Task: Write a story revolving around a Writer, a Mechanic’s Workshop, a Trashcan and Curiosity.
A writer waits on his car at the workshop and stares at a waste bin curiously.
He wonders about the temporariness of time, time that passes away creates two consequences depending on how one looks at it: passage of time creates the past, and passage of time creates waste. The writer now wonders if there is any correlation between the past and the waste or are they two invariably independent arbitrary aspects of the universe. Furthermore, he wonders if what has happened, has happened and what will happen, will happen? He envisages a world without time, but when he deliberates over the word ‘world’, he traces back his thoughts because he looks at the surrounding world in reference to himself and without him, is the ‘world’ the same ‘world’ which he had first thought of? He now realizes that he has thought of two profound questions in a matter of moments and he still hasn’t been able to find the answer to either of them.
He now wishes to back track his thought process and decides to analyze each question individually, lay out the facts, present his arguments, and decide upon a single unanimous answer in each case; the only problem is that he forgets what triggered his question in the first place. He looks around him haphazardly, seeking the object that first inspired his mind to formulate questions. His eyes fall on the iron tools before him and for a split second he imagines he can smell their rust thereby activating his olfactory senses. He then looks to his left and sees a silhouette of a man bent over a metal surface which he quickly deduces to be the bonnet of his car, thereby animating his sense of sight. To revive his auditory sense, he glares at the silhouette’s arm which seems to be repeatedly striking the metal surface in a controlled fashion thereby producing a dull clanking sound. He then sticks his tongue out and tastes the acerbic metal on the tip of his tongue. He forgets to stimulate his sense of touch but when he unconsciously takes out his right hand from his pockets and lays it down on his side on the cold, metallic bench, he lets his lips crease into a slight smile.
His mind begins to wander to distant places, to the time he first touched the negative terminal of the battery with the tip of his tongue after which his mother had thrown a tantrum because the lamp wouldn’t work and it had never crossed her mind to check for the cells in the lamp and just like that she had thrown it away and the writer being a reticent child had dared not tell her that he had taken out the one cell to check if what his classmates had said about the glowing skin if you lick the ends of a battery was true or not; and twelve years later when the writer had turned nineteen and his ailing mother had at last permitted him to visit the town circus, he had paid exactly seven pennies to be admitted into a colorful tent which boasted itself as a showcase for one incredible opportunity to let your eyes feast upon the world’s one and only super human who glowed, whose skin shone like the sun overhead, who even at night would be awake because the light he produced had burnt his eyes from the inside, and fried his brain and he had lost all concept of sleep but he still lived and ate, and read, and looked at the spectators marveling at their opaque skin and wondering why he was captured by these strange, dull beings when he was clearly a deity who deserved freedom. And thirty years later, the writer had written his first short story on the strange man who was never heard from again, indeed the entire town circus seemed to have vanished into thin air because the very next day his mother denied having permitted him to go out of the house at all and again threw a fit accusing her only son of planning to abandon her, and a week later his friends assured him that they had not heard of any Volaticius Circum Circus in town, nor had they seen any banners or heard any banjos playing at seven at night every day for five days straight, but when the writer had retired to his shabby little room upstairs, and had emptied his wallet to find the seven pennies, he could find only three, and he was certain that he had a total of ten pennies a week and half ago.
The writer’s first short story was published in a local newspaper called the “Local News and Views” which often burst with petty advertisements of someone selling a hair-curling rod, or someone looking to purchase a second-hand hammer, or someone looking to hire an apprentice, or a teacher or a baby sitter or some foreign company looking for miners to work in a cave for a measly six pence an hour but with an added bonus of free, exotic food such as fresh tuna and bi-monthly trips to far-off cities. The last page of the newspaper was always dedicated to obituaries and births and here, in a measly narrow column on the left hand side, the short story was printed in an almost illegible type font with the writer’s name printed out in huge block letters on top which led to some altercations at the newspaper office, directed at the writer because his “damned story” had eaten up the space reserved for Mr. Hinilist’s pompous, celebratory wish for his son who had been admitted into the army and in the next issue the editor made a formal apology to Honorable Mr. Hinilist and his family for the “grave and unforgiveable” error and dedicated the entire first page to his son, congratulating him of bestowing upon the town the honor of having “one of our own” in the “sacred” line of work.
The writer now begins to be conscious of his surroundings and surmises that the sun must be directly overhead because the shadow of the worker to his left is no longer elongated to a side, but rather spotted under him. The writer wipes the beads of sweat from his forehead with his shirt sleeve when his eyes fall upon the trash can a few feet away from him and his mind starts whirring around. He contemplates on the fleeting transitoriness of life but then concludes that not only does life come to a finite end, but so do all objects in reference to his existence like his wife’s spectacles which lost their objective of being worn and being looked out of, of supplementing poor eyesight, of resting on her ears with their long, metallic arms, of being suspended on her chest when she conversed and of being re-worn when she read, and of being kept on the side table next to her books and a blue vase when she slept, and of being wiped clean with a piece of grey cloth and of being touched by her frail, wrinkled fingers a hundred times a day.
The writer’s mind again takes a stroll on memory lane, to the time he married his sweetheart of four years, and despite his mother’s constant admonitions, he had gone ahead with the small ceremony and brought her back to his now adequately ventilated, upstairs bedroom, where he had made passionate love to her and the morning after and two weeks later, had started and finished a novella based on two characters who metamorphose into stars, titled “The Death of a Star”, and after the two starts explode and expel all elements into the vast cosmos, two particles of gold and silver land on the earth and are embedded into two separate rings made for unfortunate lovers who meet their tragic end when the heavenly bodies, in fury and anguish over the human condition, crash into earth. The writer had stashed the pages under the bed when his beloved wife had announced that she was expecting and four months later she was pronounced barren when a rogue soldier, who had returned from the battle field in a disarray had decided to gain a lover from the past, had forced himself upon her during the writer’s absence one early morning, and had accidently stabbed her in the pit of her stomach, after which age dawned upon her expeditiously for the subsequent forty years till the day she peacefully passed away lying on the right side of the bed, next to the writer.
The writer is brought back to the present by a loud, persistent clanging sound that echoes from his left. He senses the monotony of the sounds as they reverberate through the bench on which he sits, albeit uncomfortably, when his eyes fall upon the trash can again and he feels a strong impulse to rummage through the contents of the bin before him. He wonders why the trash can is inside the workshop and not outside, nearer to the workers where they can access it easily, or maybe this trash can is specifically for the customers who sit on the bench, who remain on the inside of the workshop and yet somehow, during the simple act of sitting and waiting, produce a waste that needs to be discarded immediately, like a tissue paper used to blow nose on, or a wrapping paper whose contents are eaten during the wait, or the useless receipts one finds in the wallet that have served their purpose long ago, and are no longer needed and now just hoard the entire wallet space and one only gets time to clean the gluttonous wallet during intervals such as these where all other activity is paused as the car makes one wait on itself.
Here the writer goes back to the time he had purchased the automobile, and the mechanic had offered to mend the silencer for free, but the writer was eager to show his beloved their first material acquirement and had politely turned down the offer to which the mechanic had said “suit yourself sir, my offer shall stand forever” and without giving second thought to the mechanic’s seemingly absurd claim, he had jumped in and driven the coughing lump of metal towards his birth place where his indisposed wife awaited him. Three weeks later he composed a few poems dedicated to the promise of betrothal and solitariness and wrote a few more short stories which were all sent to a publisher in the adjacent town upon his wife’s insistence, and which were published during a period of three months after her death in the form of one whole book which sold less than a hundred copies in another fifteen years. The writer received his first critique in the local town magazine “La Nova Politico” soon after, whereby he was accused of employing unrealistic imagery to “convey his own narrow and insipid view of life”.
The writer returns back to earth and he regrets not having brought with him a book to read which could have supplemented his present thoughts. He muses over the book and all that he had read so far. He deduces that the book is written expertly by Sapio Percepentia who was the world’s leading authority on metaphysics in 300 BC. Although the writer disagrees with many of Sapio’ views, including his lengthy expositions on the taste of sentiments and experiences, it had playfully triggered his imagination when Sapio had proposed a future wherein mankind shall be able to discern and experience various life events by relishing on their individual flavors which will be harnessed using energy and perception of the spirit itself. The writer amuses himself by recalling what Sapio had written regarding Death tasting like “barren sand, that which induces a raspy breath, hath been molded in form by the Creator Himself“, and Birth tasting like “seraphic honey, that which Nature and Man conspireth as one to yield and extract“, and Hatred tasting like “bitter venom spewed in eyes that mixeth with tears and rotten carcass“; indeed Sapio had attributed flavors to all that he found around him and within him, to the meandering river, and the birth of star, to the full moon, and to the act of reading, and taking a promenade bare feet on a dewy grassland, and standing on pebbles scattered on the pavement, and sitting –
The writer again sticks his tongue out and tastes the caustic metal in the air around him. He blesses Sapio’s intelligence and then wishes on the souls of those who translated his works over centuries, peace and tranquility, and those who mediated the means for the writer enabling him to purchase the book, he offers them silent gratitude in his heart. He then smiles and closes his eyes.
I am the least vital sense a being such as yourself, needs…or this is what I’ve lead you to believe for I make an appearance as myself as the curtain draws on our solitary protagonist. But I am not present here to assert my importance, rather my role as a momentary narrator has been bestowed upon me by Time. I shall not keep you in perpetual mystery and will reveal to you a necessary detail which must be made known now otherwise the monologue of which I find myself quite undeserving shall be rendered utterly futile. Death, my close bosom friend, has taken our Writer. Whilst the Writer was engrossed in delving the senses my colleagues so respectfully represent, he had perchance forgotten to take notice of my ever growing presence in his surroundings. As you may recall, I had manifested myself as the whiff of rust to our writer, which he had heeded, much to my pleasure. He had then attributed me to the metallic tools in the workshop, which, I acquiesce to. Yes, my origins were the tools but then as time had pronounced upon me eons ago, I began symbolizing an end, the end not only to the arbitrary functioning of the mechanics tools which would be ultimately consumed by rust, but of an end to Life and more specifically, the end to the Writer’s Life. I say “symbolized” for Death has no smell, I am not associated with the tangible, nor the intangible, yet I exist. I shall make no false pronouncements that the Writer had smelled death after he had closed his eyes shut (such proclamations do amuse me) – it was rather my very absence that made Death, my comrade, collect the Writer’s soul in an ephemeral moment which I shall now endeavor to briefly elaborate on.
As the Writer sat on the bench, Life seated itself on his left, and when Death approached, he was greeted by the old companion warmly who welcomed him to make himself comfortable on the other side of the Writer. Death emanated a silent placidity and saw the Writer smiling as he unknowingly converged with the cold metal with his hand. Life assured Death that their mutual friend knew nothing of the future and that Life had taken the liberty to manifest itself in the Writer’s memories as the past and the present for one last time, after which Life stood up and shook hands with Death and took leave of him. Death comforted Life and assured him that their mutual friend shall be taken good care of and Life departed. Death approached the Writer cautiously, as to not frighten him, and then embraced him warmly on the cold, metallic bench, in a distant automobile workshop, a few feet away from the wastebasket.
Absolute gems from “Mr. Palomar” by Italo Calvino
- “…because half-respected conventions spread insecurity and incoherence of behavior
rather than freedom and frankness.”
- “Is what we have in common precisely what is given to each of us as something exclusively his?”
- “For millions of centuries the sun’s rays rested on the water before there were eyes capable of perceiving them.”
- “No book can teach what can be learned only in childhood if you lend an alert ear and eye”
- “Is “the lawn” what we see or do we see one grass plus one grass plus one grass…?”
- The “universe, collection of celestial bodies, nebulas, fine dust, fields of force, intersections of fields, collections of collections…”
- “Is this the exact geometry of the sidereal spaces, which Mr Palomar has so often felt the need to turn to, in order to detach himself from the Earth, that place of superfluous complications and confused approximations? When he finds himself really in the presence of the starred sky, everything seems to escape him. Even that aspect to which he thought himself most sensitive, the smallness of our world compared to the vast distances, does not emerge directly. The firmament is something that is up there, you can see that it exists, but from it you can derive no idea of dimensions or distance”
- “When he finds himself really in the presence of the starred sky, everything seems to escape him. Even that aspect to which he thought himself most sensitive, the smallness of our world compared to the vast distances, does not emerge directly. The firmament is something that is up there, you can see that it exists, but from it you can derive no idea of dimensions or distance.”
- “He looks around: a few paces from him a little crowd has gathered, observing his movements like the convulsions of a madman.”
- “This is how birds think, or at least this is how Mr Palomar thinks, imagining himself a bird. “It is only after you have come to know the surface of things,” he concludes, “that you venture to seek what is underneath. But the surface is inexhaustible.”
- “Nothing like the calligraphic agility of lizards’ tails”
- “The cheese shop appears to Palomar the way an encyclopedia looks to an autodidact; he could memorize all the names, venture a classification according to the forms – cake of soap, cylinder, dome, ball – according to the consistency – dry, buttery, creamy, veined, firm – according to the alien materials involved in the crust or in the heart – raisins, pepper, walnuts, sesame seeds, herbs, molds – but this would not bring him a step closer to true knowledge, which lies in the experience of the flavors, composed of memory and imagination at once. Only on the basis of that could he establish a scale of preferences and tastes and curiosities and exclusions.”
- “…which at least in part should be called human-bovine (coinciding in part with the human-ovine and in smaller part with the human-porcine, depending on the alternatives of a complicated geography of religious prohibitions)”
- “Beyond the glass of every cage there is the world as it was before man, or after, to show that the world of man is not eternal and is not unique.”
- “The thought of a time outside our experience is intolerable.”
- “A stone, a figure, a sign, a word that reach us isolated from its context is only that stone, figure, sign or word: we can try to define them, to describe them as they are, and no more than that; whether, beside the face they show us, they also have a hidden face, it is not for us to know. The refusal to comprehend more than what the stones show us is perhaps the only way to evince respect for their secret; trying to guess is a presumption, a betrayal of that true, lost meaning.”
- “The world is also there, and for the occasion has been split into a looking world and a world looked at.”
- “A thing is happy to be looked at by other things only when it is convinced that it signifies itself and nothing else, amid things that signify themselves and nothing else.”
- “Mr Palomar suffers greatly because of his difficulty in establishing relations with his fellow-man. He envies those people who have the gift of always finding the right thing to say, the right greeting for everyone, people who are at ease with anyone they happen to encounter and put others at their ease; who move easily among people and immediately understand when they must defend themselves and keep their distance or when they can win trust and affection; who give their best in their relations with others and make others want to give their best; who know at once how to evaluate a person with regard to themselves and on an absolute scale.”
- “Then he tries to make his thoughts retain simultaneously the nearest things and the farthest: when he lights his pipe he is intent on the flame of the match that at his next puff should allow itself to be drawn to the bottom of the bowl, initiating the slow transformation of shreds of tobacco into embers; but this attention must not make him forget even for a moment the explosion of a supernova taking place in the great Magellanic Cloud at this same instant, that is to say a few million years ago. The idea that everything in the universe is connected and corresponds never leaves him: a variation in the luminosity in the Nebula of Cancer or the condensation of a globular mass in Andromeda cannot help but have some influence on the functioning of his record-player or on the freshness of the watercress leaves in his bowl of salad.”
- “This: contemplating the stars he has become accustomed to considering himself an anonymous and incorporeal dot, almost forgetting that he exists; to deal now with human beings he cannot help involving himself, and he no longer knows where his self is to be found.”
- “But for all this, even before he starts observing the others, one should know well who he is himself. Knowledge of one’s fellow has this special aspect: it passes necessarily through knowledge of oneself”
- “Palomar, who does not love himself, has always taken care not to encounter himself face to face; this is why he preferred to take refuge among the galaxies; now he understands that he should have begun by finding an inner peace. The universe can perhaps go tranquilly about its business; he surely cannot. The road left open to him is this: he will devote himself from now on to the knowing of himself, he will explore his own inner geography, he will draw the diagram of the moods of his spirit, he will derive from it formulas and theories, he will train his telescope on the orbits traced by the course of his life rather than on those of the constellations. “We can know nothing about what is outside us, if we overlook ourselves,” he thinks now, “the universe is the mirror in which we can contemplate only what we have learned to know in ourselves.”
- “Before, by “world” he meant the world plus himself; now it is a question of himself plus the world minus him.”
- “Anyone who has lived in suffering is always made of that suffering; if they try to take it away from him, he is no longer himself.”
- “These views can be divided into two broad categories: the biological mechanism, which allows leaving descendants that part of the self known as the genetic heritage; and the historical mechanism, which grants a continuance in the memory and language of those who go on living and inherit that portion, large or small, of experience that even the most inept man gathers and stores up”
- “He decides that he will set himself to describing every instant of his life, and until he has described them all he will no longer think of being dead. At that moment he dies.”
Following are some of my most favourite lines from “The Sorrows of Young Werther” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
- “…that misunderstandings and neglect occasion more mischief in the world than even
malice and wickedness”
- “Was not our intercourse a perpetual web of the finest emotions, of the keenest wit, the varieties of which, even in their very eccentricity, bore the stamp of genius?”
- “When any distress or terror surprises us in the midst of our amusements, it naturally makes a deeper impression than at other times, either because the contrast makes us more keenly susceptible, or rather perhaps because our senses are then more open to impressions, and the shock is consequently stronger”
- “So does the restless traveller pant for his native soil, and find in his own cottage, in the arms of his wife, in the affections of his children, and in the labour necessary for their support, that happiness which he had sought in vain through the wide world.”
- “We should deal with children as God deals with us, we are happiest under the influence of innocent delusions.”
- “Wilhelm, what is the world to our hearts without love?”
- “I shall see her today!” And then I have no further wish to form: all, all is included in that one thought.”
- “The world runs on from one folly to another; and the man who, solely from regard to the opinion of others, and without any wish or necessity of his own, toils after gold, honour, or any other phantom, is no better than a fool.”
- “Nothing puts me so completely out of patience as the utterance of a wretched commonplace when I am talking from my inmost heart.”
- “We are so constituted that we believe the most incredible things; and, once they are engraved upon the memory, woe to him who would endeavour to efface them.”
- “It is as if a curtain had been drawn from before my eyes, and, instead of prospects of eternal life, the abyss of an ever open grave yawned before me.”
- “Now and then the fable of the horse recurs to me. Weary of liberty, he suffered himself to be saddled and bridled, and was ridden to death for his pains.”
- “She was worthy of being known to you.” I thought I should have fainted: never had I received praise so flattering”
- “…is the greatest and most genuine of pleasures to observe a great mind in sympathy with our own.”
- “He is the most punctilious blockhead under heaven.”
- “The silly creatures cannot see that it is not place which constitutes real greatness, since the man who occupies the first place but seldom plays the principal part. How many kings are governed by their ministers — how many ministers by their secretaries? Who, in such cases, is really the chief? He, as it seems to me, who can see through the others, and possesses strength or skill enough to make their power or passions subservient to the execution of his own designs.”
- “Adieu!— Is Albert with you? and what is he to you? God forgive the question.”
- “All the knowledge I possess everyone else can acquire, but my heart is exclusively my own.”
- “Once more I am a wanderer, a pilgrim, through the world. But what else are you!”
- “She ought not to excite my imagination with such displays of heavenly innocence and happiness, nor awaken my heart from its slumbers, in which it dreams of the worthlessness of life! And why not? Because she knows how much I love her.”
- “I become more certain, that the existence of any being whatever is of very little consequence.”
- “Yes, such is the frailty of man, that even there, where he has the greatest consciousness of his own being, where he makes the strongest and most forcible impression, even in the memory, in the heart, of his beloved, there also he must perish, — vanish, — and that quickly”
- “I am alone the cause of my own woe, am I not? Truly, my own bosom contains the source of all my sorrow, as it previously contained the source of all my pleasure.”
- “I cannot pray, “Leave her to me!” and yet she often seems to belong to me. I cannot pray, “Give her to me!” for she is another’s. In this way I affect mirth over my troubles; and, if I had time, I could compose a whole litany of antitheses.”
- “Is he only happy before he has acquired his reason, or after he has lost it”
- “How willingly could I abandon my existence to ride the whirlwind, or to embrace the torrent!”
- “Tomorrow the traveller shall come, he shall come, who beheld me in beauty: his eye shall seek me in the field around, but he shall not find me.”
- “Death! the grave! I understand not the words. — Forgive, oh, forgive me! Yesterday — ah, that day should have been the last of my life! Thou angel! for the first time in my existence, I felt rapture glow within my inmost soul. She loves, she loves me! Still burns upon my lips the sacred fire they received from thine. New torrents of delight overwhelm my soul. Forgive me, oh, forgive!”