10 September 2016
Welcome to the SlashnBurn dysfunctional family, new creative nonfiction editor and horticulturalist, Zoe Hitzel.
Following is Zoe’s essay, entitled “On Not Knowing Enough.” Learn more about Zoe by checking out our staff page.
On Not Knowing Enough
I’d really like to write about seahorses. How they swim, all upright and practically finless, coiled and spiraled tails, papa pouching the babies while mama goes off to do something badass and seahorsey. Alas, detailed knowledge of seahorses is not a thing I possess. The last thing I learned about them was probably on a high school sick day Saturday morning nature show.
Or the moon. The moon has fascinated me since I saw it rise in a gigantic way. I was a child It took up a quarter of the sky, bigger than the neighbors’ house, rising behind it, above it, to the side of it, growing to enclose the house in a giant bright disc, an intense orange like Blue Moon Belgian Ale, bicycle chain rust, pumpkin pie, burnt cheddar cheese. The suggested face, the suggested other world, that dark side pockmarked and cratered like a cantaloupe. Master of the tides, it tugs the oceans until the planet’s a bit oblong. Orbit a slight incline, just right so both types of eclipse happen often, help, help, something’s eating the sky.
This reaction is not new. It is very old to think of the sky as something vulnerable to taint. During the Venusian transit, a planet traces the grand quintile—pentagram, pentacle, a circumscribed star pattern in the heavens—freaking out ancient people who dedicated their lives to staring at the sun. “What is the devil dong in the heavens?!” exclaimed so many concerned skymen. From symbol of devil directly to devil, an unexpected thing to be found in the sky, or from it, the realm of perfect goodness, stuck with words like “firmament” and “lofted,” “eternal” and “celestial sphere.” Yet there arose a devil, which complicated matters. I find this good. I like a symbol. I like the hidden to surprise with a peek.
In Norse mythology, Hel was a woman. Half dead, half alive, split vertically down the middle, she ruled the hot land to the south. In this instance, Sartre was right about other people.
Still, the perhaps fearsome and grotesque image colors the Norse myths unjustly. I have always liked the Valkyries. Winged warrior women, sacred cupbearers, battle skirts, obsidian and lapis lazuli breastplates, warriors of Asgard, and once, a sleeping beauty. It would be easy to liken them to the Greeks, their Muses, but a Valkyrie is nothing of the sort. Norse deities aren’t almighty, they’re just special people, like super-beings or dimensional travelers, and they booze themselves into and out of trouble. Thor drank half the ocean, fought a serpent coiled around the roots of the world tree, lost a wrestling match to old age and still impressed the giants. Later, he got drunk and woke up having lost his hammer. In order to get it back, he had to dress as a bride, nearly feasting and drinking himself out of his disguise. The hammer’s name is Mjollnir. Upon the tongue, it sounds like wind, and ice.
I once read an interview where Trent Reznor discusses recording The Downward Spiral in the home of one of the women slaughtered by the Manson girls. Built a studio and lived there for 18 months, looping things, talking through teeth, distorting, cutting, screaming, splicing, shivering, whispering, redoing. Opening track: “Mr. Self Destruct.” The house: demolished after he left.
It seems odd for a thing wrapped up in apparent permanence like a house to be undone so easily. Cities, with their concrete roots like trees, exist underground as well as above. They build up as well as down. Stone and glass and steel moles, electrified and gasolined, automobiles spilling along the highways’ dark veins, then the red blurs at night, arterial. Which blood am I as I move through it: good and full of living, bad and full of dying? Blood is not red beneath the skin. The iron in it oxidizes upon contact with the air, reddening. Mars a blood planet. The moon a bone planet. The earth an iris.
All my friends are here, in the poison, swimming, drinking, eating things the turn our cell walls semi-permeable and cancerous and corrupt the conditions allowing cells to be made, telling jokes under the night music, passing the wine, not wanting to garden, not wanting to farm, not wanting to miss out. We use what’s around while it is, because for now, at least, it is.
Fracking intrigues, sounds fun: to drill under cities to mine natural gas, with water, somehow perfectly safe like clean coal, like clean nuclear holocausts. I await the devil hiding in these heavens to hurry up and make himself known. Now to wonder which will happen first: a California covered in wildfires slides into the sea, or a New York infused with flammable tap water collapses, implodes, shudders downward into its bowels. Perhaps New York drops all at once. But probably nothing so clean. No disasters are.
At the Norn’s well at the base of the world tree, Odin sacrificed one eye to know the future and try to avert the world’s destruction. He also sacrificed himself to himself to gain his eighteen charms. He owned two ravens, one on each shoulder, and they flew around Midgard, our world, all day, returning to tell Odin all they had seen. The original town crier: two talking ravens. He knew everything, and still he gave an eye to know more. Still he drank from the well. Still the world ended.
In the high sky, above the stratosphere, Sprites and Elves, electromagnetic atmospheric anomalies. Blue Jets shoot from clouds out into space, little spotlight-bullets, little exit wounds. All the dead gods laying around, all the new ones being invented. Proverbially, the devout say even atheists worship something. Would I be an omnitheist if I worshipped everything? Or tried to? I would like to worship everything. Ceremonies for all. Thank you for being and doing.
Feathers, they evolved, but how? Scales one day, feathers the next epoch. Scrumptious.
Platypuses. Platypi? Mammal: check. Lays eggs: check. Poisonous barb on a single elbow: check. Duck bill: yep. Webbed feet: predictable. Beaver tail: pleasant surprise.
Bigger surprise: apples do not come true. Apple genes, stuffed into five seeds arranged in a star pattern around the core, make no apples like the tree that discarded them. All apples of a single variety are clones: not quite a lie, not quite what the tree intended. Oh purple grandfather Kazak apple! Oh iridescent blue Inca potato! One day, the bees will make a perfect mistake and coat the hills in sweet iridescent purple Kazinca potapple trees.
Bacteria metabolizing arsenic, you are the future, and we are your watchmaker, blind as always. I think you are welcome. I think you will outlive us oxygen-eaters.
Extremophiles, oh you lovers of extremes (pressure, temperature, nourishment)! Crab hordes blanketing ocean floor spires, crab hordes crawling under megaton-pressure, basking in geothermal vents, inhaling the noxious, you got it.
Incazak applatoes, I await thee.
Stingrays. Flattened sharks. Poisonous barb crowns the tails. If I am ever flattened, please make me flying and poisonous in exchange.
Genetically modified foods. A potato that kills potato beetles. A gene that transmogrifies a ball of starch into a pesticide. When does one become a pest, an inconvenient ingredient? These inserted genes mutate much swifter than the natural potato genes. What is natural when I use needles to take away your ability to vary, your ability to evolve, your ability to make mistakes, potato? Sartre was right about other people, but he got the verb wrong. Other people are not hell. Hell is a product, not a condition. Often I can only see what I’m looking for.
When the Viking Berserkers, wolf jaws on their heads, bear skins on their backs, fell (rose?) into a battle rage, roiling in fury or wickedness or desire to clobber, their blows did not discriminate between friend or foe. They leapt, they swung, they struck at all, maybe at the shadow all had become. They could do impossible things—fight as if impervious to pain, heft boulders, crush a man through his armor. When the fever subsided, they were notably enfeebled, accompanied by a severe stupefaction, grunting, wandering aimlessly, exhausted physically and mentally. This recovery state could last for days.
I am preparing to sweat. I am preparing to dream. Into the sky and at the ground, into the things that ask to be considered. I will listen with the edges of my fingers. I will imagine with the hair upon my ears. I will stop seeking the answer, for answers murder possibility, and I enjoy possibility, more than what is available, more than what is reasonable, more than our bubble of rock and air, gravity and salt, whitecaps and poison and paths can intone. In the error is also the nudge to the edge of understanding. I am glad the platypus cannot explain itself, glad the stories of the old gods lose a chunk of themselves in translation, glad the potatoes fell apart a little when I carried them home in my dumb plastic grocery bags, happy to feel the apple a little warped when I draw it up from the depths of my knapsack. My teeth still pull it apart in bits, like a seahorse curling its way through the sea. Unlike the motion of a hammer, so grand, so a moon falling, so silent go the ravens when things complete.
Introducing, Shyla Dogan, SlahnBurn’s nonfiction editor and costumer.
Read her bio on the staff page.
Following is a nonfiction piece from Shyla, “Oliver.”
I walk up to him and hand him a note. He looks at me totally confused. He towers over me and I stare into his beautiful green eyes.
“What’s this?” he asks confused.
“Um, it’s for you,” I say and walk away awkwardly.
The door of my classroom is open and he and his best friend, who is as equally handsome and popular are positioned on the corner of the wall. This is where they always stand like two pillars of perfection, surveying everyone that is less than them.
I am in my history class in the same place I always sit. I am two years younger than both of them, wearing a sweat suit that exacerbates the fact that I am one of the few fat girls in school. I have no choice because this is what the orphanage bought me. I don’t have a lot of clothes, so even though I’m home now, we use the clothes they gave cause that’s all we have. It’s from K-mart and the other kids all know it. The first day I wore it a boy walks by me and says to another boy, “oooooh yeah, grape flavor” and this is a reference to the Kool-aid commercials where the giant pitcher of Kool-aid bursts through walls where thirsty children sit at lame birthday parties that suddenly become cool once they’re all hydrated with the sugary beverage. As he notes, my sweat suit is perfectly purple and he’s right, I appear to be grape flavored.
This guy and his friend have the freshest shoes, hoodies and chains. They hang out with girls that have their hair and nails professionally done years before I will enter a salon in my early twenties. They’ve never lived in orphanages and they don’t wear sweat suits from K-Mart.
I watch as he opens the note and a smile evolves into laughter that can be heard into my classroom and down the hallway. His best friend gets curious and so he shows him the note and the friend is captured by laughter and it overtakes him to such an extent that he nearly falls on the ground. In his defense, he doesn’t know I’m watching and when he sees me in class later he smiles nicely and never mentions the note to me – ever. In fact, the embarrassment that I just know will come as a result of the entire school learning this never occurs and I’m thankful to him.
I sit in my sister’s room afterschool watching Animaniacs, “you shoulda’ seen how he laughed Keisha,” I say to her, staring blankly at the t.v. and she smiles understandingly at me.
“Shyla, you think he’s so great. That mutherfuckers name is Oliver. O-L-I-V-E-R! What the fuck kinda’ name is that? He ain’t got shit to laugh about with a name like that,” she says with a grin.
“Yeah but if you ask him about it, he’ll tell you it was his grandfather’s name and he does it in this way that makes you feel stupid for even having brought it up,” I reply back to her. She looks at me directly as she twists one of her braids between her fingers.
“Right. He owns it. That’s what it means to own yo’ shit. You refuse to own it. Like that boy who talked about your sweat suit, you shoulda’ been like, ‘yeah mutherfucker, best flava’ at this school.’” She says this while pulling on her shirt as if to show it off and we both laugh.
“I promise you he’da shut the fuck up,” she says with a grin. “And probably asked you out,” she laughs.
“I could never say that,” I say shyly and look down. She smiles widely because she already knows this.
“Listen Shy, what do you know about Oliver anyway? That he has fly shoes and a gold chain? That’s no reason to like a boy. Like a boy for how he makes you feel, not for how he looks or the clothes he has. You were wrong on that to begin with,” she says to me pinching my cheek.
I hesitantly ask, “Yeah, but what does that mean, how they make you feel? I don’t get that,” I question.
She smiles at me and then directs her attention to the t.v. “Your thirteen Shy, you shouldn’t get that. But you will. Now, go do your homework and I’ll make dinner in a bit.”
I walk toward the door – hollowed out, dreading school the next day because what if he changed his mind about telling people? What if he’s not as nice about it as he seemed to be when I saw him in class? What if he humiliates me like he so easily can?
“Hey Shy” she says, “you do realize that you asked out the most popular boy in school right? A guy who is two years older than you, even girls his own age are probably way too shy to talk to him, and you did it all in your purple sweat suit,” as she says this we both laugh.
“You know that’s bold right? It takes balls of steel to do somethin’ like that. Be proud to be bold girl, even if the mutherfuckers do laugh.”
That weekend, my sister took the guitar her dad bought her when she was thirteen to the pawnshop and then took me shopping and my purple sweat suit disappeared.