WickedEye's Quotient

2/15/2014 at 02:06

Congratulations, Ms. Page. Now, about your next role...?

The appropriate response—for everyone barring LGBT teens and their teachers/counselors—to Ellen Page's coming-out:
1) Congratulations on being so comfortable with that.
2) So, your next role...?

For those reflexively outraged that I should do less than rave with joy: Ms. Page's journey is relevant to a segment of the public—LGBT kids—as well as to her own private life; but the latter is what precludes the idea that anyone should ever stay closeted.

It's not that Ms. Page's journey shouldn't be honored...by those whom it affects: Her romantic partners, the LGBT kids she's trying to help, her friends and family, and possibly others who've endured the same struggle.

Others who comment on Ms. Page's sexuality have:
A) the manners of barnyard animals (just because it's common doesn't mean it's polite, ya'll), and/or
B) a supreme indifference to the distinction between public and private, and/or
C) pretensions towards being artistic or cultural analysts of some kind, and/or
D) a severe excess of free time/no social life of their own.
A, B, and D are the choices that apply to everyone who isn't a film critic, a Ph.D. in some branch of social science, or a fellow artist.

Ms. Page's sexuality is her own business. Full stop.

I know about this sort of barnyard nosiness because I've been asked, in both law and medical school, if I'm lesbian or bisexual—I headed the group for LGBT law students and their supporters for a time, and was bluntly unconcerned with dating. I don't decline to answer because I have something to hide; those I love will love me no matter what my answer.

I decline to answer questions about my sexuality because answering them means that the person asking has a right to ask.

If a public figure chooses to generously disregard her own privacy in order to help others suffering from the incredible bigotry and ignorance that afflict our society, it is an act of generosity. No one has a right to that information but her lover(s). Making revealed information about someone's sexuality—rather than that person's compassion and concern for others—into a huge news story does nothing but reinforce all the barnyard-mannered impertinence of the general public who think questions about sexuality are appropriate.

And as an added disadvantage, it perpetuates the idea that when thinking of someone who's LGBT, the very first thing that should leap to mind is her sexuality...in Ms. Page's case, bypassing the incredible talent that gave us Hayley Stark, Juno, and Ariadne.

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2/10/2014 at 20:08

The Most Glittering Kind of Poetry

How could anybody think of Bach as 'cold' when these suites seem to shine with the most glittering kind of poetry?
-Pau [Pablo] Casals


{Written September 19, 2012—for Bea and Omy, with much love.}

No composer will ever surpass Bach in my mind and heart; and few of his works have touched both so deeply as his Cello Suites.

I love most stringed instruments, but the cello has a special place in that pantheon. Its tones combine warmth and plangence, caress and demand, in a way I've never experienced with any other sound.

So of course I would love Bach's treatment of the cello best…of course I would; I love his treatment of everything best. And if I think his primary preoccupation—breaking the world into chords, then reordering it to refract shadow and light and fear and beauty, as it should—is particularly well-suited to the Scheherazadic strains of the cello, then perhaps that’s to be expected.

There is all this at the back when I listen to Bach’s Cello Suites. Yet even so, his first, in G minor, moves me as little else can. Its Prelude is certainly well-known for good reason; in no other music is the sumptuous timbre of the cello so well mated with the lucent, nuanced use of metal, wood, horsehair, and air at which Bach excels.

Pau Casals and Yo-Yo Ma are sublime envoys of that sound. In Yo-Yo Ma's hands, Bach is pellucid, serene, transcendent—the composer I fell in love with at 17. But Casals…in Pau Casals’ hands, the cello is ardent—fervent and earnest in a way I have heard nowhere else.

It is near-miraculous to me that the Suites can be played with such overwhelming feeling, plaint and paean and passion thrumming through the sound in a way that might startle the Kapellmeister himself. Perhaps that feeling rings so clearly because when I was last in Puerto Rico I saw an exhibit on Casals—Casals whose first cello was made from a gourd; Casals who found a copy of the Cello Suites in a thrift shop when he was 13, spent the next decade of his life learning them…and then the following six decades mastering them.

No-one has ever played Bach on the cello as Casals does. Perhaps that is because no other cellist has ever spent so much of his life consumed—and transported—by both the instrument, and the man who mastered its song.

Pau Casals playing Bach's Cello Suite No.1, Prelude; performed 1954, at Abbaye Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa.

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2/07/2014 at 08:30

Olympics-Sponsored State + State-Sponsored Violence = Olympics-Sponsored Violence

Russian art, literary and otherwise, is a vast vein of platinum-webbed gold--but the coal-mine poverty of Russian human-rights practices seems eternal.

Russia's treatment of LGBT people isn't merely hostile: Its 'propaganda' ban is the glossier side of a state-condoned lynch-mob mentality that smiles at indiscriminate violence against LGBT human beings...and human dignity as a whole.

The Olympic coming-together of the world to celebrate human potential is a high point of living in the modern age. But by that very fact, holding the Olympics in Sochi, Russia--flying the Olympian banner, however temporarily, over the kind of oppression that the Olympic Games are supposed, by their very existence, to oppose--makes a mockery of the Olympic ideal.

Hosting the Olympics is enormously politically profitable for the host country's ruling regime (see this article in The Economist on why countries undertake such massive expenditures). Hosting the Olympics constitutes, in fact, an endorsement from the International Olympic Committee of the host country's ruling regime. (It's also an Olympic sponsorship of the money-stripping apparatus through which athletic organizations and tourists are fed at each Olympic Games.)

Did the International Olympic Committee permit the Winter Olympics to be held in a country with such appalling ongoing human-rights violations because of Russia's economic and political clout? It's certainly possible. The IOC has denied lesser powers--Istanbul's Olympic bids have failed for more than a decade because of Turkey's state-sponsored violence against dissidents. Certainly the Committee is politically savvy enough to have recognized that Russia's 'propaganda ban' is merely boilerplate--palliating language that allows the Russian government to at best turn a blind eye, and at worst contribute, to a culture of horrific violence against LGBT people.

Why else, other than state sponsorship, would perpetrators of such violence feel free to post, en masse, tens of videos of organized assaults? (Be warned: Some of this video content is graphic, and unsuitable for minors or the workplace.)

Russia's 'official treatment' of LGBT citizens is detailed in this Human Rights Watch report: Government officials--including Putin--publicly term LGBT people “perverts” and “abnormal,” while equating homosexuality with pedophilia. A director of a government-controlled TV-and-radio outlet goes so far as proposing to “burn or bury” the hearts of LGBT organ donors rather than use them for transplants because they are “unfit to continue anyone’s life.”

This is the regime that the IOC chose to host the Olympic ideal--the Games that celebrate humanity's potential.

Whatever regrets the IOC may have about their decision--and IOC President Thomas Bach's statement that he's willing to consider including language on sexual orientation in the Olympic Charter's ban on discrimination does read, at least partly, as a statement of regretcannot change my refusal to support that decision.

I wouldn't patronize a company that lent its prestige or contributed money, directly or indirectly, to the Klu Klux Klan or the Aryan Nations, or any other sponsor of violent bigotry.

I fail to see why flying an Olympic flag over a place that does the same is any different.

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1/26/2014 at 01:04

Subcontinental Gang-rape & Gay Rights

In 2002 Mukhtaran Bibi was gang-raped on the orders of her village council in rural Pakistan, in retaliation for her association with a man from another village.

My 2007 essay on her can be found here. I wrote not about the problem of sexual violence against women in India & Pakistan, which I'd addressed the year before (my 12-year-old-girl learning curve is detailed here), but about Bibi's heroically humanitarian response to the verdict against her rapists: She used the money to open a school in her village...a school in which she first enrolled her rapists' children.

I bring up Bibi's case, and her extraordinary selflessness, not only because her 'crime' and 'punishment' parallel those of the Indian woman who was gang-raped on the orders of her village council last week, but because of Bibi's wise and apposite response.

Mukhtaran Bibi opened a school. She did that because the real problem with the treatment of women and non-straight-male persons on the Indian subcontinent isn't just--or even mostly--a lack of statutory protection. The reason women and other "minorities" are mistreated on the subcontinent is the rampant bigotry, born of insular and determined ignorance, that pervades the culture there.

That bigotry--against women, against homosexuals, against anyone who transgresses sectarian boundaries or other cultural taboos--is a Stone-Age norm across India (and, one can conclude from Bibi's ordeal, Pakistan).

Yes, Stone-Age. A woman from the most recent gang-rape-victim's village (I hope every human reading is cringing at the words 'most recent') justified the council's punishment by stating that the woman is "a bad character" who "was going around with this non-tribal man." This, in Stone-Age logic, justifies gang-rape: People from other tribes are, just as they were 10,000 years ago, threats to the village's food supply and lands and survival as a tribe. By that logic, fraternization should indeed be punished extremely--by gang-rape, at least; and stoning might not be out of the question either...

But civilized people don't act this way.

And that's the problem with the Indian subcontinent. That's the reason why women, Indian or not, aren't safe in India, and neither is anyone transgressing those Stone-Age norms: Vast swathes of the Indian subcontinent aren't civilized.

And contrary to the shrieks of outraged Indians at home and abroad, those vast uncivilized swathes aren't just located in West Bengal, or in backwards villages. (Or in Pakistan.)

No, many of those swathes of bigoted, backward, uncivilized, determinedly ignorant, Stone-Age thinking cut straight through the likes of Mumbai and Delhi, where Indian women are--less than their South Asian peers, but still increasingly--choosing to delay marriage because it spells unremitting, full-time child-rearing and the end of their careers, no matter how educated or successful a woman may be.

That bigoted, backward, uncivilized, determinedly ignorant, Stone-Age thinking also cuts straight through the Lok and Rajya Sabhas, the two houses of the Indian Parliament, who are consistently embroiled in sectarian bigotry of the most pernicious, and often fatal, kind--see Narendra Modi, leader of the minority BJP party, for just how deeply involved in this sort of bloodthirsty thuggery Indian politicians can get (apparently without repercussion).

And then there is the institution re-conceived in the Enlightenment, the common man's last defense against bigoted, backward, uncivilized, determinedly ignorant, Stone-Age thinking: the high courts. In this case, the Supreme Court of India.

Which means that that Court's re-criminalization of homosexuality last month was not only a blow against the human rights and civil liberties of a large portion (approximately 20%) of the world's LGBT population, but also a complete failure of the SCI's mandate as an institution.

As of December 2013, any homosexual sexual activity in India is once again punishable by a 10-year prison term. That's right, it's again punishable...because the Supreme Court of India, in order to purvey its own bigoted, backward, uncivilized, determinedly ignorant thinking, had to overturn a High Court ruling and uphold a law from the 1870 British Penal Code.

That's 1870 AD, ladies and gentlemen. A law imposed by India's British colonizers 143 years ago is once again the law of the land.

Not quite Stone-Age. But in this day and age, quite definitely uncivilized.

Personally, my view of the bigotry of Indian culture has been jaundiced in the extreme since I was 11 years old--when my mother, brothers and I were reviled for more than a decade by the Indian community in Nashville (while they welcomed my 'respectable' surgeon father) because my parents had divorced.

I learned first-hand about the hypocritical blindness of which the Indian community is capable when protecting its cultural norms, and in that awareness I chose to be American by acculturation as well as by birth. Only later, because my extended family--and living rough in India for a year--showed me the positive side of Indian familial culture, did I choose to adopt some of it (if in a decidedly piecemeal fashion).

So I'm biased both for and against, now. All of which allows me to see bigotry on the subcontinent with a clearer eye than most.

Indian technology has evolved over the past three decades, and via India's youth has begun to drag the culture (inch by inch) with it. And India's children are, just like India's geography is, a patchwork of truly high-minded, humanistic thinking scattered throughout the bigoted, backward, insular traditional gender and community roles--roles enforced by family 'elders' as well as by many of the younger Indians (largely male) whom those traditions benefit.

My cousins--from India to Australia to Singapore to Montreal--are excellent examples of India's evolution. They are, very nearly entirely, caring and high-minded human beings, and they're a large part of the reason I came to value being part of a wider Indian family. Many work for justice and equality in their day-to-day lives; most exemplify it to some degree or another.

Not everyone from an Indian family is so lucky. But lucky or not, those of Indian origin with high ideals and open hearts need to speak up against the bigots, both in India and abroad. Here's the key--an idea that, despite its logic, most of India wholly rejects (and America struggles with, especially post-Bush and post-Ed-Snowden): Being anti-bigoted, backward, uncivilized, determinedly ignorant, Stone-Age thinking doesn't mean being anti-Indian.

And if it does mean that to you, consider seriously what that means about your idea of being Indian.

Indians of conscience and humanism and goodwill need to speak up in the face of oppression instead of simply ignoring it (or even opposing it quietly) lest they offend their elders and those who raised them--who, in India, are nearly universally less open-minded, less humanitarian, and less conscience-driven than those who grew up with a wider view of the world and of themselves.

Respect for our elders is a worthy tenet--but as with any worthy tenet, when embraced unthinkingly it can be carried too far.

Back to the 1870s, for example. Or the Stone Age.

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9/02/2012 at 19:01

*Commotio cordis

{Written last year.}
Life has effaced you. The wind and tide have swept you away.

Does it matter that you wanted them, waited for them? Watching you being carried away from me still feels like drowning.

Being in this place without you feels like trying to breathe water: Burning. Agonizing. Frustrating. There is oxygen in water; but I cannot use it.

I am not equipped for this kind of life.

When you were here the water never burned in my lungs. How did I never notice that you were breathing for me all this time?

And what if it is not only the water? Land or sea—wake or wave or footprint marking your departure—would I still be gasping? Still be drowning?

So perhaps drowning is worth us having left the shore—left light and air behind—to traverse murkier depths together: You are gone. I am drowning. That would be the same, land or sea.

But I would feel self-betrayed, self-forsaken, had I drowned in air rather than water.

This way I can tell myself that it is the medium, and not me.

I do not know your destination. I know what you want, what you wish, what you journey toward—but for the first time since we set out I cannot tell you if it will be the shape you desire upon your arrival.

I can only hope that that arrival will be welcome to you. That your own hopes do not betray you.

This is a path you were always walking.

You were always leaving, even at my side. The fact of your distance now leaves me in a atmosphere that was always alien. You have never pretended otherwise.

Your departure has always been waiting—like a another, stronger tide—to tug me away from you.

That breach is not disgrace.

Your disregard is not betrayal.

You were always already gone.

*Commotio cordis: concussion of the heart, caused by a blow to the chest over the region of the heart by a blunt object which does not penetrate the body.

4/06/2012 at 00:36

мужчины не горы: Men are not mountains.

Men are not mountains.

It is a farewell in Russia. Because mountains, once parted, never meet again. Humans might.


Mountains do not die. Humans do.

And in the long, long dance of the continents—in the rise and fall of aeons of stone and flame—it is possible for mountains to meet again. Possible. Perhaps. Someday. There is a chance.

And at this moment I wish…oh, how I wish…that men were mountains.

I would stand unmoving, heart untouchable, roots unreachable, ancient and lonely through all my days. I would.

I would give up the motion of heart and breath and limb for the chance—the chance of a chance—that I had not lost forever the ones I love.

3/31/2012 at 22:35


Greetings, my comfits. Since I have no available mental resources for coherent commentary (meaning essays) and yet have large amounts of stress/spleen to vent, I’m up to my oldest tricks—Smartassery and the English Language. In my search for new ways to combine the two, I bring you:
The Inigo Montoya Take on Ten Words Sumi Hates
1. Private writing is one thing—published writing, whether web or print, another.
2. Corollary: Email/private correspondence is your own business. Unless, of course, it’s with me.
3. If English is your second-or-onward language, none of this applies to you.
4. No substitutions, exchanges, or refunds.

Alright: Because putting in the extra ‘l’ and a space makes you sound like one of those overeducated, stuck-up snobs who passed third-grade English.

Attitude: Because there’s nothing more descriptive of someone’s mental position, demeanor or emotion than the word used to describe those categories of description.

Guesstimate: Because using a word that means ‘approximate’ doesn’t begin to cover the depths of your inattention.

Ironic: Because it takes work to come up with an adjective that actually fits (paradoxical, acidic, tragic, oxymoronic, bitter) rather than abusing a word of whose primary meaning 90% of people are ignorant. (As opposed to the meaning listed dead last—the dictionary slot that’s all but labeled ‘ignorant slang’. Morissette, you’re a twit.)

Irregardless: Because there’s no better way to show off your verbal sophistication than through use of a word which, through being a double negative, invalidates the rest of your sentence.

*Metrosexual: Because normal straight men are schlubs who wear sweatpants to social events and think Armani makes reciprocating saws.

Orientate: Because adding a superfluous suffix to a useful verb (orient) somehow placates your sensibilities at the vaguely colonial flavor of the term. (And allows you to tack on more spurious syllables later—see 'disorientated'.)

Parameter: Because (mis)using a mathematical term to denote a set of criteria for your Google+ Circle (Facebook group, Halo Chart board) makes it sound important.

Quadrilogy: Because reviving a word for a group of four dramatic works that was marginal in the 19th century, rather than using current words (quartet, tetralogy), sells more X-Men & Saw DVDs.

Quantum: Because using a word for a miniscule quantity of a thing (energy, state…idea) is the best way to denote an enormous or unusual action. (Belisarius, your ass is mine.)

*This word isn’t misused or a mutant. Its existence is merely insulting and pointless.

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2/20/2012 at 19:53

Ignore me.

The fact that I haven’t written anything in a long time hasn’t been because I don’t have anything to say.

It’s because I have way too much to say, and most of it will offend some of the people around me.

From living in Carbondale—the smallest place I’ve ever lived—for five years, I moved to Springfield…a city that isn’t a city. The overall culture in both places is, to put it mildly, Midwestern to a fault. To several, actually. Some of which have the depth and severity of the San Andreas.

One of the more lamentable results of this is that my schooling has placed me in contact with several intelligent people—colleagues, professors, mentors, attending physicians—who routinely make me either audience or bystander to statements which result in a loss of mental capacity on my part. Albeit indirectly, my professional education may be making me dumber.

The main source of destruction of my brain parenchyma is the dismaying number of people who feel the need to discuss subjects on which they’ve formed opinions without subjecting themselves to the tedious business of actually acquiring relevant facts. (In medical school, ipso facto, subjects other than medicine.) This tendency springs, I think, from a very basic lack: These people, despite their pursuit/achievement of terminal degrees, seem to be deplorably undereducated.

I say this because the fundamental tenet of any advanced education is a respect for knowledge. This includes a dedication to defining it precisely in order to delineate clearly what one does and does not know—and thus which problems one is fitted to address.

This system of organizing the known and not-known comprises a large part of the validity, and value, of science. Those who (like me) believe in science believe in the importance of knowledge. This means that they notice when people—including many who should know better—talk a great deal about things of which they know very little.

Unless it’s your area of specialty, being a lawyer or legislator or physician or professor doesn’t mean you know politics. Or government. Or finance. Or climate change. Or oil spill remediation. Or evolutionary biology.

Being intelligent doesn’t mean your opinion holds water—unless that opinion is based on germane information. Being educated (or degreed, since I’m drawing a distinction here) doesn’t make you informed…unless you’ve bothered to inform yourself about the subject under discussion.

And here’s perhaps the crucial point: Mere observation of a given phenomenon does not provide enough knowledge to form an opinion of it.

Watching BP striving to extinguish the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico, in the absence of information on oil rig engineering and marine biology and petrochemistry, will not yield useful theories on oil spill remediation. Watching an electrical storm, in the absence of any information on electromagnetism and thermodynamics, will yield theories very different from those of someone with a scientific education.

You’ll get Mount Olympus. He’ll get a Tesla coil.

Being intelligent enough to draw inferences won’t help you if you don’t have any relevant facts.

Put simply: Being highly educated/degreed doesn’t mean you know everything. Consistently discussing or forming an opinion on topics without getting facts about them makes you, no matter your IQ, stupid.

And I’m tired of stupid people.

There are a great many things I don’t know. In fact, I don’t know most things: It is virtually guaranteed that I will die knowing only the minutest fraction of the facts humans are capable of knowing. I hate it, but I resigned myself to it a long time ago.

What I’ve failed to resign myself to (despite a 6-year-long attempt) is conversation with people who feel compelled to offer opinions on everything because—because—

Well, apparently because there are plenty of other ignorami out there who are part of the ‘discussion.’ And because the only criterion for entry into the ‘discussion’ seems to be the ability to form a sentence (and in the case of certain political figures, even that is suspended).

I give. Uncle. I’m tapping out. Because my admissions criteria consist of actual criteria.

So save me the aggravation. Save us both the time.

Ignore me.

12/04/2011 at 07:52

Stranger Depths (Story Excerpt)

She loves to swim.

No-one knows this. Why should they? The only place to swim back in base camp is the lake, and it’s unappealing if not hostile. And—black. Dark and cold, the hesitant lines of sunlight that shift through the water reaching no more than 20 feet down.

Not like the cold green waters off the coast of her home. Or the warm, liquid azure surrounding the island she’d visited with her parents when she was small. Waters that cradled and embraced her, that showed themselves to her as she moved through them.

She misses the sea. Misses it with an ache that sinks through to her bones sometimes. Freak, they said in camp, at school, ignorant of her heritage.

Not that it would matter. If they knew, she’d simply have been treated like the prisoners in camp. As half-human, rather than just a freak.

After she’d left school, come to camp, she’d found that twisting ache actually inflicting physical pain. Wondered what the combination of knowledge and her mother’s blood might have wakened in her had she stayed a civilian.

Dangerous, yes. But then all things were dangerous when you dove deep.

And now she swims in knowledge.

Knowledge is power. She’s known it from a young age, though she loved it for itself and not what it could bring her. Like the sea.

She marvels at knowing things, exults in it, as surely as in the sea. Loves the feel, the glide of facts as they weave the world around her. Loves breathing them in and exhaling them in strings of syllables and inscriptions and equations as fluid as the knowledge which forms them. It is the only thing she could have dreamt, could have imagined, that is better than diving into the cradling embrace of the sea: Knowledge, a force that flows like water and lets her breathe it like air.

And as with the sea, the riptides of knowledge she rides—with inscription or equation—can tear apart the unwary.

She wonders at the fact that the thrashing currents left the students at school, the warriors at camp, so untouched. So unmoved. At the fact that her teachers never mentioned that the things they teach are dangerous regardless of whether or not they’re used for dark purposes. It’s only in the last year, while watching soldiers and sybils and sycophants come and go around her, that she’s realized that they don’t know. That several of her teachers didn’t know.

How can people’s bodies be battered by the things that knowledge creates while they remain unaware of the power flowing about them?

But perhaps that’s why. Perhaps having a physical reason to which they can pin the pain means that they’re less aware of other tides.

But her favorite teacher had been aware of the slow maelstrom of knowledge. It was there in the intensity of her gaze at an erring student, the sternness of her demeanor as she controlled her classes—in her ruthless, constant scrutiny of the power being channeled through the words of those she taught.

She understood all that her teacher saw only after she left school. Just before she left camp.

Much too late.

So now she kneels in a forest—outlaw, outcast, betrayer, betrayed—and thinks of the sea. Thinks of bright lines of light in green depths while gazing into the orange heart of a tiny fire with the child she stole asleep in the tent behind her and everyone she loves somewhere that isn’t here. That will never be here, because thanks to the knowledge she channels they can’t find her now.

She and her ward are alone.

Maybe it’s because of her mother. Maybe it’s because she wasn’t meant to know so much. (Was she a freak? Had they been right?) Maybe it’s taken for granted by everyone else, and it’s only she who fears the depths and the inexorable tug of the knowledge she now treads like water.

It’s definitely only she who feels the bottom sinking away beneath she and the boy as the war churns deeper and darker around them. She that the dimming world presses in upon, blacker and colder and closer, stealing the air. There are times now when she thinks that the effort leaves her gasping for breath. (Perhaps that had always been their plan.)

She closes her eyes, shivering in the faint warmth of the fire, and tilts her head back to feel the cold against her face. Pictures the green depths of the sea about her, shoals sinking to black in the looming dark, and feels the chill, heavy swirl of currents which press fierce and heavy on her skin. Which seek she and her ward with a weight and pressure and limb-rending force that she fears her frame can withstand for only a little longer.

(Let it be enough. Let me save him.)

She kneels, blind in the surge of a shadowy riptide, and wonders what it will feel like to drown.

© Sumi Rebeiro, 2010.

[It hasn't been my habit to post my fiction here; this is something of a test run. An excerpt, in abstract form, from a medium-length story that's been shaping itself v e r y s l o w l y.]

10/25/2011 at 22:03

Following Phobos

I am done with hiding.

You’ve not had the chance to read my writing lately. Or to debate my politics either—the latter for longer than the former. There are a lot of reasons: I’m tired. I’m scared of failing at school. I miss my family. I’ve lost friends to death and disseverment. There are a host more. None of them matter.

Because even though I’ve bent and not broken, I’ve also curled in on myself. Hidden away in a cave in the safety of my chosen scholarship. Left most of the mad, beautiful world to rage outside. Until tonight.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Lecia Brooks spoke at the med school. Listening to this plain-spoken, intelligent, compassionate woman talk unflinchingly of her convictions and questions and dismay stirred me: Recognition. Fear.

I used to do that, Recognition said. I used to say what I believed to be right. I used to protect those who were weaker than I. I used to speak for those who had no voice. And Fear said: Someday you will no longer recognize yourself in her. Keep hiding, it said, and one day not even she will be able to stir the memory of your strength from its tomb.

And then Fear said into the faces of Neo-Nazis and Imperial Klansmen and James Anderson’s murderer: I know you.

I sat next to you as a child riding the city bus home from school. Stopped you from screaming at a stranger. Comforted friends who’d been abraded by you. Argued against you on Legislative Plaza, in my high school, in churches and malls and diners.

I studied you for a decade. Majored in atrocity. When humanitarian law had shown me the worst excesses of hatred and fear, I turned to evolutionary biology because still I did not understand enough. I learned you beyond school, beyond academic disciplines, beyond any border of faith, to the very edge of hope. I know you, Fear murmured as Ms. Brooks showed us a man being murdered, deliberately and viciously, for the color of his skin.

When the newsclip was done I heard my friends crying for the brutality, the vileness, the terrible futile tragedy of what we’d seen. I sat dry-eyed, fists clenched, and Fear whispered at last: You are strong enough.

To face this. To bend medicine and psychiatry and law and politics and evolutionary biology to your purpose. To study, and stand against, violence and ignorance and hatred.

Strong enough to be the stone over which they break and ebb at last. Strong enough to find the ways in which those drowning in it might be revived.

My lack of published papers has always reflected my simple lack of an original take on a meaningful idea. But now—now I have one. My effort, my questions, have a form that matters. An anvil on which my knowledge and talents can be wrought to good purpose.

All it requires is that I immerse myself in a world containing those who relish hatred and harbor a wanton joy in destruction. All it requires is that I obey my Fear.

So I will. Because I live in that world already. Because my Fear is prompted primarily by knowledge of pain.

And because without my full attention, I cannot help that pain to heal.

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