A glance over my fictional work and poetry reveals that much of what I write includes elements of time travel or time manipulation. I love sci-fi in general but it’s time travel that really gets my attention. I’m not exaggerating when I say I think I’ve watched every movie and show about time travel with the exception of Timeless, but that’s up next. It was just the other night after wrapping up the simultaneously brilliant and terrible 12 Monkeys, though, that I earnestly began to question myself as to why I find time travel stories so alluring.
Is it ‘nurture’ perhaps? I wasn’t even a teenager yet before I discovered Dr, Who. The Doctor has always been brilliant, a character who will avoid using a weapon if his brains will suffice in a dire situation. What’s not to love about that? Maybe I wanted to be like him (now her). But that’s just a character and has little to do with time travelling itself.
Maybe I like to travel. I’ve long had slightly more than a passing interest in different historical eras. Who wouldn’t rather actually visit ancient Rome than ham it up a Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas? Who wouldn’t want to take a peek a thousand years into the future and see what today’s world evolves into? Of course such adventuring would be dangerous and perhaps that’s part of the point.
Is it the allure of power, how going back in time with your present knowledge could potentially change things? Sure, we could alter our own history but what about altering the fate of humanity? The potential to change history in any number of ways is an attractive idea, though, wouldn’t we all try to change something just to see if the universe would allow it?
I’m not sure what I would do or when I would travel to if I actually had the ability. It may be the case that this disturbs me as I think of myself as someone I know relatively well; I know the reason behind everything I do yet don’t know what I would do with this ability. Maybe it’s all of these things. It vexes me.
While I don’t believe time travel to the past is possible, it would be pretty cool if we could do that. Or, more likely, terrible assuming some nefarious person would get their hands on any such time machine. Maybe it’s the impossibility of it all – which is probably for the best – which makes the idea attractive. We always want what we can’t have.
Do you love time travel stories and if so, why? Kindly leave your thoughts in the comments below.
[Author’s Note: We vacationed in Japan from late May into the first week of June 2018. This was my second trip and my wife’s third.]
It had been 13 years since we last visited Japan and we were eager to return. Our trip in 2005 was nothing short of enchanting, experiencing a culture so new, so alluring, we don’t know why we hadn’t planned our return until now. Everything in its time, I suppose.
We arrived at Osaka Airport midmorning and quickly found ourselves unprepared not for the lack of English or readable signage, but for the volume of people we encountered. Having lived in Hawaii for six years now, you get used to a general lack of people being around. (Granted, we were a bit unnerved having almost forgotten a carry-on when we left the plane. Luckily, we were able to get back on the aircraft after everyone had deplaned without too much trouble. Thank you, Japan Airlines!) The lack of English was the ancillary problem; though I’d been studying Japanese for two months, everything went out the window the second I was actually in country. If we hadn’t been concentrating on getting where we were going so much, I would’ve been mad at myself. It is true that most Japanese can speak English and will ‘strike first’ if they suspect you are American, but I didn’t want to be that tourist. I was anyway, at least for now.
We took a bus from Osaka airport to Kyoto where we’d be staying a week before going to Tokyo for a few days. As we rode through Osaka, I couldn’t help but observe the many, MANY golf driving ranges dotting the metropolis. These people really like golf, I thought a least a dozen times. But my mind was more on Kyoto, which I loved far more than Tokyo our first go ‘round. Once we arrived in Kyoto proper, I was a little bit shocked to see the number of tourists; we certainly don’t remember so many of them last time though I understand Kyoto has risen as the ‘traditional’ Japan tourists desire, as opposed to cosmopolitan Tokyo. Off the bus, it was a perfectly pleasant day and found our AirBnB ten minutes away from the city’s famous train station with little trouble. Not a bad place and at least larger than the hostels we stayed in our first trip. Our little getaway also came with usage of the owner’s pocket wifi so we always had use of our smartphones, something we found to be absolutely indispensable. If you go to Japan and don’t speak/read Japanese, you’ll need pocket wi-fi.
After settling in, we were determined to have a good dinner since we had problems with food back in 2005. So, naturally, we wound up at an Indian food restaurant a half hour’s walk north of our abode. And this is one of my favorite things about Japan: You can walk around a strange city and feel safe while taking in things like small, simple shrines people place in front of their homes. Good thing, too, as we’d marked off more restaurants on Google Maps then we’d ever actually get to. (We might’ve gotten to more eateries if not for the fact that Kyoto Beer Lab was literally right around the corner from where we stayed, and that’s where we ended almost every day of our week.) While tiresome on the feet, just walking around Kyoto was a delight as it wasn’t unusual to see citizens vacuuming the sidewalk or using a broom to sweep canals. Interesting, while many Japanese building will be dirty or in disrepair, Kyoto’s people keep their streets and streams clean. Really clean. (Well, for the most part. Generally the more touristy an area the grubbier it gets, by Japanese standards anyway. More on this later.)
With six more days to go in Kyoto, we had to get out and about, doing our exactly-as-planned ‘temple and garden’ tour with a few new twists.
Day two – Ginkakuji/Silver Pavilion, Ryoanji shrine, Ninna-ji Temple, Arishiyama. The Silver Pavilion was small and crowded though we arrived before the gates opened. While we waited, we had our first of many doses of green tea ice cream cones whose first taste in years was like a shot of heaven straight to the brain. Then we congregated to enter the Pavilion, holding back, waiting for the hordes of school children to do their thing. (More on this later.) Ryoanji featured a small rock garden so bland it might as well have been pointless. Comparatively, Ninna-ji was a huge complex whose walkways were pretty neat and suspiciously light on people. Then we travelled clear across town to Arishiyama in a bid to find the mysterious Monkey Park we’d seen on Youtube. Arishiyama is a very touristy town but the climb uphill to the monkey park kept a good measure of people away. Once arrived, we found monkey’s roaming freely but not very camera friendly. Actually, they seemed to harass each other a lot, perfectly in line with their descendants. Fortunately the air was clear so you could catch a good glimpse of Kyoto below. Unfortunately, the town’s acclaimed bamboo forest walk later on was nothing to talk about; I’d seen better bamboo in Portand, in my backyard where I used to live. Day one’s dinner was a stop at a yakatori restaurant whose portions were so small I think they only used a quarter of the chicken. For a little more food, snacks really, we hit Kyoto Beer Lab again where one of the unpretentious co-owners turned out to be Aussie. Cool guy.
Day three – Kinkakuji/Golden Pavilion. My. God. The masses waiting to get into this place. How many people are there in this country? I thought they were all just passing through Kyoto Station. Do any of these people work? Do the school children ever go to school? The Golden Pavilion would be an amazing place without the people, but since there’s never not people there, it really is a shame. Then we walked across the city, to Indian food again, then Kyoto Beer Lab. We don’t actually drink as much as my recap suggests, except we do when we’re on vacation.
Day four – Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto’s foothills. The viewing deck of main hall that overlooks the city of Kyoto was closed for construction so I wasn’t willing to waste money going in. My wife did and while I waited, I figured I’d get some shots of the city from up here best I could. However, I was thwarted to this end as the best place to view the city from the temple steps was locked down by a European guy proposing to his girlfriend. She said yes and I said dammit as they embraced for what seems like the rest of their lives. I waited and they finally cleared out but before I could get to the viewing spot, it was annexed by two young Chinese ladies way too into themselves. Eventually I gave up as by the time my wife returned too many people had shown up. I don’t remember what we did after that but I’m sure green tea ice cream was involved. Oh yeah, we went up a super scary cable car to some trails in the foothills in another part of town where we somehow found ourselves in a French garden. What the heck, indeed, but then again this wouldn’t be Japan without random stuff like this around. And I don’t remember where, but my wife got a hold of a bell and rang it much to the dismay of some monks. Once we ran away and got back down into Kyoto proper, we had a terrible time trying to figure out the ticket machine which – with some help – found out you have to put your money in first before it’ll work. Then we ate dinner at Gojo Paradise restaurant, a place in Kyoto that seems to double as a hostel for Europeans. The food was surprisingly good, unsurprisingly small as is the case most places you’ll eat in Japan. This is how the Japanese stay thin, what with these portions also being expensive. EOD? KBL.
Day five – Phoenix Temple in Uji and Todaiji Temple in Nara. Uji is an under-rated town and I don’t say that because I successfully spoke Japanese here. The shops in this green tea haven are top-notch and I had the BEST green tea ice cream here as it was topped with matcha powder. That was followed by the best green tea gyoza ever, followed by the best green tea soba noodles ever. I mean, this little town fried my nervous system! Oh yeah, the Phoenix Temple was cool, too, an underrated attraction judging by the reduced crowds here. (Keep in mind we get everywhere early in an attempt to beat the rush.) From there we travelled to Nara to the Todaiji Temple that houses the largest indoor bronze Buddha statue. Todaiji is quite impressive despite the undulating masses that pass through its massive South Gate. But for me, Nara is always remembered as the place where the deer attacked me. Deer, regarded as messengers of the gods, roam the streets freely in Nara. If you want to feed them, you can purchase crackers from any number of vendors. But, my god, once the deer see you with the crackers, you’d better run. They will _ you up. Strangely enough, after fleeing the deer we ran into a German Octoberfest in the middle of town, so of course we had to have a few beers. (It was hot and we knew Kyoto Beer lab was closed today.) Somehow we made it back out of Nara with my nethers intact, but not before considering going into an owl café before deciding that was just too sad to elicit that business.
Day six – We got up early to hit my favorite place in all of Japan, Fushimi-Inari Shrine, trail of the thousand tori gates. In the quite of morning, this place is magical and words cannot convey what I feel when I am here. Near the top, which is nothing special really – you just come back down – there was a man playing Japanese flute and it sounded so beautiful. On our way out of the area, my wife began her hunt for authentic Japanese ceramic blue bowls. Meanwhile, I had more green tea ice cream. This would pretty much be it today as we were quite tired from running around the previous few days.
Day seven – Breakfast at a quaint little coffee shop in Kyoto called Murmur. French Toast with a dollop of vanilla ice cream with dripped-to-perfection coffee = heaven. Then onto the bullet train to Tokyo! where loud, obnoxious Indian tourists have no respect for local culture. At least the view of Mt. Fuji from the train was nice. We arrived in Shinjuku Station to even more mobs of people than we’d seen in Kyoto! We are they putting all these people? How is this many people even possible? Walking through Shinjuku Station is like being a human pinball. Somehow we made it to the Hyatt Regency which was decent enough, I suppose, though the staff is the standout there. After settling in, we navigated back through the train station to the touristy side of Shinjuku which reminded me why I hate Tokyo – it’s downright filthy while trying too hard to be chic. On a more positive note, Shinjuku does have Godzilla popping over a building and a Godzilla store. I did score some Godzilla underwear of all things but stopped short of buying the mask. Talk about regrets.
Day eight – Big day; first down to Kamakura south of Tokyo. We arrived in town and hit a bakery so we’d have something to nosh on as we trekked across town to a bamboo forest. At the temple near the train station, we sat down to eat some of our food when we see a hawk circling overhead. We’re sitting under a tree and don’t think anything of it. Then – I kid you not – my wife is handing a pretzel in a bag back to me when something slaps my ear, I hear a crunch, and next thing I see is the hawk flying away with our food! Up, up, and away. “Did that hawk just steal our food?” I blinked. I’ve been around four decades and nothing like this has ever happened to me; I was floored! Good thing it didn’t take anyone’s fingers off with its talons, if we’re being positive. (Even though we had been here before, we just now learned about Kamakura’s thieving hawks.) Flabbergasted, we walked almost two miles across this German-influenced town to a bamboo forest that hosts a tea house serving the best matcha green tea I’ve ever had (I’m saying that a lot, aren’t I?) thus turning the morning around. We made our way to the Great Buddha after that which – surprise! – was mobbed with tourists and school children. Don’t these kids go to school, ever?! We must have been here before Japan blew up as a tourist destination because you couldn’t just sit and enjoy the statue’s stature. I have to admit, this was my second favorite place I wanted to go and was sorely disappointed. Dejected, we left the temple but found a kebob place nearby, a hole in the wall really, that served the best kabobs…ever. And by an authentic Turkish man who was super polite. On our way back to Shinjuku, we aimed for an area of Tokyo known as Odaiba, a fledgling Disneyland of sorts. We found it to be a surprisingly large area, making the time we had left before the attractions closed scarce. We were able to see the Museum of Emerging Technology and caught a glimpse of the famous robot Asimov in action. While the giant Gundam was cool, too, the Statue of Liberty here felt out of place and we just didn’t have time for the ferris wheel. Just as well because it started to mother-of-god pour. Figures, too, as it was the one day we left our hotel without an umbrella, not that you’re ever very far from an umbrella in Japan; they’re weird that way…
Day nine – We didn’t get up much in the morning; just a jaunt over to Harajuku in the morning where the local kids weren’t in their usually Cosplay getups, presumably because it was too early. We did go to one of Tokyo’s popular cat cafes which proved to be nerve-wracking – the cats seemed pretty stressed out, probably because the employees give you a strict laundry list of rules to follow. Somehow I felt stressed for the buggers. The coffee? Predictably terrible so we went to another café, some vegan place that is quite the novelty in Japan. You see, the Japanese really love to eat meat (and rice). You’d think given their general size they’d eat more veggies but veggies are actually scarce in restaurants in Japan. Why, I do not know. Without Harajuku popping we headed back to our hotel for some pool time before getting ready for the big concert – Ludovico Einaudi – the whole reason my wife planned this trip. While the symphony hall itself was beautiful and the acoustics marvelous, Einaudi’s piano music just doesn’t translate into the arena rock type of show he tried to pull off. I hate to say it, but the guy’s music is better heard than seen. We finished the night spending entirely too much for small portions at the hotel’s restaurant while seated next to a table of very jubilant teenagers having a birthday party. Sigh.
Day ten – The trip home. We stocked up on food in Shinjuku station seeing how our twenty hour trip home would take a train, a bullet train, another train, a shuttle tram, a plane, another plane, and a shuttle ride home. Our cats may have been happy to see us when we arrived, until they sensed we’d been somewhere and cheated on them. Within two minutes they no longer cared. We longed to back in Japan already.
Some General Things I Noticed in Japan
1-They love steep stairs. Or very short, wide stairs. Or a strange combination of the two. They like stairs. Keeps ‘em fit.
2-Not as polite as I recall. Shop owners are, but the public in general, not so much. Given the influx and behavior of some tourists, I can’t say I blame them.
3-They like %$#&@ hot water. I’d forgotten but the blisters reminded me.
4-They love Cosplay, just not in the morning.
5-Their infrastructure can be interesting; they’ll build sidewalks upon sidewalks that have crumbled instead of repairing the whole thing. This reminded me of being in the army where we would just paint over anything sufficiently dirty.
6-They don’t mind capitalism inside their shrines.
7-Kyoto’s citizens dress very conservatively compared to Tokyo’s residents. Kyoto is the more modest of the two by far.
8-Indian tourists are the rudest tourists in Japan, that or we were just lucky.
9-Maybe my most fun experience in Kyoto was in Gion when I was interviewed by a schoolgirl wanting to practice English. None of the school kids claimed to know where Hawaii was, which lines up with Japan’s dark, secret underbelly. But I humored her when she asked what I like about Japan; let’s see, shrines, anime, and Godzilla. This gave her a good laugh. My wife was interviewed, too, and their teacher gave us gifts. Super cool Japanese!
All Rights Reserved (c) August 2018 John J Vinacci
[Author’s note: I wrote this play for a class back in 2009 when I was a fledgling Philosophy major. I had something to say about how ridiculous Rene Descartes’ philosophy was which I can’t believe few people at the time saw. As with most old, famous dead people, Descartes had a good PR agent and I reluctantly admit he got due credit for writing his thoughts about thoughts down. I suppose modern epistemology had to start somewhere.]
(Twilight Zone music plays)
Rod Serling Submitted for your approval, two of the world’s most renowned philosophers, French mathematician Rene Descartes and the prominent Ancient Greek, Socrates. Scientists armed with advanced technology have brought the two men into the future to instruct at The Hall of Great Philosophers. What will happen when Descartes’ ‘Cogito ergo sum’ crosses paths with Socrates humble remark, “All I know is that I know nothing”?
Descartes (Flipping through an anatomy book) Hmm, I appears I was wrong about the pineal gland. (Appearing thoughtful) Perhaps the cerebellum is the mind-brain interface.
Socrates (Approaching) Descartes? Rene Descartes, it is you! How wonderful. I have met many wonderful philosophers here as of late but it is you whom I have wanted to meet most of all.
Descartes And you are the famous Athenian, Socrates. How interesting that we should meet, being that we are the most famous men of our respective eras. Do please excuse me if I appear skeptical regarding the reality of this encounter, though. (Snarkily) Perceptions are unreliable, after all.
Socrates Ah, yes, I’ve read your work and that is why I am anxious to talk to you. I have reservations with some of your ideas. All of them, in fact.
Descartes (looking around cautiously) Between you and me, sir, in my defense I was trying to spare my head the indignity of being separated from my shoulders. A contemporary of mine, Galileo, spent time in jail for challenging official Church doctrine.
Socartes I’m afraid I know how he feels. At least I think I do.
Descartes Well in thinking you do, at least you can rest assured that you exist. That is a conclusion I stand by and am justly famous for – Cogito ergo sum.
Socrates Yes. (Pause) Out of curiosity, do you find your conclusion about the pineal gland as satisfying?
Descartes I don’t see how it is relevant but it seems I was wrong on that account.
Socrates Exactly, Rene. Now, if we are to believe you could be wrong regarding the simple matter of the pineal gland, might we suspect you could be wrong regarding more important matters?
Descartes Do you mean to question the reliability of ‘Cogito ergo sum’ Socrates? I’m afraid you’ll find my conclusion unassailable. It is exactly because I can make a conclusion that my conclusion about the mind is correct. If I am thinking, I must exist.
Socrates Unless you do not exist. If only I existed and you were my imagination but did not know you were my imagination, you would be incorrect. Don’t you agree?
Descartes (Getting irritated) You are playing with words, Socrates. Do you wish me to call you a Sophist? If only you existed, my argument would still be true for yourself. Without existence – my mind, your mind – would not be capable of experiencing thought. Therefore, the mind exists.
Socrates Let’s speak of your malicious demon then, the one you wrote of in Meditations. Are you saying it is plausible that this demon may deceive you in all matters except for the matter of being able to deceive you? Surely you mean this.
Descartes I do.
Socrates If I may, in postulating this demon, it appears to me you terribly underestimate this entity, for surely they may be the cleverest of time keepers.
Descartes I’m not sure I follow.
Socrates It is a fact, I’m sure you’ll agree, that all of your experiences – especially the fundamental experience of thoughts – can only take place because of time. Without the passing of time, you would not be able to formulate the thoughts that lead you to ‘Cogito ergo sum.’ Your conclusion is based on the culmination of perceptions, prior knowledge, memories, which you admit in Meditations can be manipulated with malicious intent.
Descartes It is the fact that you experience anything at all, whether one is fooled in the process or not, that indicates that I, as a thinking thing, exists. (Frustrated) Is that so difficult to understand?
Socrates Have you stopped to consider what would happen if this demon of yours ran time in a backwards fashion? Would that devilish trick cause you to unthink yourself, leading you away from your conclusion? What if this demon could stop time and begin it anew at their convenience? Your mind wouldn’t be aware that it had been stopped. In what sense then would your mind exist if it cannot think? How do you say, “I do not think, therefore I am not,” in French?
Descartes (Slowly) Yes, yes, I am beginning to understand why your countrymen sentenced you to death.
Socrates You have come to a certain conclusion by arbitrarily limiting the powers of your demon. But if you grant your demon the powers I suggest, then your conclusion about your mind – your self – is cast in doubt. I think it reasonable at this point to conclude that none of us really knows anything, least of all that we are thinking things.
Descartes (Rubbing his temples) Would you agree with my conclusion if only for the sake of practicality, Socrates? My conclusions are how the world appears, after all.
Socrates A perception that you know may be wrong, Rene. What practicality is there in that?
Descartes (Annoyed) If I didn’t know better, and I may not, I would say you are my Cartesian Demon. I’m going back to 1641 to give it some more thought. You can stay here in the future, Socrates, where I’m the father of modern philosophy, by the way. Oh, and here’s a pen. Write something down once in a while.
Socrates Oh, don’t be upset, Rene. Let’s share a drink before you go. Some hemlock, perchance? No? Well, give my regards to Galileo. (Turning around) Friedrich Nietzsche, is that you? I’ve heard so much about you…
“I think it speaks, Betsy!” the blunt-horned space-cow mooed. The inter-dimensional space traveler turned its black-marbled eyes towards its colleague then back to the skinned ape shrinking in its cage.
“I thought it only uttered a sound when we prodded it with our electric sticks, Clarabelle,” Betsy replied. The elephant-sized bovine lowered her head towards the plump human in his cage. “Yes. It speaks primitive words but they are easily figured out. How curious.”
“It says something over and over again. Let’s take a closer listen,” Clarabelle petitioned. She leaned an orange-haired ear towards their captive.
“Is it…is it saying ‘You can’t eat me’?” Betsy looked to Clarabelle for confirmation.
“Why yes it is! Curiouser and curiouser. I know it’s taboo to abase ourselves by speaking such a primitive language, but I just have to ask it.” Clarabelle looked back at Betsy for some unspoken permission. Betsy grimaced out the side of her mouth then nodded.
Clarabelle’s hooves stepped towards the ape-thing’s cage. The animal was much smaller than herself and of course, very stupid, so she wasn’t afraid to approach it.
“Why do you speak, tall monkey? Why do you say we cannot eat you?” Clarabelle cocked her head.
“Because you can’t! I won’t taste good. I eat junk food. I don’t exercise. And it’d just be wrong. You see, I’m a human and I’m an intelligent animal. You can’t go around eating other intelligent animals,” it said. Clarabelle and Betsy laughed at that last bit. They laughed well.
“Betsy, did it just say it was an intelligent animal?” Betsy was still laughing so hard she couldn’t answer through her tears.
“Forgive us, hairless ape-something, but does your species travel between dimensions? Has your species ever been further than your moon? Your species hasn’t even reconciled quantum mechanics and gravity yet!” Clarabelle chuckled. “Why would we eat you anyway?”
“Oh. Oh, I thought this was some kind of revenge thing,” the self-described human answered timidly. “You know, we eat your kind so you show up from outer space and eat us to teach us a lesson.” Clarabelle and Betsy looked at each other, paused, then gasped.
“What do you mean ‘we eat your kind’? Are there others like us on this planet?” the elephantine bovine growled.
“We…we, uh, have animals on this planet that look a lot like you, ‘cept they’re smaller and they’re usually white and black, or brown. We call them ‘cows.’”
“And you eat them?” Clarabelle was incredulous. “WHY?”
“I…I don’t know,” the man said stepping back. “We’ve always eaten them, I guess. They taste good and…and we need the protein.” The man could back up no further.
Clarabelle squinted. “You said you do not exercise so what do you need the protein for?”
“I dunno,” the primitive hurried. “That’s what they tell us.”
“And who are ‘they’?” the space-cow wanted to know.
“I don’t know. The meat industry, I suppose.” The man wrung his fingers. “They’re a very powerful lobby!”
“Let me get this straight,” Betsy began as she too approached the cage. “You have animals on this planet that look like us and you eat them for pleasure and this is a regular thing?”
“And we eat them for the protein! Don’t forget the protein!” The human was close to sobbing.
Clarabelle brought a hoof to her head and squeezed her eyes shut. “Hold on, hold on. So…a minute ago you said you were afraid we were going to eat you? If we were going to eat you, what exactly would be wrong with that?”
“Like I said,” the man quivered, “We’re intelligent! It’s wrong for intelligent animals to eat each other.”
“Your species is far from intelligent, biped,” Betsy piped. “Your failure to account for the multitude of intelligences that exist among living things is confirmation of your breathtaking stupidity. Honestly now.” Betsy shook her head towards Clarabelle who looked like she was experiencing a migraine.
“Are you okay, Clarabelle?” she asked.
“I was just scanning the few neurons this thing has.” Clarabelle opened her eyes and stomped her hoof on the ground. “They call themselves ‘humans’ and they have a long history of, of, of harvesting other animals and slaughtering them for food, if you can believe that! And, sometimes they even kill each other but they don’t eat those people. So inefficient…”
The man had crept forward in his pen and with trepidation asked, “So you weren’t planning to eat me?”
“Well I think we will now,” Clarabelle snarled. “It seems you would qualify as Kobe meat to us? You’re your appearance indicates you will be very tender. You will melt in our mouths!”
“But intelligence…” the man drew back as Clarabelle bumped the cage with her nose.
“In scanning your memories, there is the headline you read about all the animals your scientists think are as intelligent as a four year old human. Do you raises four year old children of your kind for the purpose of eating them? No? Why not; you are more intelligent than they are. Using intelligence as a defense is not intelligent at all, it is completely arbitrary! But eating solely for pleasure, we hadn’t thought of doing that, probably because we are not stupid!” Clarabelle was rocking the cage with her horns now.
“Clarabelle, we mustn’t stoop to their low level,” Betsy protested in the human language. “Let this thing go like we always do. We had just caught it for fun, remember?”
“See! See, you guys like to have fun, too!” The man thought he had just secured victory.
Clarabelle grinned. “We do, human. But we do not kill other animals for the sake of that pleasure.”
“We just catch and release,” Betsy confirmed. “A small tase at first, sure, but no lasting harm done.”
The man threw himself at Clarabelle’s face and gripped the cage bars. “Oh thank god! That’s so kind of you. Yes, release me and I will tell my people to stop eating cows, that it’s not a smart thing to do.”
“The history of your kind, such as you know it, means you know your words will fall on deaf ears, human,” Clarabelle said. She looked back at Betsy. “You do realize that if we don’t punish this thing they will continue their ways. It seems they are not very good from learning from mistakes but they do change their behavior when their lives are at risk. On occasion, anyway.”
“We cannot kill other living things, Clara!” Betsy gulped.
“Nothing like that, Betsy, we are far above that. But we will get revenge for our distant cousins I think. You see, this monkey-brain also saw a headline about an insect whose bite causes humans to become allergic to meat. We’ll investigate this further. If such a thing exists, human,” Clarabelle snorted into the cage, “We are going to make sure you all get bitten by it.”
The man simply frowned. “Well that’s not fair.”
“The universe cares not, you bald ape!” Clarabelle declared. “If you don’t care about other living things, why should the universe care about you?”
“This isn’t fun anymore,” Betsy said. “Can we go now?”
“Yes, Bets. We’ll leave this dumb thing here for his brethren to find. They won’t believe what he’s seen while we go find this insect.” Clarabelle turned and bumped the cage with her hind quarters. “GOT MILK?” she laughed.
The caged animal took a wallet out of his back pocket, slipped out a McDonald’s gift card and stared at it before weeping like a baby for hours.
A fundamental tenant of Buddhism is the insistence that the basic condition of life is suffering. Whatever joys there are in life are transient; we always fall back into our suffering condition sooner rather than later. Why then wouldn’t we pursue pleasure as often as we do, at seemingly great risk at times? Why do any of us decide to skydive or climb Everest when the risk includes death? Why does any spouse pursue an affair when the cost is the (relatively) stability of a relationship? Do we enjoy pain? Does uncertainty turn us on? Civilization says we want to avoid pain. Civilization says we should seek stability. But what we really want is to end our suffering and avoiding pain isn’t necessarily related to that. What we want is to feel alive. We want to burn.
Perhaps for many of us, life is not so bad. It could certainly be worse. But when we are caught in between a life that for all intents and purposes is neither here nor there, our lives are mundane, where what’s mundane is, in actuality, low level suffering. The crime is, many of us are aware of this fact. When we realize our lives are in fact mundane, trapped, we ask ourselves, “Is this all there is?” We want there to be more even if we don’t know what that ‘more’ is supposed to include.
When I was a child, I was not someone who gave much thought to the future beyond supposing I’d be married and own a home by the time I was 24. Although such an idea was overly optimistic in hindsight, at least I did not imagine I would ever be someone of any importance. I was never, in my own estimation, destined for great things. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to be. I just never really saw it. My most ambitious goal was to get through life and at the end, be considered a good man by myself, my family and friends. If I hoped for anything in pursuit of that goal, it would have been for life to be more enjoyable than not along the way.
I remember playing in a rock band when I was in the army. We weren’t very good, which is a polite way of saying that we were awful. Despite our individual talents – Ford was a very capable drummer at only 19 years old, D.B. could play guitar and bass, Lee, the spirited girl-next-door led vocals, while I wasn’t too bad at arranging songs which allowed more talented people forgive my slushy six-string renditions of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” – we never gelled enough as a singular unit to warrant popularity outside the confines of our remote outpost in Germany. Still, we were considered by the rest of the troop to be something akin to rock stars, people other people wanted to be around, presumably because those people had nothing better to do even though they lived in Europe. To my amazement, this led to several ‘concerts’ in which we performed in front of a live audience. Our second ‘show’ is particularly memorable to me, as it was the first time we played on an actual stage. The idea of playing a gig always intimidated me as it could take a while before I settled down to play well before even a few people. On this occasion the heat of the stage lights quickly began to distract me as I’d never experienced such lighting before. By the third song into our set list, the stage lights were too hot for me, so before the next song I whipped my long sleeve shirt off to the mock cat-calls of first platoon. This annoyed me for just a moment until I heard Ford’s drum sticks click 1, 2, 3, 4. Then we launched into a cover of The Kinks “You Really Got Me” which seemed to whip first platoon into a frenzy. (First platoon was legendary for their drinking skills and subsequent madness.) They approached the stage en masse and began pounding their fists on the stage and snapping their heads to the beat of the music. Their thunder rocked the stage and reverberated through my bones. Their energy electrified me. They fed me and I fed them back. That’s when time slowed down. For a few seconds, long seconds, time slowed down as I looked across the hall we were playing in and noticed that the people in the back were also enjoying the show. I don’t recall finishing the song but I do remember that I was literally exhilarated on that stage. That memory is one of the few times I can remember in which I felt absolutely, truly, inexorably alive.
That memory is also fleeting. I remember it is there, that is was, but of what use is it to me now? A memory is intangible and re-lived speciously at best. Having slipped into that fateful pattern civilizations lay out for us, such moments of aliveness become fewer and further in between. Eventually, many of us float through life, comfortable in the knowledge of what we’re supposed to do, which I will grant keeps us safe. It has kept me safe. But the cost has become who I am, where what I am has only been revealed when I have felt alive. But the world is set up in such a way that I have spend much of my time not feeling alive. Halfway through my life, I have begun to see how dearly this has cost me, how much of my true nature has been buried so deep it feels like it cannot be dug up again. I have forgotten that my identity is not fixed by my perceptions or the perceptions of others. I have realized that the person I am that is happy is defined by the actions that make me feel alive. But it seems as though I have forgotten what those actions are. I am no longer alive because I do not practice the things that make me happy; I am no longer alive having foregone almost all risk. Or perhaps this is all a mental affliction that comes naturally with age, the search for an explanation to the loss of the vitality and promise of one’s youth. Perhaps it is the case that I cannot accept who or what I am – ordinary – not destined for great things, or worse, unable to do them. It is one thing to have foreseen this. It is quite another to actually live it.
What remedy is there? It has not proven fortuitous to wait for one’s luck to change. I have to do things. The older generations frown heavily upon millennials of whom they write such scathing headlines, Millennials spend more on experiences than home ownership. Of course the aged will curse the youth for doing what they should have all those years ago. But the lesson to be learned here is that I – you, me, we – have to do things. The world, as it swirls around me, is not enough. It is I who have to swirl around the world. We can’t both be vortexes. Or maybe we can. Of course, it would be an utter storm; risky. And maybe that riskiness would make me feel alive again. I – you, me, we – just have to pull the trigger. The gun might be loaded, but risking the worst is the only way to feel alive.
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” – Theodore Roosevelt