Saturday, February 23, 2013

It Came From Another Dimension

Scientist talk about parallel universes, places where everything that can happen has happened. There are other versions of us in these places, people who live the same lives we do but who have made different choices.

It comes up in science fiction a lot. I saw it on Doctor Who once. The Doctor and company visited an Other London, where people rode around on airships and everyone had cool cell phones. It was great until the robotic Cybermen showed up and tried to upgrade humanity by removing all our fleshy bits.

But we’re not talking about Doctor Who today. We’re talking about a real problem:

There is a universe just a short span from ours that threatens our well being.

And, ladies, the walls between dimensions are getting thin.

I know because I hear a voice in my head sometimes, riding behind my eyes, telling me what to do,
“You should be cleaning your home with all natural cleaners,” she says. “You should be eating more greens. You should have a little garden patch in the back where you grow your own tomatoes and a few herbs. You should take up couponing. You should organize the pantry. You should redecorate the living room. You should buy cheap t-shirts and alter them yourself to look like the expensive, fashionable ones at the store.”
and I can hear as plain as if she’s in the room with me: this is my voice, ladies, but it isn’t me.

She’s an Other Me.

I'm hearing the dimension-spanning echoes of a wiser, better me from one of those parallel universes. Somewhere in these vast and infinite cosmos, there's a version of me that got off her ass and planted that butterfly garden I’d like to have but don’t want to work for. She's got the housework under clockwork-precise control, she’s budgeted for early retirement, and all her leftovers reheat well.

The Other Me crosses over sometimes.
She’s the one who drives to the craft store and does all the shopping there.
She uses my Pinterest account when I’m not looking. Later, I look at her pins and think "What the hell? I don't have the time or inclination to do ANY of this stuff,” but I keep looking because, well, she likes the same stuff I do!
More than once I’ve realized halfway through a delicious dinner that I have no conscious memory of what took place in my kitchen during that meal’s construction.

Sometimes I can almost see her house. I look at my home and I see things, like out of the corner of my eye, and they’re not really there. I tell Matt about how someday I hope to have the house in order, how I hope to take care of the mess. “What mess?” he says. “I don’t see anything wrong here.” I don’t know how to explain that our house just doesn’t look like the Other House.

I’m not alone. I’ve asked my friends. They too hear the voices whispering sweet temptations and maddening impossibilities.
“I bake cookies and make healthy after-school snacks for my kids and the neighbor children. We give homemade food gifts to neighbors for Christmas,” said one friend.
“I am thinner, and I can wear things I used to,” said another. “I have a fabulous yard. I am so amazing I make my own cross stitch patterns.”
Still another said, “I have dinner prepared and the table set when my husband walks in the door. I am wearing an adorable apron with matching heels, and he has never been so impressed with any meal in his life.”
I am these things, they told me.
I do these things.

All the dreams were similar, no matter how many women I asked:
We cook organic, delicious, nutritious meals using seasonal ingredients (from our own gardens). We create our own blue ribbon preserves (again from our gardens). We plan perfect, thrifty grocery lists each week, eschewing all pre-packaged, chemically-enhanced products. We lovingly pack excellent sack lunches for our husbands and children (including cute little notes of encouragement on handmade stationary).
We keep our homes impeccably clean. We maintain linen closets full of crisply folded linens tied with ribbon, little sprigs of lavender tucked in the bows. We have seasonal decorations (“changed out promptly,” one friend says), including a seasonal tablecloth (“lovingly ironed weekly,” another friend tells me). “The toilets clean themselves,” one friend added. Dishes and laundry never pile up because we have a system: it only takes ten minutes a day. We have plenty of time and energy left to workout! And we don’t sweat! We look fantastic!
We can see it so clearly! “This,” we think, “is my true, inner self speaking to me from my subconscious! It’s the self I would be if I had more money, more energy, and more time!”
It all sounds so wonderful!

It’s not wonderful.
It’s not your true, inner self.

It’s a trap.

You see, ladies, there’s a parallel universe not too far away from ours where the robots are winning. No, not the Cybermen.
In this Other World, you’ve been replaced by a Stepford Wife, and she is speaking to you.

It’s the only explanation that fits.
That’s why they never sweat.
Because they’re robots.
That’s how they clean the house in ten minutes a day.
Superhuman speed. Because robots.
They’re in perfect shape because they were designed that way.
They’re never stressed because they’re unfeeling robots with no emotions whatsoever.

This isn’t science fiction, ladies. It’s real. The invasion is already underway. This trans-dimensional rift is getting wider and the Evil Robot Usses are trying to get in and every day you listen to them is a day the robots win.
Don’t listen to their lies.
Don’t let them upgrade you.
You are perfect and amazing and awesome just the way you are. And so am I. 

Because we may be disorganized, we may live in flawed houses, we may blow off the laundry to watch another episode of Doctor Who, but you know what?
We defeated some soulless robots today.
And for today, that’s all that matters.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Book of Benjamin

“So that’s the library,” said Janelle, concluding my tour of the library’s inner workings my first day on the job. I already knew a lot of it from volunteering there two mornings a week, but now I was seeing it all in more detail. “You just need to meet your coworkers from the evening shift – oh, and Benjamin, but you probably won’t meet him for a few weeks.”

“Who’s Benjamin?” I asked.

“He works on Fridays and Saturdays. But he has the next few weekends off because of high school graduation.”

“That’s nice,” I said. “Is he going out of town for one or something?”

“No,” said Janelle. “He’s in one.”

And that’s how I went from working as a school librarian to working alongside a teenager no older than the students I used to preside over.

Chapter 1 - Introductions
I heard it over and over for two weeks: “He’s really smart, like you! You like the same stuff! You’ll get along great!” But now that we were working our first shift together, he wasn’t living up to the hype.

“Wait a minute,” I said during our first conversation. “You mean to tell me you missed the eighties altogether?”

“Um, yes. Yes, I did,” he said.

I sighed. “I was really hoping we could be friends.”

“We can be friends!” he said. “I’m sure we have other things in common!”

“You just told me you’ve never even seen Princess Bride!” I said.

“So what?”

“So, that’s kind of important!”

Chapter 2 – Gadget Freaks
Oh, joy! It was going to be a good day at the library! New computers! New features! New extra large monitors!

New desktop backgrounds to play with!

“I’m going with this one!” said Benjamin. “It’s beautiful. Look, a spaceship!”

“Mine's a pumpkin,” I said, pointing out the Halloween theme.

Benjamin scoffed. “Mine's better.”

“Pumpkins are better than spaceships,” I argued.

He made a disgusted noise. “Pft. How many pumpkins have visited other planets?”

“We'll never know, will we? Because of the infinite blackness of space,” I said.

“What we should do is…” and he spent the next several minutes telling me about some science he read about somewhere, that would allow us to use protons to send information so that we can access the internet from distant planets. I’d like to explain it more thoroughly, but I was paying more attention to pictures of pretty pumpkins.

Finally, I said, “Why would we want to do that, until we're able to visit the distant planets and access the internet therefrom?”

“Because,” Benjamin said with a long suffering sigh, “other life forms are already there and they can meet us on the internet!”

I shook my head. “Interstellar internet dating? I don’t think it will work out.”

“Of all the millions of planets out there, one of them is bound to be a match!” he insisted.

I said, “Have you ever TRIED Chatroulette?”

Chapter 3 – Great Minds
In a book, I read that when Google tracks searches for flu symptoms, their maps of the searches mirror the CDC’s maps of flu outbreaks, only Google’s results come in nearly two weeks faster. I couldn’t wait to tell Benjamin.

He was suitably impressed. “Google should run for president!”

“I’m pretty sure you have to be a citizen first,” I said.

“It was technically born in America,” he pointed out.

“Good point,” I said.

“It should start by running for governor or something.”

I nodded. “I'd vote for it. It already tells me what to do and where to shop.”

“It'd be the perfect candidate: its opinions would change to match whatever is most popular! It could solve all the world's problems by running simulations before it implements the solutions in the real world,” said Benjamin.

“So how do we start the ball rolling?” I said.

“Beats me.”

I sighed. “We have the solutions to all the world's problems. If only we weren't limited by this crippling laziness that stops us from implementing them.”

“We could tell somebody?”

“That's too much work.”

Benjamin nodded. “Our solutions shall die with us.”

Chapter 4 – Shared Mortality
Suddenly, Benjamin stopped everything, pulled up the calculator application on his desktop, and punched in some numbers. He looked at me, face grave. “28,470,” he said.

“That’s a big number,” I said. “What is it?”

“That’s the number of days you’ll live if you reach the average life expectancy of 78 years old.”

“I take it back!” I said. “That’s not a big number at all!”

He typed more numbers in. “That’s only 4056 weekends.”

“That’s a small number!” I said, moving in to look at the numbers on his screen.

“I know!”

“How many have we lived already?” I asked.

“Using the average of our ages?”


He typed some numbers. “We’ve already had 1248! We only have 2808 left!”

“Holy crap! What are we going to do?!”

Chapter 5 – Word Games
I stepped back from the display case to admire my work: a lovely tableau of children’s books with matching stuffed animals. Yup, I thought. The kids will love it.

“Nice,” said Benjamin from the circulation desk behind me.

“Do you like my fluffy octopus?” I asked, pointing it out.

“It’s very… fluffy,” he said, diplomatically.

“I just bought that leather-bound copy of 20000 Leagues Under the Sea yesterday,” I explained, joining him behind the desk to empty the return bin.

“And they include a fluffy octopus with every purchase?” he asked.

“No, I already had that. I really wanted to put him on display so I bought the book to justify it.”

“That’s… obsessive,” he said.

“Octopuses are awesome!” I said in my defense.

After a long pause, he said, “When you have more than one, I believe it’s ‘Octopi’.”

“No,” I said. “It’s octopuses. Greek, not Latin.”

“But if you bake them in a pie,” he said, “it could be octopie. Octopi pie.”

I nodded. “If you use eight octopuses in a pie, it’s octo-octopi pie.”

“Guys,” said Carla, gesturing at the pile of books at the circ desk. “Can we get back to these now?”

“Sorry,” we said together.

Chapter 6 – Just Yesterday
Carla slouched into her chair as the clock rolled over to 4:00PM. “Finally! No more passports!” The library is also a passport acceptance facility. The fees are a good source of money for the library, but it can sometimes be stressful for the librarians who double as passport agents. “When are you going to start training to do this?” she said, looking at me.

“Ha!” I laughed. “As disorganized as I am? Really?”

“It’s not so bad,” said Carla, heading toward the back to prepare the passports for shipping. “They just make you crazy when you have to do several in a row.”

“With you and Benjamin both doing them, one of us has to stay sane,” I called after her. “I’m like the designated driver!”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” said Benjamin. “Let’s back that up a minute. ‘Stay’ sane? This presupposes that you are actually sane at this moment, and I think the evidence against you—”

I cut him off with a wave of my hand. “I just gave you the opportunity to use the word ‘presuppose’ in a sentence. I deserve points for that.”

He stuttered to a halt. “You’re right,” he said eventually.

And the discussion ended there.

“I told Matt our Google idea,” I said.


“He helpfully reminded me that you have to be at least thirty five years old to run for president.”

“Dang it!”

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Heartfelt Letter to My Friend Liz

 Dear Liz,

Many years ago, a brilliant group of college students (of questionable sobriety) philosophized over how many days they could spend playing video games in a dark basement before they all devolved into more primitive creatures. Thus the Cult of the Blind Cave Salamander was born.

As one of the founding members of the Salamanders, you do enjoy a certain number of enviable perks: in addition to automatic inclusion in no less than twelve zombie contingency plans, spanning most of the Midwest, you also have a spot reserved in the Utopian commune we all plan to erect should any of us ever win the lottery.

However, this membership also carries with it certain obligations: I am speaking, of course, of your duties to the group re: your unborn child. As you are aware, a member of the next generation of the Cult of the Blind Cave Salamander currently resides in your womb and it is your responsibility to raise that child in such a way that he or she contributes to the betterment of Salamander society.

Regrettably, the first step in assuring your child’s maximum usefulness to the group is one over which you have no control.

You see, Liz, I’ve done the math and I’m afraid you have to have a boy.

Quite simply, your child is the linchpin in our diabolic plot to take over the world. A misplaced variable at this point in the game could set back our plans to found the Salamander nation (tentatively called “Salamandia,” but the name is open for debate) by decades.

Soon you will join the ranks of Salamander mothers who have been strategically planning arranged marriages among their growing brood for several years now. Alas, a brief census of the Salamander children reveals that we currently have too many girls. If you and Aaron contribute yet another girl to this equation, the group may not recover from the lopsidedness for years – if ever, considering how many Salamander couples claim to have reached their upper limit.

If you have a girl, we may have to dilute the purity of the salamander race by allowing the children to marry outsiders. While there is some precedent for that (seeing as the Cult is in early days yet and your own happy marriage is the product of such an intermingling), if a suitable candidate cannot be found, your daughter may find herself relegated to the roll of priestess or virgin oracle – and the genes for those lovely red curls of yours would die with her!

If it was only a matter of making the arranged marriages work out, we could get around that, but there are other factors to consider. In order for our budding nation (or post-lottery Utopian commune) (or post-zombie-apocalypse safe zone) to be self-sustaining, our Salamanders must fulfill a number of very important jobs. We have plenty of doctors, scientists, engineers, and other clever-thinking types essential to the governance of our new country. We even have survivalists who aspire to garden, can preserves, and live off the land.

What we lack, though, are hunters and for that we need more men.

This is not to say that women can’t hunt, only that so far all of the female Salamander children (and at least one of the males) prefer dresses and princesses to being outside and tracking wild game. All girls are different and like different things, but while there is always the slightest chance that your little redhead will grow up to be the next Katniss Everdeen and single-handedly feed District Salamander, the odds are probably not in your favor.

“But wait!” you’re thinking, and right you are to think so. “What if I’m okay with the idea of having a Salamander priestess or virgin oracle?”

A valid point! Not many cults can say they have one, and such would give us a leg up on those poseur cults with the charismatic leaders and the spicy kool-aid.

Unfortunately, her presence would interfere with my own plans.

You may have noticed that Matt and I have spent the past several years currying favor among the younger Salamanders: buying Christmas presents for them each year, bringing them small gifts and party favors, not to mention a fabulous birthday card system I have brewing which will kick into effect when they are older. As such, by the time these children attain their majority, I will have garnered their unending devotion, and thus will be uniquely positioned to become their queen.

However, any daughter of yours, inheriting both your sweet personality and curly red hair, would obviously be the fairest of them all, and therefore stand in direct competition to my (totally benevolent) rule.

Years of Dollar Store Christmas purchases would be negated. You can’t let this happen, Liz.

Obviously, I understand there is probably nothing you can do to affect the outcome of this situation. But just in case there really is something to all that talk about the power of positive thinking, here it is: When you go in for your ultrasound, for the sake of Salamandia, think blue!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Reasons my job is better than yours

1. The job comes with a title.

“This is a really nice library!” said the elderly British lady, visiting from overseas.

Her daughter Rebecca, one of our regular patrons, agreed. “The kids love it here,” she said.

“And it’s so big, too! You can’t really tell from outside, but there’s so much space!”

“Actually, ma’am,” I interjected. “it’s bigger on the inside.”

“Ooh! Like a Tardis!” said Rebecca.

“Well,” I said, “it can take you to other times and places…”

But wait a minute, I thought. If I’m driving this Tardis, does that make me a Time Lord?

2. The Dewey Decimal System is flexible.

I was putting spine labels on the new books when I came across a book about cabinetry. "Nonfiction..." I thought. "740s... possibly 749 for furniture..."

I checked the sheet of spine labels in front of me...
But none of those looked right. 

I used my barcode scanner to look up the book in the computer. 

"Fiction? That's not right." I put a note on it and prepared to send it back to Cheri, our cataloger, for correction.

Then I wrote a fictional story about cabinetry to go with it.
"Once upon a time, in the mythical land of Cabinetry, there lived a bookcase who dreamed of being a knight. Now, as it happens, a built-in from the village down the lane dreamed of being a squire. 'Let us set out together,' said the bookcase, 'and seek adventures!' One day, just after the spring festival, a dragon came to Cabinetry..."

3. There are dinosaurs involved.
Originally created to advertise an event, Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates (from left to right) now live in the craft room and delight the children after story time.
Things I got to say at work that totally made sense at the time: "I need more paper. That was just a practice dinosaur." See also, "I'll get right on that. Let me just hide this T-Rex in the closet for now."

4. It's the finest library in the empire.

5. We keep a surfboard in the closet.
"Quick! Take the picture before the patrons start asking questions!"

6. We have puppet shows.
"How was work today, Tori?"
"I got to be a rabbit AND a bear. It was a very full day."

7. This:
"Excuse me, but where can I find picture books?"

Pass through the arch made of giant books…
Turn right at the beanstalk…
And check under the alligator.