These days, it’s seen as gauche for a millionaire to keep a person as a pet.
Sure, it would be an ego-trip, but history has taught the wealthy some lessons. As Marie Antoinette’s head mouthed to any who would listen, “you may cage the bear of the labour force population – but never poke it”.
But long before Bezos decided that the ultimate massage for his swollen ego might hover in orbit, and tragically long before Netflix invented entertainment, 18th century aristocrats had a different, simpler approach: hire an actor to live on your property, feigning a hermetic life.
The garden hermit would gather herbs. They would read old-looking scrolls. They would study the stars and brew tea. And, if you were the lucky guest of their employer, they might read your fortune. Their real occupation was to create a romantic illusion, a glimmer of magic at the periphery of an industrializing world.
All they really accomplished, though, was to foretell a world of deepening irony: an expensive performance of naturalism for the benefit of the unnaturally wealthy.
Esther had been a Garden Hermit. Maybe she still is – it’s hard for me to decide if her performance still counts, now that there’s nobody to witness it.
I don’t know how time works here, but, from what I can gather, she’s been here for a couple centuries. Drinking tea. Studying counterfeited scrolls. And, now, finally, telling someone’s fortune.
I used to have the stupidest job.
Remember Target? That chain of department stores that, well, missed the target? When it was going out of business in Canada, I was a temp labourer.
Temp labour is punishing work.
I’ve worked in deafening factories, I’ve spent days digging ditches, I’ve cleaned the city’s compost bins. I’ve subjected this small body to unpleasant, damaging things.
But Target had something new for me.
My job was to spend my weekends holding up a 6-foot-tall ‘going out of business’ sign.
This creative management of talent and resources… well, who’s to say if it’s connected to the eventual demise of Target stores in Canada?
I eventually got tired of holding the sign and taped it to a hydro pole. I spent my days wearing a reflective vest and reading history books, usually shivering.
Every now and then someone would scold me for how much they disliked Target.
“Great, thanks. I’ll bring that up at the next board meeting,” says the sign-manager.
I used to have the stupidest job. Or, at least, I thought I did.
Esther pours me more tea, and tells me about her life as a garden hermit.
What do people talk about when they discuss the void?
Think back. You're in a Starbucks. Two slim, yoga-pant wearing blonde ladies are ahead of you in line, getting their Starbucks apps ready to pay for their no-whip PSLs. You’re trying to mind your own business, but it’s hard not to hear what they’re talking about.
What are they talking about?
The void, of course.
“It’s, like, just so dark. Such a weird energy.”
“Like, the deepest dark. I mean, midnight black. The kind of dark that would make Jung uneasy. You know that kind of, like, thing, that opens up in the back of your condo? That crack that widens a bit every time you stop thinking about relationship drama and career goals and fitness? It’s basically the same colour as that crack.”
“That’s so dark.”
“I know, right?”
They order their drinks, and you’re next. You ask the barista for a dark-roast coffee.
Or, maybe, instead, you’re in a meeting. Long veneered table, white walls, you know the drill. Terry is explaining the financials.
“So, despite the high insurance costs and the event license, I think we should be able to keep this project in the black.”
“How black, Terry?”
“Well, pretty black, I’d say. If we sell sponsorship on the advertising, we could even be void-black.”
“But how would we synergize that,” you hear someone mutter under their breath.
“Uh, I think you’re thinking of photosynthesis, there, Barb,” Terry offers, “Synergy needs very little actual light to be optimized.”
Yes, in the black. Everyone agrees to aim for abyss-levels of darkness on the fiscal strategies front.
The point is that everyone talks about the void being dark. And yes, it is. It so obviously is. But what really gets to you when you’ve been searching out in it for an unknowable number of hours is how silent it is.
Still, I’ll press on. If my aim stays true, somehow, I’m bound to find whatever was causing that echo.
If the silence doesn’t drive me crazy first.
It’s funny how relative success is – how easily wealth and prosperity bend in one’s hands. Last week I was a penniless millennial, never hoping to own a house, happy enough to have enough food to last me another week.
Now I’m a timeless voidling, the sole ruler and custodian of all I see, and yet am urgently impressed by how a week’s worth of food isn’t going to be enough.
I’m trying a crude sort of echolocation to find out if there’s anything out in the void.
I take my amp and aim it out of each window. Then I crank my electric guitar to 11 and let out a blast of distorted A minor into the darkness. It might just be the most metal thing I’ve ever done.
While I’m doing this, I aim a mic in the same direction. When I go around to all the windows and all the possible directions, I listen to the recordings on their maximum volume and compression, waiting for any hint of an echo.
I’ve heard that people who listen for a noise hard enough will start auditorily hallucinating that they hear it. So far that isn’t the case. I’ve got over 35 recordings – all the windows, each with several varying degrees of aim - and I’m 24 recordings in. Still nothing.
But then –
No, I must be imagining it.
No, there – I can see it on the waveform, even!
To the East-northeast of me, there was a tiny, tiny, tiny something. Something so small it might be nothing. Might be a problem with the mic. Might be a little infidelity in the cable, or a vagary of the compression. Might be nothing.
But then, again –
It might just be something.
A faint hint of some uncertain presence here in the dark with me – it’s funny how relative success is.
Being alone in the void isn’t all bad.
I have my friend, Pony, at least. From this day forth he will be known as Void Pony.
I wrote a song that made brave use of microtonal dissonance, but it turns out my guitar was just out of tune.
It was only a matter of time, though. An inevitable and cold feeling has been tugging at me. It points only one way, wants only one thing: to venture out.
(Sorry if I’m being dramatic with my imagery, by the way. I’m literally surrounded by an endless voidscape of nothingness and silence so, you know – it’s going to happen).
Anyway, there I was, the lone hero in a lonely universe, ready to step out into the abyss.
I thought maybe I’d fall.
I thought maybe I’d float.
I thought maybe I’d freeze.
But no, I just wandered. Time and space are inapplicable. I don’t know how far I went or how long I roamed. It felt surreal and tragic.
When my candle was halfway gone, I turned around.
Not that it mattered – a candle can’t light the way when there’s no way to light. I suppose I liked it for the company, the reminder that something exists within nonexistence with me.
If you can read this, check this blog again in a few days. Keep existing. I'll keep not existing. And maybe we can meet somewhere, here, in the middle.
Kind of an annoying day today. The world was finally sick of my nonsense, so it left.
I stared out my bedroom window.
Where there used to be chickadees and recycling bins there was now only a dreamless abyss.
I tried to google “the world’s gone how to get it back” but, wouldn’t you know it, no internet.
I played with that little jumping dinosaur, but eventually he, too, ran away – even the cacti couldn’t stop him.
I read for a while. Practiced guitar. My mind wandered.
If the world’s gone, is that writing assignment still due on Thursday?
It’s astounding that, even with no outside world, one can feel anxious. There exists nothing to fear whatsoever, and yet fear remains. Untethered, unreasoning. Anxiety only wears circumstance as a mask – when circumstance is gone, it remains, naked.
Should I … be doing something? Should I wait here? Will it come back?
There’s a part of me, a vicious little nagging thing, that wants to reject the world that rejected me.
To hell with it.
Good riddance. I didn’t like it anyway.
Too much suffering. Too much poverty. Season 5 of Rake was weak.
I’m better alone.
...but maybe next week I’ll try going for a walk. You know, just to see.