Caught in the Headlights

Reality is an esthetic choice

That's Not a Tomato

Conversations with Water

You are a Special Cog

Caught in the Headlights © Quentin Davis

It’s been raining all night and I’ve been drumming in my attic studio. I keep the windows closed so I can play as loud as I like, but it gets hot. So I've stripped down to my shorts and finally, even that is too hot and I am broiling, I walk out into the soft rain, cool air, and the wilderness of the back yard. It's deep, dark and hidden from the neighbors. Who, by the way, are motionless mesmerized by their flickering blue light box or sleeping soundly isolated from me and my little animal friends by the drone of the A/C.

    I am becoming one with the lawn, sprawled face down in the grass. Even in my own yard I fear what the neighbors will think. Are they watching? Judging? Worrying? The rain cools my back as I deeply breath in wet grass and dirt. My heart opens to earth, the moon and the magical life after dark. It’s a pure religious moment, as religious as I know and the smells transport me back to my childhood; rolling down hills for hours till grass and mud and Quentin become entwined as one inexorable smelly thing. Back to when my senses were still open; unselfconscious. I wondered thoughtfully, “Why has it been so long since I have experienced this simple wholesome pleasure?

     Suddenly the neighbors flood light turns on and lights up both of our yards. Gone is that earthloving man allowing the rhythms of nature to pour through his very being. In his place is exposed a crazed half naked freak passed-out face down in the mud, dead. “No officer, he’s not moving!” I’m trapped in the headlights. What do I do, Act casual? Sure, just relax, continue to sniff the lawn you degenerate wacko. Each second the light shines is drawn out into an elaborate exquisite motionless horror of its own. Are they staring now? And Now? How about now? Are they dialing the police? My landlord? What will I say when they step out with their flashlight and say entreatingly, accusingly, “Hey you!” “Oh, hi there Wanda. Say, I was just, er, I was, ha ha, ah its a little hard to explain…”

     My mind makes a valiant attempt to intercept these thoughts. “I’ve done nothing wrong, I’m in my own yard, I’m decent, even if it doesn’t look like it. There is no reason I shouldn’t be allowed to do this particular strange action. But it is short work for my paranoia. Me motionless, face down, half naked. Them, who knows, perhaps cowering in their pajamas on the back porch waiting for IT to move, for something to happen. In the cold blue light minutes tick by slowly. I’m naked in the headlights, but oddly this isn’t my first time here.

     First some background. Way back in my youth my house was surrounded by hilly farmland, feral patches of woods, briars and a highway. It was my own personal endless kingdom to wander, poke, prod and dream in. Then they built a McDonalds. Although I couldn’t see the building itself from my house, they did put up a tall lit sign along the highway which I could see from my bedroom. I could only see the side so instead of golden arches (come on “Yellow arches”) all I saw was one yellow prong thrusting its big corporate, "Eff-U", into my view. Something had to be done, but all I could do was simmer.

     Until I found the wrench. It wasn’t a huge wrench but it was big and the biggest I had. And from the wrench came the plan. First I scouted the terrain, tested the escape route, and then waited. At 3 Am I put on my inconspicuous dark clothing and hooded sweatshirt, maybe a bit much for a July night. I slinked, or maybe slunked past the highway lights, climbed the fence into the dark parking lot and started to work on the huge nuts holding the tall sign to its concrete base.

     In retrospect, I guess it was good that I failed so miserably. Even if I had gotten the bolts off (yeah right) the best case scenario is that the sign came crashing down hurling sparks and wires and smashing plastic and me running like hell with a giant wrench in hand.

     The worst case was that I got the bolts off but inertia held the sign in place. Balanced for days, like a giant glowing one ton flyswatter, 35 feet tall hovering over the parking lot waiting for a good stiff wind and an unwary carload of orphan babies.

     Instead I spent 20 minutes lying on the ground trying to get some leverage on the bolts and learning that sign bolts are put on by very intense hydraulic machines, gargantuan and powerful beyond my little wrenches best wet dream. And no matter how I scrabbled around and sprawled on the ground I couldn’t budge them.

     It was in this unwieldy position, face down prone, that I found myself when 3 cars pulled into the parking lot and parked facing my completely exposed position. If I had acted instantly I could have been over the fence before they knew it, But I didn’t. 3 Pairs of headlights lit up the neatly mown lawn in which I was lying. From the edge of the lot to the chain link fence 15 ft behind me, it was suddenly daylight.

     I’m a big fan of nature. I try to emulate what I see as best I can. Usually if you shine a light on a wild animal it will instinctively freeze and if the animal is lucky you won’t even notice them and you’ll move along. This was my first strategy; Freeze face down, on the lawn, 3Am at the McDonalds. Those first few seconds are critical. If they didn’t notice me they’d turn off their lights and begin partying as if I didn’t exist. But they didn’t turn off their lights they just sat there quietly watching me in one of my first big improvisational performances ( some say my best) After about 5 awkward minutes of lying face down motionless in full view I became convinced that I hadn’t fooled them, So I switched suddenly to my second brilliant strategy which went something like this. “Don’t mind me, I’m just sleeping out, nothing to see here folks.” I adopted a more casual pose, try to imagine such a thing, a casual pose at 3Am in a darkened fast food parking lot, 3 car headlights trained on a lone hooded figure lying face down in short grass with a wrench. I pretended to be admiring the stars, in an unlikely face down kind of way. I nonchalantly slid my hands under my chin and rolled my eyes back so I was looking straight up, at the stars, you know. “My aren’t they pretty? So y’all come here often?” I’ve blacked out exactly how long this odd standoff lasted But if you press me I’ll say 30 minutes . They never said a word They didn’t get out of their cars. They finally drove away unceremoniously. I still wonder what story they tell?.

Reality is an esthetic choice © Quentin Davis

Our conception of reality is an esthetic choice. The difference between our world of atoms and evolution and the dream time cosmology of the Australian aborigines is not a matter of truth or falsehood, realism or illusion, intelligence or stupidity. Each system produces results unobtainable to the other, each is closed and exclusive.

     Reality is a limited structure that exists because we consensually agree to sacrifice all the possibilities that do not fit with our current conception of reality. Reality is an esthetic which requires strict allegiance in order for entry. Not adhering to the absolute consensus on the nature of reality will banish the individual to a solitary existence, a punishment too painful and terrifying for most people to consciously or voluntarily choose. Personal atypical experience which does not adhere to our socially adjusted reality simply will not be accepted. Keep your stories of levitation and alien abduction to yourself. Those things that don't fit with our current understanding of reality will have to be disregarded; left unrealized.

     But reality does change. Or more exactly, the prism, in our minds, through which we see reality is exchanged and we see what appears to be a newer reality. We seek an answer with an unambiguous mind and we find an answer to fit our question. We focus passionately to fill an empty space and, Eureka!, we find the puzzle piece that fits the open space, a space whose jagged outline was created by our search. We feel that reality is waiting to be discovered and we discover it. But there is no reality out there in the unknown waiting to be discovered. We open a space by asking a passionate question like "how can we end this war with the Nazis?" and then we expand upon reality by creating an answer, "the atomic bomb" that fills the space created by the question.

     Reality is not something we discover, it is something we create. This creation is not a free for all. In order for the atomic bomb to become real, to be real-ized, people have to passionately believe in the possibility, and even then this new possibility has to have correspondences with our present conception of reality. This bridging, built with hard work, consensus building, theorizing, research, and testing, draws the new reality into existence. That money and status and credentials of the priesthood of science were behind this massive reorganization of reality ,attest to the difficulty we have altering reality, but alter it we do. Atomic theory becomes accepted into ordinary reality and the bubble snaps shut, ironclad and irrefutable until the next passionate opening question is asked.

     Reality is an esthetic choice, a consensual agreement on the appearance of reality we find most appealing. This choice is alterable and in fact is constantly being shifted by us , the creators. The apparent seamless stability of reality is a requirement of our hominid brains, a restraint that allows us to organize the chaos of the universe into a cohesive, if limited, sphere of reality. A clearing in the woods. Something which seems secure, stable and unchanging so that we can deal with change at a human pace, confront chaos without being overwhelmed. You my friends have created, are creating, and will continue to create all that you experience and know.

     I pray we continue to choose the most beautiful reality we can.

That's Not a Tomato © Quentin Davis

     Someone once told me they didn't like tomatoes. So I looked at what they were eating and I said, "Well of course you don't like tomatoes, cuz'…that's not a tomato!" When I was a kid we grew these things we called, “Tomatoes” They had a vague resemblance to those things we call tomatoes today except that they tasted delicious. In fact some people claim that today’s tomatoes are somehow connected to the tomatoes of my youth. But who do they think they're kidding? My childhood tomatoes were soft and easily damaged, they had an inconsistent and irregular shape that was marred on the surface by ugly black and green cracks and splits and bulges of irregularity. Inside they were a soft gushy watery mass of seeds and juices and translucent membranes. It was a sexual experience, lying in a field on a summer day eating tomatoes off the vine, the insides dripping down my shirt. These things they call tomatoes today are something else; replicant plasti-fruit. strange vegetable children's toys, indestructible and bland

     First of all they are not soft, practically by definition a tomato is soft. Secondly, although they taste vaguely like a tomato their is no burst of delicious juices. These pale and sturdy baseballs ooze a pathetic dribble of tasteless seeds. What's the fun in that? A tomato was an ugly and awkward red blob, barely containing an explosion of juice and seeds. These modern tomatoes have been engineered to be consistent, sterile tasteless pink cellulose with no cracks or bruises. Face it, these things can fall off the counter and survive.


Conversations with Water © Quentin Davis

The River: Part 1

The river, fed by a glacier melting off the side of the volcano was a rich chocolate colored slurry of gray volcanic ash and finely ground brownish basalt lava.

     I climbed down into the current channel to admire the fractal forms where the slow moving silt was deposited and eroded. I knelt in the damp sand at the rivers edge. It was a tiny southwest diorama, mini buttes, washes, tiny canyons with pebble boulders, rivulets cutting inch wide grand canyons; A table size model of the landscape I had been driving through all day.

     In the river, 85lb boulders, big enough to break my leg, tumbled down a rich sandy slurry, a large scale rock polisher. They passed me like trotting dogs making a pleasant clunk-clunking sound as they collided underwater and dropped off of ledges.

     And then suddenly as I am writing the last sentence the sound of the rock tumbler changes. It was as if someone upstream had noticed that the tumbler was only on “low” and flicked the switch to ”high”. Upstream from where I stood the channel was now full but the meandering curves hid this from view.

     I could hear what sounded like, "Like a very large herbivore chewing its way, very quickly, towards me through the boulder strewn gravel bars."

     And now I could feel it in the ground, a shaking and pounding as if a freight train was just around the corner. The trotting dog boulders were suddenly joined by a faster herd of elk boulders and the chocolate slurry had become more like a runny chocolate cement full of rock.

     A beautiful Willy Wonka liquid chocolate stone sidewalk, roiling and splashing and spitting out 500lb boulders.

     I take this as my cue to run like hell. It wasn’t far to run but as the stream doubled in size it was unclear where exactly the riverbank was going to be in 10 seconds. I leapt up the steep sandy bank as the flood arrived raising clouds of dust as undermined banks of dry ash slide into the onrushing chocolate surprise. The savage little meandering curves straightening out as chocolate filled the channel.

     The front of the flood came splashing menacing over dry boulders then breaking them free, pounding, flipping & rolling downstream, the whole flood growing before my eyes. The roar of water punctuated by deep reverberating thuds as car squishing boulders pounded over each other.

     I’m swept away by the intensity of leaping out of the way of a flash flood. Awestruck as I stand 2 ft from the crumbling edge. It was crazy and scary how fast it came and how violent it sounds as boulders hurtle past.

Headed into the Wild

I headed out into the wilderness looking for the essential qualities that make a place wild. Looking for some way that I could condense that experience and transport it back to Philadelphia. I traveled to places you could only reach on foot, Mountain tops, deserts, and a rain forest. And there, in the rain forest, on the pacific ocean, alone in a tidal marsh, I was confronted by the inescapable truth. Wilderness is not condensable, wilderness is not portable. This wild uncultivated land mutates slowly over eons. Dynamically balancing each change. The tiniest detail fixed in place and time by erosion, competition, weather, plate tectonics, and tidal rhythms. It is a whole cloth which no scrap of fabric will reveal. Pictures and recordings are just a simulation; a simulation whose subtle dishonesty is exactly the sort of thing that keeps the human-made world separate from the wild one. Looks like wilderness, sounds like wilderness, but it lacks the 360 degree surround sound and smells. The unhurried, untamed muddy tangled, "I'm just a part of the food chain here" kind of feel

The River: Part 2

And then, almost as quickly, it seemed to pass. The noise got quieter. The larger boulders rolled to a stop and now more and more of the smaller rocks settled back down. And just like that it was back to its former chocolatey rock tumbley self. (pause) Well I was so excited I started writing furiously. Click, click, click The chunky little boulders tumbling in the rich chocolate sauce became a clatter of rolling bowling balls piling up at the ball return station, making a dull thunk that you feel as much as hear. The automatic ball return delivering up more and more bowling ball size rocks. I continued to write, oblivious of the river. “Now what did that sound like?” (Make sound with voice and rocks) “Like a large herbivore chewing its way towards me.” (rock sound) “Ah, chewing its way , very quickly, towards me.” (pause) I looked up from my writing to notice that the river had become a Willy Wonka chocolate sidewalk again. “holy shit!” Upstream the roar came again, this time punctuated with ground shaking thuds. 3 giant boulders lead the charge this time clumsily clunking through the roaring cascade of cobbles scraping and grinding but moving quite sprightly for 5-600lb monsters. Rolling or flipping or just plowing everything out of their way. Again I’m thrilled and awed, but now whooping and throwing down my hat as massive five foot chunks of the opposite bank are undercut and calve off like polar ice sheets swooshing into the torrent spewing out boulders which splash me with mud. On the other side of the collapsing wall is an old oxbow pond. An oxbow is a water filled channel cut off and damned up when the river changed course. Now the stored power of the pond is unleashed as it tears through the remaining wall. Huge banks collapsing, roaring, crashing, calm and then another flood and another and from the looks of this place, this is a calm day!


Life Force

There is some force pressing against the tangible universe, the reality in which we live. We'll call it the life force. Oozing into every nook and cranny, expressed as mold or microorganisms, trout and polar bears currently, but unlimited in its variety over time. A timeless force that presses against the hard part of this universe, infinitely flexible, resilient and diverse. Unperturbed by cataclysmic destruction over millions of years and completely unfazed by our own piddling attempts to suppress it. Every 16 lane concrete expressway is an inconsequential blip in this billion year parade of life. Our impenetrable facades of brick and plastic are crumbling before our eyes. Wildness is pressing up and out, bursting forth in every stitch of unattended anything. A force which ceaselessly brings life into beingness. Including ourselves, but not fundamentally preoccupied with Homo sapiens as some penultimate masters of creation. The life force is blind, bending over ever living thing, large or small and whispering in its ear, …"Grow, Grow."


The Cement Truck

I'm at the cement truck, well, that's what I call it.
It's a 50ft twin waterfall of chocolate cement.
The sound is alarming!
Large and small boulders of basalt
in a slurry of volcanic ash the consistency of runny cement.
85lb rocks falling 50ft grinding and scraping in mid-flight.
A growling muffled by watery cement,\
and the concusive thud-thuds of the really big boys bottoming out
with shock waves you can feel through the ground.
I'm at the cement truck because you couldn't build a thing
that could do what this waterfall does all day long.
It took hours to scabble up the loose volcanic ash,
I'm out of water
and I nearly went over the falls myself
but I had to do it,
because the only way to truly experience the cement truck is to be here.

Bringing it Home

I wanted to bring all this to Philadelphia, the sudden overwhelming flash floods of chocolate slurry, the crisp mountain air, the grinding sound of boulders pounding each other into sand, Or, by god, the sound of the 50ft waterfall of chocolate cement spitting out grapefruit size rocks like a machine gun (sound of machine gun), in the glaring sun, hot and thirsty, running down the mountain like a 10 year old tipping monstrous boulders and watching them ripping down the mountain, catapulting 20-30ft in the air and exploding in the river. I wanted to bring the silence of the desert, a silence so profound that my heart pounding was the noisiest thing for 20 miles.

     I wanted to surround you and infuse you with the ambiance of a 1000yr old spruce forest tangled, impenetrable, muddy, mossy, hushed fern paradise. The pure clear water trickling a narrow groove in the rock face over a million years.

     But you can’t see those things here because wilderness is not portable. They exist in real space and real time and cannot be moved. The only way to know those things is to visit them. So here we are in this place which was once a wilderness of pure clear rivers and ancient forests itself. It is easy to believe that we have controlled or conquered this wilderness. We certainly have done our best to cut, burn, pave and pollute it, but every weedy lot is the advanced guard of an unstoppable force. Every concrete slab will sprout a forest of 1000yr old trees, every building will crumble and rust and disappear into a mossy tangle, of impenetrable fern paradise. The wilderness we thought we had destroyed is actively reclaiming this space, cracking the roads, rusting the facades, undermining our best attempt to dominate the landscape.

You are a Special Cog © Quentin Davis

We are all here on Earth to fulfill some special function in the Universe. We have all been carefully designed to be really good at something. Some of us are especially designed to be good at flying spaceships to the moon or negotiating peace treaties. And some of us are designed to be good at sorting old buttons or spotting the elusive Yellow Breasted thrush. As Humans we would like our special purpose to be “Important”. To be World changing, to be full of fame, glory and sex.

     But the Universe could care less about our egotism and our homosapian hard-on fantasies. There is no hierarchy of jobs or special purposes. Everything is equally important and at the same time equally insignificant. If there were a hierarchy, Photosynthesis would be more important than TV Actor or Actor turned Politician. Decomposition would be ranked higher than Office of Homeland Insecurity. And Evaporation would tower over Televangelists.

     No, we were designed with particular qualities that naturally make us super-qualified to do, at least, one thing very well. It could be obscure or obvious. It may take a lifetime to discover or it could be something you’ve done since birth You might call it a hobby or a career but you’d do it whether there was money in it or not. It might be an all consuming passion or only used once in a lifetime. The Universe is far too complex for you to see how your special purpose fits into the big picture. And it really isn’t important that you know this anyway.

     Your Purpose is probably redundant. The Universe likes things that are redundant. Just in case one of you dies or decides to not fulfill your purpose . Decides to take some ecstasy at the crucial moment. Or decides that reading your email is more important than expressing your unique gift. Then the job you were designed for, The Cog that you are in the Universal Machinery, will still be expressed.

     I was designed to make interesting hats. I could flail at the universe with righteous indignation that making interesting hats is not Good enough, not enough to build a life around, not sufficiently involved to occupy my overstuffed brain. Or I could accept my fate, step into the shoes set before me, the shoes of an interesting hat maker and live out my purpose regardless of my judgements. It’s my choice, it’s my mission. I can accept or decline.

     But in the end, when everything else has been taken away from me by time and age and the Republicans. When my infatuation with self importance and ego fades, and every drudgery thing I do has been revealed as an elaborate con to make me someone else’s wage slave. When I finally kick my addiction to cable TV watching and video game obsessing. When all my religious indoctrination drains out in a moment of profound realization next to the body of my dead friend. When every other distraction is removed and I am an empty husk of protoplasm

     I’ll still be making interesting hats. Because that is the special purpose that I am.





My art is about instinct.

Whatever disciplinary boundaries I cross are irrelevant to me.

I know what I like and I go there trusting that what fascinates me is, in fact, fascinating.

contents © Quentin Davis 2012