Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A plea to the homebodies: updated version


Homebodies, this column is for you. If “staying in is the new going out” (Young, 2016) then it is time for a backlash. Yes, you need to catch up on your shows; but why should fantasy characters get to have all the fun getting pummeled by zombies or kidnapped by sterile rich folk or having their intestines sucked out by space aliens? Make some drama of your own in the dimension of what I like to call Actual Reality. Fantasy is a treatment for mediocrity, not a cure.



I suppose you have valid arguments in your defense. Reality is becoming obsolete, you assert. Besides, you are saving money, creating less pollution, and your social life is better than ever. But your insistence on cloaking yourself with your house is a little like test driving your coffin; you are as a dead person; in the world but not of it.



Fine, don’t be aroused by macabre philosophical jostling, but here's another angle to consider: the facts are in, and being around other humans is just plain better for your health. Social fitness is as important as physical fitness, and the virtual world is not offering these benefits. It’s as if you tried to get vitamins eating a virtual fruit. According to experts, social isolation could be worse for us than smoking. The cure? Go consume some local live original art.



You know what else is good for you? Stepping out of your comfort zone. Creating new pathways in your neural net by expanding your personal experiences will strengthen and protect your brain. Enduring thirty minutes of a disheveled guy on a stage, thrashing a washboard and driving a vacuum cleaner while reciting angry poetry may inspire you in ways you haven’t considered. Maybe you’ll take up the tambourine and the sewing machine. Maybe he’ll utter something you never thought of before.



A related point, since it is also in the spirit of enrichment, is that you can spice up the same old bland smoothie of existence by tossing a little serendipity to the mix. Nothing interesting will happen if you don't get out of the house. Maybe your pipes will burst and you'll build a raft out of electrical cords but the probability of that is low. What stories will you have to tell? About the time you sat on your couch watching Netflix and spilled your beer? About the time you ordered a burger and they left off the pickles? The cure for your uneventful existence? Go consume some local, live, original art.



Not convinced by the health angle? How about an economic one? Local artists are small businesses. They need your support and most of the time it’s cheap. Thousands of great artists, writers, film-makers, poets, musicians; pouring out their souls, struggling to promote themselves despite their melancholy, introverted temperaments, and you probably don't know they exist. Thousands of potential famous people: a treasure chest of gold in plain sight and nobody is paying it any mind. What does it cost to see Bruce Springsteen on Broadway or to score a couple of those Hamilton tickets?  The popularity of these performances indicates that you will leave house and pay ridiculous sums for an artistic experience, so I know you like art.



Homebodies, the world needs you. Artists need you. Get out of the house. You may not get pummeled by zombies or kidnapped by space aliens but your brain will thank you and you may even live a longer, healthier life. Be of the world, not just in it. Go consume some live, local, original art.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

A plea to the homebodies: orignal version

Alright, homebodies, this essay is directed at you. If staying in is the new going out, as proposed by contributing writer for the NYT Style Magazine Molly Young in 2016, then it is definitely time for a backlash. Yes, I know you have a nice comfortable couch. Yes, I know you have a lot of shows to catch up on. But why should fantasy characters get to have all the fun getting pummeled by zombies or kidnapped by sterile rich folk or having their intestines sucked out by nefarious space aliens? Make some drama of your own in the dimension of what I like to call Actual Reality. Fantasy is a treatment for mediocrity, not a cure.

Okay, yes, I suppose you have a lot of good arguments in defense of your precious homebody existence. Reality is becoming obsolete, you say. You can do just about anything on line that you can do off it. You are saving money. You are creating less pollution. Your social life is better than ever. Never mind that sitting at home all the time is like test driving your coffin. Seriously. Just like a dead person. That's what you are;  in the world but not of it.

My friend, you may not be aroused by macabre philosophical jostling, but here's another angle to consider: the facts are in, and being around other humans is just plain better for your health. Social fitness is as important as physical fitness, and the virtual world is simply not offering the same benefits. Face to face communication is as important as eating fruit, and just as you cannot eat a virtual strawberry and get any vitamins, you cannot be face to to face on a screen and get any pheromones, or whatever the social equivalent of a vitamin may be. Besides, there is a loneliness epidemic in full swing. According to experts, social isolation could be worse for us than smoking. There have been serious studies linking it to chronic disease. The cure? Grab a friend and go consume some local live original art. Don't have any friends? Go out. Consume some local, live original art. Maybe you'll meet some along the way.

You know what else is good for you? Stepping out of your comfort zone. Creating new pathways in your neural net by expanding your personal experiences will strengthen your brain and protect it from pathology. Go see something even if you haven't a clue what it is. Maybe you'll discover something so good it changes the course of your life. Maybe the middle aged lady on stage strumming a worn-out guitar and singing about her cat will utter something you never thought of before. Maybe you'll think it is terrible all the way through but talking with your friends about how something sucked is still a valuable experience from the perspective of your neurons. Yes, enduring thirty minutes of a disheveled guy on a stage, thrashing a washboard and driving a vacuum cleaner while reciting angry poetry may not move you but it will stimulate you. And, who knows? Maybe you'll be inspired to take up the tambourine and the sewing machine and write some angry poetry of your own. And won't you be sad when nobody comes to see you?

A related point, since it is also in the spirit of enrichment, is that you can spice up the same old bland smoothie of existence by tossing a little serendipity to the mix. Nothing will happen if you don't get out of the house. Nothing weird. Nothing fun. Nothing scary. Nothing ridiculous. Nothing spontaneous. No close encounters. I mean, maybe your pipes will burst and flood your living room and you'll have to build a raft out of popcorn and electrical cords to escape but the probability of that is low. What stories will you have to tell? About the time you sat on your couch watching Netflix and spilled your beer? About the time you ordered a burger and they left off the pickles? The time that your clicker stopped working all of a sudden? The cure for your uneventful existence? Go consume some local, live, original art.

Not convinced by the health angle? How about an economic one? Do you feel inclined to support small business? Then, for crying out loud, why won't you support local artists?

In these parts, there are thousands of great artists, writers, film-makers, poets, musicians, new and old, offering up their body of work, pouring out their souls, struggling to promote themselves despite their melancholy, introverted temperaments, and you probably don't know they exist. Thousands of potential famous people (you saw them when they were just starting out!) Its as though there is a beautiful treasure chest of gold sprinkled throughout the region in plain sight and nobody is paying it any mind. What does it cost to see Bruce Springsteen on Broadway or to score a couple of those Hamilton tickets?  The popularity of these performances indicates that you will leave house for an artistic experience, so I know you like art, but only if it is  sanctioned by the power elites. When it is independent, right under your nose, so much more affordable and arguably just as entertaining, you don't seem to value it at all.

Homebodies, the world needs you. Artists need you. Get out of the house. You may not get pummeled by zombies, or kidnapped by space aliens  but your brain will thank you and you may even live a longer, healthier life. Be of the world, not just in it. Go consume some live, local, original art.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018


The room smelled like lavender. Marta watched her daughter play in the warm sun under the window, stacking virtual blocks. It thrilled her to participate in this perfect scene: moments as she had imagined them. She enjoyed her role as a parent. She saw herself as a keen observer: as though she were spying on her daughter through a tinted window: A scientist, taking notes.

Her husband, a laborer, had not yet returned from his job assembling ecmuhs. These were the sustainable modular homes in which most of the population, including her own family, lived. The parts were manufactured by robots in a factory but it was humans that assembled them. Her husband worked outdoors, on the edges of the urban stacks, putting the parts together, sealing them with propolis. When he returned he smelled of rotting vegetables and his hands were permanently sticky.

"When is daddy coming?" The daughter asked absently as she concentrated on changing the colors of the blocks. "I want him to see my creation."

"Soon," Marta replied, yawning. Her face was beautiful in this afternoon light and would remain so on into the evening, though the shadows of morning tended to betray her. Still, her skin naturally repelled the finer floggings of age. She appeared calm, though she contained an inexorable passion that was almost visible in her flickering eyes. Her thin body was draped like thread over the side of the couch from where she watched her daughter. She seemed idle, loose, forgiving.

"This is the highest I've stacked them." Her daughter spoke confidently of her creation. "And I like what I've done with the colors."

Marta smiled at her with dim, languid pride; her mouth was thin and fine like her body. There was a weariness in her, brought on by idleness rather than activity. She felt she should comment. She felt that if she did not, her daughter would resent her.

She balanced her oval face on her hand, wisps of dark hair slightly covering her eyes. She studied the stack with interest.

"It is your greatest achievement to date." she said but her daughter, who seemed unusually attuned to insincerity, frowned. She collapsed the stack. The virtual blocks scattered across the amber floors then disappeared one by one.

"I want my daddy." She stated emphatically, crossing her arms in a huff.

"Oh, but he won't be home for hours." Her mother sighed. These were the moments that she hadn't imagined. The moments she despised. She had not learned how to cope with tantrums.

"But I want him! Now!" Her daughter screamed, hoisting her tiny fists in the air.

"You shall have him soon enough." Marta stated frigidly. Her eyes were unwavering but still there was a calmness. She reminded herself that she did like having a child, despite the explosiveness. The child wasn't always contentious. "Why don't you rebuild what you have broken? Daddy would like to see it, I'm sure. Perhaps he will make better comments."

The child glared at her contemptuously and pouted, remaining silent. Marta rose easily from the couch, gathering the plates from the glass table, noticing that her daughter had eaten very little.

"I'm sorry you are so angry." She said, remembering her training. "Maybe if you had eaten more of your lunch you'd be less cross."

"I don't like system food," her daughter spat, turning her head away, her black braid swinging.

Marta tried to remember that her daughter was suffering, though she was suffering as a spoiled child suffers. A spoiled child suffers over the bland experience of system food. A poor child suffers for lack of nutrient powder. But the suffering is the same magnitude never the less.

Suffering is relative, she believed, though she had never really suffered. As a child Marta’s father had said she was impossible to upset. As a teenager she was agreeable even when she started her Firstwork in the Thorium mines. Thirty years in the Thorium mines and she did not suffer. She was strong so the grueling hours did not phase her. There were parts of the work she even enjoyed: like guiding the sparks from the focused light of the blades when she had cutting duty. She made it into a game and cut out the shapes of animals or drew entire maps with her instrument. While others complained about the conditions, she admired the creaking behemoth machines as they ripped out the trees from the earth, their roots sprawled out like an arthritic moro reflex, dirt dripping from them like tears. She enjoyed destruction as much as creation.  She did not resent the aggressive machines as the others did.

No, she had never minded the work in the thorium mines, but she took her tirement six years ago anyway, at the prescribed age of forty. She was as content with her life now as she was then and adapted quickly to the change. She had fourteen years to raise the daughter and reinvent herself before the rework phase began. She did not know yet what she wanted to do for rework. She didn't even think about it. It seemed so far away. She had time to consider it but she knew, as others had told her, it always came faster than expected. Those who had wasted their tirement with idleness instead of generativity and reinvention were those who found the least satisfying rework. Some found no rework at all.

She was forty-six. She felt she had time. She would eventually settle into the expected generativity of her tirement years, but for now, she was still in the honeymoon phase and wanted to enjoy it. Though her father goaded her to apply to the academy and prepare herself. "The earlier the better." He repeated often. "You are doing nothing to improve yourself. You are making the error of ample time."

But what wisdom could he really offer? She had out-earned him in her Firstwork. He had merely been a sorter and she had been a miner. She had built up her black account twice as fast and had twice as much as he had when she was growing up. She stayed in the black and had assets where he had lost everything and dipped well into his Red account on many occasions. The ecmuh and the modular beegarden were hers entirely.  She was practical and more frugal than some who regularly engaged in expensive and wasteful Actual Reality entertainment or travel, and therefore had built up her savings. Her savings, in fact, might last her well into her Rework years and she might even have a little time after she turned sixty to hone an intellectual skill that would trade well on the exchange.

Besides, the demands of the market were in constant flux. It was almost better to wait than to prepare oneself for an obsolete position. Automation was progressing at a very rapid pace. Her father had spent most of his tirement years training to be a medical technician but, by the time he turned sixty, most medical technicians had been replaced by mobile hospital units. He managed, anyway, as a personalized consultant for Big Pharm, but his earnings were significantly less than they would have been.

She brought the plates to the compactor in the corner of the cafeteria. She opened the slot and shoved all of it in: plates, utensils and left over food. The compactor was full, so she locked it and pressed the button that would mix it with the waste from the sewerage and cook up the odurebricks. When she was finished, she yanked a twenty-four hour wipe from her cleaning station and briskly polished the control panel of her food system. She half-heartedly ran the cloth over a few other surfaces, arbitrarily, then tossed the wipe out the open window into the beegarden. She stooped down to gather several packages on the floor that had been delivered by the maildrones. A  full shipment of powders had arrived today: food powder, textile powder, printer powder. Also, a new medicine cartridge and upgrade samples for the VICE.

She lay the packages on the table, resolving to sort them later. She was taking the day to rest and meditate. The most she would do today is pick some vegetables from the garden to accompany the slabmeat her husband had promised to send home. Though she did not protest as much as her daughter, it was nice not to have to eat system food every night and the upgraded ecmuh did feature a full range of cooking options. The slabmeat, muscle tissue grown in factory petriovens, was not as flavorful as real meat, but one step up from that formed from nutrient powders.

She returned to where her daughter was and found her fully happy again and engaged in another building project. She watched her for a while. She did have talents to show off, Marta thought to herself. She was smart, for example even though her teachers expressed concern that she was too emotional and showed signs of acquiphobia: fear of possessing things. This, a terrible handicap in a country based on greed. It didn't matter how smart she was, really. The dullest mind could wave the brightest flag. The child was going to be a lot of work.

"Is the lavender bothering you?" Marta asked her daughter who tended to be sensitive to olfactorypaint. 

"Nope." 

The room was sparsely furnished in the style of the times and decorated with patterned textiles and multi-sensorial art acquisitions on display. Furnishings were mostly glass or bamboo and there was no tolerance for clutter. The dust magnets kept everything pristine. Containers were unnecessary as most everything was designed to biodegrade rapidly. Clothes were worn once and then converted back into textile powders where they would be reconfigured by the printer. Anything that may have contributed to clutter or dirt was obsolete. Objects like air fresheners, computer screens, lamps and music devices were absent since the advent of the sensory paints: aromapaint, vidipaint, illumipaint and audiopaint respectively. Food systems removed the need for kitchen utensils, cookware, and servingware. The last book had been printed fifty years ago. There were no toys or medicine bottles. There were no pens, no papers, no office supplies. Human made art had achieved a new status since possessing something unique had value of its own. Even the lower classes collected it. It was an age of art and an age of chemistry. It was an age of isolation. The drones, the exchange, the printers provided everything that one might need. 

"I'm going outside for a while if you need me." 

"I won't." 

Marta crept away, feigning offense as she was entertained by her daughter's pompous tone. She slid the cafeteria door open and the fresh afternoon air seduced her. She exited into her yard. The sun had cast a rosy hue to the beegarden. It was magnificent to walk through the garden along the path where the temples of yellow, white and purple flowers sagged with the weight of rapacious bees. The sun was hanging, dense and burning a deep hole in the fragile blue sky. Songbirds boasted from the bushes or preached proudly from the mycocrete statues, while others flailed their hollow bodies in the dust.

Marta walked for a while and then sat on the garden bench. She tucked her legs under her in a lotus position and turned her oval face to commune with the bright sun. She closed her eyes and tried to separate the orchestra of nature into its parts: the twitter of the birds, the deep, wet buzzing of satisfied bees, their stomachs heavy with nectar, and the protracted crescendos of cicadas. Her mind became quiet. She lost track of time. She may’ve been there for an hour until her daughter's piercing voice cut into her fluid meditations.

"Mother! Why have you detached your VICE? There is a message from father!"

Marta had disconnected again without realizing it. It was true she did not enjoy being partially mechanized and was often berated for being unreachable. She did not reply immediately, feeling that her daughter's haughtiness might worsen if she were to give her any power. She simulated a demeanor of deep meditation. She squeezed her eyes tightly. She could hear the tiny feet rushing closer to her along the odurebrick path. She could feel the change in pressure and smell the cake-like sweetness of her daughter approaching.

"Mother!" Her daughter shouted again, as loud as before though she was much closer.  Her mother sat still as an ocean boulder assaulted by waves. "Mother!" she pinched her toes meanly one by one with her tiny fingers. Marta opened one eye and studied her sternly before responding.

"Why are your bothering me?" She scolded. She opened her other eye and tossed her head from side to side slowly as if shaking off invisible tethers. She smoothed down her silky black hair and repinned it with expert precision, then stretched her rubbery arms and unwound her legs like pipecleaners. Her daughter tried to speak but she silenced her by raising her hand. Certainly it was something that could wait. It was always something that could wait.

"It's important!" Her daughter muttered softly. She wiped her eyes and blinked rapidly. Her face was tightly closed like a flower bud. Her mother sat with her legs apart and her feet planted firmly on the ground. There was a stand off for several seconds.

"What is so important that my afternoon meditations should be disrupted by a child?" Marta inquired in an austere tone. "You do realize the value of children has been much downgraded since the new government forbade your participating in the labor exchanges? You are not worth as much to me as you once were, you know. You are a liability."

The daughter ignored the insult. She was old enough to know that her mother was only teasing though, she astutely recognized the truth in it. "There's a message from daddy!"

"Oh, that guy," Marta shrugged. "What does he want? Can't afford the slabmeat?"

"He's been arrested," the daughter replied as though choking, her voice subdued, though she was naive and uncertain of the gravity of her statement.

Marta's wry smile faded. "Arrested?"

"Yes. There's a message. He says he's been arrested for crimes against the economy."

Marta's heart leaped when she heard the phrase. She felt a surge from her med cartridge to neutralize her physiological reaction. From her daughter's view she appeared to swell into a form that was larger and more intimidating. She was dark and heavy as coffee. She stood mechanically and her body was straight and formidable as a tower, casting smothering shadows on the garden with the  laws of physics at her command. Her daughter felt that the world was her servant. She could flatten the flowers with her breath. She could seize and shake the air with her teeth. She could conger up thunder with her thoughts.

The daughter cried, fearing her mother's feet might trample her into mud. Marta scooped her little soaked body in her arms and clung to her tightly, lugging her roughly back into the ecmuh.

Once indoors, she let go of her daughter and stimulated the vidipaint. The message hung there, cumbrous, unimaginable. " I have been arrested for parasitism", the message read, "You are at risk for charity. Sell the child and attempt a border crossing back to the Old Country like we talked about. Your black account has been confiscated."

He could have been more concise, Marta thought, chiding him out of habit. She read the message several times, her usual glowing face flat and pale as paste. She appeared sickly and exhausted, her power had dissipated into the thick air. Just how he got the message to her was perplexing. Perhaps he was able to bribe somebody at the People's Security. She attempted to access her account. Access denied. Everything she had earned had been confiscated. In theory, she still had her body bonds but without an account the transaction was meaningless.

She backed away from the vidipaint, her strong, ballerina legs buckled under her and she fell backwards onto the bamboo couch. She sank deep into the cushions as though she would vanish, then hunched forward, her fine fingers probing her furrowed brow He'd been lying to her, she thought. Who knows how long he'd been out of work? She hadn't even examined her black account in ages. Somehow he'd hacked into it. She was so foolish. For all she knew there was nothing left. Even if there was, the account would now be frozen  and confiscated. The People's Bank would take everything she owned.

A crime against the economy, of all things. If it were a crime against property they would manage, she thought.  If he had only murdered or stolen for sustenance she would not be affected, but now, through the provisions of their marriage contract, he had attached himself to her and rendered her guilty of harboring a parasite. His bullish imprudence had destroyed them both. Though charity crimes did not require execution there was a substantial prison sentence that would no doubt be levied. The prisons were rumored to be worse than death unless one had the means to pay privately.

"Mother?" The daughter's voice was soft as a whisper and quavered with the remnants of her sobs. She reached out for her mother and tugged at the hem of her pants. "What will happen?"

Marta managed to look into the face of her daughter. She did not want to tell her. She felt that this moment somehow existed simultaneously with eternity and outside was a synthetic world that she had never quite believed in anyways. She had acquiesced only as it had suited her. The joys and sensibility of the tirement, the splendor of the ecmuhs, the capriciousness of the free market, the simplicity of powders, the autonomy of fate. For a moment she felt like the whole constructed world might melt away as a prop, leaving a bare stage. Let it happen, she thought. Let it all be carried off. She was done with it, now.

"Let me think." She said, much of her innate calmness returning. She extended one long, loving arm out to her daughter and wiggled her fingers, gesturing for her to come. A caress she was offering and her daughter took it at once. She leaped into her arms and pressed her small head into her warm armpit. She curled her legs up like a hibernating toad and shut her eyes tightly. She felt as though the world would crumble and collapse and she would hide there forever, protected. She felt as though she might shrink  into a form small enough to live there in the armpit. She did not want her mother to sell her off. She had heard about the conditions at the orphanages through communications on the exchange.

"You said children aren't worth much." Her daughter reminded softly.

"Yes. You are right."

"Then it doesn't make sense to sell me."

"We have some time to think, my toy." Her mother said, stroking the daughter's arm with her long, delicate fingers. She placed her cupped hand on her daughter's cheek to sooth her further. "It will take them several days to arraign your father and put his case out for public scrutiny. It will take the public another day or two to vote. They have ample evidence and a confession, surely."

Marta was piecing together a plan. She hunted her mind for the components of it. What would she bring? What would she have to leave behind? She had time. The government was notoriously slow it its pursuits. The first thing to go would be the VICE. She could be tracked if she kept it. She would have to leave the security drones behind and take one or two manual weapons. A bottle of bathbe. Sugfa bars. She would have to use up the chilk powder in the printer to make herself a protective suit. She would have to defect by jumping into the great falls in 45, 25. She wasn’t sure what to do with the child. She would take her along for now. She might be an asset.

"Is daddy a parasite?" Her daughter's tiny voice interrupted from a distance.

"Yes, my pet. He confessed to it."

"Maybe he is lying."

"No reason to lie. A confession does not excuse execution, it is only more evidence."

"But how did you not notice? Was he not taking from your black account?"

"I did not pay attention. I was foolish."

"Can't you tell them that you didn't know?"

"There is no way to prove that I didn't know."

"He will die."

"Yes, yes, my darling."

"How will he die?"

"He will be placed in a composting coffin and left to starve. The government doesn’t waste any money on medications. If he were smart he would have a suicide setting on his meditridge."

"You don't care?"

Marta paused before answering.

"There is nothing to be done. Failure is the fault of the failed. It's the Galtian Way. I have taught you this, yes? Charity breeds parasitism and parasitism destroys society."

"From liberty follows purity." he daughter mumbled the pillar like a prayer. "Always act in self interest. Always reach one’s full potential to accumulate material wealth"

"Yes, you have learned them all very well: All five pillars. But such mantras do not exist in the Old Country. If you are to cross with your mother you will have to forget them." 

The daughter smiled at the assurance that she was coming along. She wiggled her little body deeper into her mother's side. She could smell the light fragrance of her a sophisticated perfume, her sweat which was never pungent. She smelled like licorice or sweet herbs. Her heart was beating slowly, steadily. She was powerful and strong again. The deflation had only been for a moment. She would keep her safe. 

"Mother?" 

"Yes?"

"Aren't the five pillars the truth?"

"Yes." 

"Then how can you just forget them?"

Marta shifted her weight and kissed her daughter perfunctorily. She was clever. This was undeniable. 

"There is a sixth pillar that I haven't taught you." 

"What is that?"

"Survival trumps principle, my pet." 

Her mother gently extricated herself from her daughter's grasp. She sat on the edge of the couch and sighed as though she were about to dive into deep water then turned to her daughter and reached for her hand. "Come. You must help me prepare." 

Her daughter nodded. When she got older she would remember this exactly. She would see her mother as she was in this moment: her long neck and proud chin. Her deep blue blouse, plain and elegant. Her determined eyes. She would remember her rising from the couch and systematically gathering the items they would need: the sonasticks for protection, igniters for fire, a water purifier, sugfa bars. She removed the powder cartridge from the printer and replaced it. The daughter watched mesmerized as a suit her size emerged like a tongue from the slot. 

"What are the suits for?"

"Your father brought some chilk powder home several years ago. We talked about what we might do if we ever had to defect." 

"What's chilk?"

"It is a textile, darling. Strong as steel but flexible like cloth. It is discrete for our journey and it will get us over the falls. I will teach you how to roll into a ball to protect your head." 

"Why do they call it chilk?"

"It's made from insect exoskeletons and spider silk." As she explained she had disappeared momentarily into the cafeteria and emerged again with a short, fat blade. "We must remove our VICE's," She said pragmatically, "turn your head and pull your braid to the side. I'll do you first, then you can do me." 

The daughter's eyes became wide as cups. She shook her head from side to side emphatically. 

"We also have to remove our med cartridges." 

The daughter clutched her chest and backed away. She began to cry again. Marta was annoyed by her daughter's reticence and even more so by her fragility. Still, she struggled to remember her parenting rules. She struggled to remember  the mind of a child.

"Oh, come now.  What's there to be afraid of? There will just be some blood, is all. You are surely not squeamish over a little bit of blood? Back in my day there would have been more than that! There would have been pain and even risk of infection. You are fully vaccinated for pain and your probiotic implant is up to date." 

"They are part of me!" the daughter squealed as a few bold tears welled in her eyes. Marta hadn't considered attachment. It was too ridiculous. Still, she remembered to approach her child with reality and logic. 

"We must rid ourselves of them, my pet. If we are tracked the government will execute us for attempted defection. They will put us in a composting coffin like your father to starve to death and die. Which would you rather have?" Marta pointed emphatically to the blade. 

The daughter sobbed but said nothing. She turned slowly and pulled the braid reluctantly to one side. Her mother proceeded without hesitation. She felt for the lump under her skin. When she found the spot she coated her hands and the blade with sterile rub, forced the tip of the knife into her daughter's skin and popped out the almond-sized device. She wiped the wound with a square dressing then held pressure on it for a minute without saying a word. She looked out the window. The blue sky was now dominated by grey clouds and a light rain had started. Since she had become a mother she had reduced the dosage of her oxytocin suppressants so that she could at least bond a little with the child. But bonding too much could spell danger in a country where empathy was considered the most severe of the will power deficits.

"The bleeding has stopped." Marta dropped the dressing on the floor and patted her daughter on the shoulder. "You were brave. Now, we must do the same to your med cartridge." 

The daughter turned around slowly but dutifully, her eyes still downcast, pouting her lips. Her rosebud face was wet with tears. There was thunder in the distance, now, and the room had become overcast. 

"Lights." Marta said and the room brightened with the effect of the illumipaint reflecting on the amber floors. She quickly removed her daughter's medtridge and then her own. She coached her daughter to remove her VICE, then gathered the bloody dressings and threw them out the window. 

"All done with that mess, my toy." 

"I'm sorry, mother. I'm sorry I was so difficult." 

"It's alright, child." 

"What's it like in the old country?" Her daughter inquired, seeming to quickly recover from her attachment to the body machines. 

"I'm not sure, my pet. I only know what your father has told me and you know how he exaggerates." 

Marta was a native and therefore knew only a little of what immigrants like her husband called the "Old Country".  Her entire life Marta had only known Galtian ways. Here everyone was given the same sum when they became emancipated from their parents and were expected to achieve wealth in their lifetime through their ambition. In the Old Country they were given a minimum income for life and only worked if they wanted to.  In the Galt, when they died, all assets they had accumulated were returned to the People's Bank for redistribution since inheritance was considered an act of charity and illegal under Galtian Law. In the Old Country there was no such provision. Galtian Law prohibited crimes against the economy, such as charity and parasitism, and crimes against property, such as murder, rape and robbery. All crimes took the form of a lawsuit. In the Old Country, economy crimes did not exist and all justice was restorative rather than punitive.  In the Galt there was no regulation of business or behavior. The market was entirely free and nothing was prohibited: drugs, weapons, prostitution, all legal under Galtian Law. In the old country, products were only allowed to be distributed if they could show some benefit to society. There were more differences as well. As a native Galtian, Marta would have a difficult time adjusting. For this, she might rely upon her daughter to help her.

The small suit was completed and the specifications for Marta's own chilk suit were entered. Marta handed the suit to her daughter. The daughter undressed and pulled the tight suit on over her body. She ran her hands along the the silky garment and enjoyed its texture. It was scalelike.

"I'm like a snake!" Her daughter commented. Marta smiled at her. 

"Yes, my little reptile. I have prepared some things for you to pack. I will print out some appropriate shoes."

"Thanks for taking care of me, mother." 

Marta bent down and placed her hands on her daughter's shoulders.

"Remember that a good Galtian only acts selfishly, my child. I am  not taking care of you. You are looking out for you and I am looking out for me. You must remain an asset."

"Yes, mother." 

"Say goodbye to your home, my love. We will leave at nightfall." 

They could only travel at night. There were one hundred miles between where they lived in 25, 25 and the falls. Since all land in the Galt was private they risked being arrested for trespassing, a crime against property. They would be careful. They would have to evade the security drones. 

If the child were too much trouble she would be able to trade her for something useful along the way. 
















I can't get where I'm going, the world is against me, and if there is a problem, I can't fix it.

Most people I know subscribe to a hypothesis of dreams, even though the strange mental process appears, much like the appreciation of music, to be largely unexplained. There is the Psychoanalytic Hypothesis and the Information Processing Hypothesis and the Activation Synthesis Hypothesis,  but really, if you formulate one of your own, it is probably just as valid.

I, for example, have my own dream hypothesis. I think dreams are physically generated by rapid blinking setting those brilliant little light blotches known as phosphenes in motion, so what is experienced is analogous to a film on the backside of the eyelid. The brain gives these arbitrary images meaning based on memories and experience and then spins the best yarn it can, often guided by the dominant schema of  the dreamer's subconscious. For example, the dominant schema of my subconscious is a form of anxiety based on the following distressing mantras: I can't get where I'm going, the world is against me, and if there is a problem, I cannot fix it.

Alas, this is also the stuff of my dreams.

My dreams are so agonizing, in fact, that they may be more appropriately classified as recurring nightmares; the stories are varied, but the themes are always the same. There are compartments and mazes to be navigated, repetitious objects falling or blocking my way, tasks persistently thwarted, unintelligible machines, small animals being attacked, incredibly sick creatures in my incompetent care, my own body decaying.  

Night after night throughout my adult life I have been plagued with these types of dreams, until one day I decided I wanted to fix them. I thought, perhaps paradoxically, that if I could fix my dreams, I could fix my anxiety. I researched "dream rehearsal therapy", a technique employed for people with recurring nightmares related to post traumatic stress, where one practices a happy ending to the nightmare while one is conscious. For a recurring dream about being chased by a lion, for example, one might rehearse the lion morphing into an nonthreatening kitten. Eventually, the new ending would find its way into the dream and thus permanently replace the more frightening scenario.

"This might work for me," I thought. And so, I imagined a satisfying ending that would fit in any manifestation of the theme no matter what the content. I thought I needed a "safe word" of sorts, and so I decided when catastrophe reached a certain level I would first state "things are too chaotic". Then, and I practiced linking the two together, a door would appear. The door would need some distinguishing feature in case there were other doors around, so I decided it would be bright red. Of course the next step would be for me to open the door and walk through it.  On the other side I imagined a calm, serene, pastoral scene: a field, a wide expanse of clear blue sky, mountains, lakes, birds, flowers, something clean instead of cluttered, contiguous instead of disjointed, peaceful. 

I rehearsed daily.

One night, after several weeks of practice, I was having a dream that I arrived home from work and my residence had been torn down and converted into a dirty oil refinery. The land had been stripped bare of all trees and the thick black oil was sloppily spilling over the sides of formidable metal vats into the soil, suffocating the remaining wild life. The neighborhood houses were on fire, but no one around seemed to care. I thought, very logically in spite of the surrounding calamity, "though it does make sense that my landlady would sell off her land to oil refiners, I really don't recognize these houses that are on fire. I must be in the wrong place".

And so, I returned to my "dream car": not a "dream car" as in the kind of car one most desires to possess in life, but a "dream car" in the sense that it is not really a car at all. In fact, it is  invisible, completely disobedient and frequently drunk: driving erratically, recklessly, slowly when you want it to go fast and too fast when you want it to drive slowly. The invisible dream car took me into the center of town in search of my residence. The town was dark and mostly abandoned, colorful brick row houses with Victorian bay windows along narrow, wet cobblestone streets illuminated with gas lights and a night stuffed with stars. And there, floating in the middle of an intersection, looming with grand absurdity, was a large red door.

I stared at it, dumbfounded. It was not just any red door. It was heavy, sturdy, thick, well-made. It was not just red but a brilliant scarlet red. It had decorative carvings around its panels and an ornate iron doorknob. And, just for emphasis, across its great hardwood breast, painted in fancy vintage script were the words: Red Door. 

"I-I-It's the red door!" I shouted gleefully, though the lucidity was incomplete since though I seemed to have an awareness of the magnitude of this discovery I hadn't quite figured out the significance of it. Never the less, my recalcitrant dream car did not give a damn, since it went careening onward, meandering past the intersection through several twisted alleyways before finally crashing into a light pole. 

Though the dream car was invisible I somehow knew that the damage to its body was substantial. However, I did not care. All that was on my mind was the need to return to the intersection where I'd spotted the Red Door. I abandoned my dream car, trying desperately to run but my legs were limp and heavy. I'd been injured in the crash and I was only able to achieve, at best, a languid stroll. I looked this way and that, uncertain which way to go. Despite my handicap I felt joyous anticipation as I chose what I thought might be the right direction. I thought it had to be right since The Red Door was my destiny. It was as though I was in search of God.

I limped through the neighborhood in search of the Red Door. As I turned each corner I felt a thrill. I thought I might find it. Each subsequent turn brought only disappointment. Each burst of excitement was followed by disillusion. As I walked I began to notice that the environment was changing. It was growing darker, for one, and the gaslights were dim and infrequent. The stars had faded and the air had become stagnant and cold. The row houses were getting tighter and taller and the cobblestone streets were becoming slippery and more narrow.

I stopped, thinking I should turn back the way I came. I should find the dream car, I thought and attempt to retrace my journey from there. When I turned, however, everything was different. I couldn't remember from which direction I'd come. I gazed up at the bay windows which bulged above me and had become so large that I thought they might collapse and crush me. I frantically tried to read the numbers on the mailboxes but they were in no decipherable script nor discernible order.  The sky had completely disappeared and the air was no longer breathable. I decided I must attempt to find a person who could help me. I turned to transverse the steps leading up to a residence but they were steep and impassible, the railings were too high for me to reach. Still, I crawled up the steps. They were becoming sticky, now, dangerous. I raised my head to see how far I had to go. I looked up and saw that the house I was approaching was furnished with a red door.

I looked down the street. Every single house, without exception, was furnished with a red door.

Panic ensued. I returned to the street whining fearfully and pathetically. I continued on but nothing changed. The houses closed in further, their red doors with thick brass locks mocking me, scorning me, their heavy windows were opaque and forbidding keeping me from any nurturing or beneficent entity that might exist inside. I was cold, tired, afraid. I thought I might encounter a kind stranger but none appeared. I thought I might encounter the intersection at any moment but there hadn't been so much as an alleyway for a very long time. Still, I maintained a semblance of hope that I would find relief. I would find the Red Door. It was important, I knew it. It existed exclusively for me and therefore I would find it. I pressed on, convinced that if I just found a way out I would also find the Red Door.

And then, finally, there was a change in the scenery. A marquee. Music. Lights. Laughter. People. A wide opening. An intersection. Could it be the intersection? I looked around but could not find the Red Door. At least the public restaurant gave me a way off of the cobblestone street, I thought. This was at the very least a breakthrough, an escape.  I opened the large red door and went inside to find a scene of gaiety. Formally attired waiters bustled amidst wealthy diners giddy with wine. Candlelit glass tables with delicate china, crystal glasses, fine silverware and silk napkins, and every bit of it red. I kept walking. I exited through the red swinging doors into the kitchen. In the kitchen fat chefs were splitting lobsters with jolly red faces and red kerchiefs and caps. The cabinets were red, the drawers were red, the vents were red, the back door was red and I ran through it into an alley.

I paused. I closed my eyes for a moment and swallowed hard. When I opened them again I saw, stretched across the alley, an enormous red plastic curtain. It had to be here, I thought. Here, I would find the Red Door. It was behind the curtain. It had to be. It was my destiny to find it. I slid the curtain open triumphantly only to find myself staring at an auditorium full of cheering people and a stage set for a game show. The host smiled, the contestants clapped, the lights flashed.

"Welcome!" said the host. "Welcome to everyone's favorite game: What's Behind the Red Door?"




Trump Destroys the World


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Your art dies with you
Toss it out like an anchor
It is but a claw

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Snowed

Considering the falling snow
I watch which way the flakes may go
Before my eyes I do declare
A pattern forms out of thin air!
And then I blink, and though I strain
The chaos has returned again
Is this probability?
Or my mind just playing tricks on me?