Monthly Archives: September 2009

Still Alive



Our clothes are soiled. I’m staring into the trunk of the car. My hands and arms are sore. There is a fresh cut near my left elbow. In my right hand I’m holding a frayed nylon line. Two roughed-up flashlights are lying in the shadowed space.

“I’ll have to pick up more rope next time we go out on the river. We pretty much destroyed this one in the cave.”

“Yeah, that was amazing – just right there at the bottom of the hill,” he says.

Back in the car now, I tell him how completely surreal I feel about what’s been happening.

“There seem to be big gaps in what I can remember about this trip.”

“Things don’t make a lot of sense,” he says. “That’s all there is to it.”

“For me, it started after we got out of the car.”


“I don’t really think it was yesterday, Keith. I have a feeling this is the same day we left.”

“Yeah.” That’s all he says.

“You act like this is no big deal, man.”

“It’s not really. It’s just the way things are, I guess.”

“OK, for one thing, I know – or remember – this trip is sometime in the mid-80s – like 1984, maybe. I wrote about it for the first time in 1997. But at this minute, I know I’m typing and reading these words on a computer screen in September of 2009… And now, here we are – sitting here right now… I start up the car and the windshield display says it’s August of 2022!”

“Weird. That means you’re a dead man, like me.”

His smile can mean a thousand things. This time though, it’s just disconcerting.

“Look,” he says, “you’re always talking about stuff like this. About how you don’t believe in time; how you think that, because the universe is one thing, nothing is separate from anything else. Or everything is the same thing. So like, why does all this seem so strange to you?”

“Because it’s actually happening like that, man. I’m not just talking about it.”

“2022… Cool.” he says, still smiling. “That means we’re both dead.”

(to be continued…)


Image: “Living/Dying,” Digital Image Mashup (Orion Nebula and unititled painting by Tullio DeSantis), 2009.


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A pearl of clear water drops slowly before my eyes.



A pearl of clear water drops slowly before my eyes. Tens of drops like this fall constantly from stalactites high above. They splash down cave walls forming rivulets. After hundreds of years the rivulets cut channels in the limestone. After thousands of years the cave is deeply rutted with grooves. Sometimes the drops fall directly downward and deposit their microscopic loads of dissolved stone until small mineral piles grow straight up against gravity. The floor is studded with them – stone gardens of glowing, growing spikes.
I am transfixed by this single droplet that has stopped like a dead man’s heart. I can see the entire cave reflected complete within it in a moment of crystallization. The deeper I look into the tiny sphere the more I see. I see atavistic visions of ancient times, prehistoric images, the history of art, the world – the ends of the universe. I see the multicolor patterns of my art commingled with Keith’s sublime imagery. I see at once all sides of space and time.

Interconnected chambers of this cavernous place are repeated within the clear surface of the orb. The maze of tunnels is dense, yet I traverse each one in the blink of an eye. Each passage leads back to this oceanic droplet. It grows in size threatening to engulf me.

I call out to him. He is not here. I hear instead a female voice penetrating the darkness.

“There is no one, Art – no one else here.”

“Then who are you?”

“I am you,” she says. “It has always been this way and you know it very well. Why go on pretending. Why must you continue this dream?”

I try to respond…but I am dumbstruck. I catch sight of him again – a reflection in the sphere. I raise my eyes and he is back. He is alive but not for long. In the instant of my gaze, I see very clearly he is dying.

A pearl of clear water drops slowly before my eyes. Tens of drops like this fall constantly from stalactites high above. They splash down cave walls forming rivulets…

This droplet is not like those. I look up to trace its trajectory. It did not fall from the ceiling like the other drops. It did not fall at all.

It is moving again now, slowly, inexorably, just a little farther down his cheek.
(to be continued…)


Image: “Cave Mind Orb,” Digital Image Collage, Tullio DeSantis, 2009.


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Everything exists at once



Our thoughts echo endlessly. That’s a property of infinity, I suppose. Thankfully however, the rate of propagation is also infinite and their conflation into a single instant is unnoticeable.

This, it would seem, is the essence of all things here in the mind cave. The illusions we call “time and space” expand to infinity and then contract again – all in a saccade in the eye of some unnamable entity who may or may not exist. And only in that instantaneous view could one catch the tell-tale blurring of the present moment…

“Who are you talking to?”

“Just typing this out somewhere, Keith.”

“Oh. Somewhere like your life on Earth.”


“Yeah. Gotta get it out there – used to be what it was all about for me too.”

“I know, man. I know”

I write. The attempt to rationalize all this continues – if only for the occasional reminder that I need to keep myself grounded in some sort of hypothetical reality paradigm. Why it still seems important to do that is just one of several things that are beyond me at this point.

I know that in the past year, I have entered a new phase of my life. The boundaries that used to separate one state of awareness from another have simply disappeared. It may have occurred all at once. But the way I experienced it happening was that, slowly, I began to see my various states of consciousness – imagining, dreaming, waking, sleeping, and all those states that lie between – are present simultaneously within me. And that awareness contains the knowledge that human understanding of life and death is understanding of nothing at all.

Surprisingly, this is not unsettling. In fact, I welcomed it from the start. It seemed to me that all my years of philosophical speculation were simply a way for me to keep myself occupied while I was waiting in utter darkness for this illumination to dawn.

And now that this heightened awareness fills me, it is nothing like what I might have anticipated. Externally at least, my life is as it was. I continue doing all the activities that occupied me in the past: making art, writing, teaching, and all the personal aspects of being alive in the early twenty-first century. But none of it seems particularly “real” in any conventional sense.

And within me, an expansive sense of freedom has ensued. I no longer feel terribly bound up in the necessities of things. Rather, I find myself doing what I consider to be worth doing – nothing more, nothing less. And my ability to prioritize some scale of value as to exactly what is and what is not worth doing at any particular time is quite serviceable.

Some things surprise me. My emotional life operates much as it did before. It seems the reptilian and mammalian brains care little about the metaphysical condition of being human. I suspected this, of course. But it’s disconcerting to find myself feeling that something matters a great deal, even when it is clear to me that the thing in question is a figment of my imagination. I am able to become more quickly detached from emotional conundrums than I was previously able to do. And it’s actually good to know that some things, such as the feeling of being human, have some significance in the overall scheme of things – whatever that may be.

“Hey, check this out,” he says.

And instantaneously, I return. The cave walls are alive with the inner visions of the whole human tribe.

“Amazing, man. Are you seeing what I see?”

(to be continued…)


Image: Digital drawing: “Everything exists at once,” Tullio DeSantis, 2009.


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Vision Tunnels


I see him standing just a few feet in front of me yet he speaks as a disembodied voice.

“Just stop trying to make sense of everything.”

“Can we just talk about this for a minute, Keith?”

“We’ve been talking about it for hours. Look at the tape.”

There, on the hood of the car, is a micro-cassette player. The tape is pegged at the stop position with the full 90 minutes of recording time expended.

He says,“That ran out an hour ago, man. I guess you didn’t hear it stop.”

The dew has disappeared and the mid afternoon sun is on our backs. I have no idea what has occurred in the past hours. This analog tape recorder is from the 1980s. It is the little Panasonic I used to record our dialogs. But that was twenty-five years ago. I use digital equipment now…

“Now…now…now…” I hear the word repeated as an echoing sound in my head. The thought reverberates, slows down, and drops in pitch. Time stops.

Shifting memories swirl through me. I experience, in an instant, a concatenation of moments, once discrete, separated by decades, but flooding me in a tide of recall. I strain to arrange them in some sequence so that I may study them, see them in some chain of causality – and yes, make sense.

“Wait. We’re on our way back to the city. We stop, park on the side of the road. We stand by the fence over there. I look at you and see you looking back at me. OK…After that though, it’s just a bunch of flashbacks, jumbles of memories, scenes in my mind. And…that trip…was a long time ago.”

He does not respond. For an instant, he stands silent, as if frozen in place. Then, from somewhere else, I hear his voice as though it is coming toward me fast and from a great distance.

“This trip…” is all I hear.

The rest of his words are drowned out by an onrush of cold air as his speech enters my mind. I am swept up into a vortex. Looking down to ground myself – I fix my eyes upon a single blue-green stone in an attempt to stabilize my field of vision. But I can not focus.

Instead, I am gazing into a virtual tunnel of images. They form a shimmering cone of three-dimensional scenes stretched out to great length. Each one shows a world related in some way to this place. Starting out as pastoral late-summer landscapes, each leads from bright blue sky toward a darkening funnel of clouds far in the distance.

Intensely, I scan the vistas, searching for clues. They begin as vignettes, memories – moments I can identify. In one, I see myself as a child walking the path to Crystal Cave – a craggy underground cavern found in our county and a commercial attraction. I can hear the muffled voices of adults behind me. Soon, summer heat gives way to a chill as I descend for my first journey inside the planet. I have revisited this alien place over and over again in my dreams. It has become a part of my mental landscape. I am not surprised to see it now.

Another scene springs up – the weather is balmy. This time it’s Temple Cave – a rough boulder-bound series of subterranean cracks and crevasses I explored as a teenager. The entrance is a mere slit between rocks on a hidden hillside. As I move forward between the stones I can feel the sharp transition to the cool damp atmosphere within.

These visions coexist in my mind. I see them all at once. And yet, I can move through each one individually, explore, move around – all while maintaining sensations of movement and activity inside the others.

Next, I experience a late-summer evening during my college years. I am with a group of amateur spelunkers – friends who’ve invited a few of us to explore a cavern they’ve discovered just south of Gettysburg.

The characteristic shift from warm summer air to the cool interior of the cave is more gradual, as the entrance here is larger. Holding tightly to a nylon line, I slide through a long earth tunnel wider than my girth. Soon, the dark green moss lining the slippery walls disappears and I am blinded by utter blackness within.

Even as these spaces engulf me with their overwhelming presence, I still sense us both at rest, lying prone upon the field of grass from which we awoke earlier in the day. Above, the constellations of late-summer shine laser-like from behind a midnight sky.

These ever-changing scenes appear solid and palpable, yet they are strangely transparent. They seem to rotate within my cone of vision, each one juxtaposed upon the other. It is as if I am enclosed inside a vast crystalline structure, sphere upon sphere, encasing the million moments of my life as internal reflections within some incomprehensible mind. I am dreaming. And yet, I know this is not a dream.

(to be continued…)


Image: Digital image mashup of TFD drawing, “What happens when we die.” and photo of rock formation at Crystal Cave, Tullio Francesco DeSantis, 2009.

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Earth. Sun. Sky. Yes!


I wake up on grass. A brilliant sun is in the eastern sky. Allover patterns remain in my eyes and over everything I see. I feel a cool mist upon my face and hands. It sparkles everywhere in this green valley.

He is beside me, sleeping still. I recall only the tropical place and the moment we silently agreed to revisit the cave. My mind strains to make sense of what I am experiencing…

He stirs.


“Art…I guess we fell asleep.”

Smiling, he looks around and says it is morning and we must have slept all night.

I find the thought strangely soothing. The way he acts and the clarity of his statements create a sense of reality, of normalcy, in me.

And then, I feel a sense of panic….

“Oh man. That means the car was on the side of the road all night!’

He grins as I run back through the brightening woods to check. There, about 20-feet off the roadway, I see the copper color of the Mustang and feel calm. I reach the car, studded with dewdrops.

He has followed me back here.

“Everything’s OK, right?”

“Yeah, no problem.”

“So let’s go check out the cave,” he says.

My tongue feels so thick I can barely speak. The sound of each faltering word echoes in my head.

“Keith. Do you know what’s going on? What kind of reality is this, man? Are you really here?
“How much does all that matter to you, Art? You know better than that, don’t you?”

(to be continued…)


Image: Digital image mashup of TFD painting “YES!” and appropriated image of sun and sky, Tullio Francesco DeSantis, 2009.


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Heart. Mind. Cave. Moment. Universe.


The balcony is strewn with scattered detritus of a day at the beach. Porous coral, pearlescent cowrie shells, sandals, and sand reflect the sliver of moon that shows tonight. The air above the canal is warm, sweet, pungent. The Scorpion, so high above the horizon, seems to fly across a billion suns of the Milky Way. A bit above and to the left of the stellar arachnid, I search for Sagittarius A. I home in on that nebulous area at the center of our galaxy as a familiar and mysteriously comforting place to rest my eyes.
An instant before I hear his voice, I know I will hear it. I feel the familiar onrush of sensation, waves of pressure arising from within me, and the inexorable refashioning of my field of vision into rhythmical patterns. All this signals his arrival. And yet I can not avert my gaze from the night sky.

“I am here beside you now, Art. You don’t need to look at me. Just keep your eyes where they are.” I hear his voice as a soft echo within me.

A thousand nights lost in dreaming, scanning each fluorescent horizon for a glimpse of him, wondering, wondering why, and wondering when I would see him again…

“You’re still with me, Keith.”

This conversation takes place inside of my body. The soft earth-bound sounds of night birds, crickets, and splashing water are not interrupted by our words.

“Sure, what do you think?”

“I think…I’m ready. What do you want to do?”

“Let’s go back to the cave,” he whispers.

(to be continued…)


Image: Digital image mashup of TFD painting “Mindfield” and NASA Chandra X-ray Observatory image of Sagittarius A, Tullio Francesco DeSantis, 2009.


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