Reckless Abandon

The weight of his father’s hand against his shoulder supporting his tiny frame seemed to be small encouragement. Across the doorway to his home was a hostile kind of face he never had much exposure to — a scowling, fox-like face, thoughtful yet aggressively sharp in every detail, belonging to a girl who looked to be no older than himself.

“Hey, relax,” his father tried to say in his most reassuring tenor, the petrified child gripped like moss against his leg, “This is going to be your new little sister, Aoife. There’s nothing to be scared of. Try saying hi.”

The frightened, bespectacled boy waved his hand awkwardly as the girl glared daggers back, offering a loud hiss in return. As if confronted by a wild animal, he stole his hand back with a jolt, tucking himself further behind his father’s leg.

“Well, that’s not the worst we’ve seen,” he joked to the haggard woman behind the girl, “Are those all of her belongings?”

“Yes,” she said cheerily her tone in distinct contrast to her looks, “She hasn’t got much in the way of clothes, so as we’ve discussed earlier, you may wish to visit a store sooner rather than later.”

The boy peered back out and noticed her dress for the first time. Plain, ill-fitting, they were obviously hand-me-downs. He felt very self-conscious in the nicely ironed shirt and overalls his mother had made him wear that morning. If only she were here right now.

“That’s not a problem,” the father replied, “Thank you so much for dropping her off. I understand that it was quite inconvenient to arrange something like this. My wife takes the car to work, and with that new law…” he trailed off.

The woman laughed, “Yes, yes. It’s not a problem. She’s certainly a special one. I was willing to pull a few strings and call in a few favors for her. No one else was willing to take her until now. Was Solomon the same way?” The woman smiled down at the half-hidden boy named Solomon.

His father rubbed his head delicately, “Same way… you know, maybe so. He was utterly terrified of people, but he’s gotten so much better. Aoife might not be so different. She just expresses it in a different way. Oh, but those are the papers I need to sign, right? Please, come in. There’s no need to do that at the door.”

Aoife entered first, practically sniffing the air, brushing past both Solomon and his father as if in disdain.

“Hey, buddy,” his father whispered as he bent down to Solomon’s ear, “Can you go show Aoife to her room? It’s the one we painted together, remember?”

Solomon nodded with an unsure expression. Aoife glanced at his direction with a bored one. The woman added reassuringly, “It’s okay, hon, go check out your new room.”

As the children made their way up the staircase, the adults left to continue their discussion in the kitchen. “So she’s just like him then?” the father asked once he was sure they were out of earshot.

“Engineered and abandoned,” the woman noted with an alarming resignation, “At first it was a tweak here or there, and now we have these super human children being discarded because they aren’t quite perfect. Have you heard of the news just today?”

The father sighed, “I heard another gene lab got busted in Portland.”

“Actually the same lab that Aoife came from.”

“You’re kidding,” the father leaned in, “Were they able to track down her parents?”

“They only track the parents if there’s a benefit. In the end, rescuing children just make for good headlines. Then, they’re left forgotten. Just look at Solomon. I’m guessing his biological parents are just like the rest and want nothing more to do with him.”

Solomon tried to pretend not to hear as Aoife inspected her new room. It was decorated in a way that seemed to befit a normal seven-year-old girl, but she found it condescending. “Hmph,” she grunted as she tossed a stuffed sheep back onto the neatly made bed it had been resting on, “Show me your room,” she barked at the boy.

“O-okay,” Solomon said as she brushed past him again into the hall way. He followed closely by as she barged into his room heedlessly. It was decorated in a similar layout with the same little sheep doll resting against his bed frame. The furniture itself were a little more utilitarian, but not by much. However, one thing did seem to catch her eye.

She walked over to a picture frame, picking it up with both hands. Inside was a photograph of Solomon playing at the park with his adoptive father. The two seemed comfortable with each other. Next to it was a picture book.

Solomon walked over to her, suddenly reminded of what his father had told him before today. There would be a girl coming who needed lots of love because she didn’t receive a lot from the people around her. He should be nice to her until she learns how to be nice, too. “That’s me and my dad on my birthday,” Solomon explained pointing to the picture.

“Do you love your dad?” she asked in a quiet tone, gripping the picture frame.

“Yeah, he’s really nice.”

“Do you listen to everything he says?” she asked again. “Because that’s why he pretends to love you.”

“Um,” Solomon began to say when she suddenly dropped the picture frame, cracking the glass. “Oh no!” He rushed over to pick it up to inspect the damage. “Why did you do that?”

“Oops,” she shrugged with a smirk, “Sorry.”

Solomon had no idea what to do. His brain seemed to race to find the proper answer, but he looked down at his father’s beaming face in his hands. “It’s… fine. You didn’t mean to do it…” The words could barely come out.

His father sighed as he sipped a cup of hot tea at the kitchen counter, “When Solomon first came home, he had an awful temper. Meek and mild as a lamb most of the time, but he would have these fits of inconsolable rage. My wife and I had no idea how to handle him at first. It’s been five years since, and he’s gotten so much better. You know he’s only in third grade but already reading at a middle school level?”

“That’s what these children are like. When given the proper environment and care, they’ll naturally excel. The institutionalized ones like Aoife… they end up struggling, so finding them homes where they can express their talent and find happiness? That’s what I live for.”

“Yeah, I saw it for myself. Solomon is smarter, faster, stronger than all of his other classmates. He never gets sick. He doesn’t even get tired. If his parents wanted a superhuman kid, they had one, but instead they just… threw him away because of his eyesight? If I ever got a chance to meet them, I would love to give them a piece of my mind.”

Solomon placed the picture frame back onto the drawer, picking up the picture book next to it. He showed it to her, adding, “This was the first book I read with my dad. Do you want to see?”

She snatched it from his hands.

“See,” he said hesitantly, “It’s about a little duckling.”

She began tearing the first page. “Oops.”

“Hey!” he cried, his horror spiking every heart beat into his ears, “Stop that!”

She tore a little bit deeper.

“Or what?”

He reached for the book before she could do more damage, but she hopped away with unexpected agility, reaching for the inside corner of the page again. With a slow, loud rip, she continued. Solomon felt dizzy, but behind his thick glasses, his gaze was laser focused on her and the book in her hands.

The haggard woman finished her tea, “It’s always the children that suffer most the ambitions of the adults. It’s something my boss used to say, but every day it rings true. We mess around with their genes, and they become victims of our hubris.”

The father gave a sad smile, “I would do anything to change it, but what’s done is done. All we can do is try our best moving forward.”

“We could cure the world of every illness, but there will always be selfish people. Makes me wonder if we’re not meant to have this much control.”

“I think it’s inevitable. What parent wouldn’t want to prevent an illness for their child? Then if presented the option, what parent wouldn’t want their child to have every advantage available to them? It was never going to stop at curing cancer.”

“So what do you make of these parents then? They treat their own children like household appliances. Having so much control must make them believe that they’re interchangeable. Look at some of the other countries around the world. There’s rumors that China is going to look into warranty programs on their engineered children.” Her otherwise calm demeanor seemed to waver as she punctuated her sentence with cough. “Isn’t it maddening?”

The father nodded in agreement, “It is, but no matter how much things change, I truly believe in the deepest core of my being that the answer is love.”

A resonating thump from above startled both of them. The two adults silently made eye contact and began to walk towards the stairs.

Aoife cradled her nose in her hands, blood slowly pooling in them. The pain made her unable to focus on anything in front of her. Before they had even begun fighting, she had jerked backwards and slammed her own face into the open door, but she was more than ready to pin the blame on Solomon. Her mind started to concoct the perfect scenario to get him into the most trouble.

Suddenly, she heard a familiar rip. Solomon had ripped out the rest of the page and a few more and started to wipe her hands with them. She froze, unable to fully process what was happening. The paper wasn’t particularly absorbent.

Wasn’t this book so precious to him that he was ready to attack her?

He handed her another page, one where a sad, lonely duckling could be plainly visible. “Here, you can stop the bleeding with this, too.” She accepted the page, still in shock.

“Solomon! Aoife! Is everything alright?” His father appeared from the hallway. “Oh my goodness, what happened, you two?”

Aoife stared from the ground up at the man, blood still dripping from her nose, “I… He…”

The woman showed up right behind him, horrified.

The little girl continued absent-mindedly, “We were playing, and I hurt myself. He helped me.”

“Let’s get you cleaned up then,” the father said relaxing his shoulders. “Looks like you need to wash your hands, too, buddy,” he smiled at his son, “C’mon.”

Aoife stood up, still holding her bundle of bloody paper when the woman approached and gently took the scraps from her. She seemed like she knew there was more to this story than what she saw. “I’ll throw this away,” she whispered, “No more trouble-making, hon.”

She nodded as Solomon’s father took her hand.

 

 

Re:Lacks

There are pathways that light up across your body when you interact with a cup of tea. Your eyes receive light that is reflected backwards onto photosensitive cells that send electric signals into the computer in your head. That thing then crunches all the numbers. Am I feeling good right now? Is it safe to take these actions? Will I enjoy it if I do? How much time do I have?

The orders are sent hurtling through wires down your spine and into your arm, triggering muscle contractions maneuvering your hand to reach down and grip the handle with trained dexterity, reversing the actions to bring the tea up to your nose, olfactory receptors going wild at the waves of new sensory stimuli. Amazing, your computer remarks, this was a worthy decision, and I shall perform this task again in the future. Ever since I was a child, I was fascinated with the minutiae of the human body, and this leads to an even grander inquiry. Where does the will to perform these actions even come from? Is the mind just a set of algorithms tangled up within itself to do things beneficial to its survival? Is it more like an unfathomable soul?

Clearly I’ve grew up a little different from everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think of myself as some kind of stand-out super star of anything. I’m average to an exceptional degree, but no one else seemed to think so. A lot of the children around me at school somehow heard a rumor from somewhere that I did not have a father. Not just living at home, but biologically, because I am a perfect genetic clone of my mother.

The adults treated me with care like a porcelain doll, while the other children treated me with child-like fascination, which if you know anything about children, involved a lot of poking and provoking. Ever see a little boy before an ant hill? Wanton, curious destruction is always involved.

Some of them genuinely believed I had super powers, which I played up so that they might leave me alone. I warned them that if they messed with me, I would use my psychic powers to turn them inside out. This seemed to dissuade the more imaginative ones, but the disbelievers would call my bluff, eventually breaking down the lie. I recall one afternoon was especially bad. They had thrown a rock at me and missed, and I confronted them. They threw more until one hit me, drawing blood. They scattered like rats, and I hobbled over to my teacher crying, so she sent me home for the day. People were horrible, I remember thinking, until I could smell the wafting of buttery bread coming from inside my home. My mom had heard from my teacher that I was being sent home, and prepared french toast and honeyed teas to cheer me up.

Well, despite the campaign of terror inflicted on me, I found that the psychology of a human being is rather resilient. I kept living life, growing numb and accepting that this is simply who I was and how I would be treated. Over time, the kids grew bored of teasing me, as these kinds of people do, eventually moving on to target others, almost at random. Honestly, I could see no pattern in their cruelty.

There was one little girl in elementary school, when I was already an adult, whom I witnessed being pushed around. For reasons beyond my understanding at the time, I stood up for her against these tiny schoolyard bullies. “I heard of her! She’s the clone!” they shouted when they saw me, referencing some obscure sci-fi movie right afterwards with their poses.

“Yeah, leave her alone, or my clone army will come for you.” That gave them a good laugh, and they turned to leave, uncommitted to harassing an adult it seemed. It didn’t take much at all. I asked her what her name was and why they were bullying her. Insensitive, maybe, but I didn’t think about it at the time. She quietly replied that her name was Vanesa, and that she wasn’t a real person.

I pressed, asking why she was saying that, and she said that she was made-up. Artificial. That she didn’t have a mommy or a daddy. It turned out that she was indeed an orphan, taken in by foster parents. A designer baby that did not turn out how her parents wanted, and thus, abandoned. My heart broke for her, and I swore to come back to her home with a gift when I visit.

That night, when I told my mother about the bizarre occurrence, she smirked and smugly added that I was most certainly her daughter for being bold enough to stand up to a bunch of children. Well, that was a given since we look almost identical, anyway, but I asked her what she meant. I never appreciated her brand of sarcasm.

“I never told you, did I? Maybe it’s about time.”

“You can’t just start a conversation like that, momma.”

“You’re right, let me ask you something else then. Do you know where you come from?”

“From you. I’m an exact replica of you, but different. Like an identical twin.” I gave her the side-eye. Usually she found it funny.

“Exactly, and do you know where I come from?”

“From… Roanoke?”

She laughed, “Yeah, originally, we are all from Virginia. I’m a clone of my mother, too, except I never got to meet her.”

I blinked in confusion, “What?” It was all I could muster.

“Yes, she had passed away in 1951, but some big-head scientist decided to bring her back to life in the form of me, and in the form of you from me.”

“I thought it was illegal to clone someone dead.”

“Oh, it most certainly was, and I was national news for a long time. Your momma was famous, you know. You’re not the only one. Except, in some ways, it’s more fair to say that I’m your older sister.”

“What are you saying?”

“Well, it’s been on my mind lately, and you’re already in college so it’s about time you know the truth. I’m getting on in years so I want you to hear it from me before anything happens.”

“Momma! You’re only fourty!” It was true though. She was aging pretty rapidly, which is a side effect of some of the older clones.

“Thank you, darling. I shielded you from the truth for as long as I could. I really wanted you to have a normal upbringing, the kind I couldn’t ever have. Sometimes I was even jealous of how blissfully ignorant you were.”

“That isn’t why you hit me, right?”

“No, that was discipline. That’s because I love you. And I’m saying this because I love you. The truth is that we were human experiments. The government granted me and you human rights only after the UN became involved, but now all of that might be changing again. Originally, we were cloned to produce certain cells, but the process resulted in viable fetuses. When that happened and the lead scientists reported it, the details were leaked to the press, which then exploded into another huge scandal.” She seemed as serene as someone recalling a nostalgic picnic, but I could scarcely believe what I was hearing. Not a single snarky remark came to mind.

My mother continued, “I’ll cut to the chase. Darling, I have cancer. It’s only a matter of time before they come to take me back. They want to examine me.”

I sighed as if finally breathing for the first time, “Oh, good. No one dies of cancer nowadays, momma. I’m sure they’ll want to take care of you. You’re a celebrity, right?”

“No, no. I said they want to examine me, not treat me. They want the cancer to go as far as it will go before it kills me, and then they’ll extract it and study it. Isn’t it gruesome?” she added with a snarl.

“That’s… that’s illeg-“ I barely stuttered the words before she interrupted.

“They write the laws, darling. The people in charge are different from the ones that liberated you and me twenty years ago. Hey, at least they had the good will to warn me that they’ll be coming for me once I’m ready. That’s more than I expected.”

“I’ll go to the media! I’ll go to social media! I’ll find a lawyer! What kind of… why would they? That makes zero sense!” I was panicking so rapidly I was surprising even myself. I could sense the clamminess of sweat on my palms, now gripped into fists.

“They said they would give you everything you need once I’m gone. They don’t need you if they have me, you know? You and I are the same, so you’re at risk of having cancer, too, but you never have to go through that pain if I do. Do you see what I’m saying?”

“I… I don’t…” Tears welled up in my eyes because I knew exactly what she was saying. I was too young and apathetic to realize my mother’s horror during election night seven years ago. I always thought things like that were a world divorced from my own. It’s all I could think about in that moment. The ghostly expression of death itself worn on my mother’s face that night in contrast to the angelic visage of peace worn on my mother’s face now.

“You’ll be alright, darling. And so will I. Don’t worry about a thing.”

“They can pick someone else, can’t they?”

“It would have to be you.”

“I’ll do it then!”

“Oh, darling…”

I started to scream, “How come I don’t get a choice in all of this, huh?! It’s… not fair!”

She then said the words I might never forget. “Can’t you let your mother be selfish for once in her life?”

I shut up real quick, and weeping into her arms as she stroked my head, whispering that it would all be okay. Strangely, whenever she spoke, it almost sounded like I was talking to myself, which made that moment feel all the more surreal. It felt as if I was consoling myself.

My mother passed away in a government black site facility. I do not know the details of her death. I do not know where she died. I have tried to find out more but have been met with no leads or clues, and I was forced to give up by court order. When I explained to little Vanesa, she seemed to understand, since apparently she’s also not allowed to find her birth parents. She might be one of the smartest children I’ve ever met, but to be abandoned just because she wasn’t perfect… Heat rises to my chest every time I think about it.

Would I have done the same thing in my mother’s shoes? Despite it all, I would have. It makes me wonder how much of my own thoughts and desires are determined by “free will” and how much of it is determined by my genetics. Will I see her in heaven? Will we be the same person? Or different, but pretty darn similar?

I was given life in order for others to benefit from my sacrifice. Unlike most, there actually was a reason why I was born, but I’ve absolutely no desire to fulfill it. What then do I choose to dedicate my life to? Justice for my mother? That was a choice she made, too. This might be a twisted conclusion, but I can’t take that away from her. Maybe it’s to live a life that our original could not live, with opportunities she never had? What is the meaning of my life?

So many questions, and none of them can be answered scientifically, and as badly as I want to know the answers, I’m not sure if it’s worth the trouble sometimes, you know?

Coil

“So it’s something like a soul?” the boy in uniform swung his legs in the air as he sat perched atop a staircase hand-railing. The breeze from the passing cars did nothing to sway his center of balance.

“Yeah, I guess. You can’t see it with your eyes. Other people can’t interact with it. But when it moves, it can do some crazy things. I’m holding it in my palm right now, but you probably just see nothing. ” The girl in uniform spoke with a calm that seemed unsuited for the topic of conversation. She swung her legs too, rocking back and forth on the opposite railing.

“It all sounds like you’re trying to prank me again, to be honest.”

“It does, doesn’t it? Even if I show you how it works, you wouldn’t believe me, huh?”

“Don’t know. You’ll have to show me first.”

“‘Kay!” She hopped off and landed with a stomp. The sun’s slanted rays colored her white shoes a tint of orange. “I’m still learning so don’t be rude.”

The girl in uniform closed her eyes and expanded her lungs with the city air, tasting the ambient smoke. As if whispering, her lips shifted slightly. The boy in uniform did his best to observe carefully, his vigilant eyes considered the best of his classmates, but could see nothing. Then he felt a tingle.

He started to sense shivers running up and down his spine and the hairs on his arms raising. Even his vision began to see strange spots. Shaking his head or rubbing his eyes did nothing to make them disappear. 

“What’s happening?” he found himself saying before he knew it.

She did not respond, breathing out in an exaggerated fashion, lowering her arms in the process. As she opened her eyes, the girl sighed, “Believe me now?”

“Kind of, but what were you doing?”

“So what I did…” she started as she hopped back onto the metal railing, “Ow! I just zapped my butt. Anyway, I visualized the soul thing to turn into a spring and just spun it really fast. The faster I spun it, the more it starts to do strange things.”

“It’s not strange things. It’s an electric field,” he said, a dawning realization widening his eyes. “Like a coil of wire in a magnetic field…”

“A what field?” she said quizzically, “You’re confusing me.”

“Can you imagine spinning it even faster? And add more loops of coil to it.”

“Sure, I can try.”

She jumped back off, taking in an enormous volume of air. The boy now realized that when she was visualizing all of this, she didn’t stop to breathe. Perhaps it impeded her concentration to do so. In any case, he focused all of his attention on her and his surroundings, glued to the railing.

As time passed, his hair began to rise again. The sensations were becoming more intense as his vision began to grow spotty. Suddenly, a sharp pain cascaded down his legs and up his arms. The boy fell from the railing. As his hands met the surface of the cement, his body weight fell to the side, and his legs slipped down a few steps of the stairs. He looked up at her, every hair on her body standing on end. Her head seemed to be wreathed in curly, writhing tendrils.

“Oh! Woah! That was weird!” she gasped, panting and sweating, “Are you okay?” Everything stopped at once. The kaleidoscopic colors ceased instantly.

He grunted, “Yeah, I’m fine. I think I scraped my knee, but it’s nothing compared to what I just saw.”

“What did you see?” she asked hesitantly. “You didn’t peek up my skirt, right?”

“Even better, I think you might a superpower or something. Like you can make electricity out of nothing. We need to test this out! See if you can electrocute things from a distance… or… or if you can power a fan!” His excitement made him scuttle back to his feet instantly. “If you get strong enough, you could become a superhero.”

“Nope! Not interested in all of that!” she smiled, “I knew you would say all that junk, too, but I showed you for a very specific reason.”

“What’s that?”

“I showed you because I think you can do it, too. You may not believe me, but I can actually see your soul with my eyes, too. It’s different from mine, and I can’t see anyone else’s, but I can see yours.”

“Now you’re pranking me.”

“I’m not. You don’t have to believe me. Go try and do what I did by yourself in your room if you don’t want to embarrass yourself or something, but I think you can do it, too. Or not! I don’t know! Just a hunch.”

“How come you can see it though?” he said, furrowing his brow, “And… what even is it?”

“I wish I could tell you,” she shrugged flippantly, jumping off the railing to leave. “But you said that I’m making electricity? That’s kinda funny. I’m like a little battery then. I wonder if you’ll be able to do the same thing.” 

“So I have to see it first, right? It starts with visualizing?”

“Something like that? I don’t know! Everyone’s is probably different, too,” she casually suggested as she turned around.

“Wait! You have to tell me more!”

The Woman Shrouded in Mist

The thin, delicate hands she held out to collect the rain had started to leak under the weight of the puddle she had amassed in them. She let out a happy sigh. The sensation of water against her skin was the only thing that made her feel as if she existed, and whenever the heavens opened and poured out its contents, there was no greater feeling. There was a time when she could enjoy herself bathing in the lakes of the woods, but those had long since vanished, paved over by settlements of cement and steel.

None could spy her form. None knew even her name. And in the mind, without a name, there can be no existence. Beings like her were permitted to exist only where no man can prove. Mystery was the only lake in which she lived now. She was like a dot of light in the eye, disappearing as soon as one focuses on it, a passing moment lost in a blink. The animals did not seek to comprehend, and they did not try to make sense of her, but the humans always did. They had invented stories of her, conflating legends into her, shaping her into something she was not until she herself could not recognize herself anymore.

In the earliest ages she was but a singular spirit of a lake, a manifestation of the lake itself, communicable and visible, elevated in time to deity. A manifestation not of one lake, but of all water. The storms and seas, too, were her domain, but her sisters of the lakes disappeared. The many spirits inhabiting the forests left without resistance. The animals once filled with vivacity and chatter became dulled and silent. She asked the birds of the air and the fish of the lake why they no longer responded to her, but as she feared, it was a futile question asked without merit.

But mankind continued to worship her, sacrificed to her, experimenting with the mechanisms and rituals by which to earn her favor, and she obliged in kind, becoming desperately lonely, but as man moved and interacted with the ages, others appeared. Unfamiliar spirits hailing from far away, garbed in armors or robes of foreign tribes. They, too, had been mere spirits confined in place to one location, but now they could travel with the people, and these interactions assuaged her loneliness.

A pantheon arose from the collisions of these tribes. It had become difficult to tell whether she was absorbing or being absorbed into these unknown goddesses, but it hardly began to matter. Her memory grew foggy at this point, lost in the countless legends and mythologies that arose as her influence spread and became disjointed. What was true and what was false did not matter. All that mattered was the mystery. The space between reality and fantasy was mystery, and these humans captured her within this gap like a fish clasped between two hands. It was the only place she could exist anymore as their observations covered every dark inch of the world. Even as cults of supremacy grew declaring themselves a tier of spirit above herself, she hardly cared. Promoted or demoted into deity or demon hardly mattered either. The slow death of mystery is what concerned her most.

Their eyes scoured her. Each mind that wondered for a moment whether she could be explained pricked her like a thorn. And yet they built statues to her… temples to her… her name changed again and again as her existence became a fractal… a kaleidoscope of countless reflections. Goddess of the seas… goddess of rain… goddess of love… mother goddess of monsters… Goddess only over the things they did not understand the movements of — the unpredictable. As soon as they did, it was “natural.”

Yet somehow… they had divorced her from nature. This cataclysm is what drove her into a horrifying despair, and her domain shrinked all the more as their understanding deepened. She could see the others like herself, once spirits of earth and heaven, now the personifications therein of all Earth and all Heaven, slowly losing ground as mystery faded. All save for one.

In time, those who worshiped her stopped for all manners of reasons, whether it was conversion or death. Her name disappeared from the minds and lips of men. She was the patchwork goddess, sewn together from so many different, almost contradictory concepts that she could scarcely remember her true origin, if she ever had one. Perhaps the continuation of her identity from the time of lakes was an illusion. Perhaps she was a Ship of Theseus, repaired and rebuilt from end to end until she was no longer who she was when this journey began. She did not know even her first name, if ever she had one.

What she knew was that she loved the sensation of rain. Standing atop the rooftop of skyscraping structures erected higher than the tallest trees of the forests, she felt a tingle along her skin. She sighed impatiently as a buzzing, automated surveillance drone peered around the corner, its strange wings moving so rapidly so as to be invisible. Dropping the water pooling in her hands, she vanished in a flash of nothing, wondering if she might reappear later when it rains again.

Humanity and Me

I’ve been listening to an audio book titled Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, and it’s been a real eye-opener. Having always had a thirst for knowing the origin of things, whether its the origin of languages or of physical matter or of psychological disorders, I jumped on the opportunity to hear a little bit about the origin of our biological species, Homo sapiens.

Since this is chiefly a section about etymology, I’ll start with what “human” means. It comes directly from the Latin word homo meaning man, which later evolved into the Latin word humanus, meaning human. The related word, humane, meaning to show compassion or benevolence, also comes from this idea that we are somehow unlike the animals from which we have descended. This superiority complex is developed from mankind’s own immodesty when it comes to our lineage, believing that we have been set apart from our distant cousins in “nature,” that mankind has achieved a more complete state of awareness. In a sense, we have, having developed such remarkable advancements as language, law, morality, and fiction. What other animal can engage in mythology as naturally as humans can? And yet, to engage in this stroking of the ego is to risk undermining the point of understanding our humble limitations.

In some ways, the book appears to present the argument that we have gained the awareness now to realize that we have evolved far too rapidly such that our genetics have not been able to keep up with the development that our culture and technology has provided us. One such development is language itself. With the growing minds and more fine-tuned vocal chords that the great apes stumbled into, language itself in the form of warnings and mating calls began to take shape, but those were single, solitary calls. The truest advancement in language happened in mankind when we were able to string together words into complete sentences, capable of expressing extremely complex thoughts and instructions with a small, efficient vocabulary. It’s one thing for a monkey to cry that there is a lion approaching, but a completely separate thing for a hunter-gatherer to declare that a lion was seen by the river at daybreak.

Another possibility arose as to the need for more advanced language, and that is the growing necessity for social structures. Neanderthals, our brothers and sisters on the evolutionary tree, did not hunt in packs or establish very complex societies, preferring instead to live peacefully and simply. Homo sapiens on the other hand were starting to undergo different evolutionary pressures. As our heads increased in size due to the need for more powerful brains, and an upright posture for running and balancing our gross, swollen heads, and narrower hips for improved running, childbirth became increasingly dangerous. Thus, children with softer, smaller heads, more underdeveloped coming out of the womb were selected for, meaning mothers were pre-occupied caring for their young, requiring the need for a tribe to assist in raising children.

On top of this, there was a need to know who could be trusted since one’s social circle was going to extend beyond family and into members of the tribe who may be less familiar or have less extensive contact. The primary driver of language development may have been gossip. People are so predisposed to gossip that it seems to be something we need to become consciously aware of doing else we’ll never stop doing it. Just now, when speaking with a colleague, I found myself immediately discussing the whereabouts of different colleagues not a part of the conversation whatsoever. It’s practically a genetic impulse.

And on another more interesting note is the primary means by which early Homo sapiens overcame his competitor human species like the Neanderthals, and that is with greater organization and cultural adaptation. An animal’s behavior is beholden to it’s genes, with the environment only slightly affecting the details. A human’s behavior is beholden to his or her culture, a difference that affects everything in adaptability. A human tribe that suffers defeat from a Neanderthal tribe need only change its culture or mythology, reorganize, and in time, over perhaps a few generations, the more adapted culture would triumph over the more slowly evolving Neanderthals. A woman born in 1900 eastern Germany and living for 100 years would have gone through 5 different political systems: the monarchy under Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Weimar Republic of post-war Germany, the Third Reich of Nazi Germany, the communist bloc of East Germany, and finally the democratic Federal Republic of Germany of the modern day. That is all within one lifetime, and the sheer difference in behavior between all five systems far surpass the adaptability of any other animal on Earth.

Now, to discuss everything the book covers would be overwhelming and most certainly an exercise in futility, so I’ll end with this. As a member of the human race and a member of the human species, and a member of the human culture, there is something deeply unsettling and yet comforting about recognizing our place in nature, how we are an aberration and yet no such deformity at all. There is no true distinction between the way we operate back then and now, save for this difference in culture. We still laugh, love, hate, fight, make peace, trade, and create. We still pick flowers to share with the person we love, touch hands to show affection, speak about and with others to pass the time, dream of the unsearchable at night, and eat together. So long as we have this connection to our ancestors, this shared set of behaviors built into us, we’ll still be human. Perhaps its in losing this that we lose our humanity.

Writing and Me

Writing is such a pernicious thing, isn’t it? Once it takes hold of you, it doesn’t ever truly let go. Donning the identity of “writer” is practically a surgery, a process that will leave the participant subtly changed in ways that they may never recognize. Maybe that responsibility to an identity is why it’s frightening to think about calling myself a writer. I merely write, arguably as do we all. Because ultimately we frame all thoughts — fleeting or lasting — into the context of words.

The skill of writing is just slowing down enough to capture those words into a script outside the mind. The science behind it is fascinating enough, studying the etymology and phonemes and diphthongs of every nuance in the study of language, but the art of it is almost impenetrable. Who can suggest why melodies sound the way they do except to throw their hands up and shrug? So what does that make good writing? The art or the science? The Taoist answer is that it’s the harmony of both; the Kantian answer is that it is the synthesis of both. Who cares? It’s enough to call it mystery and let flow good writing, judged only by the ability of that writing to most efficiently transfer the thoughts of the author into the mind of the reader, whatever avenue that happens to take. This means, of course, considering the sheer breadth of experiences in the world that writing has almost no meaning in generalities. The individual author has a task to throw into the zeitgeist of mankind their own stories, so that someone somewhere somewhen will be able to get something from distantly sympathizing with the mind of the author. In other words, it’s not necessary to write everything for everybody.

But going back to that efficiency factor of transferring thought into words… truly there is something lost in translation, right? Once we can read minds or upload thoughts directly into the brain, writing will be a dead craft, relegated to the same dusty shelf as weaving or coffee brewing. Well, certainly by that point humanity will have changed so fundamentally there’s a question of whether it’s even possible to fathom the similarities between such a society and ours. Techno-nihilism aside, converting feelings, experiences, expressions, and all of those undefined concepts into words is a process that involves analysis, which in Greek means to “loosen,” or more loosely, to break down into component parts. In short, it means to smash it apart and look at what’s inside, and this means that the gestalt of the concept is lost upon examination. Only upon examining can we then assign a word to whatever was inside, and that assignment even has a probability of error. To complicate things further, the reader then must take that word and consider the meaning of it in conjunction with all of the other preceding and succeeding words, which has its own probability of error, and it boils down to mere chance that any one person will understand the intent of the any other. Miscommunication should honestly be the expectation. How privileged we are as a species that it is not, though considering how often it happens, maybe we’re just entitled. I suppose we have thousands of years of evolution to thank for that, too.

To take apart something and transport it little by little to be reconstructed elsewhere is essentially the topographic map of communication. Creativity is its own special monster, as is story crafting, story telling, and all of the children that stem from communicating. Writing, however, is more than just the break down of ideas into words… it’s the distillation of the human desire to be remembered — to be acknowledged. Writing is the sublimation of the will to leave something behind and be immortalized, as well as the wish for an intimate connection with one other person, the reader. Should the reader respond back with writing, a two-sided relationship is made. It’s the crystallization of man’s loneliness and terror of an uncaring world, because while some writing is meant for a specific person to read, is it not the case that most authors and writers do not know the reach of their own words?

So I’ll continue to write, perhaps for someone in particular, perhaps for no one, but so long as I write for myself, I’m sure there will be like-minded people out there eventually who will read my work and think, “I understand you.”

That’s really all any of us want, huh?

 

The Sun and Me

Welcome back to Etymonday — the weekly, unprofessional, perhaps even incorrect etymology and thoughts blogcast.

The previous week I mused on stars, so perhaps it’s convenient to talk about the closest and brightest star in our sky, the Sun, and specifically, it’s many variants and names that I find personally interesting.

The word “sun”  comes from the Old English word sunne, which comes from the Proto-Germanic word sunnon, which comes from the Proto-Indo-European root suwen. Much like the word “star,” the word for sun seems to have remained remarkably static throughout the centuries, perhaps because the Sun itself is so utterly constant. More than even the stars, which ancient peoples have noticed had a few stray actors such as the planets or the occasional meteor, but the Sun never changed. Still, as it evolved in other languages, such as into the Greek helios or the Latin sol,  or the Sanskrit surya, the symbolism behind the Sun seems fairly universal. Interestingly, suwen may be related to the word for south, due to the fact that the people who spoke Proto-Indo-European would have always been in the Northern Hemisphere; therefore, the Sun would have always appeared in the south. Only along the equator does it appear that the Sun travels perfectly east to west across the sky.

The Sun was often seen as the embodiment of heavenly perfection for many civilizations across time. Cults that worshiped the Sun must have been nearly ubiquitous across the surface of the Earth, as even we acknowledge now in the modern day that nearly all of our energy production is driven by solar energy. Wind and water? That energy comes from the input of solar energy that moves those substances. Fossil fuels? Any bio-fuel can be traced back to chlorophyll and plants, which source their energy from the Sun. Geothermal and nuclear energy perhaps are the only two that do not have a strictly solar origin, but even they are byproducts of a previous Sun that exploded in order to create the materials that eventually coalesced into the Earth. Alchemists of Europe believed the Sun to be made of the perfect material, which was crystallized in their pursuit of gold.

In fact, it might be worth to take a trip down the halls of world mythology in order to see how people viewed the Sun. The Sumerians believed the sun to be Utu, the dispenser of justice and truth, rider of the sun chariot, a concept that survived since the Neolithic era. The “solar barque” was a ship that the Sun rode on, which is reflected in Egyptian mythology with Atum the sun-god and Horus the god of the sun, and later Ra. It almost seems as if control over the Sun shifted over time as different kingdoms within Egypt rose and fell from power, as if conquering the mythology of the Sun itself was symbolic of asserting absolute authority.

The Greeks perceived the sun as the god Helios, and later, Apollo. Interestingly, the earliest epics of Homer see Apollo in a different light than the Romans who saw Apollo as a shining, solar god. In any case, the original driver of the solar chariot Helios, son of Hyperion, was thought to be all-seeing and diligent, attending to the dangerous and skillful task of daily controlling a chariot that had the power to set the entire world on fire. The Romans believed something similar but went on to eventually call the Sun Sol Invictus, the unconquered Sun, incidentally, whose festival was celebrated on December 25th to celebrate the passing of winter solstice and return of longer days.

The list goes on and on, and one can peruse Wikipedia’s article on solar deities for themselves, but the point is that the Sun represents power. It is considered masculine in almost all mythologies (although the Proto-Germanic word was feminine, and there’s evidence of a Pan-Asiatic sun goddess such as in the Japanese goddess Amaterasu), and is even the chief god in some, the son of a chief god, or at the very least a high-ranking, respected member of the pantheon. The Sun is never to be looked down upon or trifled with, and many who dare try in these mythologies are punished to the utmost and destroyed.

The Sun represents power and life. Bright, burning, beautiful, like fire itself, capable of warming and harming. It is a measure, lengths of its day used to determine seasons and calendars, the zodiac used to determine the fate of a child. Eclipses come and go, but the Sun rose and set every single day since eternity without fail. Nothing else could compare to the persistence of power of the Sun. A sunny disposition is someone who is bright and cheerful, full of energy and optimism. The Sun is hope in solitary constancy, that things will not change despite how things appear to change. Could it be that the Latin word solus as in “alone” (where we draw “solitary” or “isolated” from) is related to the fact that there is only one Sun who is unaccompanied by the moon or the stars?

It was not actually so large a leap in logic to think the Earth revolved around the Sun rather than vice versa due to the role the Sun played in the minds of men. Who could ever have accepted a selenocentric model? I also wonder what kind of mythologies would occur in a planet orbiting a binary star system. The fact that we now understand the Sun is not eternal, is not the center of the universe, and isn’t unblemished (sunspots are certainly a thing) doesn’t really diminish the subconscious veneration we all have for the Sun even in the modern day. It is symbolic of awe-inspiring strength. It is symbolic of truth and light. It is the greatest physical fire that humanity has ever experienced, and we survive in its shade rather than its full presence. It’s almost fair to say that it is the closest thing that we have to an incarnate deity.

Stars and Me

I think on Mondays I’d like to talk about words.

And today, starry-eyed as I am, I’d like to discuss stars.

The word star is super interesting because it doesn’t come from Latin or Greek like the other 70% of English words. It comes from the Old English word steorra, which comes from an even earlier Proto-Germanic word sterzon, which comes from the Proto-Indo-European root ster. Isn’t it incredible how a word remained so static for over 7000 years of human history? How many words can boast that claim? Moreover, due to the sheer stability of the structure of the word, the English word “star” has many cousins in other languages that sound remarkably similar. Aster, stella, steren, estrella, stjerne, staar… the list goes on and on.

It’s theorized that IshtarAstarte, and Ashtoreth — all ancient goddesses of love, associated with the planet Venus — are potentially related to the word “star” due to the fact that Venus appears to be a wandering star (the Greek word planetes literally means “wanderer”). The movement of the planets, and therefore, the movement of the gods, was believed to determine the course of calamity and blessing. This is where we get the word disaster, literally meaning “bad star.”

Movie stars and rock stars and musical stars… all called such things because back in the 1820s, marketers would advertise by claiming the most famous members of touring theater and performance groups as stars, an idea that started to enter the popular consciousness only around this time. In history, reference to people as stars was commonly used to suggest their eternal fame or glory, as when Orion (of belt or hunting fame, depending on who you ask) was made a constellation in the heavens. Shakespeare and Chaucer used “star” to describe people as well. We use “stellar” to describe something good, but it was originally used to describe anything pertaining to stars. Strangely enough, the origin of that usage of “stellar” comes from the fact that we call these great people “stars,” which almost seems like an etymology that eats itself.

But I think what I find most interesting about the myriad uses of the word star and its conjugates is the idea that it all stems from one of the most widespread activities on the planet Earth: stargazing. Since time immemorial, single culture on every single continent has experienced night, and with it, the passing of the sun and the appearance of countless flecks of light speckling the sky, and all of them wondered what they were seeing. And so they stared, identifying ones that moved of their own whims, but noting the constancy of the stellar wallpaper.

To all people of the Earth, stars meant high and heavenly, almost divine, unsearchable. The way they moved, and the pattern to which they were arrayed could only be guessed at. And yet they chose to guess, eyes all around the world affixed on the same image of the boundless celestial ceiling, an unreachable backdrop upon which the history of mankind staged their performance.

They meant persistence. Every year, they would return to their positions, never having changed, only having revolved, as we perceived it. The very basis of the solar calendar, the pre-eminent calendar system of the ancient and modern day, was the Sun’s position relative to the stars. The Greek zodiac was developed to represent which constellation of the sky the Sun could be found in during that part of the year.

The stars never changed, no matter how far their explorers went. The North Star guided them by night as the Solar Star guided them by day. However, the further they went, the sooner they discovered there was a whole half of the sky that they had never seen. Two people from opposite poles would disagree about what the night sky looked like, but they were only ever looking at half of the full picture. Neither was ever wrong, unless they surmised that only their interpretation could have been correct.

I should note that as our observations of the stars have become keener and more refined, they are not as constant as they appear from afar. They change in luminosity — some grow weak and die with a puff, others expand and explode into a supernova. Others change places, dancing in a circular tango around one another. Some stars are so far away they can inform us of the history of the universe from ten billion years past due to the limitations on the propagation of light. They are born, they develop, they return to dust. It turns out they are only static in ignorance, but rather dynamic in truth. And now, our collective civilization has come to a point where it is possible to jettison man-made objects towards another star, to arrive there long after its creators have died. To reach for the stars could be more literal than poetic within our lifetimes.

Stars represent a lot… much more than what could be covered in a short post. They are symbolic of so many things that anyone from anywhere will immediately understand because of its pervasiveness in human experience, and I can’t help but see why the word has stayed the way it has for so long, and I can only guess that it will stay remarkably similar until the stars themselves begin to fade.

Syzygy and Me

I am no expert in poetry.

The argument could be made that no one truly is, but moving past overwrought sophism, I think I can soon make it abundantly clear that my attempts at being and becoming a writing creative are somewhat juvenile. However, I will mollify my own defeatism by adding that I hold great respect for the written word.

The fact that what is deeply embedded in the mind of one individual can be transferred into the mind of another equally shuttered individual is a feat worthy of the title of “miracle.” Look no further than the prevalence of the idea that incantations can invoke magic, or more specifically the written rune of Germanic mythology, or the talismans of Fulu Taoism. Strangely, in this era of connectivity and interactivity and globalization, the shrinking world and the network of human lives that crisscross the 21st century experience can numb us to how uniquely profound communicating through words ought to be. You, the reader, capable of the super power that is mind reading at this very moment! And yet, when confronted, we all recognize such self-evident claims that words have the power to build and destroy. Then it seems paradoxical that despite this, the sheer preponderance of words produced, consumed, and recycled in our daily lives, much like the people we come across, will dilute their worth.

This isn’t really how it’s meant to be.

The history of any one word can be traced back to the very beginning of mankind. That is to say, it is possible for an all-knowing God to perform such a wonder, while we ourselves may never have access to such an archive of philology. However, conceptually, I am merely saying that any one word has behind it thousands and thousands of years of evolution that eventually brought it into the lexicon of the modern day. It is like beholding the branch of a massive, thousand-year-old oak, knowing that snapping it off harms the entire tree. How precious is any one leaf of such an awe-inspiring, ancient, living creature?

Any one person has behind him or herself a lineage of countless mothers and fathers, an immeasurable wealth of stories, each with their own soaring climaxes and settling denouements, all to produce one person. How precious is any one person, indeed. And yet, we treat our fellow man expendable, never able to observe in the heat of the moment the great pains, the twists and the turns of history that it took to create this singular, irreproducible individual. But even this, in the end, is a part of a bigger story.

I suppose to return to my original point, we may treat words and people in much the same way in that we are exposed to them so often that we take them for granted. Certainly, we do not take the few hundred or so people in our lives for granted! And more certainly, it is impossible to grieve for the two hundred thousand people who die every day. I would be the greatest hypocrite if I should say that I am an exemplar in this regard. I’m prone to the same numbness! Stepping on another human being in order to move ahead is just the way of this world, is it not? It is eat or be eaten, kill or be killed, survive or die and the strong will exploit the weak. Allow me for a moment to leave this point dangling.

What is the significance of syzygy? It is an astronomical term referring to the linear alignment of three or more celestial bodies. For instance, a solar eclipse is a syzygy of the Earth, Moon, and Sun, in that order. It comes from the Greek root word σύζυγος (pronounced suzugos), an adjective literally describing those who are yoked together, like cattle meant to till the soil, figuratively describing those who are united or bonded. It is further derived from sun- (together) and zeugnunai (to yoke), which later became syzygia to the Romans, meaning conjunction. More broadly, it is used in other fields to generally describe the unification of two opposites or paired entities.

The significance ought to be clear. It is a splendid word that could evoke so many different concepts, all conjoined into a single, odd, rare word — to an extent, a recursive word. It’s an ideal for which to strive. Joining words to concepts. Joining words to words to form ideas. Joining people to people through words. Any permutation would seem to be a valid thesis.

And to return to the dangling thread, it is this joining that can bring new life to numbness. We live on a world in which we are yoked together, in syzygy with one another to survive an existence that is unknowable and terrifying. Many of us have come to our own answers on how to live, but it cannot be shared unless it is first translated within ourselves into words and expressed. Then, perhaps we can start to understand and become the tiniest bit closer to seeing what binds us rather than what distinguishes us. To that end, it starts with me and my own words; I believe in that miracle.