Monthly Archives: July 2017

Building Character

What are you doing? Seriously? Is this any way to write a story? Next thing you know, next thing you’re telling me, Pandora opens the box and out comes Zeus or Bacchus or Gods know what and straightens the whole thing out. Have you ever even read a story? Jeez, and you call yourself a writer.

Listen up, let me tell you how it really happened, right? You can trust me–I was there, remember? I know how it all went down, and there wasn’t any of this frou-frou, none of this namby-pamby stuff, none of this florid Shakespearean bullshit.

But it wasn’t like in the movies, either, where every little word they say is all straight to the point ‘cause they gotta get on with the story. You can’t skip stuff, it isn’t fair to me. You gotta take your time, dammit–this is my life!

Yeah, that’s better, take your time, show me everything, every little detail–I don’t care if it’s boring–you’re not writing for them, smarty-pants, this isn’t their story, this is my story, means you’re writing for me. So what you think about that?

That’s right, yeah, he didn’t hit me, I hit him, and then we made out. It was hot. That’s right. That’s how it happened. To the letter. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. You can trust me. I was there. And then there was bunt-cake, followed by an orgy and the fat kid wasn’t invited.

No, he didn’t leave me. We’re still together. No, seriously. How can you remember all this shit “better than I do”? I’m the one living it, right? I’m in charge of my own destiny? I’m the one writing the story?

What do you mean, cancer? No, but–

What do you mean, cancer? This is not how it’s supposed to go!

But it’s how it is, isn’t it? Because I’m not the one writing my own story. How can you know what it’s like? How can you know, if you’re all the way out there and I’m stuck down here in this awful, horrible, depressing story? You know what, fuck you! I don’t have to take this shit!

I’ll write my own damn stories.


The Longest Dance

I wanted to dance with you.
Not the impersonal dance-near-you
mirroring of two people
who just happen to share a dance floor.

I wanted to dance with you,
my hands on your hips,
your hands around my neck,
looking at each other,
swaying.

Was it just that I wanted to touch you?
That I wanted to be near you,
as close as I thought you’d let me?
Is that all there is to a dance?

You let me lead.
Was leading what I was doing?
There wasn’t much to it, really,
was there? Rocking back and
forth from one foot to the
other, turning ever so
slightly with each
passing
move
Did you have trouble following?

No one’s ever followed me before.
Was that all I wanted from the dance?
Someone to follow me?
Or less, a simple nearness.

We didn’t speak. I just held out my hand.
Speaking would have made me
uncomfortable.
Might have made you uncomfortable,
too,
the whole thing must have been
uncomfortable for you,
what was I thinking?
Why did I do this?

But now we’re dancing.
That’s just swell, isn’t it?
Looking into each other’s eyes.
Hi. Not high, but… hi?
Maybe it’s for the best that we aren’t talking.

That was the longest song they played all evening.
It was my favorite song.
Well, not before, but…
I want to dance with you again.
I think.
I hope.
I guess.
If you want.
I’ll understand
If you don’t.
Don’t think I’ll understand if
you do.

Anyway.
You’ve probably already forgotten.
Or if you remember… well…
I’m sorry if you remember.
I’m sorry, but thank you.
That was my favorite dance and
I think
I might still be

dancing.


Rapunzel; or, Medusa

They called her Rapunzel. Everyone did. It was the obvious thing to say to a girl with hair that reached literally down to her ankles, if not farther. Even though when most people make drawings of Rapunzel or even just picture her in their heads, she’s blonde, like blonder than blonde, right? Not Lauren Graves, though. Lauren Graves’s ankle-length hair was as dark as her name and as straight as the fall off a building.

“I wish I had hair like yours,” girls were always telling her. “But I can never get mine to grow that long.” As if she’d wanted this. As if it was her choice. “You’re so lucky,” they would say, “to be able to grow your hair like that.” As if the luck was on her side.

Her parents had always really liked her hair, too. When she was younger. Some of her earliest memories were of her mother brushing it out for her and whispering love in the night-time. But it wasn’t love that made her whisper anymore.

When she was four, her father had finally said something to the effect that maybe it was time after all to take it in for a trim, but by then it was too late. Lauren’s Rapunzel-hair cascaded wet down the back of the barber’s chair, but the second the clippers were out, every strand turned into a viper.

Bundles of straight, black hair lifted up of their own accord, twisted and coiled round each other into thin prehensile limbs like tentacle-arms, and they found the shears, twisted them out of the poor apprentice hairdresser’s hands and cracked across her face like a whip. Fortunately, the hair was wet and still too young and unskilled to be very effective, so the apprentice survived with only a small scar by her eyebrow, but Lauren and the Graves family still weren’t ever invited back to that shop.

When she was at school, the hair tended to behave itself. Like it knew what was good for it after all. At home, though, its reign of terror was unceasing. It controlled the remote, it picked out all Lauren’s clothes, carefully calculating what would make her most odd and least popular as a result. And any time she did try to talk about it, at school or anywhere with authority, the bottom hairs hidden under the surface would twist into each other and pull most painfully at the back of her scalp, that sharp persistent kind of pain that makes any resistance just not worth the effort.

Even her parents could talk to her. Not really. Not in any meaningful way. They couldn’t tell her how they really felt about certain things, certain practices, without her hair acting out. Sometimes it coiled up and tripped them, tied around their feet and flung them about the room. Sometimes it wrapped itself down into sharp points and hovered threateningly in front of their eyeballs, but the worst, which the hair reserved for when it was especially displeased with either Mr. or Mrs. Graves, was when it wrapped tightly around the neck of the little girl upon whose head it lived and squeezed.

“You don’t think it really would, do you?” Mrs. Graves asked her husband. “It wouldn’t kill her—it needs her, doesn’t it?”

“I would assume so,” said Mr. Graves. “But do we really want to risk it?”

One day at school, finally, things got very bad. For twelve years, she’d been afraid to talk about it, the hair had been dormant and nobody had known. Boys—ones who “liked her” according to her teachers—had even pulled on it—as had girls who didn’t. But pulling at her hair didn’t seem to hurt the hair, as it turned out—only her scalp.

Until one day, Tim Brandanowicz got bored and decided to see how it would react with a bunsen burner.

Was he jealous? Did he like her? Had she turned him down for something? We may never know and it’s questionable whether we should care. Little Timmy held the coil out with just enough slack that he thought Lauren wouldn’t feel it—but even if she had, wouldn’t she have been curious to see what he would do? What her hair would do? Whether it would come awake in public, as it never had before? Worst case scenario, the hair would go wild and at least she’d never have to hear again how lucky she was to be such a Rapunzel.

Sure enough, no one called her Rapunzel again after that day. She would hear whispers in the hall now, people muttering about Medusa, and she was actually relieved. She was a freak, after all, and people deserved to know that, to be warned.

It was still a surprise, though, to everyone in town, when her house burned down three weeks later. Both she and her parents survived (though her gerbil Crunchkin, sadly, didn’t), but somehow, all of the hair had been burned off her scalp. It had done so, inexplicably, in a way that kept the scalp itself pretty much intact. So once the burn wounds healed, there was nothing to stop Medusa’s hair from starting to grow again.

Nothing, that is, except for the lifetime supply of razors she had just invested in. At less than a quarter of an inch in length, she found it no longer had as much power over her.


“Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Does anything much really happen to the average teen?

I mean, sure, stuff happens, stuff happens all the time. Stuff happens to everyone. People fall in love, people get sick (big difference there, right?). People go to school, learn stuff, get in fights, get in arguments. Is there anything everyone does? Sure. Puberty, I guess. Well, maybe not everyone. Breathing. Eating. The other side of eating. Sleeping. Using their heart—in the clinical sense: pumping blood through their veins. Not everyone actually “uses their heart”. Obviously.

What am I getting at?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m trying to pull together everything that happened not just to me but my brother and my sister and all of their friends, like any of it had anything to do with anything else, and really I’m just making it up as I go. I’m not in middle school anymore. Truth is, it was pretty formative for me. I guess I’d like to say it is for everyone, but I can’t make that call. It’s too big of a statement. So am I trying to write something here with universal appeal? An appeal to the universe? I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe this is just for me.

Maybe it’s time for a recap, try to show where everyone is, with their respective agendas and arcs. There’s me (Kassandra Llywelyn), my brother Jasper, my sister Aly, and our mom, Nancy, although she’s not technically Aly’s mom, but she has raised her since she was like two. Our dad (dad to all us kids) left and none of us really know what. Sometimes I think I do, but… well, it’s the usual sob story, I guess. Except that I’m supposed to be psychic.

When Aly was a senior in high school, Jasper was a freshman and I just started middle school, so by the time I was a freshman, Jasper was a senior, and Aly was… well…

Aly was friends—kind of—with Tommy Murphy, who was Declan’s older brother, and Declan was Jasper’s best friend. Aly was only really friends with Tommy because Tommy was in a band with Mickey and Kyle Niedermeyer, and Aly had a crush on Kyle, mostly ‘cause he was a rock star in the making, but also ‘cause he was a pretty decent guy, I guess, as high school loser boys go. But he didn’t like her back. Turned out, he had a crush on one of his teachers, Erin Kelly. Actually more than a crush. So Aly went and slept with Tommy and got pregnant. She miscarried, though. I don’t know for sure what would’ve happened to her if she hadn’t, if she’d actually gone through with the pregnancy. Or, then again, maybe I do.

Jasper and Declan had a band, too. Their other two folks were Blake Morrissey on the drums and then this girl Raven, who Declan had a crush on. My brother didn’t like her—at least not in that way—probably because he was a pretty simple guy, for the most part, and Raven liked to wear her weirdness on her sleeve, even if she did then turn around and hide her face behind her hands. Declan’s crush on her was like most teenage boys’ crushes: a solid mix of half-baked attempts at romance and unintentional creepiness, fueling his self-hate. It didn’t help that she was always with someone else—first there was Christina, but not gonna lie, that shit was toxic; and then she fell in love, as much as anyone can at that age, with Blake. Did I ever get to that part? Well, I should’ve. I’m telling you now.

My friends are… well, I don’t know, they’re not as important. I’m not as important, not to this story. Or maybe I am. I don’t know. Maybe we should be. Even if we didn’t follow in the footsteps of those first two little generations and start a band, we’re still… something. Important? Representative?

My first friend in middle school was Kayla Shaw. She was my best friend through eighth and then she left. Who else? I guess Angus—Angus George. I’ve had visions of a redheaded man I’d fall in love with, he seems to fit the bill. Seemed. But I guess there’s still plenty of redheads, whatever the fearmongers say.

I’ve talked about Lucy, poor Lucy, too good for the likes of us, too chipper, and Isabella—I don’t even know what to do with her. But have I talked about Treveor? I always kinda felt bad for Trevor, with a name like that, he never really stood a chance. But maybe I shouldn’t say too much. This is a recap, right? And Trevor’s main contributions I haven’t gotten to yet. None of us really got important until we got to high school (hell, even then…) so maybe I should just shut up. I don’t know what I’m doing anyway, right?

Up until now, I’m kind of self-conscious of how I’ve, I don’t know, grounded the story? I tried to make it seem like all this stuff was happening all at once, in the same year, but I just want to come out and say, no, it didn’t, right?

You know how you look back on stuff and sometimes your memories get jumbled all out of order? If you’ve never noticed, I guarantee you some of your memories are wrong. And I wanna show it that way, warts and all, as it were, first of all ‘cause it’s easier for me, I’ll be honest, but more importantly ‘cause that’s pretty much how I experienced a lot of it at the time. The way your memories get jumbled? That heppens to be all the time. Constantly. Except when it happens to me, it’s not just the memories.

It’s visions, too. The past and the future all cluttering up in the present.


Kalisune

It isn’t cool to do drugs.
This is the first step to wisdom.

It isn’t cool to drink or to smoke.
Drink water. Cleanse yourself.
That is the way to lasting happiness.

You have to learn to be happy with yourself, to be happy without the boost that comes from the highs and lows of substances.
If you can learn to be happy with just yourself, happiness will only ever be a thought away.

This is why you shouldn’t seek out love either.
Don’t seek out physical love with other people.
Sex isn’t cool.
Sex is only cool when it comes from a connection that is deep and true.
Love yourself without the boost that comes from physical pleasures.

You don’t need sex.
It is the end-point of desire and desire must be satisfied through outward means.
Isn’t it better, isn’t it more cool to be satisfied with yourself?
Don’t have sex. If you do, you will let sex control you.

Be yourself.
You don’t need drugs, you don’t need sex, you don’t need rich, gluttenous foods.
You don’t need the impermanent pleasures of physical objects—they are not you and so, they will never satisfy your sollipsism.
Be happy with yourself and do not strive to be cool.

Winning the approval of others is like heading East uphill on a unicycle—you will never reach your destination and you’ll have a hard time even staying upright.

Real cool people are cool without trying to be. So don’t try to be cool. Just be yourself and say no to the impermanent pleasures of the flesh.


The Dragonfly and the Scorpion Queen

As female superheroes go, I confess they are not atypical. They seem to conform, as it happens, quite strongly to certain prototypes we have for thinking about “strong female leads”.

On the one hand, we have the Dragonfly. She is everything a person could expect from a teenage superhero, plus female and Japanese. Her powers did not come to her from an industrial accident or a meteor shower, though, but from deep inside herself, the result of a confluence of genetics and a pure soul that let her rise above banal mundanity. She has a special relationship to water that allows her to use it in specific ways to annoint things and even people for special purposes. She can even annoint herself with agility, speed, strength, other skills. The power comes from an affinity with an ancient water-God that critics, anthropologists and afficionados might call “nonspecific”, as it does not correspond directly with any existing religion. In all likelihood, she is an orphan, though revenge being anything but a moral motivation, what fuels her should be more of a sense that these sorts of tragedies shouldn’t happen to anyone, and so she uses her powers to fight petty crime, to beat back the Yakuza and expose corruption when it shows its ugly face, first in Osaka and then expanding outward to cover the entire region of Japan.

But what about love? This is the part that troubles me. What sort of mate would be appropriate for a wholesome superpowered girl? And how would she act around him (or her?)? How would that affect her judgment? The first feminist impulse I feel is to place her above all that, as a woman who does not need a man to complete or compete with her, but is that why we take lovers? To fill a void? Such codependence is the mainstay of much popular discourse, but is that all there is? Can’t whole people seek love, too? Does love come only to those who feel an acute need? And what, then, can we expect from him, this lover? That he tie her down to show dominance? That he put her on a pedestal as a reminder of romantic ideal? Or that he debase her as the mere object of carnal impulse, forever to be looked at and never truly seen?

Is this what we expect from a heroine’s love interest? I think we can do better. There is something downright cliché and, in inflatable numbers, dishonest about a girl so heroic she does not long for some form of companion.

But what of the Scorpion Queen? She is a very different kind of superhero, an assassin, first and foremost, for some special interest or other in China. If the Dragonfly is everything we in the West would like from a superhero, the Scorpion Queen is everything we’ve been taught to fear from a villainess, eating men like air, with implants in her fingertips turning them into retractable poisonous claws. A monster, truly, yet lithe and tempting as she leads deserving men to their doom. This, too, could be a cliché. At best, she is damaged goods, sexually promiscuous, making her more like a man in our eyes, and yet not a man and therefore dangerous, usurping male power. Such women should never be women at all, Lilith cannot be allowed to give birth, cannot be allowed to be even seen as mothers, and yet…

And yet consider the true scorpion herself, carrying her just-hatched brood on her back while she hunts, so that she can protect them.

One day, our Scorpion Queen finds herself in the worst situation she can devise: all birth control failed and now she is pregnant with the child of one of her victims. Worse: she soon finds she wants to have it.

And why shouldn’t she? Because she has a career? It is one that makes her wealthy enough to take the time off. Because she has enemies? She has had many, and now she has few. Because she is a monster? Maybe. But that’s not going to stop her from loving her child.

We need better superhero stories. And we need more of them.


Guerrilla Narratives

It started off as a local marketing campaign. Guerrilla-style.

“You mean we dress up in ape suits?”

Not everyone got that joke, that’s the sad part.

We wanted to have a Haunted House for Halloween. We wanted to go all out, which would be expensive for the couple of us organizing it, but more importantly, we wanted people to come. Because we were artists. And those of us who weren’t artists were artists, too—at least when it came to this.

So to get people to come to our Haunted House event, we figured what better way than a campaign of rampant terror? Strike hard, strike often and don’t let up.

Man, it was fun. We started off with a zombie attack. There were lots of people at the interest meeting and we wanted to keep that interest going by doing something everyone could be involved with. And when I say everyone, I mean we had total strangers getting “attacked” and playing along—even pretending to become zombies themselves. Some of them we recruited to swell our ranks, some of them just promised to come give us their money.

We had a clown attack—I participated in that one myself as a bearded lady, thank you very much. One professor let us do a “haunted classroom” spiel in every one of his classes one week.

Tim dressed up as a preacher and did a few (reverse) exorcisms on “sinful folk” that correlated with the deadly sins, it was a hoot.

And every time, we thought “Well, you know, what if something goes wrong? What if someone starts to take it too seriously?”

Contingency plans were in place for in case someone called campus security and we drilled those contingencies so hard we were actually disappointed that everyone was so game to play along. It’s hard to keep people scared if everyone around them isn’t scared, too.

But on the other hand…

The last one we did was supposed to be a virgin sacrifice. Part of the joke, of course, was “Try finding a real virgin in college.” The girl we had doing it, Nina, her whole deal was, she’d scream and scream about how she “had so much to live for”, and of course that “I’m not even a virgin, I swear!”

We did it on the main quad in broad daylight. Four guys in robes and hoods—two holding her, two holding ceremonial scepters—dragged her literally kicking and screaming to the middle of the open field.

We thought for sure someone would dial 911 this time.

In the middle of the field, all four of us helped pin her to the ground and then all four of us drew our knives and gutted her.

Katie was great with the fake blood. Just did a fantastic job. As zombies, we ate this weird oatmeal-and-corn-syrup thing that looked real and disgusting from a ways off, but not right there, although it was disgusting. For this one, we were supposed to actually puncture this blood bag. Which we did. But something was…

I knew it right away. I think it was the smell, although my memories are kinda muttled. I remember thinking to myself, no, no, reassuring, it’s supposed to look like that, thick and dark, Katie did a real good job this time. And Nina was doing a great job. Sounded like she broke her voice with that ear-shattering finale. Then she gurgled and went limp.

There was some scattered applause and I looked up just in time to catch a couple of lonely students take their earphones off and look at what all the fuss was about. We didn’t bow, though. Gorillas don’t bow, it breaks the illusion.

We just turned around and each walked to a different corner of the quad.

It took us each about a minute and a half to cover that distance, but it was five before anyone on the quad noticed or got concerned that Nina wasn’t moving, that she hadn’t even blinked her eyes. By the time they figured out she was dead, I was already in class and the others were all scattered to the winds—literally to the four corners. No one could identify us and once I started thinking about it, I realized I couldn’t really be sure who the other three were. We had all worn our masks the whole time. I knew my knife wasn’t real—just sharp enough to puncture the blood bag, not to break skin, let alone bone… but I couldn’t vouch for the others.

Everyone had just stood there. We were telling them what we were doing—were we just that good at it? Or had we trained them by then not to respond to a crisis? Had we somehow convinced them that the only danger in the world is found in art?