Archive for July, 2009

The Notes You Hide

I don’t know who you are, but I have seen the notes you hide. The first of those I’ve read I found stuffed between the rubber and the window of a city bus. I saw that it was a page torn from a larger work, and when I looked into the matter, I discovered that my finding was part of a more widely established phenomenon. The page was numbered 27. It begins mid-quote, in the middle of a conversation. No need to copy the passage over. It concerns simultaneity and special relativity, travellers and signals and the paths they take. A fitting way to meet you. Don’t we all meet mid-journey, in the middle of our conversation with fate?

Keeping with convention, I refer to the found pages as notes, not as excerpts. All notes to date have been on single, isolated pages. None of them are otherwise marked. We may presume the notes are intended to be found by non-specific, unrelated people, and further, that many of them may never be found. Therefore, notes may be lost without significant loss to the overall message. This message, therefore, will not be discerned in the wholeness of the original work, but will arise, rather, out of the very entropy of the scattering—it will relate to the dissipation, the non-recoverability of the ensemble.

Certain things are known. It is written in an English prose that never deviates from the Chicago Manual of Style, that never betrays an origin through the appearance of local usages, neologisms or historical reference. Based on references to scientific knowledge, however, we may infer that it must have been written after 1951. No copy of any passage has ever been located in any database or library in the world. A popular hypothesis has been made that the work was translated, but no linguistic analysis to date can support or refute that claim. A second hypothesis, also unsupported by evidence, holds that the work was written by committee. A third holds that the work was written by machine, using unknown technology.

The highest page number on the notes recovered to date is 3,392. As to the total length of the source work, there are two credible but competing bases for estimation. Each uses a combination of statistical analysis and human-machine collaboration as a means to estimate the distance from a given passage in a large work to its conclusion. Both have proven remarkably successful against previously-known texts. The first, developed at the University of Tokyo, estimates the work at 13,995 pages, plus or minus 313. The other, developed at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, estimates the work at 5,112 pages, plus or minus 117.

If the notes to date have been removed from the source work at random, then neither estimate is statistically probable. So far, 212 pages have been documented, and the distribution of page numbers on them shows no bias whatsoever. This fact has been a source of considerable hand wringing and controversy. It has been conjectured that either the work is still being written, or that it is being sampled slowly, from start to finish. Neither conjecture is testable.

The source work has a preface, also of unknown length. Only page xvii of this has been recovered. The main part of the work appears to be narrative. It is divided into chapters: Thunderstorm, Tokyo at Night, Broken Chair, as well as many others that take the names of characters. No four consecutive pages have been found. Only one character name has come up twice, but it is such a common name that it could easily refer to two different characters. The topics, metaphors, analogies, and images leap jaggedly from paragraph to paragraph. The content of my note, for example, references the ink of an octopus, a brother and sister racing cars, the stairwell of a downtown mall, the conversation a young woman overhears, and of course the conversation referenced earlier. No one knows whether the notes are meant to be read in the order of their page numbers, or in the order that they are being recovered, or in some order to be revealed or discovered later.

I know, after studying any mathematical issue long enough, that the mind plays tricks, finds patterns that have no basis in objective reality. So, perhaps I am imagining this, in fact I almost assuredly am, for my calculations fail more often than they succeed. But it seems to me, it just makes so much sense, that there are hints to be deduced in the notes, pointing to the locations of the other notes. I have put this intuitive leap to the test. Page 73 described a pavilion in a park. I spent an afternoon in various parks, and I found page 1,219 in the second one I searched. But then, I was so certain that the chapter heading of page 813, Sunken Ship, was a clue pointing to the Naval Memorial. I worked my fingernails into every crack of the it to no avail, except that the warden thought I was crazy.

I often think about how so many of us are out there, gathering up these notes of yours, these messages we do not understand, these disjointed pieces of you. I think about how deeply we have looked into it, about how deeply I have. And I wonder why all that I ever seem to locate in these depths is just me, looking back.

The Canvas

Let me shout out to Perspectives Magazine, which has published a short story of mine, The Canvas, in its July, 2009 issue. The magazine’s tagline is, “where inanimate objects have their say,” and my story is told by a canvas with a violent distrust of its painter.

You can find it here:

Somewhere on that page is a way to buy the magazine, and somewhere else is a way to preview it online; you can read my story and many others.

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