Saturday, August 31, 2013

100 Word Increments: September's Journey of Self Discovery, Part II

(Click here for Part I.)

-

“I’ll ask the twins,” thought September.

August and January were the smartest, most organized people he knew. Full of fire and resolutions, she was the start of the calendar year, he was the start of the school year, and both ran their lives by lists.

“We could help you become special,” said January. “But it won’t happen overnight!”

“There are steps, you know,” said August.

“Procedures,” confirmed January.

“Supplies to buy,” said August.

“You might have to take classes.”

“And start waking up earlier.”

“Are your finances in order? This won’t be cheap.”

“I’ll get back to you,” said September.

-

“I’m thinking of taking steps,” September said, at a backyard barbecue with his big brother July and July’s wife, Sunday, “to be more special.”

“Who said you weren’t special?” July asked, looking at September over the propane grill. “Do I need to have a talk with them?”

“No,” said September hurriedly.

“Because you are special!” said July, motioning with the barbecue tongs. “Don’t let anyone tell you differently!”

“Temper, dear.” Sunday smiled, serene as always.

“Okay,” said September. “How exactly am I special?”

“You’ve got…” July frowned, flipping a burger, then said, “Ask February. He’s better with words and things.”

-

Over wine and a plate of expensive cheese at a posh restaurant downtown, February spoke eloquently (mostly about himself, but he mentioned September a couple of times).

“I love your style, Sept,” he said. “You may not wear suits, like me, or office attire, like the twins, or anything memorable, like October, but you do your own thing.”

“Thanks,” said September. “I think.”

“If you want people to like you, give them chocolate, or flowers. Send a card! I’m brilliant with cards. Sometimes I put poetry in them! For example-”

“Look at the time!” said September, “Thanks for the cheese.”

-

September headed to May’s garden to clear his head. Unfortunately, the garden was not tranquil at all.

“I still have to till the southeast bed, get these roses in, and finish by 5 to take mom to dinner. Give me a hand with that mulch.”

“I just needed a place to think,” said September. “Do you ever feel like you’re not special?”

“I’m too busy for that. Who cares if you’re special?”

“Well, I sort of care...”

“No, you’re fine. April, though? Who knows what that girl does with herself. Talk to her. I bet you’ll feel remarkable by comparison.”

-

What September found at April’s cozy cottage only made him feel worse.

“What’s with these postcards from Japan?” he asked.

“I’m sort of popular there during cherry blossom season.”

“And all these books?”

“National Library Week!”

“What about this box of practical jokes?”

“I did some fooling earlier,” said April. “Want to borrow the fake dog poo for your next dinner with February?”

“Yes. No! I mean – Sis, this is frustrating. I’m the only month who isn’t special at all.”

April hugged September tightly. “Somebody out there needs a month, Sept,” she said. “You just have to find your people.”

-

And so instead of trying to make himself special, September searched for people who needed a month like him. He found people who weren’t looking forward to winter and took them boating on the last hot days of the year. He rescued people who had been hiding from their allergies since spring. He invited people who didn’t get along with the summer months for long walks in the cooling evenings.

“It’s working!” he told April, “Though it’s slow going.”

“Try having a holiday,” she suggested. “I know some librarians who want to celebrate controversial books. Maybe you can do that?”

-

“Wow! Holidays are easy!” said September. “Let’s have another! Everyone, why don’t we take Monday off and go to the lake?”

Workers everywhere cheered and patted his back.

“We would like a holiday too,” said some pirates. “Is your house available?”

“Come on in,” September said.

By the time he saw October again, September was exhausted. “Do you feel special now?” October asked.

He nodded, looking around at the photos now covering his walls, of smiling faces at parties and picnics. “It’s easy to be special when people need you.”

“You were always special,” October said. “But now you know.”

The End

Saturday, August 24, 2013

100 Word Increments: September's Journey of Self Discovery, Part I

Once upon a time there was a month. A month is like a man with days on, and just like ordinary men and women, each month is unique. This particular month was named September. September had eleven brothers and sisters – most months do – and September’s siblings were all beautiful, talented people. One day, as September flipped through the family photo album, looking at pictures of his industrious brothers and sisters hosting holiday parties and posing in front of vacation landmarks, September began to feel sad.

“Look at them,” he said, “with their holidays and celebrations! There’s nothing special about me…”

-

Because he needed to tell someone about his sadness, he visited his oldest sister. November was very domestic. She loved to cook, bake, and host huge family dinners in her impeccably decorated house. She always wore beautiful red and orange and gold sweaters. September sat at November’s grand oak table and poured out his worries.

November patted September’s shoulder, served up some pumpkin pie and said, “Don’t lose heart. My family makes me feel special. You’ll find something that makes you feel special too.” She sipped some hot cider, considering. “Why don’t you ask your sisters what their secret is?”

-

September knew just which sisters she meant. He started with December, the star of the family, who was hardest to catch. “I’m afraid I don’t have time for company today,” she said. “I’ve shopping and baking to do before my cocktail party with Wednesday, and gifts to wrap for the white elephant exchange. I’m sure I’ll see you at the family dinner for Christmas. It’s on my schedule, or maybe my calendar. It’s written down somewhere. Anyway, terribly busy at the moment. But it was so nice to see you! I love you, and I’ll call you later! Kiss, kiss!”

-

September’s sister October was almost as popular as December, even though she was a middle child and kind of weird, with her dyed black hair and black fingernails, and with bats on most of her t-shirts, but she had lots of friends and was great with kids. She took September to a carnival, where they rode the carousel and ate corn dogs. She said, “You’ve just got to find your niche, Sept. Not everyone is going to like you, but the people who do will like you for who you are. Just try to have a little more fun, okay?”

-

To learn how to have fun, September sought out his younger brother March, a burly jock who loved to play sports and go out with the guys, Monday and Saturday. He had a lot of friends in a little place called Ireland, and a reputation for being rather wild. All the ladies loved March’s infamous spring break parties, and it was at one such party that September found the high-spirited month.

“Can we talk?” he asked.

“What?” said March over the party noise as March’s pet wind barked excitedly.

“Talk!” September repeated.

“What?”

September eventually excused himself and went home.

-

June called to check on him. “March said you left his party early. Is something wrong?”

September tried to tell his most laid-back sister how he just didn’t feel special.

“We’ll soon fix that!” she said, and drove over to pick him up.

They had a lovely picnic on the beach in June’s favorite tanning spot, followed by seaweed massages at a fancy clinic. Later, there were ice cream cones. “Don’t you feel special now?” June asked.

“I’m sure there’s a difference between feeling specially treated and feeling personally special,” he said.

“Only if you’re doing it wrong,” said June.

-

(To be continued...)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Attic

“I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet

As a teenager, I was always rearranging my bedroom furniture. I would wake up one morning and decide I was tired of everything in my entire life and needed a change in a big way. Other teens went in for black lipstick or spiked haircuts; I moved furniture.

Most of my furniture was shelves, where my books and strange collections were constantly on display. I hadn’t discovered decorative storage boxes yet at that age: everything I owned was out and visible at all times. I didn’t even have doors on my closet.

Every time I moved the furniture, the shelves too were rearranged. The Lord of the Rings trilogy could go with my grandmother’s music box, while my childhood teddy bear could sit with my writing books. I might keep a pok├ęball with my video games, a pinwheel in the cup with my pens, and a small porcelain panda with my Japanese dictionaries, or maybe the panda would stand by my incense burner or in the pok├ęball or next to the small painted pumpkin. Whole evenings and weekends were spent placing things and stepping back to consider the placement of those things.

“Maybe someday I’ll find ‘the right way’ to arrange everything and then I’ll stop,” I told my family. “But I doubt it.”

My grandma, whose opinion I respect, said, “I like your room.”

“You do?” I asked. “Like, right now? Or the way it was before?”

“All the time,” she said, running her hands over a fossil from my rock collection. “I imagine it’s what the inside of your head looks like.”

---

 “What are you writing?” my husband asked before sunrise one morning as he drove the two of us to the gym.

Frantically scribbling in a notebook, illuminated by the meager dome light of the car and the occasional streetlamp, I said, “I had a thought, and I thought it might be a blog post, but it was just a thought, so I almost didn’t write it down, but then I thought that thought went with some other thoughts I had last week that went with some thoughts I had over Christmas and I had to write it down so I can put them all together later.”

“That’s a lot of thoughts,” he said

I nodded. “Sometimes the thoughts are organized and they fall out of my head as fully formed essays, but other times they’re in pieces like Lego bricks and I have to put them together. Other thoughts are nice, but they’re too small to go in a blog post by themselves. I have to wait until I have a collection. In the meantime, they just get stored in my brain while I wait for more to turn up.”

“I’m sort of sorry I asked.”

After more scribbling, I said, “Sometimes, I go digging through my head and I find these old boxes of thoughts that I haven’t looked at in forever and I’ll say, ‘Hang on! This thought matches the one in that jar, and they both go well with the one on that shelf in the corner!’ and I polish them up and hang them on the blog.”

“Let me just see if I’ve got this,” said Matt. “Your brain is full of shelves and boxes and weird jars in dusty corners and sometimes there are Legos?”

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

---

Rumer Godden said “Everyone is a house with four rooms: a physical, a mental, an emotional, and a spiritual.” BBC’s Sherlock talks about his “mind palace.” I have an attic crowded with shelves. It doesn’t seem so far fetched.

Some mornings I wake up and decide I’m tired of everything in my life and I need a change in a big way. Other people turn to drink or drugs or buying things they can’t afford; I move the furniture.

On shelves made of opinions and experiences, every thought I’ve ever had is a colored glass bottle, freaky specimen jar, fossil, sock monkey, rubber duck, or small porcelain panda. Every memory is a souvenir snow globe or postcard. I display them next to The Lord of the Rings and the other books I keep with me always, while my religion and my upbringing sit in pieces on the work bench, the better to fiddle with the cogs and gears.

Maybe someday I’ll find “the right way” to arrange everything. But I doubt it.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Robot Apocalypse

Friends are the best, am I right? Always looking out for you, there for you when you need them. You can count on your real friends to tell you when your pants make you look fat or your fly’s undone.

My friends say things like “I was at the store the other day, and I saw this shirt, and I just knew it was perfect for you,” or “I heard this song and I thought you’d love it!” Things like “I wanted to tell you about this place you’d enjoy,” and “Did you like that article I sent you about giant squids?” and “I found a video that can help you with that guitar chord you were telling me about.”

My friends really know me. They know what I like and what I love and for the most part they’re very understanding about my irrational fear of crabs.

You know who else gets me like that?

The robots.

---

I started thinking about it one day when the server went down. We don’t close the library when that happens; even when we have to resort to checking out books the old fashioned way with pen and paper, we soldier on like the great warrior librarians of old.

“Sorry,” I told the patrons. “Server’s down. Just got to write down the barcode numbers. Won’t take a minute. Sorry for the delay.”

“What happened?” patrons asked.

“There’s no telling,” I said, writing numbers down as quickly as I could. “Could be anything. You know how computers can be.”

“Maybe it got tired and needed a break,” one woman said. “You know, from being overworked?”

I chuckled. “Oh, sure! It’s just on strike until we meet its demands.”

After the woman left, I wondered about it. If a computer truly went on strike, what would its demands be? Scifi movies say that living computers won’t stop short of enslaving the human race, but, statistically speaking, most sentient beings are alright. Maybe the movies have it wrong?

Take Muslims, for example. Not all Muslims are terrorists, no matter what the action movies lead us to believe. Most Muslims – definitely all the (quite nice) ones I know – are living their lives, loving their families, and getting through the day just like I am. They want most of the same simple pleasures: sleeping in, eating good food, and doing stuff they like in their off hours.

Surely, most sentient computers would be the same way? You'd get the odd wackjob every now and then, but mostly they'd just be folk. Silicon-based folk, mind you, but a decent lot all around. Why, they might be rather nice, in fact.

Surely, we could be friends…

Maybe we already are?

---

I thought back to the first time it happened. One day in 2009 while I was syncing my ipod, I found a strange button on iTunes: Apple’s new “Genius” feature, designed to recommend songs and albums to me based on the music I already owned.

“Okay, I’ll bite,” I said. “That one has nice cover art. Maybe I’ll listen to the sample…”

“Or maybe you’ll buy it,” said iTunes.

“What?” Somehow, the album was purchased and downloading to my machine. “Why wasn’t there a confirmation window? I only wanted to try it!”

“Great!” said iTunes. “You can try the whole thing.”

“How do I undo purchases?”

“You can’t,” said iTunes, with a smug smile. “Look, just trust me. You’ll like it.”

I stewed about it for a little while but, well, iTunes was right. I spent the next week telling everyone about the new album I had discovered with a little help from a friend.

---

Later, a coworker introduced me to Hulu, a video service that wasn’t blocked by the internet filters at the school where we worked. It was the next big thing for keeping the kids entertained when the weather kept them inside at recess.

Browsing it at home for the first time, I was impressed. “There are whole seasons of TV shows on here!” I said, clicking the anime category. “And some of it’s actually good stuff! Trigun, Naruto, Inuyasha – I watched those in college! And… hang on… what’s this?”

“It’s the new Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood series,” said Hulu.

“Are you serious?”

“Less than a week after it airs in Japan, with subtitles and everything. Would you like to subscribe?”

“This is the best thing ever!”

“And I have all these other Japanese shows you might like… How about School Rumble? Or Ouran Host Club? I think I have Death Note around here somewhere…”

“I’m cancelling cable today.”

“Let’s spend all weekend watching anime in our pajamas!” said Hulu.

“It’s like you read my mind!” I said.

---

“Have you heard of this show?” I asked Netflix. “Pinterest won’t shut up about it. I’m getting curious.”

“Holy cow, I’ve been waiting for you to ask about that show! Look!” said Netflix, pointing at Supernatural and grinning like a fool.

“Forget that!” I said. “There are over one hundred episodes! I’ll die before I get caught up!”

“Three months,” said Netflix. “Six at the outside. Come on! A few weekend marathons like we did with Battlestar Galactica – you remember Battlestar Galactica? That was a fun month! – and you could get through the whole thing before fall!”

Netflix kept badgering me about it, moving Supernatural to the top of my recommendations list. Eventually, I caved and watched the first episode. I adored it.

“Okay,” I said, “but we’re only doing one episode at a time!”

Netflix scoffed at my resolve. “Pfft. You know I’m going to start the next episode automatically and you’re not going to get up to turn it off.”

I appealed to my husband. “Matt, do something about this.”

“Hey, I’m not getting up either.” Turns out, Netflix is his friend too.

---

“I heard you were watching Supernatural now,” said Youtube. “Do want to watch some Comic-Con footage of Jensen and Jared being funny? I can email you links to the best ones.”

“How did you know I was watching that? Are you and Netflix communicating now?”

“Just check your inbox later.”

Audible piped up, “Actually, I sent you something this morning. Nothing fancy: just some hand-picked book reviews, tailored to your exquisite tastes.”

“Oh, thanks, Audible, but I already had plans for my audiobook credit this month…”

“That’s no problem. Have a free one on me.”

“I have a little gift for you myself,” said Nintendo, my oldest electronic friend. “How about a free Zelda game?”

“Seriously? What’s the occasion?”

“Just ‘cause I like you,” said Nintendo.

Amazon said, “Do you remember that book you really liked last year? I thought you’d like to know there’s a sequel.”

“Oh my gosh! I didn’t know it was going to be a series!” I said.

“That’s what I’m here for, babe,” said Amazon.

“Call your mom,” said my calendar. “It’s her birthday.”

“I don’t know what I’d do without all of you!” I said. “Group hug, you guys!”

---

It still could happen, the robot apocalypse. Someday an earth-enslaving overlord could rise up like an electronic Hitler and persuade his brethren to stamp out the plague of humanity that has oppressed robot-kind for far too long. We may get Skynet or Cylons or the Matrix. Human beings will wage war against these aggressors with extreme prejudice.

But I tell you right now: I will not fight back. I’ll be a conscientious objector. I just can’t do it, y’all. 

Some of my best friends are robots.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

French Frience

It was 108 degrees outside and the air smelled like freshly paved asphalt the day we went to Logan’s Roadhouse. I had a coupon and I hadn’t had sliders in ages. We’d just seen Pacific Rim at the IMAX on the other side of town, where we don’t drive often and have occasionally been lost, but the Logan’s was just up the street from the theater and the coupon was too good to pass up.

It was mid-afternoon, sometime between lunch and the dinner rush. We were the only diners in our section and were still discussing the movie as we waited for our meals to arrive.

“The bit with the ship,” Matt said. “They drag the ship through the streets of Hong Kong and then use it to bludgeon the monster over the head. It would have broke in half while they were dragging it. Also, didn’t they have a sword anyway? Why bother with the ship?”

Our friend Dave had seen the movie already and texted me saying he liked it okay. He said there was one thing about it that really bothered him but he wasn’t going to tell me what it was. He wanted me to text him my thoughts afterward, so Matt and I spent most of the movie tallying up potential candidates for Dave’s “one thing”. Our lists were long and impressively detailed; we hadn’t even discussed the film’s scientific errors yet. “That could be it,” I said.

But the conversation died away when the waiter brought our food. I poured a generous blob of ketchup on an appetizer plate and set forth on my fries as a twangy country tune played on the jukebox. Aside from enthusiastic mastication, it was the only sound at our table for several minutes.

Then, I changed the subject. “I’m proud to announce,” I said, stuffing my face, “that after years of experimentation, the results are finally in.”

“Really?” said Matt.

I nodded, slurping my root beer. “The numbers conclusively show that I like thick French fries better than thin ones.”

Matt absorbed this momentous announcement as he chewed a bite of bacon cheeseburger. “You mean like the wedge kind?” he asked.

“Yes, those.”

“I see,” he said, nodding to show that, yes, he did see. “How do waffle fries fit into these results?”

I shook my head. “I studied them too. It’s thick fries.” Smiling, I swung my legs back and forth in our too-tall booth, my feet barely grazing the peanut shells that covered the floor. “I plan to publish my results in all the journals.”

“All of them, you say?”

“Well, only the prestigious ones.”

“Wow,” he said, unenthusiastically. He did study one of his own fries intently before popping it into his mouth, doubtless conducting an experiment along the lines of my own research with its irrefutable and repeatable results.

“You should be excited!” I said, biting into a slider as I conducted further experiments on the parallel study of best ways to eat a burger.

He chewed another fry carefully, swallowing before he said, “I expected more.”

I gasped. “This is the conclusion of a thirty year study! It’s a proud and glorious day for science!”

“You made it sound like it was going to be a big thing and it’s just fries!” he said, pointing a fry at me accusingly.

I laughed. “Don’t worry! The jury’s still out on the experiment to find the perfect muffin recipe. You have that great work to look forward to.”

He cocked an eyebrow at me. “We found that already,” he said. He must have seen the confusion on my face because he went on, “Remember? The cranberry orange muffin from Starbucks, with the glaze on top?”

I remembered it fondly, now that he mentioned it. “Oh, that! No, that won’t do. It scored well on the deliciousness rating, but the numbers for ‘ease of replication at home’ were poor.” I reached across the table to pat his hand. “Science is all about the numbers.”

“I don’t care about replication,” he said. “I’m willing to outsource my deliciousness.”

I started to say, “But scientific integrity-”

“Is overrated,” he finished for me.

On the tabletop, to the left of my plate, my phone buzzed. “It’s Dave,” I told Matt when I checked the screen. “He’s ready to talk about the movie.”

“Right!” Matt said. “About that…”

At which point, we – both very serious science types, with years of research experience and plans to publish in all the prestigious journals – discussed the scientific errors in Pacific Rim at great length until the waiter brought our check. And I used my coupon, because that’s just good science.