Saturday, March 30, 2013

An Oberlin Fairy Tale

In a land called Oberlin, the winter had lasted too long, past the groundhog’s date and past when the snow should stop, even had our groundhog predicted otherwise than it had. It soon became clear to the students:

Spring was sleeping.

But there was hope. During a week of what should be spring, Oberlin students were permitted to travel to other places, places closer to the sun, where they could come close enough to the Fires of the Sun that questers might be heard.

Ah, but being heard is not the only tricky part. What use is being heard if one is given no answer? What use even an answer, if the answer is a dismissal?

But the Fire-folk are not without hearts. They could be swayed, by diplomacy, or by wit, or, if they were feeling particularly whimsical, by some somewhat important event brought to their attention.

A young quester had gone to such a warm clime, where the path to the Fires of the Sun was brief and not exceptionally burning. The quester packed bread, rock candy, and a top for food, flavor, and fun, since the Fires were creatures of all such things. (Why else would cooked food taste so much better? Why else would so many people be drawn to playing with fire?)

Items in thons pack, the quester climbed, and soon enough, came to a door the color of a full moon on a clear night.

“Have you a key?” came a voice from the door.

“I do not,” thon said.

“Have you lost a key you were given?”

“I have not,” thon said.

“Then how shall you get past the door?”

“I know my stories well enough. I must take a bone from my smallest finger, and place it in the door.”

“Correct,” the voice rumbled.

“But this is not a tale of sacrifice,” thon continued, “not to speak with the Fires. The point is the riddle and the story, not the bone itself. The door opens for the answer, not the bone.”

And the voice said, with a smile thon could hear, “Correct.” The moon doors swung open.

Next thon came to an old person in a rocking chair, who had aged in the way that makes gender indeterminate, if gender were ever a proper thing to apply to this old one. The hair was perfectly golden, the only hint that this one might ever have been young. “Good day,” thon said with a curtsey, since thon had worn a skirt that day.

“Good day,” said the old one back, rocking chair creaking. “Why are you here?” There was a bit of a twinkle in the old one’s eye.

“I am here to bring some late Fires to one of my homes,” thon said. “But I am in no great hurry as of yet, if you find yourself in need of help.”

The old one smiled. “I would not refuse some bread, if you had it.”

“I do,” thon said, handing the whole of the loaf to the old one with stars for eyes and sunlight for hair. The old one ate, and beyond the rocking chair a door swung open. Thon had not seen it before, for it was dark as the night sky, the same shade as nearly everything else.

Thon saw when it opened, for it opened into a room as bright and warm as summer sunshine on a day perfect for reading in a grassy field.

“Fires of the Sun, may I speak with you?”

Silence greeted thon. Upon thinking of that phrase, thon bowed to the silence, on the off-chance that it was a living silence. (It was not.)

Thon sat in the middle of the broad, bright room and took out a piece of rock candy to suck on, and the top to spin. “Oh! You brought a toy! Why didn’t you say so?” said a Fire, jumping out from a wall. The Fire could not stay still, it seemed, flickering from one side to the next. Soon, this Fire’s Siblings joined Them, and even in a room the color of sunlight, shadows flickered on the walls.

“Would you like some rock candy?” thon asked, laying out a few more pieces in various colors of the rainbow, each attached to a metal stick. Wooden sticks do not work so well with the Fire-folk, you see.

“Yesyesyyeses,” They chattered, voices climbing over each other. Most took pieces, though a handful instead said, “I would like to play with your top, may I may I may I?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” thon said. “I got this top for my birthday. That was just today, you know.”

They cried, “It’s your birthday?” and, “Why didn’t you say so?” and, “You came here on your birthday? We have to do something special!”

“Well…” thon said, tapping thons chin with thons forefinger, “there is something, but it’s a bit out of your way.”

“We’ll do it!” said exactly three Fires in unison. The rest had learned not to commit so readily.

“Really?” thon said, brightening. “Wonderful! You see, Oberlin’s spring hasn’t woken up in the proper time. Could you come back with me when I go there, and help wake our spring?”

They chattered for a moment, too quickly and too many overlaying threads for thon to keep track of. Eventually, five stepped forward: the original three—one of whom looked less excited, though grudgingly willing to go along—and two more. “We’ll help!”

“Excellent!” And so the Fire-folk and the quester played together until thon had to go home for dinner. The five Fire-folk who were to join thon settled into the space just about thons diaphragm, where they slept as little more than a warm and jubilant feeling.

When thon returned to Oberlin, thon brought five Fire-folk. In such a cold place, they burst from thons ribs and flickered and danced throughout the campus, the town, and everywhere else they could reach: burning snow, warming soil, calling the sun to be closer and the clouds to disappear. By the time they had grown bored and went back to the sun to play with their own, spring had sprung awake.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Word Problems

  1. A woman makes 17.5% less than a man, but she can also get into a club free on certain nights. The entrance fee is $15. How many times does the woman have to go to that club on those nights in order for her to break even?
  2. In the context of the graph provided on page 3, what is the average utility of free entrance to a club assuming one breaks even with regard to dollars lost and saved? Give multiple answers and/or a formula accounting for race, sexual orientation, status as trans or cis, and all other relevant points which may increase her chances for being raped, mugged, killed or otherwise attacked.
  3. Express as a ratio the money spent white scholarships (incl. scholarships for Germans, Italians, etc.) compared to scholarships of persons of color. Extra credit: Include a second ratio for the total amount of money per white student versus student of color given in the form of scholarships without racial requirements.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

You Both Meet in a Jail Cell

I lay on the only cot in the cell as she paced it. At first I'd sat, leaving room if she wanted to sit, but she had given the impression of not wanting to and of being able to ask if she wanted to. (Also of being able to push me off, if she wanted, but she would ask first, and I would move if she did.)

"Back home, I am..." She flexed her hand once, twice, looking at it as if it held some answer. "Like a scalpel under the armor, or a scalpel under the skin. So sharp you barely notice I'm cutting. Precise."

"And more than capable of healing you or tearing you to shreds," I said.

She grinned at me, fierce and reflexive in the way that true reactions are. "Yes." Her expression flickered, then fell to something closer to neutrality. "Here, I don't have the weapons I prefer. But even if I don't have my knife on me, I find myself quite capable with a needle."

"Surgeon-seamstress. Nice."

Her lips twitched. "Storyteller-trickster."

"Wordsmith would be the brief way of saying that," I said, one hand curling to my chest in a pompous gesture. "We must be precise." She threw a small stone at me and I caught it and tossed it back. We started playing catch with it as we talked.

"Any ideas for getting out of here?" I asked.

She shrugged and tossed the stone back. "Be charming at the hearing."

Saturday, March 9, 2013

(Un)Safe Spaces

I had a teacher in high school who, in reference to a group of singers who were switching between the tenor and the bass part, said, "Don't be bi-sectional," and laughed.

I'm not entirely sure what the point of that was. I can't recall anyone laughing. Privately, I think this may have been because the class was divided into three parts--those who didn't get the pun on, "Don't be bisexual," those who were too offended to find it funny, and those who were just too confused that an openly gay man had made a cheap shot at another member of his acronym.

I was in the second group, and I remember being angry enough that I ended up storming from that class to English. When someone asked me what was wrong--a classmate who shared both classes with me, and had noticed my dramatic antics--I spun around and snapped, "It's not funny until it's absurd!"

I then apologized to my classmate, because none of this was her fault, and I had lashed out inappropriately. I'm not sure that helped any. I've been told I'm rather frightening when I'm angry.

But that is, for the moment, beside the point.

At the time that sentence meant, "Our teacher should not have made that joke, because people telling people they shouldn't be bisexual--or simply that they aren't, as if they knew our orientation better than we did--is a thing which happens. I am hurt because he treated my experience so flippantly."

Another thing occurred to me, when I was thinking about that phrase. Because most people know that, on some level. A thing needs to be absurd to be funny; your audience needs to consider it absurd. So, in making that joke, my teacher was saying, "Bisexual discrimination is absurd."

I cannot think of a more thorough dismissal. It was not even the screwed-up gaslighting that is, "You're overreacting to this hurt," it was, rather, "This hurt doesn't exist; you imagined the blow."

In my opinion, this is the most important thing to keep in mind when writing comedy. Am I dismissing someone's hurt? There's a place for that, in satire, but satire is by definition critical. In satire, the comedian is, by definition, calling someone out, attacking them.

No matter how much we might wish otherwise, attacking a person in power is different from attacking someone who is already under siege. I've got background messages every day--you don't exist; you aren't real; attention-seeker; whore. Attacking me for a mistake I made is not the same as attacking me for something I had no control over, especially when I am already under attack for it.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

“Well, if you aren’t going to do what I expect, what do you intend to do?”

I intend to single-handedly bring back ‘bard’ as a popular profession

I intend to turn the world upside-down
I intend to burn stone and fireproof wood
I intend to walk on rainbows
I intend to walk on Mars
I intend to make you believe in silly things without lying to you
I intend to write a novel that you will never forget, even though you will forget the author and the title and all the characters’ names
I intend to write a fantasy series that someone will always use as the answer to, “What was the first fantasy series you fell in love with?”
I intend to sing an album that makes someone say, “I’m going to be a singer.”

I intend to burn the world down and burn myself down and burn you down to cinders and ashes
I intend to rise, not like a phoenix, but like Coyote, cackling all the while
I intend to pull you down with me
I do not intend to pull you up
I intend to make you want to leap up like a new flame
Like an old story
Like a song you had forgotten until you remember at 47 that you learned it when you were 11
I intend to make you want so much that you have the same moment I had when I realized I had nearly broken my neck in middle school (died before I’d begun)
I intend to make you want so much that not doing becomes as self-destructive as not breathing

I intend to earn stares and gaping mouths
I intend to be impossible
Because “I intend” is only half a breath from “I wish,” and if you can’t wish for the impossible, how can you ever do it?

I intend to make you to laugh with the exhiliration
Fly like helium inflation and crash like hydrogen conflagration and get up again

That is what I intend to do.
© 2009-2013 Taylor Hobart