Rumination

by Anton Nickel

Runner-up

Lovecraft Idea #7
Horror Story: The sculptured hand—or other artificial hand—which strangles its creator.

Lately the muse has been gone. It’s weird because I have all these important things on my mind, and yet the words are not really there to express them outwardly. This is certainly frustrating, but also a natural part of things. Sometimes I feel like my voice is suffocating or maybe I’m just ruminating on something big, but it’s not yet the time for all of its nutrients to be released, and all of its waste expelled, which has just produced a thought: Ruminating is an interesting word; it literally means that which is being processed within the rumen. The rumen is an organ that we humans do not possess within our guts, but is common to bovine, equine, and many other grazing mammals. It is basically stomach-like organ body that is filled with symbiotic bacteria rather than hydrochloric acid. It is here that something unexpected, but rather ordinary, and often overlooked happens. Have you ever wondered how cows get so big eating a diet comprised of mostly grass? [For the sake of clarity and to appease those more cynical than I, I am speaking of an idealistic cow – one that is not force fed Purina; full of fat calories, antibiotics, and recombinant bovine growth hormone, but rather a cow that grazes in a field of hay and grass, as God intended]. The answer to that question lies within the rumen. It is here that those symbiotic bacteria do something that we mammals cannot. After the first chamber of the fore-stomach (reticulum) of the cow further grinds down the cud that has been chewed and swallowed over and over and the ingested vegetation is primarily comprised of a pulp of chewed up grass and enzyme (saliva), that pulp is passed into the rumen (second chamber, fore-stomach) and those billions of microorganisms within it start eating this pulp and excreting waste. It is this waste, literally bacteria shit, that contains the proteins, carbohydrates, and fats necessary for a cow to grow big, thrive, and live its life. The tremendous amount of energy needed for an animal, often weighing a ton or more, to move about the fields of this planet while reproducing and making milk to feed their young, and making milk and muscle tissue to feed the lot of us, comes from the shit of bacteria that eat and thrive on chewed up, enzyme laden, cud; which alone would never sustain us without heavy modifications and supplemental nutrition. Sometimes thoughts require similar treatment. Sometimes the only way to make sense of an idea is to tear it apart and analyze from whence it came. Sometimes deconstruction is the only way to see what is real, imagined, hopeless, hopeful, possible, and ultimately important. After that long-winded deconstruction, my thoughts ruminating all the while, it occurs to me that the smallest things are often what save us, the little steps we can take towards something better are at times the only possible action. Sometimes these steps are infinitesimal, like individual bacteria inside the bovine gut. Without them, despite their size, we couldn’t be who we are.

The drunken rambler is a commonplace passerby in most of our lives. He exists in the small hours and is there to either taunt or amuse us, and is seldom fully appreciated for the horror story that he really is: He is a little bit of all of us at some point or another. Haven’t we all been there? Standing near a bar, a little dizzy, a little confused, and staring into someone’s eyes attempting to organize ideas into coherence, often failing miserably. I am there often. I’ll consider whether or not I am losing them or entertaining them or just helping them pass the time. It is easy to tell how much someone likes you in this scenario by their willingness to suffer the hot-mess you have become in this moment and is often what I take with me, deep into my heart, after such exchanges. Was the listener right there with me? Was she hanging on by a thread? Was she enduring me just because she wants to spare my feelings? Did she give me that dirty look because she thought I was staring at her breasts but really I am so glazed over that all I see are shapes of things and not anything specific as my neck muscles are too weak to hold my head up to meet her eyes? Did she hang around because she thought I was staring at her breasts? These are all relevant questions for the situation, but the real sadness of the drunken rambler is that what is lost in the exchange is the actual humanity of the individuals involved. It’s why we drink. Our realness, our essence, our humanity is often way too scary to share openly with passersby, so we drink, and strangle ourselves just enough, temporarily, to silence what is real, who we are, for the sake of something much less damaging, and much less risky; for being stupid and dismissible. Dismissible, despite being a horrifying state, is far safer than being real. In the event that something too real passes from between our lips, if we are perceived as dismissible then the consequences go away to an extent. And while it is no excuse for committing crimes carnal in nature, it is often a fine excuse for committing crimes of the mind and slips of the tongue, which may be more frightening anyway.

While these devices designed to protect us from horrors like revealing the real demons within have been created by our own hand, by our own tricky, manipulative design; they have the ability to destroy us all the same. This is my common theme, this is my main idea, and this is often what motivates me more than anything else in life: My attempt to escape the stranglehold of these metaphorical hands. Realness is a goal worth pursuing despite convention selling concepts to the contrary. Ultimately, without realness, we are doomed. We are on the precipice of a new era of fabricated constructs that are designed to assuage our fears, motivate our hearts, purchase our souls, and lead us into a lockstep formation of ingrained conformity so oppressive and ubiquitous that it is invisible to the great many of us; as the sale of our humanity, our very essence, is already underway; and we have no one to blame but ourselves. It’s the devil in the details as the old adage goes. Little things that are often dismissed as inconvenient represent our failed first line of defense. Every time one of us attempts to skirt our civic duties, such as dodging jury duty, or failing to show at the polls for the primary elections or school board elections, or even worse, the general election, we are selling our freewill, our autonomy, our individuality, our humanity. Each time we make this sale, we are parting ways with a little piece of ourselves while bequeathing it to someone else, and allowing our voice to be strangled silent.

Sometimes the grip is harder to escape and deeper in the hands of our oppressors, it comes in the form of enhanced driver’s licenses that have the ability to track our movements around the country, or supporting network television corporations hiding behind the first amendment to act as a propaganda distribution service and fundraising arm of a particular political party, or purchasing gasoline from a foreign corporation who has destroyed our seas for the sake of profit and public image simply because it is a few cents cheaper per gallon, or investing in these companies through mutual funds and 401(k) accounts, often without realizing what is actually in our portfolios, or worse – not caring because they are helping us save for retirement and procuring our comfort by the hand of the oppressive and destructive forces of multi-national corporate interests. These maladies exist because we create them, fund them, and allow them to exist; moreover they don’t appear to be going anywhere, anytime, soon.

Perhaps the strongest grip, the most impossible to escape, is the stranglehold of fear that perpetuates our consciousness. We are a tremendously fearful bunch, and the “powers that be” know it all too well. They know how to use it against us, to mold our decisions, to collect our money, and convince us to voluntarily sign over our power as a society for the sake of protection, the false sense of security that certain groups will protect us more than others, and that we must align ourselves with that side to ensure we are safe. But fear is like smack and we are all junkies. There is really no end to how much you need once you get going. It becomes defining, limiting, self-effacing, and the only comfort many of us will ever have. Without it, where is the motivation? Without it, how do we deal with the real issues, the crimes committed against all of us by the financial industry, by our politicians, by our teachers and guardians, by our preachers, by our parents, by our lovers and friends; how do we deal with all of that horror if we are not distracted by carefully constructed fear so consuming and gripping it is all we really see. George Carlin once quipped “The rich make all of the money and do none of the work. The middle class do all of the work and pay all of the taxes. The poor are there . . . just to scare the shit out of the middle class; keep ‘em showing up at those jobs.” His joke is an exaggeration, of course, but it has much truth, especially today. It is fear that keeps so many of us going. It is this fear that “protects” us from all the horrors of humanity – from the enemy within. It is fear that keeps us on the straight and narrow. It is fear that saves us from ourselves.

It is hard to consider these matters without wondering if there is a way out or if a way out is even possible. Are these fundaments so deeply instilled in all of us that there is little hope for anything other than the status quo? And is that status quo really as bleak as being strangled by a pair of artificial hands by our own design? The only way to answer this is to attempt something different; to attempt change. Unfortunately we cannot elect someone to do it for us. Having good people in office to represent us is important, but solving these problems cannot begin or end there. If we are to affect change in any measurable way, it has to start on the smallest level, by the natural hand of the individual and extend to the very top of the political landscape. It’s the only way to counter this horror story that is the state of the world within and without us and maintain whatever humanity we have left; opening the door for rebuilding the future while resuming a healthy normalcy. If we fail, the stakes are high, and the loss we will surely endure may be far worse than ever imagined. There will be far greater problems than the muse being gone and writers block. There will be no time for post-modern deconstruction of words, or any of the other overly intellectualized practices we have grown accustomed to, even embraced, if we are struggling to exist in a state of expanding tyranny, or worse, if we completely fail and submit to the grip of the stranglers artificial hands and fall breathless into conformity and obedience while whatever facets of our autonomy and humanity are suffocated and stomped into total, unrelenting, submission. This is the portrait of real horror. This is more frightful than anything that anyone could ever imagine for our fate, because this is happening right now, and exists because we made it so.



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