Free Flash Fiction: “The Scent of Food is Memory and Love”

The Scent of Food is Memory and Love

Azedah took the leaves off of the last small, round eggplant, then cut through the dark purple flesh until she had turned it into a pile of thick slices. She added them to the others already simmering in olive oil in her largest frying pan, so wide it covered most of the cooktop on that side of the stove. When both sides were golden brown, she lifted the eggplant pieces out of the pan and put then aside to drain. Quickly, her fingers moving with long experience, she chopped a large yellow onion; the fine slices sizzled when they hit the hot oil left in the pan.

“Azedah,” the house said. “The visitors have arrived.”

“Ah, they are early! Is Yasmin out of the shower?”

“Yes. Yasmin is in the study,” the house replied.

Azedah stirred the onions with a worn wooden spatula, and the smell of their cooking spread across the large kitchen. “Ask Yasmine to greet our guests,” she said. Behind her, the pressure cooker beeped, its cycle finished. She tapped the “natural release” icon, and turned back to the stove.

She reached to her left – but her hand closed on empty air. Continue reading

10 things that made my 2016 (a little) better

For most people, 2016 was a fucked up, miserable, factually terrible dumpster fire of a year. Icons died, racists thrived, and everywhere you looked, someone else was telling you not to be so upset, not to take it all personally, and not to worry because they were still getting what they wanted out of life, so that must mean you’re overreacting…

No, you’re not.

Icons matter because they tell us we live in a world where our aspirations are possible, and politics matter because the choices politicians make affects every bit of our existence, and racists matter because their willingness to be vocal and noticed in major ways means that a) racism never really left*, and b) they think society is swinging back to the old, oppressive, whites-first, straight people first, ablebodied people first, and especially, aggressively, men first, ways.

* I know it never left. That’s obvious to anyone who isn’t white, and to anyone who spends any time with and caring about people who aren’t white, or even actually listening to the white racist folks all around us. But a lot of well-meaning people convinced themselves that we were living post-racially, and need the reminder that the fight for equality, in this way especially, is not nearly over.

We need to see the awful, horrible, bits of 2016 so we can fight against them. Dismissing the people who are upset about this year because it’s not been horrible to you, yet, just means you have enough privilege to have avoided what a lot of other people are going through, and you’re a selfish jackass.

But.

Recognizing that the world has been on fire doesn’t mean you can’t also appreciate the cool sips of water you manage to find in between the flames. Seeing and holding on to the good makes it possible to survive the bad, and maybe even fuel the fight against it. My 2016 has been hard not just for the larger, global reasons, but for very personal ones that mainly affect… just me. I struggled. I hurt. I was afraid, and I still am.

But… I found good in the year, too. In no particular order, here’s 10 things that got me through:

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1. Arrival. I’d read the Ted Chiang story several times before, and the movie is not quite the story — which was itself, brilliant  — but in its own way, as a translation of Chiang’s story (which is about, in part, translation)… it’s beautiful. It said things to me that I needed to hear. I got to see it just a few weeks ago, in a mostly-empty theater, at a Sunday matinee, with the love of my life, and it was a perfect couple of hours. It was a moment I needed very badly just then, and I’m so grateful I got it in exactly that way, with that person.

2. Destiny. Yes, the video game. I stumbled on the free trial at the beginning of December, found out a couple of writer/agent friends were also playing, and jumped in. I love it enough that I was given the full copy as a gift a week later, just because my happiness was obvious. The game is gorgeous, the voice actors are recognizable in a way that adds to the game (rather than distracting too much from it) and I’m good at it. When I do well, I get prizes. Yay!

I also like that it’s very mission oriented, which for me means that I can play through a mission or strike in about 20 minutes, and then I have to pause. I might have to go talk to someone to get the next mission, or turn in my engrams (they’re like… virtual carnival tickets) to get my loot, or dump stuff I’ve got too much of, but it’s a moment for my brain to think, “Ok, that’s done.” I play one mission, and then I go do other things. I’ve had favorite games before that easily lent themselves to day- or week-long binges, and if I did that with Destiny, I’d feel so guilty that it’d ruin the game for me. This is a self-indulgent fun that doesn’t interfere with me actually accomplishing things, and that’s exactly what I needed from it.

I need fun. Plus, the game devs have a lot of fun with the game. This trailer, for a new racing bike option in the latest update, is exactly what I mean.

3. The support of people I mostly know online. Other writers, fans of my fiction, students of my workshop, clients, and people who just like what I have to say have been a constant source of happiness this year. From virtual hugs to holiday cards to emails and tweets — it’s all a reminder that I am part of a larger community that cares about my well being and wants me to write more, to succeed in life. Even though I didn’t get out to any conventions this year, and won’t for at least part of next year; even though I don’t live in a big city, and often feel cut off from the writers I’ve gotten to know… I’m not entirely absent from their thoughts.

I appreciate you all, so much.

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4. My son. I rarely post about him publicly because I generally think that’s a very bad idea, but I will say that he’s doing well. He’s taller than me now, which is something we’re both getting used to, and he’s trying to find his way through those awkward teen years that’d have been difficult even if he didn’t have a serious speech disorder and an an absent father and a mother who doesn’t make enough money to do much with him. He could be an angry, selfish, terrible kid… and he’s not. He struggles, but he learns, and he is kind when I need him to be, and he loves me without reservation. As hard as it has been to figure out what he needs and how to give it to him, and as much as I sometimes resent people who have it so much easier, I’m very lucky to have this particular child. He’s a good person, and I don’t ever want to let him down.

5. The Affordable Care Act. It saved my life.

6. My bullet journal. My person has been using this system for a couple of years. He would show it to me when I asked, but never pushed it on me. Never insisted it would change my life, or anything like that. It just worked for him, and he, quietly, like he does, went on using it. Earlier this year, I finally said, “I think this might work for me, too. Can you explain it to me?” Right after work, he came over with a new Leuchtturm 1917 journal book, and walked me through exactly how to make bullet journaling fit what I needed it to do. I’ve been using it ever since as a combination diary/to do list, and it’s helped me keep days sorted from each other, plus let me look back and see how much I really am getting done, on days where I feel like I’m slacking. I feel more organized and I’ve kept on top of things I know I’d otherwise have forgotten.

(Want to try it? Start here.)

7. Deciding on life plans for the next couple of years. We sat down  a couple of times this year, and talked through what we all needed (he, and I, and us together, and us with my son) and outlined the future. I’m making some big changes, and following through on some old plans. Right now, life is still hard, especially financially, but if everything goes according to plan, that’s going to change soon enough. Where I am in a couple of years should be dramatically different from where I am now, and I can’t wait.

8. My ADHD medication. If you need help to keep your brain, or body, functioning, there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone is different, and while celebrating our differences is important and good, it’s also okay to realize that some differences might be keeping us from living — or thinking — the way we want to. As much as it’s acceptable to get a cast put on a broken leg, it should also be acceptable to seek medication for a disorder like ADHD, if it’s serious enough to impact your daily life. In my case, having ADHD is like trying to juggle a dozen different thoughts at any given moment, and forgetting half of them when I try to focus on any one. With the medication, I can hold on to a train of thought for long enough to act on it, and I stop doing things like burning food I suddenly forgot I was cooking. It doesn’t give me super powers, but it makes a big liability into a small one, so rather than trying to run a marathon while also being chained to an anchor, I’m trying to run a marathon while also feeling a bit lazy and wearing uncomfortable shoes. Things become possible, but I still have to do the work. Which, I think, is fair.

9. My midnight trip to Columbus, OH. I snuck away to join my person in Columbus, OH, for a day of touristy reminiscing about where and how he lived when he was younger. It was my only real adventure this year, a sudden, spontaneous, whirlwind of travel that involved more time on a bus (there and back) than we were actually in Columbus, but it was totally worth it.

10. My partner, my buddy, my love, my person. He knows why.

I hope you had people and moments in 2016 that were worth remembering, even as we celebrate this year finally coming to an end.

 

On “Thanksgiving” and Being Thankful in Dark Times

Two weeks ago, the votes were tallied — not completely, but enough for those who are generally right about these things to guess at where the votes would end up — and the election was called for Donald Trump, making him the presumptive President-Elect.

It took no time at all, not even a full day, for him to start using that position  to line his own pockets, and for his alt-Reich supporters to come out in force, claiming his election as a victory of Nazism all across the land.

It’s pretty fucking hard, then, to look at Thanksgiving — a day when we traditionally celebrate that my white ancestors stole America from the indigenous population, by eating a giant turkey and a dessert made with orange squash — with any kind of thanks in my heart.

I’m not thankful that the President-Elect continues to treat his new position mainly as a way to make more money no matter who suffers, or that he’s appointing actual white supremacists, xenophobes, Islamaphobes, and homophobes to positions which mean that these vile, hateful, people will be making policies that affect all of America. I’m not thankful that centuries after we stole their land, the American government still can’t be bothered to treat Native Americans with the bare minimum of courtesy or respect, if there’s any way to gain by stealing from them again. I’m not thankful that of the hundreds of new reports of hate crimes across the country, the largest percentage is against immigrant children.

Children.

With all of this, what can I possibly be thankful for? What’s the point of being thankful at all? I think there is one, and it’s this: finding any joy at all, in these times, is a balm for the heart and mind. A day, or a moment, of peace and love refreshes us. So, if you have a reason to be thankful this week, go ahead. Enjoy it. Don’t feel guilty. Use it, the way we use sleep to energize us for the next day. Be armored by it. Be strengthened against what’s coming next. And when you’re ready, use that strength to keep fighting.

My thankfulness this week is that I have a bright, funny, healthy, beautiful child, who tries his best to navigate his disability, and who loves us. It’s that I have a brilliant and brave partner who’s just as committed as I am to standing up for what’s right. It’s that my family might be small, and far away from everyone else this time of year, but we’re together, and we’re good.

FLASH FICTION CHALLENGE #3: Getting To Know You

I recently asked people on Twitter and Facebook for random writing prompts, and from those, I wrote five micro and flash fiction stories to share here on my site. The others are:

This story is courtesy of John Teehan, who suggested a “shape-changing battle a la SWORD IN THE STONE, but more contemporary.” Here is my 470-word interpretation of the moment when the fight is over:

#SFWAPro

Getting To Know You

Arthur lay on his side, panting heavily, his right arm still transforming back from fish to man. Across the room, Kyle was draped half across the couch, half on the floor, coughing up water.

“Are we done?” Arthur asked. Kyle, spitting out one last mouthful, nodded. “Oh, good,” Arthur said, “Your parking meter has probably expired already.”

Kyle groaned, forcing himself up into a seated position, and smoothed wet black hair out of his eyes. “You started it,” he said, not quite unkindly.

Arthur shrugged, remembered his bruised ribs, and asked, “How’s that?”

“You clicked on my profile first,” Kyle said.

“I did not. I saw that you’d been checking me out, and looked at your page. And you messaged me first.”

“You invited me over.”

“Yeah, okay,” Arthur admitted. “I did do that. But you turned me into squirrel while I was getting us a glass of wine.”

“You were cute as a squirrel,” Kyle said, managing a slight grin. “If you’d stayed a squirrel, we wouldn’t have made a mess.”

“I am not going to stay a squirrel. I am a much better fox.” Arthur felt around on the floor near him, locating his glasses, and putting them back on his face. He saw Kyle more clearly, and frowned. “Your eye is going to be black tomorrow.”

“I’ll fix it,” Kyle replied. “Or I could keep it and tell everyone you were mean to me on our first date.”

“What? You turned into a wolf and chased me around the livingroom!” Arthur gestured at the room. “Look at this mess?”

“Wolf paws are a little hard to maneuver on. They’re big,” Kyle replied. “You need a new couch anyway.”

“It was a gift.”

Kyle looked down, and then back at Arthur, catching his gaze and staring directly back. “It’s gold corduroy.”

“It’s vintage,” Arthur tried, not entirely sure whether it was or not. “Fine, it’s ugly. But you still can’t manage your paws.”

“I’ll practice that,” Kyle said back, grinning now, “If you put some serious time into your falcon. You hit every single one of these walls, flying like you didn’t know how physics works.” He leaned forward slightly, and added. “That orange and silver fish was pretty hot though. I liked that one.”

“It’s a koi,” Arthur said, blushing slightly.

“Do you want to come sit with me?” Kyle asked softly. Arthur nodded, got to his feet, and walked – carefully, stepping over bits of fabric and broken glass – to the couch, taking a seat a half foot away from his date. “I am sorry about your fish tank,” Kyle said. “My pacu form is kinda big.”

“I can get another tank,” Arthur said. “Maybe you can help me pick it out?”

“Great!” Kyle said happily. “I was just going to ask what you were doing tomorrow night.”

Fred Coppersmith’s Favorite Stories of 2016 (includes my @apexmag tale!)

Over on Twitter, author and publisher Fred Coppersmith has been tweeting about stories he likes all through the year. He starts off with my Apex Magazine story, “That Lucky Old Sun“. Thanks, Fred!

He’s curated the whole list on Storify, which I’ve embedded below:

#SFWApro