The Best of Luck

On a round table the backgammon board is open and abandoned. Three pieces are stacked skew-whiff on the hinged divider and a rose-coloured tumbler lies on its side in one of the trays. The dice are nowhere in evidence. The red and black triangles are still cluttered as if in play, but the players themselves have disappeared. It is not surprising.

 

I am impressed with Margaret Dillon. She is full of original ideas and the strength to bring them to fruition. She visits occasionally, usually on Fridays. Her creation, in this case, is paradoxical, for the effort and motivation to establish and maintain it, let alone its cost, is in diametrical opposition to what its purpose might be. This is The Idle House. I have been here for almost three months.

 

The table which supports the backgammon board is on one side of an enclosed courtyard, under a pergola laden with vines. There are two chairs, arranged at unconscious angles. I am looking at them from the opposite wall, seated in a suspended rattan sofa, gently dangling in the late afternoon. A gecko clings to the wall above my head. I have plenty of time to think and have come to see how most of my thoughts are mundane.

 

If you are a person who dislikes work and has no desire to do anything at all, you can come to The Idle House. You will be sheltered, clothed and fed, free of charge. You can stay here for as long as you want. Admittance is dependent on vacancy, as there are only twelve beds. Guests usually stay until they can no longer stand their own inertia, and then move on, opening up spaces for other lazy people.

 

What is laziness? I know the definition but I am looking for something deeper: the need to describe such a quality in the first place. It seems that there is an abhorrence for anyone who despises work. It could be linked to the conflict between individual-self interest and group cooperation, or it might have originated with the emergence of agriculture, when a ruling class evolved and people were exhorted to toil. A moral stigma was attached to idleness, further emphasized by religion.

 

I don't find anything wrong with people providing for others, after all that is what The Idle House does. It is coercion that bothers me. I do not like to be told what to do by anyone, not even myself, for any reason. Perhaps my presence here is due to a residual childhood desire for parental care, never outgrown. Or it could just be fear.

 

I would like to think I came here on a warm cloud of understanding that had liberated me from the stupidities of life, but I do not. Whatever it is, the word 'Laziness' is much more complex than the dictionary would have you believe, as is 'Love'.

 

I swing in my chair, these thoughts are mixed with others - the woman in room number seven who never speaks - whether I will scrape the mayonnaise off my sandwich - the number of cicadas I hear at night. I think I am approaching a crisis point where I will feel the need to do something.

 

In a corner of the courtyard is a pond contained by a curved wall. Water gushes into it from the end of an old pipe, spouting through abundant ivy. There are water-lilies on the surface, and large koi swimming below. It is very beautiful. I have spent a lot of time looking at it and have noticed the magic square that someone has scratched into the cement. Four rows by four rows, each resulting in the number thirty-four, no matter which way you make the addition.

 

No one has clearly explained to me the purpose of this establishment. It might be a half-way house for the humane rehabilitation of lazy people into the work force, but that seems far too cynical for Margaret Dillon. I have met her a few times. She is very tall.

 

There is a small, eclectic library here. When I first arrived I spent a few days looking through it. I haven't read much since then. I discovered some occult esoterica. The Lesser Key of Solomon and three grimoires of Agrippa. The sigils of demons caught my attention. They were made by tracing a numerical representation of a name on a magic square.

 

As the season has grown milder, I've been spending my days in the courtyard and my interest in the grimoires has waned. But now the magic square on the pond wall has brought it back, along with the desire to sigilize my name.

 

Almost a week has passed since I heard the whisper to action. I have copied the square from the pond on to a piece of card, and I've revisited the library. I made a lipogram from my name by dropping the vowels, and converted the remaining consonants to the numerical value of the respective Hebrew letters. I have drawn my sigil and now I require some maps. As I did this, I realised that I would need a plan, if I were ever to leave. Then I had the idea that I could use the sigil to plot a route. The not completely random arbitrariness of the idea seemed to be a pertinent mode of re-entry into the physical world. My signature would denote my location, not just my name. Geography would become an analogue of thought.

 

There are five numbers in my sigil, two of them are the same. Without even laying it over the map, I can tell that I will be visiting two of the places on the route twice. This itinerary has me start at point A, go to B, and from there to C, then return to the starting point A, and end the journey by going back to C. This twofold doubling back across the globe intrigues me. It hints at a purpose, both eldritch and obscure, which I am trying to unravel and I haven't even made the journey yet. I am beginning to feel an excitement I have not felt in years. There are atlases in the library. I will start with a projection of the globe and narrow it down from there.

 

The photocopy machine ejects a map of the world. It is still warm in my hands as I trace the square upon it. Nine, four, five, nine, five - my sigil is a right angled triangle. The starting point, which is the narrow angle, is at the left. I place this point on Miami, the location of The Idle House.

 

I can understand now the importance once given to naming things, and wish I had been called something else. The first destination, when I leave Miami, is Idar in Gujurat, India. From there I will travel to Tiksi in the Sakha Republic of Russia. A quick search on the library computer tells me that it is not a town but an 'urban-type settlement' sitting on the shores of the Laptev Sea. It has a brutal polar climate and a population of five thousand and sixty-three. It makes me think of Stalin and the gulag. The trip back to Miami will be a slap in the face and then I will return to the northernmost settlement in Russia. How long I will stay there, I have no idea. I had hoped that my final destination would be a European city but I cannot allow myself to be thwarted by disappointment.

 

If any of this is to be possible, I will need a grant. The Idle House awards grants in some circumstances. I shall have to write a formal proposal. A request for a paid holiday would be tactless. A voyage of research for educational purposes might work. I could propose a book. Idar has a rich history, stretching back to myth. Tiksi? The book loses its glow.

 

The act of overlaying a shape on to a map is an artistic idea. This will be my approach. I can elaborate - the triangulation of three places with a personal signature, the melding of the symbolic essence of the individual into the landscape, the condensation of a sublimate etc. etc. Art has the added advantage of a complicated relationship with value, which is hard to define. The application flows easily. When it is finished, I go down from my room, across the courtyard to the office.

 

The staff at The Idle House have a policy of minimal intrusion, and the office is as empty as usual. I find an envelope in the stationary cupboard, seal up my folded application and drop it into the suggestion/message box which hangs on the wall by the door. I've never put anything of importance in it before. From time to time I deposit a note suggesting a suggestion box. I never tire of the looping absurdity and wonder about its effect.

 

Oh God. Not another note about a suggestion box.

 

As soon as the paper has left my hand, a sense of waiting develops. It is a subconscious rumbling. The ogre has stirred and wants to go outside. I am still excited but the initial joy has dispersed.

 

Weeks go by. Every day I check the mailbox for room number five, sometimes more than once. A fumbling with the little key and a quick glance inside. Nothing but air. Then at last there is an envelope. I tear it open where I stand.

 

..........thank you for your interesting proposal. We have given it careful consideration and regret to inform you that your application has been denied. We wish you the best of luck..........

 

© Tom Newton 2016

The Best of Luck

On a round table the backgammon board is open and abandoned. Three pieces are stacked skew-whiff on the hinged divider and a rose-coloured tumbler lies on its side in one of the trays. The dice are nowhere in evidence. The red and black triangles are still cluttered as if in play, but the players themselves have disappeared. It is not surprising.

 

I am impressed with Margaret Dillon. She is full of original ideas and the strength to bring them to fruition. She visits occasionally, usually on Fridays. Her creation, in this case, is paradoxical, for the effort and motivation to establish and maintain it, let alone its cost, is in diametrical opposition to what its purpose might be. This is The Idle House. I have been here for almost three months.

 

The table which supports the backgammon board is on one side of an enclosed courtyard, under a pergola laden with vines. There are two chairs, arranged at unconscious angles. I am looking at them from the opposite wall, seated in a suspended rattan sofa, gently dangling in the late afternoon. A gecko clings to the wall above my head. I have plenty of time to think and have come to see how most of my thoughts are mundane.

 

If you are a person who dislikes work and has no desire to do anything at all, you can come to The Idle House. You will be sheltered, clothed and fed, free of charge. You can stay here for as long as you want. Admittance is dependent on vacancy, as there are only twelve beds. Guests usually stay until they can no longer stand their own inertia, and then move on, opening up spaces for other lazy people.

 

What is laziness? I know the definition but I am looking for something deeper: the need to describe such a quality in the first place. It seems that there is an abhorrence for anyone who despises work. It could be linked to the conflict between individual-self interest and group cooperation, or it might have originated with the emergence of agriculture, when a ruling class evolved and people were exhorted to toil. A moral stigma was attached to idleness, further emphasized by religion.

 

I don't find anything wrong with people providing for others, after all that is what The Idle House does. It is coercion that bothers me. I do not like to be told what to do by anyone, not even myself, for any reason. Perhaps my presence here is due to a residual childhood desire for parental care, never outgrown. Or it could just be fear.

 

I would like to think I came here on a warm cloud of understanding that had liberated me from the stupidities of life, but I do not. Whatever it is, the word 'Laziness' is much more complex than the dictionary would have you believe, as is 'Love'.

 

I swing in my chair, these thoughts are mixed with others - the woman in room number seven who never speaks - whether I will scrape the mayonnaise off my sandwich - the number of cicadas I hear at night. I think I am approaching a crisis point where I will feel the need to do something.

 

In a corner of the courtyard is a pond contained by a curved wall. Water gushes into it from the end of an old pipe, spouting through abundant ivy. There are water-lilies on the surface, and large koi swimming below. It is very beautiful. I have spent a lot of time looking at it and have noticed the magic square that someone has scratched into the cement. Four rows by four rows, each resulting in the number thirty-four, no matter which way you make the addition.

 

No one has clearly explained to me the purpose of this establishment. It might be a half-way house for the humane rehabilitation of lazy people into the work force, but that seems far too cynical for Margaret Dillon. I have met her a few times. She is very tall.

 

There is a small, eclectic library here. When I first arrived I spent a few days looking through it. I haven't read much since then. I discovered some occult esoterica. The Lesser Key of Solomon and three grimoires of Agrippa. The sigils of demons caught my attention. They were made by tracing a numerical representation of a name on a magic square.

 

As the season has grown milder, I've been spending my days in the courtyard and my interest in the grimoires has waned. But now the magic square on the pond wall has brought it back, along with the desire to sigilize my name.

 

Almost a week has passed since I heard the whisper to action. I have copied the square from the pond on to a piece of card, and I've revisited the library. I made a lipogram from my name by dropping the vowels, and converted the remaining consonants to the numerical value of the respective Hebrew letters. I have drawn my sigil and now I require some maps. As I did this, I realised that I would need a plan, if I were ever to leave. Then I had the idea that I could use the sigil to plot a route. The not completely random arbitrariness of the idea seemed to be a pertinent mode of re-entry into the physical world. My signature would denote my location, not just my name. Geography would become an analogue of thought.

 

There are five numbers in my sigil, two of them are the same. Without even laying it over the map, I can tell that I will be visiting two of the places on the route twice. This itinerary has me start at point A, go to B, and from there to C, then return to the starting point A, and end the journey by going back to C. This twofold doubling back across the globe intrigues me. It hints at a purpose, both eldritch and obscure, which I am trying to unravel and I haven't even made the journey yet. I am beginning to feel an excitement I have not felt in years. There are atlases in the library. I will start with a projection of the globe and narrow it down from there.

 

The photocopy machine ejects a map of the world. It is still warm in my hands as I trace the square upon it. Nine, four, five, nine, five - my sigil is a right angled triangle. The starting point, which is the narrow angle, is at the left. I place this point on Miami, the location of The Idle House.

 

I can understand now the importance once given to naming things, and wish I had been called something else. The first destination, when I leave Miami, is Idar in Gujurat, India. From there I will travel to Tiksi in the Sakha Republic of Russia. A quick search on the library computer tells me that it is not a town but an 'urban-type settlement' sitting on the shores of the Laptev Sea. It has a brutal polar climate and a population of five thousand and sixty-three. It makes me think of Stalin and the gulag. The trip back to Miami will be a slap in the face and then I will return to the northernmost settlement in Russia. How long I will stay there, I have no idea. I had hoped that my final destination would be a European city but I cannot allow myself to be thwarted by disappointment.

 

If any of this is to be possible, I will need a grant. The Idle House awards grants in some circumstances. I shall have to write a formal proposal. A request for a paid holiday would be tactless. A voyage of research for educational purposes might work. I could propose a book. Idar has a rich history, stretching back to myth. Tiksi? The book loses its glow.

 

The act of overlaying a shape on to a map is an artistic idea. This will be my approach. I can elaborate - the triangulation of three places with a personal signature, the melding of the symbolic essence of the individual into the landscape, the condensation of a sublimate etc. etc. Art has the added advantage of a complicated relationship with value, which is hard to define. The application flows easily. When it is finished, I go down from my room, across the courtyard to the office.

 

The staff at The Idle House have a policy of minimal intrusion, and the office is as empty as usual. I find an envelope in the stationary cupboard, seal up my folded application and drop it into the suggestion/message box which hangs on the wall by the door. I've never put anything of importance in it before. From time to time I deposit a note suggesting a suggestion box. I never tire of the looping absurdity and wonder about its effect.

 

Oh God. Not another note about a suggestion box.

 

As soon as the paper has left my hand, a sense of waiting develops. It is a subconscious rumbling. The ogre has stirred and wants to go outside. I am still excited but the initial joy has dispersed.

 

Weeks go by. Every day I check the mailbox for room number five, sometimes more than once. A fumbling with the little key and a quick glance inside. Nothing but air. Then at last there is an envelope. I tear it open where I stand.

 

..........thank you for your interesting proposal. We have given it careful consideration and regret to inform you that your application has been denied. We wish you the best of luck..........

 

© Tom Newton 2016

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RECITAL

It is said that writers these days need a good press kit. It could include a Question & Answer page, to make things easier for anyone who might be interested. With that in mind, I decided to interview myself about the story you just heard. It's going to have to be a phone interview, as I'm away at the moment. All right....Come on.
 
"Hello."

"Tom Newton?"

"Yeah. Who is this?"

"It's me, Tom Newton. Could I talk to you about your story, The Best of Luck?"

"Hang on a minute. I've just got to turn the music down. Give me a second.......

"Sorry about that. What were you saying?"

"I'm interested in the background information. Where did the story come from?"

"It came from one of Marcel Duchamp's ideas - La maison des paresseux - the house of lazy people. A place where people could go and live, if they didn't feel like doing anything, where they would be cared for without any attitude. That was the starting point. From there, other things opened up."

"Such as?"

"The concept of work, for one. And laziness."

"These ideas seem to resonate with you."

"Well, I'm trying to understand them. They're rooted so far back in time, their meanings are obscured. It's like the words we use. Take the word alive. The English word comes from the Latin - vivus, which itself comes from the Sanskrit root - jiv - to breathe. So once upon a time, existence was equated with breathing. It made sense. But now, when we use that word, we don't think of breathing. Words are symbols, which have become abstracted from what they symbolize. It's the same with the concepts of work and laziness."

"Hmm. And what about your use of sigils, as a means to plan a journey?"

"Have you ever seen that Tarkovsky film, Stalker?"

"Yeah."

"Ah. Of course you have."

"I slept through most of it. In fact I think I've slept through all of his films."

"Not bad. It's quite an achievment to induce narcolepsy, don't you think? I'm impressed."

"It wasn't really a true sleep. More of a trance state."

"Well. If you remember, the stalker gets around by throwing a handkerchief with a stone in it, going to where it lands and then throwing it again. And so on. There's a mixture of randomness and intention, like the sound of the orchestra tuning, which introduces this podcast. I was looking at sigils, for some reason. Straight lines which move, make angles, reverse themselves. Created from numbers, culled from a name. When you lay one over a map, and plot a route, you have this perfect mixture of chance and intention. It might not be an important idea, but I like it."

"Well thanks Tom. That's all we have time for today."

"Thank you. I imagine we'll meet in bed later."

"Yes indeed."

"Bye."

"Bye."

It is said that writers these days need a good press kit. It could include a Question & Answer page, to make things easier for anyone who might be interested. With that in mind, I decided to interview myself about the story you just heard. It's going to have to be a phone interview, as I'm away at the moment. All right....Come on.
 
"Hello."

"Tom Newton?"

"Yeah. Who is this?"

"It's me, Tom Newton. Could I talk to you about your story, The Best of Luck?"

"Hang on a minute. I've just got to turn the music down. Give me a second.......

"Sorry about that. What were you saying?"

"I'm interested in the background information. Where did the story come from?"

"It came from one of Marcel Duchamp's ideas - La maison des paresseux - the house of lazy people. A place where people could go and live, if they didn't feel like doing anything, where they would be cared for without any attitude. That was the starting point. From there, other things opened up."

"Such as?"

"The concept of work, for one. And laziness."

"These ideas seem to resonate with you."

"Well, I'm trying to understand them. They're rooted so far back in time, their meanings are obscured. It's like the words we use. Take the word alive. The English word comes from the Latin - vivus, which itself comes from the Sanskrit root - jiv - to breathe. So once upon a time, existence was equated with breathing. It made sense. But now, when we use that word, we don't think of breathing. Words are symbols, which have become abstracted from what they symbolize. It's the same with the concepts of work and laziness."

"Hmm. And what about your use of sigils, as a means to plan a journey?"

"Have you ever seen that Tarkovsky film, Stalker?"

"Yeah."

"Ah. Of course you have."

"I slept through most of it. In fact I think I've slept through all of his films."

"Not bad. It's quite an achievment to induce narcolepsy, don't you think? I'm impressed."

"It wasn't really a true sleep. More of a trance state."

"Well. If you remember, the stalker gets around by throwing a handkerchief with a stone in it, going to where it lands and then throwing it again. And so on. There's a mixture of randomness and intention, like the sound of the orchestra tuning, which introduces this podcast. I was looking at sigils, for some reason. Straight lines which move, make angles, reverse themselves. Created from numbers, culled from a name. When you lay one over a map, and plot a route, you have this perfect mixture of chance and intention. It might not be an important idea, but I like it."

"Well thanks Tom. That's all we have time for today."

"Thank you. I imagine we'll meet in bed later."

"Yes indeed."

"Bye."

"Bye."

The music featured on this episode is by xj5000, from their unreleased album The James Masons - no one can hear it.

THE STRANGE RECITAL

episode 16081

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