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Platelets are tiny bodies that circulate in the blood of mammals. They are derived from cells but have no nucleus. They do not carry DNA.
Central to the process of code breaking is redundancy, the extra information contained in language. For example, in a code based directly on American English, the letter ‘e’ will correspond to the encrypted character that appears most often. As these redundancies are removed during encryption, the code becomes harder to break.
As we pass Minneapolis, the child sitting beside me on the aeroplane tells me they are stars. The lights of the city, from our altitude: they are stars.
A single platelet’s average lifespan runs between seven and ten days until it is destroyed by the spleen. As of 2005, the average life expectancy in the United States was 77.8 years. I was born in London in 1979. As of 2007, this figure had risen to 78.06 years. How long is .06 of a year?
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I’ve never been able to recognize constellations. At least, not as the figures they are purported to be. It always seemed like you could pick any group of stars and superimpose the image of a hunter, a crab, a ram upon it. I mention this because the constellation of Minneapolis, as seen from an aeroplane, most closely resembles a man in repose. There is a needle in his forearm.
It is almost impossible to completely remove redundancies from a sequence. They are present even in coded strands of DNA. I understood this in the possibility that an individual human being may be described merely by incidental information. That is, we could exist as noise, as the redundancies contained in the encryption of something else unknown.
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Every six weeks my blood is drawn and examined because I have an abnormally low number of platelets. The specialist said that my body may be destroying them in error. I have understood this in the way newspapers use the term ‘friendly fire.’ I have understood that as the overwhelming weight of guilt.
It is important here to consider the difference between mass and weight. .06 of a year weighs in at a little over three weeks. In Andorra, those born in 2007 can expect to live more than 83 years. When they finally pass on in the year 2090, how will the constellations of Denver, Minneapolis, Berlin have changed?
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Three weeks corresponds approximately to the length of time we spent in Orlando, 1992. It was on this trip that I first witnessed not only the game of baseball but also the phenomenon of the wave. In 2004, in North Hollywood, I was employed by a man who claimed that at a USC football game in the late 1970s, he had invented the wave. He had the press cuttings to prove it although I wonder even now, how it is possible to invent something that receives meaning only from context. As if the digit ‘7’ could be credited with the invention of Arabic numerals. After all, in isolation, the wave is just a man standing up and sitting down.
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As a relatively young man, Anthony Burgess is given only six months to live. Aware that his work is incomplete, he sets about writing with formidable verve and commitment. His production continues through this first six months and beyond through years until decades later in 1993, Burgess succumbs to lung cancer in a house in Twickenham, the author of more than 60 volumes of fiction, poetry, drama, essay and biography. Whereas mass remains constant, weight is influenced by the variable forces that act upon it.
That is, driving back from the mountains, I composed my father’s eulogy in the taillights of passing cars. As it started to rain, the lights ran and doubled and the eulogy grew plural. All I want is for these echoes to find their origin: the particular measured sound that birthed this sequence. This is my affair with language. Three months prior to our departure for Orlando, at Benny Hill’s Southampton funeral, the eulogy was delivered by Anthony Burgess.
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In May 2003, I drove into the mountains with a friend, a retired army Colonel, and a minor broadcast personality, to discharge firearms in the Roosevelt National Forest. We ate cold grilled chicken from zip loc bags and drank cans of non-alcoholic lager. I carried a .357 Magnum in a holster, the chicken in my hands and a twelve gauge shotgun strapped across my back.
The Colonel provided the weapons, my friend purchased 500 rounds of ammunition, the media personality brought a single handgun (wrapped in a red handkerchief) and drove us in a pale blue SUV.
What did I bring to the occasion?
A willingness to participate. A foil for the Americans. A canvas on which they would illustrate the things they most valued.
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From the drugstore, I take band-aids and a dark t-shirt with Denver written across the chest. The letters are superimposed over a grouping of straight and jagged lines that I presume to represent the city and mountains. The band-aids offer breathable protection and a non stick pad. The swerve and block design of their packaging is a trademark of the manufacturer, a dated conglomerate who decades ago tried to patent the stomach pump. I take these things so that our lives might perfectly and completely reflect this work.
I do not have a song to sing, nor can I remember the words to yours. Instead, I have burned these initials into my arm so we can sleep side by side in the museum. Of course, reflection is improbable but by noting these correlations we intimate entry into a new chamber, one in which the walls are built of curved mirrors. Most important is the warp created by this curvature.
So, it is a work of becoming?
It is a work of straight and jagged lines onto which language is superimposed. The chamber does not exist in the original pattern but in the curvature that language affords. Such was the response of the patent office. Such is the story of the drugstore.
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Midway through A Confederate General from Big Sur, Richard Brautigan refers to the ‘rivets in Ecclesiastes.’ Specifically, this is a reference to his lead character Jesse’s method of reading by punctuation. When I started writing this I understood its relation to the preceding although now it isn’t as clear. I think I am remembering Erik Satie: reading (as well as writing) can exist as a practice of measurement.
In 1984, when Richard Brautigan took a .44 Magnum to his head he did not leave a widow. He was subsequently cremated, his ashes imparted to his daughter.
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The most popular assisted suicide facility among the people of Great Britain is located in Switzerland. It is estimated that as of October 2008, more than one hundred UK citizens have pursued its services. The only US states where such procedures are legal are Oregon and Washington. A patient must be diagnosed with an incurable and irreversible condition with a life expectancy of less than six months. A physician then writes a prescription for a lethal dose of medication, to be taken if and when the patient chooses.
Oregon was the home of Richard Brautigan from 1944 to 1954, a full 43 years before laws were passed to make assisted suicide legal. Brautigan’s body was found in his house in Bolinas, California nearly two weeks after he had last been in contact with anyone.
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I would board trains, not to Bolinas but to Pasadena or back home to Hollywood. On the way to Pasadena the train would pass by what was known in the early twentieth century as ‘Suicide Bridge.’
Back in North Hollywood, in the studio where I worked, I would think intermittently of the bridge in Pasadena. Not because of any connection to suicide, but because of its arches, how they would rise out of the tallest trees and fall over the Arroyo Seco.
I want to think of this work as contoured. I want it to rise and fall.
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A dream of falling is said to represent insecurity or instability in waking life. When Pan Am flight 103 exploded over Lockerbie in 1988, police concluded that some of the flight crew may have survived the crash, only to die before rescuers arrived.
In January 1972, Vesna Vulovic, a flight attendant on Jat Airways flight 367 that exploded over Czechoslovakia, survived a fall of 33,000 feet. She suffered several broken bones and spent 27 days in a coma.
In January 2001, Abdelbasset al-Megrahi was sentenced to 27 years in prison for his part in the Lockerbie bombing. Now, in 2008, he occupies a windowless room in Greenock prison as the cancer that originated in his prostate spreads throughout his body.
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When Ludwig Wittgenstein designed a house for his sister Gretl, he spent a full year perfecting both the radiators and door handles. The commission from his sister owed as much to Wittgenstein’s genius as it did to her concern about his state of mind. When completed in 1928, although the house had no carpets, curtains or lightshades, Gretl concluded that it matched her temperament exactly.
Her concern for her brother was prompted by a twelve month period that began with the death of Frege, continued through Wittgenstein’s failure as a schoolteacher and ended with the death of his mother.
At nap time in the gymnasium, when we were to imagine God I saw a man, beardless and smiling, wearing a white gown. His face changed color from red to blue to green to yellow. While working on his sister’s house, Wittgenstein dedicated much of his spare time to sculpture.
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On a website where users post questions for others to answer, between ‘What does your birthday mean?’ and ‘How do volcanoes work?’ I found ‘Have you ever seen a dead body?’
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On January 8th, 1989, less than a month after Lockerbie, British Midland flight 92 crashed onto a motorway embankment in Leicestershire killing 47 people. At school, a week or so later, we reenacted the panic in drama class. During the 1970s, the Wittgenstein House was purchased by the Bulgarian government who restored the building for the use of its new tenants, the Bulgarian Cultural Institute. Because of my low platelet count I receive frequent correspondence from St Joseph’s hospital. I also have to watch out for ‘excessive bruising or bleeding.’
In Catholic churches the font is traditionally located at the rear with the altar at the front and tabernacle behind. This is based on the Temple of Jerusalem, organized through the architecture of God himself. During the Eucharist, Christ dwells in the tabernacle at the head of the church. It follows then that the congregation, those that share Christ’s blood, become the body.
I’m not sure how this is influenced by cardinal direction, that is, whether the tabernacle is on the east or west wall. What I’m trying to say is that either way, from the window of the Bulgarian Cultural Institute, the constellation we call God is only rarely visible.
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Gustav Klimt’s portrait of Gretl Stonborough-Wittgenstein (oil on canvas, 1905) hangs in the Neue Pinakothek in Munich. In the painting, Gretl wears something like a bridal gown. She is standing against a backdrop of grey and bottle green, her hands clasped gently at her waist. At the request of the architect, the walls in her house were painted in a uniform shade of ochre.
In many traditions, white is the color of mourning, the color that follows death. Elvis Presley named his private jet Lisa Marie. British Midland flight 92 crashed on what would have been Elvis’s 54th birthday. I’ve often thought that Elvis was able to be Elvis because he was carrying the souls of two men. He had a stillborn twin called Jesse. They are buried side by side in the garden at Graceland.
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Have you ever seen a dead body?
Yes. Of course. And she died in my arms.
Yes. Last September a coworker jumped seven floors to the granite atrium below.
Yes. A man covered with newspaper lying in the road. Much like the face of God, a bruise will change color from red to blue to green to yellow.
Yes. I have held people in my arms as they passed from life to death. There is no dignity. The image of Christ has been observed in clouds, tortillas, x-rays, windows and rocks.
Yes. I was an art student. We dissected a dead person and drew the muscles and bones. The Herald of Free Enterprise was a passenger ferry that capsized near Zeebrugge in 1987.
Yes. I asked to see my fiancé as soon as they brought him to the funeral home. It was strange to see him lying there like he was sleeping, knowing he was gone. I stood there and cried, stroking his arm while the funeral director held me up.
Yes. Hundreds. Vietnam. In the moments before drowning, it is said that euphoria washes over the body. Inquiries into the Zeebrugge ferry disaster found that the cargo doors had not been closed when the ship left port. As a result, the hold filled with water causing the ship to pitch sharply to its port side.
Yes. When I was 8, my dad took me on his milk round. The last stop was an old people’s home and there was a lady sitting in a chair. I sat and chatted to her. She didn't talk back, but what did I care? I used to talk to my sister’s slippers.
Yes. Patients who died while I was drawing their blood. I remember the red ship, resting on a sandbank in the television.
Yes. A man who had been pushed down the stairs by his wife. Someone said he had been beating her.
Yes. I held my stillborn son in my arms.