Ephraim & The Sixth Species

ONE: THE SPECIES, AN INTRODUCTION

Krylg and Ephraim

In the children and I’s stories, The Species is a cohort of fantastic creature-characters— each of them a grotesque combination of animals— that form a sort of small panoply of demigods. They operate in a sort of interstitial space: sometimes they are simply part of the setting or background, while at other times they are essential participants in the narrative— but they’re always somehow actively ambivalent.

There is Krylg, who is a giant bear with ram’s horns who breathes fire and who has a copse of dead trees growing perpetually out of their back (as everyone knows, dead trees are always magic).

There is Frejj, who is also a giant: a bipedal turtle with an elephant’s hind legs, a scorpion’s tail and pincers, and an elephant’s head and massive house-fly eyes.

Teeler is the most villainous of the bunch: a vulture’s body and wings, monkey’s arms for legs, and a grinning wolf’s head with eight ruby spider’s eyes.

There is Leena who sometimes goes by Neela and who flies on ethereal butterfly’s wings, with eight octopus legs writhing below them, two giant human eyes perched on the front of their butterfly body.

Finally there is Humunk, the quiet one, who wraps their owl’s wings around their panda’s body, an alligator’s tail dragging behind them; upon their owl’s head is a pair of great antlers, between which a multi-colored flame is known to burn from time to time (secretly, beneath their wings they are known to have four arms— four arms being a sign of holiness, as everyone knows).  

TWO: THE 6TH SPECIES

Recently my son Ephraim suggested that we introduce a new member of The Species. His question, when I tasked him with its creation, was “how did this creature come to be comprised of all these different animals?” I think maybe part of the reason I’m impressed and fascinated both with this question and his answer is because that was never a question for me (which probably had to do with my desire to create something that in-and-of-itself at least attempted to eschew this every question).

His answer was that this creature-character kept falling in love with different animals, and each time— as they moved on— they would inadvertently adopt and retain a characteristic of that creature-character they’d loved. !!! Question(s): does this narrative express a weird understanding of love as it’s experienced emotionally and psychologically? Or is it a weird but fitting metaphor for the biological progression of species in the real world? Or both?!

This Species, at least, had started as a human, fallen in love with a bee, then a spider, then a bat, then a dove, then a snake, then a wolf, then a demon. Therefore, he has eight human arms-as-legs stretching out from the body of a spider, out of the front of which the upright torso of his original human body sits, instead of arms there are two snakes, one of their wings is a bat wing while the other is a dove wing, they’re wolf head also has eight spider’s eyes (I believe they’re a cousin of Teeler), and massive daemon’s horns sprout, of course, from the top of their head. Also they’re fifty feet tall.

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I am particularly fond of the snake-arms/ snake-head-hands, and the asymmetricality of their wings.

THREE: SOME THOUGHTS ON THE SPECIES

I find the idea of The Species really interesting for a number of reasons, one of which being that their relationship to the narrative is very much like their relationship not only to the main characters but also to animals (which they both are and are not). As such I feel compelled to have some sort of attachment to them, but also not to have an attachment to them. I suppose this is how and why they’re an uncanny bunch.

Relatedly, until now they’ve had no backstory. For one, we work hard to fight against hegemonic tropes like backstorying every goddamn thing (and even world-building for that matter), but for another, I think it’s essential to whatever it is they are that The Species at least defy any desire for or ability to articulate something like an origin. But this is exactly why I felt like my son’s insistence, when he wanted to introduce a 6th Species, that this new character have something like a backstory, was actually pretty brilliant. Coz like transgression and shit.

The Species are a practice in, or figures of, the hybridization of characteristics that fall under a categorical commonality while exhibiting differences that problematize notions of associative propriety. That is to almost say: they’re dream-animals.

Their verb is to problematize: their associations, as assemblages of associations, reveal not only their associated normative proprieties by way of their impropriety (“this *should* go with that”), but the whole problematic of propriety itself, which I think is the conceptual skeleton of ethics? And then politics. LOL I don’t really care, I just like the idea that the weird way they make you feel has something to do with being revolutionary.

I feel like they trouble the word “species,” as a distinction-making/ category-producing concept or practice or activity, especially with the insistence on the capitalized definite article: The Species takes its trope from fun genre bullshit like The Cabal, but the content of the word “species,” while it operates somewhat— as an act of grouping and saying is or is not— like the word “cabal,” it is also a totality: everything is a species. The kicker, when it comes to the IRL meaning of the word species, is that it’s something other than itself: in real life we ask which species. And the answer is both a single kind or type that are plural while being the same  (look at all those wolves) as well as all the different single kinds or types (look elephants, seagulls and mountain lions).

Our species are singular, but only as freakish mashups. If one had a baby with another I suppose their deepest logic would demand an offspring that carried absolutely none of the characteristics of its parents. Our The Species is a specific group of creature-characters— not their metonymic characteristics or the animals that they point to, and not any other animal in the world of our stories: just these ones. I like the slippage produced when talking about or explaining The Species to anyone else, because they are both yes that thing you’re thinking but also not.

 

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Three Seva Stories: The Spider Truck, Sprinkle’s Bus Stop & The Magic Poop Baby

seva walgreens unicorn

One: The Spider Truck

There is an old truck parked in the driveway at Jimmy’s. It belongs to Max, the guy on the block who involves himself in everybody’s business. The truck has a lumber rack, and on that rack rest two massive wooden beams that Jimmy says Max is going to use for some project sometime. A black cat that Jimmy swears does not belong to the neighbor often sleeps on those beams, almost completely camouflaged as it curls up against the dark lumber. Inside the cab of the truck it is filled with spider webs.

We learned this because one day Seva wanted to look inside. I told them it was probably filled with spider webs, as a good portion of the outside was coated with them as well. Still, they wanted to see, so I opened the door. They hung back, trepid at first, but eventually approached enough so they could see inside. Nets upon nets of webs of different densities and taughtnesses interlaced and overlapped each other.

“Watch this!” I said. Leaning forward I blew into the cab of the truck. We watched as a ripple worked its way through the three-dimensional stuff of old-growth spider homes. We stood in silence.

“You wanna get in?” I asked, half turning. Their eyes grew wide.

“No!”

“C’mon! It’ll be fun!” I moved to pick them up, feigning that I would throw them into the spider truck. They squealed and ran, I pursued.

“Dad. Seriously.”

“I know my baby. You know I would never do something like that to you.” I closed the door to the truck.

“Can we see in again?” they asked.

“Yes, but you’ll have to get in.”

They gave me the look. I opened the door.

“You know you can sleep in here tonight if you want.”

“What?! Why would I want to sleep in there!?”

“Would you spend the night in there for a million dollars?”

They thought about it. “No.”

“Dude I would. I’d do it for a thousand dollars.” I closed the door again. “You know what happens if you spend the night in the spider truck?”

“What?”

“Well, if you make it all the way to dawn— until the sun is up— when you wake up you’ll have grown two extra arms and two extra legs.”

“…”

“You’ll have eight appendages altogether, like a spider.”

“Nuh-uh.”

“Yeah,” I say emphatically, “you’ll be half-human, half-spider.”

“Daaaad.”

“You’ll be a Spuman.”

They thought about this for awhile, and eventually agreed. If we both did it, they decided, we’d be the king and queen of The Spumans, and we’d have to have special pants and shirts made to accomodate our extra arms and legs, but we’d be able to climb things really well. Also we’d have eight eyes, like a spider, but they’d be human eyes, just like ours now. The big question, though, was whether or not we’d be able to spin webs out of our butts.

Two: Sprinkle’s Bus Stop

On Fridays I pick up Seva from their school and we head straight to Jimmy’s. Since the closest bus stop requires a transfer, we take the next-best option, which takes us to the Rockridge BART Station, and we walk from there, stopping at the “Big Bodega” on the way for treats. They enjoy this walk, and lately it has afforded us the opportunity to check out the neighborhood’s Halloween decorations.

On this particular Friday we walked up to the Chevron so I could get cigarettes and they could get an extra treat. There was a food truck there between the gas station and the bus stop, where we had to sit for sometime before our bus finally showed. It wasn’t until we were all the way up on College that they realized that Sprinkles, their stuffed kitty, wasn’t with us anymore. Panic immediately set in, so I pulled the cord and we hopped off the bus. I called an Uber to take us straight back to the Chevron gas station.

Seva was particularly sad— understandably so— so we talked about it. I told them that there was a good chance that Sprinkles was still at the bus stop, but that there was also a good chance that she wasn’t. It hadn’t been long since we’d left, but there’s always the chance. Then we wrote a story together based on a question:

“What if,” I asked, “while we’re in the Uber, on our way back to the bus stop, we realize that we left your lunch box on the bus?”

And then when we got out of the Uber and ran over to the bus stop we realized, as the Uber was pulling away, that we left their backpack in the Uber?

We’d be sad, especially once we realized that Sprinkles wasn’t at the bus stop anymore (which turned out to be the case), and we’d hold each other as we re-waited for the next bus to go ahead and take us home.

But then, as the next bus approached, we realized that something different was driving it: looking closer, we realized that it was Sprinkles, attached somehow to the steering wheel, flying left and right in a semi-circle as the bus navigated rush hour traffic. We laughed at that. When the bus would pull up and the door would open, Sprinkles the bus driver would turn to us and say “Get in!” And she’d take us all the way to Jimmy’s.

Now that bus is Sprinkle’s bus and we’re always excited that maybe she’ll pick us up again when we catch it next time.

Three: The Magic Poop Baby

When Seva was potty training and moving to solid foods they suffered from some pretty severe constipation. Their poor little tummy would get hard as a rock and they’d suffer pretty badly every three days or so when the time came for their poop to move on. One week it became particularly troubling, so we bought a large container of prune juice and put them in a warm bath and rubbed their tummy while they drank, dutifully, their gross juice. Eventually and finally they pooped, right there in the bath, which I let them do, a poop that I can only describe as NFL regulation football size.

This was a story that Seva loved to hear, over and over again, as they got older. After repeatedly complying to their request one day, I decided to change it up a bit, to heighten the stakes, which I took to be an investment on their part in something like their own origin story.

You know, I told them, you’re not the original Seva, right? I could tell it didn’t compute— but I also knew that it was this sort of sublime impossibility that Seva looooved. I went on to explain: No, it’s true: you’re the magic poop baby.

That night when the original Seva finally passed their gargantuan poo, it was so big that I realized that it was actually a baby. A poop baby. I took care of the poop baby, and I loved it so much, and it was so nice, that we decided to keep it, and sell the old Seva. Eventually we painted it a color approximately halfway between their mother and I, and put some hair and painted eyes and lips and whatnot and named it Seva, and they became our child.

This was why, one day as we were walking to the Little Bodega and they decided that my new name was PeePaw, and demanded a new name for themself, I dubbed them M.P.B. Which they both loved and hated in the same way that they loved and hated the story: it was horrible that we might give away the “original” Seva (which somehow had to be at least part of them), but at the same time had consciously and specifically chosen this Seva, which was undoubtedly still very much them— even if they were comprised of poop— and we’d done so because we liked her so much.

Eventually one night I told them the full tale, that they also weren’t actually either the original Seva or The Magic Poop Baby, as The Magic Poop Baby turned out to be an exceptionally evil villain; that no, the truth was that Seva was, in fact, The Magic Poop Baby Slayer, who had one day showed up to save their mother and I from The Magic Poop Baby in the nick of time, and that we were so incredibly grateful to them for saving us.

Good, Better, Best: Notes & Thoughts on Offering Help

Good: “What can I do to help? Can I do anything to help?”

Better: “Can I [something specific] for you?”

Best: “I am going to [do something specific] for you, if that’s ok.”

On Good:

When someone is suffering psychologically and/or physically, an open-ended question is often experienced as an invitation to do more work, when the aim and object of help is to lessen the work that the person needs to do. Besides this, if someone is ill or experiencing severe anxiety or other related maladies, this question is so often unanswerable! Especially for women, when a man asks this question it more often than not figures itself as yet another way in which labor must be expended to sustain this relationship— it’s a gift with strings attached. It isn’t always explicitly gendered, but when it is, it’s worse.

On Better:

This is predicated on your ability to apprehend what it is that the person you’re trying to help might need. They might’ve communicated it to you, explicitly or implicitly— either way you might not have “caught it.” This is why paying attention, the labor of apprehending people, is so important: we need to cultivate our ability to really ~see~ before and so that we can actually be of help to them.

Note: this can also take the form of “Can I do [X, Y or Z] for you?” Preferably if X, Y or Z are all three things that you know this person could use help with— not a willy nilly off-the-top-of-your-head list of possible needs: again: that’s more work for the person you’re “helping.” A lot of folks, and from what I understand many neuroatypical folk, can’t deal with a shit-ton of choose your own adventure options in this sort of situation, so I advise that you keep it simple.

On Best:

More than number two, this one is predicated on intimate knowledge– a learned, habitual history with someone: I know you often need X in these sort of situations, so I will go ahead and offer X. To the intimate relationship this can come across as very comforting— to the not-so intimate relationship I imagine this can feel or be very intrusive. Still, I do think of it as a risk you take— if you *really* want to help.

Important: you not only have to be comfortable with a “no,” but you have to make it visible to that person— to have done the work of making it visible to that person— so that they know that you are comfortable with telling you no. The work and anxiety of being afraid to say no to offered help simply negates said help.

Too often the refusal of help becomes the site of punishment and more labor on behalf of the would-be help-receiver. This is also very very gendered: too often men punish women for not “taking them up” on their “help,” because we don’t understand the extent to which in many cases every step of the “help offering” process is plagued either with more work for them, or anxiety at the spectre of more work or  worse: punishment.

All of this is to say: it isn’t simply a matter of HOW you say what you say. It isn’t a matter of *simply*  wording something right: it is a matter of apprehending that person and apprehending the nature of your relationship with that person, both personally AND structurally, and the relationship of that apprehension to your language.

The work of apprehending that person is difficult work, especially because patriarchy especially works to cloud our vision on this matter: way too often— and I mean like, cliche often— the would-be man-helper relies on a weird mix of a lifetime of over-affirmation and his “good intentions.” This isn’t simply good enough, it’s less than that: it’s violence.

But there is something that feels luckily true about “starting” with the way you say something: if you think about how you are saying something, it can often lead you back to the reasons you say things, and then ultimately to cultivating better practices of apprehending folks. That is to say (in academic language (sorry)): the relationship between how you say what you say and your in/ability to apprehend people is dialectical. They are two things that are woven, braided together by a host of factors. This makes it feel complicated, which makes sense if we’re talking about the dialectic, but it leads us back to the simple point: THINKING about how you say what you say and then putting the fruit of that labor into PRACTICE  helps you help people, which helps you see them, which helps you help them, which helps you see them, etc.

Achilles-tending-the-wounded-Patroclus-Wiki-Commons

 

TRY GOOGLING LOVE

Try googling “Love.” You’ll begin so far down the disambiguation tree that you’ll give up pretty soon. “The important things about love,” you’ll think, “are things I can already say, or think of.” And then write down, of course.

Maybe you’ll be on the bus, like I was, in between opportunities to do something you either really want to do or really need to do, and so will jump excitedly at the thought of thinking about, googling, and writing about something as dispersed and unwieldy and esoteric and language-blooming as “LOVE.”

Lately you’ve written about HOPE and BEAUTY because those are also that sort of thing to think about, brutally between what you want and what you need to do and— now that you think about it/ realize what you’ve just written— somehow very amenable to traditional-style tattoos, two of which you have, one an ironic and earnest homage to your mother, the other a portrait of your ex, who you tend to think of as your one true love.

But then you’ll get an email with a link to the latest update of a newsletter/ blog written by an up and coming and truly brilliant writer, and that text will be about love, both in the sense that it sort of orbits or hangs around the idea but also mentions it explicitly, as well as better than you ever could.

Interestingly enough, that is when you’ll actually start to write this.

That essay, though, turns out to be more about consolation, which means “comfort received by a person after a loss or disappointment.” The relationship between love and consolation is a lot like the relationship between “comfort” and “a person” in that definition. The essay reads like a critique of that relationship, though: of the lazy assumption that one of the things love does is consoles you. Or that love does anything. As though it were a merely a subject. And that feels right to you.

But you’ve been thinking about Mr. Rogers, and this quote of his that reads

“Love is at the root of everything— all learning, all relationships. Love or the lack of it.”

The words “the lack of it” tacked onto the end have felt incredibly brutal and increasingly necessary to you: the high relief of something’s opposite or absolute lack isn’t just conceptual for love, love as not a subject but as something else, something that bears the characteristics of something that motors (subject) but also the movement of that motoring (verb), which I suppose means the form. Love is form or only knowable as such. And its absence has a form too, marked by love, or it’d be something else entirely, known by it’s movements and its effects.

Everyday you remember that you like to define “form” as “the shape of the way something moves.”

The funny thing is that some of the movements and effects of love— pain and struggle— are also the movements and effects of its lack. Maybe there is no such thing as an actual complete lack of love?

What does lack of love move toward? Nothingness? If that’s true then the absolute nothing of love mirrors the absolute concept of nothing itself— “something else entirely”—  which feels interesting. But then you remember that this is actually a super old theological discourse, where folks pitted the idea of

  • existence itself as love and nothing as the lack of love— which means that existing is a product/ part-and-parcel to love, and that heaven is ultimately expanding love/ ultimate something, while hell is simply the return to nothingness, to nihil

versus

  • everything possible being within the realm of existence, both good and evil, love and it’s lack— a cosmology where nothing is impossible.

And then you remember that the reason the first version— which you like better— was postulated was in order to preserve the supreme and uber and superlative unknowability of God himself, which was something they felt they had to prove because at one point Paul or someone said something along the lines of “we can’t call God good because he is beyond that— our limited conception of good or evil or whatever is necessarily surpassed by the just super ultimate beyondness of God” (paraphrase), which was why Dionysius the Areopagite used the term “supra-existent” which sounds both badass and right.

Then you realize that your avowed fondness for apophatic theology has either informed or simply luckily syncs up with your conception of beauty, which is basically that something has to be at least a  little bit sad to be beautiful and the world is very much at least a little bit sad and is therefore beautiful which means that, coupled with the affirmation of simply existing as being good and a product of love neatly brings beauty into the fold and now you’re not sure if you’re simply finding ways to console yourself.

As a subtext you remember a wiki-rabbit hole you went down this morning that started with remembering how David Bowie played Pilate in one of the Jesus movies, and you wanted to find a screencap of the moment he looks into the middle distance and asks “what is truth,” and how that traced to [Alethea] which traced to [Lethe] which to [“World Disclosure”] which traced to Heidegger’s [The Origin of the Work of Art] and ultimately to the [Hermeneutic Circle] which you’ve bookmarked with the mental note that you need to brush up on that even though you feel as though you’ve sort of got it figured out.

The real question is whether or not Pilate’s question was rhetorical.

On Liminalities: The Hope From Within The Fire

How many kinds of in-betweens are there? How many in-betweens are habitable? How many levels of habitability are available to us? Made available.

I live in the East Bay. On the 12, or the 6, the 18 and the 52 or the 51B. They’re all numbers and lines, not categories. You can be coming or going, you can not know which, and yet you’re still there, at the intersection of multiform liminalities.

There is a schedule, I suppose. It isn’t a myth— more of a “fuzzy set,” a for-the-most-part or a you-get-the-idea— a drift or a gist. The liminality of not knowing the nature of the whats you’re between is more malleable than the words we give things like the people, places, or things we mark as limits. There is only a suggestion of mathematics, or: mathematics can only suggest the pure concept with which to articulate our various and sundry in-betweenesses. In so doing it deflates the pure concept not as useful or concrete but as crystalline, economic, a tool. Tool-like at most, maybe.

Lines and numbers. Signifiers, one to carry us over the other, to assure us that we’re here, or will be, or were, wherever those those things were. Are?

“I’ll be there ASAP,” I say, because possibility was what rendered that thereness possible in the first place, though I didn’t really know it: possible is the only way I’m able to be anywhere.

But that doesn’t make possibility a misnomer or a redundancy (the truth is something like the opposite, really), just that existing is only articulable as a tautological feedback loop of sorts: boring, maybe; banal, often; “duh,” mostly.

But I am on fire with the having been there. Perhaps reality wasn’t prepared for the scourge of our memory, history for the way we touch it, the world for what we can do with sex, what we can hold deep in our bodies, share with other bodies. I’d like to think that our erotic engagement with it at the very least ruffles the feathers of the world, but in its deepest sense my erotic engagement with the world doesn’t give a fuck. It, too, is a feedback loop of sorts: feeding itself on itself, burning-growing. Take that, world.

It’s in this sense, I think, that care comes not from an investment in the world, isn’t rooted in the world, doesn’t depend on the world. No, it bursts forth from the mad anti-physics of a fire that feeds and grows on itself, deep in our bellies. Additionally, I think the more we help each other let it, the more our madness will fight the world: push on it, nibble on it, dance on it, bite and scratch it, more verbs and, eventually— this is the hope from within the fire— replace it.