Fire and Philosophy From an Artist’s Torch
“When you think about it,” Bo said, flexing his mahogany muscles as he pressed fire to steel, pushing toxic wisps of acrid smoke into the seaside air. He was continuing his work on the torpedo with the human face and ass. It reminded me of most of the Presidents this country has endured since I was born. “When you think about it, this world is Hell. I don’t just mean figuratively. I mean literally. Think about it. The people who wrote the Bible described hell as a place of fire, brimstone, sorrow, anguish, and the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Do you think I made the butt cheeks too fat?” He stepped back from his masterpiece and stroked his square, black beard. “No. No way. They’re perfect.” He flicked off the torch and peeled the black goggles from his eyes. His dark brown skin was ringed deep-bruise purple around his eyes, where the goggles squeezed against his occipital bones. He opened a beer and downed it without regard to the warm suds that ran down the side of his face, along his neck, and into his shirt. He threw the can into the ocean, where it landed with the hollow, physical note of metal on surface tension, and turned back to his work.
“So, brimstone and sorrow and all that,” he continued, his bass voice booming through the salt air. “Think about it. I mean, really think about it — not the superficial musing bullshit that passes for thought in this society, but really deep and true thinking. You want fire? Look at the sun. Look at forests up in flames. Look at internal combustion engines. Look at war, damn it. Look. You want fire? You got fire.”
He moved to the head of the torpedo, where something about the eyebrows apparently didn’t satisfy his aesthetic. He hit them with his flame.
“You want brimstone? Hell, I don’t know what the hell brimstone is. But look around. We got fire. Hot fire. And we got stone. Cold, hard stone. Unforgiving. Unyielding. Almost — but not quite — as tough as fire. Basalt. Granite. Limestone. Hit that shit with anything that’s living and soulful and aware, damn it, and the living-thinking thing turns to bloody meat.”
Yep. OK. We got the fire. We got the brimstone. Bummer of a planet, man. But we also have double-fudge ice cream, electric guitars, and girls in halter tops. This world isn’t really all that bad.
“But what makes this world really bad,” Bo said, impressing me with his mind-reading skills, “is the sorrow that presses in all around us.”
Sorrow. This from a guy who crawls all over Eliza in mutually horny bouts of erotic passion whenever the mood strikes them. This from a guy who gets paid rowboatloads of money for drinking on the beach and banging metal with a torch. This from a guy who has never seen an alarm clock or a traffic jam or a parking ticket. It’s a wonder he can hang on through yet another bitter day.
“Sorrow,” came Bo’s voice from amidst a bouquet of white sparks, “is the direct result of one and only one thing. Know what it is?”
“Sadness,” I declared with confidence, finality, and aplomb.
Bo clicked off his torch, popped the goggles from his eyes, and fixed me with a look of sooty disdain. “Sorrow comes from sadness?” he said. He looked at me again, as though he were trying to decide whether to keep me on as his pupil. He slapped the goggles back into position.
“On this planet, in this universe, sorrow is caused by only one thing,” he said flatly. “Separation.”
Got him. He’s definitely wrong on this one. I mean, think about it. If I ran over someone’s foot with the Island Car, I’d be sorry. Really sorry. But separation wouldn’t enter into the picture, unless you’re talking about the separation of his toes from his ankles.
“There’s a difference between ‘sorry’ and ‘sorrow,’ of course,” Bo continued, squeezing blue flame against the back of the torpedo-guy’s neck. “When you say you’re sorry, you’re just saying that you wish you hadn’t done something. That you hurt somebody’s feelings or you made some kind of social blunder. That’s ‘sorry.’ ‘Oh, I’m sorry I broke your vase.’ ‘I’m sorry I stepped on your poodle.’ The word ‘sorry’ is nothing more than a verbal attempt to get the other person not to press charges, punch you in the nose, or hold a bitter grudge for the rest of their lives.”
Yeah, OK. But —
“Sorrow, though, is something bigger,” he continued. “Sorrow is an ache in your soul. It’s the residue of the maturing realization that this universe isn’t going to be your cuddly little friend. It’s the liver-level knowledge that despite love, despite friendship, despite camaraderie, despite esprit de corps, despite drinking buddies, bosom buddies, budding buddies, despite your secret lovers, your secret admirers, your secret sharers, despite holding hands, kissing lips, and grinding hips, despite carnal-bed proclamations, birthing-bed protestations, and death-bed declarations, despite ‘wanna go out?’ and ‘wanna go upstairs?’ and ‘wanna get married?’ the bottom line is that each of us — man, woman, child, geriatric and newborn, recently engaged or recently severed — each of us is uniquely, totally, and irrevocably alone. We struggle to shorten the distance between us and others, because we need the reassurance that another sentient being can provide. We have sex. We get married. We profess love. We profess devotion. We cling to loyalty, to teamwork, to blood. But in the end, you can’t get any closer to any other human being no matter how hard you try. Your skin gets in the way. Your heart gets in the way. Your soul gets in the way. You are blocked and thwarted by infinite layers of atoms and quarks and muons and the limitless space between each one. You are trapped behind the glass of your eyes, the ripples on your fingertips, the very reality of your existence. You are alone, and even though you might try to build bridges, make connections, establish networks, form unions, enter into partnerships, swear wedded oaths, and even share microscopic bits of your DNA with someone in a joint venture to create another human being, you’ll never be any closer to anyone than you are right now.”
— Donovan Graham, “The Shadowless Writer”
Comment — SunTanDude: So true, man. So true.
Comment — WomynFire982: that’s the only rational thing i’ve read in this column so far. the absurdity of the human condition is directly related to our inability to access the world around us — or each other, for that matter — in any direct way. we have to rely on the information given to our brains by our senses. and that’s a pretty damn unreliable way to tell what’s going on.
Comment — PeaceNick: But r MISSION, friends, is 2 try!!!
Read previous blog entries in the Island Wars story by clicking here.