What's a Lisl?

Writings and Rantings

From Afar

You’re so pretty from afar. It’s all big picture, dressed up in lights and wrapped with a bow. You can’t see the imperfections, flaws blur into oblivion, and with my poor eyesight you might as well be heaven personified.

You’re so pretty from afar, but take a few steps closer and things get rough around the edges. You come into focus and your flaws become clear, etched in deep like they have always been there. There’s cuts and scrapes and surface wounds, left by others that got too close. They got close and they couldn’t handle what they saw. The closer I get, the more I fear that I will leave my own marks one day.

You’re so pretty from afar, but standing face to face your scars make constellations and your scowl curves like a sickle, a sharp harbinger of doom however innocent it was made to be.  You’re not quite symmetrical and not quite urbane, but you are far from ordinary.

You’re so pretty from afar, but where I stand, closer than I ever thought I could get, the glow of your skin burns like the sun and I feel I might combust at a moment’s notice. There’s a hurt in your eyes that hurts in turn, but the pain is comforting, familiar and steady.

You’re so pretty from afar, but you’re absolutely gorgeous up close.

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Little Rivers

Authors note: I apologize for any formatting issues, I’m on a cross country road trip and I’m writing and posting from my phone.

There’s a man that lives by himself in that big house at the end of the street. In the mornings before class I bring him groceries and I feed his cat, in the afternoons I wash his dishes, and every Saturday I clean what needs cleaning, cook us dinner, and read him the stories I’ve written. Sometimes he responds; most often he sits and stares. I rarely see him move from one place to another, but sometimes he sits in a large rocking chair on the porch and sometimes he sits in an armchair by the big window filled with small porcelain figurines and potted plants. It feels like we have always been this way, that this routine is part of who we are.

He has a hole in the side of his head, right above his temple. I pretend I don’t see it; that’s the polite thing to do. When we first met, when this routine didn’t quite exist as such, he would tell me about his grand adventures. He told me about friends he made and people he loved and places he’d seen. He told me so much. But there was always more, another story saved for another day. Back then, the hole was very small. I could see it, but I could not see inside.

As time passed, the hole got bigger. One day–it was fall, I brought him fresh picked peaches–I looked into the hole, and I could see inside. I knew it was impolite, but he didn’t seem to notice, and I’ve always been just on the wrong side of too curious, so I looked. The top, where you could see if you weren’t being nosy, was black. Empty, void. But, if you looked at an angle, deeper and down, there was something. It looked liquid, and it swirled gentle, beautiful, spinning colors. Some patches were neon, some pastel, some outlandish color combinations you would never expect.

It’s rude, I know, but I couldn’t stop looking. I’d seen people with these holes before, mostly elderly, some very ill, but I had never gotten this close. They say as you get older, everyone gets one, but they usually stay small until you are very old. I didn’t consider him old, nonetheless very old, but I certainly didn’t consider the hole small.

Winter came, and the growing slowed. The hole seemed to stay the same size whenever I visited. I came more during the week, shoveling the driveway and bringing some of the baked goods that appear throughout my house around the holidays. That made him smile.

In the spring, he yelled at me. I hadn’t seen him this active in at least a year, probably much longer. He was yelling at the top of his lungs about how I needed to get out of his house and how he didn’t have anything worth stealing. He seemed genuinely terrified, like he didn’t know who I was, like he didn’t know I got in using the copied key he taught me how to make. He threatened to call the police so I backed out slowly and then ran home. The next morning I came to check in, and he had forgotten the whole thing, welcoming me in with renewed energy and telling more stories. When I looked, the hole was bigger, but what’s worse, it was leaking. The glowing molten rainbow I had previously noticed flowing around the bottom of his cranium was leaking out slow, like molasses.

A drop ran down his chin, creeping down and sticking to his stubble, but he didn’t seem to notice. I wanted to say something, but it was sort of mesmerizing. Hot pink and shiny, clinging to the end of his chin like it didn’t really want to fall, it just hung there. But of course it fell just the same. It hit the floor with a quiet pop, then fizzled for a couple seconds, before dissipating completely.

He froze then, only for a moment before picking right back up where he left his story, but for long enough that I could tell something had happened.

I had heard the stories, everyone had, but seeing it happen in front of me was nothing like I could have anticipated. I had been told they were beautiful and precious, little drops to be cherished like liquid gold. I was told that when they fell, it hurt, not like a wound, but like an ache in your heart for something you can’t know you’ve lost.

They were memories. Every drop a moment, all flowing like a river of a life lived to the fullest around in each person’s mind. No two drops are the same between people and no rivers are similar. In one ounce of memories is a million thoughts and a million more emotions and once they are gone they are gone forever. The river is constantly growing until the day a hole forms. From then on it acts as an overflow drain, releasing a little bit at a time to keep the same height river even as you make more memories.

It took me a moment to realize he had stopped talking, and I looked up from where I had been staring at the floor where his memory fell–which memory I can never know. He looked annoyed, like he could tell I wasn’t listening. He didn’t know what I saw. He couldn’t know.
I apologized and he continued telling his story, and this time I listened. Really, truly listened. I clung to his words, out of respect, but also out of fear. Fear that as that hole continued to grow, as pieces of his life slosh out and disappear, they will be lost forever.

When I went home that night I couldn’t stop thinking about the single pink drop. It may have been a story he already told me, or it may be one he kept to himself, but he won’t know now. He’s going to lose every memory he has ever made, and only a select few will live on in me, in the form of his stories. Then, one day, a hole will form in my head, and every story will be gone.

I sat down at my desk and write. Every story he had ever told me from his memories went onto paper. It’s only slightly more permanent, but that’s all I could ask for. I wrote well into the night, stopping only to drink more caffeine and to pace when I couldn’t remember details. I wrote past the point of my hand cramping and my eyes burning and when I looked out the window the sun was back, high in the sky.

It was around noon and I realized I needed to go check in on him. I was exhausted as I drug myself down the street, my mind still reeling with borrowed memories. When I opened the door, I expected to be yelled at for forgetting about him, but when I looked inside I instantly realize it was worse. He was in his armchair, staring blankly at me, tears falling silently. The hole had doubled in size since the day before and there was a steady trickle of color running down and mingling with his tears.

He whispered and I had to crouch on the ground and lean in close to hear. He was babbling about no one remembering him, about dying alone and forgotten. I wanted to tell him he isn’t alone and he won’t be forgotten, I wrote him down, and I’ll make sure he’s remembered. But that wasn’t what he meant. I was too busy trying to hold onto his memories, and forgot he was still there, still around and still in need of being remembered in person. I forgot him when his memory let him forget that anyone would remember him, too busy preserving a life already lived to consider the one still happening.

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Hell on High Seas

There’s a storm out west that stretches too wide to go around and too deep to see the end. We knew it was coming before we could see it, but still there was nothing we could do. We bark commands and tie our knots and prepare for a rough night. We hunker down in hammocks and pray it’s not as bad as it looks, or we sprawl out in captain’s quarters and curse nature for the setback. We are three days with a strong wind away from another little x on another map and have not seen another vessel for ages. We ran out of fresh food and water the day before last and can only hope the rain catchers on deck are stable enough to weather the storm, though we doubt any caught will be sufficiently clean. The waves toss us about and we clutch to anything stable as the ship is inundated with frigid, briny water, lifting anything not secured with an ease only the ocean could manage. This ship takes a whole crew to steer, but a mere flick of a wave could ruin everything.

There’s a crash above the deck that sounds more like a million breaking plates than a wave and some of us lose our grip and slide around, struggling for purchase on the wet floorboards. Something cracks and we rush to find out what. Unsecured ropes whip through the air, deadly to anyone above. There is no telling how long this storm will last, though indicators show it won’t be ending any time soon. It feels like it has lasted hours already.

A midst the waves, a sound arises like it is floating on the water, bobbing up and down and not broken by the crashing swell. It sounds a bit like tinkling glass and a bit like magic and a bit more like heaven. The waves dip down a bit and there is a large rock from which the sound is emanating. It looks smooth and it glitters, gleaming brightest with each crack of lightning. Close to it, there is no storm. The water around it is calm and inviting. Enticed by the promise of smooth sailing and heavenly music, we steer towards it, closer, closer. The sound gets louder as we approach, clearer and more beautiful by the second. That is when we see her, a woman, lying on the rock. She looks elegant, like she is made of the water and could flow back into it, be a part of it. Myths of mermaids do not begin to measure up to the true nature of this creature. A siren. She must be. And yet, even with the knowledge of what she was and what she would do if we get closer, we get closer.

We call, to her, asking her name, and her response is a mere whisper, floating above the waves as part of the music, “Come closer, dear, and I’ll tell you everything.” It sounds like a promise, like ‘everything’ truly means everything.

Knowing the risks, knowing certain death awaits us, we steer closer, closer, grazing the rock, or maybe hitting it, or maybe more, but everything is fuzzy, warm and fresh and dry and soft. Welcoming. For months our mouths have been filled with the taste of salt, but now the air tastes fresh and clean, like a field of flowers. Our thirst is gone, but our hunger grows, not for food, but for something more.

She rises from her position draped over the rock, glimmering like sunlight and beckoning us towards her, towards the promise of satiation. Sea weariness turns to elation as we approach and the world outside our bubble of peace fades away. There is no longer a storm. There is no longer a sea. There is no longer a ship beneath us. We are floating on air, or so we think, closer, closer. Then the peace breaks.

She turns on us suddenly, shrieking terribly, noise crackling through our ears, her feathers beating at the air, scrambling backwards in what looks like fear, scaled feat scratching deep claw marks into the rock. The storm kicks up around us, seemingly doubled in strength and emanating straight out from her, winds pinning us to the deck. The haze clears as she points frantically at the hull of the ship where we now see a hole, wood splintered and caved in, exposing the insides. We wonder how it got there. She is still shrieking and pointing as the violent waves overturn what it is she is pointing at. A pile of corpses, some tied together, some with lose pieces of flesh hanging from them, but many just bones. They smell dreadful, rotted to unrecognizable, but we know them. They are us before we were us.

Individual bodies, weak and fragile and dying one by one, were sacrificed for the good of the collective. We became us.

The siren’s shrill screech clears a fog in our brains we did not know was even there. It shows a new, clear image. One of us. One of the past. We are singular, individuals each plagued by sickness, being killed slowly by an unsympathetic ocean. The image shifts, and there we are, that same pile of bones, only alive. We are being tied together though we are too weak to struggle. The strongest of us holds the ropes with a crazed look of desperation. The ocean kills us faster now, now that we are stuck in a pile, each losing blood from cuts carved in our flesh by two unsteady hands. We die in pain, but our suffering does not end with death. Bit by bit we are carried above, flesh cooking slowly in the scorching sun. Teeth tear our flesh, bit by bit, and slowly, we become us.

We look down and see one set hands where there was once many. We glimpse our reflection in the rock and see one face where there once was dozens. That one face is the face of a devil.

We jump overboard to the sound of a siren’s scream rather than its call, at the mercy of the waves below, dreading the hell that surely awaits us.

 

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Scream

When you were younger, you decided that each person got one real scream in their life. No one told you this or even put the idea in your head, you just decided it. It became fact to you. Each person gets one real, earth-shattering, every-head-in-the-vicinity-turning scream. Most people use it when they are young. Small children who think scraped knees are the end of the world. Infants who can’t articulate their needs. Toddlers who can, but don’t want to. Some people use it in moments of frustration or anger or sadness. Moments when their world is collapsing around them or when they are in grave danger. You have been saving your scream.

Once, you were in a car accident. It was bad, blood and broken glass and spinning out of control. The smell of burst air bags and smoke. Your voice felt stuck in your throat and you couldn’t seem to make a sound. Once the car stopped spinning, you screamed. You were not sure why, the worst was long past over, your reaction was too delayed, it didn’t matter if you made noise now. But you did. Afterwards, you worried you had used your one scream.

Once, after you got your first car, you went out for a drive. Windows down, music blasting, so many ideas of freedom running through your head. You wanted to scream from excitement. You didn’t, of course, maybe because you were afraid you couldn’t anymore, or maybe because you were afraid you still could.

Once, you were attacked. Maybe walking down dark streets alone so late wasn’t a good idea. Maybe staying at work so late wasn’t a good idea. Maybe working in that neighborhood wasn’t a good idea. When it happened, you didn’t scream. You couldn’t. All you could think was that you had already used it. On the ride home from the hospital, you screamed. Now you were just angry you still could, but didn’t.

Once, you had a nightmare. It wasn’t the first and it wouldn’t be the last, but when you woke up, you could’ve sworn there was someone else in the room. You were sitting bolt upright, drenched in sweat, sheets tangled between your legs. You felt paralyzed. You whimpered to make sure your voice still worked, and when you saw a shadow move, you screamed. When the cops showed up some time later (you don’t know how much, it may have been seconds or years) saying your neighbors had called about yelling, you were sure that was it.

Once, you went shopping. It was a nice day, sunny but not too bright, warm but not too hot, breezy but not too windy. You had bought some gifts for friends. Nothing too fancy, but all very personal, well thought out.  You watched a small child dancing on the sidewalk to the sounds of a street performer and you felt okay. Without a care, the child spun into the street, right in front of oncoming traffic. You dropped your bags, reaching towards the child with all of your might, like you could somehow close the twenty-foot gap between you if you could just reach hard enough. You don’t even realize you are screaming until you stop.

Once, you got fired. You were sort of expecting it. You hadn’t really been performing your best, but when it happened, you were angry. You felt like the world had turned against you, like you had been dealt the worst hand there was. You tried to scream at your boss (ex-boss) but your voice was hoarse and scratchy from the emotion filling it. When you left, you didn’t think you had the energy to scream, and when you got home, the noise you let out was closer to a wail, the product of too much pent-up emotion, a dam bursting inside of you. You wondered if that would count.

Once, you got very sick. The doctors gave you six months. You wanted to go on adventures, travel the world, jump out of an airplane, swim with sharks, but you could barely get out of bed. You wondered if you had ever used that scream. You wondered if it mattered. You wondered if you mattered. You never once considered that maybe you had been wrong.

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The Skull on the Desk

There’s a skull sitting on a desk in the front of the room. Of course there is. It’s a physical anthropology class, we are here to learn about how that skull came to be how it is. It’s got a big A1 written on its forehead, for cataloguing I assume. It’s written sloppily in black sharpie, right there on the bone. Beneath it there is a cut in the bone that doesn’t quite go all the way through. I can’t imagine how it got there. It’s too straight, too clean, and it curves with the bone.

It feels strange to me to be able to stare at this skull, some of its teeth missing, the rest glued into place, but it’s right there. I can touch it, I have touched it. There’s a class down the hall where people are learning to pick up the same skull and tell everyone about it. Its race. Its age. Its sex. Where it lived. When it lived. Who it was. But that’s just the problem. None of those things are ‘who it was.’ It seems ridiculous to try to assign a who to an it. It was beneath flesh and above brain and it was alive some time in some place as part of somebody, but it wasn’t somebody.

I’m a psychology major. I’m used to sitting around, talking about what makes up a person. How all bits of things come together to make up someone. Their race and sex and age and where and when are all a part of that, of course, but there is so much more. There are thoughts and feelings and emotions. There are friends and families and communities. There are religions and illnesses and struggles. This person, now reduced to a skull, lived a whole life before landing in front of a bunch of students half asleep on desks, counting the seconds until they can get to the next part of their day, whether that be a drive to work, or re-caffeination, or a nap.

This person lived and died and is left now, bones and glue and sharpie, nothing. There’s no person left there, and there’s no way to know who ever was.

At one point femurs were passed around the room. Three of them, different lengths, different colors, different people. The professor says something about buying them off eBay from a doctor who  worked with indigenous Australians. These bones had context, a story. Somehow they still meant no more to us than that skull.

In the other anthropology class I am in, my professor had us all write about a moment where we knew what it meant to be alive, what it meant to be human. It’s a strange question, but we knew what she was asking. It’s a feeling. Overwhelming and large and infinite that vanishes all too quickly. It feels like knowing purpose, but it isn’t. I wrote about sitting above the Golden Gate Bridge, high in the air, cool and foggy and so close to wonder and so far from everyone. I felt that feeling then, but if you had asked me, in that moment, what it meant to be alive, or what it meant to be human, I still wouldn’t be able to answer. I might shrug and say, ‘this,’ but I wouldn’t know. No one knows. But we all knew of those moments.

I was wondering what the skeleton knew of those moments. I wondered how many he experienced, if any, and where and when and how. I wondered what in his life made him smile and laugh and feel happy. I wondered what made him cry  or scream or feel sad. I wondered what he feared most.

My professor showed us a movie about various primates across the world, and the skull sat on the desk the whole time. We watched orangutans help their babies find ripe durians, and Japanese macaques fight for space in hot water, and tarsiers yell out to alert one another of danger before springing back to their homes in tangled tree roots. And while we watched them, the skull watched us.

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Flat

She painted me that night in reds and yellows. Splashes of blue flecked my cheeks and I watched the deepest shade of red in my hair drip down the canvas like blood running down, down, down. Down my forehead and over my nose, splitting my lips and sliding past my chin, breaking the depth and continuing as if there was no barrier between the ending of my face and the continuation onto the background. My neck jutted to the right, turned to show my back, light green freckles sprayed thicker than I knew of myself. The girl on that canvas was not someone I knew, no matter how familiar the face was. I reached up and brushed my fingers across my eyes, wondering if they held the depth of panic I could read like a book from the painting. It took me a second to remember I shouldn’t have moved, but she seemed not to notice, not to care.

I could’ve left then and she likely would not have noticed until morning. But I didn’t. I stayed to watch. I watched more colors drip down, paths changing slightly at outlines, splitting and covering but never muddying the details of the face. There was so much emotion in that picture, emotion I didn’t have the depth to feel. I looked at her, searching her face for any of the emotion she was detailing in front of her, but her face was frozen, a statue, concentrated and wild. Her hair stuck out and her hands were covered with paint and she looked so dialed in to her own thoughts, jaw and eyebrows set angrily, like she might punch the painting any second, no matter how gentle her brushstrokes. I wondered if it was her that the woman in the painting was afraid of.

Maybe if I was on the receiving end of that look I would seem that panicked too.

When she asked me to model for the painting I didn’t want to. It didn’t feel right. I’ve always been a writer, constructing people and giving them a purpose, never the subject of such construction. But I really wasn’t. I wasn’t the subject at all. I was the pose, the face, the structure, but I was none of the things that filled the space between that frame. I don’t have the capacity to fill that space. I don’t think she does either.

I went home early in the morning. She had stopped painting at some point and just began to stare, her eyes breaking down every square centimeter and analyzing it. She shook her head sometimes, violent, quick, but small movements, barely a shudder, and that was all. She didn’t move. Not to get up or wash the paint off or edit the painting in any way. She would grunt in what sounded like dissatisfaction sometimes, but mostly made no sounds. By the time I left the paint on her hands was cracked and I wasn’t sure if she was still breathing.

I don’t know how long it had been since she stopped painting when I finally left; I was far too deep in my own thoughts. I couldn’t remember what I brought with me, so I just stood and left. I walked down the street, not sure where I was going, but definitely headed towards the sunrise. I couldn’t help but think how flat people are. We look at paintings and writing and the sunrise and try to find meaning. We make poetry and search for purpose. We see these flat pictures, flat paged books, flat backdrops of sky and think “it’s deeper than it looks.” But it isn’t. It just exists as flatly as it looks. It accepts its flatness, but we refuse. We look for emotion but it’s just materials. We are just materials. Flat people, looking for emotion, for depth, in everything. In art. In nature. In each other. We make it up because we want it to be there, but it just isn’t.

I realize I have to head home eventually. At some point I have to get on a train, go home, prepare for the day, continue my life. I don’t question why, even though I do question why I don’t question it. But I know that answer. I don’t question it because once I do, the spiral begins. That spiral that always, always leads straight down into the bottomless pit that is the search for purpose. There’s no point in falling through it again. You never find the bottom. Sometimes you will hit a wall and think “this is it, this is the bottom,” but it never is. You could think you’ve found the bottom your whole life, but you’re wrong. There isn’t one. You’ll die without ever finding it.

Eventually I get on the train, which arrives two minutes behind schedule, because that’s what it does, and I go home and get ready for the day, because that’s what I do, and I continue my life with everyone else, because that’s what we do.

A few months in the future, I’ll go to see the finished painting before it is sold. I’ll stare at it for a while, trying to see any changes that have been made since I left. The only one I’ll notice is the shimmering, golden leaves woven into the hair. I’ll look at it and think “I was part of something,” but I wasn’t. Someone will buy it for whatever reason they have, hang it somewhere where they think it looks perfect, but it doesn’t. People will keep looking for purpose, in the painting, in their life, in the world, but they shouldn’t.

One day I will die. Who I was when I was alive will be written on paper or etched in stone or carved in wood. People will talk like I was something that meant something, but to them I will finally look just as flat as I am. My body will break down, whether by fire or water or earth, it will break down, and become a part of something and a part of nothing and flat. Flat, flat, flat. Flat line, flat person, flat body. Flat something, flat nothing, flat everything.

 

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All In Time

Do you ever just wish you could capture a moment? Not just a picture, not just what you see. You wish you could capture all of it. The way the air feels on your skin and the exact color of the sky. The way the emotions and thoughts running through your head line up. The way everything smells and tastes and all the feelings you are feeling in that exact moments. It might not be a perfect moment, but it is one you want to hold on to. But, of course, those moments are the most fleeting.

I have to do a presentation in a few hours that I am by no means prepared for. I practiced, but it’s about my life. It’s a lot to share, a lot that has hidden background to me that I will not be sharing, but I will know. It’s too close. As someone who does not like presenting in the first place, I am just walking anxiety at this point. (I also put this site in the presentation, so, anyone who is seeing this that is in my interpersonal communications class…yo. Also, thanks for checking this out. There is some nonpersonal stuff I tend to think is kind of interesting sometimes, mostly the fiction. Anyway.) This presentation is mostly a powerpoint of pictures. My life, nice, neat, tied up in fifteen cute little slides. Making it has been…emotionally taxing. Looking through pictures, regretting things I said, things I did not say, things I did, moments I let pass by. But it is not just regret. I only put in information for happy things. I left out the sad, the bizarre, the whattheactualfuck, though those are my friends favorite stories. Yet, it all feels wrong. It’s over, it’s the past. I cannot go back and I have no plans for forward and right now, this moment does not feel real. It shows the friends I’ve made, it revolves around my life, but it’s not me. I don’t know. I guess I am just feeling kind of somber. I’ll figure it out. It’s just a strange feeling, looking back like this, wishing I captured more moments, realizing I captured none.

I realize I have not posted in a very long time. For all two of you who care, I am sorry. I have been having quite a difficult time writing recently, and as you both have probably noticed, I like to vary the order I post things. I really do not want to post two personal things in a row. I wanted to post some fiction. I have had a million ideas since I have last posted, but none of them seem to work. I have created about twenty new pages in the past few months, each with single words or sentences, just general ideas that do not seem to want to come together. This post is like….a last ditch effort. I thought maybe if I posted something, wrote something, finished something, accomplished something, maybe I could get my words flowing again. We shall see. All in time.

Anyway, this is just useless rambling. I think I have accomplished what I intended. An apology, an explanation, an expectation. We shall see. We shall see.

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Where I was Going, Where I Hope to go Now, and the Great Contradiction in Between

I was going to be an engineer. I was going to have a doctorate. I was going to join engineers without borders. I was going to help people. I was going to make a difference in my own way.

I took the first step. The first few steps, even. Went to a specialized high school, ran the robotics club, built robots as independent research projects, got into a college with a great engineering program, and started on my way.

Well, the classes sucked and I was miserable and I woke up every Wednesday wanting to cry when I realized I had to sit through a three hour Fundamentals of Engineering Design lecture. I failed physics even though it was my third college physics class and dropped my calculus two class even though I had a ninety nine average through all of calculus one. I did not drink enough to blame alcohol for my shortcomings in the things I used to be the best at, and I did not sleep enough to blame not trying. I tried. I tried with everything I had, and yet, the only thing I managed to ace was humanities. As a mechanical engineering major.

Needless to say, I had big dreams, none of which could be fulfilled by what was proving to be minuscule ability and rapidly dying motivation. This whole past semester I have tried to find the ambition I needed. The ambition to go to my engineering classes, to study for physics, to become an engineer, to push towards that doctorate. Even with my dead ambition and the feeling of my soul withering inside of me, I did these things. I went to my engineering classes and I studied for physics and I tried to become an engineer. With each new day, I tried a little bit more, and each time it was a little bit more than I could take.

Now, here I am, planning to transfer, or maybe even not go anywhere at all. I want to write books, short stories and novels and so much fiction. I have been told that I have the talent, I know I have the ideas. The money? The experience? The time? Those I have none of, and I will not be getting any of those from college, especially as an engineering major. College is taking my money and my time and giving me connections in the wrong field. I could go to college now for journalism, start making the kind of connections I need, increase my chances of getting a job I will not abhor and making money. Yet, that would not launch me into what I actually want to do. It will take more money, and more time, to keep making more hardly useful connections, and give me experience in one field, without even guaranteeing a job the way my engineering major did, and definitely not guaranteeing enough money to get to where I want to be. I need to experience life, the world, cover as much universe as I can. Live, learn, experience. That is what I need. Not that you seem to have any value in this world unless you have that one extra line on your resume.

My heart breaks a little more every time I hear or see the word engineering. Typing it hurts because it feels so familiar, so safe. For the first time in a long time, I have no direction, and god, do I hate it. I miss the thought process, the drive that having a goal gave me. Now? Now I have nothing. My plan was shattered, a plan I spent years formulating. I do not even have a vague direction of where to go to use as the basis for a new plan. I am lost and stumbling and I have so many people screaming that I need to know NOW NOW NOW. And, of course, they are right. I do need a plan, right now, right this very second. I am too old to have no direction in this fast paced world; I am an adult now, who needs to make adult decisions about my life and my future.

It is too late to turn back. Too late to not waste my time in a technology and science based high school (not to say nothing good came of it, my English teacher for three of the four years improved my writing beyond what anyone else could have), too late to apply to the right schools and give myself a chance to learn some of what I need to hone my writing skills, too late to not waste my first semester of college in classes I physically could not care less about. So, since I cannot go back, I must go forward. Not that I have any idea which way is forward at the moment.

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The F Word

This is an essay I wrote for my humanities class, but I really liked it, so I wanted to share it with you. I removed the in text citations from within the work to make it easier to read, but all the authors are credited in the work and I added links to the mentioned articles at the end. I have been avoiding this topic for a long time out of fear of leaving something out, but I think I covered a lot, I might add more installments later.

“Feminism by definition is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.”

-Emma Watson, United Nations Speech for the He for She campaign

Feminism has become a scary word in today’s society. People of every gender are scared to use it based on the connotation it carries; the “man-hating” persona given to the word makes few want to associate themselves with it. People think that every feminist is a man hater, an idea that needs to be crushed, but in order to do that, everyone must understand how feminism benefits them as an individual—and it does benefit everyone, as long as it is the right kind of feminism. Feminism, as any of the –isms, has its own internal problems, like actual man-hating people, or White Feminists (those who believe that all women are equal to men, as long as those women are white), or ignoring the issues trans people face, or disabled women, or first world centered feminism, or, or, or; I could continue for a while.

I am a relatively lucky woman. I will get paid substantially more than my colored, female colleagues. I will not be sold off for marriage; I was not forced to marry as I child, and it is much less likely for me to be sold in a human trafficking ring. I was born with less money than most, but not so little that I was forced to sell my body or move drugs. There are so many horrors around the world that women face that I could not begin to even imagine. I am incredibly lucky; however, that does not mean I have not experienced sexism. I attended a science and technology-based high school, a school that, while maintaining a fairly even boy to girl ratio, always seemed dominated by males. I ran the school robotics club, receiving many animadversions from the room full of males that I had to teach how to solder. Between my high school and this technology based college, I have noticed a trend of males pushing aside girls in lab classes. In my labs, my ideas are ignored and my attempts to accomplish any of the set tasks are often shut down. It is not just school; this trend can often be found in my job. I have spent my entire life working as a stagehand in a theatre. It is a job that requires quite a lot of strenuous activity, but some of my fellow crew still treat me like I am made of glass. I have proved myself to them time and time again, yet I am pushed aside in favor of weaker males constantly. There is also the rampant everyday sexism found in things like having no control over my own body—the government controls these rights, especially when it comes to my reproductive rights like abortion or access to birth control—the pink tax, and so many more issues.

Articles about things like the baby penalty or the pink tax or the wage gap or any other feminist buzz words always make me quite angry. Whether it be due to misinformation within the articles—normally due to the aforementioned issues with feminism—or the simple fact that these articles have to exist, I am always frustrated and more often than not annoyed by these articles. Luckily with Mary Ann Mason’s “The Baby Penalty,” I was angry for the latter reason. I was angry that an article like this needs to exist. The fact that we live in 2015 and childbirth is still getting in the way of women’s careers is upsetting. What made me the angriest about the article was where it explained that while having a family hinders a woman’s career, it actually enhances a man’s. This might not seem accurate; however, research shows that “family formation negatively affects women’s—but not men’s—academic careers. For men, having children can be a slight career advantage and, for women, it is often a career killer.”

Women are still expected to take care of their family more than men are to the extent that people think women are incapable of doing their jobs and our only talent is raising a family. Yes, it enhances males’ careers because of another problem perpetuated by the patriarchy; namely, men are expected to be the ones to make the money for their family. So women cannot get ahead in their fields due to the same misogyny that pushes men ahead while setting unfair expectations for both. This is a system that puts unnecessary pressure on men while squandering women’s potential in the process. It is ridiculous and unfair to all parties. It also does not make any sense. Homosexuality is greatly discouraged by society, yet men in the work force are expected to have a family to be successful and women are not. So, who are these men supposed to be having families with if not the women or the men? The numbers just do not work out there, especially when, in America, the current population is 49.2% assigned male at birth and 50.8% people assigned female at birth. No matter how you spin those numbers, there is no way that works out in anyone’s favor.

“What About the Boys?” by Michael S Kimmel discusses how sexism affects boys, reviewing the “boy code.” This is just another part of the system that unfairly pressures men while oppressing women. Throughout their lives, boys “possessed of this false voice of bravado (and many facing strong family pressure) are likely to over-value their abilities, to remain in programs though they are less qualified and capable of succeeding,” therefore pushing out females who could potentially succeed in the jobs in which they are failing at, while simultaneously making themselves miserable. This puts everyone at a disadvantage. Women who could be making important discoveries in science fields are ignored in favor of males less competent in those specific fields, stunting the growth of society while making everyone involved absolutely miserable.

Everyone is affected by sexism, whether they realize it or not. Some may claim to have never experienced sexism, but they are likely overlooking some of their experiences, since many sexist scenarios are often passed off as “just the way things are.” That’s just the problem. No one should be used to being treated as inferior due to their outward appearance; moreover, no one should have to be so accustomed to it that they barely notice. Even if there is a person out there who can accurately claim to not be affected by sexism, they should still be a feminist. They should be a feminist for those who do experience sexism, all sorts, from the microcosmic scenarios, like being ignored in the classroom, to the bigger things, like being completely silenced, harassed, and abused. No one has an excuse to not be a feminist anymore. Yes, some have soured the word, but that does not mean we should stop fighting for equality, for ourselves, and for those who really need it.

Everyone who believes in equal rights between the sexes needs to start calling themselves a feminist; it is what we are. In the words of Aziz Ansari on “Late Show,”

“I feel like if you do believe that men and women have equal rights, if someone asks if you’re a feminist, you have to say yes, because that is how words work. You can’t be like, ‘Oh yeah I’m a doctor that primarily does diseases of the skin.’ Oh, so you’re a dermatologist? ‘Oh no, that’s way too aggressive of a word! No no not at all not at all.’”

 

“The Baby Penalty” http://chronicle.com/article/The-Baby-Penalty/140813/

“What About The Boys?” http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?cc=mfsfront;c=mfs;c=mfsfront;idno=ark5583.0014.001;g=mfsg;rgn=main;view=text;xc=1

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Fatal Float

There’s nothing I crave more in this moment than a cheeseburger. Water is filling my lungs, I am gasping and choking and all I can think of is how hungry I am. They say you should never go swimming after eating, but I regret not doing just that. Not that I was planning on this lovely little swim.

The last thing I remember we were on a boat. We were on a boat, at night, doing a boat tour of the ‘haunted’ lake. A tourist trap if I ever saw one. But there we were anyway, sitting on this boat, watching the mist float over the water and catching glimpses of ‘victims’ out of the corners of our eyes—slightly more dense masses of mist and fog. If you cannot tell, I was skeptic. Of course, those tours can make even the most skeptic tourist’s skin crawl. It’s what they are made to do. The wow factor. They seem so real, so eerie. I know it’s all tricks, all illusions set to make you feel as uncomfortable as possible, but, hell, it works.

So here I am, drowning in this lake next to the crumbling, fiery remains of my tour and the rest of the tourists, and craving a cheeseburger. I know how to swim, in fact, I was quite a strong swimmer; I was on my high school swim team, never the fastest, but never far behind. Yet, somehow, I am drowning. The water feels thicker, more like a solid than a liquid, and like it has its own field of gravity, pulling me under. My arms and legs push through it more sluggishly than I have ever felt them move and I am being sucked under.

My head bobs up and all I hear is gurgling screams of the other tourists. Every one of us seems to be experiencing the same phenomena, suddenly unable to swim, being dragged under by not the current, but instead by the extra gravity and density of the water. I can hear the different pitches of screams, able to differentiate between each of the people without knowing which pitch belongs to whom, just knowing they each belong to someone different, someone else about to lose their lives in the lake everyone warned us not to venture onto. The screams, each one of them happening for a few seconds, then stopping as the owner’s head bobs under water momentarily as they struggle to keep breathing, keep screaming, are getting weaker and fewer all at once. Where there was once about fifteen different screams, there quickly became twelve, then ten, then eight, then I could not hear them anymore as my own head submerged for the last time.

I held my breath for as long as I could, but the pressure, unnaturally high and getting higher as my body sank, forced the last of air from where it rested at the bottom of my lungs. It was a weight pressing down on my chest, forcing out slow bubbles that floated back to the surface at an unnaturally sluggish rate. They reached the surface and I could just barely see them popping in the moonlight, little blips on the surface. That was the last thing I saw before I closed my eyes and accepting death.

In accepting death, I also accepted the water, straight into my lungs. It filled my mouth, then my nose and it hurt so much more than I ever could have imagined. I could feel my lungs filling and burning, my throat constricting as it tried to reject the water, but it was no use now, my body was going limp after a bout of instinctual thrashing I did not know I had the energy for, and I was sinking. Quicker now than before, as the water filled my lungs, making me heavier. The next thing I felt was almost indescribable. It felt as though the water was entering my blood stream, but, no, not just entering it, replacing it, and I could feel every drop of it.

My blood felt just as thick but half as warm and much less viscous and I could feel it running its course, though my veins, my heart, my brain. The water was becoming part of me and I felt as though I was becoming part of it in the process. I sank. And sank. And sank. For what felt like years, I was sinking.

I knew I was dead, but I did not feel dead. Or, at least, I did not think I did. I do not know what being dead would feel like, but this is not what I imagined. I dared to open my eyes, and it felt just that: daring. Like I had never done something so courageous before. My eyes stung for a moment but adjusted fairly quickly. What I saw was not what I had expected either. I had expected the fires of hell, or a glowing light leading to nothingness, or a void, or oblivion. What I saw was none of these things. What I saw was the rest of the tourists, slowly sinking right with me, one by one opening their eyes as I did, glancing around and seeing each other. I went to let out a sigh and that shocked me. I could sigh! But I sighed out water, and that was when I realized that it was more than just sighing, I was breathing. I was breathing water.

I glanced around, watching the shocked faces as those around me came to the same realization. We were breathing, underwater. My next thought was speech. Could I speak? I opened my mouth and said, “How?” and the words came out just as they would above ground, clear as crystal, floating through water as they would through air. Within seconds the sound reached the other tourist’s ears and excited chatter spread between us. Some frantically wiggled their limbs, propelling themselves closer to each other as we continued to sink, hugging each other and whispering things like, “Oh my god we’re alive, how are we alive?”

I tested my limbs and they all still worked, I could move my fingers and toes. A man who had rolled onto the boat in a wheelchair was excitedly kicking his feet. His face contorted as though he was crying, and the tears looked like they were made of oil, streaming down his face and looking completely separate from the water.

I kicked my feet and pushed my arms through the water, propelling myself slowly upward, but I was sinking too fast. I concentrated all of my energy to push myself back towards the surface, but every push I moved forward I was moved the equivalent of three pushes back by the current.

“We can’t go back,” I whispered. No one heard me, no one noticed I had spoken, still too wrapped up in the joy of being alive. Louder, I repeated, “We can’t go back.”

The excitement faded quickly when the realization of what I had said hit everyone. It was immediately followed by a wave of panic. Some cried, some wailed, some just looked down, past their feet, past the water, resigned to a life away from everything we know and love.

That’s when I saw it. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the slightest glimpse of a sparkle, way down beneath me. It was so dark by this point, the moonlight from the surface not penetrating this deep. I was shocked anything could sparkle at this depth, but there it was, a shiny, gleaming…thing.

At first it looked like a spike, just something pointy to be impaled on. It was my turn to panic; however, I made sure to keep silent this time–no use scaring everyone else more than they were already. And, hey, at least we would not have to live the way we expected. We would just die instead.

I had decided that if I was going to die, this would be an appropriate time to do it. I personally had nothing left to live for, not on the surface, and definitely not in this underwater hell.

That was the first time I noticed the temperature. It had been freezing, though no one realized it until we hit what felt like a barrier of warmth. I looked down again, towards the spike, and saw more of them, many more of them, but not spikes, no: spires. Spires like on top of a church, but everywhere, spread across the floor of the lake. And underneath them, not the floor, but buildings, tall buildings, a whole underwater city.

“Look!” I shouted this time to avoid having to repeat myself, pointing at the city sprawling beneath us. I looked around and realized I was not the only one to spot it. Everyone was staring down in awe and shock.

It was a sparkling, glowing city, like the ones you imagine in your dreams, like Dorothy’s Emerald City. It was so bright we almost forgot we were underwater.

We pushed and kicked to force ourselves to land between the buildings. Our feet touched down gently, and the downward pull of the water released us, now no more than the pull of the gravity on land we were used to. We glanced around and everything was sparkling, glittering, beautiful. The buildings each looked like they were carved of different colored sea glass. There were people roaming the sandy streets, talking and running errands, just like people on the surface, as if nothing about this was weird and a bunch of tourists did not just fall from above them and land in the middle of the street. They wore strange clothes, clothes made of what looked like plastic

We huddled together, making sure not to lose each other in the crowds that flowed around us. Very few of us knew each other before getting on the boat tour, but we stuck together all the same. We probably looked like a huddle of confused birds, our heads turning this way and that, looking for some explanation. Everyone else ignored us. We stood there for a few minutes until we saw a small child running towards us, feet hitting the sand like it was concrete and moving through the water like it was air.

“Come, come,” he shouted to our group, tugging at the sleeve of the young woman standing closest to him, “Follow me!”

He bolted down the street, weaving fluidly through the crowd. We tried to follow, no alternatives presenting themselves to us, but we were slowed by the water around us and the sand under our feet and the crowd around us. It was like moving in slow motion.

Eventually, the crowd parted around us, they seemed to understand where we were going, but there were no knowing looks or glances; we were entirely ignored as the crowd parted fluidly. Through the crowd we could see where the road ended, interrupted by a large, castle like structure with more spires on it than the entire rest of the surrounding buildings, surrounded by coral. The child ran straight up to the doors, ripping them both open at once and running in screaming, “New arrivals! New arrivals!”

A very tall, lanky man was sprawled across a stone throne, covered in twisting blue, green, and red seaweed. His legs were draped over one of the arms of the throne and his back was arched over the other arm so his head was leaning down over the other side, his arms outstretched high above him. His hair would have gone to his shoulders if he was upright, but instead it just barely grazed the ground. He turned his from where he was staring at the ceiling to look at us. His eyes grew a little wider and a dark smile spread across his face.

“Welcome!” His voice boomed as he stood and it was louder than we expected based on the lankiness. He walked down to where we stood, arms open wide as if the second he got close enough he would try to hug us all. He stopped a few paces away from us, eyes glancing over each of us for a few seconds, before he dropped his arms and spoke again. “Welcome, I am sure you have plenty of questions, and I intend to answer them, but first, allow me to humbly thank you for joining me today. Now, I realize it was not by choice, but I am grateful for it all the same. Now, let’s get started, shall we? Come, come.” He waved his arm behind him and spun on his heel to face a corridor that led off to the left.

We followed him down the corridor, still tightly huddled together. At the end of the short corridor there was another room, one with a stage on one end and chairs set around circular tables on the other. It looked like one of those dinner and a show type of places. The man gestured towards the tables, inviting us to sit. We approached the tables slowly, cautiously. When we finally sat down, he nodded his head and climbed the steps at the side of the stage, walking out to the front center stage. He was a very histrionic man, I could see it I all of his movements, the way he held himself, the way every movement was accompanied by some sort of flourish. When he spoke again, it was as if to an audience of thousands, all there to watch him perform.

“Welcome, most distinguished guests, to my oh so humble home. From this day forth, I shall be your benevolent king. You will live here, under my rule, for the rest of your life.” Most of the room visibly tensed, and some fidgeted nervously, questions about to burst from them, but he pressed on, “Now, I’m sure you’re wondering where you are and what you are doing here and how you got here and so many more things, and I promise, all your questions will be answered in time. For now, let me start with the basics. Right now, you have just arrived in a lovely place we like to call,” he paused, looking around dramatically, before shooting hit hands into the air and screaming, “The Aquarium! Yes, The Aquarium, ladies and gentlemen! It’s a lovely place, a lovely place where you will live. The Aquarium is a special place, a special place indeed. It is, essentially, an underwater pocket of water with a science all of its own. Its own gravity, its own ecology, and most importantly, its own magnetism, the very same magnetism that drew you all here.

“Believed to be similar to the Bermuda Triangle, The Aquarium draws people from the surface into it, causing them to ‘mysteriously disappear,’ according to the folks on land. It draws in the people, sucking you down to us, into our little world. Once underwater, as I’m sure you realized, you could breathe just as easily as you could on the surface. The water is breathable.”

“But how do we get back?” I asked.

He scratched his head and laughed humorlessly, “Ha, well, that’s the tricky bit. You can never leave.”

I looked around, glancing at the faces of those around me. One by one, panic spread through the crowd. We ran out the doors, towards the underwater city and began flapping our arms, trying to swim up, but just looking like birds. We must have seemed mad, thrashing about in the street in a futile attempt to propel ourselves up, up, up. Little did we know how mad this place really was.

 

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