We present ourselves to each other with that stumbling fearlessness that only comes with age. We arrive with our faded dreams, our crowned glories, our pictures of grandchildren, our memories of departed classmates, our successes and failures. . .  and this is what forty years written over eighteen-year-old faces looks like.  Rembrandt was never so sublime.

Last night we looked at each other, and we glimpsed something that we somehow always knew: we are all one human being – written over and over again by an author who delights in the variation assigned to us as individuals. It is for us only to recognize ourselves in each other.  And celebrate. 

We are the celebration of that creation, of an era that has found itself at last.  A more rural, less worldly moment in county history than today.   A time fraught with its own uncertainty: the winding down of the Vietnam war, the rise of counter-culture, the essential progress of civil rights, and above all an eternal dilemma: whether to accept our parents’ views on society, or to strike out along new paths and to forge new visions of the world.

If there had been an open mic last night, I am not sure I could have made it through this. But I want to say that I consider you ALL my closest friends whether you were there or not, or whether I am ever able to tell you in person.

Until next time.  Be well. 

three am

alone at night
the body refusing sleep
my creaking feet, my naked passage
to this stumbling equilibrium,
this gravitational silence.
a quiet, systemic protest
against a too pleasant tomorrow.
awakened from rooted depths,
to this glowing mirror,
the lined-up, strung-out
cicada still whirring,
still half-expecting
to hear an answer.

Sasha On Deck

This gallery contains 3 photos.

This is Sasha holding the moment captive.  Sasha hangs out under our front deck, and on hot summer days she might be be seen grabbing a few rays on the landscape ties.  ‘We can’t all be rattlesnakes,’ Sasha says, ‘but … Continue reading