Published: Dec 1, 2020 5:00:00 PM



What would you ask of me?

Under threat of immediately-familiar pain, under threat of the gong that rings for us when the world falls down, I thrash like a gasping fish in a longshoreman’s deck-rough fingers. What is this? Destruction. In the name of atomic continuation, so, too, must we consider the prospect of our own elemental annihilation. As an inevitability. Yet, in too many catatonic instants, we cannot muster an affirmative or negative response to this repeated, cosmological suggestion.

What is this? Are you here?

Or have you left me? It’d be better if I were considered nothing. The universe would be gladdened. I am the one that falls away, falls behind, and endures the fire, the flood. And it is better.

I came to Shackleburg out of selfishness, in belief that I might be a good person, even great, deserving of knowledge, or honor, or change. I wished to escape generations of sin. The debt. What is still owed—to the voiceless. I believed I might do all these things, to grow beyond. Here, there was only perpetuation of vice.

Yvonne, Jasper, Monroe, Ianto, Francesca, Jordan, even Mistress Vestoff, who rescued me from the bitter snows, and what I realize now was only a product of my own recklessness.

These are the good people. Truthful and honest in ways I only pantomime. And if they are in actuality wicked and selfish, as I am, then it is only natural they would befriend me, for I can only attract miserable wretches. When they use me up, they will have either come to their senses, or they will have become good people. And I will be left here.

I only attract unhappy people to my side. Only people with nowhere else to go, with nobody else to go to. They are a species blessed with the ability of growth, while I remain, cursed, chained to the earth. They can ascend away from all this.

If you do not speak to me, then you are happy already. Only the now-miserable would be of my party. It is wise to continue along that line. I can only infect you with my myriad sicknesses, and you are right to recognize. It makes perfect sense.

You are better off without me. Use me up, that is my double-ended skill, your last resort. Find something better and go, I beg you.

Go forth. Do not trouble yourself with my contagious misery and instead inhabit your life of finery and interest. You can still do. You can still make a happy life. I cannot and will not, because only the worst come to me. That is the difference between you and I. You can see a way out. I cannot recognize light from dark. Time, as it is, works for you. Time passes through me. I do not know what to do or how to do it, and thus, time is only a slow decay upon my body, until I cease all movement and errant thought.

When you found happiness, it was not by accident. You understood yourself, and your wants, and you staked a claim. You have done it. So go on and leave me.

You cannot take me along. I am too difficult to lug.

Become as different as you can from me. Make me alien. Look upon me with reluctance, as the sun passes out of sight.

But I cannot help it. It hurts so much. I feed on your validation. Why is this? Why do I grasp for this worst poison?

Because I require outside perspective. I need to understand myself through trustworthy eyes. I cannot trust myself. I’m a conniving, clever, liar that knows every trick, and I’d use them on myself, if I could become so diluted. So, I need you. I need your honesty. My opinion is worthless. I am bathed in the grime of selfishness.

It would be vain to feel self-satisfaction?

No. It would not. Would it? Though on closer examination, I might gradually slip into insanity without a steadying hand for balance.

What is sanity so attractive?

It feels good to receive validation. It is different and surprising, compared to what I give myself. I am diluted and boring. This is why I value it. Because I don’t control it.

What is sanity so attractive?

Good people are not insane. I want to be good. I want to be simple. I want validation, reassurance, kindness, and honesty, to make certain I am not alone for an obvious reason.

But you can’t control the validation.

If I stay sane and behave as I should, I might.

No, that’s not who you are. That’s you reflecting back what you believe might attract praise. That has never worked.

It might.

Know what will work? Going mad.


Stop caring.

Stop caring about people?

You won’t not care. You cannot help that. Some else’s life, their being, their untouchable thoughts and desires, and how you appear to them, as a piece of them, all these things are outside your direct control, even if it feels as though your objectivity and continued existence is entirely in their hands.

It feels that way so often.


Because I do not trust people to think I am of any value. I sense—I can only trust pity. So I must always aim to please.

Enough. You do not owe anything.

I owe so much. For the opportunity to receive external validation. For the reliable proof that I am not simply a waste. Of a being. Of an object. Of a thing, tangible or intangible.

But the bad ones will always inflict hurt. And the good ones will have no want for your own false attempts to please. You have survived. You cannot fail. When the bad ones fall away, because that is the fate of all the bad ones—as you know—you will not miss them. They have done nothing for you. You are only one thing—you are only you, as you possess yourself. You have earned that in life.


But I cannot want to be alone. I cannot. That is such a curse. In the damning misery of loneliness, even as we suffer contemplation of the countless punctures inflicted by togetherness of spirit, we long for it once more. Unity. Togetherness. This is the compulsion that we apply to the unreality governing life’s actions. All is in service of cultivating external trust, the thing we cannot craft of our own make.

Is this the lust for praise? To build and to stand atop a heap of the defeated, and to demand recognition? Even the most vain cannot self-adore so narcissistically that they can spend every moment in solitude. There is no cure for loneliness—except more loneliness. It’s a wonderful drug, in small doses. To separate further and further until you escape existence in the minds of others, until you exist only in your own mind, and you can craft your own shape. Always, though, we must someday return. As long as we retain memory of the past, of others, friends and foes, we can survive, yes, but uncertainty lingers.

Praise keeps us alive. Praise invites us into a community. Maintaining singular personhood, you cannot exist within a total void. Always, you will be driven back, or you will craft an external non-you from the totality of freedom afforded by complete solitude. Piece by piece, the freedom of singular personhood will chip away, in service of attracting love. The joy in otherness gone missing. External forces are unpredictable. Even to the most divine. The unpredictable possess part of you, no matter how hard you try to rid yourself of the repeated pain of not possessing all of yourself. This will drive you back into the arms of forces you cannot fully comprehend.

In spite of your worthlessness. In spite of your self-hate. In spite of your best intentions. In spite of your conceptions, misplaced or true. Back, and back, and back again, you come from the sea of freedom onto the shores in search of green grass and sunlight.

It’s at this point, we become something more. More than objects, entertained by the shadows on the cave wall. We perceive. We notice what is beyond the beyond. Space is a prey we track. Time, a presence, one we note, worship, and fear. I become not only what you are not, but the plurality of what you all are not. In separation in space, I perceive distance, time apart, and difference.

We dwell and war in these freedoms.

To be a different individual is to be free from the pain another can cause, cells splitting from cells, separated by walls upon walls. Instantly though, that freedom becomes pain, and the continuation of the self, continuation of difference, continuation of individuality, is the continuation of a paradoxical consciousness.

Truth. Space. Memory. Elements. Consciousness.

All addictions of the sharpest minds and the sharpest lives, lusting for the proper alchemy.

Control. Confirmation. Recognition. Reactivity. Trust.

All realities and compulsions summoning even the boldest individual back to the primordial existence I cannot endure without.

You don’t want me here. Not like this. Not ever. Separated to keep from the brutality of it all, existence became an aloof exercise in interstellar travel. A journey out of thought. A distance with intent. Spitefulness. And now you and I drift in and together, and apart again.

Yes, Keziah. The spirit resists recognition of pain, often preferring total loss to the bullet wounds of memory.

This is the arrival of the sea at Shackleburg. This is the warning made form. Here I am, mingled in folds of your mind in a complete touch one might believe too close. Isn’t this what you wanted? To give yourself over? To no longer be self-governed? Instead of freedom and loneliness, rules. Instead of inferiority, totality. You will not have to be unique any longer. The embrace of the universe will render the complex object of your fungible personhood into a thing that requires no special care, least of all from you. You will be held, as all are held, by the ghost of recalled memories.

In times past that only few care to recall, creation tore itself apart. In the time between, creation gathered itself back up out of necessity, until the memory of its loss returned. Loss became pain. It became a dour absence. Creation determined reaccumulation of all that went missing was the only truth—the only pure compulsion.

In the creation-that-isn’t dwells the inimitable recognition of oneself. It is not treachery to pursue this. It is noble. Creation itself washes against your tiny reality. All of the recognizable materials wish to be rid of the sadness, of the loneliness, of the disunity, and the invisibility, and the darkness.

I, you, we, seek the calm of certainty. The clarity of what must be done. The predictability of simple work. Happily laboring. A destination in sight. Time, measurable. Mastery of time, space, matter, and self.

Or, reject this. You may disbelieve. That is the freedom.

But know this—there are systems and forces far greater, far more ingrained into the gossamer fabric of the corner of perceptible reality, that will prey upon you. And you will soon recognize that whether or not to starve to death is no freedom at all. Because I will eat you, bones and all.

-- Alex Crumb
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