Möbius Rex: Hot Springs
/ˌmōbēəs ˈstrip/(Mathematics: a surface with one continuous side formed by joining the ends of a rectangular strip after twisting one end through 180°.) \ˈreks\(Latin: meaning "King")
Hot Springs, Arkansas (July, 2010): a memory from the Ouachita Mountain area, Hot Springs National Park, peninsula on the edge of lake, swaths of muddy islands tangled with brush and overgrowth—high humidity, high winds at night, partly cloudy, full-moon.
"The Mobius strip is only an analog for the reality of what it is."
"I am seeking for the bridge which leans from the visible to the invisible through reality."
"Thou lov'st to speak in riddles and dark words."
-Sophocles, Oedipus Rex
Etymology and Behavior
Centruroides sculpturatus (Phylum: Arthropoda, Class: Arachnida)—Most venomous of its species group (Centruroides) in North America. Most commonly sighted of its species in North America, particularly in the southwestern United States in the state of Arizona. Particularly deadly to infants, the elderly, and those in poor health or with compromised/deficient immune systems—symptoms include dizziness, numbness, blurred vision, and twitching muscles, lasting between 24 and 72 hours. Closely related to Centruroides exilicauda native to Baja, California. Adapted to develop layers of wax over exoskeleton to aid in water retention in hot, dry desert climes. Similarly to Crotalus atrox (Viperidae, Reptilia), is drawn out by heat-wave conditions. Most frequently seen at night, are reactive to UV light due to presence of substances in hyaline layer of exoskeleton involved in molting processes.
Tadarida brasiliensis (Phylum: Chordata, Class: Mammalia)—Medium-sized member of the order Chiprotera, and one of the most abundant mammals in North America—with a sizable South and Central American presence, hence it's Latin etymology (Brasiliensis: "from Brazil"). A member of a trio of closely related species within the Chordata phylum, which have common ancestors that date back 9.8 million years. Prone to roosting in large groups in caves, and adapted to undersides of bridges and insides of tunnels in urban environments—such as the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, TX and parts of the canal system in Phoenix, AZ. Generally a nocturnal forager, they are more active during daylight hours during the summer and especially so during heat-wave conditions. Highest altitude of any member of Chiprotera order (3300 m), thought to have one of the fastest horizontal diving speeds of any animal, and measured in flight at a ground speed of 99 mph.
It's eerie, the way infinity seems to curve and twist back on itself in a loop, visible as the passing events of life and history. It's almost mesmerizing to consider your past, your present, your future, and to see it sweep out in front of you like lapping waves or the rising and falling geographies of the Earth, moving in patterns. The waters of a lake or the sea, or mountain ranges and canyons, apparently one thing in themselves, visible, physical manifestations, but all moving in accordance to underlying energy patterns in nature. Seismic forces, gravitational forces, things we can't see that shape everything we do see. All this water and dirt and mud moving in tune with a grander arrangement, a kingdom of invisible architectures. And there we all are, fractal arrays of cause-and-effect dancing on a cascading of infinite scales; a sheer, white-noise of teeming disarray in perfect equilibrium with itself and in itself.
A dusty breeze moves over the city, and the mountains look like islands of darkness in a sea of light that stretches to the horizon in a blinding metropolitan grid. The breeze isn't particularly comforting, not tonight, because this is one of the first days that it's broken a hundred-and-ten in the summer heat-wave. And all it serves to do is hit the mountainside with waves of hot, dry air. I feel tired by this point, like my body is heavier than usual going up the mountain trail, and no matter how much water I drink, it seems to evaporate right out of my pores on contact. I can almost imagine clouds of steam in the shape of my body, falling away behind me, and dissipating in the heat with every sip, like a thousand vapor ghosts marking my progress. There's an Extreme Heat Advisory on, the heat-map of the southwestern United States is a blur of blotchy reds, oranges, and purples, with the southern tip of Nevada and most of Arizona in a zone of pure black, where they've run out of colors to classify temperatures.
And the one thing which Julio and I thought would be a benefit, the sun setting, having come later than usual, created only a superficial difference. As it's last rays crept beneath the horizon, I still felt like I was breathing pure dust and that each limb was an extra ten pounds. Even on a good day, a cool day with a nice breeze, the Squaw Peak trail usually takes the wind out of me at the very least. The trail winds back and forth up and around the mountain through rock and ruts and inclines, starting at the parking lot and pavilions at the base and going up to the circular metal marker impressed into the very top, at the official peak. We usually start down the road from there, at the parking area outside of the gates and walk.
We've been hiking together pretty regularly since we became roommates, which was about four months or so ago. It's become something of a bonding exercise between us, and there's this element of personal pilgrimage. We'll come out here to this little patch of desert, the island of dark embedded within the city light, from out of the thoughts and anxieties of our lives, and climb to the very top, minds clear from the movement and the exhaustion by the time we reach it. Our conversation usually follows within that pattern, we'll be chatty and talkative in the beginning, but gradually conversation will die down to the odd comment here and there as the hike gets going. And then by the time we reach the top we'll fall carelessly to crude surfaces in the rock, whatever offers ample seating, and just pass thoughts back and forth. Sometimes they'll be innocuous little observations, and other times they'll snowball from there into real fodder for meditation. Everything magnified and resonate in that state where the mind is shaken and cleared, rattled from movement and bewilderment into a kind of serenity—in Hindu thought, this state is sometimes referred to as Samadhi.
I fell behind at points, crumpling the plastic water bottle over my dry lips for whatever moisture might remain. And trudging slowly behind him, having to slow and meander behind him to try and recover. Julio meanwhile, no matter how tired he gets, maintains a consistent pace the entire way, he sort up just drifts up the path with a steady speed. It's almost impossible to tell whether or not he's tired until he stops and tells you about it. By the time we got close to the peak, we were both exhausted, Julio paused to wait for me a few times while I struggled up the last steep incline near the peak. And when we got there we diverged from the path slightly to climb the rock to the peak. It's not particularly treacherous, just some light rock climbing in a spot where there's convenient footholds and jutting rocks to grasp with your hands. And when we finally got to the peak, we almost literally fell down onto the rock, on a surface that was shaped almost like a crude bench. Me in one spot, my leg dangling loose over an uncomfortable rock and my arm twisted limply around another, Julio a foot or so away from me leaning against the peak itself.
We sat in complete silence for awhile, and just gazed out over the city, the silent wash of light breaking at the base of the mountain, like ocean tides, and rippling away to the faint glow on the lower edge of the night-sky. It was very bright that night, this was the latest we'd ever been out there, and the dark of the night concentrated the city glow. Inside of it is the pattern of lives, designed and inhabited for optimal efficiency, to fulfill the codes and programs set within the metric of urban society. There's an entire language that can be read into its structures and patterns, utility and function, need and want, belief and value. The city directly takes the shape of the whims and integrity of its life force, the people living inside of it. Something can be read into literally every aspect of the greater structure, like an organism with its own complex anatomy. And then there's us, sitting peacefully up here in the dark, huffing and puffing, the noise below a distant murmur mingled with wind, the light a uniform wash against dust, seeing it and not seeing it. This invisible kingdom of energy and information.
Eventually one of us started speaking, I couldn't tell you which of us or what was said. We just gradually eased into conversation from silence, one voice to another in the dark, melting into the passing breeze. The weird thing at times like those, when you're that relaxed, when there's so little external noise, sometimes you'll think something and the other person will say it a few seconds later. Or vice-versa. Thoughts pass fluidly from one person to another, without a whole lot of resistance. Simply a perspective in a sea of perspectives, infinitely grand and infinitesimally small. Cosmic weight dialed down to a speck of dirt.
Julio told me about the girl he was seeing at the time, how they were taking things slow and she had just gotten out of a serious relationship. She told him she liked him a lot, but also wanted to spend time with her family and ease into things. It would later turn out that he was one in a series of affairs she was having with a rotation of men, one at a time, one week after another. She was addicted to the build-up at the beginnings of relationships and then the inevitable breakdown as she got to crack a fresh heart. I told him about the girl I'd been texting at the time, who came into my work recently and reminded me that we needed to go get coffee together. The two of us had met a few weeks earlier on the dance floor at a downtown show at the Crescent Ballroom, and ended up dancing, making out, and carrying out intermittent conversation. She would later confess to me that she really didn't like guys, was confused by her attraction to me, and didn't really want to go out. I, less disappointed than thoroughly blown away, thanked her for her honesty and assured her that this was okay. Of course, neither of us knew these things at the time, we were still living out the individual details of these passing moments in time, caught in the undertow of our dreams and expectations.
Eventually we became aware of a soft squeaking in the night, and Julio pointed the bats out to me as they dove and curtailed through the night sky around the peak. They nested somewhere in the rock and came out at night, sometimes if you came early in the morning, around sunrise, you could still hear them and maybe even catch a glimpse of one. They soared against the dark like fliers that flit seamlessly from one world to the next, doing a dive then cartwheeling backwards, the eye suddenly losing sight of it in the dark, as if it had disappeared into thin air. The magic of illusion, bought into, imagined as real for a fleeting instant. Like being a child again, fabricating all sorts of imaginary explanations for things to fill the gaps, inhabiting a magic realist world of blanks and void spaces.
And then there was another break in conversation, and for whatever reason, after the bats had all disappeared into their invisible worlds and parallel dimensions, I shared this memory with Julio. One that's been with me, deep inside, sharp and strong as the day I experienced it, for the past 7 years. I told him about a camping trip I went on with Brandon and some of our high school friends, to a lake in Hot Springs, Arkansas in July of 2010. Our campsite was on a peninsula on the edge of the woods, looking out on a lake with clusters of muddy islands tangled with brush and overgrowth. We ended up renting a speed boat and riding it between the islands, to fish and swim, and later kayaks, rowing up and stopping on some of them and exploring in as much as we could, as the growth was nearly impassable. We spent three nights and four days there, engaged in nonstop activity.
The memory was from the first night. The fire that we'd made had gone out and I was still sitting there, in a camping chair by the still warm coals and smoking embers. I was wrapped in a towel from swimming, and I watched as everyone milled around on the edge of the peninsula where there were large rocks lined up on the end, right at the edge of the decline, where the muddy shore sloped into the water. It was partly cloudy with a full moon, the nebulous clouds glowing a blue-grey as they circulated and moved rapidly around the moon. And I watched as the winds swept through with a low, haunting rumble over the lake, swaying the tall trees hanging over our camp site and rippling the water, which reflected the light of the moon off into the distance like a white shining staircase into the sky. I remember distinctly seeing one of our friends, Kristine, silhouetted and standing on top of one of the rocks with her arms outstretched upwards as the wind passed through again in a deep, echoing bellow. She called up into the sky, thrilled and delighted, and I watched the wind pass over the face of the waters in all of its glowing intensity, its movement traced and highlighted by the reflection of the moonlight. Watching it all at work was like passing into another world, crossing this twisting and curving-back bridge into the unseen, where all of these strange and mysterious essences of our reality live and breathe. I was inside of a living dream. And if I never in my life enter and see it again, I can still die happy for having been there, if only once. It's from these depths that the oceans move, the mountains are formed, and the cities are built; the pattern and structure regurgitated from the undertow of deepest aspiration, onto the shore of physical reality.
In the dark, soon after I finished my anecdote, there was silence again. And something came crawling over my hand, my entire body was still from exhaustion, I didn't react until it was over my hand and I saw its shadow crawling towards Julio on the rock.
"Julio." I said, "Get up."
We both got up on our feet, and he took his phone out, shining the flashlight on the rock where I'd seen the shape crawl off to. A small, brown scorpion, which I would later identify as an Arizona Bark Scorpion, one of the most venomous scorpions in North America, was crawling across the face of the rock.
One of us said something to the effect of, "Holy shit."
And then we turned the flashlight down to see the entire ground crawling beneath us with different insects and arachnids and various creatures, who'd gone unseen in the dark. It was after this that we promptly made our way down the mountain, laughing nervously and easing back into the skins of our day-to-day selves, who lived down in the light of the city, rather than apart from and above it—bleeding back into the constant hum of street noise and routine human anxiety.
A few days later we told Brandon about it of course, as the three of us were gathered in the living room. I was standing casually near the kitchen counter talking to the two of them when something caught my eye on the counter, there was a quarter laying tails-up. I picked it up and inspected it, it was one of the ones commemorating a specific state.
It was marked with Hot Springs, Arkansas, the year was 2010.
Shamanic Cycles and Folklore
Scorpion (Archetype: Death, Rebirth, Symbolism: Change, Transformation, Ego-Death) Typical of totems representative of death, the scorpion is often misinterpreted as a negative symbol. Though death is only one half of a dual-sided equation, as naturally every instance of death is married intimately to birth—neither state being permanent, but merely transitory. Seen as a healer in certain African folk-beliefs for the psychoactive and visionary properties of it's venom, the scorpion is generally regarded as a harbinger of imminent change from poisonous situations or harmful personal illusions. Such as when its sting killed Orion, of Greek Myth, for his excessive pride and egotism. Associated with the Egyptian Goddess Serket, originally conceived of as the deification of the scorpion itself, she was goddess of, among other things, healing, fertility, magic, and the removal of poisons from the body from bites or stings.
Bat (Archetype: Darkness, the Unconscious Mind, Symbolism: Guide through Night, Doorway to New Beginnings) Also known as "Guardian of the Night", the shamanic understanding of the bat is that of a creature which glides gracefully through the dark, dodging all obstacles—rather than a blind animal of terror or confusion, it can actually "see" in the dark through echolocation. It's mastery over the night has been a common thread in its archetype, from Native American folktales to modern day representations of Batman. It is also seen, in addition to the scorpion, as a creature of death and rebirth, in that it returns to its caves deep in the earth by day and reemerges every night, rested and renewed. Like Persephone, the reluctant Queen of the Underworld and wife of Hades, who is swallowed into hell every fall and returns every spring. Or even Christ, Dionysus, Osiris, or Ishtar, descending into the pit in death and reemerging in resurrection. The bat is seen as a guide, from one door to the next, through the darkness of life and out into the light on the other side.
Julio, Brandon, and I all ended up leaving to go out of town during the same week. Julio was filming promotional material at a camp that a friend of his owned and operated in upstate New York, Brandon and myself had gone back to Texas, where we grew up to visit friends and family. Initially it was only me going, but a week or so after plans were made my parents insisted that they would cover Brandon's airfare. There was one day there that we spent a good two hours just driving back over old spots, doing a tour of our childhoods and time spent as friends. It was very surreal this time, I've reached an age where there is nothing left of my youth, or the person I was, but the rough template, the buildings and places. But all of the people are gone, except a select few, and that time is so distant now that there's no real way to ever touch it again.
It's like that myth about how the human body renews all of its cells every 7 years, and at the end of that cycle you're essentially a new person, though you look the same, though you technically have the same body. It's a myth, not a hundred percent accurate, though your body does do that, the timeline is a bit different. Either way it's the same concept, everything is the same, but irrevocably different. And it becomes clear that there really is no going back. The version of me who nearly collapsed under the weight of his adult responsibilities, who not-so-seriously entertained the notion of going back home, of going back to school in Texas, is completely gone now. 7 years after that trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas, 7 years to the month even, July—the 7th month of the year, in 2017, if you wanna follow that rabbit hole any deeper. How strange it all is, I remember thinking, as we drove the car down all those old roads and to those old places, and they seemed so small. How very strange indeed.
It seemed like such a model world to me this time. Like something just slightly unreal. That was always my thought when the two of us would leave the house late at night, and just walk around town, sometimes nearly the whole town—it wasn't a big place. We didn't engage in any mischief or really have any goal in mind, we just looked at things, examined them. There's nothing quite so eerie and haunting as the suburbs at night, the homes and streets all at rest, waiting for the circuit of a new day, the routine, the program. It's like a large scale model of a town, built as a facade to service the idea of suburban life. We rolled along the bend past our old high school, looking at the multi-million dollar additions, increasing it to the size of a college campus with a 65 million dollar stadium, equal to the size of the school itself. How ridiculous it looked with the giant iron eagles hanging over those flat cement planes in the front, calling back to what reminded me of Neo-Classical architecture as a teenager. It delighted me terribly that I could draw direct aesthetic parallels between the academic institution that loomed over me at the time and fascism, I had a real flair for the dramatic as a kid—unlike now, of course. There was so much fodder for the imagination, in all that nothing. I loved the idea that, though nothing ever did, conceivably anything could emerge from out of the dark of night. Reality could be elevated into anything through imagination, with nothing but time and boredom. Pure banality, pure tedium, giving rise to Blake's "eternity in an hour" and "heaven in a wild flower".
One night, after drinking and dancing pretty heavily on Knox-Henderson in Dallas, with Brandon, my older brother, and a few friends, we were all talking. Brandon, somewhat drunkenly, but well-intentioned, made us all go around one by one and tell everyone else our best memory. We went one by one, slurring speech slightly, drowsy words falling out our mouths at the end of the night like rubber, and finally it came to me. I couldn't think of anything at first, I couldn't even think of my worst memory. There are so many things to consider, so much to calculate and incorporate into that decision. And finally it hit me, the single most distinctive, lasting moment. Sitting there by the cooling cinders of the camp fire and listening to the wind over the lake, watching the moon fall across the rippling water like a staircase, and seeing my friends frolic in the shadows by the water. That was one of the few truly perfect moments, all of the variables aligned and harmonious through the lens of childhood in its last days, its last hour. And then began the 7 year cycle of renewal, bit by bit all that I was stripped away and broken down, through good and bad, and rebuilt.
Looking back it's startling to think about how from that point on, I really began to live the most formative experiences of what I can honestly call my adult life. I can almost point exactly to that moment, in fact, and identify that as the moment when everything began to change. I remember even starting the school year, and some of the friends I went on that trip with complaining that everything started to go bad since the camping trip, as though that were the last perfect moment. It's not often that you can point to a specific moment in life like that, one that could be so insignificant, where it didn't seem that any conscious decision was made. This is how we move through the dark, to the other side of things.
I left Texas, missing only my parents, my brothers, the family dogs, and what few friends remained. The place didn't mean anything to me anymore, it was just a reminder now, the past was finally gone. Brandon and I discussed this on the plane, and we both walked away with pretty much the same feeling. For me the nostalgia and longing were gone, for him the trepidation and anxiety that place had filled him with finally lifted, for giving so much of himself to the people there and receiving little to nothing in return but grief. That's always been the big difference between the two of us, Brandon the participant, me the observer. The place pained him because he tried to do so much there, he tried to be involved with so many people. It pained me because I did so little, was involved with so few outside of myself and my fantasies. Who's to say who was right and who was wrong? We both made lasting friendships with the people who mattered, we both set off towards lives that involved telling stories and illustrating fantasy. He owes the latter to me, me the former to him. Each of our strong suites supplanting the other person's shortcomings, carrying one another as friends, brothers. I think we have friends, family, and acquaintances in our lives so that it can be okay that we are incomplete.
Brandon's favorite memory involved him and his mother. Mine involved nature, and watching other people be happy. Maybe there's some value in that too, but I felt just a little bit of pain knowing that many of my happiest moments were spent alone, detached. Many others were with other people, sure, but Brandon's the one they responded to when we went back, he was the one they had memories with. They liked me too, but I was always so distant. I suppose the comfort here, is that the fact that the disconnect isn't something I'm comfortable with. That I'd like to have a different future, where the spaces inner and outer can be in equilibrium. And I can feel as good about my relationships with other people as I do about the art that I produce.
History was the nightmare that James Joyce was always trying to awake from, and it seems that most of our adulthood is spent trying to circumvent and overcome bad habits acquired in youth. It's funny to think that most of personal growth as adults is based on just that, the pain of prefigured models of behavior, of thought. And trying to elevate yourself from it into the person you're meant to be. It's one of life's little ironies, that are almost always looping and full-circle.
When we arrived back in Phoenix, Brandon, Julio, and I were all in the car, driving through the city. And Julio commented that it was funny that we all left town at the same time, how we all always happen to do things like that at the same time, usually to different places. He said he thought it was some kind of sign, a sign that this was the beginning of a new period in our lives. A new chapter, because after that trip, everything seemed to start going well.
Tonight, I was returning from First Draft, after having done some writing there with Brandon and his girlfriend Marzana, and we happened to talk, about the city, different restaurants, bars. And I took a step back and said to Brandon, "You know what? Living on our own, in a major city, creating, going out places, being single. My life is basically a dream I had when I was a kid, of the perfect life in my 20's."
It's not often you observe a perfect moment like that, a linking together of things. Maybe the difference is simply stepping back sometimes and looking.