I’ve been rather sucked dry of time lately, so I don’t have any poem/short story to post today. Instead, I’ve created some writing playlists that always help me power through a bout of writer’s block. See Part I for some more great tracks to rev the imagination.
“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”
― James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room.
An hour of delightful, little and well known Studio Ghibli music.
“War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.
-Bob Marley, Trench Town Rock
Mr. Marley, I’m sure that you intended this sentiment to be digested in the loosest sense: that listening to music is essentially listening to emotion, and that emotion cancels out all other pain. And in my heart of hearts, I hear you. I’ve been a musician since my guppy years, playing the flute, the piano, the piccolo, the guitar (I tried my throat at singing once: never again).
But no pain? The absence of pain, you say?
Allow me to drag you back exactly one year, to a full house and the hum of Mozart. Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennet warble across the stage to each other their chemical angst, sweating under layers of period clothing and the glare of fluorescent spotlights. I sit behind the first violinist in the pit, my fingers clammy against the keys of my instrument and ears ringing from the piano behind my head.
It’s halfway through the first act of Pride and Prejudice the opera, and I begin to see spots. As the sole flautist in the orchestra, I’m responsible for carrying quite a number of the themes (my favorite of which is Mr. Wickham’s- such a dashing and demanding tune!) A binder stuffed with twenty plus pages of sheet music lies open on my stand, twenty plus pages that I only had a few weeks to perfect- no, not perfect- stumble through. The days leading up to opening night were stuffed from morning till evening with constant rehearsing, tunings, and timings. And now here I am, halfway through Act 1, and I begin to see spots.
For a bit of background info: these ‘spots’ are telltale signs that a brutal and debilitating migraine will ensue. Also called a migraine with aura, it is characterized by visual symptoms such as blind spots or scotomas, blindness in half of your visual field or in both eyes, flashing, zigzag, and prickling lights/patterns, or straight up hallucinations. They can last from five to twenty to forty minutes. And they suck.
I managed to squint my eyes through the next song, but by the time it got to Wickham’s solo, my vision could be classified as legally blind. Every huff into my flute was daggers in my temple, and I had to rely on my memory to hit the right notes at the right time. When I didn’t have to play, I sat bent over with my head in my hands, which I’m sure the conductor didn’t appreciate. I flubbed my way though till intermission, and then bolted from my seat to the backstage, where I sat in a dark room and drank three bottles of water, all the while feeling like puking and ripping my eyes out of their sockets.
Migraines can be initiated by stress, anxiety, light, sound, temperature, food- and now that I think about it, I’m sure that they all applied to me. I was stressed (having only a few weeks to learn the music and not much sleep the night before), I was anxious (it was opening night and a full house, and I was the only flutist), there were bright white lights in my face throughout the performance, the piano behind me was thundering and the violins beside me were screeching, it was uncommonly warm in the pit, and I hadn’t had anything to eat that day.
I’ve come across several studies in which the researchers claim that musical performance can ease migraines; but I call hogwash on that. It. Was. Awful.
Just imagine a horse with rusty daggers for hooves kicking you in the head, and then maybe you’ll get the picture. Ur…or lack of picture, seeing as I had lost the ability to open my eyes.
I remember releasing the last note in the finale, and feeling an overwhelming rush of relief intermingled with agony. The next day, I slept for fifteen hours straight.
So you see, Mr. Marley- music can cause pain.
I’ve sort of dropped off the radar for the past week, mostly due to an overwhelming load of work. I wanted to try to get back on the horse though, so here’s a speedy memoir.
pretty little brown boxes
straight walls and shallow stalls
same in shape
each brimming with diversities
trimmed into awkward unity
cardboard clipped by shears
rusty yet precise
angled and even
down to the last corner
same in fit
you sit here
and you stand there
your box is over here
now hold your chin high
arms tucked in tight
don’t let your elbows fly
same in stance
Blame it on the warped, sci-fried, and only slightly sadistic sector of my brain, but I think we’re being invaded.
Before you slap down your cuckoo claims on alien conspiracies or little green men who worship the moon or whatever hoodoo-voodoo, spacey-raciness crosses your mind, cool your jets. This isn’t War of the Worlds or Body Snatchers; I’m not about to hoist myself onto a pedestal and scrub your brains with the (very true) tale of how the pyramids came to be or the (also very true) gossip on Area 51 shenanigans.
No, I lament on an invasion initiated by the human-breed. On ourselves.
Bear with me; this is for the children.
I too was once a hopeful homo sapiens, wrapped up in the metallic sheen of imminent computerdom, internal epidermis calculators, and infinite virtual viability. My flip phone was the single most extraordinary device in the galaxy; it could take pictures and everything. In the seventh grade, I was a tech mogul, and my only regret was that I was unfamiliar with the glorious gleam of the inter-webs, which had this magical ability at transforming my peers into worldly individuals.
Pray patience; the point is pending.
Around the time that I mastered the art of phone-flipping, I received my first mission objective: watch TV and make sure that the mini-folk don’t kill themselves; a.k.a., babysit the neighbors. Thirteen years old and ready to whip out my patented ‘mom’ voice, I agreed to watch the little buggers from five till nine on Friday night. Just to prove that I was the stuff of babysitting legends, I packed a bag of artsy-fartsy things and a few choice narratives.
One short boy, one tall girl, and one grande boy (skinny, of course) greeted me at my neighbor’s door. They were all of the smallish species, ranging in age from four to nine. I plastered on my milk-and-cookies smile and hailed them in their native tongue of toddler. They chirped back their hellos, and then turning on their heels, sprinted up the stairs. Mother and father beamed; oh, those darling kids! They’re too shy! I’m sure they’ll warm up to you soon enough.
Soon enough, in two minutes, within the decade…I didn’t quite care, so long as I got paid. I waited for mom and pop to split in their Ford Fusion, and then bounded up the stairs.
“[Redacted]? [Redacted], where are you?” I peeked down the empty hallway. “I’ve got a build-your-own bouncy ball kit! We can throw them at the cat! Or we could read a story? Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day? Or maybe something more cheerful? Charlotte’s Web? Actually, come to think of it, that one’s a bit depressing as well… Or we could just go outside?”
I was met with cold, deliberate silence, and the faint squawk of a dying bird.
I catapulted through the nearest door to find the short child lying across his bed, with an iPad in hand and possessed look in his eyes. That was my first inkling of the invasion.
The floor was strewn with untouched toys; there were legos still locked in their cases, cars shiny as the day they were forged, books unbent and unloved, and Nerf guns loaded but never fired. A glass terrarium sat on the table by his unkempt bed, containing a perky, plastic palm tree and out-of-order hermit crab.
He bit his lip as another bird was flung to its death, and grumbled his frustrated, four-year old garble when it failed to strike the swine. At first my voice abandoned me, and I watched as his chubby fingers smudged the screen and his eyes whirled white with a hundred thousand pixels. That thing in his hands- it commanded him! It was even more powerful than I!
Swallowing my horror, I enquired after his pursuits, and again offered to release him into the wilds of suburbia. He oinked a non-reply, and motioned for me to close the door.
Exiled into the hallway, I extracted my flip phone from my pocket, and suddenly it didn’t seem so fanciful. A quick search of the menu revealed that I didn’t have any bird-smashing games, but I could play solitaire for three easy payments of $9.99. I wondered what it was that really rattled me- the invasion of the green-eyed monster, or the invasion of the iThings?
I was just beginning to contemplate whether or not I should call SETI (I had them on speed dial) when I heard another peculiar noise. I tentatively entered the second room, and found the tall child tucked into her bean bag chair with an iPhone pressed to her nose.
“Watcha doing?” I asked. A pink, polka-dotted iPad cozied up to a pillow pet on her bed.
She wagged her hand at me. “Come see.”
I hesitated. Seeing that the phone was firmly latched to her face, I could only assume that it was sucking all of humanity’s secrets out of her brain. But after a few suspended seconds of muted music and obscure sound effects, I crossed over to look at the screen. I was bestowed with an exciting scene of penguins creaming each other with snowballs.
“Hey, how about we go outside? There’s no snow, but we can make mud balls and mud forts…”
She rolled her eyes.
Hold up…this little tall girl was radiating sass like a flippant cosmic ray. I could handle a good serving of sauce, but something told me that this wasn’t the organic kind. I yanked the phone from her fingers and was about to chuck it out the window when a noise escaped her lips that sounded somewhere between a cat’s painful death and a hen laying an egg twice its size. It’s assumed her mind, I thought in horror. There’s no going back now. I tossed the phone into her lap amidst weepy wails of “It’s a matter of life and death!” and “I need to beat the guy!”
Suffice to say, I removed myself from the room.
Back in the hallway, I thought over what I knew about the family. To their name: an acre of clean, green grass, a basement boasting a bar and toy room, three snazzy rides, and ample devices to dazzle their kids’ minds. They were well off, but good people. How the aliens could’ve slipped past their line of sight was mind-boggling to me.
I wolfed down my apprehension, and knocked on the third door. The grande boy opened it a crack, and squinted out at me.
“Let me guess,” I said. “You’re on your phone playing Fruit Ninja, and much too busy to be bothered.”
He pulled the door all the way open, and I saw that his hands were empty. “No. I’m doing homework.” He pointed to his desk, where a sleek Mac was booted up on a math website.
There were other gadgets in the room as well: an iPhone charging by the bed, an iPad on the top bookshelf, an Infinity Stone beside the goldfish bowl, and a set of speakers atop the chest. I looked into his eyes, and saw that they weren’t sewn by cobwebs. They were clear, coherent, and untainted by feathery explosions or virtual snowball crusades. And the darling dear is doing his homework! I backed out of the room, smiling sideways, and said, “I’ll let you get back to work.”
I stood in the center of the hallway, penned in by the three doors, and once again pulled out my sad flip phone. For all my purported cellular savviness, I sure was scraping the bottom of the barrel with this scrap of metal. If the iThings were parasitic aliens that sucked the attention out of children, then ol’ Flippie here was a prehistoric beetle, and the only thing it sucked out of life was fun and battery juice.
When I was younger, I didn’t even have a notion of what a computer was. Coloring books, broken dolls, and funny-looking leaves were my distractions, and lanky-limbed trees growing alongside muddy streams served as my playground. I was dependent on the weather more than anything; no rain meant free reign, and shady skies did I despise. There was no risk of an invasion when the closest thing to technology I possessed was the clunky TV in the living room.
But Short, Tall, and Grande- they would mature alongside the aliens, taking them by the hand through elementary school and becoming life long friends as college rolled around. They would know each other, inside and out, until they weren’t merely ‘possessed’ by the iThings, but one with them. Would they ever know the kind of childhood I led, where creativity was consummated in hands-on learning? Where every day was one of elbow bruises and grass stains, and games were played not with pixelated penguins, but with imaginary friends? Where instead of throwing irritable fowl at pigs, you could just go out to the farm and butcher one? Well, ok, maybe not that…
In the seventh grade, I considered myself a tech mogul. I thought I knew it all, and I prayed for the day when computers would be interpolated into brains and psionic manipulation would be a skill possessed by the masses. What I was unaware of, though, was just how distinctly the road to bionic bliss would affect people, especially those of the child-sort. Most of modern technology is necessary and resourceful and glistening with promise, and we need it; it’s a tool for studying, learning, growing, molding minds and promoting knowing…plus a little entertainment never hurt anyone.
The invasion is not in the appeal or the perception; it’s in the obsession.
And perhaps that’s why I both loved and hated my flip phone. It was stark enough that I could go for days without touching it, therefore eliminating the chance of addiction, but it also lacked the glimmer of boundless ability. We crave to contain our lives in something, so that it won’t seem as complicated. And children, above all else, crave to control something- a virtual character, a game’s outcome, a high score.
I was tossed from my thoughts when an explosion sounded from Grande’s room. “Mayday! Mayday! Gun him down, you -” What followed was a string of cusses so colorful that I could practically see the rainbow seep under his door.
Then I realized…what kind of kid does his homework on a Friday night?
It’s a forlorn sound,
the call of a bygone drifter-
a sound I recognize all too well.
Arches of water, black as bane,
rise high around me,
crumbling with thunder,
like sword against sword in
the raging war between sand and sea.
Fingers of foam bleed out from the battle,
clawing into obsidian sand that
glistens like hot coals.
I am small,
a grain of clay waiting to be washed by the surf,
swallowed by a sea of eternity.
My hair dances with the salt,
far freer than I will ever be,
and I am mocked
by that dark, watery line
that glimmers at the end up my fingertips,
It’s a heavy feeling,
the anchor between my ankles-
a feeling that’s weighed me long and well.
A foghorn cradles the morn.
I’ve been a bit inactive this past week, mostly due to the stress of school and exams and all those dismal dealings. I’m also absorbed by my current work-in-progress (just hit the halfway point!), so sorry for the lack of new content.
I molded this poem from an old piece I had sitting around my documents. It’s a bit rough around the edges, so I might come back to it later to tweak it.