October 30, 2016: Giant
Pitting my childhood favorites against each other, Roald Dahl’s The BFG claws its way to the top. The story itself has fallen from much of my memory. What I remember is that it made its way into my earliest senses of identity and character, back when there was ample space to fill and shape its nature. I considered other childhood favorites –The Berenstein Bears, Calvin and Hobbes, The Looney Tunes – that wrestled with The Big Friendly Giant to claim the crown of my childhood’s formative imagination. Goofy from Disney remains my most beloved character, and in him I now see parallels with The BFG himself – both taller than average, fun and silly, light-hearded yet with conviction in purpose. The BFG believed in his conviction of what is right, even if he is the only one amidst a bigger, larger, dominating status quo. In the story he stood by a young boy’s side as his protector, his confidant, and his friend. That much I remember of the story itself. The difference between The BFG and its rivals in my childhood’s malleable world of possibility was that The BFG was a story indeed, with a journey that began and ended, leaving no loose ends of who The BFG is and what he believes. The Big Friendly Giant stuck with me because the character himself, inherently friendly, found his way to a view of the world that I found purpose in, that I took with me into my own journey.
October 28, 2016: Rearrange
He let out a sigh of relief, nostalgia, and ambivalence. Tre had spent the last eighteen hours rummaging through his past – pictures, journals, souvenirs, gifts, creations – without pausing for a moment. He was prompted to summon his past in its entirety by his motivation to rewrite it.
Tre was a middle child of five. His older sisters live in Washington DC with powerful jobs and influence. Tara is President Ciara’s chief of staff and Tina is a senator from their home state of Thebes. His younger brothers are overseas, somewhere. Last time he heard from Tobin was when he let the family know he bought a penthouse on the River Thames in London – who knows where he got all that money. Tarek might be somewhere in the West Indies, he had always been a roamer. Their parents were back home in Thebes, but Tre made an oath to himself that he would never return. He never wanted to go back to where he was forgotten. Infrequent phone calls and text messages are enough to keep his obligatory familial relationships alive, he thought. After thirteen years, though, Tre found that the ground underneath him had shifted. His heart now beats at a different pace and his mind has exhausted every corner of his imagination. Tre did not want to face what he has been running from; it was more than enough to admit that he has been running. In a last attempt to reclaim his voyage, he sought to rearrange his past. Perhaps that would make him a different person. Perhaps that would give him purpose.
October 27, 2016: Smoke
The first ray of sunlight had not yet emerged when Yurik opened his eyes to the last moments of the night sky. Winter was coming, but it had not yet arrived. Every year at this time, Yurik escapes from town and to meditate in the open desert. The vast Sahara makes clear the beauty of the bare Earth against the changing light of the open sky above. All that is between is the air that Yurik breathes. Every morning it meets the first ray of light before it the stars fade into the orange, then sepia, then metallic blue light. At the turn of winter, the air thickens and moistens. As the light makes its way from the Earth’s eastern curve, the cold winter air comes to sight in a smoke of fog. In these moments, Yurik watches his breath occupy an infinite space between the desert below and the infinite above, encircled by an emancipated light in the smokey fog of the moist Sahara dawn.
October 23, 2016: Artificial
First Oku said, “I only use original stuff, the real deal!” Then Jihan replied, “Yeah me too, I like to know that my stuff is actual, not artificial.” Pedro chimed in, “That’s authentic, I respect that. Artificial intelligence, artificial flavor, artificial sounds – it’s nothing but second best.” Stacey seconded, “I mean, what’s the point of being fake if you stay true to yourself?! Artificial? I don’t think so!” The group went on, encouraging each other’s sense of self and righteousness. Meanwhile, Xiaolu sat back and did not comment. For Xiaolu, artificial is a good word. It gave him his prosthetic limbs, allowing him to live a life as close to his old one, before his accident, as much as possible. It allowed him to walk his daughter to school and to take a shower on his own. Xiaolu was thankful for artificial. He decided to let the group continue along. They were feeling good about themselves. He knew how artificial their sense of righteousness was.
October 22, 2016: Volunteer
I agreed to show Lane around town. He was new to Fellowtown. He moved from The City to live a new life. He wanted a reset. No, he needed a reset. He had been surrounded by millions of people, knew some of their names, but understood nothing about them. That is how it was in The City – the loneliest metropolis in the country. I met Lane in college but we never really knew each other. He kept a distance in bigger crowds, so it was strange that he would then settle in The City. I wonder what he sought. Anyway, he contacted me the day before he moved to Fellowtown and we met two days later. He was well dressed, clean shaven with slicked back black hair, but with an awkward disposition. He stood hunched over with feet pointed inwards, but with an eager expression beaming from his round face. Within moments, he was sharing with me the most personal details of his life. Unprompted, he volunteered information about himself that few people would share with anyone. I must look so uncomfortable, I thought to myself. I wondered about Lane. He was a mysterious fellow and I gathered that he was a lonely one. He wanted to connect with someone, anyone, about anything. That is why he came to Fellowtown. That is why he reached out to me. We approached a popular coffee shop and grabbed a seat at the open table by the window to watch the townspeople walk about. I acted interested in what Lane had to say. I wanted him to feel welcome in Fellowtown, that he could just be himself. After all, all he needed was an interaction, and so I volunteered.
October 21, 2016: Millions
About 5 million people have millions of dollars in the US. Over eight times as many people are poor. That’s over 40 million people. There are about 15 million people with millions of dollars in the world. Over two hundred times as many people are poor. That’s over 3,000 million people. Or 3 billion. Just under one half of those people are extremely poor. That’s 1,300 million people. Or 1.3 billion.
Income inequality paints a stark picture of a world of haves and have nots. Progress has undoubtedly been made, especially in ending extreme poverty. Yet a story of just one poor human being is enough, let alone 40 million in the richest nation on Earth or 3,000 million in the world.
October 20, 2016: Ancient
Pyramid Street is the most chaotic in Cairo. Lanes and traffic lights are a dream. Hatchbacks, microbuses, mopeds, trucks, donkeys, carts, men, women, children, cats and dogs all share a big road made narrow by the fruit stands and shacks encroaching ever-further from the broken and muddy sidewalks. An inch of space is quickly overtaken by the next person anxious to get ahead. Manners and patience bring no benefits on Pyramid Street. Large tourist buses have no choice but to take this path to their destination – the other roads are either too small for buses or too broken to allow for any vehicle but a moped. Taxis with foreigners barely move an inch without being stopped by an unofficially official tour guide hoping to earn a few disloyal piasters in order to bite into a falafel sandwich. At the end of Pyramid Street stand the Great Pyramids of Giza. Magnificent remnants of the glory of Ancient Egypt, thousands of years earlier. Eternal monuments of humanity’s greatest civilization, juxtaposed at the foot of Pyramid Street.
October 19, 2016: Underground
The anxiety underground reached fever pitch. Months of peaceful hibernation interrupted by footsteps – light and heavy, swift and slow – on the ground above. Restlessness took hold of the adolescent bear as she wondered what action was being accomplished above. Her brain rested and neurons connected, her thoughts were the first to emerge from hibernation. She thought of what to think of the interrupting footsteps. A slower pace led her to think of a mindful stroll through the blossoming bushels of spring. Oh how she would love that. A faster pace led her to picture a giant lake waiting for her to dive into with glee and joy. Oh how she would love that. The multiple footsteps led her to imagine a companion by her side to share hopes, dreams, and fears with. Oh how she would love that. What lay above was within her reach, she reminded herself. This was not her first Spring. She rolled over from her back side and desperately began clawing at the ground above. Making her way above ground, she roared and stretched her claws high to the blue sky. She turned around and saw no other bears. She wondered then where the footsteps she thought she heard came from. Alas, her anxiety had been imagined by her impatience. “Lesson learned,” she told herself as she made her way to a single bush that was the only one yet to have blossomed its flowers.
October 9, 2016: Careful
His character was given and it was so that he was careful by nature. Too careful, in fact: risk averse was an understatement. Yet, it fit with his world view, and so he was content. This, of course, until his world view was shattered. The more he lived, the more he learned. He came to understand that things never remain as they are. He learned that things change, and they can change for better or for worse. Newly accustomed to risk and reward, he began to take chances. Careful! Be careful of being too careful, he began to tell himself.
October 8, 2016: Argument
Discussions can often turn into debates, sometimes for better and other times for worse. Discussions consist of exchanges of information and ideas without a particular position necessarily being adopted or promoted. Often discussions lead to the adoption of a position, and then the promotion of that position. Either the discussants agree, or they disagree and begin to debate over the positions being promoted. Healthy debates consist of arguments. Arguments advance a position or view using logic. Good arguments are built on sound logic. A leading argument therefore enhances understanding. Unhealthy debates consist of bad arguments or no arguments at all. Either the logic is lacks merit, or a position is being advanced without argument but by imposition. Debates with arguments are for the better. Debates without them are for the worse.