identity

Gender

a flash-fiction piece

Felicity and Ben make the perfect couple. When they set up home, Felicity brought the tools. She’d followed her father and took a plumber’s apprenticeship. Over time, working alongside other trades, she’d picked up skills like carpentry, bricklaying, rendering and plastering. She rarely shied away from dirty work; she was strong. She was persuaded to try out for the women’s rugby team, which she enjoyed.

They’d met in the library where Ben worked: some pipes needed replacing. He’d brought in brownies he’d baked for the other librarians and offered her one. She accepted; it was love at first sight.

(99 words)


written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Challenge, 18 April – “Gender”

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Gender. It can be fixed or fluid. Explore the topic on your own terms and open your mind to possibilities and understanding. Go where the prompt leads!

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The Scarecrow’s Reasoning

“That proves you are unusual,” returned the Scarecrow; “and I am convinced that the only people worthy of consideration in this world are the unusual ones. For the common folks are like the leaves of a tree, and live and die unnoticed.” 
― L. Frank Baum, The Land of Oz


Who doesn’t notice the leaves of a tree?!

Leaves are an identifier, the best, probably. We tell a type of tree from the look of its leaves more than anything else about it. But greater than this is their reminder of the seasons and, come Autumn, who isn’t impressed by the leaves show of colour?

For me, it’s a marvellous thing to see the leaves in their true colours, the golds, the ochres, the russets, the coppers and even the purples. The green was a mask they all hid beneath, for good reason. It’s the effect of chlorophyll: the green substance they produce which allows them to convert abundant sunlight into growth.

This is how a carelessly chosen simile casts doubt on the writer’s ability. Are they not writing within the scope of their knowledge? Write only what you know, is the advice often given; the first lesson. Of course, the Scarecrow is in want of a brain, so I’ll let him off this once.


If we only ever consider the unusual, then the unusual will become the usual, and the hitherto usual will then become the unusual. And so things would go around and around in an ever decreasing circle.

Give that straw man a brain before his intellect ruins us all.


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #78 – “on a paragraph from The Land of Oz, by L. Frank Baum”

I’ve not read The Land of Oz and I didn’t know what this excerpt is really about. I know the scarecrow only from the movie, The Wizard of Oz. In the film, he asks the Wizard for a brain and is given a certificate of diploma. Brilliant! That says a lot about the world we live in.

Are all my protagonists me (white, male, and vaguely English)?

Here’s an interesting essay from Lithub.com, a blog I’m following, about a writer’s difficulty in portraying a non-white character – Egyptian, in this case – without their ethnicity being explicitly relevant to the story.

I suppose the problem has a lot to do with the author being in America, a nation founded on worldwide immigration yet somewhat biased in favour of white, Anglo-Saxon ethnicity.

I googled “Egyptian novels” and, of course, they are many – I didn’t doubt it – and I doubt their readers visualise anything other than Egyptian characters in those stories. However, that doesn’t help an Egyptian author based in Brooklyn.

I’m still a novice at storytelling and I feel my characters usually stem naturally from some version of myself. I seem more than comfortable with this and see it as complying with the old writer’s tenet for writing only about what you know.

But it’s different for me. I’m not a professional, I’m amateur, I dabble. I’m not seeking success, financial reward, or even approval. To hell with tenets, I want to have fun, experiment, to stick my bare wet fingers into the live socket just to see what happens. What do I have to lose?

I was editing a story this morning which could be gender ambiguous. In my mind, however, it was a male, probably white, and English. There was no reason for the subject to be any of these things, so I changed it. Changing the sex filled me with a little anxiety. Cowardly, I substituted a few words so as not to be seen as overly presumptuous about how women thought. In the end, gender ambiguity became gender neutral. For now, that’s the best I can do.

I hope I made her vaguely American rather than vaguely English. As for implicit ethnicity, I have no idea how to do that yet. Maybe this is something left to the reader.

All thoughts welcome!


Waiting for the day that characters don’t default to White (Lithub.com)

Woman – her journey

To paraphrase the old chicken and egg thing, I wonder which came first, the woman or the man. I know, I know, the bible says, and all those other versions about the globe concur, mostly though perhaps not all, but…think about it.

Logically, it seems to me that while a man cannot possibly grow an infant alone, chances are a little better for a woman.

I think, free from politics, religion and all other enforced mumbo-jumbo, men and women could get along just fine. Or at least better than they have with all the historic mumbo-jumbo. I wonder how it would be if there was equality between the sexes. I don’t mean equality of opportunity, careers and wages, or anything modern like that, but physical equality. I’m not sure the men would fare as well; possibly they would be like the bees and ants, subservient and with one purpose, and once that was over the women might bite off their heads and eat them. Despite the randomness of evolution, are males not merely couriers for chromosomes?

I think the males better watch out. And I don’t mean fight back. They are clearly evolving into a weaker version of their sex, psychologically mostly but with the advent of modern technology, clearly physically too. While there is still evidence of chumps about, knuckle dragging ignoramuses, grunting and blowing in your ear ‘ole, these are swimming against the tide. The great emasculation is happening, concurrently with the slow progress of feminism. Thanks to technology – ethics and morality, philosophy and politics have no option but to follow on – the gap is closing. And if we can all keep our cool, that’s good, isn’t it?


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge Prompt #77 – “Woman – her journey”

A difficult thing for me, a privileged, white, western male, to write about not wanting to cause offence. Sorry if any offence is unwittingly caused.

Rude Talk Now

Sapio-sexual (n). a person who is sexually aroused by, or sexually attracted to, intelligence.

Humanity is so kinky on the fringes, I could easily see living amongst us a subset of folk who get off on pure intelligence. They probably consult each other on The Times Crossword as foreplay. I’m trying myself to be conscious of whether I ever find intelligence arousing, in a sexual context, and I’m afraid I’m not getting the glow.

Sapiosexual is a new word (I always look these words up, even if I’m sure I know the meaning already. Sometimes it surprises me that I don’t, but it’s an education). I also find, from the same search, the word, Pragmasexual, and I feel that may be more my line.

To be honest, when it comes to sexual arousal, I find that sexual potential is all it requires. It’s like when you’re hungry, or just peckish, you’re probably not thinking about Raymond Blanc, Gordon Ramsey, and three michelin star restaurants inside five star hotels; you’re really thinking about Mum’s shepherds pie or Nan’s beef rendang. Of course, the analogy ends there for legal and ethical reasons, but yeah, nothing arouses sexuality more than the thought of sex itself. And for that you don’t need too much intelligence.


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #75 – “Sapio-sexual”

Think on: Does any cheese complement a tomato?

The UK’s popular, and probably populist, newspaper, The Sun, states, following a poll of its readers, that a fraction above 62% of them would vote Leave if there was a second referendum on Brexit. Quelle surprise, as they may say in Brussels.

Polls are silly and I don’t like them, so much so that I might respond to any in a mischievous and inconsistent way just to subvert them. Am I alone in this? Let’s take a poll….

Seriously, I wondered if any of our other esteemed papers had instigated their own agenda driven readers’ polls. I didn’t find any but stumbled across a YouGov analysis of different paperstypical reader. It was all pretty banal until I read,

“A Daily Mail reader enjoys eating cheese and tomato sandwiches…”

Now I’m not saying reverse logic can apply and that knowing your character traits can point you towards the appropriate newspaper but, really, is there any way I can pick up the Daily Mail knowing this?

In my world, sliced tomatoes have no business between two slices of bread anymore than say a sliced lemon does (by all means try one and let me know). But then with cheese?!

I know, I know, the pairing of Cheese and tomato, have history – but how on Earth did that happen?

As usual, answers on a postcard, please, as we used to say….


YouGov Poll on UK newspaper readerships (via The Guardian) – old news

Looking Back: The Hour Glass

The longer he lived, the more his life took on the metaphor of an hour glass, its sand slipping away, quickening, now greater below than above. Unlike the glass, there’s no way of resetting life.

He saw his moments, those grains, as equal, not one larger than another. The highs and lows, the same now: irrelevant. Somewhere beneath the pile lay his childhood, a happy time only he knew. He imagined that when the last grain had dropped, the family would pack it away amongst his other miscellanies. Until a time when it’s rediscovered and its meaning completely forgotten.

(99 words)


Written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Challenge Prompt.

“In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a character who looks back. It can be a metaphorical reflection or a glance in the rear-view mirror. Who is looking back, and why? Go where the prompt leads.”

An hour glass can be considered in different ways. Someone may see it as a metaphor for life, another may see it objectively, a device to measure an hour by utilising gravity, some may see it as just an anachronistic curiosity.

Similarly it could be said for a fictional story, I suppose. An element of autobiography, an observation of another’s view, a simple play around with a common trope. Perhaps all of these and more.

There isn’t a glass large enough to hold all the grains of our imagination. Still, once it’s gone, it’s gone. Write it all down.

Memory

Identity At The Mercy Of Memory

We link hands. All those different
people who were once me, our hands
joined like a continuum of
memory across one existence.
But I sense we are not all one.
The small boy, distant at the far
end of our line is holding the hand
of someone I can’t quite see.
Whose hand he, in turn, is holding,
I can’t tell, though likely it’s the blond-haired
baby caught in a photograph,
long since extricated and
eliminated from the continuum.
Catching the eyes of a man in
the middle, and the glance says it all:
what have we to communicate?


Writing as a metaphor for the creation of consciousness and memory must also require a metaphorical palimpsest: memories partially erased and over written by revised ones, similar perhaps not the same. Therefore memories become vaguer each time they are opened; each time they are opened, they cannot help being renewed, fiddled with, embellished, altered. In the digital age, they may metaphorically be seen as a “lossy format”, diminishing in quality with each subsequent saving.

Discounting the paradoxes, do you ever imagine being a time traveller seeking out your earlier versions? We might easily recognise our physical appearance with the aid of photographic evidence – without this evidence it might be close to impossible – but how much of the person under the surface would we know, relying only on memory as evidence? I think I would be shocked and disappointed. It would play havoc with the sense of self-identity.

A chain, or a linking of hands, I chose as a metaphor of a person’s life. It assumes it’s linear along with time but I think that is too simple. A memory isn’t linear like a chain, passing information from hand to hand. I imagine it’s more like a scattering chaos of bits and bobs, less like a Shakespeare, more like a Jackson Pollock. But that was probably much harder to write about.


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge – Week #61

Prompt:

“In the immensity of consciousness, a light appears — a tiny point which moves rapidly and traces shapes, thoughts, and feelings, like a pen writing on paper. And the ink which leaves a trace is memory. You are that tiny point and by your movement the world is ever re-created.”

(Sri Nisargadatta, I Am That)

image by Fré Sonneveld via Unsplash.com

Mirrors

The funniest thing I found out about Mirrors is that their inventor was Justus von Liebig. Lie Big! It’s disappointing that all mirror manufacturers aren’t obliged under law to have “Lie Big” engraved across the top of their mirrors.

This was in 1835. Before then, reflections weren’t that great; probably good enough to tell if your hat was straight but not enough to notice that pimple growing on your nose. Folk had to make do with polished metal plates, the richer had acolytes, servants or slaves to burnish a satisfying reflection for their master. It was a wise slave who didn’t polish too well for their ageing mistress. No, you are truly the fairest in the kingdom, ma’am – if only this tin plate had more shine, you could see for yourself.

How long until the mirror is obsolete due to this error? Has anyone tried putting on mascara or lipstick, or brushing their teeth looking at an iPad, or other tablet, using its camera app? I might try this out as an experiment tonight; the teeth business, I mean – I never wear mascara to bed.

The obvious big lie, I trust, when looking at yourself in a mirror, is that it isn’t you you’re seeing; it’s a mirror image. We get so used to the mirror image, it can be a shock seeing yourself as others do. This could be why many people hate seeing themselves close up in photographs. They don’t recognise themselves, their personal identity is called into question.

The second big lie is how we look at ourselves in mirrors. Not as others would look at us, as we look at others, that is taking in the whole of their face in one go. Instead, we nearly always pick on a single part of our face and study it intently. The consequence of this can be that we notice flaws which are unnoticeable to any other person but to us seem hugely evident. The mirror persuades us we are just an enormous nose, a sagging chin, the guy with one eye lower than the other. We are monsters, and we have the mirror to thank for that.

It is said, the Vampire has no reflection. Strangely enough, neither do people born between five minutes to eleven and five past on the night of the 29th February. It’s uncanny. No, wait, it’s just another big lie.


For Reena’s Exploration Challenge – Week #53 – Mirrors

Spark!

When it comes down to it, what are we but a bag of animated chemicals and a bunch of unreliable memories?

I remember watching an episode of Batman on telly – at least I think it was – where one of his arch enemies – The Penguin, perhaps – had a ray gun which extracted the water from any person it hit, leaving behind a neat, conical pile of dry dust. Holy desiccation!, exclaimed Robin, possibly.

Much, much later, I read a piece by the late writer A.A. Gill. He compared a living person with the rocks around him remarking how the only difference between the rocks and the man being that mysterious “spark of life”. Whatever that is.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein gave his creation the “spark of life” by a knowledge of chemistry and by some secret means, though in its popular retelling, the spark often comes from an electrical charge; with a zap, the big bag of chemicals comes to life.

About twenty seven years before the publication of Frankenstein, Luigi Galvi published his own serious work on bioelectromagnetics explaining how muscles work by electrical pulses directed along neurones. Today, there is the study of neuroscience, investigating which parts of the brain light up with different thought processes and emotions. Synapses firing amongst the mysterious “grey matter”. From this, it has been theorised that long term memory is established through these electrical pulses whilst we are in deep sleep, or NREM (non rapid eye movement) sleep, and the poorer the quality of sleep, the more unreliable these memories are made.

Our bag of chemicals is replaced throughout our life; we literally are not the same body we were eight years ago, rather we are like the Ship of Theseus. Our identity, therefore, may rely on our memories, however unreliable these may become. Of course, in the long run, all our chemistry is recycled; dust to dust. And the memories, without the essential sparks, dies too. Or does it?

Is there a hard copy stored within the body, able to be shared before the chemistry degenerates? What would the product of all the accumulated experiences be, if we compared memory against memory? I have no idea, but it better not fall into the hands of AI, that’s for sure!


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge Week 43