The Spectacles

CJSH.name/spectacles

I got up, washed my face in the fountain, and put out the fire. The fountain was carved of yellow marble, set in the wall and adorned with bas-relief sculptures and dark moss. I moved through the labyrinth, not distracting myself with a lamp, not thinking about the organ, whose pipes ranged from 8′ to 128′ and could shake a cathedral to its foundation. Climbing iron rungs, I emerged from the recesses of a cluttered shed.

I was wearing a T-shirt advertising some random product, jeans which were worn at the cuffs, and fairly new tennis shoes. I would have liked to think I gave no hint of anything unusual: an ordinary man, with a messy house stocked with the usual array of mundane items. I blended in with the Illusion.

I drove over to Benjamin’s house. As I walked in, I said, “Benjamin, I’m impressed. You’ve done a nice job of patching this place since the last explosion.”

“Shut up, Morgan.”

“By the way, my nephews are coming to visit in two weeks, Friday afternoon. Would you be willing to tinker in your laboratory when they come? Their favorite thing in the world is a good fireworks display.”

“Which reminds me, there was one spice that I wanted to give you. It makes any food taste better, and the more you add, the better the food tastes. Pay no attention to the label on the bottle which says ‘arsenic’. If you’ll excuse me one moment…” He began to stand up, and I grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back down into the chair.

“How are you, Benjamin?”

“How are you, Morgan?”

I sat silent for a while. When Benjamin remained silent, I said, “I’ve been spending a lot of time in the library. The sense one gets when contemplating an artistic masterwork is concentrated in looking at what effect The Mystical Theology had on a thousand years of wonder.”

He said, “You miss the Middle Ages, don’t you?”

I said, “They’re still around—a bit here, a piece there. On one hand, it’s very romantic to hold something small in your hand and say that it is all that is left of a once great realm. On the other hand, it’s only romantic: it is not the same thing as finding that glory all about you.

“The pain is all the worse when you not only come from a forgotten realm, but you must reckon with the Illusion. It’s like there’s a filter which turns everything grey. It’s not exactly that there’s a sinister hand that forces cooperation with the Illusion and tortures you if you don’t; in some ways things would be simpler if there were. Of course you’re asking for trouble if you show an anachronism in the way you dress, or if you’re so gauche as to speak honestly out of the wisdom of another world and push one of the hot buttons of whatever today’s hot issues are. But beyond that, you don’t have to intentionally cooperate with the Illusion; you can ‘non-conform freely’ and the Illusion freely conforms itself to you. It’s a terribly isolating feeling.”

Benjamin stood up, walked over to a bookshelf, and pulled out an ivory tube. “I have something for you, Morgan. A pair of spectacles.”

“Did you make these?”

“I’m not saying.”

“Why are you giving me eyeglasses? My eyes are fine.”

“Your eyes are weaker than you think.” He waited a moment, and then said, “And these spectacles have a virtue.”

“What is their virtue? What is their power?”

“Please forgive me. As one who has struggled with the Illusion, you know well enough what it means to deeply want to convey something and know that you can’t. Please believe me when I say that I would like to express the answer to your question, but I cannot.”

I left, taking the glasses and both hoping that I was concealing my anger from Benjamin and knowing that I wasn’t.


I arrived at home and disappeared into the labyrinth. A bright lamp, I hoped, would help me understand the spectacles’ power. Had I been in a different frame of mind, I might have enjoyed it; I read an ancient and mostly complete Greek manuscript to The Symbolic Theology to see if it might reveal new insights. My eyes lingered for a moment over the words:

That symbol, as most, has two layers. Yet a symbol could have an infinite number of layers and still be smaller than what is without layer at all.

I had a deep insight of some sort over these words, and the insight is forever lost because I cared only about one thing, finding out what magic power the spectacles held. I tried to read a cuneiform tablet; as usual, the language gave me an embarrassing amount of trouble, and there was something strange about what it said that completely lacked the allure of being exotic. Wishing I had a better command of languages, I moved about from one serpentine passageway to another, looking at places, even improvising on the organ, and enjoying none of it. Everything looked exactly as if I were looking through a children’s toy. Had Benjamin been watching too much Dumbo and given me a magic feather?

After a long and fruitless search, I went up into my house, put the spectacles in your pocket, and sat in my chair, the lights off, fatigued in mind and body. I do not recall know how long I stayed there. I only know that I jumped when the doorbell rang.

It was Amber. She said, “The supermarket had a really good sale on strawberries, and I thought you might like some.”

“Do you have a moment to to come in? I have Coke in the fridge.”

I had to stifle my urge to ask her opinion about the spectacles’ virtue. I did not know her to be more than meets the eye (at least not in the sense that could be said of Benjamin or me), but the Illusion was much weaker in her than in most people, and she seemed to pick up on things that I wished others would as well. We talked for a little while; she described how she took her family to a pizza restaurant and her son “walked up to a soda machine, pushed one of the levers you’re supposed to put your cup against, jumped in startlement when soda fell on his hand, and then began to lick the soda off.”

“I’ve got to get home and get dinner on, but—ooh, you have new glasses in your pocket. Put them on for a moment.”

I put my spectacles on, and she said something to me, but I have no idea what she said. It’s not because I was drained: I was quite drained when she came, but her charm had left me interested in life again. The reason I have no idea what she said to me is that I was stunned at what I saw when I looked at her through the spectacles.

I saw beauty such as I had not begun to guess at. She was clad in a shimmering robe of scintillating colors. In one hand, she was holding a kaliedoscope, which had not semi-opaque colored chips but tiny glass spheres and prisms inside. The other hand embraced a child on her lap, with love so real it could be seen.

After she left, I took the spectacles off, put them in their case, and after miscellaneous nightly activities, went to bed and dreamed dreams both brilliant and intense.


When I woke up, I tried to think about why I had not recognized Amber’s identity before. I closed my eyes and filtered through memories; Amber had given signals of something interesting that I had not picked up on—and she had picked up on things I had given. I thought of myself as one above the Illusion—and here I had accepted the Illusion’s picture of her. Might there be others who were more than meets the eye?

I came to carry the spectacles with me, and look around for a sign of something out of the ordinary. Several days later, I met a tall man with cornrowed greying hair. When I asked him what he studied in college, he first commented on the arbitrariness of divisions between disciplines, before explaining that his discipline of record was philosophy. His thought was a textbook example of postmodernism, but when I put my spectacles on, I saw many translucent layers: each layer, like a ring of an oak, carried a remnant of a bygone age. Then I listened, and his words sounded no less postmodern, but echoes of the Middle Ages were everywhere.

I began to find these people more and more frequently, and require less and less blatant cues.


I sat in the living room, waiting with cans of Coca-Cola. I enjoy travelling in my nephews’ realms; at a prior visit, Nathan discovered a whole realm behind my staircase, and it is my loss that I can only get in when I am with him. Brandon and Nathan had come for the fair that weekend, and I told them I had something neat-looking to show them before I took them to the fair.

I didn’t realize my mistake until they insisted that I wear the spectacles at the fair.


I didn’t mind the charge of public drunkenness that much. It was humiliating, perhaps, but I think at least some humiliations are necessary in life. And I didn’t mind too much that my nephews’ visit was a bummer for them. Perhaps that was unfortunate, but that has long been smoothed over. There were, however, two things that were not of small consequence to me.

The first thing that left me staggered was something in addition to the majesty I saw. I saw a knight, clad in armor forged of solid light, and I saw deep scars he earned warring against dragons. I saw a fair lady who looked beautiful at the skin when seen without the spectacles, and beautiful in layer after layer below the skin when seen with them. The something else I saw in addition to that majesty was that this beauty was something that was not just in a few people, or even many. It was in every single person without exception. That drunken beggar everyone avoided, the one with a stench like a brewery next to a horse stable—I saw his deep and loyal friendships. I saw his generosity with other beggars—please believe me that if you were another beggar, what’s his was yours. I saw the quests he made in his youth. I saw his dreams. I saw his story. Beyond all that, I saw something deeper than any of these, a glory underneath and beneath these things. This glory, however disfigured by his bondage to alcohol, filled me with wonder.

The reason the police kept me in the drunk tank for so long was that I was stunned and reeling. I had always known that I was more than what the Illusion says a person is, and struggled to convey my something more to other people… but I never looked to see how other people could be more than the grey mask the Illusion put on their faces. When I was in the drunk tank, I looked at the other men in wonder and asked myself what magic lay in them, what my spectacles would tell me. The old man with an anchor tattooed to his arm: was he a sailor? Where had he sailed on the seven seas? Had he met mermaids? I almost asked him if he’d found Atlantis, when I decided I didn’t want to prolong the time the police officer thought I was drunk.

This brings me to the second disturbing find, which was that my spectacles were not with me. I assumed this was because the police had locked them away, but even after I was released, determined inquiry found no one who had seen them. They looked interesting, oddly shaped lenses with thick gold frames; had a thief taken them when I was stunned and before the police picked me up?

The next day I began preparing for a quest.


It filled me with excitement to begin searching the black market, both because I hoped to find the spectacles, and because I knew I would experience these people in a completely new light.

I had dealings with the black market before, but it had always been unpleasant: not (let me be clear) because I did not know how to defend myself, or was in too much danger of getting suckered into something dangerous, but because I approached its people concealing the emotions I’d feel touching some kind of fetid slime. Now… I still saw that, but I tried to look and see what I would see if I were wearing my spectacles.

I didn’t find anything that seemed significant. The next leg of my journey entailed a change of venue: I dressed nicely and mingled with the world of jewellers and antique dealers. Nada.

I began to search high and low; I brainstormed about what exotic places it might be, and I found interesting people along the way. The laborers whom I hired to help me search the city dump almost made me forget that I was searching for something, and over time I chose to look for my spectacles in places that would bring me into contact with people I wanted to meet…

Some years later, I was returning from one of my voyages and realized it had been long (too long) since I had spoken with Benjamin. I came and visited him, and told him about the people I’d met. After I had talked for an hour, he put his hand on my mouth and said, “Can I get a word in edgewise?”

I said, “Mmmph mph mmmph mmph.”

He took his hand off my mouth, and I said, “That depends on whether you’re rude enough to put your hand over my mouth in mid-sentence.”

“That depends on whether you’re rude enough to talk for an hour without letting your host get a word in edgewise.”

I stuck my tongue out at him.

He stuck his tongue out at me.

Benjamin opened a box on his desk, opened the ivory case inside the box, and pulled out my spectacles. “I believe these might interest you.” He handed them to me.

I sat in silence. The clock’s ticking seemed to grow louder, until it chimed and we both jumped. Then I looked at him and said, “What in Heaven’s name would I need them for?”

Doxology

The Labyrinth

Stephanos

Within the Steel Orb

Singularity

CJSH.name/singularity

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Herodotus: And what say thou of these people? Why callest thou them the Singularity, Merlin?

John: Mine illuminèd name is John, and John shall ye call me each and every one.

Herodotus: But the Singularity is such as only a Merlin could have unravelled.

John: Perchance: but the world is one of which only an illuminèd one may speak aright. Call thou me as one illuminèd, if thou wouldst hear me speak.

Herodotus: Of illumination speakest thou. Thou sawest with the eye of the hawk: now seest thou with the eye of the eagle.

John: If that be, speak thou me as an eagle?

Herodotus: A point well taken, excellent John, excellent John. What speakest thou of the Singularity?

John: A realm untold, to speak is hard. But of an icon will I speak: inscribed were words:

‘Waitress, is this coffee or tea?’

‘What does it taste like?’

‘IT TASTES LIKE DIESEL FUEL.’

‘That’s the coffee. The tea tastes like transmission fluid.’

Herodotus: Upon what manner of veneration were this icon worshipped?

John: That were a matter right subtle, too far to tell.

Herodotus: And of the inscription? That too be subtle to grasp.

John: Like as a plant hath sap, so a subtle engine by their philosophy wrought which needeth diesel fuel and transmission fluid.

Herodotus: [laughs] Then ’twere a joke, a jape! ‘Tis well enough told!

John: You perceive it yet?

Herodotus: A joke, a jape indeed, of a fool who could not tell, two different plants were he not to taste of their sap! Well spoke! Well spoke!

John: Thou hast grasped it afault, my fair lord. For the subtle engine hath many different saps, no two alike.

Herodotus: And what ambrosia be in their saps?

John: Heaven save us! The saps be a right unnatural fare; their substance from rotted carcasses of monsters from aeons past, then by the wisdom of their philosophy transmogrified, of the subtle engine.

Herodotus: Then they are masters of Alchemy?

John: Masters of an offscouring of all Alchemy, of the lowest toe of that depravèd ascetical enterprise, chopped off, severed from even the limb, made hollow, and then growen beyond all reason, into the head of reason.

Herodotus: Let us leave off this and speak of the icon. The icon were for veneration of such subtle philosophy?

John: No wonder, no awe, greeteth he who regardest this icon and receive it as is wont.

Herodotus: As is wont?

John: As is wanton. For veneration and icons are forcèd secrets; so there is an antithesis of the sacra pagina, and upon its light pages the greatest pages come upon the most filled with lightness, the icons of a world that knoweth icons not.

Let me make another essay.

The phrase ‘harmony with nature’ is of popular use, yet a deep slice of the Singularity, or what those inside the Singularity can see of it, might be called, ‘harmony with technology’.

Herodotus: These be mystics of technology.

John: They live in an artificial jungle of technology, or rather an artificial not-jungle of technology, an artificial anti-jungle of technology. For one example, what do you call the natural use of wood?

Herodotus: A bundle of wood is of course for burning.

John: And they know of using wood for burning, but it is an exotic, rare case to them; say ‘wood’ and precious few will think of gathering wood to burn.

Herodotus: Then what on earth do they use wood for? Do they eat it when food is scarce or something like that?

John: Say ‘wood’ and not exotic ‘firewood’, and they will think of building a house.

Herodotus: So then they are right dexterous, if they can build out of a bundle of gathered sticks instead of burning it.

John: They do not gather sticks such as you imagine. They fell great trees, and cut the heartwood into rectangular box shapes, which they fit together in geometrical fashion. And when it is done, they make a box, or many boxes, and take rectangles hotly fused sand to fill a window. And they add other philosophy on top of that, so that if the house is well-built, the air inside will be pleasant and still, unless they take a philosophical machine to push air, and whatever temperature the people please, and it will remain dry though the heavens be opened in rain. And most of their time is spent in houses, or other ‘buildings’ like a house in this respect.

Herodotus: What a fantastical enterprise! When do they enter such buildings?

John: When do they rather go out of them? They consider it normal to spend less than an hour a day outside of such shelters; the subtle machine mentioned earlier moves but it is like a house built out of metal in that it is an environment entirely contrived by philosophy and artifice to, in this case, convey people from one place to another.

Herodotus: How large is this machine? It would seem to have to be very big to convey all their people.

John: But this is a point where their ‘technology’ departs from the art that is implicit in τεχνη: it is in fact not a lovingly crafted work of art, shaped out of the spirit of that position ye call ‘inventor’ or ‘artist’, but poured out by the thousands by gigantical machines yet more subtle, and in the wealth of the Singularity, well nigh unto each hath his own machine.

Herodotus: And how many can each machine can convey? Perchance a thousand?

John: Five, or six, or two peradventure, but the question is what they would call ‘academical’: the most common use is to convey one.

Herodotus: They must be grateful for such property and such philosophy!

John: A few are very grateful, but the prayer, ‘Let us remember those less fortunate than ourselves’ breathes an odor that sounds truly archaical. It sounds old, old enough to perhaps make half the span of a man’s life. And such basic technology, though they should be very much upset to lose them, never presents itself to their mind’s eye when they hear the word ‘technology’. And indeed, why should it present itself to the mind his eye?

Herodotus: I strain to grasp thy thread.

John: To be thought of under the heading of ‘technology’, two things must hold. First, it must be possessed of an artificial unlife, not unlike the unlife of their folklore’s ghouls and vampires and zombies. And second, it must be of recent vintage, something not to be had until a time that is barely past. Most of the technologies they imagine provide artificially processed moving images, some of which are extremely old—again, by something like half the span of a man’s life—while some are new. Each newer version seemeth yet more potent. To those not satisfied with the artificial environment of an up-to-date building, regarded by them as something from time immemorial, there are unlife images of a completely imaginary artificial world where their saying ‘when pigs can fly’ meaning never is in fact one of innumerable things that happen in the imaginary world portrayed by the technology. ‘SecondLife’ offers a second alternative to human life, or so it would seem, until ‘something better comes along.’

Herodotus: My mind, it reeleth.

John: Well it reeleth. But this be but a sliver.

For life to them is keeping one’s balance on shifting sand; they have great museums of different products, as many as the herbs of the field. But herein lies a difference: we know the herbs of the field, which have virtues, and what the right use is. They know as many items produced by philosophy, but they are scarce worse for the deal when they encounter an item they have never met before. For while the herbs of the field be steady across generations and generations, the items belched forth by their subtle philosophy change not only within the span of a man’s life; they change year to year; perchance moon to moon.

Herodotus: Thou sayest that they can navigate a field they know not?

John: Aye, and more. The goal at which their catechism aims is to ‘learn how to learn’; the appearance and disappearance of kinds of items is a commonplace to them. And indeed this is not only for the items we use as the elements of our habitat: catechists attempt to prepare people for roles that exist not yet even as the students are being taught.

Though this be sinking sand they live in, they keep balance, of a sort, and do not find this strange. And they adapt to the changes they are given.

Herodotus: It beseemeth me that thou speakest as of a race of Gods.

John: A race of Gods? Forsooth! Thou knowest not half of the whole if thou speakest thus.

Herodotus: What remaineth?

John: They no longer think of making love as an action that in particular must needeth include an other.

Herodotus: I am stunned.

John: And the same is true writ large or writ small. A storyteller of a faintly smaller degree, living to them in ages past, placed me in an icon:

The Stranger mused for a few seconds, then, speaking in a slightly singsong voice, as though he repeated an old lesson, he asked, in two Latin hexameters, the following question:

‘Who is called Sulva? What road does she walk? Why is the womb barren on one side? Where are the cold marriages?’

Ransom replied, ‘Sulva is she whom mortals call the Moon. She walks in the lowest sphere. The rim of the world that was wasted goes through her. Half of her orb is turned towards us and shares our curse. Her other half looks to Deep Heaven; happy would he be who could cross that frontier and see the fields on her further side. On this side, the womb is barren and the marriages cold. There dwell an accursede people, full of pride and lust. There when a young man takes a maiden in marriage, they do not lie together, but each lies with a cunningly fashioned image of the other, made to move and to be warm by devilish arts, for real flesh will not please them, they are so dainty in their dreams of lust. Their real children they fabricate by vile arts in a secret place.’

The storyteller saw and saw not his future. ‘Tis rare in the Singularity to fabricate children ‘by vile arts in a secret place’. But the storyteller plays us false when he assumes their interest would be in a ‘cunningly fashioned image of the other’. Truer it would be to say that the men, by the fruits of philosophy, jump from one libidinous dream to another whilest awake.

Herodotus: Forsooth!

John: A prophet told them, the end will come when no man maketh a road to his neighbors. And what has happened to marriage has happened, by different means but by the same spirit, to friendship. Your most distant acquaintanceship to a fellow member is more permanent than their marriage; it is routine before the breakable God-created covenant of marriage to make unbreakable man-made covenants about what to do if, as planned for, the marriage ends in divorce. And if that is to be said of divorce, still less is the bond of friendship. Their own people have talked about how ‘permanent relationships’, including marriage and friendship, being replaced by ‘disposable relationships’ which can be dissolved for any and every reason, and by ‘disposable relationships’ to ‘transactional relationships’, which indeed have not even the pretension of being something that can be kept beyond a short transaction for any and every reason.

And the visits have been eviscerated, from a conversation where voice is delivered and vision is stripped out, to a conversation where words alone are transmitted without even hand writing; from a conversation where mental presence is normative to a conversation where split attention is expected. ‘Tis yet rarely worth the bother to make a physical trail, though they yet visit. And their philosophy, as it groweth yet more subtle, groweth yet more delicate. ‘Twould scarcely require much to ‘unplug’ it. And then, perhaps, the end will come?

Herodotus: Then there be a tragic beauty to these people.

John: A tragic beauty indeed.

Herodotus: What else hast thou to tell of them?

John: Let me give a little vignette:

Several men and women are in a room; all are fulfilling the same role, and they are swathed with clothing that covers much of their skin. And the differences between what the men wear, and what most of the women wear, are subtle enough that most of them do not perceive a difference.

Herodotus: Can they not perceive the difference between a man and a woman?

John: The sensitivity is dulled in some, but it is something they try to overlook. But I have not gotten to the core of this vignette:

One of them indicateth that had they be living several thousand years ago they would not have had need of clothing, not for modesty at least, and there are nods of agreement to her. And they all imagine such tribal times to be times of freedom, and their own to be of artificial restriction.

And they fail to see, by quite some measure, that prolonged time in mixed company is much more significant than being without clothing; or that their buildings deaden all of a million sources of natural awareness: the breeze blowing and the herbs waving in the wind; scents and odours as they appear; song of crickets’ kin chirping and song of bird, the sun as it shines through cloud; animals as they move about, and the subtleties and differences in the forest as one passes through it. They deaden all of these sensitivities and variations, until there is only one form of life that provides stimulation: the others who are working in one’s office. Small wonder, then, that to a man one woman demurely covered in an office has an effect that a dozen women wearing vines in a jungle would never have. But the libertines see themselves as repressed, and those they compare themselves to as, persay, emancipated.

Herodotus: At least they have the option of dressing modestly. What else hast thou?

John: There is infinitely more, and there is nothing more. Marriage is not thought of as open to children; it can be dissolved in divorce; it need not be intrinsically exclusive; a further installment in the package, played something like a pawn in a game of theirs, is that marriage need not be between a man and a woman. And if it is going to be dismantled to the previous portion, why not? They try to have a world without marriage, by their changes to marriage. The Singularity is a disintegration; it grows more and more, and what is said for marriage could be said for each of the eight devils: intertwined with this is pride, and it is only a peripheral point that those who further undefine marriage speak of ‘gay pride’. A generation before, not mavericks but the baseline of people were told they needed a ‘high self-esteem’, and religious leaders who warned about pride as a sin, perhaps as the sin by which the Devil fell from Heaven, raised no hue and cry that children were being raised to embrace pride as a necessary ascesis. And religion itself is officially permitted some role, but a private role: not that which fulfills the definition of religare in binding a society together. It is in some measure like saying, ‘You can speak any language you want, as long as you utter not a word in public discourse’: the true religion of the Singularity is such ersatz religion as the Singularity provides. Real religion is expected to wither in private.

The Singularity sings a song of progress, and it was giving new and different kinds of property; even now it continues. But its heart of ice showeth yet. For the march of new technologies continues, and with them poverty: cracks begin to appear, and the writing on the wall be harder to ignore. What is given with one hand is not-so-subtly taken away with the other. The Singularity is as needful to its dwellers as forest or plain to its dwellers, and if it crumbles, precious few will become new tribal clans taking all necessities from the land.

Herodotus: Then it beseemeth the tragedy outweigheth the beauty, or rather there is a shell of beauty under a heart of ice.

John: But there are weeds.

Herodotus: What is a weed?

John: It is a plant.

Herodotus: What kind of plant is a weed? Are the plants around us weeds?

John: They are not.

Herodotus: Then what kinds of plants are weeds?

John: In the Singularity, there is a distinction between ‘rural’, ‘suburban’, and ‘urban’: the ‘rural’ has deliberately set plants covering great tracts of land, the ‘suburban’ has fewer plants, if still perhaps green all around, and the ‘urban’ has but the scattered ensconced tree. But in all of them are weeds, in an urban area plants growing where the artificial stone has cracked. And among the natural philosophers there are some who study the life that cannot be extinguished even in an urban city; their specialty is called ‘urban ecology’. The definition of a weed is simply, ‘A plant I do not want.’ We do not have weeds because we do not seek an artificial envionment with plants only present when we have put them there. But when people seek to conform the environment to wishes and plans, even in the tight discipline of planned urban areas, weeds are remarkably persistent.

And in that regard, weeds are a tiny sliver of something magnificent.

Herodotus: What would that be?

John: The durability of Life that is writ small in a weed here in the urban, there in the suburban is but a shadow of the durabiity of Life that lives on in the sons of men. Mothers still sing lullabyes to their dear little children; friendships form and believers pray at church far more than happened in the age where my story was told, a story dwarfed by what was called the ‘age of faith’. The intensity of the attacks on the Church in a cruel social witness are compelled to bear unwilling witness to the vitality of the Church whose death has been greatly exaggerated: and indeed that Church is surging with vitality after surviving the attacks. The story told seems to tell of Life being, in their idiom, ‘dealt a card off every side of the deck’—and answering, ‘Checkmate, I win.’ I have told of the differences, but there are excellent similarities, and excellent differences. For a knight whoso commandeth a wild and unbridled horse receiveth greater commendation than a knight whoso commandeth a well-bred and gentle steed.

Herodotus: The wind bloweth where it listeth. The just shall live by his faith. Your cell, though it be wholly artificial, will teach you everything you need to know.

John: Thou hast eagerly grasped it; beyond beauty, tragedy, and beyond tragedy, beauty. Thou hast grasped it true.

[Here ends the manuscript]

The Royal Letters

CJSHayward.com/royal

My dear son;

About your last letter, all that you say is true, but the way it is put together is missing something profound.

You say, “Are we not royalty?” Yes, indeed, and there is more to say. We will judge angels. To be human is to be made in a royal image. The oil we are anointed with is cut from the same cloth as the sacred oil anointing prophets, priests, and kings. In English we can say “Sir” and in koine Greek the same word means “Mister” and “Lord.” The royal gifts of the Magi, gold an emblem of kingship, frankincense an emblem of divinity, and myrrh an emblem of suffering, are given to Christ and in him extend to the Church. We are indeed royalty, and we are more than royalty.

Now moving on to your second question, “Am I pushing this too far?” That question from you has a guilty-feeling fear to it, awaiting for me to give the real correction. And my answer to that is certain. You are not pushing it too far; you are not pushing it far enough by half. You wonder about being addressed as Your Majesty, and it is my duty to inform Your Royal Highness of something buried in the Ladder, when it says: “Some stand weaponless and without armor before the kings of earth, while others hold insignia of office, shields, and swords. The former are vastly superior to the latter since they are regularly the personal relations of the king and members of the royal household.”

You stand weaponless and without armor, and wish for insignia, shield, and sword. You do not understand that you have more and pine for less. And I long for the day when you wish to be addressed, not as “Your Majesty,” but as “you,” with no insignia needed.

With love,
Your father, Oswald


My dear, dear son;

Regarding the question you raised in your last letter, I would remind you of the King of Kings.

Two of his disciples, who had been training for years, asked for as much royal honor as there was to have: to be seated at his right and left hand. And he tries to tell them that he doesn’t get it. He, the King of Kings, will never wear royal purple on earth except when he is mocked and abused by brutal soldiers; he will never wear a crown except for a twisted crown of thorns. He asks them if they can bear the sufferings of his kingship, and they blindly assure them that they can. Then he holds an example up to them and says that whoever wishes to be great must be a servant and whoever wishes to be first must be the slave of all.

What people miss in their quest for honor is the greatest gem in the crown: humility. St. Dorotheos advises people to build up their spiritual houses with all different kinds of stone: a stone of prayer here, a stone of almsgiving there, a stone of courage still there. But humility is not one more stone; it is the slime which serves as mortar and cements everything together. And this royal dignity is the bedrock that people miss hoping for royal honors, for something to feed their narcissism. Real honor is not having your narcissism fed; it is humbly rejecting narcissism. Real, industrial strength royal honor is found in the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and God of Gods:

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

If you want to know where the glory at the end comes from, look nowhere but the humility at the beginning. If humility is good enough for Christ, let us not consider ourselves too good for it.

Your dearly affectionate father,
Oswald


My dear son Basil;

Now I wish to show you a more excellent way.

St. Athanasios wrote of the dignity of man in On the Incarnation: “You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honoured, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so it is with the King of all…” Pay attention to how St. Athanasios proclaims the dignity of the human race! The King of Kings is the King for whom every King in Heaven and earth is named. If there is a measure of truth to say that man is the king and priest of Creation, this is because we are created in God’s image, and it is the fullness of Truth to know Christ God as King and Lord. It is no accident and no error that the prayers of the Church address God as King, for such he is, incomparably more than any man on earth. Men and kings are as the moon with its reflected light; Christ God is the original Sun, shining in its full glory. If it is a wonder to know men as kings, incomparably greater is it to know Christ God as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

The Revelation to St. John tells of glorious creatures at the height of creature glory: “And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold… The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that lives for ever and ever…” My dear Basil, you are a king, and I hope that Your Majesty can throw his crown before the throne of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Writing with deepest fatherly affection,
Your father,
Oswald

The Angelic Letters

Doxology

Glory

A Pilgrimage from Narnia

Pope Makes Historic Ecumenical Bid to Woo Eastern Rite Catholics

Satire / Humor Warning:

As the author, I have been told I have a very subtle sense of humor.

This page is a work of satire, inspired by the likes of The Onion and early incarnations of The Onion Dome.

It is not real news.

CJSHayward.com/pope

Rome (AP). His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has made a historic ecumenical bid to woo Eastern Rite Catholics and stop treating them as second class citizens. Eastern Rite Catholics are essentially Eastern Orthodox Christians who were received into full communion with the Catholic Church under an an agreement intended to let them to preserve their Orthodox liturgy and faith. In the centuries since this historic agreement, Eastern Rite Catholics have found themselves not exactly treated as first-class citizens by the Roman Catholic Church.

In the nineteenth century, the Eastern Rite Catholic priest Alexis Toth entered the U.S. and found that Archbishop Ireland rejected him as a Catholic, not recognizing his Orthodox rite nor even recognizing him or his bishop as clergy, but demanding Roman behavior and Roman rites, nor accepting that Toth quoted chapter and verse demonstrating that he was allowed to continue his traditional practices as an Eastern Rite Catholic priest. Alexis Toth, regarded today as a saint by the Orthodox Church, was a leader among those moving from being treated as second-class citizens by Rome to come home to the Orthodox Church.

Today, Eastern Rite Catholics enjoy somewhat better treatment, but it is a matter of some debate how much better today’s treatment really is. In Rome, priests are basically required to be celibate; in Orthodoxy, prospective priests are usually expected to be married before they are ordained to the priesthood, and Rome respects this by allowing married Eastern Rite Catholics to be ordained priests. However, given the state of U.S. Catholic church politics, Rome is very reluctant to let married men be ordained priest on U.S. soil: Eastern Rite Catholic bishops from the U.S. may only ordain married men to the priesthood if they have special, case-by-case permission to ordain that particular man, and this is actually an improvement: not long ago, Eastern Rite Catholics had to be flown be flown to another continent entirely if married men were to be ordained to the priesthood. This is how Rome allows Eastern Rite Catholics to preserve their Orthodox tradition and practices. (Rumor has it this is not the only rough point of how Rome treats its Eastern Rite Catholics today.)

But the Pope is very keen on restoring communion and seeing that all Eastern Orthodox become Eastern Rite Catholics, or rather restore communion with Rome, if that is really any different. Now that Anglicans have been offered full communion with Rome while keeping a great deal of their liturgy and faith, the Pope is now tackling the ambitious task of allowing Eastern Rite Catholics to keep their liturgy and faith as first-class members within the Roman communion. Some sources suggest the move may be intended to ease Eastern Orthodox apprehensions about being under papal authority implied in restoring communion with Rome.

At present, details remain sketchy about how the Pope intends to improve Eastern Rite Catholics’ standing. Perhaps only time will tell what it is like to be in full communion with Rome while preserving your tradition’s liturgy and faith.

Archdruid of Canterbury Visits Orthodox Patriarch

Evangelical Converts Striving to be Orthodox

An Open Letter to Catholics on Orthodoxy and Ecumenism

Twelve Quotes on Orthodoxy, Ecumenism, and Catholicism

Plato: The Allegory of the… Flickering Screen?

CJSH.name/plato

Buy it in paperback: part of the collection, The Luddite’s Guide to Technology

Socrates: And now, let me give an illustration to show how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened:—Behold! a human being in a darkened den, who has a slack jaw towards only source of light in the den; this is where he has gravitated since his childhood, and though his legs and neck are not chained or restrained any way, yet he scarcely turns round his head. In front of him are images from faroff, projected onto a flickering screen. And others whom he cannot see, from behind their walls, control the images like marionette players manipulating puppets. And there are many people in such dens, some isolated one way, some another.

Glaucon: I see.

Socrates: And do you see, I said, the flickering screen showing men, and all sorts of vessels, and statues and collectible animals made of wood and stone and various materials, and all sorts of commercial products which appear on the screen? Some of them are talking, and there is rarely silence.

Glaucon: You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

Socrates: Much like us. And they see only their own images, or the images of one another, as they appear on the screen opposite them?

Glaucon: True, he said; how could they see anything but the images if they never chose to look anywhere else?

Socrates: And they would know nothing about a product they buy, except for what brand it is?

Glaucon: Yes.

Socrates: And if they were able to converse with one another, wouldn’t they think that they were discussing what mattered?

Glaucon: Very true.

Socrates: And suppose further that the screen had sounds which came from its side, wouldn’t they imagine that they were simply hearing what people said?

Glaucon: No question.

Socrates: To them, the truth would be literally nothing but those shadowy things we call the images.

Glaucon: That is certain.

Socrates: And now look again, and see what naturally happens next: the prisoners are released and are shown the truth. At first, when any of them is liberated and required to suddenly stand up and turn his neck around, and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the images; and then imagine someone saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is asking him to things, not as they are captured on the screen, but in living color -will he not be perplexed? Won’t he imagine that the version which he used to see on the screen are better and more real than the objects which are shown to him in real life?

Glaucon: Far better.

Socrates: And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?

Glaucon: True, he now will.

Socrates: And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and hindered in his self-seeking until he’s forced to think about someone besides himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? He will find that he cannot simply live life as he sees fit, and he will not have even the illusion of finding comfort by living for himself.

Glaucon: Not all in a moment, he said.

Socrates: He will require time and practice to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the billboards best, next the product lines he has seen advertised, and then things which are not commodities; then he will talk with adults and children, and will he know greater joy in having services done to him, or will he prefer to do something for someone else?

Glaucon: Certainly.

Socrates: Last of he will be able to search for the One who is greatest, reflected in each person on earth, but he will seek him for himself, and not in another; and he will live to contemplate him.

Glaucon: Certainly.

Socrates: He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and is absolutely the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?

Glaucon: Clearly, he said, his mind would be on God and his reasoning towards those things that come from him.

Socrates: And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?

Glaucon: Certainly, he would.

Socrates: And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on those who were quickest to observe what was happening in the world of brands and what new features were marketed, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honours and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer, “Better to be the poor servant of a poor master” than to reign as king of this Hell, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?

Glaucon: Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.

Socrates: Imagine once more, I said, such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness, and seem simply not to get it?

Glaucon: To be sure.

Socrates: And in conversations, and he had to compete in one-upsmanship of knowing the coolest brands with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went with his eyes and down he came without them; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would give him an extremely heavy cross to bear.

Glaucon: No question. Then is the saying, “In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king,” in fact false?

Socrates: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is crucified. Dear Glaucon, you may now add this entire allegory to the discussion around a matter; the den arranged around a flickering screen is deeply connected to the world of living to serve your pleasures, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the spiritual transformation which alike may happen in the monk keeping vigil or the mother caring for children, the ascent of the soul into the world of spiritual realities according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the Source of goodness appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.

Glaucon: I agree, he said, as far as I am able to understand you.

The Best Things in Life Are Free

Religion within the Bounds of Amusement

Silence: Organic Food for the Soul

Technonomicon: Technology, Nature, Ascesis

A Strange Picture

Yonder
Read it on Kindle for $3!

As I walked through the gallery, I immediately stopped when I saw one painting. As I stopped and looked at it, I became more and more deeply puzzled. I’m not sure how to describe the picture.

It was a picture of a city, viewed from a high vantage point. It was a very beautiful city, with houses and towers and streets and parks. As I stood there, I thought for a moment that I heard the sound of children playing—and I looked, but I was the only one present.

This made all the more puzzling the fact that it was a disturbing picture—chilling even. It was not disturbing in the sense that a picture of the Crucifixion is disturbing, where the very beauty is what makes it disturbing. I tried to see what part might be causing it, and met frustration. It seemed that the beauty was itself what was wrong—but that couldn’t be right, because when I looked more closely I saw that the city was even more beautiful than I had imagined. The best way I could explain it to myself was that the ugliness of the picture could not exist except for an inestimable beauty. It was like an unflattering picture of an attractive friend—you can see your friend’s good looks, but the picture shows your friend in an ugly way. You have to fight the picture to really see your friend’s beauty—and I realized that I was fighting the picture to see the city’s real beauty. It was a shallow picture of something profound, and it was perverse. An artist who paints a picture helps you to see through his eyes—most help you to see a beauty that you could not see if you were standing in the same spot and looking. This was like looking at a mountaintop through a pair of eyes that were blind, with a blindness far more terrible, far more crippling, than any blindness that is merely physical. I stepped back in nausea.

I leaned against a pillar for support, and my eyes fell to the bottom of the frame. I glanced on the picture’s title: Porn.

Money

A Picture of Evil

The Spectacles

Unashamed

A Voyage in Espiriticthus

CJSH.name/pbem

Read it on Kindle: part of the collection, The Minstrel’s Song

I was running a play by e-mail adventure in the world Espiriticthus. Basic documents for The Minstrel’s Song (the game) are on its page. The campaign is closed.

Character descriptions:

The characters are Caroline, Hood, Jeff, Xingu, and Zakhs online.

Turns:

A First Meeting
A Contest
Seeking Rozimald’s Keys
A Hermit
An Encounter
A Bear
Continuing On


Name: Caroline Leof’degn
Race: Nor’krin
Age: 24
Gender: Female

Physical Appearance:

Caroline is 5’10” and 160 pounds. A little tall even for one of the ‘northern giants’. Her sun bleached blond hair is kept in a neat and tidy braid down her back, reaching down to the small of her back. Her clothing tends to be practical and designed to hold up in all kinds of weather. Her eyes are blue and in times of deep emotion yellow flecks seem to rise and burst upon the surface. She travels very light with a backpack of various healing tools and herbs, a bow, and a long sword. Her iron cross given at becoming an adult at first appears very plain and only with close inspection do the tiny designs show.

Personality:

Started out her life, very concerned with the law and facts. Things of practical use. Used to consider thing that were not of obvious practical use as wasteful. She was all the more shocked when at 16 her challenge for becoming an adult turned out to be learning to sing. She left to go live with the Yedidia people, since logically they would be the best ones to show someone how to sing. It was not that simple. Yedidia sing because they enjoy life, and to show Caroline how they sing, she needed to learn about enjoying life. Not enjoying a particular activity or helping someone, but life and living itself. By the time Caroline left, five years had pasted and Caroline was starting down the path to understanding and enjoying life. She had finally learned how to sing.

Profession/talents/skills:

Healing is her first vocation. The taking care of wounded and sick. She is fairly skilled and tended of the physical wounds, and is slowly learning to identify those hurt in other ways. Protecting and taking care of other physical needs is the use she puts her weapons skill too. Singing…. singing she does for joy of life, in answer to the beauty of a sunrise or rose.

Miscellaneous:

Caroline has an true enjoyment of herbal teas. While she still enjoys crisp cold water that her race normally favours, during her five years with the Yedidia one of the pleasures of the senses she learned to enjoy was tea. She has tea either hot or chilled, enjoying not only the taste but the smell as well. She remembers her time spend learning with the Yedidia with every cup.

A quote:

“Sometimes we become so consumed with what we believe we should be rushing to do, we forget to listen in silence to the voice of God.”


Name: Hood Natheel
Race: Tuz
Age: 25
Gender: Male

Occupation:

Blacksmith

Appearance:

Hood is a shorth stocky fellow. He is bald but do have a large jetblack beard. He usally wears a pair of short grey trousers and buff coloured sleeveless leather vest with a sort of flap hanging down on the knees( it a kind of blacksmith protection wear that is quite common among the Tuz, also known a “Tuulth”)

Personality:

Hood Natheel got a personality similar to the iron he usally work with. He is strong willed, cold in the face of danger and if someone heats up his heart it will melt and the somewhat cold front will disappear and show the true Hood. Usally his temper is very balanced, but on occasions he will emotional outburst( either of joy or if he is really displeased with something)

Hood is a curious fellow always eager to seek answer to the questions he is confronted with. An ability that might put him in jeopardy sometimes. Usally he sort these things out.

He is also looking for solutions to his community, so his curiosity is not at all self centered. If a problem occur among the his friends neighbors or someone else he usally seek out to find an answer to the question at hand.

He is perhaps not the most intelligent being in the creation, but since he is a patient man he usally ends up with the answers in the long run.

The solutions that Hood comes up with are usally based on simplicity and he often hard to understand more complex reason. Therefor he might feel a bit uneasy with the company of scholar and highly educated men an women. As usual he tries to compensate this weakness with the usual patience. Cooperation comes before confrontaion so Hood would probably not start a confrontaion with people who does not share he way thinking.

Hood usally speaks in a laconic way. He seldom expresses more than absolutely needed. That makes him a rather bad preacher and he is not the type of person that tries to impose his ideas on others.

A typical Hood quote:

“Eeh..Wait…I think I got it!!..eeh.or perhaps not”

Background:

Hood is born in a small Tuz village called Haahem. He has very seldom left it when he entered the game. On occasions he has visited other villages. He is the eldest son of a Tuz blacksmith named Holth Natheel. Just like his father(and numerous generations before him) Hood is a blacksmith. The silent steady nature of the Natheel family has given them a good reputation in the home village and the surrounding area. For the moment the Natheel family consist of 15 persons, grandpa Oothol Natheel, Holtlh and his wife Holthina and their 12 children( among them you can find Hood).

Inventory:

  • sledge( used as a protection weapon)
  • knife
  • tinderbox
  • rope 50′
  • lantern
  • leather protection

Name: Chimera Antonio Pbrush Petra Mistrelli Charleston Jeffery Mirrorman
Race: Urvanovestilli
Age: 35
Gender: Male

Physical appearance:

Chimera is 5’3″ and weighs 101 pounds. He has clear white skin and long jet-black hair pulled back in a ponytail. When he is out in the sun, he will have a wicker hat on with a long brim that hides his face, and wears a pair of dark sunglasses. He wears all white satin clothes and carries his tools in a backpack along with several blankets that he uses when there is no place to lodge. He walks with a long metal walking stick that is wrapped with a leather strap. His shoes are made of a cotton black clothe with very thick leather souls. He has emerald green eyes and claw scar across his left forearm.

Personality:

Chimera is very quiet, but a very hard worker. When he does talk, it is with a very soft and tender voice. His love for God can be seen deep within his eyes and in the fact that he spends much time in prayer and study each day. Once you get to know Jeff, he is very friendly and very willing to offer his hand to assist others.

Profession/talents/skills:

Like his father, Jeff will one day take over the maintenance and construction of the labyrinth of the city Mistrelli. He has been brought up on the studies of Ceremonies, Clockwork Device Craftsmanship, Heraldry, History, Literature, Mathematics, Philosophy, Reading/Writing, Technology Use, and Theology. Jeff is also Proficient at Illusionism, and Moderately Skilled at Opening Locks and is more than just a Dabbler when it comes to Jury-Rigging.

Background:

My name is, Chimera Antonio Pbrush Petra Mistrelli Charleston Jeffery Mirrorman. My friends call me Jeff. I am an Urvanovestilli from the city of Mistrelli. Christ is the center of my life, for I try to live as He would have by giving all that I have and all that I am to helping others. The world is a great place, with many mysteries and wonders. I am but a young adult at the age of 35. I have been on many journeys to see the world and to meet the other cultures that God has created. In this part of my life, I am still filled with the wanderlust that is engraved upon my soul, but I find greater fulfillment when I can help others as I see the world. My family has been apart of the creation of Mistrelli, therefore, I have grown up creating many unusual devices for traps and secret passages. Some of the devices that I have personally developed were the search light for wandering around in the tunnels, and a mirroring device that allows one’s image to be projected at a distance, but my most fun device was a box with a button on it, that when pressed, entangles the holder of the box with strong wires that could not be broken, not even by a Nor’krin. Since I have been on many journeys, I have also been able to help others with minor problems such as water irrigation and food storage. Some of the virtues that I embody would be Contrainte, Faith, Forgiveness, Generosity, Gentleness, Honesty, Honor, Humility, Joy, Love, Patience, Peace, Self-Control, and Wisdom.

I search for Honesty in other people. I have only a few relationships with others, but the are very deep. I think that quality counts much more that quantity. In my spare time, I love to think about the mysteries of God and the universe. How He has created such a symphony of life with as much diversity.

I am my father’s first born, and will return one day to become his assistant, and eventually, take over for him. Even though I might look helpless, I would have to disagree. In my travels, I have been able to study and master the Martial Art form Akido, which is a very soft a non aggressive form. Although non aggressive, it is very useful when being attacked. The attacker when only get hurt accordingly to how much force he put into the attack.

I enjoy life very much. One of my favorite games is Imperial Kingdoms, a more complex version of Chess. My other hobby is creating a machine that will allow me to fly. My favorite story is about Eistinia, one of the great inventors from my town. He created a balloon that could carry a basket into the sky with several people. After his first attempt, he landed in a far away place, because he forgot to setup a way to go down. Anyway, he came across a small village that knows nothing of God and was able to share the God news with them. How exciting. I too, want to be able to help others, both physically and spiritually. I like to present others with my gifts of service, to help them in their needs.

I cherish the memory of my great grand father, because it was he how taught me that God and Science are the same, for we would not have Knowledge if it were not God’s will. I have grown much since that time, and I have helped many people because of that. But one thing has not changed, I have always wanted to know why I believe what I believe, and never just accept anything as that was how it has always been.

There is a girl back home that has also left following her wanderlust, her name is Tia Carolina Pamelita. It would be my desire to win her heart and to ask her to marry me. But before I do, I must find out who I am.

I am a typical Urvanovestilli standing at 5’3″ and weighing in at 101 pounds. I might seem very quiet, but I am really very bright and well cultured. I have studied Ceremonies, Clockwork Device Craftsmanship, Heraldry, History, Literature, Mathematics, Philosophy, Reading/Writing , Technology Use, and Theology. But I have also studied Anatomy, Biology, Chemistry, Cooking, Herbalism, Illusionism, Improvisation, Jury-Rigging, Languages, Massage, Mediation, Medicine, Musical Composition, Piano, Open Locks, Poetry Composition, Pyrotechnics, Strategy Games, and Trivia.

Ability to Learn – Good
Agility – Fair
Charisma – Fair
Constitution – Fair
Dexterity – Fair
Intelligence – Good
Knowledge – Good
Memory – Good
Perception – Good
Speed – Poor
Strength – Poor
Wisdom – Good

A Quote:

“To study what God has created and how it works is to understand who God is just a little bit more”


Name: Xingu
Race: Shal
Gender: Male
Age: 232
Weight: 135 lbs
Height: 5’5″

Xingu is, for a Shal, of medium height and weight, with soft, penetrating blue eyes. If one wished to know his age, one would be confused by the contrast of his frame – that of middle age, with well-defined muscles in his upper forearms – and his skin whose aging has been accelerated by the salt breeze of the sea; yet Xingu possesses an air of timelessness that makes even thinking of age superficial. He wears a dark green cloak and carries a walking stick of gnarled wood.

Xingu doesn’t have as much a personality as he has a presence. One can be with him, and not a word need be spoken before his presence – a feeling of warmth, compassion, love, serenity, peace, and timelessness – is felt.

Xingu lives in the Shal port village of Vis. There he was a sailor and fisherman. Like all Shal, he lives his life in serene mysticism, possessing a timeless wisdom – not exactly logic, not exactly intelligence, but a wisdom much like the Tao masters. As per his trade, he is skilled at fishing, sailing, rope handling, and navigation, the latter based more on intuition than calculation.

Like most sailors, Xingu is passable at some musical instruments, singing, and sea lore. Traditional Shal music is less outwardly joyous; it is more peaceful, serene, and inspiring of meditation.

The Shal sail largely by intuition, by becoming at peace with the ocean. While one certainly should not sail with a Shal if speed is the end goal, there’s no person better to be with should the seas get rough. Many a Shal has been known to survive storms which should have cracked a boat to bits, by holding the helm in one calloused hand, the main sheet cutting into the flesh of the other hand, muscles straining to keep the ship under control, and yet maintaining a look of utmost peace and tranquility, a lack of fear, and a faith strong enough to move mountains. The Shal sail, and weather storms, simply by staying in harmony with the sea and remaining at peace. Xingu is certainly no exception.

Xingu will always welcome a stranger into his house, or sail a foreigner to any destination. Long days and nights on a ship with guests, repeated for nearly two centuries, combined with seemingly infinite patience have made Xingu quite well-versed in the languages, customs and ways of the other cultures, and he has come to appreciate the different races greatly.

One day when withdrawing from his community and the rest of the world, Xingu felt a calling to leave his boat and travel away from Vis, which he had never before left by land. It was then that he happened upon the city of Mistrelli.

Xingu carries just enough possessions to survive – a hunting knife, a tinder box and flints, and a canteen of water. At his home in Vis is moored his simple 16 foot yawl-rigged boat with tan bark sails, his ropes and net.

Quote:

“I feel, I sense, and I live. I am, and He is, hence I know.”


Name: Xingu
Race: Shal
Gender: Male
Age: 232
Weight: 135 lbs
Height: 5’5″

Xingu is, for a Shal, of medium height and weight, with soft, penetrating blue eyes. If one wished to know his age, one would be confused by the contrast of his frame – that of middle age, with well-defined muscles in his upper forearms – and his skin whose aging has been accelerated by the salt breeze of the sea; yet Xingu possesses an air of timelessness that makes even thinking of age superficial. He wears a dark green cloak and carries a walking stick of gnarled wood.

Xingu doesn’t have as much a personality as he has a presence. One can be with him, and not a word need be spoken before his presence – a feeling of warmth, compassion, love, serenity, peace, and timelessness – is felt.

Xingu lives in the Shal port village of Vis. There he was a sailor and fisherman. Like all Shal, he lives his life in serene mysticism, possessing a timeless wisdom – not exactly logic, not exactly intelligence, but a wisdom much like the Tao masters. As per his trade, he is skilled at fishing, sailing, rope handling, and navigation, the latter based more on intuition than calculation.

Like most sailors, Xingu is passable at some musical instruments, singing, and sea lore. Traditional Shal music is less outwardly joyous; it is more peaceful, serene, and inspiring of meditation.

The Shal sail largely by intuition, by becoming at peace with the ocean. While one certainly should not sail with a Shal if speed is the end goal, there’s no person better to be with should the seas get rough. Many a Shal has been known to survive storms which should have cracked a boat to bits, by holding the helm in one calloused hand, the main sheet cutting into the flesh of the other hand, muscles straining to keep the ship under control, and yet maintaining a look of utmost peace and tranquility, a lack of fear, and a faith strong enough to move mountains. The Shal sail, and weather storms, simply by staying in harmony with the sea and remaining at peace. Xingu is certainly no exception.

Xingu will always welcome a stranger into his house, or sail a foreigner to any destination. Long days and nights on a ship with guests, repeated for nearly two centuries, combined with seemingly infinite patience have made Xingu quite well-versed in the languages, customs and ways of the other cultures, and he has come to appreciate the different races greatly.

One day when withdrawing from his community and the rest of the world, Xingu felt a calling to leave his boat and travel away from Vis, which he had never before left by land. It was then that he happened upon the city of Mistrelli.

Xingu carries just enough possessions to survive – a hunting knife, a tinder box and flints, and a canteen of water. At his home in Vis is moored his simple 16 foot yawl-rigged boat with tan bark sails, his ropes and net.

Quote:

“I feel, I sense, and I live. I am, and He is, hence I know.”


Name: Zakhs
Race: Tuz
Age: 28
Gender: Male

Physical appearance:

Zachs is of medium height and stocky build. His broad grin (his usual expression) is nestled in his thick black beard, and his eyes have a humorous twinkle. When he laughs, it is long and loud. He carries a stour walking stick made of a dark-colored wood, and his clothes are well-worn and comfortable looking.

Personality:

He is not naive, for he has seen much of the world, but he is a basically trusting person. He gives people the benefit of the doubt until they prove him wrong. He greets everyone he meets as a friend until proven otherwise, and he is a hearty and enjoyable person. His special gift is the ability to help others, and he takes great joy in this. When he comes across someone working in his travels, he pitches in and helps them finish a job. In this way he can raise goodwill as well as food and a place to sleep for the night.

Profession/talents/skills:

He is a wanderer and a pilgrim, seeking through the world in order to broaden his experience. He has the standard skills of a Tuz; Heat Tolerance, Hunting, Wilderness Survival, and Wrestling. He is also skilled in Animal Lore, Brewing, and Endurance. He is good with his hands and likes to Build and Carve.

A quote:

“Greetings, Friend! Care for some help with that?”


Mistrelli lies in the heart of the Fog Valley; a shroud of mist cloaks the ground, out of which rise trees and tall buildings with spires and towers. Inside the buildings are all manner of tunnels of tunnels, secret passages, and trapdoors; there are clockwork devices in each one. Throughout the city are spread a handful of entrances to a vast underground labyrinth, of which the better part is unknown; there are all manner of doors and puzzles inside.

The city is full of rose bushes, climbing up the sides of the buildings, over and around gates; most are yellow, but there are some of every color.

The people take a long time to get to know, and their personalities always have hidden gems. Their study of theology emphasizes mystery and the incomprehensible nature of God; Connaissance, a theologian from Mistrelli, began and ended his magnum opus with the words, “I do not know.”

Inside this city, which you have all come to for your various reasons, you are each hailed by a young Janra. He is wirily built, with deep, twinkling blue eyes and a shimmering midnight blue robe. He greets you according to your people’s way and tells you in your native tongue, “Greetings. My name is Nimbus. I would like to request the honor of your presence tomorrow, in the third hour of the afternoon, at a meeting in the public square.”

Nimbus is apparently an adventurer of some renown. He is said to have gone on many quests, although exactly what is not clearly known; no two stories are alike. He is also said to have a massive vehicle known as the Juggernaut, Nimbus’s Roving Citadel, etc.

The following day, in the public square, Nimbus divides those assembled into teams, and announces, “I have hidden three eggs, one gold and two silver, in the labyrinth. A team which returns with a silver egg I will give forty gold sovereigns and a tour of my fortress. The team which returns with the golden egg will receive a hundred gold sovereigns, and I will take them in the citadel anywhere within a month’s journey they wish to go.”


Hood belched a loud belch, and chuckled. He had had little difficulty finding something to do — it seemed that people everywhere had heavy things to carry around — but the dainty little portions he had been served were a surprise. Very cute, the strips of meat arranged across layers of cheese and a flaky bread, but not terribly filling. No wonder all the Urvanovestilli were thin as a beanpole, he mused. He tried to eat with the silver instruments he was given, but the strips of meat kept falling off of the pointy thing. At least the tiny knife was sharp — it cut with a refreshing lightness as compared to the much larger knives he was accustomed to, which assumed that you had a bit of strength.

The chef must have seen him staring in disbelief at the food; he turned the faintest shade red, quickly walked back in the kitchen, and came back holding a pot, by wooden pads, and followed by a little girl holding a miniature bowl and spoon. “I’m sorry; I am used to serving for Urvanovestilli, and forgot for a moment that you were a Tuz,” he said through a thick accent. It took Hood a little while to grasp the long sentences, but when he understood them, he smiled. In Urvanovestilli, he tried to say, “Thank you,” and took the pot, guzzling the soup from it. The warmth of the steel pot was comforting to his calloused hands, and the steaming soup filled his stomach with a pleasant heat. There was a somewhat awkward moment of silence — the cook staring in disbelief that anybody could touch the pot with bare hands, let alone drink from it, Hood realizing that they had actually intended him to eat the soup with the tiny bowl and spoon. Finally, Hood set the pot down, smiling and again saying, “Thank you,” and the cook picked it up, and said, “I hope you liked it.”

The soup had had a taste Hood had never tasted before — subtly spiced, with a gentleness to its meaty flavor and salt — and Hood leaned back and belched to express his gratitude. There was a moment of silence, as people turned to him, and the little girl giggled; Hood remembered that the Urvanovestilli had a rather odd attitude about belching. A young man said something rather loudly in Urvanovestilli, and then fluent Tuz: “Aah, yes, I have heard of how the Tuz express their appreciation for a good meal by a good, hearty belch. It sounds like our hard working friend here is quite pleased with the fare!” The cook looked as if he understood, and then tipped his head, walking away with the pot, bowl, and spoon.

Now that the situation had ended, it was far easier to see its humor. Having spent a few days in the forest, hunting his food, Hood had been out of Urvanovestilli culture, and lived much as if he were in a Tuz forest — though even then, he missed some of the tough and rowdy monsters to be found. Have a little patience, he thought, and you’ll adjust to a culture, learn to do things their way, while still remaining you — little moments like the one about the meal brought a bit of spice and amusement.

Hood had left his home village Haheem for the first time in his life. The reason was simple. 12 kids could not inhherite a single blacksmith workshop. The Tuz living around Haheem has not devloped the idea that the eldest son is the obvious heir to his fathers possesions. Ther were actually no clear rules at all regarding this matter. After a short dicussion Hood suggested that they all should solve the matter i one big wrestling match – Hood did not winn, so ther was nothing more to do for Hood than to leave his vilage and to seek his fortune somewhere else. Maybe he could start a new workshop in a nearby village one day.

Now you’re a somewhat young Tuz blacksmith and you need to get a job, what do you do? Well maybe seek employment in some of the Urvanovestilli cities. The strange inhabitants in these cities sometimes have a need for Tuz artisans. Hood had heard stories about the marvelous city of Mistrelli. A city packed with weird mazes, buildings and other strange thins…..maybe the Misterellians needed help with some new constructions.

A couple of weeks later Hood has just entred the the city of Misterelli. He has been drifting around a while studying the sites and landmark of the city when he sees a young Janra. Hood thought for himself…..

“Ahh..a Janra!…. well as we say in Haheem..where there is a Janra there is something going on….”

So now he was at the square, eagerly waiting for things to begin.

There were a few people who stopped to talk with him along the way; the most interesting was an old woman, wearing a black robe with a loose cowl and golden threads woven into its edges, who spoke entirely in questions. She didn’t speak any Tuz, but she spoke slowly, loudly, and with simple words, and repeated her questions a few times. It was very difficult to see the person behind those questions, but Hood thought that there was something there, if only he could give it enough time. There was just enough there, for Hood to know for sure that something was eluding him… As Nimbus climbed a tree and cleared his throat to speak, she handed him a piece of paper, and said, “Here’s my address; do come by.”

The first thing that the young Janra said was, “Brothers and sisters, there are people of many languages here. Please have patience as I explain things in everyone’s tongue, and please remain here until I have divided people into groups.” He said this, of course, in several languages, but it was not too long before those gathered heard in their own native tongue: that he had hidden three eggs, two silver and one gold, that a team returning with a silver egg would gain forty gold sovereigns and a tour of his Juggernaut, and the team returning with the golden egg would win not only one hundred gold sovereigns, but a trip inside the Juggernaut to anywhere within a month’s journey.

It seemed but a moment before Hood was brought together with a team, and then people began to quickly scatter into nooks and crannies. The others assembled and brought into the team were:

Zakhs, another Tuz, a stocky fellow with a broad grin, twinkling eyes, and a thick black beard. His clothing was well-worn, and he carried a thick, dark walking stick.

Xingu, a young Shal with a very peaceful gaze.

Caroline, a young Nor’krin bearing a sharp sword, a bow, and a box, with braided hair running down her back. She bears with her a slight fragrance of roses; when asked, she explained that she was savoring the roses at the rose garden, and held out her hands; her fingertips were a shade of dark pink, the color of the roses having rubbed off on them.

Hood pulled out his lantern and tinderbox, and with nimble fingers, quickly struck the wick afire. “Shall we go a lookin’?”

The square was already still, the people having departed; only Nimbus remained, perched in the tree, and a few people passing here and there.

As the group began to walk about, Hood’s sharp eyes looked in a public square and spotted a statue with a large pedestal, with a rectangular block on one side slightly recessed. He kneeled down, and felt around the edges. The block gave a little when he pressed on it, but beyond a short distance seemed to catch on something. It moved more at the bottom, where it moved back, than the top, where it scarcely moved at all. “This seems to give, but I can’t tell how to trigger it.” The statue was a statue of a thin, despairing man, clothed in rags, with hands stretched up towards Heaven.

Zakhs looked around and said, “There’s an inscription on the other side. Can anybody read it?”

Hood walked around. The script was long, flowing, and carved in the stone, overlaid with gold leaf. “Pretty letters.” He paused for a moment, and then read, “I am [pause] tall. Who will [pause] me receive something for [pause] to drink?” He paused for a second and said, “Understanding these people talking is hard; reading them… I am tall. Who will receive me something to drink? I have at least one word wrong.”

Zakhs said, “Pronounce the ‘tall’ word.”

Hood pronounced it, and Zakhs said it a few times to himself, then changed one sound, and laughed. “I am thirsty. Who will give me something to drink?”

Zakhs looked around, and saw a fountain. He cupped his hands, taking water, and stepped up onto the pedestal (with a little help from Hood), opening his hands over the statue’s mouth. There was a gurgling sound for a moment, then a click, and a sound of clockwork gears turning. The stone rectangle turned inward and upward, on hinges, revealing a shaft with an iron ladder descending into the darkness.

Xingu opened a hand, and then said, “Shall we?”

Hood hefted his massive sledge hammer, and then said, “I think I’d best go down first, in case there are any nasty critters in there.” Xingu paused in thought a moment, considering questioning that — but, given the determination in Hood’s words, decided not to. He loosened the girdle of his leather protector somewhat, slid in the sledge, took the lantern in hand, and began descending the iron rungs.

At the bottom of the pit was a short passageway, ending in an abrupt stone wall. It was dusty, with recent tracks that led under the stone wall — and there disappeared. As the other people came down, they began to inspect the wall and the surrounding areas for some indication as to how one would open the doorway.

After a time, Xingu began to say, “‘Tis said that people often pay too much attention to time and the order of things in time. I wonder…” He began to climb the ladder.

“Where are you going?”, Caroline asked.

“Wait a moment. I’m checking to see something.” He disappeared into the shaft, ascending noiselessly.

There was soon a sound of shifting stone, of gears turning and chains moving, and the stone door glided into the walls of the passageway.

Xingu calmly said, “Shall we go on?”

The passageway came to a T-shaped junction; the tracks went off one way. There was general concurrence to go the other way. As they walked through the long and twisty passageway, Hood’s heavy step brought not only the ring of his iron boot, but a slightly different thud than usual. “That stone,” said Zakhs, “is different from the others.” He knelt down, felt around a little, and then struck one of the stones with his staff. There was a faint echo, a hollow sound. “What are y—”, began Caroline, as Hood’s heavy hammer came down and slammed into the floor. There was a loud ringing sound, and the stone had several cracks.

Hood began to pull out pieces of stone, then reached into what was a hole, and pulled out a small, shiny steel box. “This shouldn’t be too hard to open,” he said, setting it on its side.

Caroline quickly snatched the box, looked him in the eyes, and said, “No.” in clearly enunciated Tuz.

“But it’ll be faster than —,” Hood began.

“No.”

“But why not?”

“Maybe fragile. Break. Shatter.”

“I don’t think —”

“No.”

Hood looked her in the eyes, to stare her down, and saw a will equal to his own. Zakhs put his hand on Hood’s shoulder and said, “Brother, it’s probably safe to open, but there’s just a slight chance that it has something fragile, that is not broken. Why don’t we be safe and wait a little while before opening it, just in case?” With that, Hood relaxed.

They went on; the passageway came to a seven way intersection.

The first path led to a circular room with a small, shallow pool in it. The water in the pool was murky, and had a stagnant smell to it.

The second path was long and twisty, but only came to a dead end.

The third path led to a dead end, but coming back, they found a secret door to a long, rectangular room with bas-relief sculpture on the walls.

The fourth lead to a winding circular staircase, heading upwards. As they ascended, they began to hear music. It came to a narrow doorway; opening it, they saw the relatively bright light of dusk, a crimson sunset slowly ebbing away. As they adjusted to the light, the music stopped; Nimbus, holding a lute, came walking up. They were at a hidden door, opening outwards, in the corner of a building in the public square.

“Greetings. How was your time in the dungeon?” He listened with interest, and then said, “I’m sorry to say that all three eggs have been located. But let me look at that box. I think I can open it, if nothing else.”

Nimbus pulled out some metal tools, and in a short time the lid came open.

Inside were several things. There was a tiny porcelain figurine of a deer, a silver bracelet, a rock with some paint on it, a small crystal phial on a necklace, and lastly, a small, curved fragment of parchment with what appeared to be part of a bard’s song:

To Rozimald’s chambers the keys are three,
They all upon the triangle mountains be.A blue sapphire key beneath a great blue sapphire set,
A black onyx key, by black onyx is met.
An emerald key among hanging emeralds does rest.

Nimbus muttered, “Rozimald, Rozimald, Rozimald… Where have I heard that name before… Aah, Rozimald. He was a wealthy Urvanovestilli eccentric long ago, with — never mind that, the tale has probably grown a lot in the telling. Some people know where his abode was, but I haven’t heard of anybody being able to get in.

“One thing I will say, though. He is thought to have had a store of a very potent fuel, made of powdered rust mixed with powdered aluminum. I don’t remember exactly how much there is, but I can find that out. At any rate, if you bring that to me, I will be glad to train you; I am currently taking a break from adventuring, to train other adventurers.

“Oh, and I almost forgot. I would like to give you something.” He reached into the folds of his robes, and produced a white candle with carvings on the sides. “Keep this with you, and may its light remind you of the hour of our meeting.”

Nimbus bowed deeply and disappeared into the shadows.


Hood said, “My UCLA Zogah always told me and my brothers never to interfere with rich mens secrets….but I am very curious about these Rozimalds chambers…..and Uncle Zogah cannot always be right…….any ideas where to start looking…eh?”

Caroline stopped her exploration of the sight and textures of the various objects including the box itself, and said to Hood “We are not interfering with Rozimald’s secrets but answering his invitation. For that is what this riddle-song is, an invitation for those who can solve it. As for were to start, the song says triangle mountains. I guess there are where his home was, so if we ask about the location of Rozimald’s home perhaps what the triangle mountains are will be obvious. Nor’krin teaches using stories and remembering the stories help me remember the lessons the stories contained. The Yedidia teach with song. The Urvanovestilli build physical puzzles and riddles as part of their teaching. Rozimald’s invitation is to learn from him, and the works he created during his life. He has even left the riddle-song with other gifts so that we know we are welcome.”

Caroline also discovered that tapping the metal box with a flicked finger can cause an interesting bell like sound.

Hood continued, “….guess your right……sounds simple enough…..although I must say that the Urvanovestilli are a bit weird…not doing this the Tuz way…much better….can’t he just tell his secret with a few simple words….does anyone have any knowledge where to find these triangle mountains?”

Caroline smiled and says “Different things work for different people. Some people lack the wisdom or faith to accept a few simple words and need to learn through trial and experience. These lessons can take a long time to learn, yet in the end the wisdom can be said in a few simple words.”

Zachs also smiled at Hood’s comments. Then he added,”I have travelled far and wide, and visited many places. I have never heard of these triangle mountains. Perhaps someone here in the city knows of it?”

Hood was a bit unsure about the next step in the research. As usual he started to set his somewhat slowstarted mind of his into motion….. It’s easy to see when Hood thinks since the skin on his forehead gets all wrinkled. He also started to pull his hand through his long beard. He was about to say something when he suddenly stopped himself from doing so. It seemed that he was awaiting the the reaction from the other team members to the newly found puzzle.

Caroline suggested “Since it is information that we need, we should ask.” She goes and tries to catch a passer by’s eye, smiles and inquired, “I am trying to locate Rozimald’s home, do you know where it is or who I should ask?”

The passerby, an old man with a white beard, said, “Rozimald. Let me think; I haven’t heard that name for several hundred years.” He closed his eyes, and a couple of minutes passed. “I’m sorry, I don’t know where his mansion is or was. At least not any more; I’ve long since forgotten it. But if you go to the library’s archives — probably here, if not here, at Capitello — and talk with the history librarian, who should be in tomorrow evening, he can look up what is available, and will know whom to talk with.

“The library is under the cathedral, in the center of the city.

“Is there anything else I can tell you about?”

Hood said, “Excuse me Sir! Sorry for my simple Tuz ways and for bothering you with my questions, but may I ask a few questions about the city surroundings?”

The man gently smiled and said, “You need not apologize for your simple Tuz ways, dear friend. The beauty of Urvanovestilli ways lies in their refinement and complexity; those of the Tuz, in their power and strength. Enjoy the blessing that God has created you as a Tuz. Now what is your question?”

“Do you know where the Triangle Mountains are, or where or how we could find out about them?”

“The Triangle Mountains are about six weeks’ walk east of north. I don’t remember the exact location, but the mapmaker can tell you.” He gave the group directions to the mapmaker. “If that is all you have to ask, I’ll be going on.”

The last rays of the dying sun painted the cathedral as the group reached it. It was intricate, dark, majestic — carved out of black marble.

Inside the cathedral, everything was cool, still, and pitch black. There were a few sounds of walking; there was a faint smell of dust.

Then, suddenly, the building was shaken by a thunderous blast of music from the organ. The sound was deep, rich, majestic; a turgid fugue of four voices played. The party could feel the vibrations in their bones.

Walking along in the darkness, they found a dry wooden door, and, opening it, descended down a circular staircase until they came to a large, open, dusty room.

Most cathedrals had crypts beneath, a reminder of the community and presence of those departed. This one had row upon row of shelves of books. It was filled by an ageless silence, and lit by the glow of candles.

Almost fearing to break the silence, they moved along until they found a librarian, sitting next to a candle, reading from the pages of an ancient volume. He slowly turned, and raised his hand in greeting, asking what he could do for them.

Rozimald, he said, was a man who had lived in the East Ridge Mountains, near the Silouni River. He produced a map which showed the region, and indicated where his mansion had been said to be located. “I think I can spare you a trip to the mapmaker, if you can memorize a map”, and showed a map of a road, with a trail branching off to a small village, beyond which lay the three mountains where the keys had been said to be located.

They went to an inn to sleep, and the next day set out early. It was good hunting, with deer or boar usually only a couple of hours’ hunting, and a pleasant trip to reach the village. Once arrived, they spent a couple of days resting, selling pelts and buying supplies, before going on.

The second day out, the day’s hunting was met by a long rainstorm which seemed to grow more and less intense. Hood, moving first, was about to strike a hedgehog, when he stepped and the ground beneath him gave.

Hood, very heavily weighed down, is sinking in quicksand.


Hood takes some dried fruit and eats…..while he is eating he starts to asking questions to the hermit, without thinking about what his mother said to him about what non-Tuz people thinks about eating and speaking at the same time:

“I very grateful for the food……You sure seem..mauwauawmm(Hood is chewing) to be a wise fellow….you see we are in need of some information….humrph(he swallows the food)…you see we are looking for a chap…a certain Rozimald…….ancient fellow….Urvanovestilli I believe….and the triangle mountains….he is supposed to have some kind of chambers there…”

Xingu, seeing Hood talking and chewing at the same time, cracks a slight grin. He hugs Hood. Slowly, Xingu says, “One cannot appreciate what one has, till one sees that it may be gone in a moment. We are dust, and to dust we shall return. Hood, you are a light among us, and we must thank Him that you are still with us.” Xingu bows his head in silence.

Time passes. Or rather, time stands still.

Xingu looks up, and his eyes meet the hermit’s. He takes some food, bows his head deeply in what is taken as a sign of sincere gratitude, and eats.

Xingu then addresses the hermit: “All of us are made in His image, and like a diamond with many sparkling facets, each culture reflects a different aspect of Him. We are on a quest in search of the answer to an Urvanovestilli riddle. My mind does not think as an Urvanovestilli, and I confess that many of their logic puzzles escape me. Perhaps you can help us solve the riddle.” Xingu turns to speak to the group, “May I see the box?”

Caroline who seems to have found the box in her presence, if only because she was carrying the lightest load and liked the noise it made responds “Of course.” Her eyes seems to twinkle with an inner happiness and she enjoys the company and the food. Offering as well to the table, herbal teas if anyone wishes to try a blend, as well as any food she carries that they wish to share.

Xingu slowly opens the box, and places on the table the porcelain figurine of a deer, a silver bracelet, a rock with some paint on it, a small crystal phial on a necklace, and reads from the parchment:

To Rozimald’s chambers the keys are three, They all upon the triangle mountains be.

A blue sapphire key beneath a great blue sapphire set, A black onyx key, by black onyx is met. An emerald key among hanging emeralds does rest.

“These are the clues to our quest. What can we make of them?”

He pauses….

“What strikes me first is a feeling that this is the trinket box of a little girl. Bracelet, necklace, little odds and ends, and a poem; all things that one would expect to find. Yet the poem is a puzzle. It could possibly be a puzzle a small child kept in a trinket box.

“Where was it found? In a labyrinth, a large puzzle. Finding the paper in the labyrinth, one would think it a puzzle. Finding the metal box in a labyrinth, one would think the box a puzzle. Finding the same metal box in the room of a young girl, one would find the box as normal, but the paper a puzzle.

“What are the keys? Something we must find on the three mountains? Are they already found, stashed in this metal box by a past adventurer and hidden in the labyrinth? Are they symbols, or metaphors, found by an interpretation of the poem, or the items within the box? Are the items in the box there by chance? Are they needed to find the keys? Are they a part of the puzzle, if not the keys themselves?

“Puzzle within puzzle within puzzle….”

He pauses.

“I also see a similarity in both the poem and the items; I sense a strong feeling of nature. Deer, stone, crystal, mountains, gems….

Xingu picks up each item, including the box itself, and slowly examines them, looking not only for clues to the mystery, but also admiring the beauty of each object. He passes them around the room to the others.

The hermit looks at the poem, thinks for a time, and then says, “Oh, so you’ve finally found a good-looking clue to Rozimald’s chambers. Let me think.”

He leans back, and then closes his eyes for a moment. “Aah, yes. One moment; I’ll be back.”

He goes into a corner, and returns with a black, frosted glass bottle with a seal on the front. “I had almost forgotten,” he says. “A Porto would be quite appropriate to this discussion.”

After serving everyone a glass, he leans back, and says, “There are many poets that I have heard of, and some of them spend a great deal of attention on drawing out the wonder in the world around. They are working to open people’s eyes, to fight off the ever threatening grey murk which threatens to cloud vision and make even the sun look dull and drab.

“Some of that group evokes the things that we most regard as precious — gold and silver, diamonds and rubies, wines and delicacies. Those things, perhaps in part because they are rare, are not so often looked at as dull and drab.

“There was one poet — I have forgotten his name — who spoke of gems, describing the world as if it were composed entirely of gems. And the fragment of song which you describe appears to be some of his work.”

He opens his mouth to say something, but you cannot hear his words due to a loud growl and sounds of a scuffle coming from outside.

Outside, as soon as your eyes can adjust to the brightness, you see a young Urvanovestilli being attacked by a bear. He is masterfully dodging, but the bear seems to be very determined in its attack.

They are both about a hundred feet away.


Hood takes some dried fruit and eats…..while he he eating he starts to asking questions to the hermit, without thinking about what his mother said to him about what non-Tuz people thinks about eating and speaking at the same time:

“I very grateful for the food……You sure seem..mauwauawmm(Hood is chewing) to be a wise fellow….you see we are in need of some information….humrph(he swallows the food)…you see we are looking for a chap…a certain Rozimald…….ancient fellow….Urvanovestilli I believe….and the triangle mountains….he is supposed to have some kind of chambers there…”

Xingu, seeing Hood talking and chewing at the same time, cracks a slight grin. He hugs Hood. Slowly, Xingu says, “One cannot appreciate what one has, till one sees that it may be gone in a moment. We are dust, and to dust we shall return. Hood, you are a light among us, and we must thank Him that you are still with us.” Xingu bows his head in silence.

Time passes. Or rather, time stands still.

Xingu looks up, and his eyes meet the hermit’s. He takes some food, bows his head deeply in what is taken as a sign of sincere gratitude, and eats.

Xingu then addresses the hermit: “All of us are made in His image, and like a diamond with many sparkling facets, each culture reflects a different aspect of Him. We are on a quest in search of the answer to an Urvanovestilli riddle. My mind does not think as an Urvanovestilli, and I confess that many of their logic puzzles escape me. Perhaps you can help us solve the riddle.” Xingu turns to speak to the group, “May I see the box?”

Caroline who seems to have found the box in her presence, if only because she was carrying the lightest load and liked the noise it made responds “Of course.” Her eyes seems to twinkle with an inner happiness and she enjoys the company and the food. Offering as well to the table, herbal teas if anyone wishes to try a blend, as well as any food she carries that they wish to share.

Xingu slowly opens the box, and places on the table the porcelain figurine of a deer, a silver bracelet, a rock with some paint on it, a small crystal phial on a necklace, and reads from the parchment:

To Rozimald’s chambers the keys are three, They all upon the triangle mountains be.

A blue sapphire key beneath a great blue sapphire set, A black onyx key, by black onyx is met. An emerald key among hanging emeralds does rest.

“These are the clues to our quest. What can we make of them?”

He pauses….

“What strikes me first is a feeling that this is the trinket box of a little girl. Bracelet, necklace, little odds and ends, and a poem; all things that one would expect to find. Yet the poem is a puzzle. It could possibly be a puzzle a small child kept in a trinket box.

“Where was it found? In a labyrinth, a large puzzle. Finding the paper in the labyrinth, one would think it a puzzle. Finding the metal box in a labyrinth, one would think the box a puzzle. Finding the same metal box in the room of a young girl, one would find the box as normal, but the paper a puzzle.

“What are the keys? Something we must find on the three mountains? Are they already found, stashed in this metal box by a past adventurer and hidden in the labyrinth? Are they symbols, or metaphors, found by an interpretation of the poem, or the items within the box? Are the items in the box there by chance? Are they needed to find the keys? Are they a part of the puzzle, if not the keys themselves?

“Puzzle within puzzle within puzzle….”

He pauses.

“I also see a similarity in both the poem and the items; I sense a strong feeling of nature. Deer, stone, crystal, mountains, gems….

Xingu picks up each item, including the box itself, and slowly examines them, looking not only for clues to the mystery, but also admiring the beauty of each object. He passes them around the room to the others.

The hermit looks at the poem, thinks for a time, and then says, “Oh, so you’ve finally found a good-looking clue to Rozimald’s chambers. Let me think.”

He leans back, and then closes his eyes for a moment. “Aah, yes. One moment; I’ll be back.”

He goes into a corner, and returns with a black, frosted glass bottle with a seal on the front. “I had almost forgotten,” he says. “A Porto would be quite appropriate to this discussion.”

After serving everyone a glass, he leans back, and says, “There are many poets that I have heard of, and some of them spend a great deal of attention on drawing out the wonder in the world around. They are working to open people’s eyes, to fight off the ever threatening grey murk which threatens to cloud vision and make even the sun look dull and drab.

“Some of that group evokes the things that we most regard as precious — gold and silver, diamonds and rubies, wines and delicacies. Those things, perhaps in part because they are rare, are not so often looked at as dull and drab.

“There was one poet — I have forgotten his name — who spoke of gems, describing the world as if it were composed entirely of gems. And the fragment of song which you describe appears to be some of his work.”

He opens his mouth to say something, but you cannot hear his words due to a loud growl and sounds of a scuffle coming from outside.

Outside, as soon as your eyes can adjust to the brightness, you see a young Urvanovestilli being attacked by a bear. He is masterfully dodging, but the bear seems to be very determined in its attack.

They are both about a hundred feet away.


Xingu starts singing, and the bear seems to be beginning to slow down — but it is not clear how quickly it will slow down. As people pour out of the cave and begin to fan out, the bear’s paw comes down on the young Urvanovestilli’s arm. He winces, and jumps back.

As he jumps back, Caroline manages a fair shot into the bear’s heavy bulk. It rears, and begins to sniff around.

Hood’s heavy armored steps ring as he runs forward. He swings a heavy blow at the bear’s chest; it connects solidly. The bear crouches down to dodge; Hood’s sledgehammer slides down a side.

Zakhs has by now run up, and swings his staff, hitting the bear on the head. The staff vibrates in his hands.

The bear swings at Hood, and hits solidly, his claws scraping across his armored chest. Hood is knocked on his back.

Caroline hits the bear again, and hits solidly.

The bear lunges at Hood, who has by now prepared with a blow of the sledgehammer, and has his ironshod feet up in the air. The sledgehammer hits the side of the bear’s head, and glances away. His knees buckle into his chest, winding him.

Zakhs swings his staff again, and hits the bear, distracting him from Hood.

Hood is gasping and struggling to breathe, but even so begins to roll towards his feet, sledgehammer in hand. He hits the bear in the back, winding it in turn.

Caroline shoots at the bear again, but misses.

Zakhs swings at the bear, and also misses.

Hood, weakening in his struggle to breathe, swings at the bear, but only grazes it.

The bear swings at Zakhs, but does not move quite quickly enough to hit it.

Hood, beginning to turn blue, swings again, and hits.

Zakhs lifts his staff from below, hitting the bear in the mouth.

Caroline shoots another arrow solidly, hitting the bear in the back of the neck. It immediately falls over.

Hood, turned a deeper shade of blue, finally manages to inhale. He drinks the air in deep gulps; slowly his breathing and his skin color return to normal.

After a little while, your attention returns to the young Urvanovestilli, who was mauled by the bear. He introduces himself.


Zakhs steps over to the young Urvanovestilli, after pounding Hood solidly on the back (to help him regain his breath). He will examine the young man’s arm and see if there is anything he can do for the boy.

“What could have riled that creature up so much?” he will wonder aloud as he examines the Urvanovestilli’s arm.

Hood cleans his sledge by rubbing it to the ground….then he comments the whole thing……..

” Tough bear….”

He turns towards the the young Urvanovestilli.

“…..you are still alive…glad to see it…..it was a close thing…..”

Caroline introduces her self to the young Urvanovestilli. She the proceeds to tell him a story about a brave young person from her tribe, while she tends his wounds. She seems to have more than herbs for tea in her pack. The story and the treatment end at the same time.

Hood brushes off some dirt from his clothes…and continues to adress the young Urvanovestilli……

“I haven’t introduced myself…..I am Hood”

Hood reaches out a hand……

“I know not what riled it up, but the poor fellow will make quite a delicious meal. Of course, we may not have enough to go around, with only one bear and two Tuz.”

Xingu, with a wide grin, gives Zakhs a friendly punch in the gut.

Xingu then walks toward the Urvanovestilli, and greets him with a raised hand and three kisses, as is the way of Urvanovestilli culture, and speaks to him in his native tongue.

“Hello, my name is Xingu. I thank the Lord that you survived this encounter without greater injury. We are a band of adventurers, following clues to discover Rosimald’s chambers. Please stay, eat, and join us; we welcome your insight in solving this puzzle.”

The little man looks as if he was coming out of his daze for the previous brush with death, then he stands up to introduce himself, but then sits back down, and says, “Greetings and salutations, you may call by the name that my friends call me, which is Jeff. I am still a little bit shaken by the whole ordeal, so I feel that I would be unable to fully express who I am in an intelligent manner, therefore, could you tell me a little bit about who you are? Just in case if you were wondering, I was sent to help you on your quest.”

The hermit walks around and begins collecting branches to make a fire; in a couple of hours, there is roast bear for all to eat their fill of (even the Tuz). Caroline has bound the wounds; the young man’s arm is set and healing, and Hood doesn’t seem to have taken any grave injury (although his chest will have some nasty bruises).

As you eat, the young man begins to introduce himself.

“Hello, my name is Chimera Antonio Pbrush Petra Mistrelli Charleston Jeffery Mirrorman, but you can call me Jeff. I am from the city of Mistrelli, sent to help you on your quest. I believe that my understanding of Illusions can help you on your journey.

“I am my father’s first born, and will return one day to become his assistant, and eventually, take over for him. But for now, I want to continue to see the world, and meet the different races and creatures that inhabit it.

“I also love to play, Imperial Kingdoms, which is a complex version of Chess. I am also working on a flying machine, although it is far from being able to work, it is a hobby that I enjoy.”

The hermit asks for the rest of the bear’s carcass (after you have taken a good chunk as food for the journey), to make jerky and a rug out of. “I’d heard from other people that there was a rather cantankerous bear around here, and I’d seen a few tracks, but I’d never met it…

“Come with me. Let’s stand in a circle around Chimera, and lay hands on him.”

As you do so, the pain in Chimera’s face begins to ease, and he sits back.

The hermit sits back, after the meal, and begins to talk about the local geography; he describes a few paths, and landmarks for you to find your way on. “Do stop back here after you have looked around, and I wouldn’t mind hearing how you mean to set about finding the keys in the forests. See you later.” After a night’s rest for all, he sees you off again.

A Dream of Light

Espiriticthus: Cultures of a Fantasy World Not Touched by Evil

The Sign of the Grail

Within the Steel Orb

The Monastery

Read it on Kindle: part of the collection, Firestorm 2034

CJSH.name/monastery

It was late in the day, and my feet were hurting.

I had spent the past three hours on the winding path up the foothills, and you will excuse me if I was not paying attention to the beauty around me.

I saw it, and then wondered how I had not seen it—an alabaster palace rising out of the dark rock around it, hidden in a niche as foothill became mountain. After I saw it, I realized—I could not tell if the plants around me were wild or garden, but there was a grassy spot around it. Some of my fatigue eased as I looked into a pond and saw koi and goldfish swimming.

I looked around and saw the Gothic buildings, the trees, the stone path and walkways. I was beginning to relax, when I heard a voice say, “Good evening,” and looked, and realized there was a man on the bench in front of me.

He was wearing a grey-green monk’s robe, and cleaning a gun. He looked at me for a moment, tucked the gun into a shack, and welcomed me in.

Outside, the sun was setting. At the time, I thought of the last rays of the dying sun—but it was not that, so much as day giving birth to night. We passed inside to a hallway, with wooden chairs and a round wooden table. It seemed brightly enough lit, if by torchlight.

My guide disappeared into a hallway, and returned with two silver chalices, and set one before me. He raised his chalice, and took a sip.

The wine was a dry white wine—refreshing and cold as ice. It must have gone to my head faster than I expected; I gave a long list of complaints, about how inaccessible this place was, and how hard the road. He listened silently, and I burst out, “Can you get the master of this place to come to me? I need to see him personally.”

The servant softly replied, “He knows you are coming, and he will see you before you leave. In the mean time, may I show you around his corner of the world?”

I felt anger flaring within me; I am a busy man, and do not like to waste my time with subordinates. If it was only one of his underlings who would be available, I would have sent a subordinate myself. As I thought this, I was surprised to hear myself say, “Please.”

We set down the chalices, and started walking through a maze of passageways. He took a small oil lamp, one that seemed to burn brightly, and we passed through a few doors before stepping into a massive room.

The room blazed with intense brilliance; I covered my eyes, and wondered how they made a flame to burn so bright. Then I realized that the chandaliers were lit with incandescent light. The shelves had illuminated manuscripts next to books with plastic covers—computer science next to bestiaries. My guide went over by one place, tapped with his finger—and I realized that he was at a computer.

Perhaps reading the look on my face, my guide told me, “The master uses computers as much as you do. Do you need to check your e-mail?”

I asked, “Why are there torches in the room you left me in, and electric light here?”

He said, “Is a person not permitted to use both? The master, as you call him, believes that technology is like alcohol—good within proper limits—and not something you have to use as much as you can. There are electric lights here because their brilliance makes reading easier on the eyes. Other rooms have torches, or nothing at all, because a flame has a different meaning, one that we prefer. Never mind; I can get you a flashlight if you like. Oh, and you can take off your watch now. It won’t work here.”

“It won’t work? Look, it keeps track of time to the second, and it is working as we speak!”

The man studied my watch, though I think he was humoring me, and said, “It will give a number as well here as anywhere else. But that number means very little here, and you would do just as well to put it in your pocket.”

I looked at my watch, and kept it on. He asked, “What time is it?”

I looked, and said, “19:58.”

“Is that all?”

I told him the seconds, and then the date and year, and added, “But it doesn’t feel like the 21st century here.” I was beginning to feel a little nervous.

He said, “What century do you think it is here?”

I said, “Like a medieval time that someone’s taken a scissors to. You have a garden with perfect gothic architecture, and you in a monk’s robe, holding an expensive-looking rifle. And a computer in a library that doesn’t even try to organize books by subject or time.”

I looked around on the wall, and noticed a hunting trophy. Or at least that’s what I took it for at first. There was a large sheild-shaped piece of wood, such as would come with a beautiful stag—but no animal’s head. Instead, there were hundreds upon hundreds of bullet holes in the wood—enough that the wood should have shattered. I walked over, and read the glass plate: “This magnificent deer shot 1-4-98 in Wisconsin with an AK-47. God bless the NRA.”

I laughed a minute, and said, “What is this doing in here?”

The servant said, “What is anything doing here? Does it surprise you?”

I said, “From what I have heard, the master of this place is very serious about life.”

My guide said, “Of course he is. And he cherishes laughter.”

I looked around a bit, but could not understand why the other things were there—only be puzzled at how anyone could arrange a computer and other oddments to make a room that felt unmistably medieval. Or was it? “What time is it here? To you?”

My guide said, “Every time and no time. We do not measure time by numbers here; to the extent that time is ‘measured’, we ‘measure’ by what fills it—something qualitative and not quantiative. Your culture measures a place’s niche in history by how many physical years have passed before it; we understand that well enough, but we reckon time, not by its place in the march of seconds, but by the content of its character. You may think of this place as medieval if you want; others view it as ancient, and not a small part is postmodern—more than the computer is contemporary.”

I looked at my watch. Only five minutes had passed. I felt frustration and puzzlement, and wondered how long this could go on.

“When can we move on from here?”

“When you are ready. You aren’t ready yet.”

I looked at my watch. Not even ten seconds had passed. The second hand seemed to be moving very slowly.

I felt something moving in the back of my mind, but I tried to push it back. The second hand continued on its lazy journey, and then—I took off my watch and put it in my pocket.

My guide stood up and said, “Walk this way, please.”

He led me to a doorway, opening a door, and warning me not to step over the threshold. I looked, and saw why—there was a drop of about a foot, into a pool of water. The walls were blue, and there was sand at the far end. Two children—a little boy and a little girl—were making sand castles.

He led me through the mazelike passages to rooms I cannot describe. One room had mechanical devices in all stages of assembly and disassembly. Another was bare and clean. The kitchen had pepperoni and peppers hanging, and was filled with an orange glow that was more than torchlight. There was a deserted classroom filled with flickering blue light, and then we walked into a theatre.

The chamber was small, and this theatre had more than the usual slanted floor. The best way I could describe it is to say that it was a wall, at times vertical, with handholds and outcroppings. There were three women and two men on the stage, but not standing—or sitting, for that matter. They were climbing, shifting about as they talked.

I could not understand their language, but there was something about it that fascinated me. I was surprised to find myself listening to it. I was even more surprised to realize that, if I could not understand the words, I could no less grasp the story. It was a story of friendship, and there is something important in that words melted into song, and climbing into dance.

I watched to the end. The actors and actresses did not disappear backstage, but simply climbed down into the audience, and began talking with people. I could not tell if the conversation was part of the act, or if they were just seeing friends. I wondered if it really made any difference—and then realized, with a flash, that I had caught a glimpse into how this place worked.

When I wanted to go, the servant led me to a room filled with pipes. He cranked a wheel, and I heard gears turning, and began to see the jet black keys of an organ. He played a musical fragment; it sounded incomplete.

He said, “Play.”

I closed my eyes and said, “I don’t know how to play any instrument.”

He repeated the fragment and said, “That doesn’t matter. Play.”

There followed a game of question and answer—he would improvise a snatch of music, and I would follow. I would say that it was beautiful, but I couldn’t really put it that way. It would be better to say that his music was mediocre, and mine didn’t quite reach that standard.

We walked out into a cloister. I gasped. There was a sheltered pathway around a grassy court and a pool stirred by fish. It was illumined by moon and star, and the brilliance was dazzling.

We walked around, and I looked. In my mind’s eye I could see white marble statues of saints praying—I wasn’t sure, but I made up my mind to suggest that to the master. After a time we stopped walking on the grass, and entered another door.

Not too far into the hallway, he turned, set the oil lamp into a small alcove, and began to rise up the wall. Shortly before disappearing into the blackness above, he said, “Climb.”

I learn a little, I think. I did not protest; I put my hands and feet on the wall, and felt nothing. I leaned against it, and felt something give way—something yielding to give a handhold. Then I started climbing. I fell a couple of times, but reached the shadows where he disappeared. He took me by the hand and began to lead me along a path.

I could feel a wall on either side, and then nothing, save his hand and my feet. Where was I? I said, “I can’t see!”

A woman’s voice said, “No one can see here. Eyes aren’t needed.” I felt an arm around my waist, and a gentle squeeze.

I felt that warmth, and said, “I came to this place because I wanted to see the master of this house, and I wanted to see him personally. Now—I am ready to leave without seeing him. I have seen enough, and I no longer want to trouble him.”

I felt my guide’s hand on my shoulder, and heard his voice as he said, “You have seen me personally, and you are not troubling me. You are here at my invitation. You will always be welcome here.”

When I first entered the house, I would have been stunned. Now, it seemed the last puzzle piece in something I had been gathering since I started hiking.

The conversation was deep, and I cannot tell you what was said. I don’t mean that I forgot it—I remember it clearly enough. I don’t really mean that it would be a breach of confidence—it might be that as well. What I mean is that there was something special in that room, and it would not make much sense to you even if I could explain it. If I were to say that we talked in a room without light, where you had to feel around to move about—it would be literally true, but beside the point. When I remember the room, I do not think about what wasn’t there, but what was there. I was glad I took off my watch—but I cannot say why. The best thing I can say is that if you can figure out how a person could be aware of a succession of moments, and at the same time have time sense that is not entirely linear—or at very least not just linear—you have a glimpse of what I found in that room.

We talked long, and it was late into the next day when I got up from a perfectly ordinary guestroom, packed, and left. I put on my watch, returned to my business, and started working on the backlog of invoices and meetings that accumulated in my absence. I’m still pretty busy, but I have never left that room.

The Spectacles

Unashamed

The Wagon, the Blackbird, and the Saab

Why This Waste?

The Mindstorm

CJSH.name/mindstorm


Read it on Kindle for $3!

The Alumnus: Hello. I was in town, and I wanted to stop in for a visit.

The Visionary: How good to see you! What have you been up to? We’re all interested in hearing what our alumni are doing.

The Alumnus: Well, that would take a bit of explaining. I had a good experience with college.

The Visionary: That’s lovely to hear.

The Alumnus: Yes, and I know that some alumni from our Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, also known as IMSA, didn’t. I got through college the same way I got through gradeschool, playing by the law of the jungle. I stopped and thought about how to approach college. I realized soon that higher numbered courses were easier than lower numbered courses, and how to find professors I could work with. And I understand why one alumna said, “IMSA didn’t prepare me for college. It prepared me for graduate school.” College will not automatically be a good experience for IMSA students, but there are choices the college won’t advertise but could be made.

The Visionary: I wish you could speak to some of our students.

The Alumnus: I’d like the opportunity. There are a lot of things to say—that there’s a normal scale of elementary-junior high-high school-undergraduate-graduate school, and IMSA doesn’t fit on it. It has high school aged students, but it’s not a modified high school; it’s close in ways to graduate school, but there’s something about it that is missed if you put it at any one point on the scale. And this has the result that IMSA students need to realize that when they enter college, they are not going from high school to the next step after high school; they’re going from IMSA to something that was not meant to follow IMSA. But something that has opportunities if they knock on back doors and take advantage of some things the university doesn’t know they need.

The Visionary: If you’re serious about talking to our students, I mean talking with our students, I can introduce you to the appropriate people.

The Alumnus: Thank you. I was mentioning this to lead up to a gem of a class I took, one on what you need to know to make user-friendly computer programs, i.e. usability. There was something that set me thinking, nettled me, when I was reading through some of the jargon file’s Hell desk slang, um, I mean help desk slang. The term “pilot error” meant much the same thing as “ID ten T error”.

The Visionary: I know what “pilot error” means in some contexts, but what does “ID ten T error” mean?

The Alumnus: It’s easiest to see if you write it out.

The Visionary [goes to a markerboard and writes, “I D 1 0 T” ]: Um… I assume there’s a reason you started to say, “Hell desk.” Aren’t they just blowing off steam?

The Alumnus: Yes. Unfortunately, one of the ways many help desk employees have blown off steam is to say, “Ok. If you’ll hold for a minute, I’m going to transfer you to my supervisor. Would you tell her that you appear to have an ‘eye dee ten tee’ error?” And they all gloat over what they’ve gotten the customer to say. No, seriously, you don’t need to keep a straight face.

But what really struck me was the entry for PEBKAC, acronym for “Problem Exists Between Keyboard and Chair.” There was an example given of,

Did you figure out why that guy couldn’t print?

Yeah, he kept canceling the print operation before it could finish. PEBKAC.

This was philosophically interesting.

The Visionary: How?

The Alumnus: In a computer, you get these time wasting messages where a little window pops up and you can’t do any useful work until you click on the button. It becomes noise for the sake of noise; like the boy who cried, “Wolf!”, we have the computer that cries, “Worth your attention.” After a while, the normal thing most people do is click on the button automatically so they can get back to their work. It’s a waste of time to try to decipher the cryptic messages.

So when people go to print, another one of these waste-of-time windows pops up, except that this time, when you do the right thing and click on the button and make it go away, your print job fails. And this specific example is chosen as a paradigm example of PEBKAC.

For a lot of these errors, there is a problem between a keyboard and chair. But the problem isn’t between the user’s keyboard and chair. The problem is between the programmer’s keyboard and chair.

The Visionary: Ouch.

The Alumnus: That course was what led to what I did for my Ph.D.

The Visionary: And that was?

The Alumnus: My discipline of record is philosophy of mind/cognitive science.

The Visionary: “Discipline of record?” I’m curious to hear you drop the other shoe.

The Alumnus: Usability is connected to cognitive science—an amalgam of computer science, psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, linguistics, and other areas, all trying to understand human thought so we can re-implement it on a computer. It’s a fascinating area for interdisciplinary study, and usability draws on it, just from a different angle: instead of making computers intelligent, it tries to make computers friendly to people who don’t understand how they are built. And a lot of things which are clear as day if you built the system aren’t automatically clear to customers. A system which is usable lets the user have an illusory cognitive model of how the system works that is far, far simpler than how a programmer would understand it. And programmers don’t consciously believe that customers understand the innards of their system, but there’s an assumption that creeps in, an assumption of, “My way of thinking about it is how a person thinks about it.”

The Visionary: That way of putting it makes the programmers sound ego-centric.

The Alumnus: I wouldn’t put it in such crude terms as that; they are thinking in a way that is human.

With languages, there is a lot of diversity. Aside from the variety of languages, there’s a difference between the U.S., where the majority only speak one language, and Sénégal, where it is common for people to speak five or six languages. There’s a difference between Italy, where people speak one national language in a fairly pure form, and India, where English and Hindi are spliced together seamlessly. For that matter, there’s the deaf outlet of speaking with your hands instead of your mouth. But with all these differences, language itself is not something which is added to being human. Language is not a custom that cultures may happen to include. There are exceptional cases where people do not learn a language, and these are tragic cases where people are deprived of a human birthright. The specifics of language may vary, but language itself is not adding something to being human. It is something that is basically human. The details and even diversity of languages are details of how language works out.

And a lot of things are like that. Understanding something that you’re working on is not something added to being human; it’s an interpretation of something basic. How one thinks, about technology and other things, is not something added to being human. It’s something basically human.

One very natural tendency is to think that “I” or “we” or “people like us” are just being human; we just have what is natural to being human. The “them” group has all sorts of things that are added to being human, but “we” are just being human. So we expect other people to think like us. We assume it so deeply and unconsciously that we are shocked by their perversity when they violate this expectation.

The Visionary: Wow. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms before. Do you think IMSA provided a safe haven from this kind of lockstep thinking for its students?

The Alumnus: I think it provides a safe haven for quite a lot of its students. But getting back to my Ph.D. program—

The Visionary: Yes?

The Alumnus: So I began, encouraged by some initial successes, to try and make the first artificial mind. For a while I thought I would succeed, after overcoming some obstacles that couldn’t have been that bad.

The Visionary: What were these obstacles?

The Alumnus: Just a special case here and there, an unrepresentative anomaly. But when I worked, I had a sneaking suspicion dawn on me.

Freshman year, I had a college roommate who was brilliant and eccentric. He turned out stunning proofs in math classes. He was also trying to build a perpetual motion machine. He was adjusting this and that; I listened, entranced, when he traced the history of great experiments in physics, and talked about how across the centuries they went from observing obvious behavior to find subtle ways to trick nature into showing you something you weren’t supposed to see. Think of the ingenuity of the Millikan oil drop experiment. And so he went on, trying to adjust this and that, seeking to get things just right for a perpetual motion machine. There were times when he seemed to almost have it. It seemed there were ten things you needed for a perpetual motion machine, and he had an almost working machine for any nine of them. But that tenth one seemed never to fall into place.

And I had a sneaking suspicion, one that I was going to try awfully hard to ignore, that for a long time I convinced myself I didn’t know what I was expecting. But deja vu kept creeping in. I had just succeeded with a project that met every clearly defined goal I set for it… but I had just found another way not to make artificial intelligence.

The crusher was when I read von Neumann’s 1958 The Computer and the Brain. Then I stopped running from deja vu. Here was crass confidence that in 1958 we discoved the basis for all human thought, and all human thought is add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Here was an assumption in lieu of argument. And here was the air I breathed as a cognitive science.

The Visionary: But I’ve looked at some reports, and artificial intelligence seems to be just around the corner.

The Alumnus: Full artificial intelligence is just around the corner, and it’s been just around the corner since at least the fifties—arguably much longer, because for a hundred years before the brain was a computer, it was a telephone exchange. (I think that’s why we talk about a person being “wired” a particular way.) The brain is always understood as the state of the art technology we’re most proud of.

I hit rock bottom after thinking about how I had convinced myself I was creating a working artificial intelligence by obtaining results and reinterpreting results as success. It’s very seductive, and I was thinking about what some skeptics had said about magic.

What emerged was… The effort to make computers think has found ways that the human mind is much more interesting than we thought. And I began to push in a new direction. Instead of trying to understand human intelligence to make computers more intelligent, I began to try to understand human intelligence to make humans more intelligent.

The Visionary: What exactly do you mean?

The Alumnus: There are a lot of disciplines that teach you how to think. I think scholars in many disciplines see their discipline as the discipline that teaches you how to think, where truly different disciplines are a sort of no-man’s land that doesn’t qualify as “how to think.” But these are a coupled subject matter and how to think about the subject matter. This was, in abstracted, crystalline, and universal form, “How to think.” The analogy I used at the time was that it was the elementary school number line (1, 2, 3, …), abstracted from sets of one physical object, two physical objects, three physical objects…

The Visionary [pausing]: It sounds like you’re pioneering a new academic discipline. Would you like IMSA to highlight this?

The Alumnus: I am working that out. Not exactly whether what I am doing would qualify as an academic discipline—I’m pretty sure of that—but whether going down that route would be the wisest choice. For now, I’d rather wait.

The Visionary: Are you sure you wouldn’t want the prestige? Hmm… on second thought, I can see that.

What are the scientific underpinnings of your discipline?

The Alumnus [pause]: That question is one of the first ones people ask me. It’s automatic.

In tandem with what you might call my loss of faith in cognitive science, I began to question the cultural place of science. Including that in a question like this, the nearly immediate question people ask is one that assumes the answers are fed by science. Three of the most difficult mental accomplishments I’ve made are learning to think like a scientist, crafting this discipline of how to think, and learning to genuinely ask “How else could it be?” when people automatically go charging in with science.

The Visionary: But don’t you think it’s important to understand what’s going on in the body?

The Alumnus: Both your questions, “What are the scientific underpinnings of your discipline?” and “But don’t you think it’s important to understand what’s going on in the body?” are examples of the tendency I’m talking about. Your latter question assumes that “understanding the body” and “study the science of the body” are interchangeable terms; they often are treated that way in Western culture, but they need not be.

The Visionary: But how else could it be?

The Alumnus: In journalism and some writing classes, students are taught a technique of cubing, which asks six questions, one for each side of the cube. The six questions are all “w” words: who, what, when, where, and how.

In most aboriginal cultures, for instance, people ask more than one question, but the big question is, “Why?” The stories provide explanations for why the world is as it is.

In science, the big question is, “How?” Laws and theories provide mechanisms for how things happen. “Why?” isn’t just de-emphasized; it’s something people learn not to ask, something that is subtly stamped out like much of a child’s creativity. Asking “Why?” is a basic error, like asking how much an idea weighs. One philosopher of science I read gave an example of a father asking a teenaged son, “Why is the living room light on?” and getting the answer, “Because the switch is in the ‘on’ position, closing the circuit and causing electricity to flow through the bulb.” That isn’t why, that’s how. And if students are taught science without being taught how to be independent from science, or for that matter if they are in a culture influenced by science as ours has been, they’ll come to share the assumption that this is the one and only serious answer to, “Why is the living room light on?”

That puts things too simply, but my point is that science does not represent the full range of inquiry. Science has cast a powerful shadow, not just in that science is scientific (which is as it should be) but in that non-scientific inquiry is not as independent as it should be.

But I’m getting off topic. What I was meaning to say was that I use science, but my discipline is dependent on an independence from science as well.

The Visionary: Could I backtrack a fair distance?

The Alumnus: Sure, to what?

The Visionary: There was something in the back of my mind when you answered my question about IMSA shielding its students from a lockstep environment. May I ask a more specific question?

The Alumnus: Certainly.

The Visionary: Did IMSA shield you from a lockstep environment?

The Alumnus: IMSA was unquestionably a better environment for me than a mainstream school.

The Visionary: You’re being diplomatic.

The Alumnus: Ok. IMSA tries to be a magnet school serving the gifted population. Instead of memorization, it tries to produce critical observers, right?

The Visionary: Yes, and this isn’t just for IMSA. We want to be a beacon of hope, for educational progress to the state and to the world.

The Alumnus: IMSA still doesn’t have a football program, right?

The Visionary: IMSA students still don’t really want one. If there was enough demand, we’d have one.

The Alumnus: What would you say to a football coach who wanted to liberate the tough, aggressive quarterback struggling to get out of every IMSA bookworm?

The Visionary: I think I see where you’re going. Let me play devil’s advocate for the moment. Our society has recognized football as an endeavor for some. But don’t we recognize that education is a goal for all?

The Alumnus: All analogies break down, and I can’t force you to see my point if you don’t want to. My reason for drawing that analogy is that the average mind learns by memorization of given material, and that mind is ill-served by trying to liberate that critical observer just as many bookworms would be ill-served by trying to liberate that hidden quarterback. The kind of student that does well at IMSA doesn’t do so well with the memorization that serves the average student. But it’s a two-way street.

The Visionary: And I think I see a connection to what you said about programmers assume that how they think about a product is how everybody will think about it. And…

The Alumnus: Yes. But there’s something else.

The Visionary: So how do you think IMSA’s outreach should be changed? Should we stop outreach?

The Alumnus: I’d want to give that some thought. That isn’t why I brought this up. I brought up this two-edged sword to make it easier to see another two-edged sword.

The two-edged sword I’ve suggested is that, just as IMSA students tend to be uncomfortable with the instructional methods at most schools, average students would be uncomfortable with instruction that seeks to liberate a hidden critical observer. It’s a bad match both ways. The other two-edged sword has to do with the nature of giftedness. How would you define giftedness?

The Visionary: I try not to, at least in not as strong terms as you do. IMSA is trying to liberate the genius of every child.

The Alumnus: I think your actions are wiser than your rhetoric. How much thought goes into your admissions decisions?

The Visionary: Our admissions staff give a great deal of thought! Do you think we’re careless?

The Alumnus: I would have been disturbed if IMSA made a random choice from among the students whose genius would be nurtured. Are you sure you don’t want to define giftedness?

The Visionary: Every child has some talent.

The Alumnus: I agree, although your words sound suspiciously like words that many IMSA parents have learned to wince at. There are a lot of parents who have bright children who have learned that “All of our children are gifted.” means, in practical terms, “Your daughter will be educated according to our idealization of an average student, no matter how much it hurts her, and we won’t make accomodation.”

But you are, unlike me, an administrator whom everybody blames for problems, and you know that there are many occasions where coming out and expressing your candid opinions is an invitation to disaster. I groused about the administration to no end as a student; it is only as an adult that I’ve come to appreciate the difficult and delicate task of being an administrator, and what kind of performance on an administration’s part lets me focus on my work.

I’m going to put on my suspicious and mistrustful observer cap and read into your actions that it would be politically dangerous for you to say “This is the kind of gifted student we look for at IMSA.” But I am not an administrator. I am more of a private person than you can afford to be, and there are more degrees of freedom offered to me. Would you mind my giving my opinion on a matter where you in particular need to be very careful in what you say?

The Visionary: I’m always open to listen, and I’m not just saying this as an administrator.

The Alumnus: I should also say that because something is politic, I don’t automatically translate “politic” to “insincere.” I believe you’ve been as successful as you have partly because you sincerely want to hear what people have to say. When someone says, “political sensitivity,” I’ve learned to stop being a cynic and automatically hearing, “Machiavellian intrigue.”

But when I teach, I try to have a map that accomodates itself to terrain, both old and new to me. There are surprisingly many things I believe that are human universals, although I won’t discuss them here. But diversity is foundational to how I communicate, and in particular teach.

By “diversity” I don’t just mean “affirmative action concerns.” I read what I can about minority cultures, and how Asperger’s or ADD minds tick. That much is important, and I’m not just jumping on the bandwagon. But diversity doesn’t begin when a student labeled as “minority,” “different,” or “disadvantaged” sits down in your classroom. Diversity begins much earlier. Diversity is every person. I’m fond of books like David Kiersey’s Please Understand Me II which explore what temperament and Myers-Briggs types mean for personhood. I want to appreciate learning styles. I absolutely love when students come in during office hours, because then I can see exactly where a student is, and exactly how that student is learning and thinking, and give an explanation that is tailored to the student’s specific situation. I like to lecture too, but I’m freest to meet student needs when students visit me in my office.

And one very important facet of that diversity is one that is unfashionable today, more specifically IQ.

The Visionary: I remember seeing a report that your IQ was so high it was untestable by normal means. I’ve heard that polite drivers value politeness, skillful drivers value skill, and safe drivers value safety. Is there…?

The Alumnus: If you want to dismiss what I’m saying because of speculation about my motives, there’s a good case to do so. I know that. But please hear and accept or dismiss my arguments on their merits, and if you read books like James Webb’s Guiding the Gifted Child, you’ll see this isn’t just my idea. I accept multiple intelligence theory as a nuance, but I would point my finger to the idea that a single IQ was an adjustment in theory, made by people who started by assuming multiple intelligences.

But with all the debates, and in particular despite the unfashionability of “IQ”, there is excellent reason to discuss giftedness in terms of IQ. IQ may not be the whole story, but you’re missing something big if it is treated as one factor among others.

Several caveats deleted, I would point out that giftedness is not a binary attribute, any more than being tall is binary. There may be some people who are clearly tall and others who clearly aren’t, but regardless of where you draw the line, you can’t divide people into a “tall” group of people who are all exactly 190 centimeters tall and a “non-tall” group of people who are 160 centimeters tall. There is diversity, and this diversity remains even if you restrict your attention to tall people.

The Visionary: So then would you say that most high schools serve an average diversity, and IMSA serves a gifted diversity?

The Alumnus: Umm…

The Visionary: Yes?

The Alumnus: An average high school breaks at both ends of its spectrum…

The Visionary: Yes?

The Alumnus: Um…

The Visionary: Yes?

The Alumnus: And IMSA breaks at both ends of its spectrum.

The Visionary: If there are some students who the administration overestimates, this is unfortunate, but—

The Alumnus: That’s not my point. Ignoring several other dimensions of diversity, we don’t have two points of “average” and “gifted” defining a line. Giftedness, anyway, is not “the same kind of intelligence as most people have, only more of it and faster”; it’s a different kind of intelligence. It diverges more the further you go.

Instead of the two points of “average” and “gifted”, there are three points to consider: “average”, “gifted”, and “profoundly gifted.”

I think it is to IMSA’s great credit that you have a gifted education, not a pullout tacked on to a nongifted education. Serving gifted needs isn’t an adjustment; it’s the fabric you’ve woven, and it is impressive.

But “profoundly gifted” is as different from the “moderately gifted” as “moderately gifted” is from “average”…

…and IMSA attracts a good proportion of the profoundly gifted minority…

…and the position of the profoundly gifted at IMSA is exactly the position many IMSA students had in TAG pullouts.

The Visionary: May I say a word in IMSA’s defense?

The Alumnus: Certainly.

The Visionary: IMSA began as a dream, a wild, speculative, powerful, risky vision. From the beginning, its place was tentative; some of the first classes did math problems before the state government because IMSA was threatened with closing. IMSA makes things happen that wouldn’t happen anywhere, and for all we’ve done, there are still people who would remove us from the budget. I’ve talked with alumni, both those who like and dislike the school, and I see something in them which I didn’t see in other places.

The Alumnus: And IMSA is a safe place to learn and grow, and IMSA alumni are making a powerful contribution to the world. All of this I assume. And IMSA seems like the kind of place that could grow, that does grow. IMSA could offer the world certain extraordinarily talented individuals that have been stretched to their limit, who have spent certain very formative years doing things most people don’t even dream of, and doing so not in isolation but guided and supported as powerfully, and as gently for their needs, as IMSA already offers to so many of its students.

The Visionary: If you have any plans, I would like to hear them.

The Alumnus: Before I give the plans as such, I would like to give a brief overview, not just of the average, moderately gifted, and profoundly gifted mind, but of the average, moderately gifted, and profoundly gifted spirit. Keep in mind that this is not a trichotomy, but three reference points on a curve.

The average mind is concrete. It deals in practical, concrete matters. There was one study which posed isomorphic problems to people, one of which was stated abstractly, and one of which asked in concrete terms who the “cheaters” were. The average respondent did poorly on the abstract isomorph, but was astute when it was put concretely. The average mind is more practical, and learns by an understanding which gradually emerges by going over things again. The preferred learning style is oriented towards memorization and is relatively slow, concrete, and (on gifted terms) doesn’t make connections. This person is the fabric with which society is woven; a person like this tends to understand and be understood by others. The average mind concentrates on, and becomes reasonably proficient, in a small number of skills.

The moderately gifted mind, around an IMSA IQ of 140, deals with abstractions. It sees interconnections, and this may be related to why the moderately gifted mind learns more skills with less effort. (If this is true, an average mind would be learning from scratch, while a moderately gifted mind would only make adaptations from similar skills.) This person is likely to have a “collection of skills”, and have a low self-assessment in those skills. (Today’s breathtaking performance is, tomorrow, marginally adequate.) Self-actualizing concern for becoming a particular kind of person is much more common. The moderately gifted mind enjoys an advantage over the average mind, and is different, but still close enough to connect. This person learns more quickly, and most of society’s leaders are moderately gifted. (Some have suggested that this is not just because people above that range are much rarer, but because they can easily connect.

There is controversy about how isolated the profoundly gifted person is, with an IQ around 180. Some researchers believe that the greater gap is bridged by the greater ability to connect; Webb suggests otherwise, saying that children with an IQ above 170 feel like they don’t fit in anywhere. He asks what the effects would be if a normal child grew up in a world where most people had an IQ of 50-55. Some profoundly gifted have discussed the feeling that there’s an instruction manual to life that everyone but them has. The unusual sense of humor that appears in the moderately gifted is even more pronounced in the profoundly gifted. Average people tend to believe some tacit and naively realistic philosophy. Moderately gifted people tend to believe some conscious and creative reinterpretation of realism. Profoundly gifted people tend to believe an almost automatic anti-realism. The realism assumed by most people doesn’t resonate with them. And I need to explain what I mean by “believe” here. I don’t mean that someone engaged them in a discussion and are convinced by logic or eloquence that an anti-realist philosophy is true. I mean something close to experience, as we believe that a radiator is hot after we touch it. Realism is obvious for someone of average intelligence. For someone profoundly gifted, coming to that perspective represents a significant achievement.

Furthermore, where the moderately gifted person has a “skill collection”, the profoundly gifted individual has what might as well be magic powers—

The Visionary: You mean is involved with the occult or psychic phenomena?

The Alumnus: Not exactly. Profoundly gifted individuals have been known to do things like reinventing the steam engine at age six. Some of them can walk into a room and in an instant infer what kind of presentation is going to be given, and what kind of organization is going to give it. They have been known to make penetrating observations of connections between vastly different disciplines. Some have written a book in a week. Others remember everything they have read. Verbatim. Another still has invented a crude physics and using it to solve problems before she was old enough to talk. It’s entirely plausible for a profoundly gifted individual to think for a few hours about a philosophical school he’s just read about, and have a better grasp of the assumptions and implications surrounding that school than scholars who have studied the discipline for years. Many accomplishments are less extreme than that. Some are more extreme. I said that they might as well be magic powers because they are no more believable to many people than levitation or fairies granting wishes. Moderately gifted achievements are envied. Profoundly gifted achievements are disbelieved, and one social lesson the profoundly gifted learn is that there are certain accomplishments that you don’t talk about… which feels the way most people would feel if people were shocked and offended when they tried to say, “I can read,” or for that matter, “I can breathe.”

These people do not think of themselves as having magic powers. Their impressive abilities are no more breathtaking or astonishing to them than our impressive abilities of walking through an unfamiliar room or understanding a children’s book are to us—and if you don’t believe that walking through an unfamiliar room or understanding a children’s book is an astonishing mental feat, just spend a year in artificial intelligence. Artificial researchers know what kind of achievement is represented by these “basic” tasks. The rest of us misunderstand them as mundane. If you can understand how you can be better at understanding emotions than any computer in the world, and not think of yourself as gifted, you have a good start on understanding what it’s like to feel that it’s natural to tinker with your hands, imagine who you’re going to be when you grow up, enjoy cooking, and have dreams where your brain creates languages on the fly.

It’s a commonplace that the gifted can have a rough time of school. What IMSA does is place the profoundly gifted in the position of fixed pace classes designed for people significantly less intelligent than them.

It’s easier to criticize than it is to give a positive alternative; let me give a positive alternative.

First of all, profoundly gifted students can pick things up much more rapidly even than most IMSA students. Something like a factor of four speedup can happen again and again. Many of these students would tear through textbooks if you let them.

The Visionary: But at IMSA we don’t dump textbooks on students. We provide an environment where they can discover things for themselves.

The Alumnus: They will discover things for themselves. But if you look at learning styles, the profoundly gifted are some of the most able to understand a crystallized abstraction, and the most likely to work ahead in their textbooks.

IMSA may have a dozen or so profoundly gifted individuals at any one time.

The Visionary: And we’ve provided accommodation for a bright sophomore physics class.

The Alumnus: Yes, it is possible for students to lobby for accommodation on a specific point.

But it’s possible to go further, as IMSA has gone further than TAG pullouts.

There could be a small number of people who serve as tutors, in a sort of tutorial system as can be seen in Oxford’s and Cambridge’s history. They would be like thesis advisors, less responsible for knowing what the students need to learn than offering direction and referrals.

The Visionary: What would you have them do if they tear through IMSA’s curriculum sophomore year?

The Alumnus: Students that bright are likely to have their own axes to grind—good axes, axes which they should be encouraged. I really have trouble imagining a student flying through IMSA’s normal curriculum and then wanting to watch TV for two years. The problem of motivating these students is like the problem of defending a lion: the first thing is to get out of the way.

The teachers themselves should offer the kind of individualized instruction that is basic to special education, and deal with the “magic powers” that the main curriculum doesn’t know how to deal with.

The Visionary: Would the teachers have to be profoundly gifted?

The Alumnus: I don’t know. I would place more emphasis on understanding profoundly gifted students than necessarily being profoundly gifted oneself.

Furthermore, as well as standing in need of conceptual education, profoundly gifted students could benefit from personal development to help them meet the rest of the world. I don’t know whether it would be correct to say that average education should be about knowledge, gifted education should be about how to think, and profoundly gifted education should be about personal development. I think the idea is worth considering. And I would try to develop some things that aren’t needed in average education and less needed in moderately gifted education, such as how to bridge the gap and meet the rest of the world.

The Visionary: I’ll think about that. I would be delighted to say you’ve shown me how to solve this problem.

The Alumnus: I’d be surprised if I’ve shown you how to solve this problem. If I were asked what I could guarantee for this model, it would be that some part of it is wrong. I would ask you to consider what I’ve presented you as a rough draft. In my opinion it is a rough draft worth revising, changing course in midstream if need be, but it is a rough draft.

The Visionary: This is all very well for office hours, but how do you teach a class? You don’t try to individualize a lecture twenty different ways, do you?

The Alumnus: I believe what I said about diversity as foundational, but I also believe there are things that are common. I believe there are significant commonalities as well as significant differences.

What would you say is the dominant educational philosophy at IMSA?

The Visionary: There are several philosophies we draw on, and several things vary from teacher to teacher. But if I were to pick one school, it would be constructivism.

The Alumnus: Does constructivism see the student as an empty pot, to be filled with knowledge?

The Visionary: Quite the opposite. Constructivism sees the students as agents, trying to actively construct their models of the world, not as empty pots to be filled, or as formless clay for the teachers to shape. We see the teacher as supporting the student in this active task.

The Alumnus: And I agree that students should be active and encouraged by teachers. A related question—do you believe mathematics is something that research mathematicians invent, or something that they find out?

The Visionary: Well, the obvious answer would be that it’s something constructed.

The Alumnus: I disagree with you, at least about the “obvious” part.

The Visionary: Then I’ll trust your judgment that it’s something mathematicians discover. You’ve probably thought about this a lot more than I have.

The Alumnus: You don’t need to agree with me here. There are a lot of good mathematicians who believe mathematics is something invented.

The Visionary: Are you saying I should believe mathematics is constructed?

The Alumnus: No. There are also a lot of mathematicians who understand mathematics and say mathematics is something that’s found out.

The Visionary: Now I’m having trouble seeing where you’re going.

The Alumnus: There’s a debate among mathematicians as to whether mathematics is invented or discovered, with good mathematicians falling into either camp. The word ‘discover’ itself is ambiguous; one can say “I discovered the TV remote under the couch” and have “discover” mean “dis-cover” or “find out,” but one can also say, “I discovered a way to build a better mousetrap,” and have “discover” mean “invent”. “Invent” derives from the Latin “invenire,” which means “come into”, i.e. “find,” so that it would be more natural in Latin to say “I just invented my car keys” than “I invented a useful tool.”

The Visionary: I think I see what you are saying… Are you saying that there is a single reality described both by discovery and invention?

The Alumnus: Yes. Now to tie in with constructivism… What are students doing when they are constructing models?

The Visionary: They are shaping thought-stuff, for lack of a better term, in a way that’s different for each learner.

The Alumnus: And this is to break out of the Enlightenment/Diderot encyclopedia mindset which gives rise to stuffing the learner with facts?

The Visionary: Absolutely.

The Alumnus: Where would you place Kant? Was he a medieval philosopher?

The Visionary: He was one of the Enlightenment’s greatest philosophers.

The Alumnus: And Kant’s model of ideas was unchanged from Plato.

The Visionary: Um…

The Alumnus: Yes?

The Visionary: What Plato called “Ideas” and Kant ‘s “ideas” are two different things. For Plato, the Ideas were something strange to us: a reality outside the mind.

The Alumnus: Um… Plato and Kant would equally have affirmed the statement, “Ideas are internal.”

The Visionary: I don’t think so. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave suggests that the Ideas are part of something that is the same for all people.

The Alumnus: If I may digress for a moment, I think that famous passage should be called “the Allegory of the Television.” I appreciate your limiting the place of television at IMSA. But back to the topic, for Plato the Ideas were internal, but were not private.

The Visionary: Huh?

The Alumnus: Kant was a pivotal figure in our—the Enlightenment’s—idea that the only real stuff outside our head is matter. When Kant says “internal,” he says “private,” and when we say “internal,” we say “private.” If you think this way, then you believe that thought is something done in a private corner. This privacy may be culturally conditioned, but it is privacy. And yet, however self-evident this seems to us, a great many philosophers and cultures have believed otherwise.

There is a private aspect to thought, but my research into how to think has led me to question the Enlightenment model and believe that we all think on the same contoured surface. We can be on different parts and move in different ways, but in thinking we deal with a reality others deal with as well. And I’m going to sound like a kooky philosopher and say that you have a deficient cosmology, and therefore a deficient corollary understanding of how humans are capable of learning, if you believe that everything is either inside the mind or else something you can kick.

The Visionary: But we’re questioning the Enlightenment model, and rejecting parts of it that have problems!

The Alumnus: I know you are. And I would encourage you to question more of it.

The Visionary: How does this belief affect teaching for you?

The Alumnus: Most immediately, it helps me say ways to identify with students—connect with their thought. There are some things that pay off long term. But in the short run, when a student makes a mistake, the student is not bad, nor is the mistake is not an anomaly to push away. A mistake is an invaluable opportunity for me to understand how a student is thinking and draw the student to a better understanding.

In terms of base metaphor, if you look at Dewey’s foundationalism, what it is that bothers many IMSA teachers and IMSA teachers are working to change, the basic idea is that the teacher is building up knowledge, from its foundations, in the student’s mind. If I were to try and capture it in a metaphor, I would say that the student is an empty lot, and the teacher is building a house on it. The teacher is actively doing teaching to the student.

The constructivism that resonates with many IMSA teachers doesn’t like the idea of the teacher being active and the student being the passive receptacle of teaching. It’s fine for the teacher to be active, but they don’t believe the student is passive because they were quite active learners themselves. Constructivist writers don’t refer to ‘students’ so much as ‘learners;’ they emphasize that the learner is active. The basic idea is that people are actively trying to build their own unique understandings of the world, and a constructivist teacher is trying to support learners in this endeavor. If foundationalism is crystallized in the image of a teacher building a house on an empty lot, constructivist learning theory is crystallized in the image of learners picking up what they can to build their own private edifices of thought, their interior castles.

The Visionary: What do you think of those?

The Alumnus: I think we’re comparing a hammer with a screwdriver. If you read debate on the web, you’ll see people who think constructivism is a hazy and incomprehensibly bad version of foundationalism, and people who think foundationalism is a hazy and incomprehensibly bad version of constructivism. The truth is neither; good foundationalist teaching like Direct Instruction is doing one thing well, and good constructivist learning is doing another thing well, and different people learn differently.

The Visionary: But do you have an alternative?

The Alumnus: Yes, and it is again suggested by basic metaphor. Instead of building a house, or helping learners construct their private models, I would suggest looking at a single word, katalabein. I am using a Greek word without an exact English equivalent, because it ties together some things that are familiar—part of the shared inner human reality which we can recognize. It can be translated ‘overcome’ or ‘understand’, and it provides for a basic metaphor in which what is understood is actively acquired, achieved even, but it is not necessarily idiosyncratic and private. We still have an active learner, and implications for how a teacher can support that active learner…

The Visionary: Go on.

The Alumnus: But it’s different. I was fascinated with one constructivist learning page that recast the teacher as a sort of non-directive counselor. They facilitated learning experiences, but they realized that students came in with beliefs, like “Weeds are not plants because they don’t need to be nurtured,” and what really fascinated me was that some of them found themselves in an ethical quandary about the appropriateness of using a science class to influence student beliefs, say to agree with a botanist that dandelions are plants.

The Visionary: None of the IMSA teachers are that squeamish about influencing student beliefs.

The Alumnus: One alum made a comment that “looney liberals” seemed to him to offer a similar service to coal miner’s canaries. It wouldn’t be fair to accuse most liberals of their excesses, but it was still worth keeping an eye on them: they could be a warning that it was time to rethink basic ideas. Even if those web pages may fall more into the “canary” category than anything else…

The Visionary: But what do you have instead of helping students build private world-pictures?

The Alumnus: Instead of helping students build private world-pictures, helping students grapple with, in the overcoming that is understanding and the understanding that is overcoming, the katalabein of material. And this is material that always has a personal touch, but is understood to be internal in a way that is not simply how one has arbitrarily exercised privacy, but connects with a sort of inner terrain that is as shared as the outer terrain. No two people are at—no two people can be at—the exact same place in the external, physical world, nor can two people see the same thing, because their personal bodies get in the way. But that does not mean we inhabit our own private physical universes. I can tell you how to drive to my house because to get there, you would be navigating some of the same reality as I navigate. But somehow we believe that our bodies may touch the same doorknobs and our shoes may touch the same carpets… Somehow we believe that when we turn inside, the “reality” becomes impenetrably private, influenced by culture perhaps but shared to so little an extent that no two people shares the same inner sun and moon.

The Visionary: But that’s the external world! You’re not talking about when people can make up anything they want.

The Alumnus: Hmm… As part of your job, you field criticism from people who want IMSA to be shut down, right?

The Visionary: Yes.

The Alumnus: And a good portion of that criticism comes from people who are certain you’ve never considered the objection they raise, right?

The Visionary: You’ve been reading my mail!

The Alumnus: And how many years has it been since one of those letters contained a criticism that was new to you?

The Visionary: You’ve been reading my… um… [pause] Wow.

The Alumnus: The introduction to the Handbook of Special Education tries to make a point by quoting the opening meeting of the International Council for the Education of Exceptional Children. The meeting had in all respects a typical (for today) discussion of how one should define special needs children. And the meeting was in 1923. The point was made that special educators assume they’re the first people to address new issues, when neither the issues nor their thoughts are new. An old internet denizen, writing about “the September that never ended”, talked about how each year in September new college students would flood newsgroup discussions with “new, new, new” insights that were, in the denizen’s words, “exactly the same tripe” that had been posted the previous year.

There is really not that much that is new, and this is tied to another observation. There is really not that much that is private. There is some. Even in the outer world there are some things that are private to each person. But in the inner world—and I am not talking aboutyour inner world, or mine, but a real world, the inner world, a place that has contours of its own and laws of its own and terrain of its own and substances of its own which are no more the subject of an idiosyncratic private monopoly than the outer world’s sun and moon. Perhaps it has a private dimension, but to assume that an inner world is by definition someone’s most private possession is almost like answering the remark “The Atlantic Ocean is getting more polluted,” with “Whose Atlantic Ocean?”

The Visionary: Is there a way to integrate the inner world with the outer world?

The Alumnus: I am guilty of a rhetorical fault. I have spoken of the outer world as if it were separate from the inner world, and the inner world as if it were separate from the outer world. The real task is not one of integration but desegregation, and that is a lesson I’ve been wrestling with for years. The biggest lesson I took from my Ph.D. thesis, where I achieved a fascinating distillation of how to think from learning as we know it, is that how to think cannot be distilled from learning, and learning cannot be distilled from the rest of life. It is all interconnected. It’s like a classic plot in fantasy literature where a hero is searching for a legendary treasure, and goes to strange places and passes amazing trials. We’re there learning with him, until there is an end where “nothing” happens, but by the time that “nothing” takes place, we’ve been with the hero all along and we have been transformed just as much as he is, and we see through the “nothing” to recognize the treasure that has been all around the hero—and us—all along.

The real world has an internal and an external dimension, and there is nothing like trying to crystallize purer and purer internal knowledge to see the interpenetration of the internal and the external. I learned that the internal is not self-contained.

The Visionary: Is there anything that has been written which deals with this connection?

The Alumnus: Are you asking me if you can borrow a truckload of books? There are some cultures where it’s hard to find material which doesn’t relate the connection in some form.

But let me tie this in with education. Postmodernism is fragmented, so much so that postmodern scholars tend to put “postmodern” in ironic quotes and add some qualifier about whether it’s even coherent to talk about such a movement. From the inside, there isn’t a single postmodern movement; talking about a postmodern movement is like talking about a herd of housecats. But this is not because talking about being “postmodern” is meaningless; it’s because one of the characteristics is fragmentation, and so if there is anything called postmodern, then it will be much more of a grab bag than something called modern.

Constructivism is postmodern, not in that anything called postmodern must resemble it, but because it can be placed on a somewhat ad hoc spectrum. It is internally fragmented, in that it is not helping students navigate the world of ideas, but in trying to reckon with learners’ development of private models of the world. In typical postmodern fashion, the movement shows exquisite sensitivity to ways in which student constructed models are parochial, and does not inquire into ways in which students may be grappling with something universal. (At best learners’ constructs are culturally conditioned.)

In what I am suggesting, learners are active, but students are working with something which is not so much clay to be shaped in the privacy of one’s mind. I am aware of the parochial dimension—as a culture, we’ve been aware of it to death—but I’m trying to look at something we don’t pay as much attention to today. I suggest, instead of a basic metaphor of learners constructing their own models, learners struggling to conquer parts of the world of ideas. Conquer means in some sense to appropriate; it means in part what we mean when we say that a mountain climber physically conquered an ascent and mastered its terrain. And this is not a cookie cutter, but it provides serious place for something that doesn’t have soil to root itself in in constructivism.

I suspect that this is a lot less exotic than it sounds. Would you say that IMSA teachers often understand their students?

The Visionary: I think they often try.

The Alumnus: I think they often succeed.

Communication in general draws on being able to identify with the other. It says, “Even if I disagree with you, I understand what it means that you believe differently from what I do.” You know what it’s like when someone is talking with you and simply cannot identify with where you are coming from. It feels clumsy. Good communicators can identify with other people, and even a partial understanding is much better than no understanding at all.

I think the teachers I had at least showed something wiser than constructivism. Read something like Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and you will see appreciation of incommensurability and a communication divide between opposing camps; unlike the later Kuhn, you will also see that this claim of incommensurability, where opposing sides invariably argue past each other in debates, is applied to both major and minor paradigm shifts. Now if we look at a constructivist approach, where this kind of thinking is applied to individual peoples’ models as well as models that are shared across a camp, then we have an excellent reason not to teach.

We have an excellent reason to say that teachers’ and students’ models are not only conflicting but incommensurable, that the teacher may have more power but in a fair debate they would argue past each other, and that the basis for the teacher understanding and therefore successfully influencing the student is at very least questionable. In the end, we have something which affects the concept of teaching more profoundly than the observation that students will see things that teachers don’t realize. If you look at Kuhn, you will see a remark that the winning side of a scientific paradigm shift will naturally view the shift as progress. This contributes to an account for people thinking science progresses without science actually progressing. Science shifts. But the shift is not a step forward from less developed science to more developed science. It is a step sideways, from one reigning paradigm to another. And in like fashion, if you follow a natural constructivist path, you have an alternative to saying that the teacher knows more about science than the students. The teacher is more powerful, but there is a way out for someone who wants to deny that the teacher has more desirable knowledge that the students should learn. Not only can we argue that “teaching” communication is impossible, but we can argue that “teaching” communication is undesirable even if it were possible.

The Visionary: But that can’t be what our teachers believe! You have to be misunderstanding constructivism. That’s not how it works out.

The Alumnus: I agree with you that that can’t be what many IMSA teachers believe. It is only what they say. And what they think they believe.

The Visionary: You mean…

The Alumnus: Foundationalism is a bad account of how most IMSA teachers learn. They learn actively, and IMSA students learn actively. And constructivism offers a compelling metaphor for active learning. But teachers at IMSA don’t believe all its implications. Like the character in a George MacDonald book who was fond of saying, “Marry in haste, repent at leisure,” and had married in haste, but hadn’t really thought about repenting, even though she’d had plenty of leisure in which to repent. If constructivism may undercut the possibility of communication, and the possibility of the teacher drawing students to join her in expert practice, this is not yet a problem. In practical terms, teachers believe they can communicate, and they have something to share. And they do this. There may be problems where this goes down the road, but in practical terms IMSA teachers live a philosophy with communication that is often excellent.

And, as far as metaphors go, I think that the katalabein metaphor offers something valuable that the constructivist metaphor doesn’t. In particular, the fact that teachers can communicate, and leave students better off, doesn’t just happen to be true; it’s something that one can delve into. You don’t just take the metaphor into consideration when you communicate on a basis that doesn’t come from the model; the metaphor itself gives you a basis to communicate. And it’s different enough to compete in an interesting way. Or complement constructivism in an interesting way. Even if it’s not perfect.

The Visionary: Yes, I know. Do you regret the fact that it’s so messy?

The Alumnus: I regret the fact that it’s not messy enough.

When we describe a rainbow, we say that the colors are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. But those aren’t the colors of the rainbow. If you pick a color at random on the rainbow, there’s a zero percent chance that you will exactly pick one of those colors. A rainbow is a spectrum, and if you have a wavelength for each of those colors, you have seven reference points for a spectrum with infinitely many colors. And a reference point can help you understand a spectrum, but a reference point is not a spectrum.

I’ve done, I think, a decent job of describing one reference point on a spectrum. But teachers rarely follow one educational theory in pure form; they tend to draw on several, and this is intended not to be a complete theory, but a reference point in a pluralistic theory. Most theories are a single point. This theory is meant to be a spectrum, but isn’t there yet.

And as much as a robust theory of education needs to be pluralistic, sensitive to the diversity that is every student, there also also needs to be a sensitivity to the diversity of knowledge. English is cursed to only have one word for knowledge.

The Visionary:But we have well enough established division of knowledge into subjects. In fact that’s what we’re trying to teach our students to get past.

The Alumnus: That’s not quite what I meant.

In most of the languages I know, there’s more than one word for knowledge. In French, there is savoir, which is the knowledge one has about facts, and connaissance, which is the knowledge one has of a person. It’s a different kind of thing to know about a fact and to know of a person, and this is reflected in different words. Conscience is not simply the French word for conscience; it means consciousness, and some of the more ethereal and personal aspects of knowledge. The Latin eruditio and notitia have other nuances. In English we do have “wisdom,” “knowledge,” and “information,” which are as different from each other as an apple, an orange, and a pear.

And this is without treating ways of thought. One of the things I learned was that knowledge and ways of thought could be distinguished but not separated. If you look at Eastern ways, whether they are religions like Hinduism or Eastern Orthodoxy, or martial arts like Kuk Sool Won or Ninpo, you will find quite a different pedagogy from what we assume in the West. Instead of trying to open the mind and dump in knowledge, they begin by training the body, in actions, and then this begins to affect the soul and transform the spirit.

The Visionary: Isn’t constructivism more like that?

The Alumnus: It is. But instead of reinventing experiential learning, Eastern ways preserve a Tao, or for a Western word, a matrix. Most recently in the West, Matrix is the name of a trilogy where each movie was better than the next. But before that, a matrix was a mathematical construct, and are you familiar with what “matrix” meant before that? It was the Latin word meaning “womb.” And this concept of a womb, or a matrix, is something which has become alien to Western thought. A matrix is the medium in which you move, the air in which you breathe. It has the authority of your culture and your mother tongue. It is a very different kind of authority from the authority of a single leader, or a written rule; a matrix does not consciously command you, but provides you with the options which shape your choice. And the Eastern ways all preserve a matrix, a way, that provides their pedagogy. In a sense the difference between constructivist experiential learning and Eastern experiential learning is the difference between non-native speakers trying to speak a language and a community of native speakers continuing to use their language. Except to make the comparison more fair, constructivists are trying to construct a language, and put together something that works, and Eastern pedagogues have inherited something that works. The difference is kind of like the difference between an experimental kind of baseball glove that someone is trying out and a glove that is not only traditional but already broken in.

The Visionary: Um… I’ll have to think about what you have said about a “matrix.” Ok, you’ve given me a lot to think about. It would be premature for me to respond now. I’m going to need to think about what you’ve said. But let me change the susbject. What other ideas do you have about teaching, especially concrete ones?

The Alumnus: It’s a bit like a light—it makes other things easier to see. But let me talk about other ways of teaching, such as listening.

The Visionary: I know how you can listen if a student asks a question, but how do you listen when lecturing?

The Alumnus: Listening is about trying to understand the other person as a basis for communication. Apart from the feedback that’s in student questions—if you look for it—a person’s face is a window to what is going on inside, and a teacher sees student faces frequently. I know the ominous silence when the class is so lost that students are afraid to ask questions. I don’t just charge on because it’s important to cover the remaining material. I try to stop, back up, and help the students to genuinely understand, and then proceed from genuine understanding. Homework offers implicit feedback on what I succeeded in communicating, and what I did not succeed in. And there’s an implicit listening mindset behind trying not to inundate students with too much information at once.

There’s a book of little stories, and in one of them, a sage was asked, “What is your name?” He pondered for a moment and said, “My name used to be… Me. But now it’s… You.” I didn’t like that story at first, because I didn’t understand it. Now I understand enough of it to see that it has a profound truth. Talking is about “me”, and listening is part of a lifelong journey of learning to think in terms of “you.” Listening has far more to offer a teacher than a better understanding of student questions.

There are a lot of things I like about how IMSA works—your belief that the needs of the mind cannot be met if the needs of the body are neglected. How this you fit this in with Arbor food service is not clear to me—

The Visionary: Thanks, Dear…

The Alumnus: Any time. But I really like the understanding you have of the human person as interconnected on multiple levels, including the body and mind. I also take that as axiomatic, and teach so that students will understand concepts and preferably their connections, and many other things. Just as I haven’t read what I just said about listening in anything that came out of IMSA, but the teachers I had at IMSA were all examples of good listening.

The Visionary: Thank you.

The Alumnus: You’re welcome.

But another part of the Enlightenment I reject is its depersonalization of knowledge and teaching. Have you read any Polanyi?

The Visionary: Not yet. Should I put him on my reading list?

The Alumnus: I don’t know. He writes hefty, if understandable, material. It takes time to understand him, but he’s worth understanding.

Michael Polanyi was a philosopher of science, and his big work was on tacit and personal knowledge. The core idea is that scientific knowledge (I would say knowledge in general) is not a set of dessicated constructs that can be understood without reference to people; it is enfleshed in people who know it. He talked about how competing swimmers inhale a little more air and exhale a little less, so they always have more air in their lungs and therefore buoyancy than we would, but this knowledge is never thought of in so many words by the coach or by the student who “picks it up” from the coach, wordlessly. I don’t know if it’s a fair reading to say that the knowledge we can articulate is the just tip of the iceberg, but what I do think is a fair reading is to say that the knowledge we can put into so many words is not the whole picture. I think he would have liked IMSA trying to avoid teachers mindlessly regurgitating material so students can learn to mindlessly regurgitating material.

In tandem with the Enlightenment depersonalization of knowledge, is a depersonalization of the concept of teaching and a teacher. About two thousand years ago, one teacher tried to demote teachers from being human gods (who were superior to everyone else) to being human like the rest of us. Then, in connection with the Enlightenment there came a second demotion. A teacher was no longer someone responsible for initiating those in their care into humanity, but only a part of a person imparting a skill to another partial person.

That is an illusion; no matter how much keep our mouths shut on certain matters, we are humans teaching. The question is not whether or not teachers will be an ethical force; the question is whether, given that teachers will be an ethical force, whether they will be a positive force or a negative force. Because students are affected by what kind of people their teachers are—as well as what they say—a teacher should try to be a positive force. This means things like a humility that listens and appreciates other people, and caring, and is willing to listen both to “I don’t understand partial differentiation,” and “I’ve had a lousy week.”

This means that a teacher who sees past the present, and sees students as the concert pianists, research scientists, and ballerinas they can become, will by that very respect help make that potential a reality.

The Visionary [looks at watch]: Thank you. I need to be somewhere in a few minutes; do you have any closing comments?

The Alumnus: I think that one aspect of how we speak of teaching is unfortunate. We speak of the active teacher who teaches, and the presumably passive student who is taught. Nothing of this manner of speaking suggests a dialog, a two-way street—but if teaching succeeds, it must be because of a cooperation between student and teacher. Even with constructivist understanding of learning, we’re just looking at what the teacher can do.

I spend most of my time thinking about how I can see to my end of the partnership, not how students can handle their job. But there is something I would love to say to students, reinforced by a handout, on the first day of class, some toned-down version of:

Steal knowledge.

Prometheus stole fire. Your job is to steal knowledge.

The wrong way to think is that my job is to teach you, and you just sit there and be taught, and after enough teachers have taught you, you’ll be educated.

You will get a much better education if you think that whatever I do, however well or poorly I teach, is simply the baseline, and you can start from there and see what you can do to take as much knowledge as you can.

Listening in class and asking questions is one way to steal knowledge. Is there something I said that doesn’t quite make sense? If you just let my teaching wash over you, you’ve missed an opportunity to steal knowledge.

If you listen to my words, that’s good. It’s even better if you think about why I would say what I am saying. There may be a clue, maybe a little whisper in your intuition that something more is going on than you realize. That is a key that you can use to steal knowledge.

When you read the textbook, it will tell you more if you push it harder. Look at the problems. What are they asking you to know? What are they asking you to think about? There’s a powerful clue about what’s important and what’s going on, if you’re adept enough to steal it.

What do I assume about the material? I make assumptions, and some of those are assumptions I make because of what I know. If you’re willing to ask why I assume something, you may steal knowledge of how people think when they understand the material.

My office hours are meant for you. Come in and discuss the material. If I see you make a mistake, that’s good. It means you’re learning and I have an opportunity to clarify. If you don’t understand something, and all of us don’t understand things from time to to time, it will cost you points to wait until the test to find out that you don’t understand it. It won’t cost you anything if you come in during my office hours, and I’ll be glad you visited. And you might steal some knowledge.

Steal knowledge. There’ll be some days when you’re a little tired, and you can’t look for all the extra knowledge you can steal. That’s OK; just try to take the knowledge I clearly set out before you. But steal knowledge when you can.

You’ve gotten into IMSA, which is one of the best and one of the worst places in the world. Take advantage of opportunity. Learn to steal knowledge. And when you graduate from IMSA… Steal knowledge.

The Visionary: I definitely have some food for thought to take into the meeting. Do come and visit again! Goodbye!

The Alumnus: That I shall. Goodbye!

Gifted? Let me harass you!

On Mentorship

The Wagon, the Blackbird, and the Saab

Within the Steel Orb

Game Review: Meatspace

Read it on Kindle: part of the collection, Firestorm 2034

CJSH.name/meatspace

Game: Meatspace

Score:  ✯  ✯  ✯  ✯  ✯  ✯  ✯  (7 out of 5 possible!)

Category: First Person Immersive / Puzzle / Real Life Adventure


meatspace: /meet’spays/, n.
The physical world, where the meat lives — as opposed to cyberspace. Hackers are actually more willing to use this term than ‘cyberspace’, because it’s not speculative — we already have a running meatspace implementation (the universe). Compare RL.

The New Hacker’s Dictionary, “meatspace

I am faced with the daunting task of reviewing Meatspace. The temptation is to say, “This is stunning! It makes [insert name of classic] look like a bad Pong clone! I want to play it again and again!” It’s a temptation, not because the game doesn’t live up to that praise, but because discerning readers read reviews like that and their defenses go up against a reviewer who is, to put it delicately, getting slightly carried away.

So I’ll let go of the obvious temptation, and talk about how Meatspace handles physics. There’s another game we all know where player slang for a smoke grenade is “lag bomb”, because the physics of the smoke is so taxing that it slows the other player’s computer to a crawl: a smoke grenade, aka lag bomb, is a cheap way to half-paralyze other players. Maybe that’s an extreme example, but haven’t we all dealt with games where things get choppy (maybe just a little) when there’s a lot going on?

That doesn’t happen in Meatspace. End of discussion. Period. For one example, one of a million little effects done perfectly is a squirrel running across your path. It’s a throwaway effect, really: the game would appear quite convincing without it, but every single detail, from how the furry little body changes shape as it moves to the artificial intelligence controlling its motion to every single perfectly rendered hair, is flawless. Trying to find something that works as a lag bomb simply doesn’t work. Move over, physics engines that have a reasonably convincing rag doll effect. Move over, for that matter, the supercomputers I used at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. The physics is absolutely stunning.

But to say that and stop there is to paint a deceptive picture. Very deceptive. The physics and the graphics are the best I’ve seen, but there is more to the game than the physics. Many players don’t give the physics a second thought. However well done the physics may be, and however stunningly advanced, the physics is one piece among a million. A beautiful piece, admittedly, but not even one of the biggest. At least to most players; there are some players who play only for the sight and sound aspect, but you can play the game well without those things even being much of a consideration. As impressive as the physics are, and as impressive as every sensory effect is, it would be deceptive at best to say that the game is driven by sight and sound.

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (the book, but unfortunately not the movie), Zaphod Beeblebrox is drawn towards the Total Perspective Vortex, which we learn is a horrifying death, before learning why it is a horrifying death. The Total Perspective Vortex shows a person’s absolute (in)significance within the universe as an insignificant and forgettable item in a universe that is vast beyond measure. And that is such a horrifying experience that people die from the trauma. Except that Zaphod walks into the Total Perspective Vortex and walks out not only not dead, but contented, happy, proud, and even more full of himself than usual.

What has been happening is that Zaphod has been in an alternate universe, and more specifically an alternate universe that completely revolves around him. He is the most important feature of the universe, and the universe knows it. Had he been thrown into the realuniverse’s Total Perspective Vortex, he would have been destroyed by it.

And in fact with the other computer games I’ve played and written, the player is the center of the universe. And that’s not the end of it. The universe revolves around the player, and in fact nothing is put into the game but things that are for the player. In a room in a first person shooter, there are millions and in fact billions of ways to see the room. But, if there is a player in the room, only one of those perspectives or angles is calculated: the player’s. Everything else is simply ignored. If there isn’t a player in the room, the room might as well not be visible. And the rooms themselves exist for the player. The player is a good deal more than the center of the universe: if it’s not there for the player, it’s not there.

Maybe I’ve been the center of the universe in other games I’ve played. In Meatspace, I am not the center of the universe. Meatspace has such an immense, fathomless universe that you or I could never be its center.

In Meatspace, if I am in a room and I can see, the light goes just as well where I can’t see it as where I can see it. If I leave the light on and walk out of the room, the room is visible—the physics calculations go on—just as well as I am in the room. There are places I could get to, and places I could never get to, and both are developed in full detail—even though there are many more places I couldn’t get to than places I could (conceivably) travel to. When I play the game—or, to be more exact, when I join the game—there are billions of others in the game, the vast, vast majority of whom have no idea that I am there. If I’m the center of a game’s universe, the universe is miserably small. In Meatspace, there is a universe with so many stars that no one inside the game knows exactly how many, and one planet on one of those stars is a rich enough world that no matter how long you played you could never see more than a tiny slice of its treasures.

And AI in the game… To talk about artificial intelligence, I need to draw an analogy with anime. When people watch anime, they are not so imperceptive that they think that the pictures look exactly like people, or cars, or whatever. What they do is cooperate with pictures that most people would never confuse with the real thing, and make believe with some not-very-realistic cartoons, and in their minds give something that isn’t really there. The pictures certainly suggest people, or whatever else they are supposed to represent. But people watching it cooperate and overlook some rather vast differences between the pictures and what people pretend the pictures are.

In games, the artificial intelligence is like this. You can pretend that you’re really having a conversation, or even that the non-player characters move around in a natural way. You can cooperate with the artificial intelligence the way anime enthusiasts cooperate with the cartoon. But you’re being generous.

I didn’t have to pretend the Meatspace people were intelligent. They were intelligent, without my pretending. The game was much more interesting than if the universe, and everybody’s life, revolved around me. People had an infinite wealth of experiences, stories, goals, projects, desires, habits, and I may have been part of the picture, but the picture was far bigger than me. When I talked with people, I was not pretending they were intelligent. There was no need. I was stepping into a larger world. In a fantasy world, characters talk about selling magic items, rumors, joining a party, and other things that revolve around a cramped player. I can’t list all the things people talk about in Meatspace (my hard drive only has 30 gigabytes of free space), but talking with another person is an encounter with a larger world that includes more than your priorities. The way other people appear in Meatspace is something I’ve never seen in another game: an opportunity to step into something deeper and vaster than “Me! Me! Me!”

And this is deceptive, because it generally describes something in a game where nothing is generic—everything is always specific. I’d like to give a slice of specifically what I encountered.

I went through a meandering course that took me through shops with sundry wares, ended up purchasing a few square feet of something very much like leather, and settled down at a place where I could get a food ration. Except “food ration” is a generic and therefore inappropriate term; they did not sell me a “food ration”, but (in this case) a delightfully spiced beef curry with vegetables and rice.

As I was waiting for them to make my food, there were pictures around. There was one picture of a beautiful Asian woman sitting on a low stone wall in front of a French formal garden and chateau, one picture of a beautiful Asian woman sitting on a camel in front of an Egyptian pyramid, and one picture of a beautiful Asian woman sitting against a powerful red sports car. There were other pictures obscured by stacked boxes of soda. The women, as well as being beautiful and wearing flattering Western clothes, had the general build and almost the complexion of a Western ideal of beauty.

I had seen this kind of artwork in previous levels of Meatspace—in one large area, there was simply no other kind of picture you could buy on a calendar—but I’d always been puzzled by it. This time, there was something else I could see. They were almost like religious icons. This is not to say that people specifically believed religious doctrines about them, or that there was some failure of perceivedly due reverence in stacking boxes of soda in front of them, or some other things like that, but it is to say that they aren’t just pictures of what they show. What they show is not only exotic but the emblem of something transcendent that’s shining through. And I can be saddened by some things about them—those pictures can easily slide into the pornographic—but there is something I was saddened by that I am no longer bothered by.

The image of beauty and transcendence is Western much for some of the same reasons that (for a tongue in cheek example) we have a Great White Ninja played by Chris Farley in Beverly Hills Ninja. The West is exotic to the East, and the East is exotic to the West. The pictures are misunderstood if they are not seen as a sort of stained glass window that people look at because they see something shining through it.

There’s probably a lot more to be said. If I spent several more years of play just to investigate the question, I might also be able to tell you why the shops allowed me to purchase about a square yard of an artificial surrogate for leather, and a few yards of cord, for less money than I would earn in an hour. For now, my game play has included little research into how communities can produce or fail to produce wealth. I just know enough to know that a detail like that, like the kind of system where there are poor people who eat meat with every meal, is a balancing act that has never before been managed in two and a half million years of human community, and quite probably a balancing act that will not survive longer than its civilization, any more than a tree can keep growing once its river runs dry.

There is something about the Meatspace levels we find ourselves in that makes it harder to see the gems around us. The medieval and the Arthurian looks a certain way to us after they no longer exist. What do things look like if we look at our placement in Meatspace as it might appear when our technological society is but a memory?

My avatar (but one could take a long time explaining how it is more than an avatar) was just in a place with Gothic lettering on a sign on the ground, saying, “Spaccarelli Meditation Garden.” A pale, almost luminous statue of the Virgin overlooks a waterfall, rocks, plants, and a bench. The garden is small, but in its enclosed space one can be drawn into the quiet of the waterfall’s song, forget about the outside world, even the nearby Gothic buildings—Gothic buildings that did not exist in the Middle Ages but do exist on a level that didn’t exist in the Middle Ages. I have since moved to a building that combines the Gothic with the modern: I can see stonework that evokes the Gothic, and I see it through a glass wall which would have been extremely unlikely at a time when glass cost as much as a precious metal.

Some players entered the game wishing they were set in the future instead of the past—anything but where they are now. What would my life have been like if I were born in the Middle Ages? That’s simple enough. I would have died in infancy, and my mother with me. Usually when I imagine myself in the Middle Ages, I take any number of things for granted.

The Middle Ages—the knights in armor of Arthurian legend, a picture which becomes even more interesting when it is deepened with scholarly resources to include a different way of perceiving time and space, the shadow of Plato, minstrels singing love songs, precursors to scientific method which become all the more interesting if one looks not at what they became but what they came from—all of this makes for a lost world that is all the more haunting because it can only be entered as a memory.

The character I play is studying theology at a university. “University” means a tradition that began in the Middle Ages, and it means living in community with other students and scholars, free to use technology but always connecting face-to-face and meeting as flesh and blood. As well as the older kind of university, the technology in Meatspace has allowed another kind of education which is a new enough possibility that many players remember when it would have been impossible. In the new model, a student may never meet any of his teachers; there is no sense of living together in community and no real sense that a path or way which has defined teaching since before the ancients is necessary. Not everyone in the ancient model understood or even would accepted the idea that a university should be an embodied community. But the only alternative, the older kind of correspondence school, never enjoyed the same prestige. Now there is another model, not so much another kind of community as a way to substitute for community and embodied presence, and it is gaining a massive ground in a short time. It is a real threat to the older university.

Given the rapid ascent of the “bodiless university”, it seems to me quite possible that by the end of my game, I will have seen the old order of a university as an embodied community as it has been since its medieval birth, will have vanished as the horse-drawn carriage vanished after Henry Ford introduced what seemed to simply be another option (besides riding a horse). Perhaps this will never happen, but if you consider how much could vanish, and how much is easy to take for granted, the scholarly community has something as hauntingly beautiful as the knight in shining armor, or perhaps more beautiful, and this is not only because the university is a medieval institution and some universities have Gothic architecture. The roots run much deeper than that. And that is only one slice of the game—a rather small slice, all things considered.

Technology in this area of the game is interesting, and more importantly than just the technology, the cultural forces surrounding technology are interesting. They hold a tragic beauty, in its own way as tragic and as beautiful as the tale of Arthur’s death: two armies stood across from each other, and each had been ordered not to attack unless the other side drew a sword. Then one soldier saw a snake in the grass, drew his sword to protect himself. Then the battle began, and King Arthur was mortally wounded. On the side of technology, the community had achieved technology that opened up possibilities that never existed before partly because it had oriented itself toward technology as no such community had done before. That made for a sorceror’s bargain that made it difficult to perceive other kinds of beauty in other cultures—or for that matter, their own. The full cultural story—were it possible to fully understand—is even deeper in its tragic beauty than the bittersweet hypothesis of a disembodied university opening up something new while hurting the older tradition. One cannot seriously examine technology without seeing its power—and even its beauty—yet in this society, it is a minority at best who know what it means, and what the beauty would consist of, for a society ordered around other principles like contemplation.

Yet to say that is silly. It’s like reviewing a chess program by describing the art history behind the pictures representing the pawns. Interesting, perhaps, and perhaps impressive, but it falls short of the mark, as does any serious attempt to review Meatspace. I haven’t discussed 99% of an expanse of pavement stretching as far as the eye can see and then further, nor a room that lets me look out over trees and buildings as if I were suspended in the sky, nor a melting pot which combines the wealth of Africa, indigenous Americans, Europe, and Asia and which is believed to be the birthplace of hip hop, nor indeed what it means to be in an outer borough in the “capital of the world,” nor why some dismiss the Bronx as being not a very nice place to live. I believe I have deeply failed to capture the global spirit of Meatspace because I gave too little attention to the unique local character of my level—and you cannot play Meatspace without encountering such a unique local character. To play Meatspace is to enter a world rich with apples and appearances, books and buttercups, children and cats, drivel and daydreams, electronics and excellence, fables and fairy tales, grandeur and giggles, horses (yes, they still exist!) and houses, igloos and imagination, jumping and justice, kites and katana, languages and laughter, microscopes and megaphones, noses and noise, operas and obverses, porpoises and porcupines, quiet and quickness, roaches and Russia, Swiss Army Knives and spirit, transportation and tummies, understanding and understatements, vowels and vices, water and wisdom, xanthan gum and xylophones, yule logs and youth, zebras and zits. It is far beyond my power to describe them.

Exotic Golden Ages and Restoring Harmony with Nature: Anatomy of a Passion

Janra Ball: The Headache

The Labyrinth

Technonomicon: Technology, Nature, ascesis