Red Reader # 1 : My Little Gnomon

User login


When not in rehearsal, some of my fellow actors in the Joan of Arc play made a go at 'willing pennies'. The kind of thing you do as a young tyke at theatre camp. I had brought my parent’s copy of  Richard Bach Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I grabbed it for no particularly reason while packing up. We got pretty good at cloud busting. It was time to move on ‘willing pennies.’  Making pennies appear was the next step in our mental evolution. We were going to become faster-than-light seagulls. One needs to constantly keep the mind of the actor active or at least nominally entertained. Simply paying attention to the ground beneath one’s feet reveals a cornucopia of copper coinage. The higher trick was to will a penny with a certain date and that was pretty damn hard.


The penny would come into existence/ arrive to you (who knows?) and the date would be two to three years off. The insanity of the almost there catalyzed the cognitive dissonance of the absurd notion of coin creation. It was maddening and bound us together in a very odd way. It would be lessened if, you know, it was just a totally random penny that appeared - like 9 years after the date or even 5 years before. Oh no, when willing a 1973 one was met with the phase-in of a ‘75 or a ‘71!  Just enough to keep ya guessin or start a long slide down that slope which fills a substantial portion of the internet today. It showed we were getting close! We were on to something. That's the kind of heightened core temperature thinking that one encounters within a Suburban, Texas summer. We wrote down the date of the next Penny Request next to the notes from the Director in the margins of our script. We each read the book and talked about that superfast seagull. A day before opening night we pulled/created/found by sheer dumb luck/manifested from the ether, changed our memories enough, to find a ’74.  Ah youth, I am more older wiser and/or jaded now...


The Bach book was my first encounter with such an idea. Years later, Robert Anton Wilson would fill my mind and world with 23’s. Burroughs grokked it, that moveable line between text and reality that books often move across. The sliderliness of the informational matrix between element and thought. Copper atoms and texts about coppers. WSB kept a travel notebook which recorded the daily account of his trip, the memories activated by his encounters and third, his reading column has quotations from the books he took with him. Dig this:


I'm reading The Wonderful Country and the hero is just crossing the frontier into Mexico. Well, just at this point I come to the Spanish frontier so I note that down in the margin. Or I'm on a boat or a train, and I'm reading The Quiet American. I look around and see if there's a quiet American aboard. Sure enough, there's a quiet sort of American with a crew-cut drinking a bottle of beer. It's extraordinary, if you really keep your eyes open. I was reading Raymond Chandler, and one of his characters was an albino gunman. My God, if there wasn't an albino in the room. He wasn't a gunman.


Recently I have been reading and helping with social media for Matthew Battles' book The Sovereignties of Invention. I really liked story about the black cube at the academic conference entitled The Gnomon. I had this idea about creating a bric-a-brac object, a shelf artifact that would provide a replacement for the wood pulp physicality of books on a shelf. I kept thinking of creating a small black cube out of resin. Even went over to the local art supply store to price materials. I wanted a corporeal object that would serve to invoke that frisson of narrative aura from the story. I want to encapsulate that feeling and memory, harden them out  and place it on the shelf. I could take them down once in a while and pass and re-experience the tale or just stare at them to travel back to that emotion. You used to get that feeling with your bookshelf too, just by looking at it and running your hands over the spines. It's a passing/forgotten art. So in betwixt all of those selections: resin, memory, evocations, I imagined a small black cube, with translucent swirls. It was the cube from the story, minaturized. I decided I would create one using resin and supplies from the local Michael's. I started thinking about creating a black cube and was running that idea around in my head for a few weeks.


I was even thinking of using it as part of a pretend advertisement: there would be picture of the cube with some text of its mystical powers: Super Happy Fun Gnomon : a mystical toy for all age groups.( Make sure to read the warning label) Ancillary social media book marketing material for the surrounding culture of the tales, expressing its themes and ideas.  I was doing my morning walk before work, to clear the mind and senses, when the manifestation occurred.  There is a fence near the highway, next to a parking lot. I search the fence line because I have found like 8 dollars there. People drop them when getting out of the car and they get stuck on the fence. Bonus! Oh-- something was stuck there by the fence this morning. A black cube. I kid you not. I sucked in a breath. It was lying up against the fence tilted contingently. Deep black, with white sparkles on it- or just some leaves and dusty dirt? For a moment I honestly thought it was made of hard obsidian dropped from the very skies or perhaps rolled in by the tides. I literally stood there for a few minutes and just stared at it. I went over to investigate.  It was, in all reality, a simple pillow cushion for some modular sofa furniture. It's about a foot on each side, a perfect cube shape with a small zipper. I was reminded of my long ago adventures with pennies and time.


Photographic recreation of the original sighting.


 If you were going to create a 'plush toy' and sell it like “As seen in Matthew Battle's Sovereignties of Invention ! - this would be it. Ok- ok for whatever reason someone had this object in their car, truck or van, and like the dollar bills I have scrambled across, the wind blew it over the parking lot, down the hill and up against the fence. Right?  I read too much weird literature and things get away from me sometimes. Did I will the cube to me? How long had it been there, tilted against chain metal fences awaiting me? What is to be done with the gnomon cube by the fence?

It certainly made me wonder about the weirdness of text and life in the margins, a return of the fuzzy, shaky, stringy line between the biochemical electricity of my sizzling mind and corporeal manifestations of very ideas within the world. Sure, it is just a foam-filled black cube with a zipper, something that goes with modular furniture and not a small-resin based cube. It’s a ‘72 Lincoln, just a random penny found underfoot. Then again, all those thoughts about black cubes… This is not an exact science and when things travel on geomantic lines while phase shifting one cannot be picky. Let’s agree: the wind blew some pick-up apartment to apartment Saturday morning moving furniture from the freeway and up and over the fence. That's the story I am sticking with. Cause things don't just plop out from between worlds. Uncanny tales that you really enjoy and inspire you don’t result in the manifestation of actual objects from within the story itself. Let's not discuss albino gunmen. That would leave open a wide margin of error, allow for too many alternatives, too many possible iterations within space-time. It would require a new algebra. We would have to count all the number of the beast and be very careful and wise with our selection of stories, text. There is an uncanny nature to the world that only fiction can tap into, that helps us understand the nether between dreams and waking.  Maybe we need more, (or I need more) Dark Cubes of the heart and soul to inspire sacred pilgrimages. It seems we never stop busting clouds or willing pennies to understand the weird text of our lives

But it does not stop there. The black cube assumed the role of ottoman within the living room. It soon became the de facto resting place for all the remotes and devices. It also is the perfect height to rest your feet while enjoying hours of TruTv. I have a tendency to Take Things Far Too Seriously. My reading of The Gnomon with its ominous pacing, personal media incursions, forced emotional solidarity and swirling religious dervish finale leaned more toward Sir Richard Francis Burton and eschatology. I got really freaked out when I read the first publication of the story on The tweets and music and time consumption of the dark cube among the palms has a more loose and discreet meaning apparently. My 'found' cube appears to have been drawn out by my own personal musings of the story, and yet somehow achieved the primary purpose for which it was conceived.






- Brian McFarland


You can read the story right here on Red Lemonade.

The original publication of the story can be found here :


The Red Reader series will publish reader-writer responses to works of fiction. This inaugaral run will include works from Red Lemonade community members inspired by Matthew Battles' The Sovereignties of Invention. Other books will be selected in the future, if you are interested in writing a response to a work of fiction in the future please contact brian AT