Sunday, January 29, 2012


The word of the day is: Nomad.

When I was fairly young, my grandfather got me a book called Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce. I loved it. In fact, I bought every book Tamora Pierce had released, and then kept up with each new book she was releasing--including anthologies she was included in. In the houses I've stayed in since, it was easy to find where I kept my books, because there would always be an entire shelf dedicated solely to my complete collection of Tamora Pierce books. I've been particularly emotionally attached to the spot where my collection switches from softcover to hardcover--when I started buying the books as they came out.

This has been next to my bed ever since I moved to this house. It's been right there. I could pick up any Tamora Pierce book, reread any of them whenever the whim struck.

...It hasn't.

Don't get me wrong. I still enjoy Tamora Pierce. I still read everything she writes. But the thing is, I haven't been keeping the books because they're making me happy. I've been keeping them because I felt guilty about getting rid of them.

And so we come to the title of the article and the word of the day.

I'm heading off on my own soon. I'll have a home to go back to, should anything go badly, but that's the thing: I will have a place to go if. But if things go well, I will be moving between houses. I am not willing to buy two copies of the books, nor to move them. I'll keep reading, of course, and buy books, but I'll prefer the library for my reading. When one's house is the size of a dorm or a first apartment, renting often makes more sense than buying. There simply isn't space.

And there exists that fantasy about living in a house where I build a library, but there's another fantasy about travelling the world for the rest of my life. The joy of this moment in my life is not knowing--I don't know anything about more than half my life.'s time to send those books off. To those who are more stationary because their parents are, and those who have chosen to be so. Perhaps the books will cycle again. Perhaps they'll fall into an enormous collection, perhaps next to other editions of the same book. Perhaps some will be the book that some world-walker carries throughout all the travels. Perhaps they will sit and gather dust.

But, regardless, it makes little sense for me to keep so many books when I will be moving so much in the next decade of my life. And so, off they fly, to other hands and other eyes I may never meet. Bon voyage, mes amis.

This does not diminish my grandfather's gift. First of all, the books did genuinely give me pleasure for nearly a decade. Second, he introduced me to the author--and that's a gift that is still renewing.

I didn't get rid of all the books.


They were in an elevator, since their debriefings took the same amount of time. It was a pretty glass one, with a lovely view they were both pretending to look at.

"You could literally defeat anyone, up to and including countries. What could she possibly have shown you, to get you to back off?"

The woman in red flipped her knife in the air, caught it by the handle, then flipped it so the point balanced on her first finger. The knife was sharp enough to give papercuts, but it never split her skin. "There is a ridiculously obvious answer to that question," she said, sounding bored. "Which is: I am afraid that, someday, I will go bad, and it will take uniting the world to stop the slaughter. One can fear one's own power. Everything around me is made of cardboard and tissue paper, after all."

The man in the sharp suit pretended to focus on her balancing the knife, but kept his attention on her eyes. "I notice you never said that was the answer," he responded conversationally, shifting back to the view outside the elevator.

"What did it show you?"

" know. My world crumbling around me. Apocalypse is nigh, my family died horribly and now clones are coming back to guilt-trip, torture and kill me. Mostly about failing in my duty. Made me feel like I deserved it. Pretty much what you'd expect." The woman in red would spot the forced lightness in the sharply dressed man's tone.

"Were you that honest with your agent?"

"That honest, yes. Vaguer. You?"

She waited two floors, arranging her thoughts. "I did not lie."

"But?" He said promptly.

"I told them exactly what I told you. Said something safe. They like the idea of my having a healthy fear of my own powers."

Three floors. Tall building, slow elevator. "But, in reality...?"

"Do you know how they keep elephants pinned at the circus?" she asks, then doesn't wait for an answer. "They pin them down, very young, when it's still possible. Because really, think about it. Even if they wanted to spend the money on a chain strong enough, they'd need something remarkably heavy. So, when they're young, the elephants struggle and pull, but they can't break loose. Then, when they're older, they just don't try anymore. They remember the chains being unbreakable, so they are."

They shared a glance, then both looked back out the elevator.

"When I was very young, I had no idea how to use my powers. A group of kids would pick on me. It's nothing major, but...I dunno. Suppose it's just whatever made you feel most helpless. I've been scared, but I haven't felt helpless in...ages."

He nodded.

Had the silence stretched, then doubtless the conversation would have continued. Even a comfortable silence would have meant something, been some marker of companionship. Even small talk might have started some friendship, after that conversation.

The doors opened. He went left; she went right.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

To Discussion, Always

Related reading: Gender and Sexuality, Opening the Closet

A few weeks ago, a classmate an I were discussing same-sex marriage for a history assignment. I told her I was having trouble writing my bit, because I honestly didn't understand why anyone would be against same-sex marriage. Don't get me wrong; I understand that people are against it, and I understand that intelligent people are against it. I just hadn't heard any argument that actually meant anything to me.

She explained that in her family, it was considered against family values.

"What makes family values good?"

"Well, what makes them bad?"

And I entirely froze up. She had established that family values meant the values her church held in relation to family, and so any answer to that question felt horribly insulting. However, we were both trying to clearly and honestly communicate our views, so I believe that my knee-jerk reaction was wrong. I should have spoken, so I will speak now.

I believe in freedom of religion until it hurts someone. People are hurting. Imagine, for a moment, that you couldn't marry the person you love because of your respective whats. Not who you were, not that you were incompatible, but simply that one of you was a different race, or that you were both the same sex. Imagine not being granted visitation rights, or inheritance rights, or not being able to get the most important person in the world a green card.

Of course, I'd bet that not all of my readers need to imagine.

I drew the parallel between those against same-sex marriage and those against miscegenation. I've been told that I shouldn't bring up racial issues when discussing sexuality issues, because they are too inflammatory. To this I say: they are inflammatory. Inflammation of the body means that one's immune system has spotted an issue, and is helping to heal it. We need times of tumult, because we need the issue to be visible. Different rights for different people should stick out like a sore thumb--but, and this is important, it doesn't. There was a time when separate but equal didn't seem obviously wrong.

I do not call family values bad, as a whole. Even if I wanted to do so, I could not. I have never found two people who agree on what family values are, save something that aids family stability. I believe that family stability is an admirable goal. The only place I could see an exception is when the family is toxic--in which case I'd argue that it isn't stable. If one needs fear to keep stability, that is not stability. That is slowed decay.
This has been said, but it always needs saying: It gets better.

Part of this is my optimism showing. I believe people are good. I believe that each culture gets better, if far too slowly for my tastes. We see the wrong of a decade ago. We will see our cultures wrongs a decade hence, because we will have improved.

But there is more than that. Even if, somehow, nothing were to change, it would get better for you. There are about seven billion people in the world. Given sufficient numbers, any minority can reach critical mass. It may be hard to remember; your people may be hard to find, but stay alive. I found my music geeks; I found--many!--communities of those who accept bisexuals. In the grand scheme of things, my life is likely far from over, and already I know where I can go for community. Whatever you need, you can find it.

Keep living. Keep looking.

You are not alone.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Riddling Story

upon a time, there were three girls who were the best of friends. Childish Naomi had hair of gold, determined Rachel of fire, and quiet Eve of moonless midnight. When they were young, they ran everywhere together, and found places and rhymes that they kept among themselves. As they grew, each found a husband, and each grew a family of her own, and they drifted apart. However, as they were such friends, they still spent time together, even if they did not run so quickly as they once had.

On one such sunny day, they believed they had stumbled upon a place no one else knew, for though the field was lovely and lush, they saw no sign of any human.

Naomi, on her first excursion since her child was born, laughed aloud when she found the flowers in the clearing. She grabbed Rachel first, who play-fought to keep Naomi from weaving flowers into her hair. They seemed to come in every color and size, and Naomi managed to make Rachel's hair an explosion, if not the most symmetrical of things. The new mother moved on to gentler Eve, who made her first sound of the visit--a chuckle--when Rachel said she was jealous of the eldest's flowered braid. Naomi teased, "Lovely, if you want flowers done with skill, then you must learn to sit still."

At which point Rachel dove for a lily in Eve's hair, and Rachel and Naomi fell into a laughing tumble. Eve smiled as she watched them, and even she did not notice the shadow that moved just beyond the trees.

Then, the old witch cried: "Who has been picking my flowers!" The voice sent frost across the clearing. "Who has been picking my flowers!"

Eve stood, and then Rachel and Naomi stumbled to their feet. "Please forgive us, miss; we did not know--"

The old witch's cane struck frozen ground, and the three were not allowed another word in their defense. They were flowers, each identical to any human's eye, but not, through her magic, to the witch.

"You have been picking my flowers!" she cried at one of them. "And you rolled all over them. And you..." The witch paused, with an expression no human could decipher. Out of mercy or whim, the witch made one last motion. "May spend one last night at home." She leaned over and whispered the rules of engagement. For fun or some idea of fair-mindedness, the women had a way out.

Sure enough, as the sun set, the flower disappeared and Eve rose in its place. After running for too much of the night, she arrived at her house. "Husband!" she whispered, remembering not to wake the children.

"Sweetheart, welcome home--" He pulled her by the fire and, therefore, into the light, where quiet Eve's face spoke volumes. "What happened?"

"A witch cursed us to flowers." Her husband would understand who 'us' was, so Eve wasted no syllables explaining. "I am free this night, but you must pick me. If not, we remain."

"The witch told you this?"

Eve nodded, and he held her tightly, at least as scared as she. "Rest, dear one. We will walk back together in the morning, and I shall see you transform into the newest flower."

And so they lay together, near the warmth of the fire, until sleep came. Eve's sleep was troubled, but the rest helped them both, as it helps all creatures.

Eve woke, and stood to go. "Rest, dear one. We have time for breakfast before we walk." And she ate, but lightly, for though she knew she had not eaten for a day, she knew a too full stomach made it more difficult to run than a too empty one.

Eve ate, and stood to go. "Rest, dear one. We will be swift." And she rested more, for no reason but her fear.

Soon the two ran across the countryside, for there was not enough time, each had fooled themselves into a few more moments together, and it was the downfall of the plan. Even as they approached the clearing, Eve disappeared, and only the wind over the grass even showed him where the three flowers were.

He had hoped to find some difference: a lock of black hair, or one ducking in the wind, but there was not such hint. Each could have been the same plant in three places. He looked closely, desperately...

And smiled.

He picked the flower that was his wife, and each woman stood free.

Now, how did he know which flower was she?

(This was her dear husband's clue: Eve, who had stayed inside, lacked dew.)

Grimm version.
Erstwhile's version introduced me to the tale.

Sunday, January 8, 2012


I am Watcher, and I am Untempered's shadow.

She has a name--they all do, come to that. Long ago, in her first age, in their first age, some would ask her for it. They spoke the language she had, then, so recognized that what they called her--Watcher--was no name, but a title. The askers faded in numbers, slowly, slowly enough that she didn't notice for centuries when they stopped altogether.

She picked up new languages as most people adjust to new temperatures. One might put on a coat, or take one off, but one barely notices any minor shifts. Old German to new German, or to Old English; Latin to French and Spanish and Italian...she was there, alive. In the first years, only her family noticed, and she when they told her, that she slipped into the accent of those she spoke with. As languages changed, she slipped into the new ones, hardly noticing the change.

She could notice, when she paid attention: hear the subtleties or obvious differences. But the only time she had to notice was when they spoke her title, her for-all-practical-purposes-name, in one of the new tongues. Her name was still Watcher to her, and these odd words for it always sounded uncanny--I am watcher, and watcher, and one who watches, yet they only know me for Watcher. None asked her name, anymore. Watcher was a name, now, though uncommon in most of the world. Even in those places that would find it an odd name for one of their own, it made perfect sense that she was Watcher. Some tried to make meaning of it, but few, and ever fewer. It was like a child named Violet--hardly anyone mentioned it; fewer sought meaning.

They had trouble guessing why she had her 'name'. Why was a trickster called Watcher? She made mischief. Perhaps it was for a habit of making particularly ingenious plans, for watching every angle? But the myths did not speak of planning, merely of a shadow that tripped the mighty.

And no one--no one at all--guessed why Untempered was called that. They guessed that it was because he was known for fighting bare-handed, so lacked any tempered steel. Which bothered Watcher intensely whenever she thought of it, because they were going by a pun that did not exist in the language, or hadn't when he was titled first: To temper steel and to temper oneself. Temper became what one did to steel, because they had no word in their language, so they translated the word the other languages had and used it for both.

His hands clench into fists, now, as another says just the wrong thing. And Untempered is strong, and quick in movement but not in thought, which means that he never turns off a train of thought, having started on it.

I see this, as I must see it always, as I do see it as often as I can.

(I am a watcher. A shadow that trips the mighty needs to see who, how, and when.)

Then a rubber ball from the display behind me finds its way into my hand, and who am I to deny the poor thing its purpose? It might cheer me up, at least. "Hey, Untempered!"

His head whips around, ready to snarl, just in time for the child's toy to snap into his nose. "Ow!" The train of thought does not break, but he's after me, as I laugh in his face and skip away. Never running, of course: I might get away.

Untempered is my charge. Willed as such to me when our guardians passed, for he learned more slowly than I. Those of shorter generations forget, for I was not to speak of it, nor was anyone else. For he would not stand being a charge. So I walked beside him as a shadow, and waited through centuries for him to grow up.

After the first few millennia, though I yet walked, I gave up waiting.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Appreciate the Journey

Half my English final. I had to write an essay combining Siddhartha, Frankenstein, and Kafka's Metamorphosis, which meant that my teacher called the assignment siddfrankengregor. We were encouraged to bring in other sources, and the prompt was just, 'interpret from a mythological standpoint'.

My main regret on this essay is that I didn't find a way to bring Kamala in. She was interesting, both as a character and as her effect on the story.

A traditional hero needs three traits: a drive to act, an ability to find fulfillment in acting, and success. Failing in the first gives hardly any story—an apathetic character is, at best, a source of passive decay. Without finding fulfillment, the hero will go insane, and likely turn against his or her original goal. Failure in the third is a heroic failure, one of a tragic hero. The character in question still is a hero, but one people do not enjoy thinking of as often.

Superman embodies all of these aspects: his drive is compassion for his fellow man, his fulfillment is in feeling that he does his part, and his super-human abilities give him success. Though darker, Batman is as obviously heroic. Batman’s drive comes from empathy with the victims he protects, for he knows how much a person can be hurt from one crime, and Batman, though tortured, does find fulfillment in protecting those he has taken as charges. This hero’s success comes from the facts that he is clever, rich, and willing to use psychological warfare.

Obvious heroes are not only found in the realm of comic books. In Siddhartha, the eponymous character also fits this—demonstrably flexible—mold. Siddhartha’s drive is a general restlessness with his incomplete life. Siddhartha’s drive comes from the same place his success does: Siddhartha is gifted enough to question, and so becomes restless at even the charmed life of a Brahmin, because it does not stimulate him. Siddhartha finds fulfillment in every step of the journey because each step is new knowledge, and he loves gaining new knowledge. The end of the book may seem a break from this, where he settles down by the river, but even then he meets new people and thinks new thoughts. Siddhartha finds the ultimate fulfillment in the journey: he finds fulfillment in each endeavor. His journey is his goal.

Victor Frankenstein and his monster—whom Mary Shelley called “Adam” in her personal letters—are both fallen heroes. Adam’s drive is a desire to be around other people: to not be alone. He finds fulfillment even when only trying to achieve this goal, as he finds himself content to spend time simply watching a family and learning their language and social hierarchy, expressed most simply in Adam’s learning of the family’s different names for each other (because the girl is both sister and daughter, and the boy is both brother and son). Adam even finds a short period of success when he visits the blind father, for Adam is well spoken and kind. But the success does not last, and Adam is thrown back out into the cold. Being so lonely warps his sense of fulfillment until he no longer has it, only the drive to act—which is no longer desire to be with anyone, but simply desire to hurt his maker as much as his maker hurts him.

The warping pattern is a fairly common one. Victor Frankenstein also finds himself warped, though in the opposite direction: Victor relied upon the goal of creating life, rather than the process of scientific discovery that led him along it. Therefore, when the final product—a life—is other than what the doctor had envisioned, he breaks down. That mistake haunts him, as Dr. Frankenstein is haunted both within his own psyche when he goes into hysterics, and by his creation, who kills everyone Victor loves before finishing off Victor. This pattern also appears with more subtlety in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella. The stepmother (Bernadette Peters) acts as antagonist throughout the movie, yet she is not a flat villain. She reacts wistfully when Cinderella describes the ball in romantic terms, and this helps the viewer remember that, when Cinderella lost her mother, her stepmother lost her husband. In her own words, the stepmother “fell in love with love one night when the moon was full”—her story appears remarkably similar to Cinderella’s. The difference began in a lack of success: “but love fell out—with [her]!” Cinderella’s stepmother lost her love, which was her success, just as it is Cinderella’s, our hero’s. But where Cinderella keeps her love, the stepmother loses hers—and so loses touch with love altogether. The stepmother is perhaps the scariest failure at being a hero, for she does the same thing Adam does: she loses her success and her fulfillment, but not her drive. Cinderella’s stepmother does not kill people, but she does deprive them of life, in her way. She will not allow her daughters to go through the pain she went through, and so warns them away from any sort of love with an almost flippant “learning to trust is just for children in school.” This teaching is the only place she shows any love for Cinderella, for she gives her stepdaughter the same warning. Under all this flows an undercurrent—having realized that the stepmother truly loved Cinderella’s father, her hate stops being a plot device and starts being—perhaps—a reaction to a person who looks too much like what she lost.

A character needs not fall so dramatically. Metamorphosis’ Gregor appears to fall at the beginning of the book, when he turns into a vermin, but his fall came much earlier, and much more quietly. When he was young, he took the job he still had just before the book begins to support his family (journey), and was happy (fulfilled) to bring home money they could use (success). By the time the book begins, however, the family takes Gregor for granted, and the only way Gregor can find any happiness is in the thought of sending his little sister Grete to the conservatory--he finds his satisfaction from daydreaming of his goal, not walking along his journey. When he becomes vermin, he loses any hope, and then loses his drive—the last few pages in which Gregor lives describe him laying down to die, for he gives up even on living.

Within Metamorphosis’ pages, Grete is the hero. She starts out as a background character, but even then journeys firmly and contentedly—she plays the violin, and must be practicing regularly to play it as well as the other characters’ reactions imply. When Gregor repulses the entire family, she finds the drive to aid him, and the intelligence to figure out how to best help him. Though she may not enjoy interacting with the vermin, Grete actively wants to help her family, and so finds fulfillment that way. The climax of the book—when a knight in high fantasy would slay a dragon—is Grete standing up and saying that the family cannot live as they have lived. Her speech convinces Gregor to lie down and die. Though this is not as unambiguously inspiring as a knight slaying a dragon, Grete still acts as a hero because she is the primary force in the book that makes things better—for her brother, for her family, and for herself.

A hero is not a hero is not a hero. Though there are clear examples, such as Superman, there are also those whose lack of success or lack of fulfillment warp them so badly that they become unable to be heroes—Victor Frankenstein, Gregor—or even become villains—Adam, Cinderella’s stepmother. And there are those who, despite the story not revolving around them, are still heroes—such as Grete. Pinning down heroes is difficult, because they are cultural constructs that change their cultures. Siddhartha brought enlightenment, Batman and Superman safety, Grete hope. Each, through their drive, their ability to walk the journey without warping themselves, and their success, changes the world. That is a hero.

Works Cited
Cinderella. Dir. Robert Iscove. Perf. Brandy Norwood, Bernadette Peters and Veanne Cox. American Broadcasting Company (ABC), 1997. Television.

Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha. Toronto: Bantam, 1971. Print.

Kafka, Franz, and Stanley Corngold. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. Toronto [etc.: Bantam, 1972. Print.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Ed. Johanna M. Smith. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2000. Print.
© 2009-2013 Taylor Hobart