Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Hack Writer: The Hermit of Iapetus

NOTE: This is a work in progress. Something I'm tinkering with at the moment.

I disbelieved Admunsen when he wrote they were careful, in Antarctica, when they listened to the gramophone. “We knew we should soon get tired of it if we used it too often,” he wrote. “Therefore we only brought it out on rare occasions, but we enjoyed its music all the more when we heard it.”

When I read that, I laughed. I scribbled “Liar!” in the margin of the book. I would never tire of my music.
But I do. Even the most eclectic and obscure tunes, I’ve listened to over and over again. I can no longer bear Johann Sebastian Bach or Bernard Greene. Robert Moog is as galling as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. But I listen. Like breathing, like blood pumping, the music is a basic fact of life. Cut off the oxygen, I die. It is so with the music. Easter never comes here. Every day is Christmas. I heave no sighs of relief. Every day is a holiday. Every day is tiresome.

I chose to come here, of course, like Admunsen chose to seek the South Pole so long ago. That he had companions is commendable. More important than activity – Admunsen abhorred idleness; “To be contented and well, a man must always be occupied,” he said – is companionship. Perhaps that’s why I always have the music playing. It gives the illusion that someone else is there.

Busy, stay busy. Admunsen’s men, embarrassed that on a polar expedition they did not bring snow shovels, built a dozen. They tunneled into massive drifts of snow outside their tents and huts, building a smithy, a carpentry shop, petroleum store, larder of dead seals for their dogs. A technician built thermographs out of tins from canned fish. They hacked and dug and shored constantly as the sun, a massive ball of reddened fire, sank below the horizon for the South Pole’s three months of darkness, teasing them with the false promise of sunrise with a reddened horizon until all was dark.

I, too, dug and shaped and shored, burrowing into the hard-packed ash and ice of the mountainside until I had more than passable shelter, including one pressure-sealed room I could flood with heated air for the days when the pressure suit became too maddening. This I used sparingly, husbanding its magic as Admunsen guarded the joys of the gramophone. The first time I used it, I planned to stay in the room for a mere sixteen hours, to thaw out, to shower, to rid myself of that persistent ankle itch that drove me mad in the two weeks it took to cross the regio. I stayed for nearly four days, relishing the freedom, the feel of the sunlamps on my arms, the ventilation ruffling the hairs on my short-sleeved arms. I did not want to leave. But I did.

Perhaps that was why I indulge with the music. Bartok, Saint-Saens, Spike Jones and the Christy Minstrels chanted and burped my way past Carcassonne Montes, that jagged peak scraping at the starry sky. The Miraculous Mandarin of Bartok and the Capriccio Espagnol of Rimsky-Korsakov helped me build one of my emergency hovels there on the mountain’s sunny side. I’ve never been back. Carcassonne is cold and cruel, an odd thing to say, considering the colder and more cruel places on this globe and others. The crust was softer there. I early died in a cave-in, with Bartok’s Mandarin trilling in my ears.

I still listen to the Mandarin, just not in closed spaces. The Mandarin needs light, outside, with nothing but the stars above my head.

You must wonder if I talk to myself, considering I am alone here. I do not. Even in company, I am a boring conversationalist. I do not listen to myself talk. I have the music for company. I think to myself; that is good enough. I do sing. Occasionally, when the supply ships fly overhead and some bored soul in the radio room is scanning the bands, flitting from freight traffic to satellite transmissions to the acid, bleating breath of distant Saturn, they hear me singing. Sometimes they call out to me. I call out to them. Never surprised to be overheard. I speak to them without hesitation, as if I’ve been speaking to strangers all my life. If they ask who I am, I tell them. Apparently, many of them are proud to have spoken to the Hermit of Iapetus.

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