Thursday, March 16, 2017

Short story: "King"

                In the corner of a galaxy floating about in the universe lived a king, who sat on a planet inhabited entirely by him. There was fauna and flora, though none of it could willingly create fire or build a shelter or commit tax fraud, so for the sake of census and politics we will deem this sole intelligent inhabitant ‘King’. King believed that he once had a name, perhaps even several that would determine the chivalry of his lineage, but those were long since forgotten, since there was never anyone to call him by it. He had become, simply, ‘King’.
                King loved his planet. He had surveyed every last parcel of land, from the green mountains of the southern plains to the red trees of the snowy tundra and the vast, unbounded oceans of liquid carbon dioxide, and he had only ever come across land and sea creatures, but not another single mind equal to his own. Sometimes he wished he could find another, but the desire only came when he viewed something beautiful such as a double-sunset, or a complete lunar alignment, or the refraction of light from the ocean onto the closest moon, which he named Lamita. He knew not from where the name originated, but he liked it.
                Where did his ship come from? That, like his name, he had forgotten- all the controls came naturally to him, and sometimes he had the desire and knew that if he rerouted power from his maneuvering thrusters to the dormant singularity drive that he could easily break free of the planet’s gravity and travel the stars in whatever direction he so desired. But, the desire, much like the waves of the eastern ocean in the quiet days, ebbed. How he loved watching the waves pull back, retreating to reveal the glassy, shimmering ocean floor.
                At first, when King arrived on this planet through no desire to stay, he remained quiet and worked and grunted and spoke to nothing; but, over time, the more he worked to repair the damage to his ship, the more he spoke to the environment, and the more it spoke to him. They weren’t words, per se, but intuitions, drawn in from every action he made, and it was the gentle hand of the environment that guided him to survey the planet once his repairs were complete rather than leave altogether. And he realized that perhaps the planet wouldn’t be a terrible place to remain, at least for a little while longer.
                That little while became, to his species’ perception of time, 193 hyra (80 human years, give or take five and a half months). That perception of time had long since faded, replaced only by the understanding of life and existence: that any metric of time as an understanding of life is flawed, and that there is but a perfect confluence of the past and desires to guide one into a future. That future is illusory, King knew, but he was able to manipulate it perfectly, given his solitude on this strange, beautiful planet he discovered.
                Every day, he drank its liquids, consumed its fruits, climbed its peaks and submerged into its oceans, much in the way he did in the days previously, and much as he would do in the future until he could no longer climb the peaks or swim the waters. There was no certainty but the plans he made: view the herds of wild beasts chasing each other, document their movements and their mating rituals; fly around the poles to observe the planet’s magnetic field clashing with solar winds; take his ship deep into the oceans to discover what strange life lives in the most inhospitable environment on the planet; chart out the volcanic activity on the planet and see how the tectonic plates shift; observe the moons when they are within distance of each other to perturb the other. There was much to do.
                And King did much over the next 504 hyra, until he was an old man and had completed every single thing he had ever set out to do. He could no longer climb peaks or swim oceans, and cultivating his food hurt his body. So, on one brilliant day, when he knew the sky would blaze in a double solar eclipse, he activated the singularity drive in his ship and set it to autopilot on a return course to the planet that manufactured his ship. In that ship’s library was every single detailed scan he made, every log he recorded, every spoken conversation he ever had with himself. And on that day, he laid down to watch the most brilliant sight he had ever seen.

                The ship returned to its home 4.6 hyra later to a group of curious engineers and scientists, who then pored through all the ship’s library and logs in what was a ship centuries out of date. The library held a vast collection of pictures, scans, and data invaluable to scientists, but the logs yielded something different: they began simply, with descriptions of survival and repair efforts, but evolved into something unrecognizable. There were mentions of the planet as a person, introductions to trees as if they could speak, and screaming. King screamed, rattled around in his ship, bounced off the walls, tore his skin, and then moments later he’d be fine, bleeding from his ruptures, speaking to his imaginary family and friends, telling them all he missed them, that he longed to see them but there were things he still had to do.

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Recoiling and Remembering

One of the more interesting aspects of getting older, I've found, is finding my memories all the more potent. Perhaps it's because I'm making relatively few new ones given the regular doldrums of office life (and saving up some PTO to make some new memories), but sometimes I can close my eyes and remember something so precisely that it's almost jarring to exist in the present.

For example, if I think back to my time as a soccer player in high school, then my mind wanders back to the smells of a humid, sweaty summer of running and being so damned tired that I'd fall asleep as soon as I went home. And then there were the times where my friends and I, all sticky and exhausted from sweating our asses off, rumbled over to the nearby convenience store to buy a sandwich and a Gatorade, wearing our soccer gear. And I'm there, standing on the brown-tiled floor of the shop, browsing the chips and drinks, waiting for my friends to order their food so we can go eat on the sidewalk outside and generally grumble to each other how little we're getting any action from girls we think are attractive.

And the traffic rolls by and we sit on the cement blocks meant to stop cars from rolling forward too much, our legs sore and our backs hunched, digging into a sandwich whose bun is just a little too sharp for my mouth. My one friend talks about having a thing at his pool, which is always just water polo, and since I can't swim I'm always reticent to go. He also boasts that he's going to invite some girls, but it never happens so it'll never happen. (Note: eventually, some girls did actually come by.)

And more like that. It's always visceral, and I can smell it, taste it, hear it all as if my memories are just another screen playing back familiar video. Sometimes I can be in another place: on the train, buying food, talking to someone, and a thought from the past just creeps in and reminds me of something that I had forgotten for so long, and then I'm far away, years away, and I recall what it is to be younger.

This is a strange feature of getting older, strange and fascinating. On the one hand, these are the memories that created me as I am, and yet, in the past few years where life has been more monotonous and certain things have hardened and focused me in life, these older memories become more salient and grounded, and feel more fundamental to me than anything else. I have started to wonder if, at the ages I'm remembering, I felt something similar; the irony is, I don't remember. Maybe it was the bountiful free time to spend making new memories with friends, but I don't recall having so much time to reflect on my lives past.

So, I've started making an effort to write down my memories, or at least the notable things that happen to me on the day-to-day. Sure, I might not go drive around my town on warm summer nights blasting ACDC, but perhaps making the small things more salient means I'll cherish those more when I'm even older, too.
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(No politics at the moment; it's all a bit too much right now.)

A common bit of advice for writers is "kill your darlings"- don't be afraid to lead a character to his or her end should it fit the narrative, regardless of how much you've developed that character and how much you may like that character. It's a difficult piece of advice to follow, as any writer would attest- death, even of a literary character, isn't easy.
That doesn't include characters who are certain to die, of course, but they typically aren't the protagonist or any of the main characters, and their deaths are usually motivators to the plot. No, this is about killing main characters.
Death is random. One can just as easily get hit by a car or have a brain aneurysm while eating breakfast. Death is easy. Life is hard, death is a walk in the park. Fall down the stairs, dead; inhale carbon monoxide, dead; get attacked by a rabies-infected circus clown, dead. It happens to anyone and everyone, so when you're writing, it should be treated as such, especially if you're writing about battles, or fights, or running away from home.
Into the Wild was the story of a (frankly idiotic) boy who ran away from home and died because of his patent dearth of required knowledge about surviving in the wild. (Spoilers) Piggy's death in Lord of the Flies was a turning point in the story, and was very sudden. Even Dumbledore's death at the hands of Snape was a shock, especially in the way that he died.
Characters shouldn't be pigeonholed into surviving. It's a strange thing to write, believe me, but if your characters are marching off to the largest war the galaxy's ever seen, the chances that they all survive is nil. Serenity demonstrated as much.
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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Getting Catcalled... As A Guy

How does that song go? "Til it happens to you, you don't know how I feel." Being a straight white male, I never really imagined that I'd get catcalled by some middle-aged wankface driving by with something as crude as "Hey sexy mama!" (And yes, I checked, there was no one else around me; he was, for whatever reason, calling me a 'sexy mama'. Thankfully, I'm not a single parent.)

At first I was obviously confused, but then I started to think about a girl I had seen on a train back from work a week or so ago. A guy, taking some generous swigs from a bottle of $3 whiskey, kept reaching out and touching her while she stood and he sat. She warned him not to and eventually took an open seat out of his reach. And then, I thought about how, every so often while walking to work, I'll hear a guy say something to a girl passing by, usually some come-on or something equally frivolous.

It just becomes so obvious: it's not flattering; it's threatening.

Something similar happened to me before, but in a much more subdued way. It was the middle of summer and I was carrying what was likely two giant boulders in Shop Rite bags back to my apartment. A large man, about the size of the average football linebacker, walked by and muttered "You's cute." It took me a few moments to process the remark while I hauled the rock of Gibraltar up the stairs to my door, but it still made me feel damned threatened when I settled down.

And girls go through this every single day. It's ludicrous. I'm probably not qualified in the least to talk about this at length, but no one should feel like they might be in danger from a pair of eyes following them, let alone someone voicing their priapic opinion about someone else.

Besides that, who wants to only be valued as a thing to be coveted or an object for pleasure? It's an empty feeling because our physical appearance isn't, largely, our choice. We can't pick and choose our genes (yet) to make us better looking, taller, more athletic, etc. We're stuck with how we look, and to only be judged by that quality lends a superficiality to whatever words a catcaller might decide to use next, because no matter what, the first thing that attracted the person was the sex appeal.

And then there's a matter of intention: it's sex, pure and simple, and this might come as a shock to most people, but 90% of the people you see around you (of your preferred gender) likely wouldn't have sex with you unless you were Idris Elba or Zach Efron or Marion Cotillard or Kerry Washington or anyone in between. So when someone decides to catcall, it's basically the peacock showing his rumpled feathers off to a potential mate: they likely won't be all that impressed, and will probably run away or peck or do whatever it is peacocks do to defend themselves. Or maybe naked mole rats would be a better analogy. Whatever, I'm not a biologist.

The point is, stop it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A story in short.

Ian was a boy who never saw the sky. His sight was never physically impaired; ophthalmologists would remark that his vision was clear as air. Rather, Ian chose to never see the sky, nor the grass, nor the trees, and yet he could read every single letter he could see within a mile. He never saw his parents, nor his teachers, nor his fellow students; they were there, he acknowledged them, they acknowledged him, but he never saw them. This wasn’t strange to Ian, as it was how he had lived every year of his life. Everything passed in front of him, transitioning from one moment to the next before Ian had time to comprehend it, and then it ended. Nothing was real to Ian, and yet he knew nothing was fake, but he could never immerse himself into what he saw around him. It wasn’t unusual to him, and he thought nothing of it. He was dragged into adulthood while he tried to comprehend the moments of his childhood. The memories were there, and he was in them, and though he recalled that they happened largely without him, they still dug into his chest and nestled next to his heart. The moments of his adult life similarly came and went, and he never saw them. Ian trudged through those moments that ran by, only catching fleeting glimpses of what they were before they were gone. It got worse as he got older; the moments moved faster, and faster, and he trudged slower, and slower, until there were no more moments for him to see. As his breath shortened and his vision dimmed, Ian smiled and coughed out a hoarse chuckle. With his last breath, he finally spoke. “Clear as day.”
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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Uncertain Balance

I'm still not sure how to feel after this past election, but I'm not entirely sure it matters. After what was likely the worst presidential campaign in recent history, Donald J. Trump was elected. The man who insulted just about every non-white male variant that exists attained the highest office in the land and now has the power to shape the United States, and subsequently the world, for years, possibly even decades beyond his tenure. The man who thinks that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese; the man whose entire platform was scrapping international trade deals and jailing his opponent, Hillary Clinton; the man who can only describe warzones as "a mess". It's not an easy thing to fathom.
Every single poll decided that he was the underdog by a landslide. Every single person who has ever studied political science knew, knew that it was impossible for a man of his style of campaigning to win. And then, it happened, and all of us ivory tower-types have to reconsider what we thought we knew.
Maybe it's because we all underestimated the power of his anti-establishment, anti-trade deal message; maybe we all underestimated the inherent racism still firmly entrenched into parts of the United States. Maybe some people just really didn't like Hillary Clinton. It doesn't matter now, really. Historians and political scientists will write books and papers aplenty about the statistical impossibility and supicilious stupidity that was the 2016 election, and hopefully in 50 years, people will look back on this point in history with deep, bitter disdain.
But, we're in it now. A lot of people are afraid of what will happen; I'm not, honestly. It's hard to fear the possibility of something. I'm dismayed and disillusioned at the moment. I suppose the fear will kick in once he raises his right hand, but for now, it's still a foggy notion that the election even happened. It's still a waking nightmare.
Though what do I have to fear? I'm a generic straight white guy. You can go around America and find millions of me wasting time or making money or losing money or flipping burgers and picking up hookers. You can even find a copper-coated jabberwocky version preparing to move into the White House.
Except, that's a lie. I do feel fear; fear for my friends, many of whom are the children of immigrants from predominantly non-white countries, and it twists my stomach to think that just because some spray tanned living word jumble became president that many of them would be targeted in hate crimes simply because they aren't white. Hate crimes have surpassed post-9/11 levels, by some metrics, which is a truly scary thought: the worst attack in American history was going to create backlash, as anyone would expect it to; but an election? There is no mandate for discrimination; everyone retains the right to be safe, regardless of who is president.
I read an interesting interview with Trevor Noah, the current host of the Daily Show. He's from South Africa, the posterchild for racism in modernity, and he stated that racism was never excised in the United States like it was in South Africa. With the end of apartheid, a system of governance based entirely on racism, the tumor was cut: it was held up and displayed in all its failure as a system of thought and left to die. That isn't to say that racism doesn't still exist in South Africa, but it was a moment of ablution that let South Africa face its demons.
The United States never truly had that. Schools had to be forced to integrate in the 1970s, and even today there is a noticeable disparity in race in schools. White nationalist groups still exist and are active around the country.
So, what does the future bring? I don't know, honestly. I wrote more than a year ago that Trump would never be president, and here we are. The bare minimum we can do to make a better life for ourselves and others is to speak up if you see someone getting harassed because of how they look, even if no one else does; you'd be surprised how much one person can inspire courage in others.
Chances are that if you're reading this, you agree with most, if not all, of what I've written. And if so, great, I'm glad, let's be friends if we aren't already. If not, write a comment and tell me why I'm an asshole, but at least do so politely, because we're not in clans of gorillas fighting to defend our territory by slinging shit at each other; we have words, and feelings, and advanced reasoning that lets us settle disputes without laying a finger on each other. So if you have a problem with this post, write it out; if you don't like someone, tell them, but don't forget to ask yourself why you feel that way in the first place.

That's all for now,
Das Flüg  

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Friday, September 16, 2016

What is Justice?

Bit of a broad question, I know, but it's worth asking once in a while as it's sometimes too easy to throw around the phrase "We demand justice!" or "So-and-so deserves justice!" And the sanctimonious among us will always say that justice is "what's right," or "what's fair," but then we have to delve into what that means too. See what I'm aiming at?

Anyway, let's look at justice first as a concept: in its simplest sense, it is the notion of resolving parity in a society through some type of arbitration or adjudication. Farmer A got jealous of Farmer B's cows, so he killed one; thus, Farmer A, by the system of laws of their respective municipality, is punished by having one of his own cows killed, or one of his cows yielded to Farmer B as punishment.

Easy, right? If only every single case were so.

The notion of equality under the law, that all laws must be applied equally to everyone, is still a (sadly) new concept in jurisprudence. It's easy to see even today that laws in certain countries/cities/states do not apply to everyone equally, whether it is about voting rights, criminal convictions, or class-action lawsuits. For example, doing a search of recent news and criminological research, it's apparent that those living in poorer/lower income areas often struggle more with the law than the more well off.

What does that have to do with justice?

Areas deemed high crime areas typically have poorer residents; after all, no one wants to move to an area with a reputation for being dangerous. Areas with higher crime also receive increased police presence, meaning that there is more scrutiny for smaller infractions and less trust from the police for the general community and vice versa. There are many noted cases of people going into extreme debt trying to pay for their speeding ticket/moving violation simply because they don't have the means to pay it.

Law enforcement, in this case, is doing its job, so they'd say; community members would say that it's unfair targeting.

Contrast that with the financial collapse of 2007/2008, which sent the global economy into a tailspin from which it has only just started to recover. Only one person from the large banks has been jailed for undermining economic security, whereas the managers and executives at the financial firms were able to reap the benefits of a government bailout.

Many have asked, where is the justice?

The notion of a just and fair society is an idyllic one; it is the USA's motto that all men are created equal (Declaration of Independence), though the original Constitution had the 3/5s clause, leaving the individual black person without a whole vote. Justice and equality are inextricably linked concepts. There cannot be one without the other. Two people who commit the same crime in different circumstances should get the same punishment, because that is what equality is. Someone who is selling loose cigarettes shouldn't be strangled to death by police when a teenager who drives drunk and kills the occupants of another car is put on probation and given therapy. (The police officer who strangled the man in question wasn't indicted.)

That upsets what many would consider just, and rightly so; it infringes upon the perceived equality we all should have under the law of the land.

So then the technical definition of justice suffers a little, because we can only perceive it as working as well as those who enforce it and those who adjudicate it. Given that humans are fallible, the goal of justice should be to remove the element of human ego from law. A judge needs to be impartial to reading the law, a police officer needs to be objective and attentive; if this isn't the case, justice breaks down.

Obviously, that's extreme. The world doesn't exist in a vacuum of deceny and laws; in fact, there are books thicker than steel and stone that detail the world's laws, from the smallest municipality to the international system. Ego hasn't been removed, of course; it's still very much a part of the legal system, whether it pertains to international treaties or environmental protection laws. But, we haven't succumbed to anarchy. We don't live in tyrranical times, at least not the tyrannies of myths and literature. We needn't be armed daily for a stroll around the park. We are, for the most part, within a realm of justice that remains steady. For the most part.

Because justice is an incongruent term, and it will continue to be until equality is a tangible concept.

That's all for now,
Das Flug
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