Thursday, May 31, 2012

Literary Merit Vs. Popularity: A Novel Debate

Allow me to step outside of my role as imagination archivist for a moment...
There is another visage I possess, the one most people see on a daily basis. The one that keeps me invisible among the throngs of civilians going about their lives. This unseen role still has its own opinions, though, and there is one it would like to share.

Over the past few weeks when I worked at the local bookstore, about the only book people have been buying (or ordering, as the store continuously sells out of it) is Fifty Shades of Gray by E.L. James, an erotic novel about a young woman in a sensual love affair with a wealthy and handsome billionaire. This is also the same book that most library systems reportedly will not carry. The reason? They will only buy books that possess “literary merit.” Fifty Shades of Gray, apparently, does not qualify as such a book.

What, exactly, defines “literary merit?” According to the College Board’s “Engaging Students with Literature” Curriculum, literary merit entails: 1. The written work has been judged to have artistic quality by the literary community (teachers, students, librarians, critics, etc.); 2. The themes are complex and nuanced; 3. It does not conform to formulaic expectations; 4. It entertains the reader and is interesting to read.

Books like Fifty Shades, and other popular series such as The Hunger Games and Twilight, hit upon the last of these definitions, even if the definitions themselves are vague (aren’t terms like “entertaining” and “interesting” subjective?). But does popularity make a book genuinely good? There must be something about these novels that draws in so many readers. It can’t be that the majority of the population prefers “junk food” reading to the decadence of truly innovative, original, finely-honed writing. Right?

In contrast to these trendy titles, look at this year’s finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction: Train Dreams by Denis Johnson; Swamplandia! by Karen Russell; and The Pale King by the late David Foster Wallace. (Sadly, there was no official award given this year, as the judges could not come to a consensus for a winner.)

How many people have even heard of, let alone read, any of these books? I do not recall these novels being strongly marketed, or having received any push in promotion after being nominated. One would think that there would be more public encouragement to read novels that were selected as the best written works of the year.

So why does it seem like what is popular in fiction these days does not coincide with what is deemed to have literary merit? Why do so many readers gobble up pop-culture movie fodder fads, and pass over the in-depth portrayals of the human condition and psyche?

It is not to say readers cannot like both, but novels like Fifty Shades have tapped into a particular type of emotional fascination with readers that many “merited” books don’t. It is the “taboo fantasy”—not just any fantasy, like traveling to an exotic place or falling in love with the ideal person. Fifty Shades is an erotica boasting very vivid, very extreme sexual scenarios; Hunger Games has rebellious teens defying an oppressive authority, and becoming hailed warriors in a bloody battle where they must kill fellow competitors; Twilight…don’t get me started on what’s wrong with Twilight (and, ironically enough, Fifty Shades was originally conceived as Twilight fan-fiction). The main complaint I have heard about these books, these stories where the authors self-indulge in over-the-top fantasies, is that they are poorly written—not that the plots are weak or the characters lackluster, but that the writing itself is mediocre and boring. In other words, it is writing that requires no thinking whatsoever, on either the author’s or the reader’s part.

So I ask, can we not be entertained while also being made to contemplate, to be enlightened, to expect more out of our literature than just, for lack of a better term, eye candy? Can a book not only make us feel, but also think? Or will Emotion and Intellect always be duking it out for dominance in the literary world?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Spooning Over You

*The ending line from a popular nursery rhyme is portrayed with a little more drama in this tale of what might happen in your kitchen when you are not looking...*

“I can’t believe that I’m finally on a date with Mack the Knife!”
I almost spat the coffee as I pulled my head up out of it. Miss Tea Cup was giggling. “I mean, here we’ve been in the same kitchen for, like, ever, and only now are we finally having coffee. The sugar bowl will be soooo jealous!”
I paused, not sure what to say at first. She thought I was Mack the Knife, the sharp-witted playboy of the silverware drawer? Granted, she hadn’t spent much time around the common dinnerware—she was the high society china, only for “special occasions”—but it seemed difficult to confuse me for a knife, given that I was stirring her coffee with my head. Then I thought about it…the only silverware she had ever truly interacted with were spoons; perhaps she thought all flatware looked alike? (That seemed a bit utensil-ist.)
But she was so delicate and pretty…To be on a date with a china cup, who only let the snobby, pure-silver spoons stir their drinks and their feelings…this was a big deal for a lowly stainless steel guy like me. Besides—knife, spoon, what’s really the difference?
 “I can’t believe it!” shouted a voice from behind us. Spinning around, we saw a small dish, one of the saucers from the china cabinet, heading for us.  “We’re sisters! We were designed as a pair! And here you are, sneaking away with some…common-ware! This is a disgrace!”
“You can’t tell me what to do,” replied Miss Tea Cup. “After all, you’re always beneath me.”
“If you won’t come willingly, then my associate here will help me convince you!”
My steel turned cold as I saw her “associate” approach us. Mack stopped short when he saw me. “Stanley? What are you doing here?”
“Stanley? No, this is Mack the Knife.” Miss Tea Cup beamed. “And I’m his new girlfriend.”
The dish was clearly confused. “No, that’s a spoon. This is Mack, and he’d have no problem chipping a disobedient tea cup, if she doesn’t come to her senses quickly.”
“A…spoon?” Miss Tea Cup looked back and forth between me and Mack, finally recognizing the difference. But rather than get flustered, she merely turned towards Mack. “Well, I need to salvage this date somehow.  How about we get better acquainted, Mack?”
Immediately the knife was caught up in her enchanting china spell, as I had been. “I would love too, Miss Tea Cup. Perhaps I can show you my superior skills at salami-slicing?”
And on that not-too-subtle innuendo, Mack and Miss Tea Cup hobbled off, leaving me alone with the fuming dish.
“Uh, would you like some coffee cake?” I asked lamely. “We could share it. It’s soft enough for me to cut into.”
The dish gave me a long stare, until she abruptly answered, “Do you want to run away together?”
Don’t ask me why I agreed to elope with her, but hey, I guess sometimes there is a rhyme and reason to everything…

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Appliance Whisperer

*Most of us will wish, every now and then, that we could have some rare, exceptional ability that sets us apart from everyone else. But some talents may make one's life more complicated rather than easy, as one young lady described to me about her special gift...*

There is something enlightening about being able to communicate with appliances and electronics; it is a hidden gift I’ve always had, I figure, although my earliest memory of it was when I was four, and I would listen to the murmuring of the fish aquarium in my brother’s room. At first I thought I was imagining words to some odd little song masked by the hum. But no, I soon found out it was the aquarium itself that was crooning, and soon I could hear the distinctive voices of the irritable microwave, the neurotic television, and the babbling fluorescent lights in the kitchen. But I don’t mind the lights non-stop gossiping about all the things they see from above; it’s better than fighting with the vacuum. Surprisingly, the children’s movie “The Brave Little Toaster” personified grumpy vacuums with amazing accuracy. Maybe whoever wrote that script has my talent too.

Now it may be because of my unusual ear, but I embarrassingly admit that I also tend to fall in love with people strictly by voice. I may be the only person on earth who looks forward to a telemarketer’s call, if it so happens to be a male with a strong baritone, as I will allow him to ramble on and on while my heart flutters and flits along the melodies of his verbal vibrancy.

Then on my 21st birthday, my mother gets a chrome-plated expresso machine for me as a present. I’m not a big coffee drinker, but I set it up and plug the machine into the wall—and dang, if it doesn’t have the sexiest, smoothest voice I’ve ever heard. Maybe it was influenced by the Columbian coffee beans that it brewed, or maybe it was the swell of steam that created that airy, creamy foam on top of the perfect latte, the brown of tanned skin. But every time I heard that voice…”Buenos dias, my lovely lady. Why don’t we make you something nice and warm to awaken your senses?” and the light danced across its flawless, shining surface, it sent my body swaying and my face donning a goofy grin.

That’s right, folks…that’s the moment I fell head over heels in love with the expresso machine.

Don’t think I didn’t know it was a massive mistake for me to allow myself to feel that way…this was not normal! No wonder I couldn’t find a guy—a human guy—who wanted to date me more than once. But the expresso machine never criticized my thoughts or looks; it couldn’t get up and walk away when it got bored of me; it couldn’t leave its stuff lying all around the place and expect me to pick it up; and it always sounded as delighted to see me as I did waking up to its gourmet goodness every morning.

Until one day, I overheard it making sweet-talk to the crockpot. Naturally, I threw them both in the trash can.

Well, there is one good thing that can come from heartbreak over an electrical device. It gives you a good reason to go out shopping at the Bed, Bath and Beyond…

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Conversation Between Flying Friends

*From a story you may be all too familiar with, but from the perspective of characters you never knew about within the tale...yes, even henchmen have their own thoughts about life...*

“You ever notice that when one erroneous thing happens, it’s immediately followed by a whole bunch of them?” asked Zeebo.

Papillion plucked a tick out of his fur, observing it for a second before popping it in his mouth. “Kind of like when nothing is going on, nothing really goes on, and on, and on?” he replied.

Owlface shrugged, stretching his tattered brown wings as he gave a tired ancient yawn. “Events are cowards. They run in packs.”

Zeebo tilted his head, pursing his lips. “What does that mean?”

“He doesn’t really know. He just repeats stuff he hears.” Papillion shifted on his feet, looking out among the wasteland surrounding the castle. The breeze was cool that night, and the full crimson moon only made the atmosphere chillier. “Owlface’s too old to be original.”

Owlface grimaced. “There is a difference between being unoriginal, and trying to pass a little wisdom along to a stupid kid like you.”

Papillion laughed, his bluish face displaying his large square monkey teeth. “Stupid? You old ape, I can fly circles around you. That’s why the witch made me leader of this tower guard, and you’re just—Ow!”

Owlface smirked, palming the chunk of fur he had just ripped from Papillion’s tail.

Zeebo shook his head. “Never tangle with a grumpy old monkey,” he snickered.

Papillion crossed his arms and huffed. “All I know is, I am bored, bored, bored. When was the last time we saw anyone come through these woods, anyway?”

“The witch likes her solitude,” Owlface pointed out. “Or perhaps you would like to be closer to the Emerald City, where the Wizard’s soldiers could make regular attacks on us? We’re not the most popular lot, you know.”

“Are you kidding? Dear Oz, I wish an army would come along to break this monotony. First intruder I see, I’m going kamikaze on them!” Papillion made a whistling sound, like something falling, and made a “boom” sound at the end.

“I’d like to go to college,” Zeebo said.

Papillion and Owlface gave him a confused stare.

“Like the one the witch went to. The one she talks about sometimes, where she learned how to do magic.” Zeebo grinned dopily, his wings flapping clumsily against the wind. “I think I’d be good at it. Magic, I mean. After all, we were formed from it. We must have a little magic residue inside, right?”

Owlface sighed. “Right, because you see goats and cows and monkeys graduating from magic universities all the time. Oh, and the witch would just love it if one of her minions just turned in his resignation and said, ‘I’m going off to magic school to make something of myself.’ Great Oz, Zeebo.”

Zeebo’s grin dropped, and he hunched over. “I guess you’re right. Besides, all I’ve seen in my dreams is bad stuff happening. If I went to college, I’d only learn to see even more bad things.”

Papillion cocked an eyebrow. “You see bad things in your dreams?” He paused, scratching his head. “You dream?”

Zeebo nodded. “I see things like men made out of metal who wield axes, and huge lions leaping out from the trees, and straw men on fire coming at me. Oh, and a scary girl with a vicious black dog who can summon tidal waves.” He shivered. “And they kill the witch, and then they come after me. I always wake up having molted half of my wings in terror.”

Papillion chuckled. “You’re such a flutter-brain, Zeebo. Like any of those things even exist.”

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The World's Hairiest Competition

*Weirdness abounds...not much else I can say about this one...*

Bigfoot, the Werewolf, and the Yeti
All with hair like matted spaghetti
Infested with colonies of lice, moss and ticks
Impenetrable as steel, their fur is so thick
Decided one day, they had to know
Which of them was “Hairiest of Show”

Bigfoot, with mane as dark as molasses
Was covered head to foot in furry masses
But his palms, face, and soles were bare
And there was a bald patch on his derrière
The Werewolf, a mangy monstrous sight
Had abundant fur as black as night
From snout to tail, tuffs sprouted everywhere,
But at sunrise, a naked hairless man was standing there.
The Yeti, his winter-coat as thick as thieves,
Had hair on every inch of him, so he wouldn’t freeze
But the others pointed out that come Spring,
He would shed that coat and lose everything.

But in the end of this hairy competition,
They would be stunned as a fourth addition
To their dispute arrived, and the three would withdraw
For Robin Williams, truly, was Hairiest of them All.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Invisible Ivan

*Inexplicable calamities just happen to us sometimes. You can either dwell in despair about it, or turn it around to live out your dreams, as this one man did when he noticed he wasn't "all there"...*

One morning, Ivan woke up quite fearing,
As he looked in the mirror, that he was disappearing.
But rather than fret about becoming see-through,
He would finally live out his dream! That’s what he’d do.

He had always wanted to perform on the greatest of stages,
And now he had an act! One to be remembered for the ages!
“Invisible Ivan” it said on the Shining Star Theater’s marquee,
The poster proclaimed, “One Night Only! The best show to see!”

The theater was packed, from front row to back.
The house lights dimmed, signaling the start of the act.
Ivan walked into the spotlight, as translucent as a ghost,
And he began by juggling three bowling balls, two cats and some toast.
Then he did a dance routine with grace and style,
And his stand-up comedy had them rolling in the aisles.

And when all that was left of him was barely an outline,
He bowed to his audience, and said, “You’ve been kind,
But I feel my time is up, I’m afraid I must go.
Leave a donation to the theater after the show.”

And poof! He vanished. The audience roared and cheered.
But Ivan wasn’t totally gone, as he had feared.
Yes, quite invisible, but still he was there, all right.
With a shrug, he walked out of the theater into the night.

So nowadays, Ivan just relaxes and walks about.
No one can see him, but he’s not put out.
He’ll pull the occasional prank, if he catches you unaware.
Just because you can’t see him, doesn’t mean he’s not there.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Call of the Warrior

*In honor of those attempting the Warrior Dash 5K Obstacle Course this weekend, here is a short ode to the determination and stamina of those daring individuals...*

When your arms are screaming and can’t lift one more sandbag
You whisper: I am the warrior.
When your legs are locking and can’t run one more mile
You murmur: I am the warrior.
When you’re on your belly in the mud, barbed wire scraping your back
You spit out the mud and say: I am the warrior.
When you feel the burn as you leap over the bonfire
In mid-air, you call out: I am the warrior!
When you throw yourself at the ten-foot wall, willing to climb over it
Atop it you cry: I am the WARRIOR!
As you ring that bloody bell at the top of that sweat-soaked rope
Ring it as you sing it: I AM THE WARRIOR!
At the end, with the mud drying in your clothes,
The soreness settling in for a month long visit,
And the finisher’s medal placed around your neck,
You sigh and smile, knowing: I am the warrior.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Laments and Love of a Luna Moth

*What would you do if you only had five days to live? What if you couldn't fulfill your purpose within those days; would that be a life wasted? I managed to record the short but sweet tale of the brief adulthood of a Luna Moth, who may have found more happiness within her few remaining days than some of us do during our several decades of existence...*

I was never told about love, where I come from. They all said, “Just find a mate, lay your eggs, and then you’re done.”

Once you spin your cocoon, time comes to a complete halt until instinct tells you to break your way out again, back into that blistering hot sunlight—or, hopefully, soft inviting moonlight. The world I emerged to was not the same one I had left, when I was a plump, contented caterpillar. Only later would I find out I had been sent to live in a human-built garden, an attraction for observing my cousins, the butterflies, who are absurdly backwards creatures: they fluttered around during the dreadfully bright daytime, and settled down to sleep at night. They did not seem to mind this prison, since they always have plenty of nectar to drink, and there are no birds who would try to eat them.

For the first two hours of my adulthood, I had to pump my new, crumpled wings full to their lime-green glory—for someone who only has about five days left to live, two hours is an awfully long time. Once I could fly and tour my new home, I was having the darnedest time finding another Luna moth, like myself. My instincts ordered that I find a male immediately, but none were to be seen. Worse than that, no matter which direction I flew in, I was quickly met with a wall of black netting that confined me to this place.

Once Luna moths become adults, we lose our mouths (thus why we don’t eat anymore once we emerge), so I couldn’t exactly ask anyone what was going on. At one point I was ecstatic to finally spot another Luna, but when I flew over to it, I smacked straight into a flat surface. To my dismay, it was only a picture of a Luna moth on the garden’s identification board. A curious swallowtail butterfly hovered nearby, and apparently understood my frustration as I pathetically scrambled across my picture.

 “You are looking for other moths like you,” she confirmed. “It is common that not all chrysalises or cocoons survive the trip here. It’s likely yours is the only one of your variety to have made it. There won’t be another shipment in for a week.”

I began to crawl helter-skelter all over the sign in panic. This, too, must have been typical of newcomers to the garden, because the swallowtail just shook her head sadly. “If you’re looking for a mate, it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. The human keepers who run this place make sure none of us reproduce. Everyone here is female.”

That night, I flew by myself around the moonlit garden, wondering what good I was now if I couldn’t even fulfill my only purpose. Eventually, I settled down on what I thought was a nice brown leaf.

“Do you mind?”

I quickly fluttered up, surprised that I had landed on someone. To my shock, I had landed on a face, with two eyes that stared at me like a ravenous owl. I darted away in terror, and hid behind a sunflower.

A gentle laugh came from the face. It folded in, revealing that it was a pair of wings even larger than mine, and the eyes had been two large spots on the lower wings. Beneath those giant wings was a furry body, which pivoted around to face me. “They’re just my eyespots, like the ones on your wings.”

Oddly enough, I hadn’t really noticed them.

The stranger flicked his antennae at me. “I’m Cy. And you are?”

I shivered, unable to respond. I noticed that he, too, lacked any mouth parts, so I wasn’t sure how he was speaking to me.

He chuckled. “You must have just come out of your cocoon. You’re not used to speaking without your mouth. Talk with your antennae.” He showed me how he did this, as he transmitted some silent signal directly into me, his words crisp and clear in my head.

I, clumsily, managed to jerk my antennae to ask, “Are you a Luna?”

“I’m a Polyphemus,” he replied easily. “We’re in the same family, but not the same species.”

My hopes dropped like a petal off a dead flower. “We can’t mate,” I hesitantly said.


“Are there other Lunas like me in here?” I asked.

“Not that I’ve seen. But I came out of my cocoon about two days ago, and I’ve spent most that time hiding here.”

“Why are you hiding?”

Cy lowered his head. “There was only one other Polyphemus that emerged with me, but she fell asleep on the pathway down there. The keepers didn’t see her, and a child stepped on her. That’s why I’m just staying right here, where it’s safe.”

Another question sprang to my mind. “A swallowtail told me there were only females in this garden. How come you’re male?”

Cy laughed at my question. “If you mean, ‘how did a male slip past the humans,’ it does happen from time to time, so I understand. They really can’t tell the difference. And I suppose, since I’m the only one here now, it doesn’t matter much.”

Any other Luna would have just flown off then, since a moth of the wrong species doesn’t do her any good. But, for some reason I still can’t explain—perhaps it was because this human-made garden made me act strangely—I asked, “Would you like to take a flight with me?”

Cy twitched his antennae in confusion. “I don’t understand,” he said.

“I mean, why just sit there all night, when we have this whole place to ourselves? The garden looks so much better at night.”

“You want me to fly with you? But we’re not the same species.”

I shrugged. “Doesn’t matter to me. You’ve been here longer than I have. Maybe you can explain some things to me.”

Finally Cy, still rather confused, abandoned his leaf and began to traverse the garden with me. He showed me where I shouldn’t choose to nap during the day, in case visiting humans might step on or try to pick me up while I slept. He also warned me not to sit on the big wooden thing called a “bench,” because humans sat there without looking and might crunch you under their rears. He also pointed out where the “doors” were that humans entered and exited the garden, and when I asked him if we could go through the doors, he shook his head.

“The keepers have nets to catch the butterflies that try to get out the door during the day,” he explained. “And the doors are always closed all night long, so we’d never get an opportunity.”

I realized that even if I had a chance to leave this garden, I did not want to. The logical side of me should have weighed the prospect that a male Luna might be outside, just waiting for a mate, but this different side of me, this “defective” side, seemed perfectly content to stay in this place, with a moth of a different species.

This did not make sense to me. This wasn’t the urgent drive to mate that I had been feeling when I first emerged from the cocoon. I had an inexplicable wish to have Cy keep telling me things, to keep flying around with me as the moonlight shimmered on our wings, to just spend the entire nighttime having him explain the subtle differences between the Viceroy and the Monarch butterflies. What was this ridiculous desire for a companion that did not serve a function? Why was I so fascinated by the wrong moth?

The next day, I overheard something while I uneasily slept on the netting, as two human visitors stood on the walkway pointing at me. One of the humans, a female, laughed as she said to her male companion that he must be bored by all this “butterfly stuff.” Then he replied that as long as she was there with him, he couldn’t be bored. He placed his upper leg around her body—I’m sorry, his “arm”—and she rested her head on him as they walked away down the path.

That night, I asked Cy about those humans, and why they acted so oddly.

“That’s how humans display affection for each other,” he said.

“They were mates?”

“Maybe. But humans are funny. They don’t always have strict delineations like that when it comes to mating. They could be in love, but not necessarily mates.”

“Love?” This term completely confounded me.

“I don’t quite understand it myself,” Cy admitted. “It’s what makes a human want to be with a mate other than producing eggs. Apparently humans choose one mate for their whole lives, and they live a very very very long time, so love is what keeps them together for so long.” He fanned his wings a bit. “It seems to have no real purpose, but they are obsessed with it.”

“So…love just makes you want to be with someone, for no reason?” I said.

“It would seem,” Cy replied.

I thought about this bizarre concept, “love.” It might explain why I wanted to spend my time with Cy, forgetting my purpose to lay eggs. Already I could feel my body wasting away, using up the stored fat from my larva-hood. Cy was thinning too, and he was already a good two days older than I was. It was terrible to think they neither of us had every stood a chance, that we were forced to live in this garden where we were just part of a pretty exhibition. But, if that was the case, what was the point of being miserable for our last few days? What if this “love,” this seemingly useless notion that moths never took into account, actually meant something?

“Cy?” I asked him on our fourth night together, as we hung from the branch of a small tree overlooking a wading pool.

He didn’t say anything, but he was listening. He was very weak now, this being his sixth night as an adult, and he was almost worn away to nothing. Yet he still looked as beautiful as ever.

“I was wondering,” I continued softly, “are you sad that you couldn’t be with that other moth, the one that got stepped on?”

“I am sad she died,” he admitted. “but I’m not sad about not having her as a mate.”


He was quiet for a moment, then said, “When she died, I gave up on the hope to mate. I would have spent all my remaining time hiding under that leaf, too afraid to show myself, if you hadn’t landed on me. I’m sure a lot of moths might never fulfill their ‘purpose,’ but at least these past four days, having you to talk to, I’ve been…happy.” He let out a long sigh.

“What happens, when we die? What do the keepers do?” I asked.

“When they find a dead butterfly or moth, a keeper takes it out through the doors. I don’t know what they do then.”

“Do you suppose there’s some special place, beyond those doors, that they take us?”

“I don’t know.”

I had a very disheartening thought, then, of Cy being taken through those doors without me. “Cy, do you think, if you could, you could hang on for one more day or two? So maybe…we can go out those doors together?”

He was quiet for a long time. At first, I thought he thought my question was ridiculous. Then, he answered, “I’ll do my best.”

You aren’t told about love when you’re a caterpillar. But, as I lay nestled next to Cy on the branch of that tree, two wrong moths spending their last hours on earth together, I knew I wouldn’t have traded my five days of love for a thousand days without it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Life of the Labtebricole

*Yes, curious creatures undocumented by science do exist, well hidden like an ancient treasure you are never meant to find...although they may be much closer than you think...*

Beneath the floor, beneath the street
Beneath the grass under your feet
In the deep cool soil, you’ll find the hole
The home of the reclusive Labtebricole

He digs tunnels throughout the earth
Slithering silently in solitary mirth
His neighbors the rabbit, worm, and mole
Live in the protection of the Labtebricole

He cannot see, he cannot hear
Yet the dark and quiet gives him no fear
He can feel the earth’s pulse deep in his soul
Mud in his blood, has the Labtebricole

When the earth quakes, that is him screaming
When the flowers bloom, that is him dreaming
When he sings, the rocks on the mountain roll
Such is the wonder of the Labtebricole

And you have felt his presence too, I bet,
Those days when you watch the sun set
Lying on the lawn, or sitting on the hill,
And you’re enveloped in the quiet still
You feel the bond with Earth, making you whole,
This is the secret spell of the Labtebricole.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Unusual Neighbors

*Moving into a new home is always a taxing experience, especially if you find out your new neighbors are going to be more trouble than they are worth. This story told to me by a special little lady may make you realize that even your most irritating next door dweller may not be so bad...*

“Oh, bloody ‘ell.”
That was my reaction as my arm went straight through the wall like wet paper. Only a few days in this house, and already I ruined it. What would Sicily say when she found out? She had reserved this house especially for me, even though I was new to this neighborhood. It was the most gorgeous array of Victorian-era rooms, accented by velvet couches, marble tables, and glass cabinets holding delicate china sets. In fact, the only thing I had found fault with it was the wallpaper on the south side of the kitchen, a rather dreary brown with buttery yellow flowers, so I had thought to paint over it with a handsome green. The slightest pressure of the paintbrush and through the wall my hand went, as if the wall were saying, “How dare you think you could improve on perfection! You spoiled the magic of this house!”
I stared in disbelief for a minute, my mind racing. Sicily was out shopping with her mother—I still had a good hour or so before she would come by to visit me—but there was no manner in which I could disguise this hole. Pulling my arm back, more of the wall crumbled away, leaving a hole as large as a window. Looking past the hole, I noticed there was something out the other side.  Having not inspected behind the house—so far I had only come in and out from the front—I cautiously leaned forwards and poked my head out.
A fish swam past my face.
I jumped back, shocked. When I regained my composure, I looked through the hole again, seeing the massive orange fish swimming lazily in front of me. I warily reached my hand forwards, and it hit an invisible convex wall—glass. Peering into the strange sphere, I spotted a small castle, with a garden of brightly colored plants, which the fish now hid behind, having realized I was there. Relieved there was a barrier between me and the couch-sized fish, I squeezed out through the hole, scooting carefully along the glass wall until I was in a wider space in which I could step back and get a better look.
“What a curious neighborhood this is,” I mused. “But it will be nice to have a quiet, clean neighbor…”
Not to be said of my other neighbor, who made us aware of his presence by pouncing at the glass sphere and driving his giant white paw into the water of the fish’s domain. I nearly fainted, as this creature was twenty times bigger than I, leviathan tail swishing side to side, wickedly pointed ears perked forwards, and devilish golden eyes locked on intently as it thrashed to get its prey.
Then it spotted me, twitching its whiskers curiously.
Running is not a good option for a doll with porcelain legs, nor is jumping off the edge of a table. Bloody ‘ell, I should have just stayed in the house…

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Junk Rat of the Crooked Crooks Company

*The life of a thief, especially in the secretive, underworld guilds where shadows are darkest, can be a constant struggle to simply get by. The Junk Rat was a curious creature I came across who attempted to steal my pocket watch, but instead I robbed him of his story...*

Twisting your ring around in my fingers
But you won't miss it
You'll buy another from that bubble-laying
Vending machine
The other thieves of our brotherly fraternity,
they know us as the Crooked Crooks Company
Say all I bring back is junk
What a load of skeptical bunk
So I keep my findings in my nest
Stashed away, hidden from the rest
Keeping my ear to the ground
To hear for any invasive sound
When the boss demands to see my finds
He tells me my garbage wastes his time
My hide's a tapestry of disciplinary bruises
For all of my lame excuses
At night I hide in my treasure trove
With all my purloined prizes that I love
I may not pilfer gold or silver or jewel
But at least you won't think me cruel
If I take what you would have let decay
I'll love it forever in my hideaway

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Let's Take Over the World!

*I cross paths with a wide array of characters during my journeys...including one who had all the makings of the world's next great supervillain, and wanted me to join him in his conquest of the planet, as described in his monologue that I copied down afterwards. Fortunately for the world, he came to realize what was more valuable than being a global dictator...*

We can so totally do it!
You’ve got the moxie and the savvy,
I’ve got the brains and the determination
(and thirty satellites circling the earth
armed with city-destroying laser beams
Oh, and that thermos with the air-born virus
That can wipe out half the country in four days…
No, not that thermos. That’s my lunch)
So let’s do it! Start making phone calls,
Start broadcasting videos!
And let’s get some really cool outfits–
I’m thinking something in black and neon green–
And start practicing our evil laugh,
And don’t forget that list of demands
(always should have a list of demands on hand)
I’m ready! I’m pumped! Let’s do this!
Should we split the world by hemisphere,
or by countries alphabetically?
Time to take names and numbers and start kicking some…

…oh, you bought us some chili dogs and cheese fries?
Cool, that’s all I really wanted anyway.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Frost Trap: A Documentation of an Encounter with the "Snow Queen"

* The human imagination can conjure fantastic tales of magic, whimsical creatures, and heroic adventures...but where do reality and fantasy cross one another? Sometimes the only people who know the answer to this are viewed as "not all there," or even insane...but maybe their eyes just so happen to be more open than the rest of us...*

(The following transcript is from a recording made on a handheld tape recorder. It was discovered on the side of the road beside an abandoned red Hyundai near Buford, GA. Recovered and played back by authorities on January 16th at 7:32am.)

FEMALE VOICE: I’m going to write all this down later, but I can’t very well write by hand while I’m driving a car, can I? (She chuckles.) I should’ve thought this through better. I hope the ink in the pen doesn’t freeze. Shoot, what if she figures that out? Or she coats my paper in ice so I can’t write on it? Can you trap someone in a tape recorder? It’s kind of like writing. I’m sure Mr. Andersen would’ve done it that way, had recorders been invented back then.

(There is silence.)

I’m so bad at speaking. This is why I’m a writer. You can go back and edit what you write. But once you say something, it’s out there. You can’t take it back. God, I hate this. She’s really trying to keep me away. And it doesn’t help when she’s managed to scare the entire state into submission with these stupid snow bees—

(There is the sound of a car horn blaring in the background.)

Move it! Christ, half the people in this state don’t know how to drive in good weather, what makes them think they can drive in this…(She takes a deep breath.) Oh God, what if I got one of those shards in my eye? No, I would’ve felt it. It would’ve hurt. I’m just…I’m just angry right now. That’s all. Just normal, human frustration. But I can’t be that way. Not right now.

(There is silence.)

Dr. Warren, you’ll probably be one of the people who listens to this, if I don’t make it back. Is it all right if I call you Sicily? You said I could. First of all, Sicily, you were right. I haven’t been taking the pills. I hope you’re not disappointed in me. I know I lied a lot to you, so you thought I was…getting better, I guess. Actually, I’m sure you knew I was lying. I’m not good at it. But I can’t pretend to be blind anymore. I know what you said, about people who blur the lines between fantasy and reality. But, I don’t think I’m inventing stuff because I’m bored with my life, or angry about something, or whatever you said it could be. This…this is happening. I’m sorry I have no way to prove it to you. I really wish I did. I guess…I don’t want to you think that what happens to me is your fault. No one else believes me either. At least you tried to understand, to rationalize it all. Honestly, in a way, I think because you tried to…fit it all into the frame of…what I mean is, because you tried to explain it in a way that everyone else would understand it, and I know that what you were trying to convince me of wasn’t right at all, it made me realize how real this is. That what I’ve known all along is true. So…you did give me some clarity, which is what I think I was looking for in the first place. So thank you. Sicily.

(There is silence.)

Oh, and your hair looks really cute short. I forgot to tell you that last time.

(There is silence.)

Um…I’m going to say some very personal stuff now. So, whoever is listening to this, if you found Derrick, please pass this to him. If he’s not there, just stop playing this. The stop button’s the red one with the square on it. I’ll pause for a few seconds so you can stop this.

(There is silence.)

Derrick, I hope you’re the one listening to this. I know you put up with a lot of crap from me. You’re a very loving, supportive man. I love you for that. And I’m hoping you’re listening to this because you managed to escape from her. I…really, really hate her. I knew she was waiting for the right time. And it’s because of me you were dragged into this. She wouldn’t be trying to take you now if it wasn’t—

(She gasps, and there is a grinding of the brakes locking up. This is followed by a long silence.)

Oh…oh God…pen, pen…

(There is a ruffling of paper.)

No…no…I can’t see…

(The wind outside grows louder.)

God…where is she? She was just…

(She honks the car horn.)

I’m not afraid of you! Come over here!

(There is silence except for the wind.)

I can’t see her. Her snow bees are…clouding everything…but I know she’s right outside. I saw…I know I saw…she’s not going to show herself until I…until I get out. (She sighs.) The queen really is the most powerful piece on the board, isn’t it? I’m not playing. I’m not playing.

(There is a noise of the tape recorder being picked up. The car door opens, and the wind howls louder. The car door slams shut. The female voice is now muffled a little, possibly due to the recorder being in a pocket.)

I’m right here! Just me. No paper, no pen. See? So, you’re going to be a coward all night, or are you going to show yourself?

(The wind howls.)

(She speaks in a low voice.) The Snow Queen…is tall…slender…from what I could tell…crap, this isn’t going to work. It’s too stilted. It’s not…good enough…
(She raises her voice.) Where’s Derrick? Do you have him? He’s not yours! You can’t just take any man you want! You don’t have any real power. You’re in Georgia, for crying out loud. It’ll be eighty degrees by the end of the week. (She laughs.) All this, all your work, is going to shrivel away and die, just like you. How pathetic is that, that you can melt in the sun…even lizards, even bugs, are better than you. Why should I be—

(The wind howls. There is a wheezing sound.)

Christ…Christ…black eyes like obsidian…like two bottomless chasms of molten glass…(She begins to speak faster.) Faceless…featureless, like a…like a barn owl, just those massive black eyes set in a smooth untouched canvas…(She coughs.) No, not faceless, not now…I think…Oh, oh my God…why do you look like…is that what I look like? Somehow I knew…I knew you’d be a mirror…I only wish I looked like that…

(There is an indecipherable noise in the background.)

Can I…can I spell? Spell what?

(The wind hisses.)

Eternity? Is that what you—

(There is a sudden explosive screech, followed by static. The screech sounds like tires halting on pavement, but one audio engineer claimed it sounds like some sort of animal, although no local zoologist or wildlife expert has been able to identify it.)

*  *  *

(The subsequent documentation is a diary entry from a leather-bound journal, found in a townhouse in the historical district of Gainesville, GA. Authorities believe it was written a few hours before the tape recording was created.)

January 15th

I must write this. I need to write this, otherwise I may never see him again.
She’s taking him away from me. I know it. They didn’t believe me when I told them about her. I’ve come to learn no one believes me when I tell them about the things I see. When I was young, my parents would just smile at me when I told them about the things. “So imaginative,” I would hear them tell other people who asked how I was. “She makes up such unusual stories and characters.” As I got older, I learned to stop talking about the things, because I knew what they did to older kids who said that they saw things. The adults sent them away, somewhere. I heard it wasn’t a nice place. I didn’t want to be sent away, so I stopped talking about it.
But someone needs to know. Someone has to believe me, or she’ll take him away from me.
And I know she’s real. Know how I know? Because I’m not the first person who knows about her. Mr. Andersen knew about her. He wrote a whole story about her, and it wasn’t like his other “fairy tales.” This one was very detailed, all about where she lived, how she lured boys and men away from their homes, how she kept them hidden away in her castle. It is pieces of a mirror, you see. There was a mirror made that distorted everything that was reflected in it, making everything good look bad and everything beautiful look ugly. But it was shattered, and the tiny shards of mirror blew away in the wind, and some got caught in little boys’ eyes and it made them mean and nasty. That’s when she comes and takes them away, because she’s the only thing that looks beautiful to them after they get the mirror in their eyes. But you can’t see the shards if they come down at you, because they mix in perfectly with her snow, or “snow bees,” as Mr. Andersen put it. It makes sense. She is the Snow Queen, after all, like a queen bee, so she has snow bees to serve her. People think they’re snowflakes. They’re actually bees. Very quiet, very soft bees.
That’s how I know she’s behind this. Georgia never gets snow like this. Maybe once or twice a winter, we get a light dusting of snow bees. They don’t live very long so when they die they accumulate on the ground into a nice white blanket. One year Derrick and I made a snowman, even though I knew we were making it out of dead bees, but he liked it so I built the snowman with him. I don’t mind that so much. But this…this is a living, breathing swarm, and here in Georgia we don’t have plows or salt trucks to shrivel away all the dead bees that pile up on the roads. They’re kind of like slugs, in that sense. But, of course, I’m not concerned with the dead ones. It’s the living ones, filling the air with swirling bodies that sting at your face and fingers and nose and force you to stay inside.
He still had to go to work. It is an hour’s drive to get there, and the news on TV had already warned that the storm would hit overnight. The company rented out rooms at the hotel down the street from the building where he works. He told me it was safer to stay there than trying to drive home in this weather. Don’t worry, it’ll only be one night, he said. It made sense to him. I had never told him about the bees. Maybe he would have stayed home if I had. Snow bees are much scarier sounding than snowflakes. No one would go to work if they knew it was a swarm of bees outside.
Fortunately, the store I work at closed for the day of the storm, so I stayed safe and sound inside the house. I saw the swarm enveloping everything outside, in that dreadfully quiet way that the bees do, and I sat back with my honey vanilla tea, trying to remember if snow bees made something like honey. I don’t know if they do, but I bet it’s something thick and awful like molasses. Then my thoughts turned to her, the Snow Queen, and I realized she must have sent out such a massive swarm because she was planning to take someone away with her, take someone up to her ice castle far away. Which meant she was hiding pieces of the mirror in this storm, waiting to see who would be the lucky ones to get a piece caught in their eyes.
He’ll be fine, I told myself. He’s either in the car, inside at his job, or inside at the hotel. He can’t get a mirror shard stuck in his eye if he’s inside.
But then the snow bees got mean. They turned fat and wet and heavy, which meant their dead bodies created a slate of ice on the roads. He called me from the hotel room, saying that the highway was still too dangerous and he was going to stay at the hotel another night.
I wanted to go to him. I knew if she found out he was by himself, she would take him away. But I also knew if I went outside, she would order her snow bees to sting me to death. Even if I wrapped myself from head to toe in coats and scarves and hats so they couldn’t sting me through the fabric, she would send the winter demons after me in the car and throw me off the road. See, I knew about those winter demons. Mr. Andersen wrote about them as well. The little girl in his story fought the winter demons away by using her warm breath to create angels with swords and shields, and they slew all the monsters. But if I’m in the car, I can’t use my breath to do that. I don’t think I could anyway. The little girl in the story was innocent and pure hearted. I think I’m too old to be that way.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned yet why the Snow Queen hates me. I mean, I don’t think she likes much of anyone, which is why she stays tucked away in her ice castle most of the time. But me, she allows the burn of hatred into her ice-cold heart. I think it started that one Halloween when I dressed up like her. It was a fairy tale themed party at a coworker’s apartment, and given that it was autumn, I thought maybe the Snow Queen wouldn’t notice as I think she sleeps during the warmer months. I don’t really know how she looks, but I found a beautiful white dress at the local thrift store for $13, and I had a white mask and wig and gloves at home, and I thought I would be the only one dressed like her at the party so I would stand out. I was right. A lot of people really liked my costume. They said I was beautiful. I let it get to my head.
That was the mistake. If I had just been modest, and shrugged away the compliments, that would have been fine. But for just a moment—half a moment—I believed I really was beautiful, that I was every bit the queen I was impersonating. I felt that I belonged in that dress, that mask, that disguise. But she must have found out about it, must have sensed my pride and vanity. I had usurped her image, fouled it with my arrogance, so now she hates me. And she has been planning her revenge to teach me a lesson. I stole her facade, so now she wants to steal my husband. She’s very talented at that, stealing young men away. It’s probably her best skill.
He called again the next day. He said he was sorry, but the guy who normally did the midnight shift couldn’t make it to work because of the ice. Since he was already staying there at the hotel, his supervisor asked him to cover. “Don’t worry,” he said, “the highway looks like it’s already clearing up so by morning I should be able to come straight home. Just one more night.”
So I said that I didn’t have to go into work tomorrow. If the highway is clear, I could drive up and stay with him at the hotel.
He said his supervisors might get mad if they knew someone else was staying in the room that the company’s paying for.
I said I’d just slip in and out without anyone seeing. But he said one of the other coworkers staying here might notice and tell on him.
So I asked how much would it cost to rent out a room for a night. That way we could stay together in a room I’d pay for, so no one could complain.
He said it wouldn’t be worth it. He’d be working all night so I wouldn’t see him anyway. He promised to come straight home in the morning and we’d spend the day together.
It was a lie. I knew it. He didn’t want me to come be with him. He had been pierced in the eye by one of the Snow Queen’s mirror shards. He no longer loves me, and tonight she is going to steal him from me.
So I need to write this, because I know that writing things down, the things I know about, will trap them in these pages. Maybe if I see her, learn what she actually looks like and sounds like and thinks like, then I can write it down and trap her here. Or if not her, maybe her power, which would be good enough. I just need to figure out where Mr. Andersen failed. When he wrote about her, I think he had her trapped, for a while. That’s why no one else for a long time has said if they’ve ever seen the Snow Queen. And that’s why the snow bees have never been a real threat, why everyone thinks they are just harmless snowflakes, because Andersen trapped their power in the story. But she got free, somehow. It all got free. They slipped back into the world, and maybe that’s another reason why she hates me. Because I write. Because I’m a writer who knows that I can trap her here.
But if she takes him away tonight, and I go after her to trap her in these pages, I may never come back. I may forget the way back, or be stung to death, or be frozen alive, or she might even trap me first. So, if anything, I must write this so you know what became of me. So I embed a tiny bit of myself here, so if you stumble across me someday, lost in the world without my memory, which I could easily lose, then you can show this to me and maybe I’ll remember.
Just remember, these pages are a cage. If you are one of the rare ones who believe me, who knows what I know and can see what I see, then don’t get caught in these pages. Just be careful. Don’t get stung. And don’t forget.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tintamarre and Verecund

*This story, narrated to me by a water elemental who has traveled the world by rain, would appear to be a retelling of the well known Aesop's fable, "The Wind and the Sun." While it still holds the same message as the original--which is as true today as it was in Aesop's time--it will at least educate you with some new vocabulary words...*

Tintamarre was the storm, wild and proud
She lived in the lightning, cried in the thunder
Her way in the world was vibrant and loud,
The beat of her hooves could rip earth asunder

Verecund was the dawn, quietly creeping
Along strands of morn’s light she gracefully wove
Her golden webs sent the night away, weeping
As her web bore the sun and hung it high above.

Verecund was wary of Tintamarre, so brash without warning,
Tintamarre sneered at Verecund, so soft and so shy.
So the Storm-maker met the Dawn-weaver one morning
To show her who was truly the Master of the Sky.

“My hooves can trample your webs,” said Tintemarre,
“My lightning can shatter your fragile sunlight.
You should bow to me! In no way do you compare
To my thunder and rage and undeniable might!”

Verecund only kept weaving, her smile was wry.
“Yes,” she said, “You are most impressive, Loud One.
I cannot fight you, but if you want to claim the sky,
Simply break my web that is upholding the sun.”

So Tintamarre thundered, rolled and charged
Against the web where the sun blazed so bright,
But the web held strong, and no matter how hard
Tintamarre tried, it did not succumb to her might.

For you see, Verecund may have been shy and spritely,
And not as impressive as the storm’s churning,
But it is what is unseen that makes her mighty,
                And it is gentle wisdom that keeps the world turning.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Recipe of the Day: Putty for a Shape-shifter Skin

* A fun little concoction catering to those who are feeling a bit itchy in the attire they were born with...*

At one time or another, secretly within
We’ve pined to be in another type of “skin.”
To cast off the worn-out mantle around our bones
 And grow into something new to call our own.
So follow this recipe, if you so desire;
A shape-shifting skin is what you wish to acquire:

30 scales/hairs from a Wild Unbridled Dream
1 melted-down coin from a fortune-telling machine
2 Tbsp. bitter Temptation (with no Inhibition)
3 cups 100% pure apple-scented Ambition
4 eggs laid by a Jub-Jub Bird (for open-mindedness)
1 1/2 cups grounded Seeds of Hope (for diligence)

Mix all ingredients with a silver spoon, then roll out with a pin
Into your preference of density, whether thick or thin.
Wait a day or two for the skin to dry completely.
To preserve it for later, just fold it up neatly
And keep in a special, solitary, cool, dry place.
When ready to use, start by applying to your face
And gently layer it all over yourself, even and smooth.
At first, you may not see a drastic change, but in truth
It is something you will grow into, if you believe
That you can transform into whatever you can conceive.