Modern Day Witch Trials

Today in my World Civilizations class, we discussed the Salem Witch Trials and the aspects of them. As we talked about how the accusations were primarily pointed at single women of independent wealth, I could not help but make connections with our present-day society.

In today’s world, where a rape victim can be blamed for her suffering because she was out alone or not covering enough skin, where a twelve year-old can be accused of inciting a group of grown men to rape, where women are continuously targeted and isolated for discussion and defamation by the public, are we really all that different from the time of the Salem Witch Trials?

It’s not always explicit either. The subtle act of someone saying something to a group of young adults like “When you all get married,” readily assumes that everyone in that room will or even will want to get married, will want to tie themselves to another person. While I have nothing against marriage (in fact, I hope to be married with children sometime in the future), I do have something against the assumption that marriage is the final destination, the ultimate goal of every young person’s life, especially young women. Because, I mean really, how often do you hear a man’s parents telling him to go ahead and settle down and have kids? A man is much more likely to be praised for focusing on his career instead of forming a family than a woman is.

This parallels the old witch trials so well, because it was mainly single women of advanced age who suffered. They defied societal norms. They were often characterized as troublesome and loud. And, of course, there were the customary statements about how “ugly” they were. Sound familiar?

What I propose is that we, as a society, stop targeting and shaming women who don’t quite “fit” into the current standard of normal. She doesn’t want to get married? Great for her! No, she’s not just going through a phase. Don’t tell her she’ll change her mind someday. Don’t sneer at her and call her ridiculous. Acknowledge her choice and respect that because it is, to be quite frank, none of your business.

Stop the witch hunts and let people be people.

The Importance of Being Present

I have been a devoted Nerdfighter for some years now.

Wait, hold up. Let me explain that.

A Nerdfighter, as defined by the men known as the Vlogbrothers, is “someone who, instead of being made of bones and skin and stuff, is made up of awesome.” These two brothers, acclaimed novelist John Green and his brother, the founder of Ecogeek, Hank, started the YouTube sensation known as the Vlogbrothers in an effort to keep in touch without cell phones. Since then the videos have inspired a huge following of fellow Nerdfighters in the ongoing battle to “decrease world suck” and spread knowledge and thoughtful contemplation about the world in which we live.

There, now that that’s out of the way, onto the main reason for this post.

Today John uploaded a new video entitled “Headless Statues and Elton John’s Piano” (you can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KboR0Iw96Hk). In this video based in London, John poses the question of whether or not actually “seeing things” is necessary anymore now that virtual seeing has become so lifelike. He asks this once after observing a photograph of a piece at the museum, a picture so much like the actual tablet that it takes him some time to reconcile this optical illusion with what he is seeing, and again at the end of the video where he stares out at the London bridge under the night sky.

I would like to answer John’s question here and leave further discussion up to my readers. There is something vital to really appreciating a sight in actually being there to see it. The physical act of standing or sitting there and being in the presence of whatever has captured your attention is incomparable to anything else. There are certain things you can only begin to appreciate about a sight when you are actively there, in the moment and mindful of that moment. Without the privilege of studying a masterpiece in person or climbing the steps of the Arc de Triomphe (and it is a privilege only some have, I don’t deny it.) a great portion of the experience is passed over.

For example, when I went to the United Kingdom with my father to visit some of our family, I brought away a certain calmness of spirit such as I had never really known before. The physical act of walking among the hills and slopes of England and Scotland, the feel of rain-slick cobblestones under my feet (and the subsequent feeling of my forehead smacking into said cobblestones), and the weight of the chilly air on my neck and shoulders all filled and buoyed me throughout the trip. Those sensations leant a certain realness and layer to the sights I saw such as the castles and historical paths. Without having walked those hills and felt my feet sink into the dew-bedecked grass I would have missed a big part of the experience of seeing the landscape.

Unfortunately, I was not yet thirteen and painfully detached from the whole thing, not as mature as I am now at eighteen, and still missed out on much of the philosophical nature of the English countryside. Were I to return now, being firmly present in each moment would be foremost in my mind.

It is that presence, both physically and mentally, that ensures the greatest understanding of what you are seeing, what gives you the ability to not only see this thing but to absorb and embody it, to become this painting, this building, this landscape, and bring it back home with you.

What a Panic Attack Feels Like

Even though panic attacks are unique in the fear and helplessness they cause, there are some things to which they can be compared for clarity’s sake. So, here is my list of things a panic attack feels like.

Hummingbirds filling your body.

When your heart is racing and your pulse thrums just under your skin, you can get this surreal feeling up a million little wings beating around inside of you. Those little birds flit and fly through your veins, brush against your muscles, and flutter within your chest cavity until you want to reach in and rip them out.

Someone shaking you mercilessly.

My biggest problem with panic attacks is the way my body shakes and convulses during a particularly bad one. It’s not just little shivers and shudder. It is noticeable, uncontrollable, debilitating trembling that keeps me from even standing up straight. It’s like someone has just grabbed you by the shoulders and is shaking you until your teeth feel ready to fall out.

Your body drawing into your center.

Every tendon and muscle tightens like a guitar string. Your knuckles go white. Your jaw clenches. Someone or something has grasped the strings that lead to your edges and is jerking them in toward a spot just beneath your chest. All you can wonder is when those strings will finally snap.

A whirlwind buffeting you from inside. 

The main image I get for this one is when I’m shaking so violently and crying with such pitiful force that I just start whipping my head around and sending my hair bouncing around my face. Contrary to the comparison I made a moment ago, this one feels like your pieces are being forced out, and you’ll soon fall into a heap of bits and parts with no clear function.

Your heart is a switch flipped at random.

Probably the absolute worst thing having to do with panic attacks is how utterly random they can be. While I have certain triggers, other times I can suffer an attack out of the blue. It’s horrible because when someone later asks what set it off, you feel so ashamed because you don’t know. You don’t know, and you feel like you were overreacting or being dramatic or that something is irrevocably wrong with you. But that’s just it, they can come from nowhere. More like panic ambushes than foreseeable attacks.

So, these are five things I think accurately describe the feeling of a panic attack. Notice that most of them have to do with your inner workings being affected. That’s because a panic attack is rooted in how your mind and insides work together. No one is hitting you and leaving a panic attack impressed on your chest.

The impression is from the attack pushing out.

Contests and Validation

Last night, as I was trying to fall asleep, my phone rang with a new text, one that would have me jumping up and down for the next few minutes.

A little back story. I work for my college’s literary magazine. We have two co-editors, an engaged couple with a sweet sense of humor, and I am part of the support staff on the literary side as opposed to the art side. Every year, the magazine launches a contest to bring in submissions and generate good public opinion. The categories range from studio art and photography all the way to short stories and essays. A panel of separate judges look at the different submissions and put together a list of first, second, third, and honorable mention winners for us to proofread.

I submitted story, one I worked on and agonized over for days. I drew up at least six drafts and sent it to several trusted readers for feedback before sending it in. I figured it would be better to submit one excellent story instead of the maximum three and having those be mediocre.

This, along with the personal nature of the story, made me nervous about finding out the winners of that category. Never having won a contest like this, I felt sure that rejection was inevitable.

Then, when I grabbed my phone that night, I nearly jumped out of my skin. One of my bosses texted me just to tell me that my story had placed first in its category. I jumped and squealed with my best friend, called my mom, and told as many people as were awake that night. It took me another hour to get to sleep.

There is something unbeatable about the feeling you receive when you’ve won something that means a lot to you. It tells you that all your hard work and practice has paid off in someone else validating your talent. Now, why we as humans need the validation of other people is a subject for another post, but it is a fact, and I felt it acutely as I lay in bed with the thought running through my head, I won. I won first place. They picked my story out of all the rest and called it the best. Thank you, God. Thank you. Thank you. 

I can’t wait to see my story and my name in print and in the hands of my fellow classmates and even professors. I only hope they like it as much as the judges did.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Photos of Impossible Places- Namibia

She came down from the tangerine sky when the ground cooled enough for her to tread barefoot on its blue sand. Her hair, threaded with strands of gold, whipped and fluttered around a round face that had looked on so many festivals and celebrations in her lifetime. Festivals in her honor, thrown by people who no longer believed in her.

“What are you doing down here?”

She turned spotting his bent, nervous figure instantly. She turned up her nose. “Not that I have to answer to you,” she said, “but I wanted to see the festival.”

“Can you not see it from up there?” He crouched around a naked, dark tree, pointing at the sky. In the molten light, his bulging eyes looked like pools of hot lead.

“I wanted a closer look for once. Would you begrudge me that, Fye?” She shifted on the cool sand. How long had it been since she had felt that silky sensation? Ten centuries? A dozen? She had lost count long ago.

Fye glanced around the desolate landscape. He rubbed the back of one hand with his fragile fingers. “You know what will happen to you if you’re caught?”

“I do,” she said with all the solemnity of a judge passing a sentence.

“And you know what will happen to me if I’m caught helping you?” Every piece of him seemed to jitter in the bright light.

“I do.”

He cringed and plunged his hands in his tumbleweed hair. He shook his head. “Selfish, arrogant woman. You will be the end of me, Lyra.”

She looked away, embarrassed by his display of emotion. “You say that so often. I begin to think you don’t believe it.”

“I could say everyday that the sun rises and sets. It would not mean that I believe it any less every day I say it.”

“Fine,” she said. “You’ve made your point. Will you help me?”

Fye clasped his shoulders. “Yes, I will help you. But do not blame me if something should go awry.”

“Of course not.” She turned.

“You just couldn’t stay in the sky, could you? Had to come down from your place.” It sounded like an aside, but she looked back at him anyway.

“I’ll not be put in one place because my mobility makes other people uncomfortable. I’ll do as I please and deal with the consequences myself.”

“You really don’t think of anyone but yourself, do you?”

She squared her shoulders. “Why should I?”

Lyra turned and headed to the village, the clump of silhouettes and lights the desert wore as a brooch every night. Her favorite time came when the town exploded in light and color in her honor. She would stay awake as long as possible, watching the dancing lights. Occasionally, when the wind was just right, she caught the faint sound of music.

She reached the town’s gate and paused. Would they recognize her? Had her portraits and sculptures survived all these years?

She knelt in the blue sand and raked it through her hair. She dashed some in her eyes and wiped it over her lips. Finally, she fashioned an airy dress made of the indigo sand and entered the town.

People clad in silk and velvet loped and danced through the streets. Paper lanterns and streamers bedecked buildings and awnings. All around Lyra were the trappings of a great festival, and it was all for her.

“New to our town, miss?” A small boy stood at her feet. A brush fire of red hair stood out on his head, and he fiddled with an old watch chain.

“You could say that.” She smirked.

“You’ve come at the right time. Festival season is the best time of the year.” He offered her his small hand. “I’m Dewey.”

“Why does your town celebrate?”

“Don’t know. We just do.”

Her jaw seemed to double in weight. She pursed her lips. “You’re young. Who can give me answers?”

He indicated the far end of the main street, where a huge crowd had formed. Lyra thanked him and hurried on. She reached a platform on which stood a figure shrouded in a dark cloak.

Lyra pushed through the mass of citizens. She waved a hand in the air, and the hooded head swiveled toward her. “I have some questions for you.”

He nodded, and someone hoisted her up. “Why do your people celebrate? What is the occasion for this festival?”

“Why ask questions to which you know the answers?” He took down his hood, and turned a pair of glassy, bright eyes on her. “They celebrate you, Lyra, and the way you light the sky at night.”

She gaped at this man who had first placed her in the heavens to ornament the night sky. This man who had shackled her to a silent position. This man she had tried to avoid since stepping down.

Fye stumbled onto the stage, hands bound behind his back. He looked at Lyra. “I tried to warn you. I tried. You wouldn’t listen.”

Lyra looked at the man. “I will not go back. You cannot put me back and render me mute. I have a voice. I have a body. It is mine, and I will use it.”

He chuckled, a sound as deep as the oceans from whence he came. “I did not place you there without cause, Lyra. Have you ever asked yourself why you sleep when the world wakes?” He looked at the horizon, which glowed now with coming light. “No matter. You’ll find out soon enough.”

Lyra shifted in her place, not wanting to stay still but not knowing where to go. She stared at the brightening horizon, and a terrible heat swelled in her chest. Never before had she felt such an unbearable heat. Only warmth like being wrapped in expensive furs. Now it scorched her from the inside out as the sun stood up while she realized the answers to her questions.

A moment passed, and Lyra disappeared.

Contests and Possible Ideas

One of my goals for the new year (I refuse to call them resolutions) was to prepare and send out more of my writing.

It’s not so much a fear of someone reading and disliking my work that keeps me from submitting but rather the subconscious idea that if I never submit I never have to deal with that rejection. (Plus I am the world’s best procrastinator.)

So, to try to remedy this problem, I am going to write, edit, and submit a piece to Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Contest. Maximum of 3,000 words in any genre and due by the end of the month. I’m on a bit of a time crunch, as you can tell, so I thought I would approach my readers for a little help.

I am absolutely terrible at deciding on an idea. Below I have a few possible ideas. If you could, please leave me a comment with which one you think I should run with. Then, from today until I submit the piece, I will keep a running record of my progress and thoughts on my personal writing process for anyone who may be curious.

The Ideas:

  1. A godling — small-time god — develops feelings for a human despite his belief that no one notices the small miracles he performs for them.
  2. While changing her car battery, a woman struggles over her sense of self after graduating from medical school with no real feeling of accomplishment.
  3. A teenage relationship from the point of view of the girl’s car.

If you could please spare a moment and drop a number in the comments, I would much appreciate it. Thanks and have a great day, lovelies!

Snowmen and Corsages

Last night, on a whim, I took a walk around campus after dinner. My roommate had gone back to the room, and I wandered the quad with music filling my head. The paths were empty, most students having gone home for the long weekend, and I sometimes sang to the setting sun. A light chill slipped down the neck of my jacket, and I took a deep breath.

Twice I stumbled upon something that made me stop. The first time was when I came upon a dirt-caked, broken snowman. It was simply a cracked ball of snow with a pair of branches sticking out of it sadly. The outside sported a coat of dirt and grass, but the inside gleamed clean and white, carefully preserved like wine in an ancient cask.

I thought about approaching it, about plunging my fingers into the cold just to know what it felt like. But I stayed on the sidewalk and only looked. It felt like it would be offensive and disrespectful to go rifling through the snowman’s insides for my own desire. Had it not suffered enough with its mud-stained outside.

It strikes me now that this situation is much like how people, specifically white people, treat other cultures and histories. How we as a group have rummaged in devastated civilizations so we can expand our knowledge. The Native Americans, Africans, and countless others cracked open like dirty snowmen for our own desires, our own whims. Despicable at best.

I continued on my walk from there and paused when I spotted a white flower on the ground. Picking it up, I noticed a pair of straight pins bound to the stem and realized I was holding a corsage. I pried at the petals, wanting to ensure no insects had made their homes in the flower. As I walked and examined I wondered about this adornment’s origins.

Who had worn it? Who gave it to them? What was the occasion? Had they known each other long before it? Did they like each other? Did they have fun? What happened to dislodge the corsage? Why did no one notice its disappearance?

How many questions lie in something so simple and innocent. A million stories bound up with the straight pins.

In the end, I left the corsage in the grass. I passed the broken snowman without another glance. I nodded along to my music, and I went back to my room.