Science Fiction

So… apparently there’s this situation, or feeling, called the overview effect. The first thing it made me think of when somebody (I don’t recall who it was but it’s not important anyway) described it to me was something horrific, on-the-edge-of-the-world=like, nauseating. Yes, I felt immediately sick to my stomach, dizzy, like I was about to fall off the edge of the earth. Major vertigo issues. All right, so I admit I’m afraid of heights, really afraid of them, and can end up with major panic attacks in airplanes if the going gets even the least bit turbulent. I have such difficulty dealing with heights that going to the Andes was a nightmare. I was so nauseous and had an acute pain in the back of my head for days on end when I was there. Get me down from here! That was all I could think, rage quietly, scared out of my mind at how weak I felt, for more than three weeks. It is no fun being so far above sea level.

Yet apparently there are people who treasure the experience. They don’t count, I say. They’re astronauts and those sorts get off on being high up. The overview effect goes along with this other thing. It’s called OTE, I’ve read. Let me quote somebody on this so I get it right: 

… openness to experience (OTE)— a personality trait related to curiosity and appreciation for aesthetics. .. OTE affects people's’ experiences with art and other aesthetics through many different ways. Individuals who are high in OTE value aesthetics more, are more interested in novel and unusual things, and have more knowledge about art and aesthetics.

Now this OTE thing is something I can understand, but does a person have to go up into damn space to get or or have it? I am skeptical about that. I can get my OTE someplace else, thank you very much. Stacy Shaw wrote the above statement, and I’ll give her one more chance to make her argument:

As astronauts are often advanced scientists and engineers, their experiences reflecting on the Earth might be contextually rich (e.g. they may be thinking on the advanced processes in our magnetic field, the structure of the atmospheric layers, our “goldilocks” orbit around the sun). 

“Contextually rich.” This is questionable, because astronauts aren’t the only ones who have a contextually rich perspective. People are always about the value of the future, space, things that are full of metal and glass and machines. Only a privileged few get up 

that high, look down toward Earth, and get paid to talk about it. Not exactly accessible to most of us. There’s only one part of this concept I can work with; the rest is pure bunk. 

The part I’m taking is “awe.” Just awe. Let’s work with that, please.

Merriam-Webster defines awe as “an emotion variously combining dread, veneration, and wonder that is inspired by authority or by the sacred or sublime." Thesaurus.com adds a few more nouns, like admiration, respect, astonishment, reverence, etc. etc. Now I can 

do a lot with that, as you are about to see. MY theory is going to compete with OTE. My theory is ABE. 

Absorbed Body Experience. In my theory, rather than feeling separated by space, lots of space, the person feels totally drawn into, absorbed by the space and things around her. She can’t ever escape this feeling, just like astronauts never lose their OTE.  

Before I bore you to death, let me tell you how ABE works and we can go from there. Remember - this is a true experience, not just my theory. The theory only occurred to me after I realized the experience existed.

The first thing you need to do is have your feet solidly on the ground, not up some place high, like outer space. Feet on the ground. You also can’t hang there. You must walk. As you walk, you must also look. A lot. Then think. Got the hang of it?

If you follow the steps properly, here’s what happens:

You find yourself sinking, sinking, sinking. Seriously. Nobody will see what you’re experiencing, though, so don’t worry. At first you will only be sinking a little bit, and it’s so gradual that maybe others are going through the same experience. That’s if they have OTE. (Remember, I never said I intended to debunk the OTE thing. I just don’t buy the overview effect the way they’re trying to pass it off on us.)

So here you are, sinking, but the ground doesn’t seem very soft. You’re walking on stone. Mostly granite, but the point is the stone is very old and has been occupying the same spot for centuries. If you weren’t sinking, if you were just walking on it, where would the stone be? Nowhere, worn down to nothing. Yet the human body is no match for the old stones. It just sinks until the body part, that is, the skin and flesh, are gone. What’s left is the skeleton. Bone on bone, mineral against mineral. Human stones, nature’s bones. It’s got a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Where’s the awe, though? 

I’m getting to that.

Walking, just putting one foot ahead of the other, moving, heading somewhere, along somewhere, up one street and down another, turn around if it’s a dead end like Sae se podes Street, where you can only get out if you know how to, once you’ve gone there. Get out if you can. But you can’t. You can’t unwalk a place like Sae se podes, you just can’t. It’s in your body, it’s a couple diminutive balconies, it’s the colorful wash hanging from clotheslines, it’s echoes. Echoes can get very loud in very small streets. However, smells aren’t a big deal for most of the ABE. It’s really about where things are and how those things that never move, never diminish, work their way into you. They kind of sit in your ears and tell you their stories.

Now’s the time when you might think about watching things from a distance, but it’s never too high up or too far away. You know you’re completely free to walk and watch, but you cannot remove those stone slabs from your body. You should weigh a ton, but you don’t. The slabs are like gray clouds but they’re not sad clouds. Are you still with me on this?

Now’s also the time when you remember things you once did or thought, and how those doings and thinkings are written in stone. In fact, you wrote a poem once asking to be buried in a gargoyle facing Fonseca Square in Santiago. You really did. You knew even back then that you were sinking. Into the stones. Of Santiago. Back then you were in love with a person, a human who walked with you a lot of the time. You didn’t notice the sinking feeling then. Just a need to be aware that there were all these little specks and sparkles, glimmers and mineral grains, reaching out to you. Back then you thought about the good food, good wine, good souvenirs to be had. You were just there to visit, to walk from one place to another and to see museum, art exhibits, dancing in streets from the Middle Ages. Or to complain about the rain, the chill, the commercialization of culture. 

Thank heavens that is all in the past. You might still end up on or in the gargoyle, but you also have an entire city walking around with you, inside of you. You are becoming more and more solid even as your no-longer-existing muscles are gaining strength. You know there is nothing about you that people can see now - unless they are looking straight at a church, a cathedral, a palace, a tower, or a fountain. 

You know the Beatles’ song, “I’m Looking Through You”? Well, it becomes your theme song and you wonder how your stones can be transparent. You panic momentarily and wonder if you’re dying, or losing your mind. Are you having a Kafka moment where you’ve become, or are becoming, a cockroach? Ewwwww! Not on your life. This is not TBE (Transformed Body Experience). I never mentioned anything of the sort. This is ABE, Absorbed Body Experience. You are sinking into the stones, being absorbed by them. Have I not made myself clear? If you get that, then you understand the transparency: you are no longer separate from the granite. You are granite. 

Now to get to the real weight, the proof, of my theory. I’ll take it slowly, so I don’t lose you.

You and I have sunk as far as necessary, if you are still with me. The result is that time pretty much ceases to exist, right? The eighth century has folded into the twenty-first. The rain comes and goes, comes and goes, but does nothing except moisten our surfaces. It brings no cold, no illness like it did in the fourteenth century, no viruses that can kill, because stones don’t do that. We are safe if we can resist the annual onslaught of tourists, and since we’ve been doing that for nigh on to twelve or thirteen hundred years, we’ll probably come out of this year alive. We have nothing to fear now, because we aren’t up in the air, in a space capsule or an airplane. No panic attacks, no need to make out a will. We are here forever since we went through the ABE. We harm nobody. We cost nothing.

Now before you think this was easy, getting to this point where person is stone is person, you need to go back to the idea of a contextually rich perspective. The one that is, I repeat, NOT exclusive to astronauts. In OTE, apparently any old astronaut who gets catapulted into space has a chance to get OTE and it may be due to their contextually rich viewpoint. Well, ABE has its exclusive recipients too. I’ll explain:

To feel ABE and make it to your goal, you need a lot of context too, including the fact that you have to be able to read. Sometimes you read the inscriptions on the stones, but when you read, you need to go deeper, do some serious sinking. Get your history straight. You are required to be informed. And if you think you’re doing history just by looking into the recent nineteenth century, you’ might get a bit of the feeling, but it’s only scratching the surface. You’ll have to walk back a few more hundred years to get a sense of the construction in the medieval times, then the discovery of some tombs that would later become relevant to the Church, then back further to whatever groups were in the area and thriving. If you don’t know about the Celts or Swabians or others like them, there’s only so much the stones can do for you. You see, each one of these groups is a layer, each one laid down its paths and streets, residences and official buildings, and you need to know about them if you’re going to have an authentic ABE.

If you’re still in the OTE group, perhaps this lecture isn’t going to convince you. It might even have bored you. I don’t do well nowadays getting my point across on the subject. That’s because I’m too close to the subject, or maybe I’ve become the subject. I am here, looking all around me, and the other stones (the ones like me) are like small screens where scenes are projected: scenes from the construction of the round buildings of castros, or the obradoiro (work area for stoneworkers) for the huge cathedral, or the sites where members of so many guilds pursued their work. That includes the silversmiths and the gem cutters working with obsidian, also called jet. The list is much longer than that, naturally. I’ve respected your attention span, which was a challenge because mine is now infinite.

“I Am Woman.” It was Helen Reddy who sang that a couple of years ago, I think. Not that profound a song, in my opinion. I prefer “I Am Stone.” Because I am. Having allowed myself to edge - respectfully, gradually - into the Stones of Compostela (not anywhere remotely like Harriet Doerr’s Stones for Ibarra), I can affirm that it is harder to be a stone than to be a woman. I mean, if you are born a member of the female sex, that is nothing fancy. On the other hand, being born human and turning to stone is not for everybody. 

I am stone, definitely. I am silent (outside of this little lecture), I am strong, I am always. I will be here long after the prayers of pilgrims, long after the photographs of tourists, long after most everybody. I live here now, live and breathe. I am nourished by, feed every single day, on the layers and layers and layers of everything. Layers of moss, of rubbery couselo plants, of curious fingertips, of stolen cameras and kisses. Splotches of lichens, piss of dogs on walks, vomit of drunks in not-always-dark corners. The latter two don’t appeal to me very much, but I’ll soon be washed clean by rain and dried by the sun. In other words, I’ll be up and walking, glimmering by sun and moonlight, never to be forgotten. You too can do this. Try ABE. I am proof of how it works. The true cure, pure joy, immortality.

I am stone. 

I will be here indefinitely. No, forever.

I feed off what was yet never consume it. 

I tell you what was and remind you that it still is. 

I am the author of you, if you allow me to be. 

Tread lightly. Then embrace me. You won’t regret it.

Just don’t ask to be buried in my gargoyle.

May 01, 2020 18:16

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Angelie Boyle
07:35 May 07, 2020

Wow! I had no idea where this was going at first, but I had to read on to know how it was going to end. It's very original, even learned a few new definitions ;) Great story.


Kathleen March
14:10 May 08, 2020

Very glad you liked the story. A lot of times I don't know exactly where the plot is going, because it develops as I write. That's what so amazing about writing. Often we have to trust the process. When we do, surprises happen.


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