It’s Not A Bug, It’s A Feature

By Indi Riverflow | November 3, 2013

Aporia Rhapsodia:
It’s Not A Bug, It’s A Feature

This is a book of riddles.

What are riddles? Riddles are portals to the unknown. Riddles are spectacles of perspective, conceptual illusions, traps along the roads of routine reasoning. Riddles are big concepts conveying themselves in small spaces. Riddles are behind the green glass door. Life is littered with riddles. Our lives are how we answer them.

Riddles bend the mind and defy expectations. Riddles are mental exercise, cognitive calisthenics promoting an agile intuition and supple imagination, stretching the edges of possibility, flexing faculties of flexibility. Each day poses mundane riddles, static mysteries relating to the economics of time, space, and our place in them.

These daily dilemmas reflect deeper enigmas, nested inside other mysteries, ad infinitum, which are framed by our own unique set of clues, providing texture to the collective quest. We are engaged in a mad treasure hunt, with myriad conflicting maps in circulation, pursuing the elusive gold, unsure if we are seeking a trove of literal or metaphorical metal, or a cache of iron pyrite, or something else beyond comprehension.

So successful has the human animal been in resolving the natural puzzles of survival, and unsuccessful at resolving problems amongst ourselves, that our species has devised whole classes of activity devoted to the more dynamic inquiries troubling our hearts and minds.

Artists puzzle over the possibilities of a particular medium, submitting solutions born from the soul. When we dance, we are answering the unspoken riddle of how to match our movement to the music. When we create, we are solving the implicit riddle posed by our culture and personal viewpoint: what does the world require, which I might uniquely be able to offer?

All these individual inquiries are fractal refractions of the Grand Riddle: what is the nature of existence itself, and self in relation to the Cosmos? What am I for, and what shall I do?

Riddles beguile with obviousness, exposing faulty patterns and prejudiced thinking. The urge to slay the conceptual dragon brings out the deeply real limitations inherent to the habit of short-cuts we often miscall our thought.

The notorious and mysterious mischief of Mercury in retrograde, that periodic hailstorm of glitches, rapidly emerged as the compelling question driving this volume of verse, trailing in his orbital wake expansive meditations: on mythology, the paradoxes of parallax perspective, the alchemical transmutation of abstraction into action, cosmic trickery, and most particularly, the meaning of error.

What I find most curious about this apparent retrograde motion is the way it amounts to, in essence, an optical illusion; nothing happens to Mercury itself. Rather, the perception that any given planet’s direction has reversed celestial course is produced by the relative position of the Earth. The whole effect is a trick of perspective.

There is no rational reason I can summon to explain why, in strictly physical terms, this astronomical anomaly should impact human affairs at all, let alone in the mildly disruptive fashion that is the hallmark of the Herald gone haywire.

If I were very inclined to a method of strict rationality, I should be forced to resort to dismissing the matter entirely, chalking any anecdotes off to “coincidence” or “confirmation bias” and filing the whole phenomenon in a mental trash bin marked, “superstitious nonsense,” along with other such hoodoo notions.

I am not, however, one for holding too much stock by rational thought, as those who know me will be quick to attest. Vastly over-rated, suffocating straightjacket of a mentality, sanity is. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about writing, it is that typing in a straightjacket is pure madness.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to vacuum the downstairs ceiling.”

Even hardened skeptics can be made to pale in terror under the barrage of cosmic error during Mercury retrograde. There were three such periods during 2013, a year which was rich in ironic reversals, and therefore fertile with material. The embryonic framework of this collection, based around the eponymous lyric, emerged during the first, in Pisces; was completely restructured during the middle phase, in Cancer, and once again, through Scorpio, in preparation for publication. This became intentional, but it didn’t start that way.

There really is a Haywire Hill, so dubbed, and at first, I deeply regretted visiting that vortex of confusion. Without trotting out a complete laundry list of mishaps which struck us there during a few hectic days in early July, I will say that the experience was more than enough, for my purposes anyway, to remove the retrograde riddle from the realm of academic speculation, and place the matter squarely in the category of immediate survival.

Amana and I ventured to the small town of Felton in our bus, Mahayana, to help organize a giant vinyl record archive in advance of some upcoming storage transfers; it was a friendly favor. Or so we imagined.

The records belong to a fixture of the music scene, who we took to calling “the Walrus,” for his handlebar mustache and eccentric manner. Coo coo ca choo.

Mahayana is a Sanskrit word meaning “Great Vehicle,” and this particular bus has served us well, having housed the headquarters of our laterally mobile publishing enterprise since inception. A converted church shuttle, often propelled and maintained by the power of prayer, Mahayana is not much of a mountain climber.

Like many semi-rural properties in Northern California, our destination was perched about a hundred feet above the graded road, at the top of a narrow dirt driveway. The hill looked innocuous enough, on cursory inspection in the waning daylight, but we hadn’t reckoned on few factors: a steep grade just below the parking area, the mechanical limits of our old vehicle at such an angle bearing the weight load of a crash pad on wheels-or, naturally, Mercury being in retrograde.

Our bus began to roll helplessly backward, toward the vulnerable house and its screaming owner, mirroring Mercury in an all-too-material imitation of retrograde reversal. Forward progress abruptly ceased, just as we were about to maneuver into our berth, and the brakes blew out under the stress, abruptly powerless. Gravity had caught up to us in a big way.

The record collector fell, yelling helplessly under the rolling rear end of the immovable object. Wheels spun. We screamed, too. Multiple lives flashed before our collective eyes. What had we done?

The Walrus was fortunately unharmed, apart from a twisted ankle, but we now found ourselves perched in a precarious position, on several levels. The emergency brake prevented the bus from slipping out of control again, but the neighbors weren’t fans of our impromptu parking job, and didn’t seem to understand why we were hesitant to move again, no matter how we explained our alien value system and predicament.

We placed the survival of our vehicle and host’s carport above their ability to use their usual parking spot; they, naturally, had an opposite perspective. I could see their point, but our spaceship was grounded and no amount of harassment could change that unpleasant reality.

The culture clash cascaded into a chain of chaos. A neighborly scuffle broke out over our refusal to relocate, and everything but the bus went downhill from there. The muscular inhabitant of the next parcel assumed a threatening demeanor against our increasingly distraught Walrus, who was now on crutches and unfortunately prone to making wild, swinging gestures with them in hand. Police were called, and called away again, through deft crisis management. Not one stack of records was packed that night.

This rapid streak of degenerating conditions took place within the first few hours on Haywire Hill. Then began the long, arduous quest to return the bus to flat and legally unthreatened parking. This entailed three more days of negotiating with tow operators, untold hours on the phone with roadside assistance, more bristling incidents with the hostile and unsympathetic neighbors, all while managing the un-mangled ankle of the Walrus, who was now limping inadvisedly around, cursing frequently and wondering what darkness we sorcerous pagans had brought to his quiet, phonographic retreat. The ostensible mission was devoured in the drama that followed our fateful decision to take on that damn hill.

The sky itself seemed to sigh relief when the ordeal came to an anticlimactic conclusion, following a nearly catastrophic and life-threatening brake failure, two visits from law enforcement, and four from various tow truck companies all bafflingly unable to unhook the Catch-22 we had maneuvered into.

When the dust settled, we were free from the quagmire, no serious damage done. We even had a reasonably accurate diagnosis of our brake issue from the brave tow driver, who had solved the problem by bucking regulations, taking the bus by the wheel and slowly rolling backward, in drive gear, all the way to level ground.

We were finally extracted from Haywire Hill, and I had some writing to do. Reckoning my fortune in glitches, I suddenly felt quite rich.

When traveling in higher dimensions, linear thought and action lead perpetually into peril. The way seems littered with obstacles. This applies to psychological topology as well geological terrain, for similar reasons.

At the end of the road, having learned to look and leap, these apparent barriers are revealed as stepping stones to another level of adaptation; the obstacles were the path.
You could say it felt like a miracle when things finally stopped going wrong.

At the very apogee of awareness, where magic and logic mingle, exist enigmas which tease the imagination, defy explanation, and add dimensions of perspective on our quick flight from womb to tomb.

Here is where dreams linger, epiphanies emerge, and vacuous visions find their way to paper and ink, becoming concrete for that brief interstice between the writing of words and reading of them.

This is where I prefer to bide, in the Magma mines along Pine Cone Ridge, contemplating by inner eye the ineffable strangeness of being, and doing my best to translate these hazy glimpses into streams of morphemes worthy of song.


I am, I must admit, thoroughly addicted to the stuff. I’ve had to enter the trade, just to keep my own supply flowing. The highest quality morpheme mixes, containing the greatest degree of verity, are what I call “Magma”. You know, the liquid gold. I hunt this Fool’s Gold in the caverns of consciousness, in search of an angry fix for the broken babble plaguing our collective conversation.

Magma is what dogma once was, before freezing on the windblown surface of the mind, ossifying through mindless repetition, becoming its own opposite. Magma is transformative and dynamic, underlying visible reality, and heedlessly incites insight when exposed to open air, until the flames cool and another Pompeii is erected upon it to await incineration.

Dogmas demand that subjective experience conform to some theoretical objective value system and framework, while Magma generates estimations, in constant revision, from the collective subjective. Dogma dictates a narrow path; Magma invents the need for new trails to be blazed in response to a shifting landscape.

Magma springs from rare and perilous peaks, founts of fiery inspiration and seer-ing wisdom. Magma is not carved in stone; the smoky signals can be read only from ephemeral wisps, spotted in the heat of the firewalk. Magma is eternally churning, burning old edifices to the ground, and forging the foundation of a new cultural landscape.

Culture is to minds what it is to microbes. Mentalities reared on the monocultures embodied by empirical modalities develop predictably, prosperous enough until confronted with contamination by Other. We have arrived at the limits of linearity; the world is awash in war predicated on very slight distinctions in cultural flavor.

The challenges of a global culture have added an edge of urgency to the age-old quest for understanding. Rigid religious and political ideologies violently bumping up against each other is increasingly intolerable in a nonlocal conceptual environment, where the despot’s nudity can be posted with minute-by-minute accuracy for all to mock.

Dogmas offer the illusion of certainty. But Magma offers something infinitely more useful: the means to cope with sustained uncertainty.

It’s a metaphor, of course. And what is the meta for? It became evident at one point on Haywire Hill that the languages of logic lacked the context for apprehending what was happening. Whatever the true cause of our frustrating chain of errors, what we needed was a poetic understanding of the phenomenon.

Mythical figures serve as a way to embody cosmic principles too complex for rational dissection. These archetypes arrange themselves into coherent pantheons through a transmigration of concept conveyed via the art of an age.

Mercury, known to Greeks as Hermes, is a fleet-footed mediator between states of being. Hermes is a busy deity, conducting messages from the gods and mortal souls to the underworld. He is the original author, having invented words, and progenitor of music, designing the first woodwinds and stringed instrument for Apollo.

Hermes, like most Olympian deities, is often portrayed as possessed of a questionable and mischievous character; he began his career with a prank, the theft of Apollo’s prize herds. As the legend of liquid silver goes, the prodigious thief presented the lyre to Apollo in reparations, and song was born.

The lyre, an ancestor of the guitar made from guts and tortoise shell, was a device for poets, adding a melodic dimension to the highly structured odes, epics, and hymns conveying the events of the mythical dimension.

The seedy roots of rock n’ roll are found in this tale; and wily Hermes is a central figure in my own personal mythos, a garrulous guide in the borderlands of consciousness, where scraps of resonance morph into semblances of messages across the rainbow bridge.

So the riddle remains; what is at the core of this mutating metaphor, held in your hands and holding your eyes? I must confess, the best either of us can do is guess, and the best you can do is set down the bread crumb trail of clues. For these pages have spun themselves from the ether, out of an endeavor I can only explain in terms of a fervent transmutation. They are songs, but I don’t know how, or where, they will come to go. That is for the future to reveal.

Many modern culture consumers are prone to regard poetry as a child of the printed page, a quaint niche for the nostalgic, forgetting that verse forms are intended for the ear, containing implied cadences, emphasis, and other dramatic flourishes interpreted uniquely in each rendering. This invisible element, along with the melody of musical adaptations, is supplied by whatever voice has captured it in the air, dynamic and collaborative.

Imagine, if you will, the tunes underlying these unsung songs ahead, and if you happen to strike musical gold, drop me a line via my publisher. Unless, of course, Mercury happens to be in retrograde; in that case, have my publisher contact you.

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