D.A. Xiaolin Spires Interview: “A Wispy Chastening”

Read “A Wispy Chastening” in Reckoning 2.

Michael: The sense of ambiguity in “A Wispy Chastening” evokes, for me, a question about what kind of responsibility we should feel, at a personal level, for huge, human-caused environmental problems. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, global warming, wildlife starving to death with stomachs full of plastic: what do these things have to do with whether I drink coffee out of a disposable cup?

Xiaolin: Thanks, Michael, for asking the tough questions! While plastic and disposable items are still the norm in, say, food courts, hot dog stands and other venues, it’s something that will be hard to avoid. Does that mean if you don’t bring your own cup, you should forgo drinking coffee at a conference or a beer/soda at a baseball game? I’m not so sure I would go as far as that. I will say that exposure and systemic policies might do more in terms of motivating action—the connection between disposable products and the long-range disappearance of seabirds, for example, is something that needs to be brought more clearly into the limelight.

In terms of incentives, I think it certainly helps to feel motivated to bring in that cup of yours because it will cost you 25 cents less. Perhaps money is not the perfect arbiter for moral decisions and action and perhaps should not be, but it certainly does affect consumer behavior. I think it’s the right direction to go in terms of affecting large-scale change. I think decisions such as charging extra for disposable cups or giving a discount for bringing in your own are made on a business level (at restaurants and cafes), but percolates to personal decisions (like bringing your own dishware). But, large-scale change also necessitates awareness and inciting a general urgency to the breadth and depth of the problem.

I’ve also noticed that some instances of corporate marketing involve large amounts of waste, for example, free samples—you see restaurants at food courts or wholesale stores using one plastic fork for one piece of chicken, given to passerby after passerby, to be disposed after that bite of a sample is consumed—or tiny cups filled with negligible amounts of liquid for tasting. There might be better ways to approach sample-giving and advertising. This goes for everyday supermarkets and grand events, as well, for example, wine-tasting as well, especially at major expos involving thousands of visitors and more. I wish I had an easy solution, but I don’t really. I will say that, for example, many temples in Taiwan have free water for anyone visiting and next to the dispenser are these paper cones that fold open for the water to be dispensed in (if you don’t have your own bottle). These foldable paper cones (looking much like the paper that wraps around an ice cream cone) seem a lot less intrusive (more biodegradable, less volume) as waste and more recyclable, so if businesses could move in a direction like that, even as an interim solution, it would be helpful. It’s still waste, but it’s less of it.

Michael: How do you negotiate those kinds of ambiguities, if you feel them in your own life?

Xiaolin: I’m going to focus on the issue of plastic since I’ve been reading a lot about it and I find it particularly insidious to the environment, but so cheap and versatile as to be seductive. It’s hard to avoid using plastic when it’s freely passed around. I do think there needs to be systemic change, such as Indonesia’s investment and development of new industries in disposable materials–for example, cassava and seaweed alternatives. I don’t think anyone should be harangued for using something that is presented to them so freely, but on a personal level, I try as much as I can to bring my own thermos or bottle to events and around town— and reuse any plastic items I’m given. But, really, although I do believe in personal responsibility, I think this change needs to be driven at a much higher level. The development of viable alternatives to, say a ziplock bag, that is just as convenient, would do wonders. I don’t think that’s asking for a miracle, but asking that funding goes towards this kind of research (and people to root, petition and vote for them). Certainly, taxes and investments in alternatives would be laudable ways to approach the crisis. On a personal level, I think it helps to be conscientious, but action at a higher level is key. It doesn’t rule out personal action, but should encourage it. For individuals, this could mean spreading news about the crisis, urging policymakers and other forms of encouragement that might entail wider action.

Michael: What is the role of story in helping us adapt to these huge open-ended problems–if it has a role?

Xiaolin: I think I’m not the first person to really say that stories don’t necessarily need to be parables, have a lesson or be educational. I think it would be too much to make demands on stories. To ask about the role of stories—I wouldn’t make it prescriptive as to say stories need to address this, but I think it is helpful that these kinds of stories focusing on environmental collapse and alternatives are coming out. It may be simply because environmental issues have been pressing on us and some of the most interesting advances in technology are addressing issues like environmental degradation and climate change. Certainly, they have affected my writing and reading—and I’ve written more than a few stories about this (see, for example, “Prasetyo Plastics” published in Clarkesworld Issue 134). The prevalence of stories about climate change and environmental decline and crisis might be a consequence of our times—these are the big issues that form the backdrop and foreground to our lives and there is an urgency that drives the writing and reading.

But, questions of garbage and waste have been issues for quite a long while—see, for example, recycling and reuse in Edo Period Japan as systems of implemented operations addressing these issues. It would be disingenuous to assume it’s simply a contemporary problem (though I would suggest it’s more pressing now with mechanical reproduction, the evanescence built into the intended use of materials, etc.) This focus on environmental issues is not just reflected in speculative fiction in English, but also a theme in stories across the world, for example in “Yuanyuan’s Bubbles” by (刘慈欣) Liu Cixin and “He-y, come on ou-t!” by(星新一) by Shinichi Hoshi.

We all make garbage; it’s a very human question to ask how to deal with it. Hopefully, we will continue towards better and better solutions. I hope that I might find myself one day, sitting outside on a pleasant (hopefully not-climate-change-induced-sweltering) day—watching a sports game or basking on a blanket at an outdoors matsuri—and having to choose between drinking from a disposable biodegradable cup made of bamboo fiber and a planet-friendly cassava-derived drinking bag. And everyone else around me making the not-so-difficult decision of choosing between two decent alternatives. I really want to have the best of both worlds— convenience and planetary viability. I don’t think that’s asking too much!

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Introducing Sakara Remmu, Guest Editor for Reckoning 3

Sakara Remmu is a storyteller, journalist, anti-oppression activist and advocate living in the greater Seattle area. Sakara was first published in 2001 after witnessing a police shooting; she began producing social commentary for local and national print and radio news in 2007.

Of First Nation and African descent, Sakara was born in Torrance, California to a biological mother who would give her up a year later. She was adopted by an interracial couple with two children of their own when she was 3 years old. Childhood was an experience of contrasts growing up in a conservative, quiet suburban city.

“On the one hand we had structure and rules; my older brothers and I went to private school and church every Sunday. Chores had to be done on time, that sort of thing. On the other hand, our parents weren’t necessarily conservative people. They were professionals, but they also had adventure and imagination, and a bit of whimsy.

“We were always outside. Rain or shine, snow or ice, what I remember and love the most when I look back is that we were always outside. Nature was, pardon the expression, second nature. My parents had a huge garden when we were growing up. Understanding food, where it comes from, the dirt it’s grown in—we weren’t really aware of what they were teaching us about the planet or biology, but it’s in our marrow now. My dad grew up traveling and exploring Washington, Oregon and parts of Canada. He introduced his kids to all the places he loved, whether we wanted to go or not. Now we all have kids of our own and we’ve carried on the tradition of dragging them outside and forcing them up a mountain, or into a tent for a week in the middle of nowhere, with no internet access. It’s pretty great.

“It’s also sobering. I’ve lived here long enough that I can actually see the impacts of environmental change and global warming. I can remember what snowfall was like thirty years ago compared to now, and rain and drought trends and heatwaves. It’s confronting, and as a parent it’s sometimes horrifying and overwhelming, especially because my kids are old enough that they see it too. But we still hike.”

Sakara joins Reckoning Press as the guest editor of Reckoning 3, working alongside founding editor and publisher Michael J. DeLuca to broaden the range and diversity of content and stories with her unique personal lens and editorial experience.

For more on Sakara, check out Under the Redline, her miniseries podcast focusing on the lives of those in marginalized communities in and around Seattle, or find her on twitter @BOMBMediaCo.

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A Wispy Chastening

D.A. Xiaolin Spires

Too many people dream,” he said, leaning against the door.

“What do you want them to do, stay awake?”

“Maybe.”

“I’ll play Linganian flute to keep you up.” I smiled, miming tooting.

“No thanks. I don’t dream,” he said, walking away. A trail of multicolored fumes followed him, dodging in and out of his spiky hair. Butterscotch and shoe polish scents wafted my way, making me dizzy.

So, he was a Shepherd. No wonder he didn’t dream. Had his beloved herd of creatures to care over, keeping him too busy to sleep.

When I told Nana I saw a Shepherd, she gasped.

“He’s a homeless and a rogue,” she said.

“He’s just living as simply as he can, protecting the Earth’s creatures as he always did,” I countered.

“He’s crazy. He has powers no one can understand.”

I thought that would be the end of it, but she nagged me about it, her voice trembling. Her warnings crescendoed in fearful passion.

She said he herded all of Earth’s creatures, even humans, to his vision of a perfect, but dystopic future. I told her that didn’t make sense. How could the Shepherd herd humans? We weren’t domesticated; we weren’t sheep.

She babbled on, ignoring my objections. Something in her voice told me that she wasn’t speaking figuratively. I’d hit a nerve. Her hands were shaking.

She made me bathe with linderbuds. Their floral scent clung to me. Old stereotypes die hard.

That night, lucid dreams invaded my sleep.

Ducks crossed the road in single file. All cars, even hearses, waited.

The ducks paid no heed, stopping entirely. I thought time itself halted. A cacophony of honking disabused me of this.

The ducks started to twirl, wings and feathers held up like martyrs as they rotated. Around their thin necks wrapped plastic loops of six-pack cans, swinging about as they turned.

Someone got out of their car and pulled the mother duck by the plastic, leading it to the grass. The duck squawked and the beautiful choreography fell apart, little ducklings flying about, some collapsing, flapping immature wings.

A knock at my car window. I rolled it down. I hadn’t realized I was driving, but then it made sense Bach’s symphony emanated from speakers. The man who’d assaulted the ducks threw them in. Wings flapped in protest.

“Take your pack,” he said. “You did this.”

I collected them into my backseat.

“Buckle up,” I said. They honked in unison, nodding green beaks.

I drove, stopping at another crossing.

Moose. A movement at their feet caught my eye, a fluttering of yellow plastic bags.

I caught scent of him on Thursday. This time it was spumoni, bourbon and the rustic musk of aged oak. From across the diner, Shepherd caught me staring. He walked over, inviting himself to an empty chair.

“Seat’s taken.”

“Very funny.” He scanned the menu, betraying no sign of laughter.

I pulled out a peach-colored feather. Twirled it in my fingers.

“You left this with me,” I said. His eyes lit up.

“Beautiful specimen of a quill. Short calamus, perhaps holding only a few drops of ink at a time, but glorious sapphire plumage. Wispy. You’ve taken up calligraphy?”

“Now it’s my turn to laugh,” I said. “I found it in my backseat.”

“Oh? Into transporting rare animals?”

“I see why you tagged me, why you unleashed your dream power to admonish me. I dropped litter at the party. Big deal. It wasn’t outside. The host picked it up later. I’m not one of your herd.”

“You’re right. Not my herd.” A deadpan look.

“This wasn’t your doing?”

“No. This must be your imagination at work. Perhaps you ingested a placebo of your own making?”

I shook my head. I didn’t know what he meant.

“Listen, it wasn’t me,” he said. “I had my hands busy with a multinational corporation dumping sewage into the seas.” He laughed. “I don’t deal with petty infractions like personal litter.” He passed me a cloth napkin.

“You want to know what I did to those perps?” His voice dropped to a low whisper.

“What?” I asked, my voice dropping to match his conspiratorial tone.

“I made them squirm in their sleep, conjure sensations of drinking fouled seawater while watching bloated-eye fish. They glistened with their leaked slurry, their fins caked in vile. The fish appeared right in front of their sublimated eyes, gills seeping, large like heaving giants. Their mouths fetid, they opened their gills and closed them, over and over, in gasping desperation, begging to breathe, but to no avail.”

“Quite graphic,” I said.

“Yeah, I was pretty proud of it. Let me order you a drink. Laced with no pollutants or particulates, I promise. That stuff only happens in dreams and to serious criminals who deserve it.”

I hesitated, and nodded.

As we waited for the drinks, I studied my feather. I knew I wasn’t one of his tagged offenders, but I thought of all the times I’d casually thrown a used straw or dirty napkin on the side of the road.

I had lied. It wasn’t just at the party. It was cumulative, mounds of stuff. Plastic bags, cola six-pack rings, beer bottles; all the flotsam that now surfaced, floating about in my mind, that I pitched at the border of the woods or into a neighbor’s yard, too indifferent to bag it up.

I twirled the feather, watching it spin, like the choked ducks in my midnight reverie. I imagined the ducks glaring at me, imploring.

I envisioned the feather writing. Guilty. For fouling the environment. It would follow me for my entire sentence, penning infractions in the air. A chimerical prison of my own design.

I held my hands up, disturbing letters. A redolence of dirt and grime. I wondered at the power of my own imagination. Was it as dynamic as the Shepherd’s?

“As charged,” I said, as the drinks arrived and the Shepherd shot me an enigmatic grin.

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Kate Schapira Interviews Michael J. DeLuca

Michael: This essay of Kate Schapira’s in Catapult, about the decision not to have kids in the age of Trump and climate change, was the direct inspiration for my Reckoning 2 editorial about making the opposite decision. We’ve talked a lot about this since. Kate has very kindly agreed to share a little more of that discussion here.

Kate: What has having a child/becoming a parent done to your sense of your range—the scale and the arenas in which you operate as a person, how much your calculations take in, where you geographically and physically go, what you consider your physical and social territory? Has it contracted, expanded, shifted the ground of your participation in the world as it’s becoming, how big you think and/or on what level of detail? This is such a written question, but I really want to know the answer!

Michael: Becoming a parent has shoved me into a lot of new arenas, given me an understanding of people I didn’t before—mothers are a huge example, a huge cross-section of humanity with which I was never before able to empathize like I am now. It has also shut me out of some arenas I used to frequent. I travel less, at least for now. But I talk to more people where I am; I have things to talk to them about, where I didn’t before. I think, in terms of my capacity to participate in all these arenas, it’s a wash. Everybody has a fixed amount of time in which to live and act; there are no fewer hours in the day now than before I was a parent, there will be no more hours in the day after my kid is eighteen and out of the house. But I see how I am forced to be more organized, and I see the potential for that to ripple out and have increasing impact the more comfortable and better I get in that. It may be the same as for any newly adopted responsibility? Starting a literary magazine, for example: much of the work there has felt like a chore, and it’s certainly work that has taken away from time I could have spent on my own writing. Filling out applications to the IRS for nonprofit status I might compare to an equivalently bureaucratic task I’m performing on behalf of my kid: filling out his passport application. It’s frustrating now; the payoff down the road I expect to be huge. So, an answer to the question about level of detail: I am forced to participate in the world at a much closer level of detail, but also to anticipate in a much larger scale than I have before. The level at which the kid sees the world is incredibly myopic, and I am responsible for so much of what he sees, but the fact that he is already in some senses an autonomous being reminds me constantly that the little details I choose to show him now are setting up bigger and bigger things for the future.

Kate: You write in your editor’s note about how you have to recast this story as a redemptive one. In order to do what—what’s the necessity?

Michael: To cope. That’s the hard answer. I’m doing that thing everybody does that makes storytelling so essential to being human: I’m choosing the interpretation that fits the narrative I’ve chosen for my own life, the new one that includes me being a father and him being my son. Now that I’ve done it, I can look at the pain and see it as a gateway to something better. And because of that, I can give the halfway constructive and optimistic answer to your questions just above. In certain real respects, it’s an act of will. I’m not even going to articulate the other version of this story; I’m not going to dignify it with my time. You could look at it as magical thinking, but in making that choice, I am encouraging myself to make decisions to further that narrative—proactive instead of fatalistic—to make the story true.

Kate: You also write about your obligation to “make the world good for him” and then later, you’ve written about some of the elements of that good world in the future tense. Can you talk about what you’re doing to bring them about–what brings that word “making” into it for you? What’s the relationship between the present pattern of your life and that future?

Michael: Small acts that accumulate. I want him to be proactive, progressive, I want him to see what’s possible and work toward it, I want him to care. I want him to know and find joy in the good things about the world so he’ll care. I don’t see how anybody accomplishes anything without caring, intensely. So that’s my starting point. Part of making the world good is not letting the awful parts overwhelm. We walk along my neighborhood brook a lot. Sometimes we go wading. We observe the Asian carp, the half-domesticated ducks, the muskrats, the feral housecats. When I first moved here I found its level of environmental degradation pretty bleak. Now I see it’s kind of amazing. He certainly sees it that way, which means I’m not just helping him, he’s helping me. Sometimes we drag a huge piece of discarded plastic out of the streambed, or pull invasive weeds and eat them. And then I go off to a town meeting to agitate on the brook’s behalf, on his behalf. I can’t stop my neighbors letting pesticides run into it off their lawns, but I can make clear to them that I’m not using pesticides and why. Eventually I’ll be able to make it clear to him. But for now it’s enough for him to be delighted at the way one duck out of twenty is always on lookout, warning the others of our presence.

The relationship between all that admittedly very small-scale action (there’s a lot more like that, more all the time, but most of it’s at that scale) and a better future, to me, is him. I know how cliché that sounds, believe me. Twenty-five year old me is rolling his eyes so hard right now. But it actually does work like that for me. He personifies the future.

Kate: Can you talk about what you do with your doubts, your fears, your griefs, when you feel them?

Michael: Sometimes—my chosen narrative and all of this above notwithstanding—I succumb to them. What that tends to look like is me lying on my basement floor staring up at the rafters for awhile drinking homebrew. Other times I channel them into something productive. Lately that’s shoveling snow, or turning over the compost, or figuring out some new small way to reduce my family’s negative impact on the world or balance it out with something constructive. For the new year, I’m getting into the habit of using cloth handkerchiefs instead of disposable tissues. I’m running a contest in my town for kids to design a logo to go on reusable cloth bags to hand out to residents at our annual cleanup event. Sometimes those little things help, sometimes they don’t. But I feel better coming up with more of them than sitting around moping. I look for inspiration in what I read. At the moment, it’s adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy. Learning helps me. Helps me believe I can get better at all of this, at thinking about the future, at helping my kid learn, at seeing the good and focusing on nurturing it instead of letting the entropy overwhelm me. I go away from people into as much nature and isolation as I can manage—sometimes I take the kid—and wear myself to exhaustion. That usually helps.

One more thing that really does help, always, is talking it out in earnest with thoughtful people who feel the same way and want to make things better. So thank you for this.

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Editor’s Note: On Having a Kid in the Climate Apocalypse

Michael J. DeLuca

My son is three months old. He has no idea what the world is, what it has become. I can say anything in front of him. I can curse, I can cry. He’s happy or he’s sad, there’s no cause and effect. I can read to him from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a book that spends hundreds of pages drawing an analogy between a child growing up and an invasive tree species flourishing in a sidewalk crack, a book full of compassion for the poor hated by the rich, casual about the hatred it portrays for people of other cultures. He doesn’t understand a word.

Every day I take him on a tour of what I jokingly call “the estate”, our sixth of an acre in Detroit’s distant north suburban sprawl, barren when I moved here, now abundant with ripening apples, cherries, strawberries, saskatoonberries, raspberries. He can’t eat them; he doesn’t understand what they’re for, but I figure he can interact with the flowers. I break off a stem of bleeding heart and shove it in his fist. He hovers in my arms over the Siberian roses like a pudgy bee, breathing in bewildered gasps. His eyes crinkle; he cringes from the sun. I stand him barefoot in the grass on his flabby, undeveloped knees, and he cries.

 

My wife and I tried for three years to conceive. We exhausted the usual method, then experimented with folk remedies, natural medicine. We talked ourselves up to a course of fertility drugs, then another and another. She had to terminate an ectopic pregnancy, and it devastated her, and me. We recovered. We kept going. Finally, we resorted to in-vitro fertilization. It would have been prohibitively expensive if we weren’t both well-educated people from educated families. You only get to do IVF if you have privilege. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. The trans-vaginal ultrasound, that procedure conservative legislators in the US want women to undergo seemingly as a form of torture before they’re permitted to choose an abortion: she had so many of those I lost count. I had to stab her in the hip with a three-inch needle every day for months, switching hips every other day to give the bruising a chance to go down. It was fucking hard. She cried a lot. I drank a lot. I got impotent for a while. And I ran over and over in my head all the arguments I could come up with why we didn’t have to do this, why we should anyway. Depending where we were in the cycle, I had to be able to convince myself it was okay if it didn’t work, and also, simultaneously, that it was worth all this pain if it did.

For a moment, right at the end, it looked like it wouldn’t. We went from seven fertilized, viable eggs down to one. And I saw an end to it. If it failed, we could stop. With that last egg, she got pregnant. My reaction could not be characterized as joy or relief, though everyone seemed to want that from me. I felt like I’d been clenching every muscle expecting to be punched in the stomach for eighteen months only to be told the punch isn’t coming. I didn’t want their congratulations. I was exhausted, bewildered, and we had nine months to go. I kept right on expecting the worst. I don’t think it was the same for my wife. She’d been the one getting stabbed, probed, but she’d been able to invest in this positive outcome like I couldn’t. Maybe she had to.

As it turned out, those nine months were easy. The kid grew, turned, came into the world and took a breath. We told ourselves it was karma, payback for the pain.

In the meantime, Lord Farquad got elected, took office, and started dismantling everything good or hopeful he could get his hands on. What woefully insufficient protections were in place against rapacious, fatally short-sighted exploitation of the natural world in pursuit of profit fell away like scales. Willfully oblivious selfishness—not those notions of freedom and equality beaten into my head since I was a child—begins more and more to seem as if it’s always been the default.

Into this world, I have brought a son. I no longer have the luxury of playing devil’s advocate. I have to be good for him. I have to make the world good for him, even such as it is. So I have little choice but to attempt to rewrite this story, his story, as a story of redemption. Maybe that makes me an unreliable narrator. Maybe you want to take this with a grain of salt, dear reader. Too fucking bad. That option is no longer on the table.

 

It occurs to me having a child might make a decent trial run for living through an apocalypse. If I can adapt to this, I can adapt to anything.

I know he can adapt to anything, because he survived being born.

“Your life is going to change,” my brother-in-law said, after I delayed too long admitting to my family that the IVF had worked. He was already a father. I resented him for the platitude. This was what I’d been dreading—having to perform that joyful anticipation I had been told to feel but could not. I had no idea what he was saying.

I understand it now. Becoming a father has uprooted me from everything I know, forced me to find all new places to grab hold of the same landscape, the same people, the same life. I am no longer my own. He gets the best of my emotional, intellectual and financial resources. Which is not to say he’s my whole life; I have managed to accomplish a few other things since he was born. I made a heart and a peace sign out of lights and coat hangers and hung them in our windows. I called my congresspeople every three days to complain. I supported the people I love and the causes I care about. I listened uneasily, unconvinced, to all those arguments for how much more important protest writing and art had become, and struggled on with the incorporation documents for my nonprofit literary magazine. Reckoning 2, which you’re reading right now, is officially sanctioned by the IRS to do good through art and not pay taxes on it. The irony is not lost on me. I have, somehow, through sleep-deprivation and tears, written this. (This much of it, at least. You’ll know if I finish.)

I’m doing it for him.

Maybe that will come across as a platitude. You, childless progressive activist, perhaps newly radicalized, attending rallies and protests, calling your congresspeople every three days, casting about for what more you can do: maybe you’ll see me as a lost cause for the cause. Everything I do is for this adorable little blob. If I didn’t have him, I could be investing the resources I intend for his future in supporting Indigenous activists, Black Lives Matter, legal counsel for immigrants. You would be absolutely right.

But you’d be failing to grasp the revolution in perspective this little blob’s presence has wrought. In my revisionist history, this is the bottom line, the reason we kept going in spite of all the pain and counterarguments: helping a new person into the world and then helping them come to terms with that world teaches us a part of what it is that can’t be learned any other way. I didn’t know what that knowledge would amount to. But I knew it existed. I see it in my parents, my grandparents, in every parent of every child I’ve met. I knew there was only one way to get it. For that, I was willing to expend all this emotional labor, all these resources. Maybe that makes me selfish—even as I am learning to be more selfless than I’ve ever been? Maybe I’m taking unfair advantage of the privilege I was born with. He wouldn’t exist without it. But I can’t grudge him that. Not anymore. He gives me hope I won’t have to.

 

Let me tell you how I expect my son’s life to go, in this horrible new world, in spite of it.

He’ll grow up with his feet in the dirt, in the garden, in the woods. He’ll track dirt all over the house. He’ll eat dirt. He’ll eat as much food as I can manage to make my meager sixth of an acre produce, and more. He’ll learn more than I’ll ever know about how to grow food.

He’ll get sick, he’ll get well. Maybe he’ll be allergic to the world, because of everything his parents were exposed to before he was born. Or maybe his body will adapt to the new toxins, the changes, the pollen, the invasives.

He’ll get to know cats, dogs, ducks, chickens, sparrows, robins. He’ll meet frogs and toads, then watch them get scarcer. Maybe he’ll never meet a salamander. He’ll never see an intact, living coral reef.

He’ll visit the coasts, he’ll visit mountains, but he won’t get to know them, not like I did. But he’ll know the lakes, the woods. He’ll watch them get taken over by invasives, watch those invasives naturalize, learn to love them, to live with them. He’ll watch them get replaced by subdivisions.

He’ll know the wastelands, the ruins of industry. He’ll watch them crumble and sprout trees.

He’ll hate mosquitoes, but be fascinated by the industry of ants, bees, spiders. He’ll get ticks. I’ll spend half my life picking ticks off him. He’ll eat bugs, lots of them, and like it. Crickets taste like shellfish. Maybe he’ll never eat shellfish.

He’ll have cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents and friends. He’ll never have a brother or a sister. I wish that could be different. I love my sisters and I don’t know who I’d be if not for them.

Around when he turns seven, maybe I’ll realize he’s not my son at all, but my daughter, and I’ll have to do a lot of rethinking I thought I was ready for, about what gender means, about his relationship to the world, and mine. Because try as I might to be open-minded, I’ll have been operating for a long time on the assumption that he’s got a lot of the same privilege I had. It’ll take time to adapt—and in that time, I’ll hurt him, and I’ll let him get hurt. He’ll learn more than I’ll ever know about pain.

He’ll meet and know and love his gay cousins, black cousins, brown cousins, his Christian grandmother, his Muslim uncle, his pseudopagan pantheist father, and he’ll take all that experience out into the world and learn more than I’ll ever know about empathy, about difference.

He’ll meet assholes, complacent, relentlessly selfish assholes terrified of change. He’ll go to school with some of them. He’ll feel ostracized and alone and I won’t be able to help him. One day he’ll realize how many assholes exist in the world. He and I will struggle together to understand how they could have gotten that way. We’ll fail.

He’ll embrace technology, but he won’t be dependent on it—not the way I was. His laundry and his transportation and his white noise machine will be solar-powered, clean. I’ve already explained to him what the internal combustion engine is, how people mow their lawns with dead dinosaurs. He doesn’t get it. I’ll keep explaining until he does. By the time he’s twenty-five, they’ll have stopped making new internal combustion engines. By then, it will be too late. By the time he’s fifteen, the earth will have warmed past the 2 degrees Celsius goal of the Paris accords. We won’t see any drastic change; it will have happened too gradually. But passing that milestone will drive home to people what they’d been able to ignore. People will be moving away from the coasts. Detroit and its water-rich, post-industrial surrounds will get populated again. Space will be at a premium. Maybe we’ll take people in: my sisters’ families, my parents, strangers immigrating from Florida or Bangladesh. They’ll become part of our family; it’ll be like having siblings, the closest he’ll get.

Or maybe fossil-fuel-based transportation infrastructure will fall apart before we can replace it, long-distance travel will become a thing of the past, and communities will get a hell of a lot tighter-knit. Maybe he’ll have to learn to farm for real, to subsist. I couldn’t—if it happened now, I’d starve. Not him. He’ll feed his family, his community. He’ll learn more than I’ll ever know about community.

He won’t solve the climate crisis. That was up to me, up to us, and we’ve pretty much failed. I’m not putting that expectation on him.

I wish I could say I wouldn’t put any expectation on him at all, but I know better. Already, three months old, he is my embodiment of hope, exactly like in all those clichés about what parents want for their children. I can’t help hoping for him everything that’s too late for me. But I don’t have to force them on him. I don’t have to blame him.

He’ll learn to live with the climate crisis the way we’re all already doing whether we know it or not. I’ll teach him everything I can; it won’t be enough. He’ll grieve for what we’ve lost, he’ll grieve for what we haven’t lost yet. Maybe he’ll blame me. He wouldn’t be wrong.

Eventually, he’ll move beyond where I’m capable of predicting anything.

Maybe I’m wrong about all of this. Maybe he’ll take up with the assholes, reject everything I’ve tried to teach him, get rich fixing prices on cancer medicine or selling payday loans to the poor. But I can’t countenance that possibility, any more than I can countenance the possibility the oceans will acidify, kill not just the corals but the algae that produces sixty percent of the oxygen, or that Lord Farquad will build that wall.

Then again, I couldn’t countenance the possibility that Lord Farquad would be president. So maybe it is all going to shit, and there’s nothing I or my kid or anybody will be able to do. A nonprofit literary magazine isn’t going to save us, no matter how diligently, fiercely and eloquently we all think radical, community-building environmentalist thoughts. A little adorable blob isn’t going to save us no matter how many epically selfish, racist egomaniacs’ rotten hearts he melts. There certainly is a plausible scenario in which my decision to have a kid, to devote my resources and time to him instead of fighting what might be coming is the deciding factor between a future with coral reefs, ocean algae, art and free exchange of ideas, and the one where it all goes to shit. But it’s too late to care about that. In my revisionist version of the story of his incredibly short life, it was always too late. I refuse to accept a binary between his life and the continued betterment of the human race.

All that time I spent advocating the devil—he’s made me realize that was my mistake. My wife was right to commit, to overcommit, even after she miscarried, even when she was being probed with rubber gloves and (when she was lucky) warmed gel, when I was stabbing her with three-inch needles every night. I was hurting her, hurting myself, trying to have it both ways, trying to make it something it could never be. She was strong and I was weak. I see that now only because he exists, only because he has revolutionized my understanding of what having a child means.

Maybe this revelation isn’t for everyone. Maybe not everyone needs it. Maybe, to people who aren’t white, aren’t straight, aren’t privileged children of educated families, some of this is so painfully obvious I’ve spent this essay embarrassing myself. I needed it. I needed to write it. I needed my assumptions undermined and broken up and reassembled around someone who wasn’t me.

I came very, very close to never getting that. There were so many opportunities for me to turn aside. In the course of writing this, through insomniac moments at two a.m. feedings, all those diapers I changed while he screamed, he’s made me realize the reason I didn’t. All revisionism aside, it wasn’t any anticipation of ungleaned wisdom. I persisted through all that pain because it was what she wanted. I’m better, wiser, better prepared for this incredibly uncertain, ominous future because she believed in it more than I could. If it hadn’t worked, I never would have known.

 

He has blue eyes, for now. They’ll get darker. For now, I can sing to him “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” as I struggle futilely to lull him to sleep while he squirms and digs sharp baby fingernails into my neck. I can look forward to learning what my blue-eyed son has to teach me when he’s seen everything I haven’t. Hard as those lessons might be.

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Reckoning 2

reckoning 2 cover
A locus for the conflict between the world as it has become and the world as we wanted it to be.

“In a world of disappearing futures, Reckoning arrives like a flock of undiscovered birds—a journal of speculative ecology that invents its own new genre, simultaneously urgent and atemporal, from a diverse array of mostly new voices—the freshest and most important new fantastic literature magazine in a very long time.” — Christopher Brown, author of Tropic of Kansas

Ebook release: December 21, 2017.
e-ISBN: 9780998925226
Ebook available now!
Weightless Books
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

Print release: June 21, 2018.
ISBN: 978-0-9989252-3-3
248 pages, 67,000 words.

Online release: New content appearing weekly starting January 1, 2018; links go live in the table of contents below.

Contents

Art

Cover: Rebirth – Archan Nair December 21, 2017
Disintigreetings – Pepe Rojo January 18,2018
Once It Was a Tree – Oneslutriot June 22, 2018

Poetry

Earthspun – Krista Hoeppner Leahy January 25, 2018
The Bull Who Bars the Gate to Heaven – Zella Christensen February 22, 2018
I’m the Villain, Ok? – Mary Alexandra Agner March 15, 2018
A Hundred Years From Now – Mohammad Shafiqul Islam April 26, 2018
Development – F.J. Bergmann May 17, 2018
Will We Be Good and Kind At The End – Kelly Madden June 15, 2018

Fiction

A Wispy Chastening – D.A. Xiaolin Spires January 11, 2018
Rumpelstiltskin – Jane Elliott February 1, 2018
To the Place of Skulls – Innocent Ilo February 8, 2018
Girl Singing with Farm – Kathrin Köhler March 1, 2018
The Complaint of All Living Things – Joanne Rixon March 8, 2018
Fourth-Dimensional Tessellations of the American College Graduate – Marie Vibbert March 22, 2018
Delta Marsh – Casey June Wolf March 29, 2018
The Shale Giants – Marissa Lingen April 5, 2018
An Oasis of Amends – Floris M. Kleijne May 3, 2018
The Alice Grey – Santiago Belluco May 10, 2018
Lanny Boykin Rises Up Singing – Jess Barber June 1, 2018
Night of No Return – Grace Seybold June 8, 2018

Nonfiction

Editor’s Note: On Having a Kid in the Climate Apocalypse – Michael J. DeLuca January 4, 2018
A Ghost Can Only Take – Justin Howe February 15, 2018
From Paris, With Rage – George F. April 12, 2018
‘You are from the U.S.’ – Yukyan Lam April 19, 2018
A Kinder And More Caring Future? – Brian Francis Slattery May 25, 2018

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LJ Geoffrion Interview: “Written in the Book of the Woods”

lj-geoffrionRead “Written in the Book of the Woods” in Reckoning 1.

Michael: Thank you so much for sharing this story of oneness with the woods. I made an immediate, visceral connection with “Written in the Book of the Woods” of a kind I haven’t often experienced reading fiction, and not for a very long time. I hope it has something like the same effect on everyone else who reads it, which is why I put it last in Reckoning 1: I wanted that feeling of home repeated at beginning and end to be what people take away. “I have never been lost in the woods and I am not lost now.” I know that’s a lot to ask. Everybody’s different, everyone experiences the natural world differently. Frankly, it surprised me that this story got to me this way, since I’ve never been to Michigan’s upper peninsula and I’ve never seen Lake Superior. The woods that feel like home to me are all in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire. Which is why I want to ask you about your own experience of nature, to hopefully try and understand what is and isn’t universal about this.

How autobiographical is the depiction of nature in “Written in the Book of the Woods”? Is this, as it feels, a place you know intimately? Is it a place you think of as home?

Lisa: I always feel at home in the woods. There have been times that I feels as if I could slip into the woods, a simple parting of the veil. In the woods, I feel the most present, whatever the season. It’s the fecund smell, the feel of the air, the softness of the lines — bending branches, flowing water, round rocks.

Michael: What about the way you depict time? That part, too, is eerily familiar to me, when I’m alone in the woods, the sun seeming to freeze in place, time seeming to stop or repeat. If that’s something you’ve actually experienced––where do you think it comes from?

Lisa: I’m fascinated by the way most humans conceptualize time. Toward the end of her life, my grandmother had lost her short term memory. One holiday, I plopped down next to her and she said, “My dear! How is it going?” For the next half hour, I regaled her with all I was doing; my college classes, how much I liked my new apartment, my little car, and my love interest. When I stopped to catch my breath, Grandma blinked, peered at me uncertainly and then smiled, saying, “My dear! How is it going?”

We live moment by moment, like beads on a string. But I like to imagine the string cut, or folded into pretty loops. In the woods, it’s so easy to seep into the time stream of “this moment,” and just float within that single bead. You may think at first that a moment is tiny, but if you let it, it can take in all of creation.

Michael: There are three figures in the woods of the story: the dark thing, the narrator, and the woman in the light. One way I can interpret them is as different aspects of the narrator’s relationship with the woods; another is as representative of humanity’s interaction with nature more broadly. What do they mean to you? Is there any particular myth you drew from to shape those figures?

Lisa: I’m what I’d call a back of the brain writer. Most of the time I go into a bit of a fugue state when I write, and the words pour out from the void. After it’s written, I can usually tell from what part of me it came from, but honestly, writing is not something that I do from an outline. Like anyone who knows themselves well enough to decode their dreamscape, I can look at my writing after it’s on the page and, for the most part, figure it out well enough to build it into a coherent story.

How I interpret a story depends on the day. Sometimes I see the three characters as different elements of we humans: bright lovingness and wonder; self-serving loveless destroyer; and the outsider judge and protector. All of these are parts of myself, parts of all of us, I think.

Sometimes when I read this story, I see the characters as how humans or societies interact with nature

Michael: How does anyone come to feel at home in the woods–enough to feel responsible for defending them?

Lisa: You don’t need to feel at home in wild places to feel responsible for defending wild places. You only need to read a bit of the science, because we know that the survival of our species depends on a healthy environment, and that includes a varied biome. We know this; it’s not a matter of belief.

What happens is that we get caught up in life, you know? And if someone lives far from wild places, or if wild places are unfamiliar and scary, then they might not take that need for a varied biome into consideration when living their busy, time-stressed lives.

We, all of us, have to put it out there. We have to care enough about the continuation of the species to do what is necessary for life.

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Tai Allen Interview: “third world problems”

 
Michael: I’m a first-worlder; I was born with privilege. I didn’t properly experience the third world and understand that divide–the places where it is an actual, real, economic and cultural divide and the others where it is entirely illusionary and contrived–and the reasons for all that–until I was in my thirties. “third world problems” pinpoints almost uncannily a number of the ways that experience changed and continues to change my worldview. The first time I read it, I laughed. Then I read it again and was embarrassed about that laughter, motivated to think about why I was laughing.
Would you mind sharing a little about your own experience of the first-world/third world divide?
 
Tai: Interesting question. I think I straddled the line for most of my life. I was born at the right time, my parents were not rich but we were on the other side of middle-class. Could even be considered as lil, slightly, upper middle? Therefore, I had the best education options. I had the weekend sports. I had the best clothes. My house had all the adornments of middle-class life: video games, telescope, travels on holidays, basketball hoop, computers, four car garage et al.
I never had to live in a third-world environment, here or abroad. But I am second-generation Caribbean. I know of family subsisting and working hard to just remain poor rather than destitute. I am familiar with the treaties and pacts that bleed my home area but fill the coffers of multi-nationals.
In the States, we have corners of Third-World living. The projects are underserved, under-financed and over-policed.  And education is a wanted commodity but treated as a fleeting privilege. Under develop the land and the constructs that support the people and if you squint… the Black and Brown neighborhoods look very un-American.
 
Michael: Was there something particular that inspired this poem?
 
Tai: NO. I was just musing on how easy it is to forget most of the world is suffering while we are in surplus.
 
Michael: You’ve worked in a lot of media and performed for a lot of people. Do you think there are ways for art, poetry, music, to bridge the gap between first and third world for people who haven’t experienced both?
 
Tai: The PC answer is yes. My gut says “I wish.” But more often I am speaking to the converted without the access to foster change. Or, I am performing for the people requiring the change. Those how can make change and need to work are not interested. But I am a fool who still champions the necessary and foolishly tries to change the mind of those in control.
 
My biggest goal is to get those who feel tread upon to journey with self-love and to build mechanisms for their growth. It is difficult within the current structure but Western society has machinations that allow for growth. We must remember the resources are limited unless you control them. The resources are limited but the supply is for the access-having to exhaust.
 
Michael: In your experience, does art change minds?
 
Tai: YES and NO!! I think my job is to just keep trying to make it always yes. But I know better. But I still paladin away…
 
Michael: Thank you very much!
 
Tai: NOPE, thank you!!
 
No Jewels – amazon. apple or taiallen.com
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Danika Dinsmore Interview: “Insanitary”

danika-dinsmoreRead “Insanitary” in Reckoning 1.

Michael: You pack a lot of significance into 250 words. One of the ways “Insanitary” gets to me is as a depiction of personal nature lost. I’ve experienced something like this as a kid and as an adult: I fell in love with a beautiful piece of nature, it shaped me, and then it was taken away from me. My parents still live in the house I grew up in, but the woods I grew up in are gone. I suspect this is a common experience for people who go on to care about the natural world and want to protect it.

Would you tell me about your inspiration for “Insanitary”? Were there some Singing Caves in your past that got a TM put on them?

Danika: First off, thank you. I’ve become quite the fan of flash fiction. It’s the space between poetry and prose for me. I love when writers craft work that says what it needs to in the least amount of words. I like when writers make us think between the lines.

So many places in the natural world have been lost to us, and they will never come back. It’s an ongoing heartbreak for me, the loss of the natural world combined with touristication. And it’s either speeding up or I’m noticing it more or both. Just the other day I came across an entire building where a forested city block had been about six months before. I was so disoriented I thought I was on the wrong street. It was the last plot of “nature” in this particular neighbourhood, and my first thought was, “Where did all the wildlife go?”

This story was partially inspired by a location on the Big Island of Hawaii where the volcano’s geothermal heat creates a warm pond (inside human-made lava rock walls). When I first visited it many years ago it was a lovely little tucked away spot for locals. Now there’s a paved lot and tour buses stop by. One time a busload of tourists stood above us bathers on the rock wall taking pictures, the pond a 10-minute stop on their tour. I thought, “Why are you here and what’s the point?”

What’s the point of this sacred spot being a check mark on a tour bus schedule? How can you really understand this place without bathing in Pele’s waters, meditating as you float in the sun soaking up the vibe? I started wondering when someone would start charging to get in, or how much longer we’d be allowed to float around before someone deemed it too unsanitary to do so? That led to wondering about all the other places in the world we had stolen from both nature and natives. I wondered about my own footprint, about why I thought I had any more right to be there than anyone else?

I now live on the Sunshine Coast of British Colombia, where people used to move so they could live among the trees. BC’s old growth forests are some of the most amazing in the world, and the majority of them on the south coast have been lost. The Sunshine Coast is quickly becoming a suburb of Vancouver, people buying property, razing it of all trees, and selling the wood. There’s a gigantic earth scar on the hillside one can see as one commutes on the ferry. Each new empty patch of earth makes my heart break. Next door to where I was last renting, a few acres were gone in a matter of days. I caught a deer standing at the edge of it, its former path gone, cement and wood skeleton in its place. The deer looked shell-shocked.

Honestly, I’ve sometimes had the thought that humans don’t even deserve to be here.

Michael: How did you learn from that experience? Are there places in nature now that you consider private and personal and the same way as the ones you’ve lost?

Danika: I don’t know how I’ve learned… I suppose I’ve learned how to be sad and angry all the time and still live in this world. I wish I were a billionaire so that I could use my money to protect the land and support organizations protecting the land. I struggle so much with the idea of “owning” land in the first place, yet my family just bought an acre. There was this thought that if we buy this we can protect it, because if we don’t someone else might and take everything down. There are old growth trees on it (in a neighbourhood of old growth trees), and I feel like I’m preserving something by leaving everything be.

Michael: I’d also like to ask what you think about the other side of that–about when the co-opting of nature corresponds to making it more available. Marissa Lingen’s Reckoning 1 essay, “How Far Are We from Minneapolis?” is about the value of public nature. For some people, if you don’t put down a boardwalk in the Singing Caves they’ll never get to experience it. But of course, there’s a cost. (It’s almost painful for me to resist bringing up the Tragedy of the Commons, but I think that kettle of fish may be a little beyond the scope.) I remember going to Yellowstone, and finding that the awe and the uncanny in my experience of natural wonders like Old Faithful came just as much from the surrounding weirdness of the human accommodations: 1950s era tourist lodges, paved walkways among treacherous hot springs, vast parking lots, trash cans elaborately secured against bears. Yet without all that, a lot of people wouldn’t get to see these things. Do you think it’s possible to be as personally invested in nature, to be motivated to defend it as fiercely, based on that kind of encounter as opposed to the intensely individual, unmitigated kind of experience “Insanitary” exemplifies for us in soaking up cave songs through the soles of your bare feet? How can we strike a balance between those two, and how can we continue to do that as there get to be more and more of us and less and less of untouched nature? Is it even possible?

Danika: I, too, have been to Yellowstone and Yosemite and struggle with the same thoughts you have. The last time I ventured to Yosemite I wanted to get out of there as soon as I could it was so overrun with tourists and RVs. And I know I have no right to be there any more than anyone else does, so how can I complain?

I used to live in Colorado and loved hiking in the Rockies. Once after hiking to the top of one of the 14,000 ft peaks I was describing it to my grandmother and she said they should build a road to the top so that everyone could see it. I immediately thought, NO! I believe there are places on the earth humans should never see, never have access too. We can’t put our fingerprints and footprints on everything.

You’re asking all the questions I’ve asked myself and ones I unfortunately don’t have the answers to. I do believe creating places where current and future generations can enjoy and witness nature is important. I do believe it’s a balance. But how do we decide how much space we take up and which spaces we should develop in this way? And once we start developing them for accessibility, have we taken something essential away? I don’t know that it’s truly possible to be as personally invested, to be, as you put it, “motivated to defend it as fiercely” based on boardwalk parks and paved paths to waterfalls. When a family returns home from a road trip to Yellowstone with their moose photos and geyser keychains, do they suddenly become environmental activists? Or do they get reabsorbed by technology and comforts, caught up in the capitalist cycle, that defense of the natural world gets pushed to the back of mind? Do they even see their own connection to it at all?

Michael: What does this story look like when we run out of singing caves?  Like one of those imagined future dystopias we read about or see on film?

Danika: At the rate of our populating and developing the earth, more and more singing caves will either get touristicated or destroyed. I think a lot about what I’ve missed that’s already gone. I think a lot about the cyborg generation, who only gets to view such things in virtual settings without any experience of feeling it through their feet and into their bones. I think that kind of connection is vital to our “spiritual” survival, the part, ironically, that makes us humane.

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Benjamin Parzybok Interview: “The Hole in the Reef”

benjamin-parzybokRead “The Hole in the Reef” in Reckoning 1 first—this interview has some spoilers.

Michael: We have in these Reckoning 1 interviews done a fair amount of thinking by now about generational understanding of humanity’s interdependence with nature and the conflict, at times epic, ensuing therefrom. “The Hole in the Reef” depicts such a struggle, one that appears to me at least figuratively epic, though when interpreted literally, of tiny, nigh-insignificant scope. There is a piece of what amounts to trash on the floor of the ocean—one piece among untold billions—and the battle father and son fight over it seems to me ultimately futile. What that result signifies for the relationship of father and son, and the relationship of both to the ocean, to the world, isn’t obvious. As the kind of person who picks up trash when he encounters it in the woods, on beaches, at the bottoms of rivers, I am well familiar with the accompanying sense of futility. The next person who comes along will in all likelihood replace that piece of trash with a new one. Another thing I’m afraid I’m in the bad habit of doing in these interviews is asking authors to do the work for me. What does it mean? Is Oliver changed by this experience—demoralized, galvanized? I don’t think his father is. Does that discarded piece of ocean liner or whatever it is signify that it isn’t worth trying to clean up this mess, that we’d be better off letting an older generation habituated to pissing on the natural world drink themselves unconscious and then pushing them over the side?

Ben: The Hole In the Reef has on its surface a story about two generations of men—a father and son—who have very opposite takes on the world. The father is a loner who defines himself by his opposition to nature. He could easily have played a stand-in role for Old Man and the Sea if called upon. He’s not averse to suffering, physically talented, and sees nature as something to be conquered. He’s also a terrible father. His son is clearly involved with people. He’s an urbanite—I don’t get into his backstory terribly far, but I imagine him as the type of individual who shows up on school cleanup days, who is involved in things like neighborhood committees, and who is politically concerned. Metaphorically, his father is the hunter, he is the gardener—I express this via his desire to have his own children experience a different life:

He vowed that thirty-five years hence, when his two small offspring were grown and thought of him, their own father, there wouldn’t be a hollowed, rotted acorn in place of their hearts, their real ones having been left abandoned at the bottom of some ocean.

So this is a struggle that plays out on the surface — of the responsibility to those around them, and the responsibility we have toward our environment; i.e. don’t drop your damn anchor in the reef. At one point the father even threatens to sink his own boat, so that his son will have to swim to shore.

But there’s a deeper, momentary crisis in Oliver in the course of the story as he allows himself for a very brief moment to succumb to his father’s mania for the hole in the ocean, and to momentarily believe it exists: that there is an actual, designed, hatched hole in the bottom of the sea. This is a worldview-upending moment:

To ponder it was to upend reality. Did humans put it there? He could not imagine why or how they could. The hole’s existence implied some other’s intention. Amidst all of the slow, wild processes, here was something that was a fabrication. It suggested he lived in a playground, a test bed, a Petri dish. Where the light of the lab might be turned off at the end of the work day.

In other words, he briefly sheds his scientific understanding of the world and allows himself to ponder the idea that the Earth was designed. To believe that the Earth is designed is, in my mind, to discard your responsibility for it. It is someone else’s (God’s) plan. His father disappears—probably down the hole—and so he goes to find the answer to it, opening the door. What lies on the other side? Nothing. It’s not a door, it’s trash. He angrily realizes his mistake, and sees that he must do what is right, despite the personal risks: assume responsibility.

A side note about the story: I often try to use constraints on my work in order to push myself, which I find will often make the work more interesting. This story had the initial constraint of: If they were in the boat, it was all dialogue. If he was in the water, it’s all narration. And with the regularity of the dives, there’s a sort of rhythm, one page of dialogue, one of narration. As the story progressed I had to break these constraints a little.

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