Call Me By Your Name (2017), dir. Luca Guadagnino

This is a movie that hasn’t, and isn’t going to be seen by a lot of people.

I came across it in December while on a quest to discover more and more unknown LGBTQ movies, hoping to find the ones that had been swept aside by the sea of every other new movie clogging up the media, and spent several minutes stunned at the fact that I hadn’t ever heard of it. Probably would never have, if I hadn’t been actively searching for LGBTQ films.

Watch Call Me By Your Name for the beautiful and honestly inspiring Perlman family dynamics, an extremely real, tangible portrait of the awkwardness and inexperience of a seventeen-year-old handling desire the only way he knows how, Sufjan Stevens’ angelic voice, summer on your skin, the richness of northern Italy, perfect cinematography coupled with real characters portrayed with Oscar-worthy (now Oscar-nominated) acting, a beautiful story, and a brilliant soundtrack.

Today, weeks later, CMBYN is a nominee for four Academy Awards, and my present self is jubilantly telling my December 2017 ‘this-friggin’-movie-deserves-an-Oscar’ proclaiming self ‘I told you so’.
I’m hoping with my whole heart that being nominated for three Academy awards along with the Academy Award for Best Picture would be a huge aid toward drawing more eyes towards this masterpiece.

The following monologue is one of the most beautiful monologues I’ve ever heard and contains MAJOR SPOILERS, so don’t read ahead if you haven’t already seen the movie.

“You’re too smart not to know how rare, how special, what you two had was.”
“Oliver was Oliver,” I said, as if that summed things up.
“Parce que c’était lui, parce que c’était moi (“Because it was he, because it was I”),” my father added, quoting Montaigne’s all-encompassing explanation for his friendship with Etienne de la Boetie.
I was thinking, instead, of Emily Brontë’s words: because “he’s more myself than I am.”
“Oliver may be very intelligent,” I began. Once again, the disingenuous rise in intonation announced a damning but hanging invisibly between us. Anything not to let my father lead me any further down this road.
“Intelligent? He was more than intelligent. What you two had had everything and nothing to do with intelligence. He was good, and you were both lucky to have found each other, because you too are good.
“My father had never spoken of goodness this way before. It disarmed me.
“I think he was better than me.”
“I am sure he’d say the same thing about you, which flatters you both.
When you least expect it, nature has cunning ways finding our weakest spot. Just…remember I’m here. Right now you may not want to feel anything, maybe you never wanted to feel anything. And..maybe its not to me you wanna speak about these things but feel something you obviously did.

“You had a beautiful friendship, maybe more than a friendship. And I envy you. In my place, most parents would hope the whole thing goes away, or pray that their sons land on their feet soon enough, but I am not such a parent. In your place, if there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it. Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we’d want to be forgotten is no better. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of 30 and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!

“I’ll say one more thing; it’ll clear the air.

“I may have come close, but I never had what you had. Something always held me back or stood in the way. How you live your life is your business. But remember, our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once. Most of us can’t help but live as though we’ve got two lives to live, one is the mock-up, the other the finished version, and then there are all those versions in between. But there’s only one, and before you know it, your heart is worn out, and, as for your body, there comes a point when no one looks at it, much less wants to come near it. Right now there’s sorrow, pain – don’t kill it. Embrace it with the joy you felt.”

– Mr. Perlman to Elio, Call Me By Your Name




about magic

Mason: Dad, there’s no real magic in the world, right?

Dad: What do you mean?

Mason: You know, like elves and stuff. People just made that up.

Dad: Oh, I don’t know. I mean, what makes you think that elves are any more magical than something like a whale? You know what I mean? What if I told you a story about how underneath the ocean, there was this giant sea mammal that used sonar and sang songs and it was so big that its heart was the size of a car and you could crawl through the arteries? I mean, you’d think that was pretty magical, right?

– Boyhood (2014), dir. Richard Linklater

#he’s right

I have to know this

Does every bookworm’s addiction to books just magically disappear at some point?

And I mean hardcore bookworms, the ones who read so much that they’re sitting and downloading more PDFs to read even on the day before their Math Semester exam even though they know they’ll probably fail, they’ve perfected the art of maneuvering through crowds without looking up from their book, the only way they know of to make friends is by finding other people who read what they read, the first thing people find out about them even before they know their name is the fact that they’re a bookworm, they read a 600 page novel in a day or two max no matter what else is going on in their life and then live and breathe it’s universe and characters before they move on to another novel, they often mispronounce words because most of their vocabulary is built through reading and not by talking, they’ve been called out by a teacher at least once in their life for reading a book under the desk (and they keep doing it except they become more careful and eventually become experts), they read so much that their entire personality is shaped more from the lessons they were taught by the characters in their favorite books than by actual people they’ve met in their life.

Most people I know and I were this exact kind of bookworm, and we suddenly aren’t anymore.

We’re reading fanfiction (Ao3 is open on my computer right this minute), watching movies and relating like hell to quotes like “I just feel like there are so many things that I could be doing and probably want to be doing that I’m just not”, seeing amazing art and wanting to do more art of our own, watching movies that describe our whole lives on screen and wanting to make one or at least write a script of our own, reading a beautiful fanfiction and wanting to do at least something like that, wanting to cook, wanting to take photographs, reading books like To Kill A Mockingbird or Harry Potter and day-dreaming about starting a book of our own and creating more characters like Scout and places like Hogwarts, reading comics and wanting to create comics, but we’re just not. We have book lists a mile long and we’re unable to read even the books we have, and the most ironic fact is that everyone who knows us believes we’re readers.

Waking Life (2001): Richard Linklater

“Hey, are you a dreamer? I haven’t seen too many around lately. Things have been tough lately for dreamers. They say dreaming is dead, no one does it anymore. It’s not dead it’s just that it’s been forgotten, removed from our language.

Nobody teaches it so nobody knows it exists. The dreamer is banished to obscurity. Well, I’m trying to change all that, and I hope you are too. By dreaming, every day. Dreaming with our hands and dreaming with our minds.

Our planet is facing the greatest problems it’s ever faced, ever. So whatever you do, don’t be bored, this is absolutely the most exciting time we could have possibly hoped to be alive and things are just starting.”

“When I say love, the sound comes out of my mouth and it hits the other person’s ear, travels through this byzantine conduit in their brain through their memories of love or lack of love, and they register what I’m saying and they say yes, they understand. But how do I know they understand? Because words are inert. They’re just symbols. They’re dead, you know? And so much of our experience is intangible. So much of what we perceive cannot be expressed. It’s unspeakable. And yet you know, when we communicate with one another and we feel that we have connected and we think that we’re understood I think we have a feeling of almost spiritual communion. And that feeling might be transient, but I think it’s what we live for.”

“We are the authors of ourselves, co-authoring a gigantic Dostoevsky novel, starring clowns.”

“It’s up to me. I’m the dreamer.”

“I know we haven’t met, but I don’t want to be an ant, you know? I mean, it’s like we go through life with our antennas bouncing off one another, continuously on ant auto-pilot with nothing really human required of us. Stop. Go. Walk here. Drive there. All action basically for survival. All communication simply to keep this ant colony buzzing along in an efficient polite manner. “Here’s your change.” “Paper or plastic?” “Credit or debit?” “You want ketchup with that?” I don’t want a straw, I want real human moments. I want to see you. I want you to see me. I don’t want to give that up. I don’t want to be an ant, you know?”

“I would say that life understood is life lived. But, the paradoxes bug me, and I can learn to love and make love to the paradoxes that bug me, and on really romantic evenings of self, I go salsa dancing with my confusion.”

“Well, sometimes I feel kind of isolated, but most of the time, I feel really connected, really, like, engaged in this active process. Which is kind of weird because most of the time, I’ve just been really passive and not really responding, except for now, I guess.
I’m just kind of letting the information wash over me.”

“The powers that be want us to be passive observers… And they haven’t given us any other options outside the occasional, purely symbolic, participatory act of voting. “You want the puppet on the right, or the puppet on the left?”

“You haven’t met yourself yet. But the advantage to meeting others in the meantime is that one of them may present you to yourself.”

Hey, are you a dreamer? Things have been tough for us lately, haven’t they.
Whatever you do, don’t be bored. This is absolutely the most exciting time we could have possibly hoped to be alive, and we should try really hard to remember that things are just starting.

“The idea is to remain in a state of constant departure, while always arriving.”

we couldn’t figure out why

When we were kids, sitting around in clusters, we used to put our heads together and begin in earnest voices to discuss life – we used to discuss dreams and plan the way we would deal with the end of the present.

Then we grew up, and the present had ended a lifetime ago. We were in the future, on the very first day of it – except the first day never seemed to end, maybe because each day was the same or maybe our hearts and minds were stuck, the ability to live in the present forgotten.
We were in search of any one thing of the several that we naively conjured when we were sitting around in clusters, our hearts beating in anticipation and our minds conceiving.

We became slaves of bitterness right in the middle of momentary happiness.
We couldn’t figure out why.

We couldn’t sit around in clusters anymore; we were lying in separate beds surrounded by walls in separate dimensions with relentlessly beating hearts and directionless minds.

Some days we ended up jealous of everything.

Out of the window

A flash of neon green under dark boots, dark pants and a dark shirt – a fluorescent-lined silhouette traipsed in the dark. The engine was loud enough to drown out sounds outside; it stammered every now and then to let horns blaring after streaks of light come through.
The window-sill was unrelenting; it wouldn’t let my arm rest in peace. Every time it did, my brain rang warning bells – never stick your arm out of a moving vehicle, or you might lose it.

There must’ve been about four other people on the bus when I got on. That was rare. I was already settled into the empty front seat (the bus’ huge windshield gives a nice wide view) when the conductor came for the ticket. He looked annoyed.

On the edge of the sidewalk outside, a man clad in a puckered dhoti was sitting with one leg crossed over the other, one of his hands flitting constantly between his calf and his foot. It took me a second to realize he was tapping out a rhythm. Silent music. A tall boy in a snapback passing behind him stumbled upon a loose rock and flailed to keep balance, his head immediately snapping up a second later to check whether anyone saw his gracefulness.

There was a schoolgirl in two neat plaits and a maroon pinafore zipping between the traffic like she was cutting through a crowd of old people instead of heavy, lumbering vehicles. She crossed the road and jumped into my bus, hurrying lest the light turned green and it started moving, and slid in beside me. I shot her a smile. I didn’t even have to think about it. Her face felt familiar, like a romanticized piece of the past.

She smiled back – instantaneous, dark-complexioned, beautiful. A bus comrade.

There were lives and vehicles and people and stray animals inter-crossing, threads twisting expeditiously, and there was absolute stillness too. There’s always some nook or the other somewhere that cuts itself off and becomes an entity of its own. I saw a baby sleeping, on the footpath, in a lap where no light entered to disturb, no sound rang through. There was a plastic wire that was helping him breathe. Through the traffic, out of my window, I wondered why he needed it. He looked healthy enough. He definitely looked too small for it. I’m not sure if it was the wire or the expression on his face that held my attention and made me turn around when the bus started moving. The mother was looking steadily at the baby.

A few meters away, a boy with messy hair and a face lined with grime walked along a graffiti covered wall. There was a comical outline on his forehead where the dirt contrasted against his pale skin, just where his hairline began. Like there hadn’t been enough to spread further. His uniform appeared close to a rag stitched from a washcloth at first sight; creases and folds at all the right places quickly made themselves seen as if to reassure that it had recently been ironed.  He trudged down the alley with heavy footsteps, a hand dropping down now and then to support his drooping frame on bended knees. Bright yellow light from the streetlamp above filtered through his lashes directly into his eyes, making him squint as he looked towards either side of the intersection back and forth as if trying to make up his mind about which way to go. He couldn’t seem to decide right then. Or maybe his feet refused to carry him further, because the span of a couple of minutes found him closely nestled against the wall, staring listlessly towards the traffic.

We moved on; my eyes flitting past. I don’t know why I wasn’t staring into space as usual, even though the music grinding out through my earphones was still doing its job of making me imagine myself as a singer rocking the stage every now and then. I looked away from another person I made eye-contact with every time we stopped across from people waiting at bus stops. It was different every time.
Maybe it takes years to get to know people, but maybe, to know a part of them, it just takes a random, unmasked second. I could feel a gaze still on me a lot of times after I’d looked away, and I wondered what it was looking at every time. Maybe those accidental glances are the shortest and the most honest stories ever.

I was shocked to find the aisle completely crowded when I looked back in and registered the rest of the bus for the first time since I’d gotten in. A wrinkled old lady was leaning on the handle; I got up to give her my seat. I couldn’t believe no one had done that already; it’s one of the easiest ways to feel like a nice person.

The walk back home was slow, with Ed Sheeran and cool air and dried leaves. The road was empty except for me and quiet parked vehicles, splattered with tiny, crushed green fruit and tiny yellow flowers. It was picturesque – the only thing missing was rain.

The mornings of city-people don’t usually start until after breakfast. The part of the day between waking up and getting onto the usual bus or train is taken care of by their robot versions. During peak-hours, the buses usually have enough space to stand if they’re lucky. Shirt patterns and dried jasmine flowers tucked into thick long braids press against them. The ones sitting sit shut in their minds, locked inside by whichever roll of thoughts the steady rumbling of the vehicle puts into motion. People get on at every stop, and no one gets off.
The majority of the city experiences one of these mornings at least thrice a week. The nights differ, from individual to individual – some live most of their day in the hours between midnight and dawn, their thoughts extra loud, defined and channeled by the silent darkness, and some religiously have dinner at 9 PM and go to sleep at 10 PM. Its the morning routine that’s never broken; unless a place of work or place of learning disappears overnight.
Feet running over a level landscape don’t trip unless hit by a sudden digression from regular plainness. Robot-versions don’t snap out of the practiced movements they’ve been lulled into without something else that breaks routine.
It takes an accidental stumble out of line to do that. A hand thrown out to help. An instinctive question asked, a tentative smile in answer. A remark at an occurrence shared with a neighbor of ten minutes. A boy walking against pounding rain being accompanied home by a woman with an umbrella after having met her halfway. Quiet introductions exchanged.
They’re humans walking human routines. The digression from those routines is humanity itself. Humanity in rare flashes. If a simple interaction, a shared bond of two minutes leaves you wondering about it days later, registers a nameless stranger in your memory as part of a beautiful instant, it makes you wonder what you’re doing the rest of the time.

After years

Conversations continue
Night looks in
Hours slip by.
Shadows play
Words fall
A dining table, round, sits in the middle.
Cadences rise and fall
Faces – open
Re-learn each other.
It’s dark outside
Air going cooler,
Still outside their quiet bubble.
It’s nearing morning when they part
Voids in their hearts filled –
The spaces that hadn’t announced they were empty.


Passers-by glance at, then glance away. She notices out of the corner of her eyes, every stare seeping into her skin, her clothes. Her eyes look steadfastly ahead through it all — out of an impassive mask perfected over years of practice. When she raises her eyes to meet the strangers’ she either finds no one staring back, or the same probing, empty eyes looking back at her out of a common face. Moving among them, she feels their gazes as they pass, and unbidden, visualizes what they saw, what the judgement was, what she looked like to them. What they thought.
Back home, queen once again within her own walls, she steps into her own skin, begins the process of shedding those layers of judgement, remembers who she is again. And she recognizes herself, regains her footing, until the next hooded glance passing over her tears down the security that never existed.

Some stories start and end with one glance, a chance meeting between a stage actor on the roadside and a player in a moving bus. Some lay dormant for years, with the characters around each other the entire time, until flared into existence by a chance occurrence; then continue to grow with each participant feeding the best of themselves into each other for years. Some are born in the purest of ways – between two timid school children who happen to sit together, and continue to do so for months or years until one or both move away with the knowledge of the other’s being clear as the back of their hand. Ten years later, even without the same characters, the story is still alive.

Sometimes a person starts and finishes a story without knowing it. A school girl does it when she laughs under pouring rain with her books getting drenched, and someone else denying themselves a simple pleasure for the sake of a phone or a watch or a project watches and notices her.
We participate in a plethora of such stories everyday. More often than not we don’t know when one starts. Those of us who are lucky and observant file away the most intriguing characters we come across in our memories. Some of them we hold on to, some we remember in flashes of images, some we stay aware of and love from a distance without contacting them again, and they might be a completely different version of the person we knew if we do see them again. We are made up of stories, those that we are a part of and those that we hear, every big or small chapter adding to us without our noticing.



Mazes of lies
laughter in fits of sadness
midnight gorges
holes to the other end of the world
mud-caked palms
veiled eyes
A childhood fashioned out of stolen things
slashed lines
ears pressed against the soil, eavesdropping
A love uplifting
A crowd monotonous
Memories disappearing with the sand under the waves
Hazy outlines
Soulless voids
Quiet murmurs struggling under the weight of the air
Muddled boundaries
Moths and their shadows
Shimmering reflections
Stained lips
Sunburnt skin
Invincible innocence
A future desperately clawing to get back into the past.


She trudged up the stairs, feet leaden, her eyes searching for the child whose laughter she could hear. He was higher up the stairs, his mother beckoning from below; she turned to catch her eyes and smiled, placing her bag on the floor and starting to look for her key, catching the mother’s eyes in a warm smile. She watched as a mop of black hair atop a teasing face slowly came into view in her arms. Feeling her tiredness begin to recede under the force of that beatific grin, in front of the warmth of the stranger’s smile, she waited until they had left, made sure they had really left, before she stopped pretending to search and discreetly took her key from its hiding place inside the shoe-box.

A sun-browned back
Calloused fingers
Eyes stark against a lined face
Piercing, knowing, reading too much
Feet scabbed, soles layered in tough skin
Arms held steady by his side, one palm spread out
You finished ordering, kept up the firmness in your tone
Wondering what it was
What made you turn away
Break under that gaze
You gave him the crisp notes
Why didn’t you look at him?
He was ten
How could you feel belittled?
You gave him as much as he deserved.
You even gave him the leftover lunch.
I think he was thankful.

Old Bones

This morning
The smell of bacon
Brought me downstairs
But before I reached
The open kitchen door
A voice stopped me
My mother telling
Her old, arthritic dog,
“I know sweetness
You’ve been carrying those bones
For a long time.”
I leaned unseen
On the mildeweed
Window Sill
Watching her
Sip coffee
Fry Bacon
Her old dog
Pressing at her knee.

– Written by Misha Collins


Eyes struggling to stay open against beating rain, head ducked under interlocked fingers, she walked as briskly as possible seeking refuge under a narrow canopy ahead. Once safely sheltered, she raised one hand against her brow and looked upward, shielding her eyes against the dim streetlight, at the black sky above. She stood staring for a minute before letting out a resigned sigh and leaning back, gravel rubbing against her back through her dress, and proceeded to pluck out leaves and straw from her hair. The only break into her rhythmic motions came when the streetlight went off after a sudden flash of lightning.
It was better that way, anyhow. Darkness suits most people well. She closed her eyes and opened them again, reassuring herself against the persistent blackness. Bright flashes stopped being surprising after the fourth or fifth time. Her ears accustomed to the constant splattering of water against earth by then, she felt almost as though she was at peace, in silence. It was easy during times like these for her brain to finally shut off. All that occupied space in her thoughts was the silence, the darkness, the consistency of an uninterrupted rhythm. It was rare – for dreams of the next minute or the next day not to plague her, for the unfinished arguments and unsaid words of yesterday not to resound in her head. It wouldn’t last, and it never did.
The first threads of conscious thought were already beginning to form in her head. She would try not to register them yet. Instead, she waited as the night drew on like a large, irenic, empty space, tendrils of thought from the sleeping recesses of her subconscious lazily reaching out towards an end that eluded them as tirelessly as they roved.

About not doing Nothing and Goodbyes and ‘whatever happens’

“Come on, Pooh,” Christopher Robin said, and walked off quickly.
“Where are we going?” said Pooh, hurrying after him, and wondering whether it was to be an Explore or a What-shall-I-do-about-you-know-what.
“Nowhere,” said Christopher Robin.
So they began going there, and after they had walked a little way Christopher Robin said:
“What do you like doing best in the world, Pooh?”
“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best?” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called. And then he thought that being with Christopher Robin was a very good thing to do, and having Piglet near was a very friendly thing to have: and so, when he had thought it all out, he said, “What I like best in the whole world is Me and Piglet going to see You, and You saying ‘What about a little something?’ and Me saying,’ Well, I shouldn’t mind a little something, should you, Piglet,’ and it being a hummy sort of day outside, and birds singing.”
“I like that too,” said Christopher Robin, “but what I like doing best is Nothing.”
“How do you do Nothing?” asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.
“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it ‘What are you going to do, Christopher Robin?’ and you say ‘Oh, nothing,’ and then you go and do it.”
“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.
“This is a nothing sort of thing that we’re doing now.”
“Oh, I see,” said Pooh again.
“It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”
“Oh!” said Pooh.

They walked on, thinking of This and That, and by-and-by they came to an enchanted place on the very top of the Forest called Galleons Lap, which is sixty-something trees in a circle; and Christopher Robin knew that it was enchanted because nobody had ever been able to count whether it was sixty-three or sixty-four, not even when he tied a piece of string round each tree after he had counted it. Being enchanted, its floor was not like the floor the Forest, gorse and bracken and heather, but close-set grass, quiet and smooth and green. It was the only place in the Forest where you could sit down carelessly, without getting up again almost at once and looking for somewhere else. Sitting there they could see the whole world spread out until it reached the sky, and whatever there was all the world over was with them in Galleons Lap.

Suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world with his chin in his hands, called out:
“Yes?” said Pooh.
“When I’m – when – Pooh!”
“Yes, Christopher Robin?”
“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”
“Never again?”
“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”
Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again.
“Yes, Christopher Robin?” said Pooh helpfully.
“Pooh, when I’m – you know – when I’m not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?”
“Just Me?”
“Yes, Pooh.”
“Will you be here too?”
“Yes, Pooh, I will be really. I promise I will be, Pooh.”
“That’s good,” said Pooh.
“Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.”
Pooh thought for a little.
“How old shall I be then?”
Pooh nodded.
“I promise,” he said.
Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.
“Pooh,” said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I – if I’m not quite,” he stopped and tried again –
“Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?”
“Understand what?”
“Oh, nothing.” He laughed and jumped to his feet. “Come on!”
“Where?” said Pooh.
“Anywhere,” said Christopher Robin.

The Secret Lives of Ants: Eldest (Inheritance Cycle #2)

Pointing to a white stump with a flat, polished top three yards across that rested in the center of the hollow, Oromis said, “Sit here.” Eragon did as he was told. “Cross your legs and close your eyes.” The world went dark around him. From his right, he heard Oromis whisper, “Open your mind, Eragon. Open your mind and listen to the world around you, to the thoughts of every being in this glade, from the ants in the trees to the worms in the ground. Listen until you can hear them all and you understand their purpose and nature. Listen, and when you hear no more, come tell me what you have learned.”

Then the forest was quiet.

Unsure if Oromis had left, Eragon tentatively lowered the barriers around his mind and reached out with his consciousness, like he did when trying to contact Saphira at a great distance. Initially only a void surrounded him, but then pricks of light and warmth began to appear in the darkness, strengthening until he sat in the midst of a galaxy of swirling constellations, each bright point representing a life. Whenever he had contacted other beings with his mind, the focus had always been on the one he wanted to communicate with. But this… this was as if he had been standing deaf in the midst of a crowd and now he could hear the rivers of conversation whirling around him.

He felt suddenly vulnerable; he was completely exposed to the world. Anyone or anything that might want to leap into his mind and control him could now do so. He tensed unconsciously, withdrawing back into himself, and his awareness of the hollow vanished. Remembering one of Oromis’s lessons, Eragon slowed his breathing and monitored the sweep of his lungs until he had relaxed enough to reopen his mind.

Of all the lives he could sense, the majority were, by far, insects. Their sheer number astounded him. Tens of thousands dwelled in a square foot of moss, teeming millions throughout the rest of the small hollow, and uncounted masses beyond. Their abundance actually frightened Eragon. He had always known that humans were scarce and beleaguered in Alagaësia, but he had never imagined that they were so outnumbered by even beetles.

Since they were one of the few insects that he was familiar with, and Oromis had mentioned them, Eragon concentrated his attention on the columns of red ants marching across the ground and up the stems of a wild rosebush. What he gleaned from them were not so much thoughts—their brains were too primitive—but urges: the urge to find food and avoid injury, the urge to defend one’s territory, the urge to mate. By examining the ants’ instincts, he could begin to puzzle out their behavior.

It fascinated him to discover that—except for the few individuals exploring outside the borders of their province—the ants knew exactly where they were going. He was unable to ascertain what mechanism guided them, but they followed clearly defined paths from their nest to food and back. Their source of food was another surprise. As he had expected, the ants killed and scavenged other insects, but most of their efforts were directed toward the cultivation of… of something that dotted the rosebush. Whatever the life-form was, it was barely large enough for him to sense. He focused all of his strength on it in an attempt to identify it and satisfy his curiosity.

The answer was so simple, he laughed out loud when he comprehended it: aphids. The ants were acting as shepherds for aphids, driving and protecting them, as well as extracting sustenance from them by massaging the aphids’ bellies with the tips of their antennae. Eragon could hardly believe it, but the longer he watched, the more he became convinced that he was correct.

He traced the ants underground into their complex matrix of warrens and studied how they cared for a certain member of their species that was several times bigger than a normal ant. However, he was unable to determine the insect’s purpose; all he could see were servants swarming around it, rotating it, and removing the specks of matter it produced at regular intervals.

After a time, Eragon decided that he had gleaned all the information from the ants that he could—unless he was willing to sit there for the rest of the day—and was about to return to his body when a squirrel jumped into the glade. Its appearance was like a blast of light to him, attuned as he was to the insects. Stunned, he was overwhelmed by a rush of sensations and feelings from the animal. He smelled the forest with its nose, felt the bark give under his hooked claws and the air swish through his upraised plume of a tail. Compared to an ant, the squirrel burned with energy and possessed unquestionable intelligence.

Then it leaped to another branch and faded from his awareness.

The forest seemed much darker and quieter than before when Eragon opened his eyes. He took a deep breath and looked about, appreciating for the first time how much life existed in the world. Unfolding his cramped legs, he walked over to the rosebush.

He bent down and examined the branches and twigs. Sure enough, aphids and their crimson guardians clung to them. And near the base of the plant was the mound of pine needles that marked the entrance to the ants’ lair. It was strange to see with his own eyes; none of it betrayed the numerous and subtle interactions that he was now aware of.

Engrossed in his thoughts, Eragon returned to the clearing, wondering what he might be crushing under his feet with every step. When he emerged from under the trees’ shelter, he was startled by how far the sun had fallen. I must have been sitting there for at least three hours.

He found Oromis in his hut, writing with a goose-feather quill. The elf finished his line, then wiped the nib of the quill clean, stoppered his ink, and asked, “And what did you hear, Eragon?”

Eragon was eager to share. As he described his experience, he heard his voice rise with enthusiasm over the details of the ants’ society. He recounted everything that he could recall, down to the minutest and most inconsequential observation, proud of the information that he had gathered.

When he finished, Oromis raised an eyebrow. “Is that all?”

“I…” Dismay gripped Eragon as he understood that he had somehow missed the point of the exercise. “Yes, Ebrithil.”

“And what about the other organisms in the earth and the air? Can you tell me what they were doing while your ants tended their droves?”

“No, Ebrithil.”

“Therein lies your mistake. You must become aware of all things equally and not blinker yourself in order to concentrate on a particular subject. This is an essential lesson, and until you master it, you will meditate on the stump for an hour each day.”

As he sat on the stump, Eragon found that his turbulent thoughts and emotions prevented him from mustering the concentration to open his mind and sense the creatures in the hollow. Nor was he interested in doing so.

Still, the peaceful quality of his surroundings gradually ameliorated his resentment, confusion, and stubborn anger. It did not make him happy, but it did bring him a certain fatalistic acceptance. This is my lot in life, and I’d better get used to it because it’s not about to improve in the foreseeable future.

After a quarter of an hour, his faculties had regained their usual acuity, so he resumed studying the colony of red ants that he had discovered the day before. He also tried to be aware of everything else that was happening in the glade, as Oromis had instructed.

Eragon met with limited success. If he relaxed and allowed himself to absorb input from all the consciousnesses nearby, thousands of images and feelings rushed into his head, piling on top of one another in quick flashes of sound and color, touch and smell, pain and pleasure. The amount of information was overwhelming. Out of pure habit, his mind would snatch one subject or another from the torrent, excluding all the rest before he noticed his lapse and wrenched himself back into a state of passive receptivity. The cycle repeated itself every few seconds.

Despite that, he was able to improve his understanding of the ants’ world. He got his first clue as to their genders when he deduced that the huge ant in the heart of their underground lair was laying eggs, one every minute or so, which made it—her—a female. And when he accompanied a group of the red ants up the stem of their rosebush, he got a vivid demonstration of the kind of enemies they faced: something darted out from underneath a leaf and killed one of the ants he was bound to. It was hard for him to guess exactly what the creature was, since the ants only saw fragments of it and, in any case, they placed more emphasis on smell than vision. If they had been people, he would have said that they were attacked by a terrifying monster the size of a dragon, which had jaws as powerful as the spiked portcullis at Teirm and could move with whiplash speed.

The ants ringed in the monster like grooms working to capture a runaway horse. They darted at it with a total lack of fear, nipping at its knobbed legs and withdrawing an instant before they were caught in the monster’s iron pincers. More and more ants joined the throng. They worked together to overpower the intruder, never faltering, even when two were caught and killed and when several of their brethren fell off the stem to the ground below.

It was a desperate battle, with neither side willing to give quarter. Only escape or victory would save the combatants from a horrible death. Eragon followed the fray with breathless anticipation, awed by the ants’ bravery and how they continued to fight in spite of injuries that would incapacitate a human. Their feats were heroic enough to be sung about by bards throughout the land.

Eragon was so engrossed by the contest that when the ants finally prevailed, he loosed an elated cry so loud, it roused the birds from their roosts among the trees.

Out of curiosity, he returned his attention to his own body, then walked to the rosebush to view the dead monster for himself. What he saw was an ordinary brown spider with its legs curled into a fist being transported by the ants down to their nest for food.


He started to leave, but then realized that once again he had neglected to keep watch over the myriad other insects and animals in the glade. He closed his eyes and whirled through the minds of several dozen beings, doing his best to memorize as many interesting details as he could. It was a poor substitute for prolonged observation, but he was hungry and he had already exhausted his assigned hour.

When Eragon rejoined Oromis in his hut, the elf asked, “How went it?”

“Master, I could listen night and day for the next twenty years and still not know everything that goes on in the forest.”


Sunlight brings those creatures hidden that I forget to look for, those in plain sight that I’m blind to unless one pops up suddenly under my feet, breaking into thoughts like a pin-prick of light entering through a slit into a dark room
Night light brings them closer
The artificial brightness of my lamp attracts them
Pulls them out of other midnight wanderings, wings clicking towards luminescence.