Forgotten Cave: Thoughts on an Alternate Universe

In his latest post, Benjamin wrote about the importance of archiving the internet. Reading it, it was alarming to learn just how much of the web fades quickly into void. Whenever a fledgling site finds itself in an eternally irretrievable tomb, it’s a surreal shame. Though many of these sites consist of nothing but abject posturing, it’s the equivalent of burning a printed page. Even worse is the notion that, in this metaphor, it would be the only remaining page on the planet with its unique content. Whether that page contains weak poetry, or sprawling and elegant prose, it’s symbolic of a loss that evokes death in its permanence.

Recently, Secret Cave has been on life support. We’ve encountered a number of problems, many of which have been out of our hands. The majority of them have come down to tussles with our domain’s host. Some of these issues have threatened us to our very core, and on a variety of levels. However, only one is worthy of mention in this piece. At one point, when trying to maintain our online status, we were forced to take a dangerous risk. In trusting a company who had repeatedly failed and lied to us, we could have lost every word we’ve published. Until Issue #1: Birth sees release, our entire output has rested on digital laurels. In light of Ben’s revelations about the frivolity of the internet, the whole of Secret Cave hangs in the balance of intangible binary; a frightening prospect.

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Despite now having more backups than we did before, the unlikely demise of the World Wide Web would take this domain with it; forever. Thanks, in part, to our name and styling, it calls to mind an image from my childhood. Being raised so close to Britain’s eastern coastline, the seaside and its features were no stranger to me. Whether paddling in the rock-pools of Cleethorpes‘ “Fitties”, or sampling the sand of neighbouring beachscapes, I knew its aroma well. In those age-hazed memories, I can find no context; no arc that gives reason or meaning to the moment. It’s in all the glory of hindsight that I see a clear simile, and I’ll attempt to document it here.

I remember the cold, sleek stone beneath my feet, and how the thin film of saltwater that clung to it shimmered in the afternoon sun. While the sea outside bathed in light, offering a twinkle to each grain and pebble on the shore, the cave in which I stood seemed locked in abiding shadow. It was empty; barren. Yet, still, it held an allure I couldn’t escape. Indeed, its mystic grip remains to this day as one of those distant recollections you can only dream of touching once more.

Back then, I stood motionless in an effort to avoid slipping. Notoriously clumsy in my youth, I thought it wise to quell adventure in deference to the potential of breaking a bone. Instead, I simply surveyed; a practice I was far more comfortable with. My exact age escapes me, though I had learned enough about erosion in school to consider its impact on the natural architecture. The effects that the mere passage of time can have on a landscape always fascinated me.

The cave was small; more analogous to an inconsequential alcove. I could see its back wall, where sodden crisp packets and other litter lounged on its upward slope. Regardless of its diminutive dimensions, God – I supposed* – had decided to use his myriad tools to manifest his figurative finger-poke on that unassuming bay. The truth of geography is markedly grander, though I could have no conception of that. Admittedly, as a juvenile, I was known to explain rain away as “God’s piss”.

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Putting my formative ignorance to one side, everything about that forgotten cave enthralled me. What had caused the patterns in the rock’s surface? Why did a bank of sand choose one particular spot to gather in? Most importantly, who had been there before me, and who would come after? I don’t remember how much my PlayStation distracted me from such musings upon returning home, but they’ve clearly reappeared (with some persistence) in my idle daydreams. What strikes me about that is another detail eluding my memory. To this day, I have no idea where that cave is located.

This fact means that I’ll never again breathe the cave’s air, or hear the slapping sound of a breeze washing through it. I could easily find similar, even indistinguishable, specimens. But, I’d know it isn’t the one I frame so magnificently in my selective synapses. It’s lost to me, and I’m left with crudely filtered imprints in its wake. In many ways, does this not accentuate the singularity of the moment? A second visit, and even just the knowledge that I could make one, would hold nothing of merit or consequence. The isolation of that experience defines it, overcoming the tragedy of the underlying loss.

Does that mean that losing Secret Cave would be no big deal? No. Though the world would have no trouble continuing on with its rotation, it would be profoundly devastating to us. What my illustrative reverie does bring to the table is a realisation of how often these ultimate ends occur in our lives. There are so many things that we see or do for the final time, without ever questioning conclusion. We commemorate others ceremonially, almost frightened of losing them. These thoughts, together with our issues, had me applying the approach to creative output. I began to wonder, how healthy is attachment to a completed project?

To save this piece crashing messily into the demanding soup of a word count exceeding three-thousand, I’ll concentrate on one example. Syd Barrett, the celebrated initial front-man of Pink Floyd, is famed for disregarding his entire catalogue in order to live a subdued life, almost completely sheltered from the public eye. We’ll never know precisely what his troubled feelings rested on, but the scant reports available from his self-imposed seclusion suggest that he had no regrets leaving the band behind. He didn’t listen to Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and was quoted to have considered a documentary on his music “a bit noisy”. Barrett reverted to his birth name, Roger, and only acknowledged his previous career once by signing a short run of books featuring photography of his Pink Floyd days.

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If an innovative genius like Barrett can walk away from his popular ubiquity, why should anyone trap themselves in terror over creative loss? This doesn’t apply to losing every last crumb of Secret Cave in some digital blackout. In that scenario, we’d have nothing to even walk away from. Where it does apply is in agonising over the once instinctual brushstrokes that bring everything we do to life. I intend to walk away, as Barrett did on a larger scale, from the difficulties that nearly made our domain a thing of the past. In an alternate universe, an opposing attitude could leave our humble zine already buried; killed by dwelling on downfall. Fortunately, with each release and post, with every unanticipated mistake, I’ve learned to move on.

The future is the aim; the destination. The future’s where you can improve, explore new tones and feel the texture of a different cave. Searching for something that once was can never be truly found, and wasting time on unearthing disappointment is divine folly. Hopefully, I’ll be able to implement this in my own creativity. Our upcoming physical zine, paired with the tape of music we’ve compiled as a gift, will be a definite test. I know this because I received the first copy of our tape, Volume #1: Birth, just this weekend. Undoubtedly, I’m more proud of it than anything I’ve ever done in my life.

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Chasing that emotion, in its specific context, will only lead to poor imitation and eventual disenfranchisement. I’m certain that the same will be true of its companion zine, which could just as lazily fall into a sludge of repetitive addiction to one style or statement. We’ll be releasing more physical zines, and our plans for tape distribution are expansive. As such, every issue should stand on its own, and be treated with the same individuality that all creatives wish to express. Only then can our domain – the planet we’ve built to house our various islands – thrive with the colour necessary to stay alive and inspired.

This post, along with its multitude of brethren, is like the small cave I described. It would be pointless to revisit or mimic it in further work. Rather, it would be far more effective to seek and tread paths that hold unknown fruits. After all, the magic I sensed underfoot from the rock was a direct result of my unfamiliarity. The same can be said for the disparate avenues that Benjamin and I traverse here. If we can hold that philosophy close, and employ it with appropriate guile, I see no excuse for Secret Cave to descend into apocalypse beyond the death of its co-founders. With a physical product just weeks from publication, our cave is further from collapse than ever before. And so, with fresh aplomb, we move into our second year.

Secret Cave Birth Spread

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*I now consider myself an atheist.

British fellow consumes media and regurgitates back what you should think about it.