Sunday, November 22, 2015

I Did an Interview

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Selfies with Dead People

It’s been a few days now since the latest bombing in France, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I don’t usually think about things like that.

I remember 9/11 vividly, walking down the stairs on a morning in second grade to mushroom clouds on TV. I remember the moment of silence in a school assembly, and I remember the whispers and giggles I heard all around me in that moment. My classmates and I have been asked, nearly annually since then, to remember that day, and to write those memories down in various classes. So here is what I do not remember: the state of shock in which we apparently spent the rest of the day. Little girls crying for a thousand people they’d never met, dead in a situation they didn’t understand. The horrified five year old gasps as our principal explained. The moment when we all joined together in a perfectly silent moment of silence, united by our sorrow and fear. I think the people I know who say these things believe them. But I know they made them up, quietly and by accident, over the course of a dozen years. It’s a pretty story—as pretty as it gets went you’re talking about terrorists.

We were eight. It didn’t exactly touch us. The aftermath has, of course, for every moment of the last thirteen years. But that tragedy was not my tragedy, and in the years since then I have not spent much time paying attention to the real world. Fairy tales are happening, you know. So this, watching Paris live on an Irish television, Paris where I was staying a month ago, is the first time that terrorism has ever been quite real to me. And after a few minutes discussing the attack, the newscasters switched seamlessly to local sports and the question of whether or not the Northern Lights will be visible in Ireland.

And, okay. Paris is far away, and Ireland has its own stuff going on. But sports? Really?

I’m not actually mad at the Irish news station or anything. It’s not a big deal, probably, in the long run. They switched back to Paris as soon as there was something new to report. But it’s something I’ve been thinking about, and being bothered by, a lot lately.

The summer after my junior year of high school, I went on a class trip to Italy and Greece. And it was quite a trip. I have a lot of stories, some of which I’ve promised never to tell. But the one thing that has really stuck with me, in a quiet, insidious way, is the day we spent in Pompeii. The city itself was fantastic. But we ended our tour at the plaster casts of the people killed by the ash from Mt. Vesuvius. And people were still laughing, joking, having a good time. They took selfies with the casts.

Repeat, they took selfies with the remains of innocent people killed in a horrific tragedy two thousand years ago. And I was seventeen, and I was really shaken up about it. I’m still really shaken up about it, actually, but there were a few years there where I didn’t have much reason to think about it. And then I came to spend a semester travelling around Europe.

It started in France. We were studying poetry from World War I. Absolutely beautiful, absolutely heartbreaking. So we visited a few battlefields, a few war memorials. I walked through trenches, and I climbed down into craters left by bombs, and I thought about the poems we’d read, and how stupid and pointless the whole war had been. And people took pictures. So many pictures. Trenches, monuments, bunkers, gravestones. I didn’t. It felt weird. It felt wrong. We were walking on the ground where men had died, and we were talking and laughing like it was any other tour on any other day.

I did take one picture. The landscape around the trenches was fascinating, and I thought I might use the image as reference for a writing project or something later. But it didn’t really turn out, and I’m kind of glad. It was beautiful, but they still find bombs on that ground. I’m not sure it’s right to make it the backdrop of some fantasy.

About a week ago we were at the Titanic Museum in Belfast. And the actual museum was tasteful, tactful, and generally well done. But it shared a building with two Titanic restaurants and a Titanic gift shop. They were selling Titanic teddy bears. Hats with the name of the captain. Cheap plastic replicas of that one piece of jewelry from that movie.

“My Parents Went to the Titanic, and All They Got Me Was This T-Shirt.” Kid, be glad they got themselves back to you. There’s a Titanic studio across the street. Titanic cafes, Titanic nightclubs, guys. Everyone was freaking out, I guess because of the movie, and it was just weird.

We were in a gigantic monument to death and failure. I’m not sure the gift shop was sending an appropriate message.

So forget about the Irish newscasters. That doesn’t matter. It’s just what got me writing. Imagine people pausing, a week after 9/11, to take a selfie in the rubble. Imagine the outrage. The fact that a tragedy took place a hundred or a thousand years ago doesn’t mean that you can just stop regarding it a something worth dignity and respect. Dead bodies are not good selfie partners. A war memorial is not the place to have a photo shoot. The sinking of the Titanic does not need to be commemorated with teddy bears and bobble heads. People died here. People died. And you just photographed the gravestone because you thought the last name was spelled funny. Just stop, okay? Just stop.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Princess and the Pea

So I’ve been a little absent lately. A lot absent. Sorry. Well, a little sorry. But it’s NaNoWriMo, and I don’t have time to write anything else. So enjoy this little version of “The Princess and the Pea” that I wrote like a year ago.

            Once upon a time, there was a princess with really sensitive skin. Like, really, ridiculously sensitive. But that’s not where this story starts. This story starts with a prince who had really, ridiculously high standards. He was looking for a bride, but it was kind of slow going. No one was good enough.
            And, okay, let’s be real here—we all know the prince was short and pimply and pudgy, with gross pasty skin and terrible eyesight. He probably only got good grades in school because he was a prince, and then went around bragging to everyone about how smart he was. He probably dropped out of college because he was “smarter than all the professors.” He probably got friendzoned all the time. Maybe he wears a fedora. Yeah, let’s give the guy a fedora.
            But I digress. The prince wanted a really hot girlfriend. His mom completely backed him up on this. His dad was not in the picture.
            So one night they were just hanging out in the palace, you know, commiserating about the difficulty of finding pretty girls and all that.
            And suddenly, there was a knock.
            As there were apparently no butlers in this kingdom, the queen went to get the door. Standing outside in the rain was a damp, bedraggled, poorly dressed young woman. Instead of letting her in, the queen asked the girl, “Are you a princess?”
            “Why yes,” said the girl, “I am.”
            “Harald!” called the queen. “Come and have a look at this one.”
            The prince came to the door and thoroughly examined the princess, deciding that with some makeup and a new dress and hairstyle, she might have some potential. They permitted her to come in out of the rain, and left her dripping on the floor as they made plans to test her suitability.
            Finally, the queen went to prepare a guest room for her, while the prince showed her to the bathroom and very considerately tossed her a couple towels to dry herself off.
            When the princess, clean, dry, and just a little confused and apprehensive about this whole set up, went up to her bedroom, she found herself face to face with a mountain of mattresses. We’re talking, like, five or six hundred of the things. (I wonder what poor person had to set them all up. We’ve already established that there are no butlers here.)
            So the princess used the expandable ladder, conveniently propped up against the wall, to climb up into bed. She didn’t even question it.
            And this is where that little skin condition of hers gets to be an issue. You see—and don’t tell the princess about this—the queen had stashed one little uncooked pea beneath all of those hundreds of mattresses. The idea was that a proper, suitable princess should be really fragile, or delicate, or sensitive, or something. Who knows? We’re dealing with crazy people here. Anyway, this princess was definitely sensitive.
            Not only was she completely unable to sleep all night because of that tiny little lump six hundred layers down, but when she got up the next morning, she was actually black and blue.
            Well, the prince was so thrilled by this result that he proposed on the spot. And the princess, sore and sleep deprived as she was, agreed to marry the complete stranger with the weirdest sleeping habits ever, and I guess they lived happily, or something.