On Going Feral

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Regenerations

Yesterday, a colleague looked at me and deadpanned, “aren’t you supposed to have a long beard?” When you remote-work for an extended period (it’s been six months since my last visit to the mother ship), you can expect to hear your share of jokes and odd remarks when you do show up. Once you become a true cloudworker, a ghost in the corporate machine who only exists as a tinny voice on conference calls, perceptions change. So when you do show up, you find that people react to you with some confusion. You’re not a visitor or guest, but you don’t seem to truly belong either.

I hadn’t planned on such a long period without visits to the home base, but the recession and a travel freeze got in the way of my regular monthly visits for a while. The anomalous situation created an accidental social-psychological experiment with me as guinea pig. What’s the difference between six months and one month, you might ask? Everything. Monthly visits keep you domesticated. Six months is long enough to make you go feral. I’ve gone feral.

Feral cat (Wikimedia Commons, GFDL)

Feral cat (Wikimedia Commons, GFDL)

Consider the meaning of the word: the condition of a domesticated species that goes back to its wild ways. The picture above is of a feral cat. Curiously enough, this one is apparently from Virginia, where I live.

Most common domesticated animals can go feral: dogs, pigs, cats, horses and sheep, for instance. We tend to forget though, that the most impossibly ornery species we’ve managed to domesticate is ourselves, homo sapiens. Settled agriculture, urbanization, religion, the nation-state and finally, industrialization, each added one more layer of domestication. It’s not for nothing that primate ethologist Desmond Morris titled one of his books about human sociology The Human Zoo. Modern work styles are ripping away all the layers at once. I am an atheistic, post-nationalist immigrant from the other side of the planet, living in a neo-urban (though not bleak-cyberpunk) landscape.  I inhabit physical environments where old communities are crumbling, and people are tentatively groping for social structure through meetups (aside: I just started a writer’s meetup, 1000 words a day, in the DC area). I am tethered to a corporation too loosely to be a significant part of it socially. No Friday happy hours or regular lunch-buddy for me.

I’ve become to the society that is my parent company what the privateers of old used to be to the big naval powers of the 18th century. A sort of barely-legal socio-economic quasi-outlaw. Maybe I am yielding to self-romanticizing temptations, but there are some hard truths here.

Political scientists often use a fictional construct, man in the state of nature, as a starting point for their conceptual models of the gradual domestication civilization of humans. William Golding offered one fictional imagining of what might happen if humans went feral at an early enough age, in Lord of the Flies. But until now, the idea of modern feral humans has largely been a theoretical one.

Cloudworker lifestyles — mobile, home-based, unshaven, pajama-clad and Starbucks-swilling — create a psychological transformation that is very similar to what happens when animals go feral. In animals, it takes a couple of generations of breeding for the true wild nature to re-emerge.  Cats, for instance, revert to a basic, hardy, stocky, short-haired robustly-interbred tabby variety. Dogs become mutts. But in humans it can happen faster, since most of our domestication is through education and socialization rather than breeding.

You might think that the true tabby-mutt human must live outside the financial system, maybe as a wilderness survivalist or fight-club member. Maybe engage in desperate and deadly Lord-of-the-flies style lifestyles, all nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw. But that’s actually a mistaken notion, because that sort of officially checked-out  or actively nihilistic person is defined and motivated by the structure of human civilization. To rebel is to be defined by what you rebel against.  Criminals and anarchists are civilized creatures. Feral populations are agnostic, rather than either dependent on, or self-consciously independent of, codified social structures. Feral cloudworkers use social structures where it accidentally works for them, rather like feral cats congregating near fish markets, and improvise ad-hoc self-support structures for the rest of their needs.

As a truly feral cloudworker, you simply end up being thrown to your own devices. Social infrastructure no longer works for you, except by accident. You don’t get friends for free just because you have a job or belong to a  bowling league. You improvise. You find some social contact at Starbucks. You go for long walks and learn to appreciate solitude more. You become more closely attuned to your personal bio-rhythms. You nap (well, I do). You have left your cubicle for the wide world, but you pay the cost. You have to learn to survive in the social wilderness. Much of it is as bleak as the deep open ocean, where it takes the personality of the oceanic white-tip shark to survive.

But the contrast is most vivid when you do, on occasion, rejoin society as a physical guest. I was surprised at how different I felt, starting with my shoes  and badge (I am barefoot or in flip-flops at home. At “work” I have to wear close-toed shoes because it is a lab environment). The regular rhythms of morning coffee-hello rituals and meeting behaviors seem strangely alien.  It all seems like a foreign country you’ve only read about in theoretical org charts. Names and faces drift apart, starved of nourishing, daily reinforcement, and you struggle to conjure up names of people you used to pass by in the hallways everyday. Out of cc out of mind. The logic of promotions, team staffing and budgeting seem as obscure as the rituals of Martian society. Even though you know that in theory, you are being affected by it.

As my colleague’s beard joke illustrates, you are perceived differently. You are some strange off-the-org-chart species, and people don’t know what to do with you. You are disconnected from water-cooler gossip to a significant extent, but the fact that you are clearly surviving, productive, and effective, I suspect, makes the regular workers introspect as much as us aliens. I imagine they wonder whether all the seemingly solid reality all around them can really be what it seems if somebody like me can randomly show up and disappear occasionally and still impact things as much as their next-cubicle neighbor. Anybody with imagination who is still desk-bound in traditional ways, I suspect, is feeling reality and its walls, floors and ceilings dissolve around him/her, Matrix style.

On Friday, I’ll return to my natural wild habitat. Will life re-domesticate me at some point? I don’t know.

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. I got a similar response after returning to the mother ship, with Crocs and cut-offs (I guess you could say I had my beard). I don’t think I inspired any introspection, in fact, I can report with some confidence that there is a strong belief in the corporate world that nothing of value can be achieved while you are wearing Crocs.

  2. Just found your blog through /. and LOVE this piece. I’m remote too and for me (female) the “beard” is that I don’t wear my hair up anymore. The very first time I went back (only a month after being remote) people were commenting that they had never seen how long my hair was in a year and a half of working with me…

    I’m not truly feral though, because my husband works in an office and makes sure to make fun of me when he comes home and I’m in my jammies.

  3. You are an honest thinker. Thank you for this article. Here’s a story I wrote about how I went feral:

    Students walk silently, considering the tasks demanded of them today, tomorrow, next week. Commuting engines growl angrily in search of street parking. A bus squeals to a stop. A shopkeeper shouts at an employee arriving late.
    But all of this is background and white noise. As I walk, my thoughts are attending only to the projects that govern my schedule: term papers, essay deadlines, unfinished reading, parking tickets, overdue bills, lunch with my girlfriend.
    These obligations are everything to me, the stuff of my existence, the scaffolding and libido of my world.
    These musings are twisting my gut with a peculiar kind of dread. It surfaces like guilt except that I am not feeling guilty about anything in particular. This anxiety grows more acute as I ruminate over my schedule and consider all that I am supposed to do.
    I find myself hesitating and turning aside in search of reprieve. These hesitations have been happening more frequently in recent days. They are like moments of oscillation, little spaces in which to ponder the possibilities of deviance.
    Passing a chain link fence at the corner, I notice a vagrant huddled silently under a bush. I have seen him—or someone like him—several times before, but had always made him invisible as we are all trained to do with vagrants. Like the brown paper bag next to him, he is supposed to be part of the bushes and the garbage or, at best, an object of sympathy.
    But on this occasion, I find him sitting vividly in the center of my consciousness. My gaze is trapped. He seems to be lying in wait, like an animal on its haunches, all prepared for my arrival.
    I hesitate once more and approach the vagrant. His eyes lift to examine me, blue stones set into fleshy red. I return his gaze and open my mouth to speak but, as if forgetting my lines in a monologue, I remain silent.

    The vagrant reaches out a closed hand to offer something and says, “The cure for what ails you.”
    He opens his hand to reveal a folded piece of paper. I pause for a moment to collect his gift and ask: “What is this?”
    There is no answer. Instead, he begins to mumble quietly and returns his attention to his lap.
    “Why did you give this to me? What do you mean ‘a cure for what ails me?’”
    The vagrant emits a croaking laugh and responds, “Never mind. It doesn’t matter.”
    My anxiety, that sense of being accused, is now driving me to investigate the piece of paper in the presence of the old man. Perhaps it will be like one of those lucky fortune cookies with special words that provide a soothing opiate after a bad day.
    I crouch down and sit with the vagrant so that we are both slouched forward and half-recessed into the hedge. The paper opens in my hands and bears a single sentence surrounded by a sketched spiral with no center. The words on the paper inject my mood with a disturbing mix of emotions that feel foreign and unmanageable.
    “What does this mean?” I ask louder this time.
    Still no answer.
    Suppressing my doubts, I read and reread the note until the meaning of the sentence seems to change into something dark and terrifying. It is so terrifying, in fact, that I am dizzy and afraid to stand up.
    * * *
    I look at the vagrant’s eyes and he looks back at mine, except deeper, as if he is observing the motions of my mind. He is smiling, almost laughing.
    The dizziness and fear, escalating rapidly, gives me the feeling of sinking into the ground.
    Several minutes pass until I am submerged into a bizarre, pervasive chaos. All at once, everything is strangely naked, detached from my ordinary concerns and filled with a crowded void of nameless objects. These objects seem to have no relation either to me or to each other or to anything beyond them.
    As I look back at the vagrant, I am unable to coherently unify the objects that constitute him. I find only things, pieces, protrusions. He no longer has a face, only a hideous aggregation of surfaces: a sunburned brow, stubble, scabs, blisters, a noodle dangling from a collar.
    Have I been drugged?
    Beneath the bush around him I notice a greasy rag and clusters of wadded napkins. A crumpled bit of cellophane, a half-dried puddle of mucous, a crust of bread. Everything is askew and shifty and radically vivid.
    Then, as if startling myself in a mirror while alone in a room, I notice my own body reflected back at me. With the vagrant I too have changed form. Instead of me, there are only these heavy tissues, disparately organized, soft in some parts and hard in others. And although I feel compelled to move them, the energy putting them in motion has subsided and they remain inert and quiet, yet all within arms reach.
    I kick off my shoes and find in my feet everything that is alien and revolting. They feel cold. Everything feels cold: the smooth surface of the note in my hand, the breeze seeping into my shirt, the air in my mouth, the hedge on my neck. Though intense, this coldness is distant and comfortable.
    At the same time, the odors of the street are intensifying and growing foul. I smell donuts and shit and exhaust fumes, all distinct and intense and simultaneous and all standing in the foreground of my attention.
    As I survey these new landscapes, I begin to lose my grip on things familiar. My everyday concerns are dissolving, my memories are fading and my will is becoming thin and fickle so that I cannot bring myself out of the hedge.
    A raspy voice sounds in my ear. The old vagrant with his shriveled maw. He is saying something and now, entranced by his voice, I am wholly occupied by him. I want to touch his face, his mouth, the source of his voice. At the same time, I want to run and hide.
    “This is the outside,” he says, sagelike “and the inside, too, when the machine stops.”
    In spite of the solemnity of his words, his voice has no sympathy. But my anxiety is quickly giving way to a feeling of audacious curiosity and I am released from all guilt. Even the notion of being guilty seems antiquated and comical.
    My curiosities are captured most by an escalating swiftness in my will, the thrilling freedom to do anything and be anything. My deadlines and tasks and worries and aspirations are all shoved into the background and hidden from view. In their place I find the open availability of a terrifying array of possible movements—an infinite number—all whirling around and failing to entice. I can sit or dance or run or laugh or throw a stone or piss or rub my hands together or…anything.
    There are no bearings or steps beneath me and no means to map out my surroundings. Everywhere I look, I find only objects overlaid with options. Grey pathways leading nowhere like a scrambled maze of forest trails. This experience begins to paralyze me. I cannot select a path because there are too many paths and no destinations. Yet I sense an obligation to act, to make a choice without conscious deliberation, by instinct. So I try to land a decision but find only a whirling of possibilities and nothing to grasp for navigation.
    Not to be outdone, I rifle through my memories for names and habits and old projects, not knowing what I will do when I find one. But this process ends in a crash of exhaustion.
    There is nothing to do.
    Of course, I could stand here all morning, all day, all night. I could remain until tomorrow in this very spot beside the hedge, then continue standing here the next day and the day after until, like this vagrant, I become a heap of garbage in the street.
    This choice would be as arbitrary and acceptable as any other. The familiar world of rules and involvements has been supplanted by a world more raw and tangible and unrelenting, whitewashed of all beauty and pathos. The bubble of my existence, inflated by years of accumulated activities, has been exploded by a sentence on a little piece of paper handed to me by a stranger.
    I need space to consider my options. I need to be concealed.

    * * *
    I decide to sit. Sitting is like hiding, it will insert me into the background, the white noise. I will be cloaked like the vagrant, all tucked away in my own little cavity of freedom, where my thoughts can align and reorganize themselves. Trembling and winded from the intensity of my emotions, I huddle further into the bush and reflect on my condition.
    I am the invisible man. A pixel, a speck, a fleck in the background in a cluttered landscape.
    Staring at my hands, I speak to the vagrant. “What have you done to me? Who are you?” There is no answer, just a knowing glance that makes my questions seem senseless and misdirected.
    Keeping my body tense and still, I slowly turn my eyes from one object to another and find myself surrounded by things flowing in and out of other things and all without relations or borders or meanings to distinguish them. I turn my eyes to the sidewalk and search my mind for words to make sense of all the nameless things. Words as knives to help me cut things apart and give them boundaries.
    Gum. Chewing gum, it is black and trampled. Dried leaves clustered in cobwebs beneath the hedge. Hands, my own hands. all wrinkled and plastic and animal.
    I spread my fingers before my eyes and say aloud to myself: “I am just this stuff.”
    But the air surrounding my hand is also stuff. Where does the one begin and the other leave off?
    Suddenly I have the sensation of boredom, or something like it, except as a horror. My hands are departing from me and I cannot perceive them as my own.
    These hands…what is underneath them? Where are they attached to me? What are they for?
    These thoughts reinforce an option for acting and slows the dizzying spin.
    This is something to do.
    I reach into my bag and find a ballpoint pen and, with a sweeping arc, plunge the tip into the palm of my left hand. New sensations emerge and my mind begins to survey new territories. The pain, though intense, is little more than a wave of lucid percepts, a thing outside of me and a specimen of my disinterest. I do not perceive the feeling in my hand as pain. The as-ness of the world has faded. Beneath it, there is only stuff. Stuff chopped up when I use words but always coming together again when I train my thoughts elsewhere. I am craving objects, things, tools, but they do not persist. Instead, they merge and shift and weave together in unfamiliar ways that I cannot control.
    Matter in motion. This is how it has always been. There is nothing that needs to be done.
    My hand is bleeding from both sides and I fall backward into the bush to bask in the pain, like a junkie getting fixed, twisting the pen deeper and harder, aiming between the bones in search of satisfaction, seeking anything just to be doing something. I ponder the surfaces of these sensations absentmindedly as I might the cars in a passing freight train. The pain provides a strange kind of relief, a shelter in the void.
    I am doing something.
    Blood is running down my arm. I feel it chilling my skin and notice the strange color that appears when it contacts my shirt. Pale blue becoming purple. I keep my attention on the colors to steady my mind, then twist the pen in a new direction until my skin forms an inky tent on the surface of my hand, threatening to break through again.
    I’m finished with this.
    Bored and distracted, I shake the pen free and it falls to the ground. Without any immediate objective, I stack hesitation upon hesitation in a rapid series of false starts. This is tiresome and I lay in silence for a few moments until the moments become hours and the colors of the sky change from blue to dusty yellow.
    My attention wanders again to the vagrant. I notice now that he exudes the stench of a dead animal. This nauseates me. I hold my breath and sit and continue observing different things. I notice that the blood from my hand has reached the sidewalk. Red shoeprints stamp the pavement in twos and threes as students, unnoticing, step through my puddles.
    The blood will dry soon. It is becoming a part of the sidewalk.
    I take another long breath and continue watching in silence. The vagrant is sitting within arms reach. He is shifting his glance from my wounded hand to my face and back again, his red-brimmed eyes shifting nervously.
    Now his face is inexplicably spiteful and suspicious. “Who are you?” he asks blankly.
    I am compelled to use this moment to call myself something different and forever abandon my given name, to throw off the shackles of having been named at all. “Rasmus” comes to mind but I feel reluctant to say this name because I am not certain where it came from. I must have found it in a book somewhere.
    That sounds right. A book I read as a child about a vagabond and a little orphan named Rasmus. But that book did not prepare me for what I am encountering now.
    “Rasmus. My name is Rasmus,” I declare loudly but without conviction.
    Upon hearing these words, the vagrant scrambles to his knees and falls upon me in a rage. His long, twisted fingers are locked on my neck and his knee is grinding my groin into the pavement. I am unsurprised by this attack and offer little resistance. Instead, I choose to notice the new feelings. My neck feels warm when his greasy fingers twist and my clamped testicles are sending throbbing waves of nausea into my stomach.
    For leverage, the vagrant attempts to stand but his bony legs tangle and he remains directly over me. His face is parked on mine and I smell vapors of vodka and coffee and tobacco and putrefaction. His teeth, jutting like shards of gutter glass, dance up and down in the corners of my vision.
    An instinct for response begins to emerge. My left hand, scrambling across the pavement, finds the bloody pen near the gutter. My vision is becoming dim and I understand that the vagrant is squeezing harder, asphyxiating me. Now I have a sure objective.
    Finding my strength, I roll over and exchange positions with my assailant, pinning him to the sidewalk. His eyes are shut hard now and the corners of his mouth are bent downward at the sides, encircled with foam, clownish.
    In our tumble, his head thumps the pavement and the fury in his eyes is replaced by terror. He grunts, coughs, and falls into silence.
    I am within moments of impaling his face with the pen but my energy subsides and my grip falls apart. The pen tumbles to the sidewalk and rolls to a stop in the hedge. I sit unmoving to catch my breath and gently stroke my hands and throat.
    Others have noticed us now. They have seen the conflict and some have stopped. They are murmuring with disguised voices. I look up at them, panting and vicious.
    I am not sure whether I need to explain myself or what such an explanation might consist of, so I display my bloody hand. An onlooker grimaces and walks away. Another of them, a young woman wearing a yellow visor, waves her arms at someone across the street.
    “A crazy person over here! He is killing the old man!”
    She is very loud and causes others to turn in my direction. She has an Asian accent that seems designed for accusation.
    I cannot settle my thoughts on anything except fighting, but that is done now. I am hesitating again. All kinds of new empty moments flash before me and impatiently fall away. Possibilities of escape swinging open and slamming shut like shutters in a storm.
    Others approach and form a small crowd. Their faces fill me with terror and I try to explain myself: “There is only this stuff.” I wave my wounded hand again, as if the conclusion were obvious because, for me, it just is obvious. But at the same time it doesn’t seem important.
    I stagger to my feet and stand over the vagrant. His face and neck are finger-painted in red. My hand is throbbing and I decide to experiment by smearing blood across his face. At this, the crowd moves back, framing the scene in a semi-circle.
    Now I am on display and must do something or find something to say. I am onstage alongside the vagrant, stuck in a theater bordering two worlds with no curtain to hide behind and no script to follow. I gently nudge the vagrant’s head with my shoe, then again and again, harder and harder, so that I’m kicking.
    He does not move but I can see that he is still breathing. Pointing a finger at his head I say:
    “That is the man from the hedge. He doesn’t like my name. My name is…” But I don’t continue because I am not sure what it means to have a name.
    In desperation, I clutch the hair of the vagrant and shake his head from side to side, spattering bloody drool across the sidewalk and into the bush. Still no response.
    As the confusion intensifies I can no longer distinguish between the crowd, the hedge and the street. But there remains the feeling of being accused and so I try to explain myself.
    “Everything is like this,” I display my hand again. “There are too many ways to go. It’s all so boring that I don’t…I can’t…I mean, it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.” And as I say this, I notice an airplane in the distance moving away behind a nebula of smoke from a passing cigarette. This strikes me as interesting and I begin saying whatever comes to mind.
    “The airplane and the smoke are doing a dance and I am watching them. But there is gum on the ground and I dropped a book under the hedge. I lost my pen.”
    Now I hear a child laughing as she passes. She hears my words but has not noticed the vagrant splayed out within the crowd. I hear another man raise his voice: “Must be another tweaker. Probably both of them are. Fuckin’ sad, man.”
    Now on my feet and having no train of movement, I decide to pace in circles and this makes me laugh.
    I want to pee.
    Abruptly and without deliberation, I turn toward the hedge, unzip and open the spout.
    “Oh my god! What is he doing?” The Asian lady is shouting again and others are mumbling and looking askance with nervous laughter. I am taking note of the structure of all of this and have decided to write down these thoughts sometime soon.
    Where is that pen?
    Finished but still unzipped, I turn, fall to my knees and pound the pavement with a clenched fist. The pain makes the world simple for a moment and alleviates some of the confusion. But every ought is without allure. I am trying to rebuild my world but it will not set firm. I cannot act without sabotaging myself with seizures of hesitation and boredom.
    Down the block, a car rounds the corner. It has flashing lights on top and is moving very quickly. Sour dread is churning in my gut.
    * * *
    The four corners of my vision are filled with a storm of bodies and faces and eyes. Eyes blinking like cameras, all hovering into my face and then back out again like debris in the squall. The tumult is intensified by a hideous cacophony of scuffles and sirens and shouts that keep me from concentrating on anything for more than a few moments. I zip up my pants.
    I cannot find a sure exit until, sensing an opening in the storm of faces, I dart forward into the street. My body moves between fingers and eyes and cars and all the noises and footprints and a shoe beneath my foot and a shoulder striking my face and a fire hydrant and the sirens and all of this in disconnected moments all scrambled together.
    I will keep moving.
    I jog across the street and beneath a hedge, crawling and climbing and jogging and climbing and floundering and turning and running again. Straight ahead and then to the left, toward the long shadows. Toward the trees. Panting, coughing, choking on a dry mouth.
    But the sirens and voices and the terror are all fading together and the sun has set.
    I somehow make my way to a rooftop and I crawl across its gritty surface on hands and knees, then down an iron pipe until I find another hedge. A green cloud of leaves with dark spaces underneath.
    Clambering into the brush, I conceive all of my movements arbitrarily, in a whirling of free and lucid choice, all in the absence of a direction or goal or motive. Here and there and back again.
    This is freedom. This is the world.
    * * *
    Days have passed, or maybe weeks. I find it tedious to use names for the parts of time. Instead, there is this tree and new clouds and everything moving in the open cityscape. The effects of my encounter with the vagrant have dissipated and the pace of my thinking is less frenetic, so I am able to calm myself and shrink into invisibility when I am set upon by outsiders.
    Sometimes my attention is fixed on my left hand. It is turning black and yellow and it throbs. Often I wipe away the slime when it collects in the middle, in the little inky pit. And when I wipe the wound on the edge of a curb, the old feelings return and I feel my face twisting up and tears dropping into the hair that is growing around my mouth.
    Then sometimes there are new things to watch, moving across the scene at different velocities and all spread about with light and colors. But usually there is nothing new to watch and, at those times, I find something to write down or count my heartbeats from my left hand. Each throb becomes a number.
    * * *
    Now I am alone on a bench in some new place. I walked through two rainstorms to arrive here and my feet are wet and cold, but otherwise this place feels the same as the others. It has the same surfaces and makes the same kinds of noises and smells. The sweet smell of mown grass and donuts. The clicking of footsteps and engines and keys in locks. Clippings from pedestrian conversations. Sunny glares reflected from windows and chrome.
    A familiar smell. Chinese food. The smell makes my teeth grind. I feel hungry but make no plans to eat because I have a donut in my bag. Instead, I find a bar and sit in a dark corner to scribble words on a napkin:
    “Anything can be done and nothing needs to be sought, not even truth or freedom.”
    * * *
    I sometimes attend to the vestiges of other worlds as they drift past. Possible schemes whirling around me, all those places and people and scripts and instructions and monuments to the things the machine is doing. But none of them stick. They are inside another world and float past just long enough for my mind to touch them and then, in a whirling, they seep through the holes in my volition. I have no mythologies or objectives to keep them secure.
    * * *
    I am concealed in the branches of a tree near the road. A tiny spider meanders across my left hand and moves on. I enjoy the spiders but the worms even more. The worms are cold and alone and underneath everything. They mark out paths for themselves.
    The spider crawls to a crumpled napkin in my open bag. The napkin says “Heineken” on one side and has writing on it. The writing and the napkin are familiar. I retrieve it and read aloud to myself.
    “The edges of the world, they are right here within reach. They rest on the fulcrum of this one point, any point anywhere in the whirling of everything.”
    And from another part of the napkin, I say:
    “Perfect freedom lies just below suicide.”
    And from another:
    “I am the vagrant and I wander on the edges of the world. I am animal, the null-perspective, a processor of sensations, nameless and unavailable. I am broken and simple and mute.”
    And on the back, in large script:
    “I think but am not. I have lost my masks and scripts and cannot entertain an audience.”
    But I do not read this part out loud. Instead, I pack it away into my bundles with a rubber band from a newspaper. A thought occurs to me.
    These things are written for no one and everyone.
    This makes me smile.
    * * *
    I am alone on the roadside and my wet feet are itching when a shadow blocks my sunshine. Someone has approached. It is a man with a gun on a shiny black belt that matches his shoes. He has a stick in his hand.
    “Is that yours, sir?” His stick points to an empty liquor bottle sitting beside me under a bush. I was using it earlier to make noises because the street was silent and there was nothing to watch. When I tapped it against the fire hydrant, I felt for a moment like I had something I could do, like making music. “Without music, life would be a mistake.” That saying of Nietzsche makes sense to me now and offered a moment of frolic with an empty liquor bottle, a pretended joy played out in a swoon of disillusion.
    I decide to watch the man to see what he will do next. Looking at the hair above his eyes, I notice that he is wearing a dark blue hat with a plastic brim.
    He continues talking. “Sir, may I see your I.D.?”
    “You are blocking my light.” I respond with a barely audible whisper and return my gaze to my hand. My voice takes me to another place for a moment, recessing itself into the back seat of my mind with other passenger memories.
    That voice that I called “me.” It is residue from somewhere else, somewhere that might be here. Somewhere within reach. “Me” was a name beneath my name, a word that belonged to a man I thought I was in that other world with so few things to do and only one direction, like a train track, all immovable and mapped out by people I never knew. But my voice is only in my recollection of that other time. It is residual and will dissolve in the world of my next moment. I must write this down.
    When I collect my thoughts, I open my handbag in search of an empty napkin. The man in the shiny hat seems to be agitated and I decide to ignore him. Unable to find a napkin, I take a moment to count the throbs in my hand and then ask:
    “Do you know of a bar near here?”
    Suddenly I see the shiny black shoe stepping forward and I am jolted by an instinct to protect myself.
    The man is asking me a question but I cannot remember what it was.
    “Your I.D.” he repeats.
    “Oh, that’s what you want, my I.D.,” I remember his question and laugh.
    The man is persistent. “What is your name, sir? Have you been drinking? Have you taken any drugs?”
    I decide to stroke the plastic on his shiny black shoes and he steps back impatiently. I speak again: “Right now I am Rasmus. I don’t have an I.D..”
    The man curses under his breath, “Fucking trash, fucking worthless trash. Why bother?” or some such, and then turns away, his head shaking left and right in a feeble show of rage.
    * * *
    I am in a new place now, far away from the man with the hat. I am hungry and want to walk but my legs resist me and my feet don’t work the same since my shoes came apart. My feet move sideways and sometimes cramp up when I try to go too far at once. This seldom bothers me except when I fall because at those times, people approach me and interrupt me with questions that don’t make sense.
    There is a trashcan on the other side of the intersection that may be hiding something to eat. The street is busy and I see a familiar face through the windshield of an approaching car. The Asian girl from the crowd, the one with the yellow visor. Her eyes meet mine and her car is not stopping.
    I must have blacked out in the intersection because I am on the ground and a man is dragging me to the sidewalk. There are all kinds of new sensations in my stomach and my head and my legs. My body feels twisted inside and there is blood in my hair. I am not sure what to make of this. Perhaps I have a new incapacity will help simplify my choices. At any rate, I am under the trees and there is grass. Stroking a clover with the ends of my fingers, I notice shoes beside my face and I try to mumble something. They are not the same shoes that I saw when that other man accosted me. I think they belong to the man who dragged me out of the street.
    He bends toward my face and says that he can help me and what not. So I introduce myself and oblige him with a brief play-by-play of my thoughts.
    “I am called Rasmus, if you want to call me something.”
    “But…the stuff. The stuff is always in motion, especially at times like this. You know what I mean: The whirling labyrinth, those twisting circuits to nowhere and anywhere that spiral to the center.”
    “The whole maelstrom is drawn toward the center by the eros. You know Schopenhauer? The burning core? It is the eros of freedom, a freedom that sets aflame the paper boundaries. I suspect this to be the case, and anyway, the pre-Socratics understood this better than we do now. It is best described as lust or desire or something like desire that puts the whole thing in motion without ever touching it.”
    “But I am uncertain about how this works. Freedom? What is so seductive about freedom that would incite a lust of this power? Freedom is nothing to smile at. It breaks you down until the bitter end until, like Melville’s scribner who preferred nothing, you wind down into stillness and dissolve. Do you understand?”
    “I think the answer must be that the desire for freedom is guided by the desire to know. Perhaps that’s what it means for me, for the vagrant. Knowledge is the horizon of an alternate path in an open field of freedom. Vagrancy is the route I have taken to this frontier. And this is no easy place to live, this dark chaos at the edge of the unknown. But it gives me that feeling that I’m on the scent and finally getting it right.”
    I am bored with talking because it is cluttering my thoughts.
    “I need to stop talking because there is a problem I am working on. Do you have any gin?”
    The nameless man stands silently and appears disturbed and so I start laughing. But there is blood in my mouth and I am feeling an instinct for flight.
    I will go to a new place. But where and why? Nowhere and anywhere and for any reason, just to catch glimpses of the world with its pants down, just to float into the center where I can be free.

    • Wow! And I thought I wrote long comments :)

      Am traveling till Jan 1, but will read carefully and respond after I return. But at first glance, it looks like you really should have written this comment as a blog post in its own right and tracked back! Seems a pity to let such a meaty response languish in comments.


  4. Good post and brilliant comment. Quite the place for it, I think. I’ve read somewhere that civilization is at any time only 72 hours away from dissolving. Take away our water and electricity and it’ll all plunge into chaos. I don’t subscribe to that, but sure we have instincts that need to be distracted and sedated.
    It’s all a matter of perception, isn’t it?

  5. I just recently found your blog and I am loving your writing. I can really relate to this piece, as I started working remotely 6 months ago. Even though I come into the office every other week, I always feel very strange being there. I often forget I should clean up a bit and find myself wearing the same pants I recently got dirty working in the garden the day before. I really liked your comparison of being feral vs. just rebellious. A while ago I thought I had to completely drop out of society and not be a wage slave, but now I see that I should just adapt in the way that allows me the most freedom. I’m just trying to adapt to my circumstances the best I can, as any feral animal would. At this point, that means working an easy job for all the money I could ever need while still feeling the same amount of freedom. In the future things will change, and I’ll adapt accordingly.

    • Venkat, I’ve been devouring your articles since boingboing.net linked the History of the Corporation. My first comment, however, is for Jesse.
      Though it’s a spin off of Venkat’s idea, Jesse, your comment makes me feel far more confident in my current situation. I’m not working from home but certainly feel like a feral animal submitting to domestication.
      As you, I’ll work this job for all the money I need while nurturing the wilderness in me – always keeping an eye out for an opportunity that allows me more freedom.