Have you ever seen page five?

20MAY2012 – Concept: a human life is fully-realized within five weathered pages of a paperback novel, one pressed between many on a shelf near the back of an old bookstore, just to the left of a hand-lettered cardboard sign: FICTION.

Background characters in a novel are summoned forth from the No Thing and brought to life with such mastery, such clarity and depth of definition that the Reader can’t help but identify with these imaginary beings, understanding and identifying with them in a sudden flash of entirety. The Devil lives in the details. These fictional lives brush up against the Reader’s own with unexpected force, jarred into creation by vivid descriptions of spilled drink, flowing tears, clever plans, the rasp of whiskers or raucous laughter, such that the Reader can’t help but cheer them on.

Don’t get cocky. They used to cheer for lions, too.

But then the thumb is licked and the fourth page is turned and somewhere near the bottom of page five, the character is killed off. Is this cruel? Not particularly, that’s just how the story needed to be told.

“We are stories telling stories.” We have control over our own story right up until the moment when it collides with the storyline of another character. (Either we happen to them, or they happen to us. Depends on your perspective, really.)

These fictional characters live so completely on these yellowed plains, covered from head to toe in every aspect of what makes them real, existing behind and between each and every single letter on the page. The postcards, the tickets stubs, the dryer lint, the bar tabs, the take-out containers, the music collections, the book collections, the love letters, the grocery lists – all of the debris and mementos of their imaginary lives – are just dust trapped in the cracks and crevices of every foot of serif of every word of every sentence of every paragraph of the few pages they’re given, compacted by years of fucking and fighting and fear of failure, French fries and Friday nights, the whole thing rusted over with sweat like the pocketknife of an old man. Every word breathes, every letter hums. The characters aspire to learn everything there is to learn about the pages on which they exist; the height, the width and the location of the strange indentation at the upper edge of the third page where a worm ate its way into their falsified reality…

We can tell ourselves what free and wonderful beings we are and insist that everything is one big gorgeous goddamn pageantry. But you and I both know that we can’t travel beyond our own sixth page, and we can’t escape what’s coming up fast from the bottom of the fifth one.

Our destiny, too, is to be fed feet-first and screaming into the Great Grinder of Storytelling; we are brought to life so that the Reader may identify with us and we are killed off in such a way as to propel the story along and make the survival of the remaining characters that much more dear.

“All God does is watch us and kill us when we get boring. We must never, ever be boring.” – Chuck Palahniuk

We are trapped like dolphins in a round tank, pinging ourselves into madness. (I think, therefore I am/very sad) We burn brightly while we can, but in the end we simply aren’t equipped to make it to the epilogue.

##

The above (crudely) illustrates a nagging sensation I’ve had for many years, that I left the factory incomplete, minus some very important pages from my owner’s manual, that I’m not a fully fleshed-out character in my own right. I don’t mean that I lack experience – hell, no. I’ve been a-many places and I’ve seen a-many things, and I’m just as impressed by life as you are.

But the miles aren’t long enough, and the dreams aren’t bright enough. I feel like a simulation, a placeholder, the storekeeper in an early Nintendo game, a character on the Holodeck — something programmed with a limited number of responses despite being part of a greater complexity. A one-act play in five pages. Trapped on the stage, unable to see past the lights…

(I can’t give you tomorrow.)

TWM

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