Monthly Archives: July 2017

“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?


No Way Out of It

RODERICK: Hey. Hey, hey, hey, where’d you think you’re going?

JEMIMA: Out. Out, Daddy, I’m going out!

RODERICK: Oh, you think so, huh?

JEMIMA: I know so.

RODERICK: Well, then, you got another thing coming.

JEMIMA: Let me go!

RODERICK: What is the matter with you!

JEMIMA: You can’t keep me cooped up in here forever!

RODERICK: Well, I’m not the one keeping you cooped up, am I?

(baby crying from the next room)

RODERICK: You gonna get that, Jemima? Hey. Kid. Baby needs his momma.

JEMIMA: I just don’t understand why you can’t take care of him. Just, like, a couple nights a week.

RODERICK: So you can go out with that boy again?

JEMIMA: Daddy, you know we’re not together, that was just a…

RODERICK: What, just a one-time thing?

JEMIMA: Yes! And it hasn’t happened since. I know it was a… I wasn’t thinking. But now we got Ricky.

RODERICK: Who’s “we”?

JEMIMA: All of us, Daddy. You’re the granddaddy, now, don’t you go messing with that.

RODERICK: Well, if that boy isn’t with you, why don’t you make him take care of the kid? Or his parents? Hell, they got more kids than sense already–

JEMIMA: They don’t know.

RODERICK: They don’t know he’s the father?

JEMIMA: They think it was Toby.

RODERICK: That gay kid?

JEMIMA: He’s not gay, Dad.

RODERICK: He might as well be.

JEMIMA: It shoulda been Toby. If it’d been Toby, then… Why’d you have to be your Daddy’s son? You know I wouldn’t do it again.

RODERICK: I know no such thing.

JEMIMA: You really think I’d be that stupid? Twice?

RODERICK: You really want me to answer that? How could they not know? How could you not tell them?

JEMIMA: I just figured they got enough to worry about–

RODERICK: That boy knocked you up! He knocked you up, and now he’s getting away with it! Listen to me. A Daddy has responsibilities.

JEMIMA: Like what?

RODERICK: Like providing.

JEMIMA: Like providing what?

RODERICK: Security. A roof over your head. Why’d you think I didn’t kick you outta the house when you got knocked up at fifteen? You’re my daughter, and a father is supposed to take care of his daughter. Or his son.

JEMIMA: Shouldn’t a father also be able to make his kids feel safe? To make ‘em feel happy?

RODERICK: Not if it means lettin’ ‘em go off and be crazy–

JEMIMA: I’m not going to be crazy, Dad, I’ll probably just go out to a movie or something, but I will start going crazy if you keep me cooped up in here! I need a life, dad.

RODERICK: So’s Ricky.

JEMIMA: Well, right now, Ricky’s in a phase, see, where he likes the simple things. Things even you can provide him, since there’s milk in the damn fridge, and it is not–it is not healthy for a mom to spend every waking second with her baby and not have a life.

RODERICK: Where you gonna be?

JEMIMA: I don’t know yet, but I’ll have my cell-phone. I won’t be more’n fifteen minutes away, I swear.

RODERICK: All right, give ‘im to me.

JEMIMA: Thank you, Daddy.

RODERICK: What you lookin’ at, huh, kid?


Cannibal Horizon

I don’t want to eat you.
It isn’t because I don’t think you would taste good.
I don’t know how you would taste. I haven’t tried.
I don’t want to try you for taste.

I don’t want to eat you because I would miss you.
What does it do to a person to be eaten?

I don’t want to eat you, but I am hungry.
Am I hungry enough to eat human flesh?
I don’t know.
I haven’t tried it.
But if I do turn out to be hungry enough to eat a person,
Would I eat someone I know?
Would you eat someone you knew?
Would you eat someone I knew?
I would rather eat myself.

Last night, I burned my finger baking cookies.
After dousing the burn with water, I sucked on the hurt.
I could feel it cooking.
How much cooking would it take for it to taste like chicken? Like pork?
I have been thinking
Since I started working out,
Since I started working with meat again
That the leaner muscles I can feel in my legs
Around the knob of my knees
Look tasty.
I don’t know why I would think that.
I am not that hungry yet.
But as I look at the new bulges in my arms
(is that what a man’s arm is supposed to look like?)
As I marvel at the diminishing flab,
I can’t help but wonder, if only as a wordsmith,
If only as a spinner of yarns,
What would it take?

I don’t want to eat you.
I have heard mixed reviews about the long pork’s taste.
I have heard that vegetarians taste better
And if you were vegan, you wouldn’t be you.
But can I say that I wouldn’t eat you
If the circumstances were just so?
If the circumstances were different,
Can I say that I would feed myself to you?

It is easy to say here, now, in front of everyone,
I would rather eat myself
But I have never been that hungry.


Prose and Cons

Oswald Osgood was an insufferable know-it-all. The fact that he was a college professor didn’t help him much and the fact that his specialty was William Shakespeare helped him even less. Studying “the Bard” only made him think more of himself and less of everyone else. “No one,” he liked to complain, “can ever reach Shakespeare’s level of technique, or have his command of or ultimate impact on the English language.” And you know what that means.

“Shakespeare wasn’t even a Bard,” said one of his students, Stephanie Wing, “I mean, not really. He wrote on commission for, like, noble people and even for the Queen herself, right? It’s not like he went from town to town singing songs.”

Her male friend who was not her boyfriend, Justin Leech, had some things to say about that on a factual level, but instead scooped up the heart of the statement and agreed that “Shakespeare is not really all he’s cracked up to be. His writing is delightful, sure, but so much of the ‘myth of Shakespeare’ is perpetuated by the endless cycle of scholarship on the subject.”

And yet so much of that scholarship relied on information that was incomplete. “There is so much that we still don’t know,” Professor Osgood often lamented in his classes. “There are whole plays that have been lost to us—the Cardenio, which we are certian was based on an episode from the Don Quixote, and Love’s Labour’s Won, which might have been one of his later comedies under a different name, but I, for one, don’t think so.”

This would then trigger one of Professor Osgood’s favorite lecturing subjects: “If you look at the plot,” he said, “of Love’s Labour’s Lost, you’ll find two things of equal and related interest: the first is that there is more than one strand of action left utterly unresolved at the play’s conclusion; but more striking still is the fact that, despite its status as a comedy, structurally it can be called a tragedy in that the ending does not feature a wedding but rather the death of a king. This is monumental and should be considered incontrovertible evidence that Shakespeare had in fact intended to write what we now call a sequel to this early play, and we know from the records that a play with that title was performed. We just don’t have access to any of the text.”

“Maybe it just sucked,” Stephanie suggested. But that was, of course, not an argument that would hold water for torch-carrier Oswald Osgood.

Imagine the reaction, though, given Oswald’s obsession, when he came back to his office one day to find a box at his door marked “urgent and confidential”; he brought it inside with him, opened it up and discovered a faded and weary manuscript entitled “Love’s Labour’s Won: A New Play by William Shaksper”.

It wasn’t possible! It was some sort of joke, some sickly scheme. Wasn’t it?

Who would do such a thing?

Yet who could do such a thing?

Careful with the fragile pages, Oswald set about reading the text, and it was wonderful. Delightful, even. Filled with precious little quirks and four-hundred-year-old plot twists that still made him cry out “I knew it! I knew it!” in jubilation at their conclusion.

It was everything a Shakespearean scholar could ever possibly want and more.

But where had it come from?

“Oh, who cares!” Oswald reasoned, “if they sent it to me, it’s because they wanted me to have it—they probably didn’t know what to do with it anyway.”

But he knew what to do—in fact, he knew exactly whom to call.

“You’re kidding! said his old friend Gordon Mickiewicz. “Is it any good?”

Oswald could tell from the condescension this was one of those stuffy hipsters who didn’t fully appreciate the genius of the Bard’s early works. “I am telling you, it’s great! It’s going to revolutionize the study of Shakespeare’s cannon and who knows? It might even revitalize the Theatre Herself!”

“The Theatre Herself!” Professor Mickiewicz exclaimed. “Well, then, let’s not keep Thaleia waiting, send the darn thing over!” (Editor’s Note: Thaleia is the Greek Muse of Comedy)

Oswald promised to do just that once he had the whole thing transcribed. Mickiewicz had a computer that could identify authors from text with pinpoint accuracy (except Hunter S. Thompson—for some reason, it kept identifying him with bad translations of Karl Marx) so his blessing was the first step towards solidifying this new play as Shakespeare’s 38th (39th if you include The Two Noble Kinsmen, but Oswald turned his nose up at that idea).

In the meantime, though, he took the liberty of spreading the word and in particular of alerting the press. This level of notoriety was hard to come by, even in an age of instant access and lack of gatekeepers, and he found now that he wanted it.

“So,” said eminent members of the Shakespeare Society, “wherever did you dig up the text?”

“It was in our library, believe it or not, we do have a rare books section, small though our college is, and I found it hiding behind a second printing of Gorbaduc—or all places!”

“Curioser and curioser,” the Society remarked. “And has it been authenticated?”

“All in good time!” Oswald assured him. “I can vouch for its authenticity—been reading Shakespeare all my life, you know!”

The hype was like nothing Professor Osgood had ever seen. TED talks, talk shows, conferences, magazine interviews, online things; and what’s more: theatre troops were clawing at Oswald’s inbox to get their hands on the script and expand their repertory. He had everything but the one thing he really needed as an academic: articles in peer-reviewed journals.

“You know you’re going to have to send it to me,” Mickiewics reminded him. “Nobody’s going to take you seriously until you do—at least not within the academic community.”

“Oh, who cares about those stuffy old farts,” Oswald found himself saying, even though he knew his friend was right. “I know what I know and what I know is, it’s the most authentic thing I have ever laid eyes on!”

In fact, the more Oswald read it, the more convinced he became that it was his favorite Shakespearean text, not just among the comedies. There was something about the Princess and her grief for her father that brought tears to his eyes and put Hamlet himself to shame. Which made it all the more embarrassing for Oswald when Professor Mickiewicz got back to him with the results.

“Well, it’s a beautiful play, obviously,” Mickiewicz admitted, “but sadly, there isn’t the slightest chance that Shakespeare came up with it.” He went on and on about the science of it, which Oswald drowned out until Mickiewicz added “every chance that it’s actually a twenty-first century writer.”

“Twenty-first century!” Oswald was mortified. “I am willing to accept Marlowe or Edward de Vere or the Marquis the bloody Sade as the author, but I can tell you with absolute conviction, Gordon, that no one from this artforsaken twenty-first century of ours is capable of imitating Shakespeare to that degree or with that kind of quality!”

But Mickiewics responded with jargon and gibberish and finally, Oswald hung up.

It was then there was a knock on his office door. “Come in.”

“Hello, Professor,” said the student who had managed to do what no one could and imitated Shakespeare. “Perhaps you’d like to chat?”


An Alaskan God

He went out there to be alone. The great American cliché. A man leaving behind hearth and home, all sense of family, to find himself. How often does that work out?

City highways and byways gave way to a thick-wooded wilderness of needled pine—what the rest of the country might think of as Christmas; but providence was not on Santa’s priority list here.

Further North still as he climbed in search of himself, thin woods and brush gave way to frozen wastes, to the sheer white of a black slate, a canvas for a new life. The mind plays tricks, rolls over, does cartwheels all as a distraction to pick your pocket while you’re looking for the button, to steal your time.

If you’re far enough North, a day can last half a year, and in that endless day is where he finds her. The small cabin reminds him of fairy tales—it’s practically made of gingerbread, look at it! The colors, the curlicue spires, weird angles like it was grown from the ground like a tree—

But nothing grows here. Nothing. This house might not look out of place in a fantasy of Medieval woods, but here at the barren tip of the globe? How could there even be smoke rising from the chimney?

“Come in, come in,” says the middle-aged woman when she opens the door. The inside is no less astounding. The number of knicknacks a person can fit over the 60th parallel would strike fear into any man’s heart, to say nothing of the taxidermy. She offers coffee, hot cocoa, hot cider, a hot meal.

“Who are you?” he asks in return. “How do you live up here?”

She miles coyly. “You don’t really expect a straightforward answer, do you?”

She invited him to stay for as long as he wanted, and as it turned out, that was how he wanted it. She was older than he was by more than a decade, but he didn’t let that stop them from becoming lovers. Why should he? Within three hours of catching sight of the house, it had started to feel like home. He had known (or felt, suspected) that up here above the world he would find himself, and he had, but not in the way that he’d suspected. He still left the cottage every day (for a large portion of the time he was awake, that is) ranging out into the tundra for what wildlife there ventured—fish, mostly, under the lakes.

One time, he wrestled a polar bear. He thought for sure he was going to die and be eaten, but he managed to find a strength deep within himself, like a nitro injection to a fuel tank that sparked him to do the impossible and snap the beast’s meaty neck.

He had never felt so powerful. And he owed it all to her.

Yet at the same time, every day when he returned, inexplicably there was food on the table, without his participation. “Where does it come from?” he kept asking.

“It’s magic,” she said with a smile, leaving him to choice but to believe her.

“I’m sick of this,” he finally blurted. “I want to know what the hell is going on here.”

“Why? Aren’t you happy?”

“Of course I am!”

“Well, then.”

“A man has needs,” he said. “A need to provide. A need to be needed. What the hell am I doing around here?”

“You’re here to achieve divinity,” she said, her back to him.

This fresh-hell double-talk took him off guard. “Divinity?” Of course, he thought, was’t that the reason he’d come here? In a way? To access his own divinity? “Me?” he said, “A God?”

“No, I’m sorry,” said his lover and benefactor, “I misspoke. I am not here for you. You are here for me.

His confusion was compounded.

“You’re the last step, see?” she said. “Well, next-to-last. The first tread on the last flight of steps, as it were. I have everything I need here, all the power that nature will impart me. But you—you are the one thing she can’t provide: you are an audience.”


“Walk This Way”

“Have you ever had sex?” my brother asked his band-mate and best friend.

Declan was not prepared for this question. He knew the required response—“Yeah, sure, loads of times!”—but couldn’t bring himself to give it, which was why he scoffed and turned it around: “Have you?”

“Yeah, I did,” said Jasper.

Now, Jasper was, of course, not one to shy away from bragging, but there was something in his voice, something vulnerable that Declan wasn’t used to, coming from him. It made him curious, and as he teased out enough details to convince himself that Jasper wasn’t making the whole thing up, his curiosity turned anatomical—

I’m sorry, I really don’t want to have to talk about this part. Like, seriously, this part is grossing me out just thinking about it, thinking of having seen it—Seeing it was hard enough the first time. And you should be grossed out, too, listening to it, a girl describing her brother… doing things. It’s disgusting.

But it’s important to the story.

Is it, though? I keep thinking I can tell the story without it, that the plot will somehow fold itself around these events and make itself clear in spite of their absence.

No, no, it’s not about plot. It’s about… something. Character. Events. Leaving this out would be dishonest, not just because I would be leaving this part out, but because it’s maybe a part that would resonate. With somebody. Somebody not related to my brother. Because ew.

All right, so you remember that I said my brother had gotten a bit carried away with drugs in the wake of our father doing what our father did. Well, to think that he would just stop there isn’t just despicably naive, it’s oblivious. Jasper was a wannabe rockstar, and unlike some people in this story, he wasn’t in it for the art.

Yes, you heard me. He was in it for the chicks. Rock’n’roll (or whatever punk-metal indie hybrid they thought they were doing) leads to drugs leads to *holding her nose* sex. Ugh. I made it.

My brother started having sex. Well, once, at least, that first year. Her name was Gretchen Forbes and I really appreciate how plain she was, even though that was part of why it ended up happening. Jasper knew she was plain. Jasper wanted to hook up with Marjorie Robbins or Imogen Talbot or even Jemima Sidney, she seemed cool, but none of those girls really gave him the time of day. Gretchen would, though.

Now, I’m not saying that girls only give it up when they’re feeling insecure (although, in retrospect, a lot of that going on around here) but Gretchen was feeling particularly ugly that day, not just because of the zit that she just couldn’t seem to pop, but because of what Cat Jones (who was also having a bad day, but was also just in general kind of a bitch, which is ironic, but I digress) had said about her being fat. Now I, looking at Gretchen Forbes, would not have gone straight to “maybe cut down the string cheese diet”, but Gretchen was insecure and got caught up after school with the cool kids going to hear the band, and then ended up talking to Jasper after practice.

Jasper, meanwhile, had never consciously been flirted with, mostly because he’d just been kind of oblivious up to that point, but something about Gretchen just sort of tugging down her shirt to show just the barest edge of bra, the faintest hint of nipple, got him thinking “Oh my God she wants me this is not a drill!”

Do I have to describe the whole thing? Every touch? Every word? Every base? Do I have to? Isn’t it enough to say Gretchen Forbes, in an act of desperation and low self-esteem, found herself the most potent loser she could stand and did something she regretted for the rest of her life? Because yes, she was a virgin, and yes, she was fourteen and a freshman in high school and she had to live with the knowledge for the rest of her life that she was the kind of girl who had sex at fourteen and then didn’t again for like, what, eight years? Until she was almost out of college? Because of how ashamed she was.

Then again, at least she didn’t get pregnant.

And at least she didn’t have to watch that happen to her brother.

For a week, I couldn’t even look at him. For a month, I glared. I knew he knew I knew, but he didn’t know how I knew, so he ascribed it to magical powers. I laughed and laughed, until I remembered what it was that I knew and was laughing about.

Declan, meanwhile, pretended not to seethe in jealousy of his friend’s experience as he admired their one lone female band-mate from afar.


Syensse!

You think of science as uncool.

Admit it.

You think of science as something that boring old men in lab coats conjure up to torture schoolchildren who’d rather be playing videogames.

You think of kids who actually like science, actually practice it, as socially mawkish and droll.

Worst case, you think of them as full of themselves and better than you.

I know better.

When I was in school, the scientists were the troublemakers. They were the smart kids, so they knew how. They played power games with the teachers and they won. Because they were smart.

Because being smart made them cool. It made them rebels.

Why don’t you want to be smart?

Why don’t you want smart to be cool?

Why don’t you want to be interesting or even interested?

Or is it just that you don’t think you can? That you don’t think you deserve it?

Cool is you, right? Whatever you are, and you don’t think that you’re smart and maybe science confuses you with the math, and you haven’t figured out yet that there’s a beauty in being confused, even without being on drugs to get there.

You haven’t realized that there’s more to being cool than just being yourself, that other poeple can be cool by being themselves and that’s cool, too, they don’t have to be you.

Can you imagine how boring the world would be if everyone were just like you? It wouldn’t be cool to be you anymore! So be cool, be you and be cool with other people not being you, with other people doing science and making trouble, and maybe ask them if you can help out, you might learn a thing or two.

Hell, you might learn a thing or two about yourself.

You might learn that you like it.