Higher Jam

Emily can’t reach the jar on the top shelf.

“Unh!”

Emily jumps. Emily reaches. But it’s too far out of the way.

“Sid!” commands Emily.

Sid comes in from outside.

“Yes?” Sid says.

“Jump!”

Sid jumps.

“No,” Emily says. “Jump! To get the jar!”

Sid jumps towards the jar. He fails. It’s out of his reach.

“Hm,” says Sid.

“Hm?”

“Well,” says Sid, “we live alone in this creaky run-down mansion.”

“Yes?”

“Which you purchased, as I recall, before any other person inhabited it.”

“That’s so,” Emily agrees.

“So it seems to me,” Sid says, “that there shouldn’t be any jars on shelves we can’t reach.”

“Huh!” says Emily.

“Indeed.”

“Do you think it really exists?” Emily asks, peering at the jar.

“Well, we see it,” Sid says.

“That much is true.”

“So it has the visual skandha. That’s an important attribute of existence.”

“I concur,” says Emily.

“What’s in it?”

“In what?”

“The jar.”

“Preserves,” Emily says. She indicates the counter. “As you can see, I have lain out a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But it has no jelly.”

“Aren’t there other jars in the house?”

“Alas, no,” says Emily.

“Well, there’s the store,” Sid points out.

“By no means!” says Emily. “I cannot very well leave my sandwich to moulder while I go to the store.”

“I could eat it,” says Sid.

“What?”

“Then,” explains Sid triumphantly, “when you return from the store, you could make another!”

Emily squints at Sid.

“You seek falsely to profit from my peanut butter spreading activities.”

“I could spread the peanut butter on your sandwich,” says Sid, “when you returned. Then all would be equitable.”

“No, no,” sighs Emily. “It must be the jar.”

“Then we must think backwards,” says Sid.

“Backwards.”

“Yes.”

“The opposite of jumping is squatting,” Emily says.

She squats. She feels around on the floor.

“If the mansion wrapped around,” Emily says, “so that the floor were the ceiling, I think this would be effective.”

“If the mansion wrapped around,” Sid points out, “we would be cited for numerous violations of the building code.”

“We could banish the inspector to the dungeon,” says Emily.

“Oh?”

“There he would labor endless hours to power my great machine!”

“Your great machine uses batteries,” says Sid. “And also, I believe you dismantled it as unsuitable for your ambitions.”

Emily puffs up her cheeks and then sighs. “Once again reality intercedes.”

“In any event,” says Sid, “by thinking backwards, I meant that we should consider how the jar reached the shelf. If we recollect this process, then we can reverse it to obtain the jar.”

“It was there yesterday,” Emily says.

“Was it?”

“Yes,” Emily confirms.

“And the day before?”

“Indeed.”

“Last Christmas?”

“No,” says Emily. She thinks. “Last Christmas, there was the ham.”

“How did we get the ham down?” Sid asks, momentarily diverted.

“I adapted the taser into an electric grapple,” Emily says.

“Ah, yes,” says Sid.

“That would not work with preserves,” Emily says.

“No.”

They stare at the jar.

“I am starting to recall,” says Emily. “There was a giant.”

“A giant?”

“The large, cloud-haired giant,” says Emily. “You remember. Ms. Brown.”

“Oh, yes,” says Sid.

“I said, ‘Ms. Brown, before you go, could you shelve these preserves?'”

“Clever thought! Giants have little trouble with shelves.”

“And she looked down at me with these gentle eyes and said, ‘Of course.'”

“So,” says Sid. “We need only find Ms. Brown and ask her to fetch down the jar.”

“Focus, Sid!” snaps Emily.

“Hm?”

“If my sandwich moulders while I search for Ms. Brown, the entirety of this effort would be in vain; even Ms. Brown would laugh at me, with great booming sounds.”

“Alas,” says Sid.

“We could poke the jar with a stick,” Emily says.

“This is a proposal with many possible outcomes,” Sid points out.

Emily considers. She glares up at the jar.

“If I had a proper assistant,” Emily says, “I’m sure this would be much easier.”

“Your life would be a glorious montage of roses and victories,” Sid agrees.

“I will stand on your shoulders,” Emily says.

“And if you fall?”

“Ha! Then I fall.”

“And if you die?”

“Then I die!”

“And I may have your sandwich?”

“Let us consider alternatives,” says Emily.

Sid saddens.

“We could make another giant,” Emily proposes.

“Really? Another giant?”

“I could make you into a giant.”

Sid looks down at himself. “I have always thought of myself as a sufficiently large man.”

“That is the corrosive effect of my company,” says Emily. “Observe! My head comes up to your stomach.”

“So it does.”

“And you are thicker and broader than I.”

“So I am!”

“This accounts for your inflated sense of your own dimensions.”

“Ah.”

“In truth, you are of that smaller category of men which I shall label ‘inadequate to reach the jar.'”

“If all men were shorter than I,” says Sid, “I would be no more able to reach the jar than I am now.”

“Meaningless semantics,” dismisses Emily. “There is no degeneration of the species in the offing.”

“There could be,” says Sid.

“No,” says Emily.

“No?”

“Well,” says Emily, “humanity is already degenerate, you see.”

“A sour perspective.”

“Rather, a blessing! There is nowhere to go but up!”

“I do not think humans are degenerate,” says Sid.

“Well, observe,” says Emily. “Humans are not giants.”

Sid waits, but Emily does not continue.

“That is not the normal definition of degeneracy,” Sid says.

“Everyone must form their own definitions,” Emily says. “Still, I stand by mine to the death!”

“To the death?”

“Indeed!”

“And if you die of it?”

“And if I die of it?”

“May I then have your sandwich?”

“Sid! Hardly! It will have already mouldered. You would get cancer of the stomach. No,” concludes Emily. “I will have to make you a giant.”

“Did you make Ms. Brown a giant?”

“Well, naturally,” says Emily.

“It was not natural to me,” says Sid. “I had not known you harbored giant-making proclivities.”

“You know that I have the great machine,” Emily points out.

“Well, yes, I know that.”

“And that I am disdainful towards humanity,” Emily says.

“True.”

“And that I live alone in a run-down mansion with my faithful servant,” Emily says.

“Granted.”

“So therefore I am a scientist of unusual caliber,” Emily says, “and a likely candidate for any giant-makings that have transpired!”

“There is that,” says Sid.

“Indeed.”

“But I am not truly your faithful servant,” says Sid. “I am indifferently faithful at best.”

“Sid!” accuses Emily.

“Well, I am hungry,” says Sid. “An assistant is ruled by his stomach; that is the cardinal law.”

“You may make yourself a peanut butter sandwich,” says Emily. “The bread and peanut butter lay yonder, practically inviting you into their arms.”

“I do not wish to waste,” Sid says primly.

“Such niceties!”

“Well,” says Sid, “to make and eat another peanut butter sandwich while a second is left to moulder—is that not the definition of wastefulness?”

“You are not wasteful, then?”

“I am not,” says Sid.

“I give you my assurances,” says Emily, “that I will find a way to obtain that jar and make my own sandwich, though the world itself might crack. Does this suffice to resolve your moral quandary?”

“To trust is folly in this dismal world,” philosophizes Sid. “Rather, a man watches and judges, keeping his mind open at all times. Then he may seize such opportunities as come along!”

“A sour perspective!”

“In hunger, I am a pessimist. When I am full, then I shall be the definition of optimism!”

A train of thought distracts Emily.

“So after you have eaten,” she says, “if you see half a cup of milk, you would call it ‘half-full?'”

“That is the definition,” Sid agrees.

“And if you were to drink it?”

Sid rubs at his nose. “Perplexing. It would become ‘not at all full’, while a more pessimistic man would call it ‘scarcely empty.'”

“Huh!” declares Emily.

She looks Sid up and down.

“In any event,” she says. “Soon your perspective will brighten.”

“Will it?”

“Indeed!” says Emily.

“By sandwich or by treachery?”

“Neither! I shall make you a giant, which shall have you jumping for joy; though not literally, you understand, lest you crack the ceiling.”

“What if I do not want to be a giant?”

“Are you my faithful servant?”

“Indifferently,” Sid qualifies.

“Then there is no choice in the matter. I must simply find your smalling string.”

“Moderate your gaze!” says Sid. “You study regions that can make me blush.”

“Don’t be silly,” says Emily. “I am looking rather to the left of that.”

“I am embarrassed of my left hip,” says Sid, to save face.

“There!” says Emily. She points.

“What?”

“The smalling string.”

“What?”

“The string,” says Emily, “that makes you small.”

Sid tugs on a string protruding from the left hip of his jeans. “What, this?”

“Yes, that.”

“It’s a string,” Sid says.

Emily takes out a knife. “Let me cut it.”

“Your hands are small and clumsy,” says Sid. “Perhaps I should—”

But it is too late. With dispatch and aggression, Emily has cut the string and Sid is no longer small.

“Oh,” says Sid.

“Ha ha ha!” laughs Emily, pumping one hand in the air. “Genius!”

Sid looks down at Emily. His eyes are gentle; there is a fierce intelligence in them; and the spirit of him is at one time fiery and soft.

“I am grown,” he says.

Emily’s laughter slowly fades. She sighs.

“Yes, yes,” she says. “You have grown.”

“Wow.”

“So?”

“So?”

“Fetch me my jam!”

27 thoughts on “Higher Jam

  1. This has all the cadence of an Abbot and Costello exchange.

    I had laughter and warm fuzzies throughout.

    Now, I think I’ll make myself a sandwich.

  2. Most Enjoyable.

    As Graeme points out, a Ms. Brown appears in The Stage (IV/IV).

    Minister Brown appears in Manchester-In-The-Gulch

    Mr. Brown shows up in Dhiyampati The Pluto Project, Dhiyampati The Pluto Project (Conclusion), Depending on Shoes, The Ironic End and The Sphere

    We encounter an Officer Samantha Brown in Morality Fable

    Dr. Ezekiel Brown appears in Awaiting the Reconciler

    Alton Brown appears in See Jane, sort of.

    The fact that a number of the above references also involve Sid and Emily leads me to suspect that an entire Brown family (consisting, evidently, of a Ms, Mr, Dr. Ezekiel, Officer Samantha and Minister – some of whom may be the same person) are other actors at Gibbelins Tower. Of course, the naming may be coincidental if this were someplace else – but I don’t believe its ever truly a coincidence on Hitherby.

  3. Which is a great compliment, to my mind.

    But I think that a pessimistic person would probably call an empty glass “entirely empty” rather than “scarcely.” I can’t say for sure, since I myself am optimistic.

  4. (Steven Brust’s version of) Alexandre Dumas

    Yes, that’s exactly what the dialogue reminds me of as well. (The tempo is too fast for Vance, I think, and there aren’t enough neologisms.)

    As Graeme points out, a Ms. Brown appears in The Stage (IV/IV)…. [A”>n entire Brown family (consisting, evidently, of a Ms, Mr, Dr. Ezekiel, Officer Samantha and Minister – some of whom may be the same person) [may be”> other actors at Gibbelins Tower.

    Well, Ms. Brown appears in a history, so she’s definitely at Gibbelins’ Tower at some point. The other Browns are all in legends, and only one appears in any given legend. This suggests to me that either Ms. Brown is a member of the troupe, and is often cross-cast, or there are two Browns; I think the former more likely.

    If I had the time, I’d assemble a concordance of actors at the Tower.

  5. Genius. I’m reminded that my lack of a snarky, wisecracking servant full of wisdom has led to a life less full of roses and victory parades myself. I need to work on finding one of them, but good help is so hard to find.

  6. Today’s legend (and the fact that by now my giggles have nearly subsided) makes me look at this one in a more appraising light. Despite the differing tones, the themes seem pretty similar.

    There’s something out of our reach. Why is it out of our reach? Because someone bigger than us put it there. (Emily’s definition of “degenerate” as “not identical to larger/greater beings” is familiar from much theology.) How do we get it back when we by our nature are too small? We change someone– not ourselves, but someone else, someone in our power– so that that someone becomes able to reach the thing we cannot, and give it to us.

    Sid and Emily start out by collaborating on the problem (much like Steve and Brad) but it ends with Emily (like Brad) treating Sid (like Steve) as an object upon which, and by means of which, to work her will.

    “It was not natural to me,” says Sid. “I had not known you harbored giant-making proclivities.”

    I can see how you might feel that that might be necessary,” Steve says.

    He doesn’t mean that. He’s actually retreating, just a tiny bit, while watching Brad very carefully for indications that Brad is kidding.

    There’s violence and pain in “An Oracle for NP” and only a mild confusion and reluctance in “Higher Jam,” but the essential evil committed by Brad and Emily is the same– and it’s the same as the one committed by Vladimir, who made a hat to sort mankind. When you twist people’s natures to your own ends, you become monstrous. It’s pretty obvious here that Sid’s essential nature, as well as his size, has been altered by becoming a giant:

    His eyes are gentle; there is a fierce intelligence in them; and the spirit of him is at one time fiery and soft.

    As Vladimir said,

    “We see the purposes for others that are in our minds to see. But these are not their purposes.”

  7. When you twist people’s natures to your own ends, you become monstrous.

    Well, remember that this is exactly what Martin has done and said that he wants to do. He doesn’t seem like a monster.

    Symbolically, monsters in Hitherby wear ties (at least the main one does); angels wear jackets; Martin wears a suit, which as Metal Fatigue (I think) once pointed out has both a jacket and a tie.

    From here on I tend to get into writing about things that I’ve written enough about already.

  8. When you twist people’s natures to your own ends, you become monstrous.

    Well, remember that this is exactly what Martin has done and said that he wants to do. He doesn’t seem like a monster.

    Does Martin twist people’s natures to his own ends, or does he just twist people to his own ends? I think there’s an important difference.

  9. We change someone– not ourselves, but someone else, someone in our power– so that that someone becomes able to reach the thing we cannot, and give it to us.

    Huh. Isn’t that, more or less, what Jane did when she created Martin, and also what Martin did when he [did whatever he did”> to Jane?

    Might there not be situations (such as, perhaps, those) where this sort of procedure is acceptable?

    Or am I separating ends and means again?

  10. When you twist people’s natures to your own ends, you become monstrous. It’s pretty obvious here that Sid’s essential nature, as well as his size, has been altered by becoming a giant:

    His eyes are gentle; there is a fierce intelligence in them; and the spirit of him is at one time fiery and soft.

    You know, what happened to Sid there sounds alot like (EXALTED TIME!!!) a Sidereal’s Resplendant Destinies.

    Is a Sidereal donning a RD essentially the same as Martin changing Jane?

  11. We change someone– not ourselves, but someone else, someone in our power– so that that someone becomes able to reach the thing we cannot, and give it to us.

    Huh. Isn’t that, more or less, what Jane did when she created Martin, and also what Martin did when he [did whatever he did”> to Jane?

    Might there not be situations (such as, perhaps, those) where this sort of procedure is acceptable?

    Or am I separating ends and means again?

    Well, creating someone is different from changing him. I’m still not sure exactly what Martin is or how he happened, but I don’t know if we have any indication that he was something different before Jane needed him.

    I just searched for and reread that exchange in the tower room where Jane and Martin discuss, among other things, what he did to her, and it has so many implications I’d forgotten that are germane to this discussion that I’m just going to quote a couple of passages:

    “She made her from me,” Jane says. “She cut her out of me like with a torch. And I could never figure out if a sculpture belongs to the sculptor or the stone.”

    Martin sits on the cot. “Jane,” he says.

    Her eyes go round. “Are you all right?”

    “I think that there is nothing I need less to imagine in all the world than the idea that sculpting people is taking from them,” he says.

    “Oh,” Jane says.

    “Everything everyone does,” Martin says, “is about changing the world. Making it different. And sometimes there is pain. But it is a gift and it must be a gift because you cannot gain rights to someone else simply by acting upon them.”

    Jane peers at him.

    “That’s backwards,” she says.

    Martin grins.

    “What?”

    “It is the dharma of a god,” Martin says, “to view certain moral and causal relationships from the other side.”

    “It’s that easy? Just . . . tell her that she can be mine?”

    “Is that easy?”

    “I guess not,” says Jane.

    “I was always glad,” Martin says, “that you accepted what I’d done to you. Because you could have stopped it.”

    “It’s ’cause you keep not pushing the End of Everything Button,” Jane says.

    (Is there in that last speech of Martin’s some implication that if Jane couldn’t have stopped it– if her consent hadn’t been necessary for the success of what he did– he wouldn’t have cared whether she accepted it or not?

    And in Jane’s last speech, a rudimentary attempt at viewing a causal relationship from the other side, since presumably Martin didn’t “keep not pushing the button” until after he’d done what he’d done to her?)

  12. As far as I remember, Martin claims to have created himself. He was born out of the firewood world, which was a project of Bob’s and Jane’s, if that matters.

    Does Martin twist people’s natures to his own ends, or does he just twist people to his own ends? I think there’s an important difference.

    I’m not sure if I see it. I’m also not sure if consent is really always quite a clear-cut matter.

    Let me illustrate this with an example chosen because it’s near at hand and because I already tend to think of Martin and Jane as writers of a sort. mineownaardvarks, you seem like one of the people who really likes Hitherby. Let’s take all of the stuff about it being a low-art comedy etc. as given and say that you’re one of the people who might find that reading Hitherby changes you in some slight way. Did you consent to that change? Presumably you consented to start reading Hitherby, and still do, but did you know what you were getting in to? Well, of course not. It is one of the functions of art that you can’t put a warning label on the front of it, saying “this work will change you in x,y,z fashion.”

    Of course this is a different *kind* of change than sticking a magical sorting hat on someone that rearranges their mind, or torturing them until a god is produced. It’s less forceful, makes less of a particular type of use out of someone. It’s less deterministic, although really for both the sorting hat and the god-creation, the exact result is not known beforehand. I guess what I’m getting at is that since everyone unequivocally can see why the sorting hat is wrong (much less the torture), and few would agree that the work of art is wrong, perhaps the difference is in the forcefulness and not in the fact that someone is doing something that may change someone else’s nature with ambiguous consent. Or perhaps the difference is in the motive or intended purpose of the change.

  13. (Is there in that last speech of Martin’s some implication that if Jane couldn’t have stopped it– if her consent hadn’t been necessary for the success of what he did– he wouldn’t have cared whether she accepted it or not?

    I think he would have cared. This is rooted less in analysis of the sentence than in my thoughts on Martin and what he exists for. I think that this is a part of what makes him Martin and not the monster.

    I also think that he still would have done it, even if she hadn’t consented, if she couldn’t have stopped him. I think that’s part of what makes him not Lisa, and tied in to the self-definition he made to avoid the woglies in Tre Ore.

    -Eric

  14. The quote I had in mind, about his self-definition, is this:

    Martin opens his eyes. He releases a burden, or accepts it; they are one and the same.

    “It’s not the monster who’s hurting Jane,” Martin says. “I won’t claim that. I won’t be a passive observer. If I’m going to shape the world through suffering, I’m going to be the one who shapes it; and the monster’s responsibility won’t ever negate mine. It’s my job to make sure that suffering transforms.”

    There are fewer woglies now. They are skating off through the water, like toroidal tropical fish or evil aquatic froot loops that have been startled by a splash.

    But one remains.

    “Do you have the right?” it asks.

    “Ye—”

    Martin comes very close to nonexistence.

    Then he shakes his head. “That’s not important to me,” Martin says.

    That’s the defining statement of Martin’s role.

    Deciding to do it without giving consideration to rights was something that hurt him an awful lot to give up, so it’s clear that he cares about such things. The fact that he did give it up shows that he considers other things to be more important than that caring.

    -Eric

  15. “Everything everyone does,” Martin says, “is about changing the world. Making it different. And sometimes there is pain. But it is a gift and it must be a gift because you cannot gain rights to someone else simply by acting upon them.”

    Jane peers at him.

    “That’s backwards,” she says.

    Martin grins.

    “What?”

    “It is the dharma of a god,” Martin says, “to view certain moral and causal relationships from the other side.”

    Can someone explain to me just what exactly is backwards about that? That’s mystified me since I first read that passage.

  16. While I’m occasionally posting anyway —

    Jane is reasoning about the result of Tina’s actions based on the actions themselves.

    Martin is reasoning about the nature of Tina’s actions based on their result.

    As an entirely separate issue, I think Martin is right and Jane isn’t.

    Rebecca

  17. Well, I’d hope Martin would be right.

    Being able to answer that question (indeed, being an answer to that question) is about half of his reason for existence, to the extent to which he is one of Jane’s brother-gods.

    If he can’t do that right, he might as well stop being and go to the underworld with the other isn’ts.

    -Eric

  18. The other half, of course, is dealing with the problems related to that question, and in particular the monster.

    Early sibling-gods of Jane’s seemed to have been almost entirely focused on solving the problem rather than answering the question. Later ones seem to be aimed as answering the question almost as much, and although Martin is different from the other sibling-gods in several respects, this doesn’t seem to be one of them.

    I would put Thess, Frederik, and probably Daniel in the former category, and Lisa, Martin and perhaps Alan in the latter.

    -Eric

  19. As far as I remember, Martin claims to have created himself.

    What I’d figured was that Martin was part of a creation of Jane’s, and she brought him into existence to serve her own needs. But he somehow managed to transcend his original purpose, and become an independent actor. That is, there’s more to him than what Jane put into him…

  20. I’d say, rather, that Martin was an unintended side result of a project of Jenna* and an earlier brother-god, and that subsequent to this he set aside his dharma, entered the underworld, and recreated himself as he now is.

    Of the current Martin, the raw materials come from Jenna and to a lesser degree Bob, but the craftsmanship is largely his own. Thus, it is meaningful in one sense to discuss him as one of Jane’s series of sibling-gods, and in another to discuss him as a self-created individual of a seemingly somewhat new kind.

    -Eric
    ______________
    *At the time of the building of the firewood world, she was still Jenna. The monster, and even Bob, called her Jane, but she wasn’t, not yet. It was only later, when Martin remade her, that she was able to be Jane.

  21. Well, in Martin (IV/IV), he says “I can make myself from nothing”. He might be exaggerating though, since he is talking to the monster. In The Show (II/IV) he says (again to the monster) “You still think that I’m one of Jane’s gods” implying that he isn’t. On the other hand he appears to agree that Jane is his sister.

  22. I maintain that the “Martin created himself” question could be either true or false depending on how exactly you define your terms. I don’t think he’s lying when he says it, but I think that if you take the point of view that creating yourself means creation ex nihilo, then he didn’t. He created himself, but from existing substance.

    As for whether he’s one of Jane’s gods… I think he isn’t, not any more. He used to be, but both he and Jane have been changed (both, really, by Martin) so that while his causal chain may begin at some extent with Jenna, who was in some senses Jane, that’s sufficiently far removed from his current state that he’s something different from just another sibling-god.

    -Eric

  23. I maintain that the “Martin created himself” question could be either true or false depending on how exactly you define your terms.

    Which is why it’s the sort of question to which Rebecca usually replies “Go tell your own legends!”

    Returning (if I might be so permitted) to the actual legend at hand:

    Emily has forced Sid to grow beyond her. He is an adult now, possessed of many new capabilities, while she is still a jam-fixated child; and I believe the implication can be drawn from the unsmalling of Ms. Brown and her subsequent departure that Sid, too, will perhaps now leave, with the fetching of jam being only his parting gift.

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