“Befrust” by Gabrielle Lawrence

Visitants
tom hill

Image by Tom Hill

befrust

 

 

 

 

Gabrielle Lawrence is a writer and editor. Her writing can be found in The Squawk Back, Rising Phoenix Review, Gravel Magazine, A Gathering Together Journal, Sundog Lit, and others. Even when she isn’t doing the most, she is still in the spirit of much. Follow her on Twitter @gabrielle__l or visit gabrielle-lawrence.com for more info.

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“How a Girl is Born Brutal” by Weslyn Rae Newburn

Visitants
54eaed0a5827c1d18b4b6feafc4cdf2e

Image by Ignacio Cobo More

 

 

I spent the summer pretending
my legs were confined in a sheath
of iridescent scales, swimming with
eyes closed, nose pinched tightly shut.

The burn of chlorine in my throat,
greasy shine of sunscreen on my shoulders,
cool juiciness of lemon yellow freezy-pops,
that tasted nothing like real lemons.

That summer my bitterness festered
like the smashed green anoles on the back porch.
Guinea wasps stirred in my Pepsi
and I didn’t feel sorry for them.

Your forgotten girl, I prayed
for the sun to scald and blister you –
make you shrivel up like watermelon seeds
in hot, dry crabgrass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weslyn Rae Newburn lives in Tallahassee, Florida. Her work has previously appeared in The Eyrie, The Blue Hour, The Blue Hour Anthology: Volume ThreeAlong the Forgotten Coast: Selected Poems, and Alphanumeric. She likes film photography and collecting roadkill to create spooky stuff. To read more of Weslyn’s work, please visit: weslynrae.webs.com.

 

“Pest Control” and “Dissociative Amnesia” by Kristin Ryan

Visitants

Kristin Ryan Poems

Pest Control

I.
There are always roaches
in the corners of my mind.
I’m in the kitchen washing cups
at the sink and time skips.
Skips as in: I’m six and splinters
are in my back. Skips again:
roaches crawl over me. Skips again:
the sink is overflowing and
soap suds run down my arm.

This happens more and more.
When I walk down the hallway
to the bedroom, in the shower,
the nights where I’m brave enough
to be touched. My husband’s hands
are always gentle, they always will be.
I know this like I know windows can
be opened and closed. It’s my fault.
I’m the one that triggered you.
I feel like a predator. How do
I tell him hearing this hurts
more than what I remember?

.

.

.

.

 

 

 

II.
It’s during a therapy session
I learn kids mistake hands
for roaches and other bugs
when recalling memories.
The realization stings.
My trembling rattles
her office windows.
My sobs startle both of us:
“I wanted to be wrong.
I wanted to be wrong.”

When I come home,
my husband is packing up
the kitchen for our move.
How was therapy?
I shake my head and cry as
he wraps his arms around me.
“I didn’t want to be right.”

 

 

d886ded27f479a1122545a8039b6c311

image: Ashley Goldberg

 

 

Dissociative Amnesia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kristin Ryan is a poet working towards healing, and full sleeves of tattoos. She is a recipient of the Nancy D Hargrove Editor’s Prize in Poetry, and was a Write Bloody Finalist. Her poems have been featured in Glass, Jabberwock Review, and Spider Mirror, with work forthcoming in Five:2:One, among others. She holds an MFA from Ashland University and works in the mental health field. She tweets @kristinwrites

“Pine” and “Tuileries” by Kristin Garth

Visitants

Poetry by Kristin Garth

 

Tuileries

 

Twilight, Tuileries, trembles, tulips, then

tomfoolery. Cafe au lait, collar new

beneath her trenchcoat, navy blue. Her yin,

the silver links his yang, the gold. She flew

to him nineteen years old. His growl

“good evening,” telephone — a voice

with fangs, a face unknown. She’s hotel howls

with bit, licked lips, stilettos, nude — his choice;

she’s wrapped in whips. She’s strung and strummed, starlet

du jour. In bows and stings, this lust matures.

First love a chain that buckles, chokes. Ardent

affirmations rosé, azure procure.

No ring such decadent desire denotes —

their bond, Louis Vuitton, around her throat.

 

Lotus by Stephanie Ledoux

image: Stephanie Ledoux “Lotus”

 

Pine

 

Incarcerated in her head, black oak

staircase, wrought iron bed. She’s put away

each night to pine, your babydoll, her broke

down mind. Secret the staircase, sky slate gray,

descent to darkness, as you say. Projects

a prison with restraints, padlocks — a toy

returning to its opened box. Perfect

she ponders, mental cage; supine, such poise,

that’s part refined/teenage. A needy girl

you teach to wait. Daybreak delights she dreams,

anticipates. Her arms entwined above

her head, pulled taut ribcage, ropeless regime;

bedspread sunbeams your coniferous grove.

Seedling selected for her fertile mind.

Inside, each morning, your exquisite pine.

 

Ronell Ferreira Pink Protea

Image: Ronell Ferreira “Pink Protea”

The Price of Peace: A Review of Nguyen Phan Quang Binh’s ‘The Floating Lives’ by Tini Ngatini

Traversing Narrow Margins

Tini Review

I recently came across a Vietnamese film, The Floating Lives (Canh Dong Bat Tan), which was released in 2010 by Nguyen Phan Quang Binh. Although this film is a few years old, the issues that the director addresses still feel fresh and progressive from my perspective as an Indonesian woman who teaches courses on women, gender, sexuality and religion.

The plot follows the life of man referred to as Mr. Vo, a severely broken-hearted man whose wife has left him for reasons the film does not reveal. Fate has left him a single parent and a duck farmer. By the end of the film, Vo’s son is killed and his daughter is raped by a rival group of duck farmers. The events of Vo’s life take place against a rural backdrop of equally tragic social issues: poverty, illiteracy, and violence against women and children. While the frank portrayal of these issues is common in Western films, they may still shock a Vietnamese  audience who are unaccustomed to either seeing such issues depicted onscreen or even hearing them mentioned in open discussion.

What I find intriguing and disturbing, however, are the lines that come at the very end of this film, as they seem to contradict the film’s message up till that point. These pivotal lines are spoken by Vo’s daughter: raped and now pregnant,

Nowadays, Dad and I have stopped wandering, we have quit being duck-farmers and settled down in a small village. Everyday, dad can bring kids to schools by boat and I can see him smile. I will name this child Thuong [her own future baby]. He is fatherless, but surely he will go to school. He will be joyful all his life and be taught by his mother that children must know how to forgive the mistakes that adults make.

The closing statement: “Children must know how to forgive the mistakes that adults make,” seems to negate the film’s earlier advocation of the rights of women and children by asserting that victims of adults’ mistakes (in this case, like in many other real-life cases, the mistakes in question concern those of patriarchal violence) are morally obliged to grant exemption to their oppressors, with little emphasis on the moral obligations that face the perpetrators of such crimes.

This narrative of martyr-like “forgiveness” is problematic because it seems to suggest that victims of such life-altering acts of cruelty are to simply bear their grief and pain with silent dignity, instead of using their experience as a motivation to call for societal change that could prevent similar outrages befalling Nuong’s own progeny Thuong in the future (or perhaps more disturbingly, being enacted by him).

How are we to make sense of this apparent contradiction? Are we to read this line as an adult’s voice projected into the child character Nuong? If this is the case, then the film’s earlier advocacy of liberation from patriarchal violence is overshadowed by its recognition of the insurmountable problems preventing achievement of this goal.

The event of forgiveness in this example – the fictional character Nuong, lead me to think about the conditional forgiveness Jankelevitch discussed in Forgiveness. This kind of forgiveness requires the conditions remorse and/or a request for forgiveness on the part of the wrongdoer, as well as the promise from the wrongdoer that similar events will not happen again. In order for victims to effectively move on from a trauma, it may be necessary for additional forms of compensation such as counseling, healing programs, sanctuary or work training; to be provided by wider society. What the case shows us is the absence of expressions of remorse and follow-up actions on the part of the wrongdoer to mitigate the destructive affects of the past wrongdoing.

In this case, expressions of remorse will serve to acknowledge that what the character Nuong experienced is “normal,” rather than an attempt to expose, humiliate and/or criminalize the wrongdoer. The term “normal” here ; far from being used to play-down the seriousness of the events in question, merely means that these events, whilst horrific, are not rare or bizarre and that Nuong is not the only one to undergo such trauma.  However, such an absence of acknowledgment results in these experiences  remaining confined to the private space, unvoiced. That unvoiced status of such an experience also restricts policy makers within public and social spaces to make necessary steps such as counseling or child protection, either to mitigate the negative effects of the events on the victims or to protect other citizens from experiencing  similar trauma. In extreme cases, the absence of such acknowledgment could lead one to suppress the memory, which  to a certain degree, obstructs them from looking back into the memory itself and addressing the issue. Perhaps consequently,  the horrific experiences will continue to hover over one’s present life, conditioning their idea of relationships in general.

Jankelevitch’s idea of forgiveness could indeed be tricky because either it may remain a political performance with debatable value or, if the wronged party is indeed able to perform genuine forgiveness, an attestation to the political force of the ruling class. If, as this scene in the film indicates, forgiveness is unilateral, it further underlines the under-privileged status of groups such as women and children who are subtly forced to sacrifice their rights, including the right to remember.

Contrary to what most of us might think, inherent in the nature of political forgiveness is what actually protects that right to remember.

In order for society to properly utilize forgiveness in the case of traumatic events, I think the key is to find balance between helping the wronged party to find ways to continue with their life and giving public education to parents about topics such as domestic violence, healthy parenting and sexual abuse. That way peace can be restored without the need to sacrifice the right of the wronged party’s remembrance of their past which is, to a large degree, necessary for future life.

 

References

Jankélévitch, Vladimir. Forgiveness. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

 

Playing ‘Exquisite Corpse’ By Myself by M. Perle

permanent fugue
20170724_154258

Photo by author

    “And it kills me, the word sorry. As if something like music

 

should be forgiven. He nuzzles into the wood like a lover,

  inhales, and at the first slow stroke, the crescendo

     seeps through our skin like warm water, we

 

who have nothing but destinations, who dream of light

   but descend into the mouths of tunnels, searching.”

from Ocean Vuong’s “Song on the Subway”

 

“I am trying to check my habits of seeing, to counter them for the sake of a greater freshness. I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I’m doing.”

Susan Sontag, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980

 

“Well let’s think for a moment. What type of orange are you?” Our professor asks us.

On a Thursday night we discuss how to teach metaphor in our Poetry and Pedagogy class. We are reading Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions translated by William O’Daly. Dr. Berlin has asked us what it feels like to be an orange.

“I’m a blood orange,” my classmate responded. We all laughed. “I’m red and juicy on the inside.”

“Who gets the most sun and who decides on these matters?” someone wondered.

“I would think the biggest oranges would get the most sun,” another classmate said.

“What if the bigger oranges are bigger because they get the most sun?” I posed.

“This is not a Marxist tree!” the Blood Orange shouts. People laugh, I audibly eye roll.

People began calling out, “Everyone gets equal sun!”

“Where are these oranges growing? Is this a private farm or someone’s garden?”

“Did you hear about the peach tree they cut down on campus and replaced with Dogwood. That’s nice for about one month of the year, but I want peaches!”

“Now,” I start in, “what if everyone thinks I’m an orange but I’m really a grapefruit?”

As people laugh someone says something about me being bitter.

“What if,” I begin, “we are all those genetically modified mini-oranges engineered for children under 5 and we just think we are real oranges? We’re all in a crate together being shipped to the supermarket. We’re derivative oranges,” now I’m being a bit of an ass.

“Are we the types of oranges used in perfumery?” Someone starts looking up what type of oranges those are on their phone.

One classmate says they are a Florida-hating, navel gazing navel orange from Florida.

We discuss zen koans now:

Can a koan change a life?

My professor asks if we all remember the Marx Brothers. She wonders if people growing up today have sufficient exposure to absurdity; she comes from the era of Vaudeville.

I would think it’s clear absurdity is palpable now. Especially politically.

“Do people today have something like ‘The Shirt Song’? It’s just a guy talking about how he wants his shirt,” Dr. Berlin starts singing it.

He wants his shirt!

                                                                       I want my shirt! 

He won’t be happy without his shirt!

 

I think about when I used to do prank calls as a teenager with my friends Danny and Anthony.

An answering machine beeps (Danny, barely disguising voice trailing off laughing): “HELLO DERE! Come on down to Wal’er’s Park this weekend for some hotdooogs and sode-y!” 

Videos exist of Anthony on the couch in a friend’s basement:

“Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of MAURY where today we will be discussing: ‘Help, My Daughter is Having Sex with…Pilot Lights.’”

There’s a clip on that video tape of a high school acquaintance laying sideways and rubbing his body atop a cafeteria table saying “Lemon Curry,” in a sensual way. Quickly: a cut to my friend Danielle in art class sharing her series of “feeling papers”: about 40 papers of possible human feelings. She reads each of them to me in discordant voices, pointing at all of the papers which are decorated with a hodge podge of art supplies, peaking slightly over the top of the papers and giggling after each one.

*Danielle in a shrieky voice* “Hopefulllll:” as in are youuu hopefulllll? I hope you’reee hopefulllll *laughter*

We used to laugh at anything when we were that age. In a high school play we performed, And Then There Was One, there was a line I said in the role of Detective Horatio Miles: “What does anyone do in the pantry?” It was tech rehearsal and someone in the audience yelled “Masturbate!” We laughed so hard and our teacher made us this t-shirt.

20170725_221300.jpg

Photo and food(?)/paint(?) stain by author

 

Last week I try to make feeling flashcards:
20170725_213926

They are terrible and not like Danielle’s.

I made “privacy” an emotion, too, so if you want to be technical they are no longer feeling flashcards, now they are just cards with words on them.

“Should I watch the videos again,” I wonder now, “or just remember them?”

 

**********

 

On a Thursday night in 2017 we continue discussing metaphor. My professor says: “What if I say: the universe is the smell of pee?” I got lost somewhere and now we’re here and “the universe is the smell of pee.”

Can a metaphor change a life? A law? An economy?

John Tarrant, in Bring Me the Rhinoceros: And Other Zen Koans That Will Save Your Life, says asking questions, specifically in the form of koans will encourage doubt and curiosity, lead you to see life as funny rather than tragic, and change the idea of who you are. He thinks at the bottom of people’s motives is love.

I ask myself if this can be true.

To prepare for class we read Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions. Neruda references Nixon, lemons, roses, and Rimbaud. 

In “Night in Hell” Rimbaud says:

But I am still alive! – Suppose damnation is eternal! A man who wants to mutilate himself is certainly damned, isn’t he? I believe I am in Hell, therefore I am.

Shams Tabrizi said this much earlier:

Don’t search for heaven and hell in the future. Both are now present. Whenever we manage to love without expectations, calculations, negotiations, we are indeed in heaven. Whenever we fight, hate, we are in hell.

I try reading Neruda in the style of Jerry Seinfeld:

Ya knowww…

“With the virtues that I forgot

Could I sew a new suit?”

 

I meannnn…

 

“Why did the best rivers

leave to flow to France?”

 

“And why is the sun such a bad companion

To the traveler in the desert?”

 

Can a question change a life?

 

*********

20170722_132227

Photo by author

“Hello, Love!” Katrina, the barista at Java City, says when a customer walks in, sometimes alternated with, “Hello, sweetie!”

As someone who enjoys observational research, I listen to the way Katrina talks to other customers. “Hello, Love!” “Hello, sweetie!” would ring out from the cafe as I did some reading in the nearby library study area. “It’s so good to see you today!”

I feel as a cynical academic I could have just said “she is infantalizing me,” but I think that’s also bullshit, she wasn’t, this can’t be academonized. 

One day Katrina and I talk about the power of being happy. I think about this a lot. 

Katrina treats everyone with the same happiness. I believe she is happy. We talk about smiling. She says she is 53 and decided she didn’t ever want to be unhappy again. I wonder how this works, not in a shitty sarcastic way, I actually wonder.

Emotional labor debates are not because we don’t want to ever do emotional labor–they are so people recognize the labor we perform. No one has to be good to anyone. All emotions are labor. But what would be the point if no one ever did emotional labor? Should we all stop emoting? I don’t want to stop emoting. 

I don’t think that’s the point.

There are “occupational hazard” emotions to some identities.

Calling someone “angry” can be a way to immediately shut down discourse. Telling someone to smile or be happy is intrusive. These can be ways of policing behavior when it’s threatening to power. But in terms of survival and on a more personal level–what does it do to someone’s health when they are angry a good deal of the time?

In Jessi Gan’s “Still at the Back of the Bus” (an essay from Are All the Women Still White?) Gan brings out that anger as a tool  for social equity is an essential yet alienating reality. She mentions the story of Silvia Rivera: marginalization even on the margins.

“I just want to be who I am. I am living in the way Silvia wants to live. I’m not living in the straight world; I’m not living in the gay world; I’m just living in my own world with Julia and my friends.”

Rivera, along with Marsha P. Johnson, founded “Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries.” Even in queer communities, people told Rivera she wasn’t welcome, beating her up, telling her she was an affront to “real” womanhood, making fun of her language abilities, telling her sex workers did not have a place in the movement. “Progressive” queer people ignored Rivera’s plee to financially help homeless queer youth, so she did it herself.

Queer people, especially of color, gender non-conforming and gender nonbinary are consistently barraged with demands on their identity and forced outings:

          “But who are you?”

Silvia was a founding member of Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance and was shit on by her own “group” so she left.

The answer “I’m me” is not good enough and “who are you as it applies to what serves me?” seems to be the real question when people deny identities.

This should be cause for anger. With this anger can come alienation–the angered pick up the tab for this. They are blamed for the symptom, the anger, when the anger had a causal relationship to something else.

Calling out anger can be a form of shutting down discourse, but the anger that is dwelling inside comes at a cost to the angered, not just the receiver of the anger.

Anger can poison your organs. Anger can kill you.

*Someone in the back of the room says “everything kills you someday” and they are being an ass.*

Practitioners of allopathic as well as hollistic medicine believe anger is stored in the liver. People use alcohol and drugs to cope with anger, too, which further impacts the liver. Silvia Rivera died of liver cancer.

What are the ways people kill people?

No Answer Barthes

from Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse

 

 

*********

“Sodom-y and Gonorrhea” and “Minced Oathe” were stories I wrote about breaking faith and questioning the ego when I was 19. I wonder if we are born with more wisdom than we gain and if we lose it over time; I’d write based on dreams I had.

My Grandmother was a Bible school teacher. Everything is apocalyptic revelation.

In “Sodom-y and Gonorrhea” the subject of the dream lays naked in the desert sipping a White Russian reading magazines. Most of the people are naked and imbibing, white metal bunk beds are placed all over in the sand. A natural disaster rips through the place and everyone dies except the subject of the dream.

“You killed some people who didn’t deserve it.”

They look for clothes to cover themself and only find some on a person who has been decapitated. They put the clothes on as a figure on a Hummer*** drives through.

*On a Hummer not in a Hummer because it’s a dream and: dream logic.

*

*It’s a dream, shut up.

 

Though this character is just introduced, and this seems like the beginning of the story, it’s like we know them already. They go off together through a bar where Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” plays. Jesus is the bartender’s name. Jesus knows what you want before you even ask.

The characters talk for a bit and the subject says:

“Whenever I am hating you I am only hating myself.”

 

                                                                                      Jesus swept.

 

 

 

 

Detours and Triple Deuces by Keysha Whitaker

Something to be Said

Photo by Doug Kerr.

I once took Route 1 from Virginia to New Jersey by using a AAA atlas. This was around 2000 – way before Google Maps or the guiding voice of Siri. In my black Dodge Neon, I pulled over periodically to check the way, using my finger to follow the road off the page and onto the next when I crossed state lines. When I finally left the main road for the highway, I felt like I was Lewis or Clark or Jacques Motherfucking Cousteau.

Almost twenty years later, when I first moved to Reading, Pennsylvania, I stared at a new map, not printed, but pixelated. Tethered by a job to a location in the middle of everything and connected to nothing, I zoomed in and zoomed out on Google Maps. I plotted radii from livable cities. Philadelphia? Allentown? I calculated commuting miles and planned alternate routes, trying to find a way out, a road back to where I thought I belonged.

 

***

In April 2013, on my way back from my niece’s wedding in North Carolina, I pulled my car over on I-95 before I hit the standstill-likely construction-induced traffic, somewhere around Maryland. I’d taken the exit on a hunch and hoped my GPS would recalculate the rest. My dad, in the front-seat, and uncle, in the back, ad-libbed the detour.

“Man look at all the land they got out here,” my dad said as we drove past fields and barns and cows, now making our way through Pennsylvania. “They got as much land out here as North Carolina.”

Uncle James (never as much of a fan of North Carolina) wasn’t as impressed, but something did catch his attention.

“Triple deuces,” he called, like a casino card dealer, as we passed a sign for Route 222: the road we’d follow to I-78. “Two. Two. Two. I’m gonna play that number when I get home. Sure am.”

***

 

When I wasn’t staring at the map, I was going about my life, equal parts work and grocery shopping. One day, I decided to join Sam’s Club and set the destination in my car GPS unit.

Somewhere in the middle of the twenty-minute drive, I heard Uncle James.

Triple deuces.

The route, which I’d driven before, suddenly became more than the sum of its parts: Two. Two. Two. As much time as I’d spent staring at Google Maps, I hadn’t realized that my dad, Uncle James, and I had been here before. I had been so focused on getting away that I hadn’t taken time to appreciate where I was.

I wanted to believe Route 222 was a sign as concrete as the white and black one on the side of the highway: an assurance that detours are part of the journey, a reminder that the memories made along the way were more important than the destination, and a lesson that what I was genuinely seeking wouldn’t be found on any map.

When I finally left the highway for Sam’s Club, I felt like I was Lewis or Clark or Jacques Motherfucking Cousteau.

 

 

 

Flesh Inaugurate by Wes Bishop

Cyber Pamphleteer: Imagined Stations
wes-painting

Painting by Wes Bishop

The other day I was riding in the car with my friend and colleague Angela Potter, and we began discussing how popular views of health, genetics, and modern material reality shaped everyday thinking and belief. We had just come from giving papers on a panel together at the Indiana Association of Historians. The topic? The public sphere, both as a tool of historical analysis and popular phrase in everyday speech. Angie’s paper had been an exploration of how sex education had been represented (and often misrepresented) in school texts. My paper had been on the intellectuals of World War One in the US, and how their debates could provide a better understanding of what the public sphere actually was in a democracy.

The panel’s Q and A had quickly turned to one of the questions that had been discussed at length in the keynote and other conference panels— were we living in a “post truth” era?

Our answer— No. Absolutely, not. Or more to the point, there never had been a “truth” era to begin with. Instead, the public sphere had always been a loose collection of ideas, cultural biases, and socio-political beliefs. Its why, we argued, sex and human anatomy could be portrayed in the public sphere’s print so bizarrely mangled.

Calling for a return to a period of agreement was ahistorical, and furthermore, ignored dangerous aspects of how many western democratic public spheres developed at the expense of the most marginalized in society.

Angie and I began talking about how some of the questions had wondered if basic physical reality could serve as the foundation of a “truth” era in politics. Surely, one questioner had pondered, we could all agree at least that there was a physical reality?

No, our panel said. Such an agreement would not do much good.

As we went over the questions again, Angie and I began discussing how even a physical reality led to differing views on the self, society, and our place in the cosmos. Specifically, we began discussing genetics, heredity, and how that shaped the individual. We both agreed genetics in many ways served as the modern embodiment of magical curses.

Why do some diseases and disorders persist? DNA. Like a curse on a family it passes itself on to generation after generation. The things we fear may happen, the fear of our fate in other words, resides in our cells. It flows in our blood. It is fate, working on our lives from some unknown realm.

+++

My grandfather died with his brain riddled with Alzheimer’s.

Throughout his life he had been a child miner in WV during the Depression, a veteran of the Korean War, and a longtime advocate for labor unions. But he was more than these things. In many ways these facts, although they shaped him profoundly, were historical markers on his physical body. On his own volition he also had a deep thirst for knowledge. Abstract thinking. Scholarly knowledge about the world and his surroundings.

I will never forget how when I began taking geometry in school he lit up with excitement when I brought my homework to his house for a visit.

“Euclid!” He said in excitement. He then took my book and began to page through it with eagerness. Stopping over a few equations, he read them like they were magic spells with some innate power. Then he turned to me and began going on about how he had read a book on Euclid recently, why Euclid and his field was so important, and how lucky I was to be studying it.

That was how excited my grandfather could become with knowledge. To him it was a magical realm where reality was transformed by ideas. It could transfer you anywhere, instantaneously.

It was why it was so hard to watch him slowly die as a genetic disease systematically dismantled his mind. It was a sad irony that as I was able to talk to him more deeply about ideas and issues in academics and politics he was losing his ability to do so. The last time I saw him (outside of a hospital) he just stared at me with uncertainty, not sure who I was or why I was at his home.

There was little hope then that he would know who Euclid was.

+++

My partner Allison and I had our DNA tested a few years ago. We did this mostly as people interested by thinkers like Henry Louis Gates Jr. who had popularized the practice as a way to connect with history.

Ultimately, we found some fascinating information about our backgrounds. For instance, I share a bizarrely high amount of genetic material and markers that relates me to Neanderthal people. Hence my lovely pronounced eyebrow ridge, which makes me look perpetually angry unless I walk around with my eyebrows raised as if surprised by some unseen force.

But besides this, the testing center also calculated the probability of certain health risks. They did this solely on looking at genetic material, figuring statistics, and providing a rough estimate. It was as close to palm reading one could get in a science lab.

Opening my profile I was taken to a red ominous page that demanded I absolve the testing center from any legal action once I learned what awaited me on the other side. Pandora’s Box with a lawyer present.

I clicked “yes” and continued. There, like a grim wizard, was the ghost of my grandfather passing along the curse. 95-99℅ likelihood of developing dementia. My brain would almost certainly continue forging new synaptic pathways until it strangled itself. Like a garden given over to a vicious strain of weeds.

I don’t regret having my DNA mapped, but I certainly take Angie’s observation about curses and science to heart. It both terrifies me, and saddens me to think that others will most likely have to watch that process of mental degradation happen to me. As someone who enjoys reading, debating, and writing about ideas I can’t help but picture my grandfather staring at me blankly. A man who once got so excited by a high school textbook that he sat with his grandson to do equations, he was no longer even able to recognize what room he was in.

What does this belief in physical reality get us? To be sure it is a base line most modern people prescribe to, but outside of that does this common core of thinking predict how people will react to the knowledge of their more than likely fate?

No. Not really. For that we have to look to personal philosophies, religious and spiritual outlooks, and past experiences.

I am still young, so I can treat this reading of the divining stones in my blood as an afterthought. No doubt it will take on pressing urgency the older I get, when death becomes more of a put-off meeting in a planner than some rumored far-off land.

But I don’t want to be defined by my death, any more than I want to be defined by a potential disorder. My grandfather loved Euclid. He rose through one of the most incredible periods of US history to raise a family, and his grandson now has the luxury to study not just Euclid but entire universes of past societies. We are not solely our history, just as we are not a singular event, like our death.

There is little use in running from, or raging at fate (although it is perfectly fine, and sometimes quite healthy, to do so). Curses and science have never cared too much about human desire.

Where do we place our politics then? Is it in the project of creating a commensurable public where politics spring forth from a basic belief in the material world? Such a state is not unimportant, but it is hardly the most important. Although scientists like Neil deGrasse Tyson have argued that such a state would potentially save us, I think it does a great disservice to the myriad and beautifully diverse ways humans have developed to thrive in the material world.

I obviously would gladly take any treatment that cures me of a disease like dementia, but if I have learned anything from literature it is that those who become consumed by their curse are truly the ones who are destroyed. The evil magic wins in total, because the curse touches and destroys all aspects of that person’s life. We see it in those who run, those who try to cheat it, and those who sacrifice their very being to try and get out.

We stand in this physical world, supposedly the stage that gives us all meaning. But the next step, the next word, and the next thought determines who we are. It differentiates us. It divides us as beings who must operate in the world imperfectly. That is where our politics start. Not at the base of physical reality, but in the articulation of aspiration.

The interior of my skull continues to buzz at a million miles a minute. It is the seat of my very being, my tether to the physical world. But it is not the only thing I am. We inaugurate our flesh, and in the process must liberate our souls.

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