Existential Prose: A Train’s Journey by Boris Glikman

Existential Prose: A Train’s Journey

by Boris Glikman


Woman and man walk on train tracks

I live in a train. I have food, warmth, a place to sleep.

I feel certain that I am its sole occupant, for if there were anyone else on it I would know by now, as I have lived in this train my entire life.

Where it is heading to, I can not tell. On occasions, it stops entirely or even begins to move backwards, but I can never get off for all the exits are hermetically sealed.

In earlier times, I cherished the hope that the train contains something that would help me escape it, this unwieldy metal hulk, and separate my existence from its course. I searched exhaustively for a button that would throw open all the doors simultaneously or a lever that will allow me to prise open a window. Yet I dared not to go through every carriage and compartment, partly out of fear that I would find nothing of use and that thereby all of my hopes would be terminally dashed.

I can only perceive the outside world as it appears through the windows of the train. I know not how veracious my perceptions are, for it may well be that the windows are made of distorting glass. I often wonder what it would be like to experience life directly.

Occasionally, I see other trains go nearby and catch a glimpse of their solitary dwellers. My train might run parallel to theirs for a short distance but then the tracks diverge and I never see them again. There may be time enough to wave or shout out a few quick words but the words get mangled by the noise of wheels on the tracks.

Once, and oh, how the memory of that event heartens me still, my train travelled close to another with a young woman occupant for a considerable period of time, maybe as long as two minutes. I put my palms upon the window and spread my fingers and the girl did the same in her carriage. Our hands were perfectly aligned, and despite the glass between us, I was sure that I could feel her body warmth.

I can not jettison my dream that I will see her again, that our trains will run side by side forever and we will never be apart. In every train that I see, I continue to search out for her sublime features, yet at the same time I am wracked by doubts as to how I appeared to her, whether the windows of her train distorted her vision of me.

Does my train have a driver? Is there any purpose to its voyage? Is it moving of its own volition and choosing its own way through the land or has its journey been pre-planned by some unknown hand? Is there a Master Scheduler who has organised the timetables and the routes of every train? Shall I direct my prayers to him to allow me to see that girl again? These are the questions; the answers to which I am still searching.

With time, I grow to accept having one’s existence tied up with the train. The desire to leave the train now appears to be no less preposterous and unnatural than the idea of a foetus trying to make its way through the world, a walking miscarriage. Existence outside would be so precarious and haphazard, without protection from the elements and other vagaries of fate. The train gives me solid cover, carries me forward, brings certainty to my life.

There may be things in the unexplored compartments that would make my journey more meaningful and fulfilling, things that would allow me to grow as a person. For all I know, treasures and tools, placed there especially for me, might be waiting for my discovery.

But lulled by the rhythm of the train upon the tracks, I remain seated in my seat for hours, days, weeks, years on end. I look out of the window and watch the world go by, not moving, indeed afraid to move, so accustomed have I become to seeing things from this vantage point. In my deluded periods, I imagine that I can influence the train’s course and destination just by wishing for it hard enough.

Lately, I’ve been seeing vaguely familiar landscapes. Is the train taking me to the place whence it commenced its voyage and will my journey then be over? Will there be someone waiting for me when the train pulls into its last station, someone that knows where and when my train will make its final stop? Perhaps it will be the Master Scheduler himself and he will then explain to me the purpose of my voyage and why my journey took this particular route.

I live in a train. Although I have food, warmth, a place to sleep, sometimes a feeling comes over me that I have nothing at all, but I quickly push it away.

A TRAIN’S JOURNEY: Further Interpretations and Ideas
by Boris Glikmantrain tracks to heaven

  • It’s true that the most obvious interpretation of this story is that it is about isolation and alienation from society. However, there is another possible interpretation of this story, namely that this is an extended allegory about physical existence, the train being a metaphor for the body and being stuck in it, the windows of the train (which are possibly made of distorting glass) being the unreliable senses that are the only way we can perceive the outside world, the unexplored compartments that might hold the tools needed for liberation are the unexplored areas of the mind and the journey itself as an allegory for life, not knowing if it has been pre-planned. etc.
  • So, this story actually works as an allegory on several levels, for not only is it an allegory about isolation, but it’s also an allegory about the deep philosophical problems of solipsism, the unreliability of our senses, of how we could ever be sure if there’s anything out there and it’s not our mind that’s making it all up, predestination, free will, the meaning of life, of whether there is a God who has pre-planned our lives, etc.
  • Train as a symbol of destiny that carries us forward, despite ourselves and over which we have no control, no control over its direction, the route it takes, whether its route has already been pre-determined and we are helpless to change it, its destination point, when it comes to a stop or how fast it moves.
  • One is destined to be forever alone, for we all just pass each other momentarily in our own trains and then continue along our divergent train tracks. The most you can hope for is a fleeting connection with another being. We cannot connect with anyone; everything and everyone just passes us by and we are unable to make any meaningful or long-term connections with anyone. People and things just pass us by in our lives, you can’t/don’t have any control over them and they are never seen again. Life just passes you by, you can’t stop or control it. Each and every day we are closer to reaching the terminus, the terminal/final station of the train.
  • “In my deluded periods, I imagine that I can influence the train’s course and destination just by wishing for it hard enough.” – an allegory for trying to affect, control and influence one’s destiny/life through praying, by wishing for it hard enough. Not by doing anything, but just by desiring it hard enough, deluding oneself that one can change one’s life/destiny just by wishing for it or praying for it hard enough.
  • “But lulled by the rhythm of the train upon the tracks, I remain seated in my seat for hours, days, weeks, years on end.”  – symbolises the acceptance and resignation that comes with age, just weariness and loss of desire to change anything or change one’s life.
  • “I look out of the window and watch the world go by, not moving, indeed afraid to move, so accustomed have I become to seeing things from this vantage point.” – being afraid of change and so not changing our lives or our perspectives because we have become so used to particular lifestyles and we take comfort and security from that stability and consistency and so are loathe and afraid to change it in any way, even if the life we have chosen leaves a lot to be desired, is not ideal or is actually harming us in some way.
  • The glass between the man and the woman represents the social conventions, the pride and the ego, the prejudices, the unfounded fears, the preconceived ideas and the pre-judgements, the non-caring and selfishness, the rush of life and all the other things that stop people from establishing meaningful, friendly, loving connections with one another. The fact that the glass is transparent (so that the woman and the man can clearly see each other), invisible and impenetrable only accentuates further the parallel to real life in which invisible barriers prevent people from making real, authentic connections with one another.
  • The empty train that the protagonist lives in can symbolise the emptiness of our lives, whether physical emptiness, i.e. isolation from others, or emotional/inner vacuum/emptiness. As the train can be a symbol of the body/mind as described above, its emptiness can clearly represent the emotional/mental/innert vacuum of our lives.

People walking on train tracksA TRAIN’S JOURNEY: Interpretations from Other Readers

“One other interpretation of A Train’s Journey could be that the narrator just died but doesn’t know it yet, as in the movies “Ghost” and “The Sixth Sense” and “The Lovely Bones.” So he lives between two worlds, life and death, and he crosses another train where there is a woman living in the same two worlds.”

“I read the Train story, and though I found it beautifully written, it left me with a feeling of great sadness and loneliness (probably the feeling you intended to convey). I feel that the existential philosophy conveyed by that story is one of futility and impotence in the face of an incomprehensible universe, over which we have no power and against which we are totally helpless.”

“My interpretation of the story is a long metaphor about life.  Why are we here? What sense is there to be here? What’s the purpose of our life on this earth? On the Universe? We are born knowing nothing and we will die knowing nothing. We are born owing nothing and we will die the same way. Even in the middle of millions of people, we are alone in our own self but we can sometimes connect with another human being, even if it is for a very short time.”

A Train’s Journey is such a great story. I catch the train regularly for work now, and always catch myself thinking of it as a metaphor for life’s journey and the choices we make.”

“Intriguing but sad as I feel this is a lost soul from an aborted fetus.”

“I believe, at one time or another, we have all felt like the train in this story, trapped in the vacuum, we call our lives.”

“Feeling like you’re different from others and trapped inside your own world in your head. Thinking you are the only one to feel this way and to be in this situation and on the very rare occasion meeting someone who is possibly just the same. But this ‘someone’ usually just comes and goes because they are following their own path, their own journey, in their own train.”

“Train tracks represent your path in life. Tracks can change, take turns and lead you to things you never experienced before. But if you’re not in control of the train, if you’re only a passenger, then your life is not in your hands. You can choose to let this train take you on a random journey or take your life in your own hands and lead the train. Stop the train when you need to. Change the tracks when you have an option to do so and take the path you believe is right at any point in time. The other carriages may also be full of other passengers in this story. But I don’t think so. I think it’s your own train. It’s your own personal journey through life. You are the only one who can take the conductor’s seat or choose to remain a passenger.”

“A Train’s Journey is surely a journey through life, highlighting the way we’re all inclined to become fixed in respect of direction and speed of travel, and the way in which we ultimately all find ourselves alone. At the same time, it drew attention to the dubious ‘reliability’ of our sensory information about the world through which we pass. I felt (as I often do with your stories) that there was a touch of the Aesop in it, though the comparison with Kafka is no less fair.”

“One aspect of the train journey I liked is that lately he feels like he is seeing vaguely familiar landscapes. That is a lot like life, like the first time you see cruelty or love, it seems so shocking, and then, as you get older, you see it again and again, it has an air of familiarity about it, still distasteful (for cruelty) or encouraging (for love) but some of the shock value has leached away. It does make you wonder if you’ve seen it all, but I guess the traveller on your train often feels like he hasn’t quite seen anything properly.”

“The story’s opening and closing paragraphs start with a simple sentence, ‘I live in a train.’ Food and shelter are mentioned next in both paragraphs – the basics. But there’s more to human life, of course. The following paragraphs explore the existential questions of our journey through life, from longing to escape the train from its predestined course, its conformity, to reach higher grounds with our dreams fulfilled to connecting meaningfully with other people and finding answers not only to the purpose of life but also to the existence of God and afterlife.

With maturity comes acceptance of conformity although the wish is still there to change the train’s course. The last two sentences leave me with a sense of sadness, but then, I need to push that feeling away too.”

‘I live in a train. Although I have food, warmth, a place to sleep, sometimes a feeling comes over me that I have nothing at all, but I quickly push it away.’

Boris Glikman

The Shadow of the Great Nebula of Orion by Boris Glikman

The Shadow of the Great Nebula of Orion

by Boris Glikman

Orion Nebula

One day, the nebula in the constellation of Orion, already the brightest nebula in the night sky, started to shine even more intensely, emitting a piercing blue-green light. Its luminosity was now so brilliant that it cast shadows during the daylight hours too, something that had always been the sole prerogative of the Sun.

This caused great excitement, for never before had such a bright celestial body been observed in the day sky. Everybody rushed outside to see this new heavenly wonder and to gawk at their double shadows, the old familiar one and the new one created by the Orion nebula.

It was then that the world was hit by a very unpleasant surprise, for there was something quite peculiar about the shadows cast by the nebula. Instead of being mute, inert outlines of a person’s physical form, they revealed the shadow of a person’s character. Everyone’s inner anxieties, delusions and insecurities were now exposed for all to see.

No one could be found who did not possess a nebula shadow. Even newborns had a shadow accompanying them, thus, coincidentally, vindicating some psychological theories and theological dogmas, while demolishing others.

Naturally, the consequences of this new phenomenon were immense in their scope. Many lives were wrecked, relationships destroyed and careers ruined, as a person’s innermost complexes were revealed to their spouses, family, friends, work colleagues and complete strangers. The very structure of society was threatened, for its smooth running depended so much upon one’s true feelings and nature being suppressed and hidden, even from oneself.

The world was in a dilemma on how to cope with this situation. It certainly couldn’t dim or extinguish the nebula’s brightness. It could try to adapt to a nocturnal existence, when the shadows would be less distinct, but surely that was too radical a solution. Yet who could risk the shame and the burden of walking around with all their flaws showing?

Inevitably, cults arose that chose to embrace this new state of affairs. For them the Orion nebula was The Bearer of Truth, The Great Enlightener of Mankind. Just as the Sun brought outer illumination, so the Orion nebula was deemed to bring inner illumination to the world. The adherents of these sects took pride in letting others see their most intimate neuroses, and experienced catharsis in coming face to face with their fears and insecurities for the very first time. Having accepted their shadows, they felt more fulfilled and whole than they ever did before.

And then, just as suddenly as it flared up, the Orion nebula dimmed to its usual luminosity. It didn’t take long for people to re-adjust to having only one shadow again. Relationships and careers wrecked by the Orion nebula were quickly rebuilt and almost everyone resumed living their old lives, maintaining total silence about that awkward period when their failings were exposed, the way a faux pas is ignored in polite company.

Boris Glikman

The Pen of Plenty (or A Portrait of an Artist as the Entire Universe) by Boris Glikman

The Pen of Plenty (or A Portrait of an Artist as the Entire Universe)

by Boris Glikman

The Pen of Plenty

Part I

“Take this Boris, may it serve you well!”, a booming voice commanded, as a hand, holding a shining writing implement, extended towards me.

I was all of thirteen years old when the Hand from Above bestowed the Pen of Plenty upon me.

” You shall be my voice! I shall speak through you with this pen. You shall be a conduit to that Other Reality, the one inhabited by Eternal Truths, Infinite Beauty and Ineffable Questions. From this pen will spring forth an inexhaustible flow of Magic, you will not be able to help begetting works of perfection, each one more perfect than the one before it.

There is a price to pay. You will not be able to feel, smile, laugh, love, pursue ordinary human activities. You will only be able to write, writing alone shall be your existence.

You shall move solely in the Infinite, Eternal, Universal sphere. You will capture and portray through your writings every permutation, manifestation and aspect of life, yet you shall remain cut off from mankind.

This pen shall be the bathyscaphe with which you will descend to the lowest abysses, and it shall be the alpenstock with which you will ascend to the highest heights not yet scaled by mankind. The world will ostracize, scorn, misunderstand, persecute, laugh at you and it will cherish, adore, worship, celebrate you. But you will stay numb, unmoved by both love and loathing.

You will not know how to be young, yet you will not grow old and will stay a man-child, for, by not partaking in the outer world, you shall be free of its deleterious effects.

You will give life to an infinity of uniquely bizarre, wondrous realities, yet you yourself will be a mere metaphor, an empty shell of a shadow, never being able to feel real, concrete. The worlds you engender will be suffused with sensation and meaning, while your own outer reality will be bare, senseless and pedestrian by comparison.

This pen shall be the flame that will illuminate truths as yet invisible, you will help others find their identity, will bring clarity and enlightenment to humanity, will reveal the underlying, inner structure of existence, yet you will be forever lost, confused, at odds with yourself and the world, drifting aimlessly through existence, a jellyfish in the ocean of life.

This pen shall speak with a thousand voices, educing hysterical laughter, uncontrollable tears, twisting minds into Moebius strips, creating transcendental beauty that will stop others dead in their tracks, dumbfounded with awe, even if they have had just a fleeting contact with it, but you will be blind and deaf to its powers and will stay frozen inside. You will feel no pride or pleasure in your creations, for you will know that you are merely a conduit.

But even though this is a Pen of Creative Cornucopia, one day it shall run out and will write no more. Consequently, writing will be the hardest and most terrifying task of your existence, for you will be forever insecure, not knowing when you no longer will be able to create any more. Yet, before that time comes, you shall be flooded with a ceaseless deluge that will demand every instant of your life and your very sanity.

Once you take this pen, it can never be un-taken, you can never disown it or rid yourself of it.”

The voice stopped. I waited a while for it to resume, but it remained silent. Then, with childish, reckless eagerness, I extended my hand upwards, to meet the hand reaching down from above, caring not at all about the consequences.

Part II

The Writer sits in his room, writing at his desk. He has access to the deepest secrets and mysteries of the Universe, but the question that the whole world, from the tiniest and simplest organism upwards, seems to know the answer to, he can not solve: ” Why live?”

The Writer is torn apart by two contradictory thoughts that occupy his mind simultaneously and seem equally valid. He is certain that he is blind to a fundamental truth that the rest of the world is in possession of, for how else can one explain the whole world choosing life over death and existing with a purpose, something that he is not capable of. Yet he also knows that he is in possession of a fundamental truth that the rest of the world is blind to, for if it was privy to this truth, it would not be able to live in certainty.

The Writer is triply trapped by his room, his mind and his pen. Occasionally, overcome by curiosity and longing, he steals a brief, wistful glimpse, through the window, of the world outside that is teeming and pulsating with life in all of its infinite variations, life that he can never be a part of and whose simple pleasures he could never enjoy or grasp the meaning of. Other times he catches sight of a sliver of the sky that is visible to him from his sitting position. But he immediately feels guilty for neglecting his sacred task and hurriedly resumes scribbling, letter after letter, word after word, sentence after sentence, in his notebooks of madness.

Life passes him by, and then death passes him by too. He has no time for life and he has no time for death either. Neither life nor death can arouse his interest or get their hands on him, and just as he has forgotten all about time, so time has forgotten all about him. In any case, the Writer can not die, for the pen is still working and so he must keep on writing, for his commitment to his pen is greater than his commitment to life and death.

Years, centuries, millennia, billions of years elapse. The Sun expands into a red giant and then collapses into a white dwarf. The stars are torn apart by the forces of the Universe’s expansion, and the protons themselves rot into pieces. Cosmos begins to wind down, all of its energy having dissipated and turned into useless forms. Then the fabric of space-time dissolves.

Still, the Writer remains writing at his desk, which is now floating in vacuum, separate from time and space. Now and then he sneaks looks at the outside world, even though nothing remains there but pure nothingness.

And then, for the very first time, something leads the Writer to take a close look at the pen he was gifted with. He examines it carefully and notices the faded blue letters forming the words MADE IN CHINA etched on its side. Distant memories come flooding back to him, memories of his mother buying pens at the local supermarket, for the start of the new school year; memories of the bare walls of the bathroom that distorted the acoustics, and how he liked to speak to himself there and listen to his boy voice transforming into the stentorian voice of a man. He remembers standing in the bathroom and hearing a million voices calling out his name, then turning around and seeing all of humanity in the mirror looking back at him, as his left hand passed the pen to his right hand.

The Writer now realises that he is the Creator. Having had encompassed the Universe with his mind, the Writer expands to encompass the Universe with his body, so that the Universe and the Writer become one and the same, identical entities, coinciding precisely with one another.

With quiet satisfaction the Writer slowly puts the pen down and that is how the Universe

( and this story) ends, not with a bang or a whimper, but with a .

Note

 1) In Australian English, “.” is known as “full stop” rather than as “period”. 

Boris Glikman

 

The Caterpilion by Boris Glikman

The Caterpilion

by Boris Glikman

The Caterpilion

There once was a Caterpillar who was thoroughly sick of always being stuck near the bottom of the food chain. All the other animals –  birds, moles, lizards, frogs and spiders – would hunger for his soft, succulent sausage-like body, licking their lips avidly in anticipation of a delicious meal. Even the tiny ants posed a mortal danger to his life.

The only option open to the Caterpillar was to mimic some inedible object like, for example, a bird dropping, but that would be such an ignominious existence. Not only would he have to remain motionless all day long, but, most humiliating of all, he would be forced to alter his appearance to resemble a piece of dung. Surely, that was a price too high to pay for staying alive, for nothing could be lower than looking exactly like the end product of the digestive process.

One day, full of anxiety and fear as usual, lest he be seen and eaten, the Caterpillar was furtively drinking from a puddle on the forest floor. In the reflection cast by the clear and still water, he noticed, for the first time, that his head was covered by a thick mane of yellow hair. It was then that the Caterpillar was struck by the happiest, most brilliant insight of his life – he realised that, given his looks, he could impersonate a lion! The advantages of such a mimicry would be numerous: amongst other things, not only would he be on the very top of the food chain, afraid of no other animal, but, even more importantly, he would be simply gorgeous.

All the insects scoffed at the Caterpillar, saying how ridiculous his plan was, but the Caterpillar just ignored them and, enclosing himself in a cocoon, proceeded confidently with the metamorphosis.

A certain time had passed and the silly Caterpillar with his crazy dream was almost forgotten about, until early one morning, there was a terrific thunderclap of noise that reverberated right across the woods. The cocoon that held the Caterpillar burst open and out of it emerged a perfect specimen of a flawlessly proportioned, at-the-top-of-his-strength, full-sized lion.

The insects were petrified as to what the Caterpillar-Lion might do to them in revenge for their previous jeers, but he haughtily disregarded them, for, after all, he now was the king of the jungle that wouldn’t even deign to notice such measly bugs.

Proudly, the Caterpilion descended from the tree and began to stride majestically, as befitting his new station in life, roaring at the top of his lungs and showing off his muscular, lithe torso and luxuriant mane.

No other animal dared approach him, of course, and the Caterpilion was very pleased with himself, feeling the kind of deep, pure contentment that only those who had tasted the very dregs of life and found a way to clamber out of the abyss could ever feel. Ahead, a whole new existence shimmered in all of its glory and the Caterpilion was eager to find other lions with which he would live out the rest of his days in joy, happiness and freedom.

And so, when he saw a pride resting lazily in the midday sun, he rushed blithely towards it, eager to make friends with those he now saw as his compatriots, being completely unaware that lions are territorial animals who are viciously protective of their domain. The incensed pride could not believe that a mature lion would be so recklessly stupid as to completely ignore the markings that they assiduously used to bound their dominion, and enter carefree into their land. They promptly tore him into little pieces and that was the end of the Caterpilion and his happy, new life.

Boris Glikman is a writer, poet and philosopher from Melbourne, Australia.

He says: “Writing for me is a spiritual activity of the highest degree. Writing gives me the conduit to a world that is unreachable by any other means, a world that is populated by Eternal Truths, Ineffable Questions and Infinite Beauty. It is my hope that these stories of mine will allow the reader to also catch a glimpse of this universe.”

Boris welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at bozlich@yahoo.com.au

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/bozlich/
Twitter: @bozlich
Previously published at http://omtimes.com/2013/07/the-caterpilion/