Saturday, December 31, 2016

1500 Miles to Go Home

The steering wheel clenched in my hands. The feel of the road, gently rumbling beneath my legs and feet. Scenery passing by my face and shoulders. So much sameness that you almost don’t notice the changes.

First, a flurry of buildings. Old ones, new ones, familiar ones. Landscapes you’ve seen dozens of time. Then sand. Sand and Joshua Trees. Why are they called Joshua Trees? Is it because they resemble our lord Yeshua? With mangled arms and bowed brows, leaves like the thorny crown and stigmata of a crucified martyr.

My car breaks down. In my fear and panic I contemplate leaving it by the side of the highway to become just another lonely relic to the thriving economy this freeway used to be, before man truly tamed the skies.

Many miles in the wrong direction, and we’re on our way again. Slowly, the sand turns from tan to red. The desert plants grow smaller, lower to the ground, as if wishing to avoid proximity to the sun. The steering wheel is hot in my hands, and the leather seats make me sweat.

Still I push past the red sand and the short paltry shrubs of the low Arizonian desert, and now I am in New Mexico. Land of the country’s most beautiful rest stops. New Mexico. State we can’t even stop in because we lost a day and a half. New Mexico. I hear you’re beautiful. I hope we can come back eventually.

I enter my new home in a flurry of signs. The highways are broader. The signs are bigger. The speed limits are higher. WELCOME TO TEXAS

We stop in the first vestige of civilization. I eat Mexican food that tastes more like Cabo than Chihuahua. I thank God this isn’t where we’re stopping forever.

I keep driving. We’re in the Badlands now. The dirt is an indeterminate color of sadness and forsaken land. There are no plants. Each bastion of civilization, a town supporting a Gas Station, population 20, is at least sixty miles apart. It grows dark. And now there is thunder.

As a child I loved the thunder and lighting. The gods playing with the light switches, pretty patterns marking the sky, tearing its paper into bright portions, lit only for a moment, but seared in the eyes of my mind. As an adult, leaving her home and seeking a new one, aware that I travel in a metal cage moving eighty miles an hour in a desert with 60 miles between rest stops, I am terrified.

I reach out to those who can help. My mother. My father. My husband. In the end, the sweet strains of Paul McCartney are what truly calms me. I sleep peacefully beneath a dry and thunderous sky, obscured by the roof of our hotel.

One more day of driving. The landscape becomes high desert. Then I see more trees. I pass a colonial looking town that I mistake for a Civil War battlefield because of its name. I vow to return and go shopping. I climb up a hill in my twelve year old car with sticky leather seats. I look to my left. There is a giant man-made lake, created to drain the flood plain. I drive further. “Bee Cave 12 miles.” I wonder if it’s a town name, a cave of bees, or both.

I stop. I am here. This will be my home. It looks much like the 1980s landscape I remember, only in less Sandstone and more Olive.

I take several trips up the stairs. My belongings are here. My husband is here. My father closes the door behind him as he heads for the airport. I look around and burst into tears. I am home.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Sonnet on July 2016

So many lives of colors bright and dark
Have hurried to their final beats and breaths
Evil haunts the world and leaves its mark
And sages of their wisdom are bereft
How can I hope to capture what I feel
When seeing candles outed left and right?
When bathed in death, this life seems barely real
Why fight the dark when there’s so little light?

But this is not, it cannot be the end.
The story of the world is not near done
As long as we can call each other friend
The battle with the dark can sure be won
As long as lovers kiss and families share
The hope for light and good is everywhere

Monday, June 20, 2016

Opinion: Rape vs. Murder

I keep having this pretend conversation in my head. It's not a fun ride, but it refuses to leave me alone.

Other person: Would you rather be raped or murdered?

Me: Murdered.

Other person: That's absurd! Why would you rather die?

Me: Both crimes are murder, one's just slightly less messy for the criminal. If I'm murdered nobody's going to ask me if I had been drinking. Nobody will suggest that maybe I wanted to be murdered. Nobody will say I should have worn something different, or that I shouldn't have been out that night, or that I was in any way to blame for being murdered.

And weeks later, nobody will tell me I should get over it. Nobody will tell my family that they should just drop the case to save my murderer the embarrassment of a trial. Nobody will say I'm making a big deal out of being murdered. Nobody will say that my murderer has so much going for him, can't I just drop the whole thing? No judge will go easy on my murderer because he's wealthy, or on a sports scholarship, or his family is well-connected.

Years later, I won't have added financial burden of either therapy or PTSD as I have flashbacks to the night I was murdered. I won't have difficulty keeping a job or maintaining relationships with people because I can't shake the memory of my murder. I won't need to seek out support from other people who have been murdered. I won't suffer horrible traumatic damage for the rest of my life because of one awful thing someone else did to me that was in no way my fault. And I won't be blamed for it either.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Short Story: Memcorp Bank, NA

Inspired by a prompt from HitRecord: What if memory became currency?

The woman sat down in the surprisingly uncomfortable chair with the bright light behind it that would shine over her shoulder and obscure her face from the camera.

“This chair sucks,” she complained, scooting to the edge and finding a perfect dent for her rump and smoothing her skirt over her knees. She crossed her ankles, wishing she had worn hose.
“It’s a posture chair,” Geoffrey replied. “Ever wonder why everyone on my show looks so good?”

He flashed the smile he was known for. The one that made you trust him immediately. She relaxed a little.
“So, now that we’re here, I’m going to need your name.” He smiled again.
“Oh hell no!”
“If I can’t verify your identity I can’t cite you as a source.” Another smile.
“Fine. After I’m done. And nowhere near any of these damned cameras or microphones.”

She gestured towards the lapel mic on her suit jacket. Noticing a light spot on the lapel, she licked her finger and rubbed at it furiously.
Geoffrey had heard a tiny tinge of a Southern twang when she said “these damned microphones.” He scribbled “GA?” on the notepad in front of him and looked back at the woman in the suit.

“Fair enough,” a sterner smile, “But I have to have something to call you.”
She thought for a moment.
A real Georgia Peach, alright, Geoffrey thought.

“Okay Miss Peachy. Look at the monitor to the left of the camera. We can’t see anything about you except that you’re a woman, do you see that?” She nodded. “Sound, can we put a preview of what the studio is hearing from her microphone?” The technician in the booth scrambled.
“Rolling!” He sounded so far away.
“Will you talk for me please?”
“What do you want me to- oh!” She laughed. “I sound like a tuba!”

Geoffrey saw Peachy visibly relax this time and he flashed a smile at his producer. The sound trick always worked on the skittish ones.
“Okay, sound, that’s enough.”
The deep laughter stopped in the studio and Peachy composed herself.

“Now, Miss Peachy.” Geoffrey didn’t smile this time. “Can you please look into the camera, tell us the date and why you’re here?”

The laughter in her eyes died quickly. She looked into the camera and took a steadying breath.
“It is Saturday, December 16th, 2317. I am here to expose corruption, collusion, and fraud on the part of my employer, Memcorp Bank, NA.”

“That’s a pretty big accusation.” Geoffrey had heard Peachy’s claims before, it’s why they were here. Never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to in a televised interview. That had been Professor Zahelu’s first rule of journalism, and with an expose this big, Geoffrey was taking no chances.

“Yes it is,” Peachy pressed on, “and I have the evidence to back it up-“
“Well before we get into that, let’s establish some background. How long did you work at the bank?”
“13 years.” Peach relaxed a little.
“And what did you do there?”
“I am in commodities management.”
“So you’re still working there even after everything you’ve discovered?”
“And why is that?”
“I wanted to collect enough evidence to make my case.”
“Why not go to the police?”
“I wasn’t sure it would help.”
“Why not?”

Peachy got that scared look in her eyes again. It was time to switch tactics.
“So you’re in commodities management.”
“Yes.” Peachy’s voice became even and measured again.
“What does that entail?
“I help keep the memory data safe from being corrupted.”
“How can it be corrupted?”
“Loss of power to the servers, cyber attacks, plain old data corruption, and time deterioration.”
“Memories can be lost over time?”
“The older ones, from before Memcorp’s charter, yes.”
“So how do you help?”
“I review memories in the bank for inconsistencies, color variances, anything that could indicate a particular bank of memories could be experiencing corruption.”

Geoffrey steered the conversation back to her purpose.
“Interesting. And have you ever played whistleblower before?”
“Once, when I thought a coworker of mine was stealing.”
“Were they?”
“And what happened to them?”

Despite the light over her shoulder, Geoffrey could still see Peachy’s face turn red. She still answered the question.
“She was ordered by the court to deposit all her memories of banking protocol and finance law. She was also given a lifetime ban on all legal, law enforcement, and politics packages, and with those bans she’s really only qualified for labor and service. I heard from a coworker she cleans houses now.”
“Those are some pretty staunch sanctions.”
“Embezzlement is something the government and Memcorp takes very seriously.”

Geoffrey shifted in his seat.
“Now what about Memcorp, have you ever seen or found anything in their policies or practices to suggest they might be behaving in ways that were unethical, or even illegal?”
“Not until about three months ago.”
“What happened then?”
“I saw something...” She swallowed hard and looked at the floor. The camera wouldn’t see it, but Geoffrey could tell she was fighting back tears.
“Let’s back up.” Geoffrey didn’t want this getting out of hand. A little emotion was good, but too much too early and this story would die on the cutting room floor.

“Let’s talk a little bit about how the bank works in general. Now, Memcorp is the oldest bank in the United States, correct?”
“Correct, we received our charter back in 2150. Before then, Memcorp was Memtank. It was simply a social way to share memories with your friends.”
“People used to just share memories?” Geoffrey asked.
“Yes, before the dollar fell and the US switched over to USMems, people used to share memories with everyone. Of course they weren’t the Mems we know now, where you can recall the actual experience, more like an impression. And people could keep their own versions.”
“Interesting, so you could deposit something you also held onto?”
“Not exactly, there were no deposits, because there was nothing to deposit into. It was more like reading, or watching a movie, where you saw and felt what happened, but if you tried to access it later, you were just remembering the memory rather than actually having it.” Peachy was comfortable with this part, explaining the history of memory was part of her job.

Geoffrey paused and chuckled.
“That all sounds very complicated.”
“Well, it’s 50 years of memory history in a nutshell.” Peachy laughed.
“I see, I see. Now how did Memtank become Memcorp?”

“When the treasury shifted to mems instead of the dollar, Memtank was one of three companies that had the databases large enough and stable enough to store large amounts of memories for long periods of time. Wells Fargo bought one, Bank of America bought the second, and our founder, Philip Alexander spent his Memtank fortune getting the authorization to switch over to Memcorp and become a bank.”
“We he and his family certainly made that back, didn't they?”
“Yes, they did. Memcorp is now the largest bank in the world.”
“What do you think contributed to their success?”
“Innovation. We were the first bank to safely transplant a set of memories into a donor body. We were also the first bank to use active scanners to determine how full the brain was so nobody’s memories get overtaxed. We even developed our own scanners that can make deposits and withdrawals so the customer only has to visit one machine. And we were the first bank to be able to target not only a specific amount of time, but a specific set of memories related to one topic and package them for use as a training module for various careers.”
“Like when my parents purchased the journalism package for me.”
“Exactly. Now those with the means can insert and remove packages as suits their needs while still retaining their personal experiences. And we have the largest library of Public Domain Memories in the market.”
“The free memories.”
“Yes, the reproducible memories that can be obtained the hard way by anyone. Reading the Constitution. Visiting a park. Dollar-currency era memories that are lower-quality. All free to any Memcorp customer.”

Geoffrey tugged at the cuffs of his shirt underneath his jacket.
“Sounds too good to be true.”
“It’s not, as long as everyone plays by the rules.” Peachy was quiet now.
“Which brings us to why you’re here. When did you first notice something was wrong?”
Peachy took a deep breath and shifted in her seat.

“I was reviewing the daily memories of one of our tellers.”
“Is it standard practice for tellers to deposit their memories?”
“It’s completely voluntary, but if they give up their half their day’s work, they can withdraw half a day of a leisure activity. We get valuable information about the daily goings on within the bank and the concerns about our customers, and our employees get to leave the most stressful parts of the office behind them and remember fun instead of work.”
“How many employees participate in this program?”
“About half.”
“And why don’t the employees simply deposit their entire day in exchange for an entire day of leisure?”

Peachy laughed.
“They would be of no use to us then.”
“Why is that?”
“Would you want an employee that had effectively been on vacation for three years? The only way they learn on the job is by doing the job and remembering their mistakes.”
“Well then don’t they learn slower than they should?”
“Not significantly. Our studies show only a 15% slower learning rate than in employees who don’t deposit their time.”
“Why do you think that is?”
“People aren’t as dumb as they look.”

Geoffrey chucked.
“So let’s get back to these memories you were reviewing. Now, why were you looking at this particular block of memories? Isn’t there a quality control team to review in-store transactions?”
“Certainly, but there had been a problem with the batch of memories this teller’s deposit was made with, and I wanted to examine the batch individually to see if the problem was with the database or the scanners for that region.”
“I see, so tell me about this memory.”
“It was a teller at one of our flagship stores. These are the stores where we pioneer new programs. They have the best performance; the most traffic, the highest amount of deposits, the most high profile customers-.”
“-Your super-stores.” Geoffrey interjected.

“Exactly,” Peachy preened. “Our super-stores. I was reviewing an altercation between this teller and a customer who was going to be traveling.”
“When you say you were reviewing, did you make a withdrawal?”
“No,” Peachy smiled. “No, that would be far too much for a person in my position to take in. We have a monitor when I can see and hear what was translated by the visual and auditory complex, like watching a video.”
“I see, so you were- watching- the memory, so to speak.”
“Yes. Anyway, a customer was arguing with a teller over a transit map of New York.”
“That’s in the public domain isn’t it?”
“It is, but it requires 0.13% capacity of your memory available. The woman was already at 90.00% capacity according to the scanner the teller was using.” Peachy was getting agitated.
“And Memcorp couldn’t install the memory?”
“Memcorp is very conservative with its lending policies. If someone is paying down a package like corporate leadership or law practice, as this customer was, we require they keep at least 10% of their capacity free, in case they forget to make a deposit and accumulate memories too quickly, and so we don’t risk them going over 95%.”
“What happens at 95%”
“Memories start to destabilize and they can be difficult to deposit or repossess.”
“What does that look like?”
“Say for example, your journalism package.”
“You remember going to class, studying, passing exams.”
“Of course.”
“Do you remember the first time you met your wife?”
“I better say yes!”

Peachy smiled.
“Of course you do. But if your memories destabilized, you may start to believe you met your wife in your journalism class. You were never IN a journalism class, but the two could blend together. Then if you ever decided to sell your package, you would either have to leave out that class or lose the memory of meeting your wife forever.”
“I see how this can be a big problem. So what happened with the customer.”
“She argued that she knew she was at 89.05% because she had a home scanner.”
“I’ve heard those can be unreliable.”
“Like with anything, you get what you pay for, and this woman had paid for the best.”
“So what happened?”

Peach tugged at her sleeve.
“The teller refused to give her the memory so she stormed off in a huff. I documented that the teller had followed Memcorp policy. As is our policy with any customer altercation, I reviewed the next interaction the customer had with a teller. It happened to be 15 minutes later, at a different store. She had decided to deposit some early childhood memories into her personal account to make room for the Transit Map.”
“What happened.”
“The teller gave her the map.”
“Was the teller unaware of the policy?”
“No, her scanner said the woman was at 89.05%.”

Geoffrey swallowed. Here we go.
“Is it possible she could have deposited those memories somewhere else?”
“Any deposit of more than half a percent has a federally mandated waiting period of three days.”
“And is it unusual for that kind of discrepancy between scanners to occur?”
“We have the most sophisticated scanners developed by man. They can detect your capacity to a millionth of a percent. They are calibrated twice a day by an armed guard.”
“Why so much caution?”
“The scanners not only read the balance in your head, they also make withdrawals and deposits. Without careful calibration they could make the minds of all of our customers unstable.”
“I see. So the discrepancy is unusual.”
“A discrepancy of more than two hundredths of a percent is enough for us to shut an entire brance down for an investigation. Anything over 5 tenths of a percent and the entire board of directors could go to jail. This was a discrepancy of 0.95%. This wasn’t unusual, this was unimaginable.”
“Why are the laws so strict regarding the scanners?”
“Because any restriction of the exchange of memory is considered an affront by the banks on the free market.”
“What did you do?”
“I started digging.”
“And what did you find.”

Peachy swallowed.
“Systematic manipulation of the scanners. It was only in flagship stores, and it was only during peak hours, but it was nationwide and it was terrifying.”
“So why come to me? Why not go to the police or the FBI?”
“Because of something else I found.”

Peachy pulled out a rollout screen from her suit pocket and pressed play. On the screen was a bedraggled woman with a vacant expression shuffling through an assisted living home. A woman offscreen was trying to get her attention.

“This is Cathy,” Peachy said, as the off-screen woman called out the same name. Peachy began to cry.
“This is the coworker I blew the whistle on.”

Geoffrey looked down at his notepad. He heard a door slam behind him. When he looked up, the studio was empty except for the chair across from him. Geoffrey looked around, confused. Taped to the chair was a note:


Geoffrey looked at his watch. Either it was an hour fast or he had just lost an hour. Geoffrey pulled out his phone. The time was correct. He called his producer.

“Geoffrey? Whatcha got?” It  was Jerry’s standard greeting, and not at all what he would sound like if he had just woken up in a raided news studio.
“Jerry, man, where are you?”
“I’m on the boat, dude, have been all day.” Geoffrey checked the date on his phone. It was still the same day.
“You, uh… haven’t been by the studio at all today?” Geoffrey swallowed hard.
“No, man, I figured you were calling me with some hot story.” 


“Oh, sorry, no-” Geoffrey thought quickly, “I just was wondering if you and Maria wanted to come by for dinner. Janet is making her gumbo and I found this microbrew you’ve gotta try.” This was true, and had already been part of the plan for the day anyway.
“Sounds great, let me just check with Maria and I’ll get back to you.” 

Crap. Would they get to Maria too?

“I think Janet already talked to her to plan their margaritas.” This was perfectly plausible. It was nice, your best friend being married to your wife’s best friend.
“Well then if the women-folk have their mind set on it, we best just be good husbands and go along with it.”
“Alright, man,” Geoffrey was trying not to let his building panic show in his voice. “See you later.”
“See ya’.”

Geoffrey ended the call and looked around the studio. In an hour, they had removed all his equipment, put Jerry on his boat at least 30 minutes away, and wiped his memory to the exact place where he would know what had happened and why. One thing was clear. Someone didn’t want this story told...

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

On Hamilton: An American Musical

*Insomuch as there can be spoilers on a musical based on historical events from 250 years ago, this post contains spoilers. I imagine. I don't know, this is the first sentence I'm writing of it.

EDIT: There's an eensy kinda-spoiler that I don't really think counts.

I have not yet been able to see this show, however I have listened to the cast album. I have to say, I was positively floored. Hamilton deserves every bit of the hype it's receiving, and frankly, if you are a student of The Great American Musical, you need to learn this show. I predict it may be the harbinger of a new era of American musical theater.

I went into Hamilton with a heavy dose of skepticism.

My husband played a few songs for me to get me interested. This was not what interested me, and it's frankly not the best way to introduce the show. It was when weeks later, he was still talking about it that I finally got interested. Now I'm obsessed with it, too.

Let's first talk about the elephant in the room, which is the musical style. Well-educated musicians like myself may feel that rap has no place in the conversation of American musical theater, and in many cases, they might be correct. However, Lin-Manuel Miranda accomplishes something I previously thought impossible, which is to make rap not only palatable to the musical-loving ear, but relate-able, compelling, and fun. He blends in melodic singing and beat poetry, adding the chorus to certain words for emphasis, and even establishes multiple layers of leitmotif that not only recall characters, but specific moments and emotions, all through the use of spoken word.

The score is sung-through, but it is not rapped-through. There are many hauntingly beautiful melodies, rooted strongly in R&B and pop, with some throwbacks reminiscent of Frank Loesser and Frank Wildhorn. The instrumentation draws heavily from modern music, sampling classical instruments like strings and harpsichords alongside piano and vocal sampling. There's even some tasteful auto-tune. Yes, I said tasteful auto-tune. It's only in one song, and when you hear it, you'll understand. And you'll think, "Oh yeah, tasteful auto-tune. Totally."

The libretto is self-referential, which one might think would make it repetitive; however, by repeating words and phrases from particularly significant moments in the show, Miranda creates a verbal shorthand with the audience to illustrate characters' internal reactions or connections to events in the story. In fact, the use of verbal shorthand is part of what makes this musical not just the musical of the year, but a culturally significant piece of literature.

The action of the play spans 30 years of Hamilton's life, which would be difficult enough to effectively communicate. Add in that it's during the founding of the United States, and covering that span of time seems nearly impossible. This is where the music genre comes in.

Because of the genre, the ear gives the show permission to use modern idiom and pop culture references alongside the more flowery language of the period. Those idioms boil down pages of writings and historical documents into instantly comprehensible phrases, explaining whole chapters of history in minutes. When I realized Jefferson and Hamilton were about to debate the creation of a centralized national bank in a rap battle, I pretty much made this face.

But this isn't just a culturally significant work. It's fun. It's funny. It's tense. It's heartbreaking. I can't tell you how many different times I cried and laughed out loud listening to the cast recording. And the cast is phenomenal. Everyone smoothly transitions between melodic singing and spoken words. The heavy vocal lifting is left to the two female leads, Eliza and Angelica Schuyler, however the whole cast is called upon to sing in tight jazz-inspired harmonies and they do so with alacrity. If I had to make a critique, its that several of the voices are similar, particularly Jefferson and Washington and Eliza and Angelica, sometimes making conversations between those characters harder to follow. However as it's intended as a staged play, not only an album, I wouldn't really call that a critique so much as me whining.

In short, Miranda brings history to life in his brilliant show, making us care deeply not only about the interpersonal drama and relationships of the characters, but also about the various issues and political questions of the day. And WHEN they make a movie of the musical, it will be added to the list of films I watch each 4th of July, alongside 1776 and Independence Day.