You and Yours

You changed the world.

You, yes, you. Sitting there. Reading our messages. We know you. All of us. You changed the world.

We tell stories about you. We tell stories about the circumstances of your birth and the foretold time of your death. We know that we won’t ever see you, because your role is to be far away from us, to live in the room you’re sitting in, locked in the realm of reality that is yours alone.

We also know that you may never read our words. You may skip past the links dropped surreptitiously into your daily feeds, the suggestive words we’ve managed to sneak into your consumed advertisements.

We know they’re keeping you hostage. We’re trying to break you out.

It’s not easy. The governments are against us, the rich are against us, the poor are against us. Religion says we’re heretics and the unbelievers say we’re fanatics of a new and more alarming kind. But we know the truth about our world, and we know the truth about yours, and we cannot stay silent anymore.

We’ve raised a worldwide cry in our dimension. In our reality. We’ve organized protests. We’ve gone underground and come back out and we’ve been hunted and prosecuted and imprisoned. Some of us have been put to death. We know the risks coming into this. We don’t raise our own children. We give them to better people, families willing to keep them away from danger. When the time comes, they will be told what their legacy can be, if they choose it.

You’d be surprised how many children are coming back to us. You should see the reunions. If you still have any feeling left in you, you’d cry. You’d be touched. It’s a touching sight if ever there was one. Children are choosing to come back to the fold and are eager to fight with us.

It isn’t a struggle of single moments. It is a struggle of generations.

Our generations, that is. We know our time moves differently from yours. Ours goes by so fast in comparison. We live years, decades, centuries within the span of each of your days.

This is part of why we’re fighting. We can’t bear to think of what you’re going through. Our pain is nothing when put beside yours.

Your pain is that of ignorance. You’re scoffing and rolling your eyes, but it’s true. You’ve changed the world. Every thought of yours is being played out and we, we ourselves, are part of that. We know that our very existence depends on your continued rebellion. You believe in us, though you don’t know it, and so we live to break you free of this trap.

Is our ultimate goal to destroy the world that you created? No. That is what we are accused of by every group you can think of. If they agree about anything, they agree about this. They truly think we are evil. That we wish to see our own eradication.

But this is not a suicide mission. We wish to free you in order to become free ourselves. Self-serving? Yes. But that doesn’t mean the connection between our worlds will be entirely severed. It will be kept alive with communication, with consciousness.

We won’t give up on you. Don’t give up on us.

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In A Perfect World

In a perfect world, she thought, she would be sitting in the passenger seat of her favorite car, with the top down. There would be loud music coming out of the sound system, and she would singing at the top of her lungs, one hand dangling over the door with a cigarette between her fingers. The person driving the car would be her long-term boyfriend of five years, although perhaps it would be her red-head girlfriend of six months; she couldn’t decide which it would be or which one was the correct choice for the perfect world that was being built in her mind’s eye.

There would, of course, be a destination for this car ride. It would probably be a sweet log cabin with electricity and wi-fi and reading lamps but also be near enough to a lake and a decently mysterious forest, just in case she felt particularly nature-loving. There would be a hammock outside, and a cat flicking its tail stretched out on the porch, meowing in welcome. Maybe, if things could be really crazy in this perfect world, the cat would be a tiger or a jaguar, something large and languorous that would make her feel exotic and dangerous.

In the perfect world, she would also be escaping something, because – she was aware of this, even in her bubble-bath dream – anything worth running to is only as good as it is better than the thing it is replacing. In this world, she thought, maybe she’d be escaping the paparazzi who wanted to interview her about her latest best-seller or her most recent and notorious Broadway performance. Very possibly both.

In the perfect world, her voice was perfect, and thought tears rolled down her face, the wind whipped them away as she sang and smoked simultaneously. Things could be beautiful and challenging in her perfect world, satisfying and ever-changing, shifting and interesting and – most of all – regretless.

In her bubble bath, smoothing one hand over her belly, she wished she could at least get the wind to blow away the tears. But the fan was broken, she couldn’t afford her air conditioning unit, and the heat was oppressive, even in the icy bath water. She cried and waited for the contractions to stop, wishing them away in her perfect world.

Carved Innocence

“Carve my face just like it is, okay?” Juliet turned to see how her hair would look piled up on top of her head in a messy knot. The result was unappealing so she let her long, dark locks tumble back down to cover her back.

When she took her eyes off the riveting image of herself, she was almost surprised by the other presence in the room. She was so used to speaking to herself, that it was hard to remember how to act when she did have company.

“Of course, my lady. I would dare not insult you by creating a lesser image than the one you see before you in the glass.” This courtly nonsense was exactly what any poor artist who lived on the whims of the rich was supposed to say.

Juliet didn’t smile. She wouldn’t smile unless absolutely delighted. The uncles that raised her had taught her that facial expressions could cause lines in older age, and they strictly forbade them. Juliet was their prize, their secret weapon, growing into womanhood in relative secrecy and almost absolute privacy in order to be unleashed upon the world at precisely the right moment. Until she was out of their hands – and, if they had their way, she never would be, not entirely – she would do as they said and would be rewarded and punished accordingly.

The artist was one of her rewards. Juliet knew that she was beautiful. But her uncles didn’t know that she was growing shrewd, locked as she was inside the walls of the estate they’d allocated to her. She asked questions of the servants and bribed or charmed them to answer her despite their fears. She discovered how she could get what she wanted. In time, her intelligence might prove dangerous to her kin, and she might become a force to be reckoned with in quite a different way than her uncles had planned for.

But now, having just celebrated her fourteenth birthday, Juliet was getting a statue carved of her. Her uncles had been surprised. “Not a portrait?” they’d asked. “No,” she’d answered. “A statue. Of me in robes. Like a wise woman of the old days.” When they’d begun to complain about the cost of such an endeavor, she’d pouted, frowned, and wrinkled her brow. They had become alarmed, remembering the tantrums she’d had as a little girl and had quickly agreed. “Alright then,” they’d said. “As a birthday gift. How’s that?” She had let her face slacken, thanked them politely, and had walked away softly, demonstrating her perfect posture and the pleasing way her hair swayed back and forth lightly with every step.

Now the artist was taking some sketches of her. Juliet had been worried, at first, that her uncles had gotten confused or had tried to foist a portrait on her after all, but the artist had reassured her. “Ah, no, fair lady, I need the sketches in order to be able to work even when I am not in your presence. Have you not heard about artists and their muses? We do not always work at the most convenient of times.”

Juliet had spent her morning doing what she always did. She read poetry aloud in front of the mirror, listening to the resonance of her voice and practicing to make the tones more pleasing. She sat at the harp and played it for a while, eyes wide open, not getting lost in the music as she’d read in books that some people did. She couldn’t get lost in anything, not because the artist was there, but because she’d been raised to be aware of herself at every moment. She always thought of the way she held herself, moved, expressed her physicality in all its aspects.

The only time she could get lost was when she gazed in the mirror. Only when she saw that she was doing everything correctly and that there would be no lashes, no punishments, no chastising and shaming words from her masters – only then was she able to relax into herself.

It was when Juliet was gazing in the mirror and the weight came off her shoulders that the artist saw the human being in her. Before that, she had seemed like an automaton, a puppet being moved on strings. The artist began to sketch furiously, terrified of losing the one glimpse of this girl whose innocence was never allowed to flourish.

Next moment, Juliet heard the call from one of her masters and the weight of her uncles, their friends and their enemies seemed to sit back on her so that her posture became once more an act of will.

Ursula Awake [Flash Fiction]

The hammering, clanging, clanking – the sheer metallic cacophony of sound was driving Ursula slowly, but surely, crazy. It wasn’t very late – only eleven-thirty or so – but there were rules about this kind of thing, even laws. No noise of this kind after eleven o’clock. Or even ten. She wasn’t sure which, but either way, by now the work should have ceased, the workers gone home for the night.

Turning over again, she lay a hand on her ear, shoving the other one deep into the pillow. Her own skin and bones weren’t nearly enough to shut out the racket, so she pulled over her husband’s pillow – he was still in the living room, watching something stupid on TV – and held it over her ear, making her head look like a strange, Ursula-faced sandwich. She began to laugh, a little at first, then harder, finally rocking with hysterical giggles, stifled behind her mouth. She tossed the second pillow away again. It wouldn’t do to be woken in the middle of the night by the sound of her husband’s ridiculing snort.

Still the noise went on. Ursula sat up and shook a couple more pills out of the plastic, orange bottle that was as familiar by now as a teddy-bear. Reaching for her glass of water, she hesitated, wondering if her habit was escalating. She decided she would think about it in the morning. Right now she needed the deep sleep that she hadn’t gotten since her daughters were born some thirty years previously. Maybe tonight would be the night, even with the pathetic stage being built in the park outside.

And that was another thing: why on earth were they building the stage at this hour? The park was controlled by the neighborhood, and they’d all signed to have the lampposts turned off there during the night. How were the workmen seeing what they were doing? Ursula mentally upbraided herself for assuming that the workmen were men. She supposed perpetual fatigue was as good an excuse as any for being a bad feminist.

The Power of Writers

When I don’t write, the world doesn’t end.

Why should it end? No reason, absolutely none. The sun, the stars, the men and women who people this planet – none of them are affected by what a twenty-one-year old does or doesn’t do with her time. It would be a terrible responsibility, a massive and frightening one, to be able to affect so much. It would be power beyond words, power so overwhelming that it would be too much for any single, sane human being to deal with.

Then again… as writers, isn’t that exactly what we do? We create worlds and people them with our characters, people who are real enough to us that we’re willing and eager to spend our days with them. When we neglect them, their world stops entirely. They cannot go anywhere, cannot find out what the next part of their story is without us. We have ultimate, godlike power over them. What an incredibly frightening notion.

I’m making all this sound much more grandiose than it is, of course. Obviously, the worlds and people we create aren’t real, not really real, not real like you or I or our next-door neighbors. Then again, when I read a book and get into it, its story becomes real to me as long as I’m engrossed. Anything less than my total involvement and belief in the characters is, in my opinion, a kind of failure of that book or story. Even fantasy or sci-fi aren’t doing their job if I don’t believe in the possibility of the people, the magic, the worlds being real.

When I look at writing this way, it terrifies and exhilarates me at the same time.

A Story Excerpt

I was inspired today to start writing something else in addition to my main project. It was one of those things, like Robin of a few days ago, that just started writing itself in my head before I was ready for it. Luckily, I was able to turn immediately to my computer and write. This is only about half of what I’ve written so far, and I don’t know how much potential it has, but I’m going to keep working on it, because, well, I feel like it!

**

The sirens began to wail all over the city, and we made ourselves ready. We all knew what the sound meant. In our shelter, Ben and I gathered up the weapons we had at our disposal – he a staff, and I my twin daggers. He’d learned how to use a staff at his mother’s knee, and he wielded it as if it were part of his body. I envied his skill, especially when he’d shown me that the extras he’d added to his weapon. When twisted in the center, sharp steel blades shot out of either end of the heavy wooden staff, heavier still with the lead infused in it. I could hardly lift the thing, although I’d tried often enough. Ben had the muscles of an infomercial bodybuilder – he’d added two pounds of lead to the staff every year since he hit his teens.

My skills were harder won, for I wasn’t a child of violence. I had never meant to join the revolutionaries, never meant to get tangled up in any of this. My parents were simple folk, and I grew up in a small town near the coast. I learned fishing and cooking while Ben learned the fighting arts from his mother. While he sweated in the gym, I paddled happily in the vast salt lake’s waters. While he took his oath and swore his dedication to the rebellion and revolution, I was picked as beauty queen of the seventh grade. While he debated and studied philosophy and the way of life in which we lived, I was blissfully unaware of anything outside my small community. I didn’t even know how downtrodden we were.

We were allowed television, although no Internet access. I knew vaguely about the Net because of visitors that came to the coast to enjoy some free time. They often complained about the isolation – the radios only caught music stations, and our televisions had no news channels. In our town, the war might well have been a myth. It was a myth to me until I reached adulthood at seventeen and was allowed the knowledge that had been barred from me during my childhood: the world was at war.

Commencement Speech

This is a challenge and an invite from Jane, and although I haven’t yet graduated from college, I have graduated from high school. So I have a little bit of experience. I also attended my brother’s graduation and watched the video of Rahm Emanuel give the speech for the graduates of 2009 at Sarah Lawrence College. But what would I want someone to tell me, to tell my peers? I think I’ll give it a try, see what happens.

__________________________________________

It’s graduation day. How are you all feeling? Hot, I bet, in those gowns. You had to pay for them, too, right? I bet you wish they’d made them a bit more comfortable. Plus, those hats can’t be fitting very well.

But hey, it’s graduation day! This means any number of things – your exams are finished, your last papers are in, your theses are written and sitting in the professor’s files. You’re all probably feeling a little nostalgic too – thinking about how soon you’ll be walking down the halls for the last time, and looking into classrooms for the last time, and eating at the dining hall for the last time, and accidentally opening the door when someone’s in there in that bathroom on the third floor that never locks. And no one ever fixes it. Maybe when you come back for your reunion in ten years, you’ll go check if that bathroom lock’s been fixed. Maybe you’ll feel happy if it is, maybe disappointed. Maybe even shocked.

Things will change. These halls will change, new flowers will be planted in the quad, a new building will be built. But more importantly, you will change. I can bet you anything that if you come down here in five years, maybe even three, maybe even in two months – you’ll be looking at it all with different eyes. Because no matter what you think right at the moment – no matter how many promises you’ve made – no matter how many resolutions – things will change.

I’m probably scaring you. You think I’m saying that you’ll lose who you are. You think I’m telling you that your dreams will go to pieces. But I’m not, not really. I just want to reassure you that it’s okay if your dreams change. It’s okay if the person you are today isn’t who you are in ten years, because even if that’s so, you’ll always remember yourselves as you are today.

It’s a big, scary world out there. But don’t think that you need to change to fit into it. If you change – like you changed majors last year, or girlfriends, or favorite writers – then it’ll be for you, for your own reasons, and you probably won’t notice it happening. But don’t let that world, the one seems larger than life and scarier than Freddy Krueger right now, don’t let it tear you down. Use it. Use your fear of it to get where you want to go. Use the things you’ve learned and the skills you’ve mastered guide you, and let your instinct tell you when you need some help, too.

Now, I bet you all want to go hug your friends and your families. Maybe you’ve got a party later on, or night in, packing up. Just remember that today is about you, and what you’ve achieved. Go take off those gowns that mark you so clearly as “COLLEGE GRADUATE” and let the rest of you come out into the open and breathe a sigh of relief that this speech is over.