Red Lemon Frozen Concentrate : Time May Be #1
I was pretty well tanked, leaning into my crutch and talking to one of my colleagues in the Alabama MFA program at a bar we all often frequented. “He who controls the spice… controls life,” I slurred into his face. A momentary stagger, grasping his elbow I righted myself, eyes shining with alcohol and crazy. “It is by will alone that I set my mind in motion… the lips acquire stains, the stains become a warning, it is by will alone that I set my mind in motion.” My eyes fluttered. I was gleaning the source, riding on the back of a massive sandworm: my sour breath of cigarette and microbrew melded with the cinnamon smell of the spice mélange wafting from my subconscious, singeing the hairs in my nostrils with the bar’s humid pungency and the desert’s stifling heat.
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
- Dune, Frank Herbert - Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear
It was one of my first nights out after I’d shattered my ankle and was laid up for a summer and two surgeries in hot as balls Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In my peculiar transformation that evening at Egan’s bar, I’d turned from drunk misanthropic graduate student into the young and noble son of Duke Leto, Paul Atreides, main character of Frank Herbert’s epic Dune series – the books I was reading during my convalescence – just as he was beginning to understand his role in the universe and undergo the transformation into the Kwisatz Haderach, the übermensch, the messiah. (This, of course, before the books really go off the rails, he turns into a worm, lives ten-thousands years, becomes God, has lots of clone-robot-golems, and etc.)
My coworker looked at me, half-heartedly attempting to process the nonsense coming out of my mouth, took another sip of his drink, said “Okay, Erik,” and walked away. I scoffed with the certainty of my righteousness and called after him, “The sleeper has awakened!” before collapsing into the bar to order another. By this time in my MFA career the full scope of my self-loathing and scorn had been magnanimously revealed and I had worn out my welcome with the majority of the people in the program. Not that I gave a fuck: I was the Kwisatz Haderach!
“Tell me of your homeworld, Usul.”
- Chani, Dune
I first read Dune in Croatia. Or maybe not, I probably read it before that. I think I’ve read the original book 3 or 4 times. One of those times I read it in Croatia. A hostel had a book exchange and I dropped off (I don’t remember) and picked up the first couple Dune books. Nor do I remember what the Croatian town was, but I’m guessing it was Split. There was water. I can see the white-walled buildings. There was a market of tents nearby. I bought a Speedo, Brazilian cut. I burned the bejesus out of my thighs—in all my years they had nary seen the sun—lying up on rocks that jutted over the water, so blue, so unbelievably blue. I remember diving into the water, maybe 20 feet or more down. I remember the impact of the water hurt my head it was so far down. I remember lying in bed in agony from the sunburn; a party was going on next door. They were listening to Michael Jackson. Maybe that’s when I was reading Dune, but I don’t remember reading, I only remember Billie Jean. Maybe I read on the bus to Sarajevo or Dubrovnik, in Montenegro or the ferry back to Bari, Italy, maybe in Naples. It was somewhere along there.
Things I claim to remember are increasingly fuzzy – age, mischance and libation have combined to widen the fault lines in my memory – the story about getting shitfaced at the bar and making an ass of myself, reading the original Dune on holiday, reading the book for the second, third, fourth time. Deciding in the Alabama heat and the cloud of painkillers and PBR that I would read all of the Dune books again or for the first time – all those written by Frank Herbert at least. These stories are all just guesses cast backwards into some neurological filing cabinet of my mind. They are called the past and are supposed to be factual. But for all their reality they might as well be the future or even a dream: they are simply my interpretation of something that stopped existing the moment it happened.
I cannot say with any certainty what relation yesterday has on today, much less five, four, or two years ago. Yesterday I woke up, exercised, meditated, wrote and went to work. After work I went to a coworkers house and watched a silly but cute movie and ate pizza and talked girl talk (for some reason my younger female coworkers have taken to including me in their girl talk – I wonder about this – do they think I’m gay? Possibly. Do they find me nonthreatening and asexual? Bummer.) That is what I did yesterday. What relation do those actions have to the present moment? I spent money on pizza; if I don’t go to work I get fired, okay. I can now talk with some authority about Whip It! possibly the most cliché-ridden film I have ever seen, but I think it was supposed to be like a tongue-in-cheek cliché, but I didn’t find it subverted my expectations at all, so is that really tongue-in-cheek? While these experiences have been incorporated into my consciousness – my past time – they now only exist in my present. I will only ever write about Whip It! now. You will only ever read what I wrote about Whip It! now. We will only ever have this dialogue, or remember having this dialogue, now.
“Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife—chopping off what's incomplete and saying: "Now, it's complete because it's ended here."
- Princess Irulan, Collected Sayings of Maud'Dib, Dune
The sad and stupid story of my destroyed ankle is this: one of my oldest friends fucked my somewhat recently (at the time) ex-girlfriend and I found out about it. It wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but it was the circumstance that bothered me – they didn’t even know each other when we were dating. Some bullshit social media connection got it started – I lament the interwebs, though they’ve gotten me laid in unsavory circumstances too. I was pissed, and being pissed, I did what I often do when pissed, get pissed. I went to the bar and had a beer then another and shots and beer and shots and by last call I was trashed, tore-up from floor up. Thankfully I hadn’t driven to the bar (knowing how fucked-up I planned to be), so I began the walk home. There are some discrepancies in my memory as to the exact course of events, but next I remember I was lying on the ground in tremendous pain. I tried to stand, but kept collapsing back to the ground, unable to put any weight on my left foot. After a minute or two of rest I got back up and tried to hop, but no, I had about a half mile to go and no sense of balance. I fell back down. Eventually I decided a break was needed and I crawled back into the side alley of the house I collapsed in front of and fell asleep. After a couple hours shut-eye I woke up and revaluated my situation: I was lying on the ground in the side alley of a frat house with a grievously ugly and painful ankle. After some careful consideration I called Jimmy Johns. Not the actual Jimmy Johns sandwich shop, mind you, but a girl who worked at the sandwich shop. It was my clever nickname for her. Used to my late night phone calls begging for a tuna sub and a blow job, she picked me up and said she was going to take me to the hospital. I refused as our school insurance was terrible and going to the emergency room would have soaked me. I said take me home. No sex or sandwich. I went to sleep. I woke up. My ankle was hugely swollen and probably far worse for having slept on it (twice). In the hungover, puke-tinged light of the morning I called a friend with whom I did not and do not exchange sex or sandwiches. He took me to the University Health Center. Surgery, Cast, Surgery, blah blah blah. Dune. Summer in Alabama. Oxycontin. PBR.
I’ve thought about writing about this summer before, but I figured I might have to read the Dune books again to do any essay justice and there is no fucking way that is going to happen. Why? Time. Yes, the first book is wonderful, Dune Messiah and Children of Dune are decent, but there are better things to do with my life than subject myself to God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and Chapterhouse Dune ever again – the shit pulled out of Frank as his health was deteriorating and his son picked up the reigns, and pen, of Daddy’s triumph. The many many hours it would take me to do so could be spent on far better things, like, for example, watching the entire Wire series again. Watching the entire Shield series again. Watching every episode of Star Trek The Next Generation and the Original Series and Deep Space Nine, probably for like the 6th time each. I could write the sequel to Anna Karenina, though I guess there would have to be zombies – I just googled this and it has been done, but with a cyborg? Same guy? I care not enough to check.
Then again, how much time can a person actually spend writing? Of the 168 hours in a week, I account for about 35 hours for my day job work week, 6 hours of various transportation, 50 hours of sleep, 15 hours of exercise/self-care (bathing etc), 15 hours of eating, probably 15 hours of dicking around online (and emails, etc), 10-15 hours of socializing, which leaves me with about 20 hours a week to write. Given that my weekends are pretty much chockablock with teaching, I then have 4 hours each weekday to write. Which is really not so bad, were I able to actually write uninterrupted for four hours five days a week. I also forgot reading and movies in my schedule. Reading is kind of a necessity for a writer, so stick that in somewhere too. Movies I can pretty much take or leave, but throw one in every few weeks. Also travel, like vacations, going to the beach, going to the art museum, the grocery store to buy cereal.
“I'll miss the sea, but a person needs new experiences. They jar something deep inside, allowing him to grow. Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.”
- Duke Ledo Atriedes, Dune
An additional new drain on my time is meditation. It was my New Year’s resolution—that I’ve actually kept! Talk about a mind fuck time killer though. I’m now going to sit here for 40 minutes and do nothing! Absolutely nothing! And I am going to be super conscious and aware of the nothing I am doing. Well, I guess I’ll breathe. I’ll be really aware of my breath. That’s what I’ll do. So I’m not doing nothing, I’m sitting here cross-legged and breathing for 40 minutes. And if I think about that email I have to write or that story idea or how nice it would be to have a cracker, nope, 39 minutes to go. Not moving. Just breathing. But the funny thing is, the more I make time to meditate the more time I seem to have for other things. It’s like all the useless shit just starts to drop away. For example, I used to watch Jersey Shore. I don’t anymore. I used to play this really stupid video game online. Nope. Has the time I have gained been used to write? Not so much.
It does somehow seem like the process is smoother now though. I don’t know, I can’t really quantify it, but it seems like the time spent writing is time better spent. That could be total hocus-pocus bullshit.
Detachment probably has something to do with it as well. To a large degree meditation is the practice of detachment. The theory is that by not valuing the incessant flow of thoughts and sensations anymore than what they are—nothing of any real substance—one is able to better separate from the events in one’s life, seeing them as ephemeral, transitory, and really not a very big fucking deal, rather than from one’s own egoistic sense of what one thinks they are or should be. I also learned detachment from my writing by writing business copy on deadline for 6 years. Try to stay attached to that shit. Try to fight for a word or a phrase (I did at the beginning). Not worth it, just send it to the editor and let them do what they do. The check’s in the mail.
On the floor outside my bathroom a hundred ants are desiccating a gecko’s carcass. What time is it buddy?
“To attempt an understanding of Maud'Dib without understanding his mortal enemies, the Harkonnens, is to attempt seeing Truth without knowing Falsehood. It is the attempt to see the Light without knowing Darkness. It cannot be.”
- Princess Irulan, Manual of Maud'Dib, Dune
Apparently the reason Red Lemonade asked me to write about “time” was that I occasionally do a hashtag on my tweet machine called #14st0ry. Meaning I tell a story in 140 characters, such as: #14st0ry Sigmund started at the sound; it was a thunderous ovation of owls, wings flapping and feathers molting and lilting tremulous coos.
I also have one called #HCMinute which is basically the same idea but it’s usually a scene from Ho Chi Minh City, where I now live. An example from Christmas: #HCMinute Santa riding bitch on a motorbike, cotton ball beard flapping in the wind. Anywho, you get the drift. I will leave it to your discretion if these are actually stories.
So apparently, by virtue of the fact that I have “embraced“ the use of social media as a means of story-telling, I am somehow grappling with the fact that, in this modern day and age of tweet machines and face machines and internets toobs, we all have less time to read Dickens. But Dickens was serialized originally, right? – basically the Wire of the day? – so maybe that’s a bad example. I don’t know.
Yes, I suppose it’s true that my work has gotten shorter, meaning it takes less time to read. I don’t just mean on Twitter, but other work out there in the world. Looking at the markets, I don’t know how this wouldn’t be the case. In other words, I don’t think the shortening, the awareness of time, is some artistic or culturally-motivated decision on my part, I am just writing what is available to me – with the acknowledgement that I write to be read. Everybody wants under a thousand words. And I understand it, I mean, reading on this screen kinda sucks. [On another note, I am not opposed to the ebook machines for the lengthy reading – speaking of another total time hole, I read all the Game of Thrones books in about 6 weeks on a Kindle. I am not bragging about my speed here, I am simply saying I read them with great dispatch as I so wanted to be done with them so I could never ever engage with them again. This is very similar to my feelings on the later Dune books. It was just before I moved to Vietnam and I was staying in a cabin in rural Virginia with very sporadic internet and no TV and I read a ton – imagine that! – not only shit, but some nice books as well. Actually come to think it was mostly pulpy stuff: several James Bond novels. Some Ursula K. Leguin and Martin Amis sci-fi. A book about an existential werewolf by Glen Duncan.]
This essay is coming in at 3200 right now. Say I finish at 3500 or so, I’ll probably pull it back to around 3000, which isn’t long, but isn’t really short either. My comfort zone for work nowadays is either about 750 or 3000, both internet ready and a long way from 10000 or 100000. So yeah, I guess I’ve been shaped by the market.
Back to Alabama and broken me, back in time. Back to my memory of that time: a handful of Oxycontin and a sixer of tall boys. Bob Dylan’s soundtrack to Pat Garret and Billy the Kid playing on repeat. Stumbling upon a Bonnie and Clyde photoset on the internets of my ex-girlfriend and ex-friend driving around Florida in a rental convertible. Scratching my foot with a wire coat hanger. Staring at the wall, staring at the ceiling, sweating, dripping. Listening to the CD again. Taking another few pills. Cracking another beer. This is time. This is time stopped. There is no such thing. Oxycontin is the spice mélange and I am Muah’Dib, the Kwisatz Haderach.
“I die daily.”
- 1 Corinthians 15.31
Speaking of twits, I saw one the other day that Toni Morrison didn’t publish her first novel until 39. The writer of the twit, a writer and editor, took solace from that fact.
I likewise used to worry about the fact that I was getting old and all these precocious young novelists were getting book deals. Then I thought of a guy like Sebald and felt a little better. Then I remembered he died shortly thereafter. Time ceased to be much of a concern – in fact, time ceased altogether – but he had enough for Austeritz I guess…
I haven’t read much fiction lately, aside from a couple Coetzee novels, who I am working on an essay about (since writing this sentence my computer died for a week – it is repaired – and I read three novels including a lengthy Russian classic, so, well, yeah, given the choice between TMZ and Dostoevsky…). I’ve mostly been reading Thich Nhat Hanh and other meditation manuals, listening to Dharma talks on the interwebs and browsing vegetarian cookbooks. Yes, I grant that I am now officially old and lame and even sort of enjoy New Age music – I grant that I have been broken by time and this is my feeble attempt at a repair job.
My relationship with time hovers between depression and transcendence. I am either past time, anxiously planning how to maximize it, or am too melancholy to give a fuck either way. My writing career has never really happened, my relationships have all fallen apart (a different ex is banging a different dude), my country is overrun by madmen and women, I live ten thousand miles away from everyone I’ve ever loved, and none of it matters. It is all “time.” My relationship with these “facts” is all grasping and desire. How any of those problems manifest in my life, right now, I cannot say, because they don’t outside my thinking about them. The fact is I’m writing right now, I don’t want the girl back (right now), my country will go the way my country goes and I like living in Southeast Asia for the time being. I have nowhere, and no-when, else to be. And shit, they’re still like 10 more Dune books to read.
Erik Wennermark writes prose in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Follow his
Check out : http://erikwennermark.
For May, Red Lemonade community writers explored the theme of time in relation to works of fiction and their personal experience.
Check out : http://erikwennermark.
For May, Red Lemonade community writers explored the theme of time in relation to works of fiction and their personal experience.