Static like the Alps *story starts here*
When Odious told me in January that they’d been receiving information in dreams and waking visions since the night of the winter solstice, I wasn’t sure if I should believe them. It sounded too much like one of their performance art pieces in which they tested and toyed with notions of “real life”. Especially with the super rare planetary alignment of Jupiter and Saturn on the darkest night of the darkest year as its setting. But when they asked me to help them document and share the ongoing experience, I said fuck it, why not. My own projects were on hold and I’d been coming over their place every day anyway, safely ensconced within piles of books, organic coffee, booze and grease stained paper bags of gourmet, cruelty free delivery. Also, I liked that Philip K. Dick showed up in their solstice kick-off dream, an old man with white hair and a white beard, rocking a Santa Claus vibe. It was what he might look like if he was still alive today, a thought that gave me comfort. He handed Odious a scroll that they believe was symbolic of information being beamed subliminally into their unconscious.
They had rituals and a work flow already figured out. Before we got to it we sat in front of their big screen and meditated (or in my case, stared) for 15 minutes while it played static. And not just a simple loss of an input signal—homie's too much of a connoisseur for that. They use a digital antenna to tune into UHF with the built-in decoder switched off. The goal was to tune into the power of a pure frequency, as they called it—a free place in between the corporate channel Zzzzzz’s. Maybe, I said. I'm older than they are and no longer believe in places that are free or pure. When we were done meditating, Odious opened PKD’s mindfuck novel, VALIS to a random page and read the first thing their eyes fell upon—which gave us the direction for the day’s research. Sometimes I looked up an outside text he referenced, or a pop culture icon. Other times I did a google search on a word that “stood out” to me. Whatever feels right, Odious said, wherever you feel a pull. I’d follow those initial connections and surf from link to link—the names of people, or movies, or events that stood out to me in whatever I read or watched.
Odious had me record my findings into color-coded moleskin notebooks that I was sure no one was going to read, making me wonder what the point of any of this was. Sometimes I just filled the pages with random rhymes. They worked in the other room, sitting on the couch with their legs curled under them in their trademark, catlike position, looking down at their phone while the big screen played movies, sometimes the same scene over and over, the sound going directly into their earbuds. Knowing they were absorbed, I checked around the other rooms for hidden cameras, but all I found were little bundles of tobacco here and there, for protection.
As the weeks flew by, and January’s ice further muffled the already too quiet Brooklyn streets, I found myself looking forward to the daily assignment--I'd read PKD before, but I felt like I was getting to know him as a person. By just getting random fragments the already blurry distinction between him and his fictional alter ego Horselover Fat was eradicated even further, matching how I felt about myself, this person who I increasingly thought of as a character who wasn't me.
It was the first week in February that I started having my own strange dreams. They felt like movies I was acting in, conscious of the fact that I was playing a part that wasn't me. My personality was small and poorly assembled and lit from within, for anyone to see. I woke up with my heart pounding and a feeling of presence all around me.
I also found that things related to the day’s VALIS fragment were coming up even when I was done with work. Coincidences, I told myself, but they kept happening. Odious caught me paging through one of the moleskins, looking through the notes to confirm that an actor in a random movie had also starred in a film loosely based on a PKD book, or the exact wording of a reference to Parsifal, or dialogue said by Mini, the musician character based on Brian Eno (and Beethoven).
“It’s happening, like I thought it would. You’re receiving information,” Odious said, nodding and smiling as they ran a hand through their teal dyed, pandemic fade.
I realized they didn't consider my real role in the project to be producer or dupe but "Patient Zero"—the first to be transmitted a very real “healing virus” as they called it, one that I “caught” by reading about and delving into the information contained in their experiences.
“It’s just from being around you so much,” I said, waving them off while still being unsure myself. “The mind’s a funny thing. If we want to see connections--we will. We invent and infuse meaning into the dumb, dark, boredom of our lives.”
“You’re totally right,” Odious said, their tone overly chipper, but in a seemingly genuine way.
“Nothing happens on its own. The act of observing something not only changes it—but it’s the only reason it appears in the first place. Quantum physics, yo, catching up to the ancients.” They reclined back in their newly purchased and fantastically ugly gaming chair, their big eyes staring into mine.
“Since this started I felt that there are others, maybe many others, to whom this is also happening. And I could feel that that when I told you about my dream that even though you didn’t believe it was real, the act of sharing it with you had an effect. It’s all so perfect—this whole situation. You were already here, coming here every day, for no real reason. Yeah, yeah, the pandemic, but that's not it and you know it. It was a gravitational pull. You could have gone anywhere, it seems to me you have a lot of friends. You and I weren't even tight like that when this shit started. It was a gravitational pull. Even if there wasn’t any corona, you would have come here. If you had a job you would have quit. You came here because a part of you was waiting to get the download. And now here it is, so don't front with me--of course you’re on board, you and that big skeptical brain of yours. And when others come in you’ll be ready to blow the whistle and call bullshit so this doesn’t turn into a psychotic circle jerk in which people get lost in reporting endless synchronicities, which, besides being beside the point and dangerous, is terribly boring.”
My immediate reaction was to object, but instead I nodded and poured some more wine into a mid-century crystal glass. They were right--I would have come here no matter what. There were times I'd wondered about it myself, and at night when I came home I'd tell myself that tomorrow I'd stay put, but then I'd be up anyway making my mid-morning trek from my place in Greenpoint to theirs in Bushwick.
So I gave into the flow, as Odious says, as we let the story take us where it would. I used bibliomancy and clues from our dreams and synchronicities to guide me on weaving together aspects of Philip K. Dick's story with our own. Most of the time I'm OK with the fact that I don't know what I'm doing, but other times I come to Odious feeling stressed because all the drafts seem like rubbish and I don't know how to start this, to which they just shrug their shoulders.
"You have to believe. Art is like enlightenment, you can't clench your jaw and fists to make it happen."
Yesterday when we meditated before work, I thought of this advice and gave up on hoping anything would happen. Fuck peace, fuck enlightenment. It was then that I saw a beautiful woman emerge from the static. At first I wasn’t sure, but she was there, in a bathing suit on a shimmering silver beach. The sea was purple. Her eyes were black and full of stars and the skin of her face and cleavage glistened like diamonds. I looked over at Odious, but their eyes were closed. I thought of nudging them but didn't. It was possible they were controlling all of this and I was afraid the spell would be broken. That I'd lose the lassoed signal that had crossed water and air and time—for me, for you, for all us fucked up losers who have a secret golden part hidden deep inside. I realized that despite everything I felt legit happy, because maybe I've found a way to save you and by saving you I might save myself.
Image Credit: Gustave Doré, of Dante Alighieri and Beatrice Portinari gazing into the Empyrean Light