Experimenting with Meaning

By Eric Hendrixson


Nothing can look the same to two people. That’s scientific fact. But the way things appear to the individual is guided and manipulated by art, twisted by symbology and centuries of regimented meaning.

The first time he experimented with meaning was when he was just a middle schooler. He heard an alternative band cover a pop song and turn it from an alcoholic’s anthem to a desolate, desperate funeral dirge for society’s youth. He tried to present his findings to his classmates, excited by the discovery of something he didn’t really understand. Their response was… less than enthusiastic.

From then on he performed his experiments in silence, in hiding. The experiments catalogued themselves in volumes and volumes of swiftly weathered journals.

If we replace gray with green, the entire meaning of the conversation changes…
If I change the month of their meeting, it can go the exact opposite direction...

Over the course of weeks and months, he learned the power of colors, of changes of tone and of the transformative power the natural world had on a narrative. Then one day (or was it a night? That’s important, you see. Revelations mean different things under the moon.) he found… the world. It hit him like a tornado, like a tidal surge of greens and golds and blues, pulled him up to new understanding and down to an entirely unseen plane.

He learned the royalty of gold and purple, the command that a few strands of each would lend a character. He learned that this girl would be more trustworthy with a pet dog, and that a cat would foreshadow this man’s betrayal. He mastered these tiny details of the world, developed them to a knife’s edge of precision. He could weaponize a dash of red on someone’s collar, he could slowly increase the repetition of a symbol until it could only mean one thing: whatever he wanted it to.

There was still one problem. Very few people understood what he could do, and what would be the point of an ability like that without anyone to understand it? As he eased back into the real world from his odyssey into a world of constant symbols and patterns, he realized that the real world contained just as many applications for his skill as the world he had left behind. The symbols still existed, in their subtleties and infinite interpretations, they just required a keener eye to spot. For someone like him, that was hardly a problem.

He continued cataloguing, kept up his study of meaning, until he could read a person’s face like an annotated manuscript. In the “real world,” this skill gained him attention from the highest ranks of society, the ranks that prize someone with the ability to interpret and predict patterns. Whenever he was asked that predictable and inevitable question: “How do you do it?” he answered simply and truthfully.

“I experiment.

Poem 1

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