Nothing Dies

Chapter 12

E-Mail Message From: ArtLong To: KHaring2
Subj: KHaring

Dear Kay,
I have had several opportunities to communicate with the mysterious KHaring on American Line.
As bizarre as it sounds, I am reluctantly moving toward the conclusion that KHaring may be some sort of virtual reality entity that embodies the living spirit of Keith.
Let me try saying that again. I don’t know just how to put it. KHaring seems to be Keith himself. I feel like an airhead saying this but this person has access to information only Keith could know.
Perhaps there is another explanation. I actually hope so. I can more easily believe Keith could be communicating to us through our dreams than through the Internet. It does seem absurd to the rational mind.

Up and down the block, the raw wind of February urges the snow on window sills to pile up on the left side. I’m gazing past my computer, out the wide window in my study, toward the rest of the world, wondering how things from out there enter into this machine. The cables emerging from behind it seem as dumb and lifeless as plastic washline but inside, of course, they’re bundled bunches of electronic neurons. All the numbers that refer to this machine are astronomical--megabytes of this, gigabytes of that. Somewhere, they connect up to terabytes and probably terabytes squared--vast processing powers beyond comprehension.

Already, there’s more human thought and energy driving this system than anyone ever imagined would occur, especially so swiftly. I remember using my old Commodore at the mushroom farm. I’d sign on to CompuServe and get this constant flow of dim green letters and numbers on my black screen. No pictures then, no World Wide Web; mostly electronic bulletin boards, BBS servers, little networks, quickly hooking up into a fledgling global system called the Internet.

Now it’s like a million TV channels, all at once. It’s already inconceivably complex and beyond the ken of any one individual. Each person’s input, even if it’s Bill Gates’, is fractional, marginal, compared to the totality of information that flows through it in any given second. It’s hooked up everywhere. There are live cameras feeding into it from all corners of the globe, millions of users adding content, news networks, satellites, observatories, radio telescopes--all the thought, fantasy, imagination of human experience coursing through those gigabytes and gigabytes of silicone memory. The Internet is the global electronic consciousness of man, all mankind thinking together as one mind, one Mind.

Is it possible that my dead friend, Keith Haring, is in telepathic contact with this world network? Is cyberspace a place where human consciousness can merge with all the unknowable energies of the cosmos? Is there some theory of electromagnetic radiation, quantum theory, mental/spiritual energy that could explain it?

The telephone rings. I’m expecting a call from Mimi, but its Keith’s sister requesting one more secret meeting in the woods.

There’s an inch of mid-February snow on the ground as I pull into the parking lot. Kay is already there. She’s in her car and the motor is running. She rolls down the window as I get out of my car. A little puff of condensation materializes in the freezing air between us as she speaks.

“Hi Art. I got your e-mail message.”
“Yeah, pretty far out there, isn’t it?” I say. “May I join you?”
“Sure c’mon in. It’s warm in here.”

Two squirrels are scraping the icy layer of snow on the hillside. They seem intent to uncover something they’ve buried there. Or maybe it’s a storehouse of nuts left there by a brother squirrel who has died and bequeathed his hidden sustenance to them.

Kay is wearing a career woman of the ‘90s outfit--a dark gray wool coat over a black suit. Her chestnut brown hair is neatly coifed into a tight bun. The formality of her appearance makes me slightly uncomfortable.

“What I have to say about this is strictly confidential,” she says. “It’s not that I don’t trust you to keep it to yourself but I didn’t want to send it by e-mail and allow the possibility that you could print it out. If you use this information, in any way, I will deny that I said it. Understood?”

“I can’t promise I won’t use it, Kay. You know what I’m working on.”
“Then assure me, as a personal favor, you will let me look over the manuscript.”
“No problem,” I say. “That’s the way it’s been so far, right?”
“I appreciate it, Art. I do trust you to do what you believe is right as regards the memory of my brother.”
“I have also been communicating with KHaring,” she says. “He has made some scathing remarks about the foundation and just totally renounces the way the estate has been handled.”
“It hasn’t come up, so far, in my communication with him,” I say. “But you know my opinion of that stuff already.”
“Off the record, I feel the same way,” she says. “But besides that, as you said in your message, he seems to have access to personal information only Keith could know. Also, Art, he’s posting these messages to Internet newsgroups--going public.”
“I’ve been over it dozens of times in my mind, Kay. It’s really mind-blowing. He’s described some things that I’ve never told anyone--things that no one else could be aware of. It’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened, really--even stranger than the dreams. I was prepared for them, in a way, because of the dream work I’d been doing with Dawn.”
“Have you heard from her at all?” she asks.
“No, but I saw a videotape she made. She seems to be doing pretty well, considering.”
“Poor Dawn,” she says. “She seems like a casualty of all this, doesn’t she?”
“To tell you the truth, Kay. I think she’ll come out stronger than she was before. So how’s it goin’ with Rolphe?”
“It’s getting worse instead of better. I’m really sorry I haven’t been able to help you out more with your book, Art.”

A third squirrel has joined the pair of diggers. A predictable series of standoffs ensues. The intruder is chased off. The other squirrel never stops retrieving nuts.

“Yeah, it was a letdown,” I say. “But things have gone in this other direction, anyway. I have a lot of material. I guess I’ve been re-defining the project as it goes along.”
“Do you feel you’re able to stay close to Keith’s ideas?” she asks.
“Yes I do. By letting the concepts evolve, it’s closer to the spirit of our project... The other thing is, if he would have lived, he’d be 37 years old. His ideas would have changed, matured.”
“So how would you define it at this point?”
“The project was... is... life and death and dreams... and how they connect.”

The squirrel who stayed behind has decided, it seems, to have the whole larder to himself. In my rear-view mirror, I see him chase away his former partner as I drive off.

Taking Route 10, instead of the Route 724 shortcut to Pennside, I turn down past the fire training center across from Turtle Island. The downhill grade is slick with snow, I wonder if I’ll make it back up. For some reason though, I just want to take a look at the island. I have forty-five minutes until my class--enough time to trudge down to the river and stare across to our campsite.

With the leaves off the trees, it is totally exposed. Barely above water now, the snow melt will submerge it again in a few days. I wonder about the marbles which must have rolled up during the high water of winter and which will roll back down when the water recedes for good in the spring.

I can’t look at the island or even the river without thinking of Dawn, of the hundreds of trips we’ve taken on the sparkling waterway, of the many weekends and several week-long stretches when we’ve lived among the flocks of birds gathering there for sanctuary.

I’m thinking also of my meeting with Kay. I’ve never described the project so succinctly: “... life and death and dreams... and how they connect.”

This seems true enough and also open-ended enough to encompass what has become my obsession. But something is missing... I know I won’t be satisfied until I can conceive of a principle which allows me to make the connection between the legacy of Francesco DeSantis, my ancestral past, and Keith Haring, the visionary artist who drew the future. Could that be it--the ancestral past, the living present, and our collective future connected, through dreams and now... in the eternal present of cyberspace?

I’m mulling this over, looking at the island, and daydreaming about my old girlfriend. Reflecting upon Dawn lately has become an exercise in divergent thinking. I see her face becoming several faces at once--the loser, she’s named, “Steve Paul”; the bearded lady, “Jaqui Johns”; “Dawn Dare”, the bi-sexual hairdresser; “Merri Masters”, the unhinged psychic; each one a part of a larger whole, a masquerade of plurality whose unity is a mere convenience.

I wonder about the dreams she had of Keith. I wonder if she’s still having them. Her schizophrenia has become clear to me now. I wonder why I never perceived any problems she might have had integrating something so basic as her own identity. It’s something we take so much for granted. We project a kind of continuity upon the personality, one which gathers up all the various ways we present ourselves into a seamless unity. Human identity may be more of a fiction than it is a fact of psychology.

Identity--that’s the problem. It’s a kind of descriptive term for what we are and how we experience the world. It is also the thing that expires at the moment of death. It is who we are. And what is it really but a collection of memories, sensations, and projections? If identity is an illusion, then what is the essential difference between any two people?

At this rate, I’ll be late for class. I trudge up the hill and start my car. I make the grade and I’m off to meet with my students.

The three-hour life drawing class goes by in a flash.

Even the scrumptious sight of Melissa, my favorite 21-year old model tied naked to a 10-foot wooden cross didn’t nudge me out of my head trip. I saw this group of diverse persons as devoid of individuality. The thought had never occurred to me before that moment.

I observed their differences as illusory, performative, not essential in any way to their natures. Even gender, that most obvious characteristic, seemed a sham, a social fiction, especially since current fashion and mores tend to emasculate men and masculinize women.

I suppose it’s Dawn’s appearance on tape which affects me with this troubling, yet strangely compelling perception. When the notion of identity is challenged, basic differences disappear and one is left with a series of masks, personae, whose very multiplicity renders individuality unconvincing, phantom-like. If we are apparitions, even to ourselves, then who--or what--are we? Could we be dreams, dreamed by a single unified universal consciousness... or dreamed by no one at all?

So what do I believe? Keith’s statement, “Nothing dies...” could mean that nothing dies because there is nothing at all--nothing which can die. Of course, it could mean, nothing real dies; And conversely, what dies is not real and so nothing real dies, only illusions, which were not real in the first place.

And “It all goes in circles”? Hard to argue with that one. Keith read books on Buddhism, Hinduism, Zen, and other Eastern philosophies. We had lengthy discussions about The Tibetan Book of the Dead.

To me, it seems apparent, even in those systems of thought, something does indeed expire at the moment of death, or at some point after death. Identity dies. The person-as-separate-from-the-rest-of-the-universe dies and has the opportunity to merge with the transpersonal identity or identity-lessness of the void.

After class, after I return home, there is a message on my answering machine from Sheila.

“Hi, Art. Two things. Dawn is hooked up to American Line. Her screen name is “Sun ID”... S--U--N --space--I--D.”
“Second item... please, please... never tell anyone I gave you this info, OK? I don’t know why I’m doin’ it, but... if you want to send her a message or anything, why not do it anonymously and make up some story that doesn’t involve me, OK?”
“Good luck, Art. I’ll talk to you again. Bye.”

I can see another late-night session coming up online, so I crank up the coffee machine and settle in at the keyboard.

First, I sign on using a screen name I seldom use, except for cybersex, “LoveTOOL.” Next, I check members’ profiles for “Sun ID.”

Member Profile For: Sun ID
Member Name : Sunnie
Location : Hills of Pa
Sex : F (bi-)
Marital Status : not
Birthday : never say
Occupation : artist
Hobbies : many

She’s covering her tracks. That’s so common online. People’s profiles constitute a kind of wishful fiction for as many reasons, probably, as there are stories in cyberspace.

E-Mail message From: LoveTOOL To: Sun ID
Subj: new friend?

Dear Sun ID,
I am a relatively new member of AL. I guess you would call me a “newbie.” I’m looking for some people to chat with on occasion, as I spend long lonely hours working here in front of the tube.
I’d love hearing from you. Your profile looked interesting. That’s why I’m sending you this message.

I sign off and sign back on as “ArtLong.”

E-Mail Message From: ArtLong To: KHaring
Subj: questions
Dear Keith,
Sorry I haven’t written in a few days. Does an earth day still mean the same thing where you are?
I’m interested in your open-ended description of the project. I’ve been moving toward the same approach. Tell me, is your identity the same as it was? I mean, are you still Keith because you failed to get beyond it? Are you now stuck somewhere like a ghost that haunts the living, or what?

I’m sorry if these questions sound terrible. They seem kind of lame to me but I’ve got an urge to ask them. And more. After that, who knows? I love you, man,

At 7:00 a.m. the next morning, I’m awakened by the un-mufflered sound of my old Mustang. Manny’s driving it--into the ground. I sold it to him for five-hundred dollars when it had two-hundred thousand miles on it. Since then, he’s driven it back and forth four times to Yuma, Arizona to visit his relatives and his reservation.

I let him in, imagining what he must look like to my suburban neighbors. His hair is about three-feet long, as usual--except that, on top, there’s this new one-inch long buzz cut. He looks like a cross between Elvis in the Army and Conan the Barbarian.

“Hey, Manny! What’d you do to your hair, man?”
“Aww, my uncle died, man. I went back for the ceremony. Part of the ritual when a family member dies is to cut your hair as a sign of mourning and respect for his spirit journey.”
“I’m sorry, man. Were you close?”
“Yeah. He was like my father. Since I never knew my dad, he was the one I looked up to as a father figure.”
“I’ve been thinkin’ about death too, Manny.”
“You always talk like that, Art.”
“Anyway,” I say. “What’s up, it’s 7 a.m., dude.”
“I’m on my way out to the sweat lodge and thought I’d stop by to see if you wanted to do a sweat with us.”
“Hey, it’s about twenty degrees out there, man. Do I have to take my clothes off,” I ask.
“You know what it’s about, Art. If you want to come out, we’re gonna’ start around noon. I’m goin’ out there to gather up some stones and wood for the fire. It’s up to you, man. I’ll see you later.”
“OK, Manny. I’ll think about it. Thanks for the invitation.”
He drives off, proving the statement, “nothing dies” is true--at least for my old Mustang.

A quick check of the morning e-mail and it’s two-for-two

Reply From: Sun ID To: LoveTOOL
Subj: new friend

I checked for a profile. You don’t have one. I never respond to screen names without profiles. Well, it looks like I just broke that rule, didn’t I?
LOL. Since you’re a “newbie”, I’ll make an exception.
I can only guess from your screen name (ahem) that you’re a guy. But if you checked my p’file, you know it doesn’t matter... :-)
The next move is yours. A profile would be nice... unless you’re into being mysterious. Anyway, I am much more than you might be thinking at the moment... I’ll just leave it at that. Have fun,
Sun ID

I’m actually communicating with Dawn! This fucking computer is fantastic! And with anonymous screen names, you get instant identity. Perfect!

The second message was another matter, entirely, but equally rewarding.

Reply From: KHaring To: ArtLong
Subj: questions

Good to hear from you. Yeah, your questions are predictable. But from here, everything looks very different.
I’m not sure I have an identity beyond responding to those who are relating in some way to me. I seem to exist only in relationship to the living. It’s most obvious in dreams. I do experience a palpable sense of awareness when someone is dreaming about me.
Identity? I have threads of memory created by the fleeting thoughts of people who love me.
Cyberspace is a mystery. In some ways, perhaps because the Net is always “on,”
I feel like I can initiate contact. But still, it’s only in relation to living people that I can feel aware at all. Probably, if these relationships didn’t exist, I’d already be in the next place...wherever that is.
The project? How about trying to wipe out all the things that are keeping me here in this big nowhere zone... I know it’s an impossible task... especially with the foundation making an institution out of my life and work.
So, my goal at this point would be to move this whole thing forward, since I don’t seem to have much choice. Yeah, you could say I got “stuck” somewhere.
I guess The Book of the Dead is true, after all.
What the hell, we’ve got forever... I think.
Love you too, man,


to be continued....

Nothing Dies, Chapter 13
is currently available:

Nothing Dies - chapter 13


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