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Charles Shaw

In the beginning there was running, step after step pounding down into a humdrum monotony, an insufferable rhythm of expended energy, short, staccato breaths and the disintegrous decay of the muscle in atrophy, each lunge forward an exercise in futility, each action countered by immeasurable resistance. There was nothing but space before me.

There was no day that seemed different from any other day, there was no time except that time which I measured by the excruciating, sinuous waves of instability, moving from one state of restlessness and angst to another, glorious elation to devastating misery, nauseating fear to fiendish lust, lost on a jet stream of manic grandiosity, spiraling down to the interment of my soul, buried deep beneath a rotten earth that stank like the death rattle of all the Ghosts of failure around me.

I ran in place like a rabid dog chained inside a junkyard. I made no progress, and yet I was exhausted; I was slowly being drained of any and everything that I could call life in favor of a non-existence that consisted of taking up space and form, like a neutron, inert and purposeless, passing between opposing charges, only to be decimated particle by particle.

When I realized my ineffectuality, I reacted with sheer malevolence, attacking everything I saw with my mere presence, passing through other people's lives like laylines through the countryside, setting Spontaneous Human Fires, ripping up all the foundations and spreading them across the earth, pieces of love and dreams years in the making that took me but a few reckless seconds to ruin. I had nothing but that which surrounded me at that moment, and I sucked it all dry because deep within me there was an unfathomable void, a black hole from which nothing could escape, and nothing could fill. I could eat, sleep, fuck, take drugs, or perpetrate utter chaos in this maddening quest for completion, and yet through it all I was doing little else but increasing the void. I was lost and I was helpless, and nothing I could conceive would ever change that.

I don't know when it was that I first became self-aware, nor do I know when I realized that I had a responsibility to this universe. It seemed that I just appeared one day out of Chaos and could not go back.

I needed people, but wouldn't tell them. In truth I needed everything and everyone, pining for some inner sanctum. Which came first, the causative factors in my alienation or the misery of my isolation? In truth they were a self-perpetuating machine, one hand pushing the other shoulder and vice-versa. I never did anything of my own volition; I was alternately ordered, intimidated, cajoled, berated and terrorized into every single action I had ever committed.

I can't say with any conviction that I had the presence of mind to conceive of anything as concrete as a goal. It was more like a perpetual longing, a constant stretching of my heart into a panicked arrhythmia. I ran from it because I thought I could put distance between myself and it, never realizing it was simply me, and that no matter what I did it was as attached to me as were limbs, digits and features.

Everywhere around me was perfection and, worse, the expectation of perfection. I owned a place in that line that was slowly making it's way to the edge of the cliff, to take our turn out on that slick precipice and leap into the void that is the neutering force of true conformity where there was always a cubicle for you, classified and consolidated, put away for easy referencing. I was like a lemming, having no idea what was urging me on, pushing me towards my demise, yet I ran towards it with all of Hell's fury. And in my occasional moments of doubt I simply looked around at all those running beside me and was immediately reassured that this was the right thing to do.

Something...some voice, some instinctual reaction, some momentary lapse of the insanity...something made me stop going in the direction the others were headed. Something reached into the mass of flying fur and plucked me out. I didn't stop running, I never stopped running, but I went far off course, and that was where I believe it all began. Before that there was nothing but amorphous masses, sounds, directives, principles and standards and hardly a question wedged in between. We all just moved this way because that's where all the fur was headed. After that, I realized that not only did I not belong inside that endless stream of fur, but that I was set down in a vacancy, an endless terrain of nothingness in which I would run, chasing after the dream of fulfillment, of the simple abatement of my loneliness, of purpose: The Collective Unconscious. Mountains are built upon straw huts and oceans are laid over thatched carpets; the entire superstructure begins with one solitary brick. Every human being, and for that matter every creature under heaven, has a purpose, a function in life, a place in the great circle. This simple realization is difficult for the disenfranchised, as they feel their place exists in not having a place. Millions of lost souls roaming the earth looking for that place that is not cubicle, not classified and consolidated, not named per se, but still a place they could call their own.

Vagabond disciples looking for a Messiah, looking to be the Messiah. The truth of it all was that conflict, aimlessness, discontentment, spiritual malaise, and resentment were all by-products of resisting the truth of one's existence. All truths are contained in the past, within the endless variations on the basic themes of existence, which themselves spring from the two elemental emotions: Love and Fear. Love attracts us to things and Fear repels us away from things.

Beyond that is everything that we know, endless variations and endless interpretations. But we cannot go below that integer of 2. Our existence, inextricably bound to this chronic dualism which polarizes everything. We accept that uniqueness lies somewhere along that line that connects the two poles, but what we seem incapable of accepting is that those 2 can be merged into 1 (or One), and that one is God.

I never embraced my past as I ran, I never looked back with contemplation or even genuine interest. I was guilty of worshipping it, reviling it, glamorizing it, glorifying it, hating it, changing the facts and avoiding and betraying it, and, worst of all, intellectualizing it. But I never took it for what it was, and not surprisingly I never learned from it. I just kept on running. As a result, nothing ever was as it was, yet never was it as I wanted or needed it to be.

I built nothing because I discarded everything as inadequate. Each experience was negligible because it wasn't poetic enough. I was so busy trying to make it something else that I totally missed what was happening. It was no wonder I had nothing but sporadic images punctuated by gaping blank spots, spots which I filled with my own fantasy, backstory, and bullshit. At some point even the ability to observe left me. Things just happened and I was helpless to react, locked into a maddening pace on the treadmill, pushed along like a spore in the wind.

By then, life was no longer an experience, it was a motion which I performed mechanically, devoid of spirit because it was comatose, devoid of hope because it had been swept away, become a razor sharp four-letter word with a sickness trailing behind it.

Amputees often describe the experience of feeling, in that missing limb, a twitch or itch or pain as if it were still there. It's called muscle memory. I moved through life like a spiritual amputee, not realizing I had lost everything, dragging around phantom life of which I no longer had any association or claim, still seeing myself as one thing when it was clear to all around me (and had been for some time) that I was something quite different. I was utterly exhausted because I was carrying around a whole congress of ghosts, and letting them all go took more than holding on to them.

If God would have spoken to me then I would have only had heard distorted tones. Words had lost their meaning. People communicated to me in grunts and stares, physical violence and chemical insanity. All there was was a brief instant of panic followed by the sickening plummet into monomaniacal obsession. I was a sick animal foraging for food, eating old, rotting carcasses stuffed under logs, hell bent on primal need. It would take only one of two things to save me: a complete and total shutdown of the machine I had become, or an act of God, whom at the time I was utterly convinced did not exist, and if by some strange quirk of fate did exist at one time, was surely dead, and if not dead, surely...most definitely did not give a flying fuck about me.

Little did I know that all these things were one in the same.


Charles Shaw is an author, political activist, and the Politics and Non-Fiction Editor for 3am Magazine. He has also recently debuted his new 3am regular feature, Dialogue, where he converses with famous dead people. This arose after he stopped taking his medication. He recently launched the political magazine, Newtopia, where his regular column, A Vision of Newtopia runs weekly. 2003 will see the release of his debut novel, Unfinished Portraits, and in 2004 he will release The Politics of Recreation: How Chicago Became Beautiful through Lake Claremont Press. He is currently writing The Sinner's Treadmill, an insider's look at he worldwide drug epidemic, and "The Birth of the Cool", a play based on the book by Lewis MacAdams.

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