Humanity’s Eyes, Part 4

Continued from here. This will be the final part–I will post a unified version (like I did for the LaSein Account) soon.

I lived in the wet

For a long time

This odd striving place

Where things kept growing

I learned the humans were burning down the last bits of the forest

Hacking off the trunks and limbs of the trees

Killing the furry people who hid behind them

They were very harsh these humans

It was no matter to me

I did not depend upon the trees

I buried myself in the sand and the dirt

The drying of the forest felt good on my thick and chitinous skin

I could smell the humans, the fuzzy creatures, or my marked

From far away. I remained out of sight

Anytime I wanted I could kill a human or two

When they were particularly lingering or loud

The humans cut down the entire the forest some years in

All of the creatures that lived in the trees were dead

My marked humans began to leave

Walking up the mountain, where their scent eventually disappeared

They left me

In this moist and dirty place

And I started to reflect

Upon my life

The old man

And the little girl with the emerald eye

Maybe I had wanted too much from her

From all of them

Though, I don’t know if I had ever wanted anything 

Survival maybe

Gifts maybe

To be seen, to be near

I saw in myself for the first time a sort of softness

Beneath my now granite-like hide

I understood I really did like loving them

My former little group of marked humans

The girl

And love was what it was.

I started to take care of little creatures I found

Letting them live in my hide

Providing them little goodies, food bits, bugs I found

I enjoyed these little creatures scurrying all over my body

Then the mountain came crumpling inward

Like a strange earthquake

A horrifying sight

Dust billowing everywhere

Moaning and twisting of rock

The tops of the peaks came below the clouds

And beneath the clouds they shined like gold

I smelled smells I had never smelled before, along with metal and fresh growing plants.

There was much blood then

Those next days

I smelled much blood

And the tang, the sour taste of magic being cast

Me and my little creatures waited

Burrowing in the sands

Eating, avoiding

Living as we did.

Then I smelled my marked

The ones that had left me so long ago

Sand Lips. But not Sand Lips. A child maybe that had grown

And the unknown scent of something.  Several things, living, but mysterious.

The humans now crowded the top of the mountain

And my marked were walking down

down into the desert

Deep into the heat, the land of no water, 

the land of the dry, the beautifully dry

I walked towards them

These marked and the mysterious others

Me and my creatures were going back to the land of the hot

My true home

And I gave these new creatures little gifts

Just as the girl had done for me

I watched over them.

Not a part of them, but near them

A demon

A crag

A landmass

Sharing its home

Humanity’s Eyes, Part 3

Continued from here.

As the sun grew hotter the days grew longer

The earth became drier

Fewer and fewer plants grew up in the damned wastes that were my home

My odd little collection 

Of marked up little humans

Was suffering

Their people, the older ones, but not too old

Would go further and further into the wastes

Hoping to find and bring back a large cactus

Or find a small pool of water

Or a beast whose blood they could drink

Some of them got hurt when one of those beasts found them instead

The next days I noticed they were packing

Gathering together their little makeshift homes of canvas and bone

Loading them on sleds

They were leaving me

This land of sand and sun

Leaving this waterless pit

As they left, they left behind a final bowl for me

A final farewell of types I supposed

My shovel-like fingers took up the offering and it crunched in my teeth

I felt alone

For the first time in a long time

I wished for their odd presence near me

I missed the giggling screams of their children

Missed the strange noises they made at night

Missed their footprints in the sand

So I followed them

Their stench was lingering long in the desert

Clear tracks.

I didn’t wish them to notice me following them

I don’t know why I cared

But I wished to remain a secret

My long legs and massive arms easily moved through the desert 

I followed them many nights

Just past the point of sight, a day away, no more no less.

The ground became thicker

Moister

Dirt

The bugs were different and disgustingly plentiful

Every little nook and cranny of earth seemed to have a bug inside

It seemed grotesque

My little pack of marked humans came 

To a partially burned forest

With a mountain in the middle that stretched into a thick layer of clouds

And a massive human settlement

that stank like a decaying corpse

Full of humans

Normal humans

The kind covered in crunchy metal and hateful looks

I stayed away from this human settlement

And found the first pool of water I had ever seen since I was a child

A small puddle and I saw my face

Spikes were ripping out of my carapace in hellish angles

My deep seated eyes were even darker yellow than I recalled

My snout was sharply pointed and looked almost like a beak

I was so caught by the look on my face

The look of my face

The look of me

I did not notice the human until they screamed

I turned towards them

They were a quarter my height

An eighth my width

Built like a tree where I was a mountain

They threw a spear at me

Like I was a dog to be killed

They pulled out a small sword and screamed in rage

Their spear hit my outer carapace

Jammed inside

Stuck like a twig

They ran at me with their sword

I lifted my thick shovel like hands

Their sword bit into my wide and hardened fingers

Their sword got stuck in me

They looked down in shock

Up in fear

My hands crumpled around them

Squishing this human’s meat

Pressing their limbs into their body

Picking them up 

I held them in the air, immobile, helpless

Thinking of squishing the blood from their meat

But I instead I held them in front of my flat yellow eyes

They asked me what I was

I said I was the crag

They spoke strange

Bouncy and fluid

But a sound I oddly did not fully hate anymore

They asked me if I would kill them

I looked at their pulpy limbs

Soft squishy face, tears at the brim of their eyes

I said no

If

I looked at the human 

Told him the name Sand Lips

Confusion covered their face

But also recognition

I told them to ensure Sand Lips was safe

Along with the little ones Sand Lips kept

I told them to ensure these marked were safe

Or I would smell their scent 

And I would kill them as prey in the night.

I breathed deep into this human, learned his smell

I stared into their eyes and asked if they accepted the terms of my agreement

He said yes. The fear in his eyes was fresh, moist, and sweet.

I dropped him 

He ran.  

I smiled. 

I had no more hate for humans.  

They were small and afraid.

As they should be.

Part 4 here.

Humanity’s Eyes, Part 2

Continued from here. As before, by Leland.

The next many years were long and harsh

They were also lonely, but I had no idea what that meant at the time

In the beginning I was like a piece of sand.

I blew from place to place

I felt nothing on my insides.

I ate

I drank

I killed

I moved

Life was a never ending cycle of survival

Though my body continued to morph and change

My chitinous ledges grew larger

My fingers grew thicker and harder

I could tear out huge piles of dusty earth

And suck out the soft crunchy creatures that burrowed beneath

I was a moving land mass.

Not a monster

A thing

An object

My hate roiled inside of me

But without eyes watching me

Reinforcing that hate

It began to bake into my bones

But the eyes

The eyes of my mother

Of the only girl to give me a gift

And the smell of that lock of her hair

Was still fresh every time I remembered

I would cringe in those times.

As the years wore on that pain stayed true.

I avoided the smell of humanity

That would drift in with the dusty blasts of air sometimes

I preferred my thick and rigid solitude

As I roamed one day I smelled blood 

Fresh blood

Active blood

Human blood.

I sat on my haunches. Staring into the far setting sun.

I decided to pay back the one act of kindness I had received

And walked towards the blood.

The sun had almost set by the time I descended upon the moving human

One of the grit, the marked, the human rejects I had been raised with, was sliding in the sand.

Legs inert and twitching behind them

Blood staining the sand as they moved.

They had a fierce and hard look in their eyes, dust embedded in their teeth.

They first felt my shadow land upon them

They looked at me

A moving mountain

With my fetid yellow eyes

They showed fear on their face.  Or maybe acceptance.  Maybe denial

Something firm and unrelenting.

I spoke the language of the desert to them.

The words sounded odd and strange in my mouth

They were shocked I could speak

And relieved. 

They said their name was Sand Lips

And they needed to send a message

That the Mukori were coming

To kill the Kamai

Their exhaustion took them

And they fell into the sand.

I looked at the grit. The marked and scarred human. Helpless.  Desperate. Clinging to life over some words they claimed needed to be heard

Heard by someone human.

I stared at this breathing corpse for a while

Thinking of this message

The Mukori, the Kamai, Sand Lips

Names felt strange in the desert

I was a demon, a mountain, a pair of yellow eyes

Sand Lips.

Sand Lips.

I hated names.

I hated these monikers of humanity

I hated them in my ears

In my throat 

Along my tongue

I pounded the desert

Threw a massive boulder, 

Flung a mountain of sand

Trying to throw it out of me

But it was stuck. 

These names 

These filthy human names.

The desert could not take them from me.

For the desert was no home for humans.

Only those filthy human camps could take these names

I screamed

A sound so loud the sky quaked

And the moon cried

I lifted the filthy human over my back

Limp and helpless

A sack of barely breathing meat and pus

I moved my body weight forward

Let my legs press against the earth under me

I loped

Towards the humans

The sickening smell of the humans

I saw their little fires in the distance

The ground under me flew

The cool wind whipped into my eyes

The earth stretched and narrowed and the fires grew larger

I came to the fires, the humans all around, all marked, all cut, all children of the grit.

I crashed into their makeshift home

This little gathering of scarred humans

Humans that were so small

Looking up in terror

Shear terror

I was still a demon 

And they had no idea what I was here to collect

I put down the limp sack of meat from my shoulder

And I spoke those pus-riddled human words

The Mukori, the Kamai, Sand Lips

Told them they would die.

An old human came out

Thanked me

Whatever that meant

Said they knew not who I was

Said they had not seen one of my kind for a long time

My kind

My… kind

Tears began to leak from me

The elder lifted a bowl up to me

Some sticky nectar of the cactus fruit

I ate the bowl.

This was the second human to ever give me a gift

I left

Went back to the dark

To the desert

The sand and the rocks

The moon and the sun

The bugs and the earth

But I continued to smell these humans

And I did not go far.

More humans came

Clanking humans

Loud humans

Humans laden with the pungent, sour smell of relics

I killed these humans, before they could see me, before their eyes could look at me in disgust

Like a pack of bugs they crunched in my teeth

I Split them in half

Popped them like flies

I left them dead there.

They were too loud.

Entitled, angry, and hellishly human. 

Their trinkets smelled sweet

And I ate them 

They powdered in my teeth

Leaving my mouth sour and salivating for days

I decided this part of the desert was mine

And these cut and marked humans

The ones with the sand lips

Could stay in my piece of the desert

And stay they did

Leaving little bowls of cactus nectar out for me

I felt a touch soft towards them

Like a favored rock or time of the day

I would not choose their death

And they grew older and smaller

And I grew larger and larger

Part 3 here.

Literary Kindness

A brief, shoddy manual and some useful reminders.

In 1948, Vladimir Nabokov accepted a position at Cornell University, teaching Russian and European literature.  That same year, he wrote this piece, ostensibly material for his students (though I can find no confirmation of that inference).  Go ahead and read it if you haven’t–this will essentially be a review.

My own experience with this essay goes back to high school.  I read it then for class, found it completely insufferable, moved on with my life, etc., but now I’m returning to the ideas and finding them mostly correct and very relevant to the “reading” I am doing now with Dark Souls and Sekiro.  This is, of course, not psychically painless. Nabokov’s tone is still aneurysmally condescending, and his organizational structures are bizarre, but he’s also One of the Most Important Writers of the 20th Century, so his thoughts are worth a looksee.  Take from the piece what you will, it may not be the same list as mine, but in case it’s at all helpful to you, my thoughts are these:

  • The authors of the classics are smarter than you.

Okay, this isn’t actually one of Nabokov’s points, but it’s a healthy attitude to have and all but prerequisite for digesting the rest of his exegesis.  A more plain way of putting it would be to say that in reading a work, you should assume that there is something there of depth. Ironically, Nabokov himself distinguishes between writers of genius and minor authors, but to assume you can tell the difference is astonishingly arrogant.  Perhaps Nabokov earned his arrogance. You didn’t–be kind to those you read.

  • Read, then evaluate.

This is especially important for works that you’ve heard about.  Everyone knows Beloved is a scathing indictment of the evils of slavery (and it totally is), but to condense it to that, to go in with those expectations sells short the loving detail (sic) with which its characters are rendered and everything else it might say about what it is to be human.  

By the same token, don’t judge a book’s contents by the one who recommended it to you regardless of whether your opinion of (e.g.) Karen is positive or negative.  Sure, take a recommendation as an excuse to eat some tasty, tasty typesetting, but don’t let your knowledge of the recommender’s mind preempt your own capacity to interpret art for yourself.

  • Fiction is generally not historically accurate.

Uh, yes.  I’m a little confused as to why Nabokov finds this observation uniquely important, but it is correct, and it has some useful implications regarding the role of art.  I’ve alluded to it before, but politics and art have an annoying way of getting tangled up in each other.  This isn’t all bad–politics shapes life, life shapes art, why shouldn’t art sometimes be political?  Things start turning sideways, though, when one uses political art from the past to synthesize political arguments today; worse: when one uses historical fiction depicting politics that might never have existed to draw conclusions about the present.  If the distinction is confusing, let me put it this way: Harry Potter has nothing actionable to say about politics in the 1930s, the 1990s, or the 2010s (I have seen arguments for all three on this lovely internet).  I will not accept disagreement on this point.

  • Attune your reading to the work and not yourself.

Nabokov is much more vehement on this “lowly kind” of imagination, which is a little funny to me.  I wouldn’t begrudge someone emotional involvement in their reading material, and I suspect he wouldn’t either, not truly.  Rather, I’d guess his war, as with many of these points, is against preconception.  If you identify with a character in a story, if you empathize with them, that creates expectations that the author didn’t put there, and expectations cause misinterpretations and distractions.

An example from my own work: If you identify with Les Marquains in this story (and you are not a dangerous sadist), you run the risk of taking the narrative at face value and assuming that his character arc has a distinct turning point.  No doubt being raped traumatized him, but he was also abused physically and psychologically his entire life.  A very salient question is whether, if his grandfather never learned about his homosexuality, he wouldn’t have gone full despot-de-Sade anyway.  Was he on the cusp of acceptance by the common people, a hopeful vector away from his grandfather’s authoritarian rule, or was he just playacting at peasantry?  Answer that how you like, but kindness means recognizing that there is a question.

***

The rest of the essay has some ballin’ quotes (“To call a story a true story is an insult to both art and truth,” fuck yeah), and deals largely with the craftsman on the other side of the printing press.  It’s a beautiful, if not incredibly useful, description of an author’s own responsibility to his work, but that’s appropriate. Art is a remarkably difficult thing to describe, its manufacture more difficult still, and in writing his essay, I hope you realize he was making art himself.  And I hope we can agree that art has minimal mandate toward utility.