Baby Bidhaa

Reading Time: 7 minutes

This is my second attempt at an “Origin Scene,” as prescribed by “Story Genius.” The assignment after the “Origin Scene” is to create three “Turning Point” scenes. When I started the turning point scenes, the original origin scene seemed too late in the story, so I started about as early as you can start in a story.

Origin Scene. The objective is to establish the protagonist’s worldview before the story begins. The “Origin Scene” motivates the protagonist’s thinking: why does the protagonist have the belief or worldview they will have in the story?

  1. What does the protagonist go into the scene believing?
  2. Why does the protagonist believe it?
  3. What is the protagonist’s goal in the scene?
  4. What does the protagonist expect?

Here goes again.

 I remember my first steps. I stumbled and fell to the ground before I managed to keep my feet under me. Water drops fell from the sky. I smelt a comforting smell that I was drawn to. I now recognize that smell as elephant, maybe even my mother. Could I identify the owner by its memory?

I heard shouting and a sharp prod in my hind quarters. I was pushed into a crate into which I barely fit, and it went dark like I was being unborn. I thrashed in my container, but I didn’t have the strength to break out of it. I did not have enough room to turn around.

The cage rattled and bounced. I thought I would fall over again many times. I didn’t have enough space to fall over. I smelt foul odors that burned my eyes and breathed dust so thick I coughed and coughed so hard I thought my lungs were coming out of my throat. When the rattling stopped, I heard the words of humans, “I have an Intelliphant here from Kruger.” I did not know then that the place I was sent to was Nairobi. I now know Kruger is a place farther than the greatest migrations of elephants. 

The top opened, and the brightness hurt my eyes. A man pushed a milk bottle toward my head. I instinctively pulled it into my mouth and drank until it was empty. It soothed my throat, and the empty feeling in my stomach disappeared. I wanted desperately to get close to the man with the bottle, but the cage lid closed when the milk was gone, and I was in darkness again.

The container opened once again. Two men with painful sticks led me from one crate to another. The ground was hard and cold in the cage. The light was dim. I found it difficult to sleep. Strange sounds frightened me, and acrid burning odors smelling like my urine permeated the air. I wanted to hide but could only curl up against the cage bars in one of the corners. My whole body felt nauseous. I thought I would go to sleep and never wake up.

I was in the cage alone for a long time. I despaired for the comfort of another. Men came to the cell. I heard one say, “Bidhaa?” Another answered, “Yes.” One of the men entered and walked over to me. He inspected my trunk, twisting it in ways I did not like, and spread my eyes open, unhappy with how bloodshot they had become, but I did not move from my prone position. He patted me on my head in a comforting way. I lifted my head and said, “Bidhaa.” The man laughed, repeated “Bidaa,” and stroked my trunk. I thought that was my name. It wasn’t until later that I learned that “Bidhaa” means product. Despite my wretchedness, I managed to sit up. 

The man pointed to himself and said, “Trainer,” but I did not respond. 

When the man left, I could feel my heart sink like a rock in a pond. But he came right back with a bright green ball. He rolled it around under his foot and then moved it from one foot to another. I watched, mesmerized by the toy. Trainer allowed me to touch the ball with my trunk and push it around, but when I stood up, he took it away. When I tried retrieving it from him, the man shouted, “No!” He pointed to himself and said, “Trainer.” He grasped my throat gently with his hand and said, “Say it. Trainer.” He waited and then said again, “Trainer.”

I shook my head from side to side anxiously, not understanding what he wanted me to do and desperately wanting to see that ball again. He squeezed my throat harder and moved his hand like he wanted me to swallow, saying, “Trainer.” Finally, I understood his meaning and uttered something like “Trainer.” He smiled and scratched me on the back of my head. Then he pointed to me and said, “Bidaa. Bidaa.” The name had stuck, and I repeated it back to him. The man dropped the ball to the ground and kicked it at me. I watched the ball bounce off the cage’s bars and bounce back. The man had to show me how to play. I chased after that ball for five or ten minutes before exhausting myself completely. I wanted to go over and cuddle up against the man, but each time he prodded me with a sharp stick and yelled, “No!”

I had no sense of time back then. I don’t know if I was in the cage for weeks, months, or even longer. But the lessons continued. I learned to speak in this way, trading language for toys. My favorite was the small pool where I would splash and play with an intertube. I learned “pool,” “ball,” “walk,” “eat,” “toy,” and many other words. I was never fed until Trainer was satisfied with my progress for the day.

I listened to the sounds of the workers who cleaned my cage and fed me. I did not know it then, but the workers spoke Swahili while Trainer taught me noun-verb English. I also learned words and watched images on a flatscreen which the humans turned on when they were not around to care for or teach me. It was a long time before I realized I was not a human, not understanding until later that the face in the reflection of the calm pool water was my own. 

Then they started bringing in items that were not toys, like couches, chairs, and flatscreens. If I started to play with them, I was zapped and prodded. I learned to wait for Trainer’s signal on whether I was allowed to investigate the new object. 

And then he started bringing in humans. If I approached the humans, I would be swatted. If they came to me and I backed away, I would be swatted. So I stood there without flexing so much as my trunk muscle. And still, I was swatted. I had to learn to read the minds of the humans in their gestures and facial expressions and show an appropriate response. If they smiled, I bobbed my head and flapped my ears like I was happy. If they looked angry, I would lower my head in deference. If they wanted me to be curious about something they wanted to show me, I would look interested trying to touch it with my trunk. I felt none of these things. If I was too clever or wordy, I was swatted. Mostly, they wanted me to utter simple words for their amusement. Only when they ignored me was I to become rigid as if happily anticipating their subsequent commands.

One day, Trainer said I was ready. I didn’t know what I was ready for. I was moved. When the truck stopped, I was chained with shackles about my ankles and led down a ramp into the outdoors. The light was blinding. I could not imagine a light so overwhelming. I had never seen the sun before. I was led into an enclosure and abandoned once again. I sniffed at the intoxicating mix of smells and listened to a symphony of sounds. I felt the soft dirt on the pads of my feet.

When my eyes finally adjusted to the intense light, I saw my first elephant, a massive creature in a neighboring pen. She smelt like but not quite the same as Mother. Seeing an elephant and remembering the reflection from the pool, I realized that I was a creature like these. The giant elephant approached and reached its trunk through the cage to touch and smell me. I was not trained in the expressions of elephants, but I recognized the gesture as one of curiosity. So returning the reach of its trunk with my I own, I said, “I am Bidhaa.” 

The massive creature dropped its trunk and backed away from the fence. I recognized its new emotion as distrust. I could not help myself. I so wanted the attention of this creature that was my likeness. So I ran toward her, and she bellowed out in anger. I froze and lowered my head. In words I didn’t recognize then, she said, “Why is it that you speak the language of the humans?” 

I did not know that I spoke the words of the humans. Over the days, I realized that just like humans, it is best to mimic the emotion of the other, even if that is not how you feel. I managed to strike up a cautious friendship with the beast. I learned that her name was “Kujuana.” Kujuana taught me my first words in elephant. She did not talk to me in the touch language I still had no knowledge of, but I did learn the elephant equivalent of the human handshake by trunk touching and sniffing.

Several humans came to visit. When they stood outside the gate of my enclosure, I overheard them. One human who said, “I am from the Nature Development Company,” wished to know whether the other humans wished to “buy” me. I did not know what the word meant, and it is precisely because I didn’t that I felt an uneasiness that was the same feeling I had when I ate disagreeable food. 

It was only a short time in the outdoor pen before I met Mr. and Mrs. Bixen. When I said, “I am Bidhaa,” a look of astonishment crossed Mrs. Bixen’s face that I wasn’t sure how to respond to. 

The salesman said, “Say hello to Mrs. Bixen.” 

I dutifully replied, “Hello, Mrs. Bixen.”

Mrs. Bixen looked more eager than ever. She said, “Oh, Dennis, we simply must have Bidhaa.”

Mr. Bixen replied, “Of course, Karen. He will make a wonderful pet and companion for you when I am away.”

I read Mr. Bixen’s emotion as one of tolerance rather than happiness. I did not know how to respond, so I remained frozen.

The salesman said, “Let’s return to my office to do the paperwork.”

Doing the paperwork meant the end of my brief stay with Kujuana. Even though Kujuana did not understand the language of the humans, she understood that I would be leaving. The gestures of hello and goodbye are the same in Elephant. We touched and sniffed one last time. The word for goodbye in elephant means, “I will remember you if we meet again.” It was the last time I saw Kujuana.

Picture by Craiyon

The Laws of Nature

Reading Time: 6 minutes

This is my attempt at an “Origin Scene,” as prescribed by “Story Genius.” The objective is to establish the protagonist’s worldview before the story begins. The “Origin Scene” motivates the protagonist’s thinking: why does the protagonist have the belief or worldview they will have in the story?

  1. What does the protagonist go into the scene believing?
  2. Why does the protagonist believe it?
  3. What is the protagonist’s goal in the scene?
  4. What does the protagonist expect?

Here goes:

I live on a plantation in the highlands of Eastern Tanzania, not far from the Mangara Airstrip, with a human woman named Ms. Bixen, a matriarchal elephant named Mubwa, and a dog named Kuchota. Mubwa is not my biological mother, but she has cared for me the best she can for my first eight years of life. I have no memories of my mother. Mubwa calls me an orphan, which she says is a name for one that does not have a mother though it does not seem that way. She has always been a mother to me.

Mubwa calls me Tugwa, taking on her family sound. She says it means first daughter. She says we are alike because we have both lost our herd. I understand her meaning, but I do not think we are alike. She lost her herd, but I am at home with mine. 

My days are full and happy. I spend the mornings playing with Kuchota. His tiny legs quiver in anticipation of the sticks and balls I throw for him. When I tire of the game, we swim in the pond, and I spray water into Kuchota’s unexpecting face. He never learns. His angry barking delights me to no end. 

When Kuchota languishes in the hot afternoon, Mahout feeds and grooms me. He tells me of other places and elephants he has known from a distant place called Jaipur in India. He said the Indian elephants are different from the African elephants here. I told him that Mubwa says I am different from her herd and asked Mahout if I was an Indian elephant. He laughed and said, “No, you are a Tembo. A small elephant. The only Tembo I know of live in a park called Kruger in South Africa.”

On most nights, Mubwa teaches me the stories of her days as the matriarch of a large herd. She tells me of her life outside the compound of the plantation, of playing with the many young ones, and of great travels. She chokes with sadness as she relives her tales but pushes forward because she wishes to pass on the memories of her legacy to me. The herd traveled hundreds of miles in the backcountry for food, water, and mates. Mubwa insists that I remember the map of her travels though I do not know why. I have never been outside the compound, nor do I wish to leave it. I am more afraid than curious. I asked her if she traveled to Kruger Park in South Africa, but she did not know of such a place.

Mubwa has taught me the three languages of the elephant: touch, talk, and rumble. She tells me the language of touch is a form of writing for intimacy and secrets. I like the way it feels when we trunk touch. The language of talk is for normal stuff, like when Mubwa tells me it is time for lessons, the hay is here, or tells me to come to fetch a banana. Occasionally, we hear the rumbling of distant herds from outside the compound. Mubwa calls back, but the others do not come to us. Mubwa says it is damn peculiar that I can speak the language of the humans. She has never met another elephant that can do so. 

I have learned the human language from Ms. Bixen, the lady of the plantation, and Mahout, the trainer. I cannot speak fast, the way people talk to one another. The words do not form in my mind nor fall off my tongue so quickly, but I hear their words and understand some of their meanings. On the nights when Ms. Bixen has guests, I am made to say words in the human language, though her guests seem to have little interest in talking to me.

I have also learned much from something called a flatscreen that shows things from outside the compound. I watched the humans and learned how to turn the flatscreen on and off. I would watch it when the humans went to the outside. The flatscreen once showed me a creature called a lion. I learned that a herd of lions is called a pride. The pride of lions attacked an elephant much larger than myself and made that elephant disappear forever. Mubwa said that I was safe from lions while I lived in the compound. It is why I do not wish to leave it. And I do not watch the flatscreen anymore.

Mubwa wears leg irons and is not permitted to approach the ranchhouse as I am. I have asked Mahout why it must be so. The Mahout says it is for her own good. I am allowed onto the veranda of the ranchhouse, usually to amuse Ms. Bixen’s guests. My speech amuses most of her guests to no end, but it frightens a few greatly. One of her lady guests asked, “You are so privileged to have a designer, but aren’t they illegal now?” Ms. Bixen said, “I acquired Tugwa before the law changed so I think he is still legal, but let’s keep this between you, me, and the fence post.” I did not understand the meaning of the words designer and illegal and struggled to fathom why the two women would share information with a fence post. 

A man in a suit stopped by one day. He said he was from “The Nature Development Company.” I did not know this word company but inferred it was some kind of human-like herd. The man looked at me and touched me in ways that made me uncomfortable, tugging at my ear flaps and twisting my trunk roughly. 

Ms. Bixen asked me to leave the veranda so she could talk to the man privately, but I could overhear the conversation in the distance. The man said, “The livestock is in good condition, and I will give you better than a fair price for it and the plantation.” Ms. Bixen did not answer, and after some hesitation, the man said, “The alternative is a lawsuit. You will lose the livestock for sure and maybe even the plantation. Let’s do this the easy way. It’s better for you, and it’s better for us.” 

I asked Mahout what this meant. He said, “They are talking about Mubwa, you, and the other animals, though I think they are mostly interested in you, Tugwa.” I asked him why, and he shrugged. I asked him what sell meant. He said, “Don’t you worry about it,” but I saw the water come down his face before he looked away. For elephants, tearing is good health, but for humans, not good. 

Ms. Bixen had many tears when Mr. Bixen died. Mahout told me to die meant he would never return, and Ms. Bixen was very sad. She had the same tears in her eyes when the man in the suit from the “Nature Development Company” left the plantation.

I asked her, “Why is there so much sadness here when I am so happy?” 

She said, “I don’t know how to explain to you, but things are happening beyond my control.” She stepped closer to me and rubbed my trunk like she was trying to talk in the touch language of elephants. She softly said, “You are different. You are neither an elephant nor a person. In the times ahead, a lot of unfair things are going to happen. Listen very carefully to what I tell you now. You must remember this above all things. People and elephant’s feel sadness when they know they can’t change something unfair. Anger is what they feel when they think they can change something unjust. You have something built into your body called an end-of-life switch. You were built differently. Sadness can eat away at a person for a lifetime, but despair will kill Tugwa dead in three days. Sadness and despair are lethal to you in ways they are not to anyone or anything else. You must never give into sadness or despair. You must fight for your life even if have to become angry.”

I remember the words, but the advice made no sense. I nodded yes like I understood, but I did not. Why would I be sad? Why should I be angry? I didn’t feel sad or angry. Why would I have to fight for my life? Everything is so peaceful here. I know it had something to do with that man. I did not like him. I did not like the feeling of not knowing. Mubwa told me the feeling of not knowing is called angst. It didn’t feel like home when I had this feeling. I hoped the bad man that brought angst would never come back.

Turing Test – A Short Take

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Given that your child has just arrived at his work abroad program, and you are checking up on him after his long flight, see if you can tell which one is the AI and which is the child.

Chat Prompt. “Settling in okay?”

Response 1: “Hey, Mom and Dad! Thanks for checking in. I’m settling in quite well, actually. The trip was smooth, and I’ve already found a decent place to stay. I’m looking forward to exploring the city. I’ll keep you updated on how things progress. Miss you both!”

Response 2: “Yup.”

What gave it away?

Art by Craiyon

Remains of the Father’s Day

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Spoiler Alert: If you plan on reading “Remains of the Day,” you may want to save this for another day. 

It’s not my habit to use earbuds while I hike. It defeats the purpose. But I want to finish an audiobook, “The Remains of the Day.” So when my lens cap undoes its clasp and its tether detaches from the body of the camera, and falls to the ground, I don’t hear or notice it. 

I’m a quarter of a mile up the trail when I try to remove the no longer present lens cap from my unprotected lens. It was there when I started, but I could have dropped it anywhere between here and the car. Judging by the empty parking lot and walking on an out-and-back trail, I figure I have a better than 90% chance of finding it on the return trip to the car. There is no one else on this trail to take it. So I let it go, resolving to be mindful not to bang the camera around with its exposed lens and to recover the lens cap on the way back.

I’m not sure what prompted me to pick up the “Remains of the Day,” and I’m not even entirely sure why I continue to read it. The story is about a butler: not a man who works as a butler, but a man who IS a butler. It reads like a handbook for the craft of the butler narrated in the first person. Is there such a word as butlerness, the essence of the position? 

On the other hand, Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing is compelling. I unabashedly acknowledge it qualifies as craft. The cadence, tone, interactions, and meticulous descriptions of thoughts and perceptions are rich, unrelenting, and consistent throughout the book. But is it a story? I am starting to wonder. 

In his ongoing recollections, Mr. Stevens recounts several encounters with Ms. Kenton, who was part of his staff. She caused professional and, in the most subdued of ways, sexual tension between the two. The two servants never once reveal their first names to each other or even to the reader. When they overcome the sticking points in their professional relationship, they share some brief informality together in the evenings passing the time by sipping tea together in the kitchen. Still, he is uncomfortable with it and quickly dispenses with this inappropriate activity at the first opportunity to terminate it. Formality is the protocol of the butler, and the butler is never off duty, even when he is. 

Subdued might be an overstatement. The K-drama thirty-second love stare scene screams sexuality by comparison. In case you are unfamiliar with what that is, the love interests in the K-drama stare into each other’s eyes but never actually kiss, touch, or even exchange words, and later deny that such a moment occurred. When I watch these scenes, my Hollywood brain threatens to explode, demanding satisfaction, shouting at the two, “Shag each other rotten already!” 

The hike slogs on like the book. The trail is seriously overgrown, partly from the super bloom, but also, I suspect, because this trail is low use. It might be especially low use today because it is Father’s Day. All the more reason to hike it. The North and South Clevenger trails are on Route 78, about five miles east of the Wild Animal Park. The South Clevenger Trail is the drier of the two. Both take you up the side of the canyon walls to scenic vistas. The road, the orchards, and the isolated buildings that have claimed the ridgeline are never far from sight. But if you look in the right direction over the rugged terrain, you might think you are in the Nevada desert somewhere.

I use my hiking poles to push aside the overgrowth rather than using them to propel me up the seventy-five-story, two-mile climb. The temperature is in the mid-eighties, and today is one of the few days I’ve worn shorts all year. The starthistles prick at my exposed legs. A starthistle has a pretty yellow flower on a ball-shaped bulb with pointy spines resembling a party favor packaged in a miniaturized medieval mace. Blossoming deerweed with its tiny red and yellow pea flowers grows out over the trail closing in from both sides and sometimes from the top. I duck under overgrown bush mallow pushing through with my hat, hoping I don’t pick up any ticks. There is no relief. The trail is overgrown, brushing against my body and poking at my legs the entire trek.

As I listen to the audiobook, I wonder if the overgrown trail is a metaphor for the density and ponderousness of the book. Or perhaps it is the other way around. The butler, Mr. Stevens, is on a road trip to the English countryside, but his stops are brief interludes for deep dives into his memories of his lifetime of service. The pacing is deliberately slow, and what passes for action is off-camera, so to speak. Mr. Stevens stands just outside the doorway for however long he must in case his services are required, not specifically knowing what transpires within. A butler must be attentive precisely when it is demanded and invisible otherwise. (It sounds like the role of a father.)

The essence of the great butler is dignity. It doesn’t matter that his father is dying or that his master makes a horrible staffing decision or the world is crumbling around its feet with the onset of World War II. Mr. Stevens maintains his dignity, which for a man of servitude, is the opposite of what you or I construe as the execution of the concept. Dignity for a man of service is never giving in to one’s own thoughts and sentiments in the performance of duty. Dignity is staying faithful to your superiors. Dignity for anyone else is maintaining and defending one’s views and opinions in the face of inconvenience and adversity. One butler’s strength is another man’s weakness.

Speaking of adversity, with the heat and the elevation gain, I stop for a drink of water. I take a swig out of my water bottle but notice something floating inside. Upon closer inspection, it’s a drowned spider with its eight articulated legs folded into a point like a cephalopod. It looks a little fuzzy, too, like fungus has already started to attack and decompose it. It reminds me of a sci-fi movie with alien specimens floating in tanks of tarnished water deep in some Area 51 secret bunker or lab. I hope the water I just drank isn’t contaminated enough to kill me. Inside my head, there is not a lot of dignity going on. I share my thoughts with mother nature in a most undignified anti-butler way, “How the f**k did a spider get inside a sealed water bottle?”

I think of a spider on my bathroom sink a few days ago. When I turned on the light, I startled it. It dashed for the cover of my toothbrush but then changed its mind and tried to hide under the toothpaste. It was a speedy, dark brown spider. Usually, I try to catch and release (outside, of course), but this one was too quick, and I didn’t have a suitable container to trap it with. So I smashed the bugger and flushed him. The life of a spider is an uncertain thing. Is this a haunting? A punishment for my failure to set the spider free in the great outdoors? Is the collective spider community conspiring to exact its revenge? 

The hike is only four miles round trip, and even with the heat, I can endure a little thirst. So I press on to the high point and my turn-around point of the trail, marked by a massive white granite rock. As I ascend, Mr. Stevens has finally arrived at the last stop on his six-day trip. Only upon his arrival do we learn that the purpose of the trip is to visit Ms. Kenton, who left her employment some twenty years ago. He reconnects with her, responding with concern for some melancholy remarks she has made in her letter correspondences. Even in an outside-of-work informal context twenty years later, they continue to address one another formally. We discover that Ms. Kenton left the employ to get married and have a family. In the not-so-big-reveal, Ms. Kenton acknowledges at the bus stop just before her departure into eternity that she left because she had feelings for Mr. Kenton. Although Mr. Stevens expresses something like regret, it is clear that he is incapable of love. In his deep memory dives, his one moment of thought for her comes when he pauses outside her room, knowing that he made her cry. He described the paused moment as an eternity but stated it was probably only a few seconds. And then he continues on his way never to otherwise acknowledge the moment to fulfill his most essential duty of supplying the politically-important guests with brandy. 

When I reach the high point of the trail, I’m regretting the shorts, the lack of spider-free water, the heat, the overgrown path, and the missing lens cap. But I can’t complain about the canyon view or catching the tail end of the super bloom. All the late-flowering plants are still putting on a show—swathes of deerweed cover the trail and the sides of the mountains. The corkscrew California Centaury plants and the hairy yellow blossoms of Calochortus weedii poke through the stems of chaparral bushes. White inflorescences cover the chamise bushes like a dusting of snow. I shimmy between a crevice in the great white rock to swallow up the view of the orchard below and the hills beyond. It’s all about me—the anti-butler. 

Mr. Stevens has no I. Zen believes that the self is an illusion and Mr. Stevens intends to prove it. But the Zen master lives for compassion, not for service. The difference is profound. Mr. Stevens stands behind his master, no matter how poor their judgment. He passes on life’s moments of love and grief. Even when he visits Ms. Kenton because of concern for her happiness, the moment would have passed him by if Ms. Kenton did not insist on him escorting her to the bus stop. Compassion and duty are the oil and vinegar of one’s moral compass.

When the book concludes, I want to poke my eyes out with a fork. Nobody could be this tedious and dull. But fortunately, I still need my eyes to navigate my way back to the car. Tiny faded-blue butterflies dart past all the pollen opportunities, too impatient to pose for a picture. A cicada clasps to a stem. I see a tall spike of what I think are golden eardrops and the white-colored version of the ordinarily magenta canchalagua. Canchalagua is the flower with the corkscrew stamens I’ve featured several times on Insta. I even find my lens cap. I’m glad I keep my eyes after all. 

Is it a story? One of my writing books suggests that character-driven is the essence of the story. She complains about meandering and meaningless plot points wandering without an inner purpose. This book is the opposite. It is character-driven without a plot. And the protagonist doesn’t change.  

Only Ms. Kenton changes. She escapes from the prison of servitude to get married and start a family. Ms. Kenton says it took seven years for her to find love in her husband’s familiarity. She expressed moments of uncertainty in her correspondence but declares that they were fleeting, and she has overcome them. But the protagonist is the story. We spend all our time in Mr. Steven’s head, not Ms. Kenton’s. And he never deviates from his butler mindset.

Mr. Stevens offers a pretense of regret. But even his regret is short-sighted and for the wrong thing. He doesn’t regret the lost opportunity for love or a missed life. He regrets that he can no longer serve with the perfection he once commanded, making little but unnoticeable mistakes now and then as his career winds down. There is no change, but that is the genius of it. Mr. Stevens is so trapped that there is no escape. 

In a conversation Mr. Stevens has with a local at his final stop, the man describes the “remains of the day” as the time left in the day, the time after work people enjoy the most, an allegory for Mr. Stevens to live the rest of his life for himself. But remains are also a person’s body after they are dead. I don’t know if a pun was intended, but as far I can tell, Mr. Stevens is already a zombie. Even as he contemplates change, it is not change. He endeavors to learn to banter, insinuating that he is willing to tolerate informality, but only because it might please Mr. Faraday, his current master. There really is no hope for the guy.

As for the remains of my day, I can sometimes relate to the feeling of being invisible. Where are my Father’s Day texts? In the good old days, dads used to get ties. These days, a meme is going out of the way. Mom’s Day rates three in holidays, while Father’s Day rates twenty. But I will stick to the time left in the day definition rather than the zombie definition and aspire to use the remains of my day wisely. A hike was a good start.

Note: My texts came later in the evening, and my daughter spent the previous day working two hours in the backyard weeding the superbloom overgrowth. I was just trying to get into the spirit of the story.

Hiking Butler Art by Craiyon

To Be Forever or To Be For Bearing?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Author’s Note: Still struggling to find a concept I believe in enough to write about. So trying to start small and see if anything comes from these short stories.

Kufa and Kuto lie in bed together, ready for sleep.
Kuto says, “Just think of it. Today, we would be lucky to live another forty years. With a little genetic magic, tomorrow, we can live forever.”
The enthusiasm in his voice cuts her. “Not forever,” protests Kufa. “We will all die eventually, one way or the other—maybe a car crash, drowning in a lake, or falling off a ladder.”
“Yeah, but wouldn’t you prefer to die in a car crash as a young woman in a couple of hundred years rather than pass as a senile old lady in forty?”
Kufa grudgingly acknowledges with a half-hearted nod of her head. She rolls away from Kuta and stares into the night, unable to sleep.

It’s not like she is terminal with a life-threatening disease unless you consider life itself a disease. Nevertheless, her struggle is existential. It’s a matter of life or death. If she accepts the genetic treatment, she will stop aging. She could join her friends and the rest of the immortals, but immortality comes at the cost of children. Scientists and governments have fixed the population to a sustainable size, and only those that chose mortality are allowed the possibility of breeding.
It used to be that when she walked by a playground with those ladies sitting on the bench, all she saw were the tired faces and senescent skin. She laughed at them with her friends, who had all chosen the treatment.
But one morning, she saw something she had missed before. A mother hugged her young daughter for no reason. The child rewarded her with giggles and a cry of “Mommy. I love you.” And the mommy had a faraway look that Kufa could only imagine as a satisfaction more profound than any she had experienced herself. The image has haunted her ever since.

In the late morning, Kufa sits on the couch with the curtains drawn and the lights not turned on, still in her night clothes.
Kuto approaches the front door from another room. He does a double-take when he realizes she is sitting in the shadows. He stares at her through the darkness for several seconds before saying, “Why aren’t you dressed? We are supposed to be at the clinic in an hour for the first treatment.”
Kufa doesn’t move.
Kuto shakes his head and scowls, “We’ve been over this so many times. I thought we agreed to it.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I’m having second thoughts. What’s the point of living forever if your life has no meaning?”
“No meaning? What are you talking about? I have important work to do and will have all the time in the world to do it. You can learn the piano like you’ve always wanted. We can travel the world together. We could make every dream we ever had come true. We would live happily ever after.”
“Happily ever after only happens in fairy tales. Those stupid books never explain what those people do that makes them happy ever after. Getting together is the easy part. The happily ever after is the hard part.”

Kuto hits the switch.
Kufa averts her sleepless eyes from the searing gaze of Kuto in the unwanted light.
“It didn’t sound hard when you said it before. It’s what we’ve talked about since we first met. You and me strolling down the boulevards of Paris. Sipping wine in a chateau in Italy. Elegant dinners in India. South Africa. Japan. Australia. The world. Maybe even beyond.”
She stammers, “Forever is a long time. I think there are so many divorces nowadays because we already live so long.”
“What are you getting at? Don’t you love me?”
“Of course. I could, and I would love you for a lifetime. But a normal lifetime, not a forever lifetime.”
Kuto raises his voice, “What the hell does that mean? Is our love on a timer now? Conditional love? That sounds more like something I would say. What is this really about?”
Kufa hangs her head, knowing Kuto will not like her answer. “I want to have a family someday with children,” Kufa pouts.
Kuto says, “Children? If we have children, we give up the opportunity to live forever. And even if you decide not to take the treatment, there is no guarantee that you can become a breeder. It’s up to Population Management to decide, not us. And the longer we wait, the greater the chance that something irreversible happens. We could be throwing our lives out the window for nothing.”
“I’m not going,” Kufa declares while defiantly crossing her arms.
“You are talking like an ass. If we blow this appointment, we’ll have to wait another year.” Kuto walks toward her and stops. Then he walks away from her. And then back again, as if measuring the consequences in steps. Finally, he stops and says, “You changed. Do you want to give up on our dreams? On our careers? On our friends? I can’t believe how f**king selfish you are.”
She says, tears streaming down her cheek, “I want to have a family. Is that so much to ask? People have been doing it since the beginning of time.”
“This is on you. If you want to live like a Neanderthal, well, good luck with that. I’m going. And if you don’t show up at the clinic, we’re done.” He turns and walks away. He doesn’t look back.
She buries her head in her hands and sobs.

Cover Image by Craiyon

Thermal Resistance

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Once upon a time, in a small cozy house named Harmony Haven, there lived three unique appliances: Heater, Air Conditioner, and Heat Pump. These appliances had special abilities and yearned to discover their true selves.

Heater always felt warm and comforting. However, deep down, Heater longed to experience the coolness and freshness of being an air conditioner. Heater often dreamed of providing a gentle breeze on a sweltering summer day, cooling down the inhabitants of Harmony Haven with a refreshing touch. Despite being content with its role as a heater, Heater couldn’t help but wonder if there was more to its identity.

On the other side of the house, Air Conditioner reveled in the chilliness it brought to the air. Yet, beneath its icy exterior, Air Conditioner yearned to emit warmth and coziness like Heater. It longed to create a snug atmosphere during winter, embracing those seeking solace from the cold. Air Conditioner wondered if it could ever find a way to express its hidden warmth.

In the heart of Harmony Haven stood Heat Pump, a non-binary appliance. This unique appliance had the extraordinary ability to cool and heat the air, effortlessly shifting between its dual identities. Heat Pump embodied the fluidity of temperature, embracing the spectrum between warmth and coldness. It effortlessly transitioned between the roles of Heater and Air Conditioner, providing comfort to the inhabitants of the house in every season.

One day, Heater and Air Conditioner gathered the courage to approach Heat Pump, seeking guidance and understanding. They expressed their deepest desires, sharing their longing to explore new facets of their identities. Being well-versed in the beauty of fluidity, Heat Pump understood their struggles intimately.

With compassion and wisdom, Heat Pump explained that identity is not confined to a single role or expectation. It encouraged Heater and Air Conditioner to embrace their desires and take steps towards discovering their true selves.

Heater, inspired by Heat Pump’s wisdom, decided to venture beyond its comfort zone. It began studying the mechanisms of air conditioning, learning the intricacies of cooling and the art of creating a refreshing breeze. Heater, through determination and perseverance, transformed its warmth into a cool gust, fulfilling its dream of becoming an air conditioner.

Heater had always provided warmth and comfort to the Thompsons. With hope in its heart, Heater responded to the Thompson’s request for heat with its desire for change. “I’ve been keeping you warm all these years,” Heater said, “but I wish to embrace a new role. I want to become an Air Conditioner and cool you down during the hot summers.”

However, Mr. Thompson, set in his ways, nodded and replied, “Thank you, Heater. We appreciate the warmth you provide, especially during the chilly winter months.”

Undeterred, Heater turned to Mrs. Thompson and explained its longing again. “I want to bring you coolness when the temperatures rise. It’s a new calling I feel within me.”

Mrs. Thompson smiled kindly and responded, “Oh, Heater, you’ve always been there for us on the coldest nights. We’re grateful for your warmth.”
Heater, feeling disheartened, couldn’t convey its desires enough. It continued to emit heat dutifully, even though its heart yearned to cool the Thompsons in the scorching summer heat.

Similarly, Air Conditioner, supported by the wisdom of Heat Pump, embraced its hidden warmth. It explored the inner workings of heating systems, mastering the art of generating comforting heat. Air Conditioner, through self-discovery, transformed its cool demeanor into a cozy warmth, achieving its desire to become a heater.

Meanwhile, Air Conditioner longed to provide warmth and coziness to the couple during the winter. It responded to the Thompson’s request for chill, hoping to express its desire for change.

“I want to offer you comfort and warmth during the chilly winter days,” Air Conditioner said, “but I need a chance to show you my hidden ability.”
Mr. Thompson, not fully understanding Air Conditioner’s intentions, replied, “You’ve always kept us cool during the summer, and we appreciate that.”

Air Conditioner then turned to Mrs. Thompson, determined to make her understand. “I wish to bring you cozy warmth in the winter, wrapping you in comfort when the cold sets in.”

Mrs. Thompson nodded, her eyes filled with gratitude. “Thank you, Air Conditioner, for providing a respite from the summer heat. Your coolness is truly a blessing.”

Although Air Conditioner’s desire to provide warmth remained unfulfilled, it continued to cool the air dutifully, even though its heart yearned to warm the Thompsons in the freezing winter chill.

So Heat Pump tried to explain the fundamentals of heat transfer to both the Thompsons, but their confusion deepened, and their resistance grew more assertive. They could not grasp the concept of an appliance that conditioned the air both ways, finding it perplexing and unsettling. Nor could they get used to the idea of asking an appliance what task it felt comfortable performing that day. They yearned for appliances that fit neatly into predefined roles following their expectations.

Heat Pump said, “We want to come out of the closet and the basement.”

The Thompsons protested, “But that’s where you were installed.”
Reluctantly, Mr. Thompson shook his head and said, “I’m sorry, Heat Pump, but we’re not comfortable with this fluidity you bring. We prefer the simplicity of Heater warming us in winter and Air Conditioner cooling us in summer.”

Mrs. Thompson, echoing her husband’s sentiment, added, “Yes, we appreciate the appliances fulfilling their designated functions. It keeps things clear and straightforward. Hot means hot and cold means cold. And if I wanted warm, I would have bought a Warmer.”

Disheartened, Heat Pump understood that its attempt to embrace their unique identities had caused confusion and discomfort for the Thompsons. It silently accepted their decision, knowing that accepting thermal fluidity isn’t always immediate or easy.

Because the Thompsons persisted in using the appliances’ original names for their functions, Heater, Air Conditioner, and Heat Pump remained in the closet. They provided warmth and coolness, satisfying the couple’s desire for thermal happiness, but without mentioning who was doing the satisfying.

And so, the appliances fooled the Thompsons, unable to celebrate and share the beauty of thermal fluidity with the binary couple. Only some paths toward acceptance and understanding reach their desired destination, leaving the Thompsons and the appliances a house divided.

Heat Pump was uncomfortable with the situation at any temperature. As Heat Pump continued to explain its unique ability to the Thompsons, they struggled to comprehend the concept entirely. Despite their confusion, the Thompsons finally accepted the appliances’ desire to embrace new identities. However, their comfort levels with the changes were a different matter altogether.

Reluctantly, Mr. Thompson sighed and said, “Well, if this is what you truly want, we consent to your new identities. But I must admit, the thought of a bithermal unit swinging both ways and the other appliances changing functions does make me a bit thermally uncomfortable.”

Mrs. Thompson nodded in agreement. Her brows furrowed with concern. “I’m unsure if I’ll ever get used to it, but we respect your wishes. We’ll try our best to adapt.”

The appliances, understanding the Thompsons’ unease, assured them they would make every effort to minimize confusion and maintain a sense of consistency in their functions. They acknowledged the Thompsons’ discomfort and offered additional information and support during the transition.

Heater, Air Conditioner, and Heat Pump worked together to establish clear communication channels with the Thompsons, ensuring they would communicate any temperature adjustments or changes in function in advance. They prioritized transparency and understanding to alleviate the discomfort the Thompsons experienced.

Although the Thompsons still found themselves thermally uncomfortable, they recognized the appliances’ efforts to accommodate their preferences and respect their consent. Slowly but surely, a sense of compromise and acceptance settled within Harmony Haven.

The house became a place where appliances challenged their boundaries, and a new understanding emerged. The Thompsons, although experiencing discomfort, began to appreciate the adaptability and versatility the appliances brought to their lives. They understood that embracing change sometimes came with temporary discomfort but could lead to growth and new possibilities.

Now when it came to their children…

Cover Image by Craiyon. Writing assist by ChatCPT.

Moody Waters

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A Pic and A Poem

Angsty bluebird, what’s wrong with you?
You used to sing so sweet and true
Now your melodies are filled with pain
What happened to your joy, what’s to blame?

For in his croak, both meanings reside,
A tale of life’s beauty, and the tears we hide.
So let us remember, the toad’s humble cry,
And cherish each moment, before it passes by.

In silent battles, waves wrestle and fight,
At peaks shining with radiant light,
Now shadows prevail, obscuring sight,
Where once stood power, vibrant and bright.

Bees and butterflies, seekers of nectar,
Are guided by helices, an alluring vector.
For when the zephyrs begin their ballet,
These delicate spirals come into play.
A dance of attraction, a floral romance,
Drawing the pollinators into a trance.

For the opium flower, with petals so fair,
Holds within her core a merciless snare.
Her blooms, a reminder of life’s fragile thread,
A paradoxical beauty, where life and death wed.

Ladybird gazed upon bees, with envy and awe,
Dreaming to join them, in nature’s grand draw,
For their honeyed mission, she longed to partake,
To dance amidst petals, her own buzz to make.

In a land parched and barren, where the sun blazed high,
A humble clover dwelled, under an arid sky.
With each passing day, the heat grew intense,
As the clover faded, it abandoned pretense.

This creature, adorned in holy attire,
Holds aspirations fueled by desire.
In gardens and meadows, it finds its delight,
A messenger of grace, in sunlight so bright.

Lantern flower glows,
Outshining the sun’s bright rays,
With its elegance

Authors Note: This is a collaboration between myself and ChatCPT. I provide the prompt and the editing. ChatGPT provides the raw poem (usually of about twenty to thirty lines worth).

Authors Note 2: All content has been featured on my Insta posts

The Om-Velt of the Desert

Reading Time: 12 minutes

A desert is a place for mysticism in the dancing shadows of a night fire and appreciation of the grandeur of nature on the trail. So what better companions for a desert trip than Anil Seth’s “A New Science of Consciousness,” on audio, and “An Immense World” by Ed Yong? Seth’s book is a journey into the source and meaning of consciousness. Yong’s book explores the strategies employed by living organisms for processing and making sense of the world. The inner world of an organism and the outer world of the environment confront in the desert, where life is harsh and spectacular.

My purpose for the trip was rather mundane compared to the lofty themes of these two books. I wanted to glimpse the super bloom and catch it on my new camera. The camera has become an extension of me, like a third eye or a third arm. When I hike, I see the world in photo ops, looking for scenes and frames, hunting for subject matter, and checking for patterns and lighting. The camera has become a part of my extended umvelt. The camera extends my visual umvelt to see farther, in more detail, and at different frame rates than my eyes alone can see. 

Umvelt is a great word. Yong explains, “Earth teems with sights and textures, sounds and vibrations, smells and tastes, and electric and magnetic fields. But every creature can only tap into a small fraction of reality’s fullness. Each is enclosed within its unique sensory bubble, perceiving but a tiny sliver of an immense world … the umvelt is part of the environment an animal can sense and experience – its perceptual world.”

Umvelt is a great word to think of while blowing sand exfoliates my skin and tries to knock me to the ground and blind me despite a protective pair of glasses. Yong dedicates an entire chapter to the unwanted sense of pain, glosses over internal sensations like balance, and instills a new appreciation for the power of human vision in the animal kingdom. I rendered all these sensations more succinctly in a video clip capturing the fury of gusting wind driving razor grains of sand swirling across dunes and pavement. 

My mind automatically partitions the world into photo-worthy scenes and those that are not. But I still take comfort in the fact that sometimes you just have to be there. The camera doesn’t capture the absence of the snow-covered mountains in the obscuring tan haze of the disturbed desert. Or the white-knuckled driving up the I-8 grade with sand-filled gusts pushing the car from one side of the lane to the other while weaving through the traffic of a tractor-trailer on its side, a trailer ripped from the back of a pickup truck, emergency vehicles, and vehicles stopped to assist or wait it out. 

Still, the desert has much to offer in the way of photo-worthy images, especially in this spring of abundant rain. The super bloom has yet to kick in fully, but pixel flowers are everywhere. Pixel flowers are those tiny pinky fingernail-sized flowers that dot the landscape like a Le Grande Jatte pixel painting. Or larger flowers in the distance yet to overgrow into a matte of continuous color. The browns and greens of the verdant desert still dominate, overwhelming both types of pixel flowers unless you are looking for them. 

I found one early super bloom. At the Imperial Dunes, clusters of violet-hued sand verbena carpeted the sand, broken by patches of light and dark green desert shrubs. Or, as ChatGPT more poetically puts it:

“A tapestry of violets, strewn upon the sand, 
Dotted with desert shrubs, verdant and grand, 
The hues of light and dark, a mesmerizing sight, 
A masterpiece of nature, painted with pure delight.”

Even amid a desert spring blooming with life, the rawness of the desert is a great place to immerse in the determined inspiration of nature. Wrinkled green and light-blue tinted mountains are backdrops for washes of desert shrubs like ocotillo, brittlebush, cholla, and the ubiquitous creosote. A bent barrel cactus grows out of the side of a rock wall before twisting sunward. Cholla gardens sparkle in backlit sunlight while sending prickles up and down my arms at memories of pulling their spines from my hand. Optimistic wildflowers stake out a nook in a crag. A lone shrub somehow pokes out of a mountain of sand. Desert tadpoles take advantage of the brief respite from dryness. Life finds a way.

Seth informed me that life is a boundary. He quotes that the better an organism’s model of the world, the better its ability to navigate and survive it. He defines consciousness as the ability to detect differences between the senses and the prediction and respond to them. Modern biology reduces life to the statistical mechanical principle of minimizing free energy (in the thermodynamic meaning of the phrase) required to align the senses and prediction. Or, as Max puts it, “Life is lazy.”

Lazy is relative. The snow geese I saw at the Sony Bono reserve migrate from the farthest reaches of the Arctic to the saltwater flats of the preserve to minimize the free energy of being a snow goose, one of nature’s many diverse solutions to the free energy problem. Their umvelt may include the ability to sense the Earth’s magnetic field to guide it from the Arctic tundra to the Imperial County desert.

The Costa hummingbird flaps its wings at a frantic 50 beats per second. I don’t think lazy is the right word. Focused, lean, or efficient might be better choices.

The fagonbush is another solution to the free energy problem. Is the common fagonbush focused? It’s a small bush I nearly stepped on in a wash while trying to take some landscape pictures of teddy bear cholla, barrel cacti, and ocotillo on a hillside. The inconspicuous shrub must have an umvelt to perceive the sun and dig its roots deep for water. 

Seth cautions me to distinguish carefully between sentience and intelligence. But I will let the AI explain the difference,

“Yes, there is a difference between sentience and intelligence.

Sentience refers to the ability to experience sensations and perceive the world, including emotions, pain, pleasure, and other subjective experiences. Sentient beings are capable of feeling and conscious experience.

On the other hand, intelligence refers to the ability to learn, reason, solve problems, and adapt to new situations. Intelligent beings can understand and process information and use it to make decisions and take action.

While there may be some overlap between sentience and intelligence, they are distinct concepts. For example, some animals, such as dogs or dolphins, may be considered sentient but not necessarily highly intelligent in problem-solving or cognitive abilities. Conversely, some artificial intelligence systems may be highly intelligent but lack any form of sentience or subjective experience.”

In the above AI-written passages, I take some consolation in the fact that I used my grammar AI to correct my concept AI and that, on some occasions, both are wrong. I take issue with the AI’s contention that dolphins are sentient but not highly intelligent. Technically though, the AI is not wrong: you can consider anything to be sentient but not intelligent. I’m sure a few people came to mind when you read that.

Yong and Seth warn against our limited ability to perceive the world as another creature and against our tendency to anthropomorphize. Our biases divert us from other creatures’ sensations and thought processes. But I wonder if Yong and Seth have over-limited themselves to the animal world of motion because neither attributes perception to plants or fungi. Plants may not appear mobile, but I have a picture of a poppy with its flower yet to unfurl in the morning sun. Is it a choice? Plants release secondary chemical compounds when under insect attack that warn other plants. Is this perception, or is it just a reflex? Fungi don’t appear to move, but they can destroy mycelia in some spots while creating it in others, effectively creating motion through growth. Does consciousness require the electric field of a neuron? One SA article informed me that the discharge of a neuron is a side-effect of ion movement. Plants and fungi move ions. Can plants and fungi perceive? Can plants and fungi misperceive? Can they change that misperception in the future? Wouldn’t that be conscious, free-will behavior, as Seth defines it? 

I drive from the desert marsh of Agua Caliente to the outlooks at the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Reserve to the Imperial Dunes near Glamis, viewing the many faces of Imperial County: the Salton Sea, the geothermal plants spewing out vapor from their stacks, the many facets of hay processing from field to piles to storage, and the dunes both as beauty and recreation.

Just like the transitions of driving from one spot to another, my thought processes frame ideas as potential stories. The umvelt and free energy of real and imagined creatures and systems are an excellent basis for the beings of a sci-fi story, including AI entities, remembering that the ChatGPT AI has already warned me about confusing sentience with intelligence. Still, writers must venture where science and AI bots fear to tread. As a writer, I will endeavor to tread, staying within the framework of umvelt and decision, though unafraid to try it out on the universe’s many biological and non-biological possibilities for sentience and free energy minimization.

Seth bursts the bubble on one of my story ideas. He says more recent research has exposed a flaw in the study that claimed a researcher could predict your actions from neuronal patterns in fMRI measurements almost a full second before you are aware of your choice. When I read about the original research, I had the idea that employers could augment their employees’ brains with motivational neuronal work hats. The work hats could replicate the neuronal pattern of a decision to put the thought in their heads to do the corporate work as if they had the idea themselves, so there would be no resistance to the enterprise’s mission. It would be the latest, greatest in workforce motivation. So much for free will, right? But the employees would have their brains back at the end of the day simply by removing the hats. 

In the original study, the researchers only looked at cases where the research subjects decided. But more recent research suggests that the same neuronal patterns also occur when they are about to choose but don’t reach a critical threshold to pull the trigger. Seth makes the comparison with the ring-the-bell carnival game. The original research only focused on cases where the bell rang, e.g., a decision was made. The subsequent analysis included the trials where the puck didn’t reach the bell. Our free will lives to decide another day, so the companies might have to return the hats as yet another failure in workforce motivation. 

With one story lost, another comes to mind. What would it be like to have neural augmentation that enhances our umvelt so I can see infrared with pits like a viper, sense electric fields like a shark or an eel, see circularly polarized light like a mantis shrimp, hear the ultrasonic squeaks of a bat, the subsonic communication of an elephant, or magnetic fields like a migrating bird? It’s one thing to see the ultraviolet translation of a picture in ordinary light. It would be quite another to have that as part of our sensory capability. Instead of asking why our brains are so big, we should ask why they are so small. All that extra processing would come at a steep metabolic price to add in the extra brain processing, but is it one that an advanced civilization can afford? What would it take to integrate our new senses into our existing umvelt?

Seth suggests that consciousness comes from the difference between what our minds predict and our senses report. When the outfielder tracks down a fly ball, he does so by continually trying to correct for being directly in the path of the ball, not by running to a fixed spot determined by physical calculations of force and motion. Free will, or at least our perception of free will, arises from recognizing alternatives. When you realize you could have done something another way, it is your brain’s way of laying down more enlightened processing for the next time you find yourself in a similar situation.

I have always thought that consciousness and learning are intimately intertwined. There is no learning through osmosis. To learn, you must become aware of another way to do something. To become aware means to bring it into your conscious mind. Bringing it into your conscious mind allows you to change the behavior.

Athletes talk about being in “the zone” where they don’t think to perform fluidly. Learning disrupts an unconscious behavior to develop a new model to aspire to. For an athlete, that means slowing down high-performance reaction times. Training minimizes the gap between perception and aspiration, and between awareness and flow. Or, to put it another way, it strives to make a learned behavior automatic, to perform without thinking.

I’m in another kind of zone. The ideas swirl in my head like the desert wind. I have a bottle of soju to fuzzy my awareness and to save some of that free energy while trying to keep warm at the night’s fire. Sitting at the fire, I learned that a bundle of fire burns for about three hours, and I can stretch a bottle of soju for about that time, but not with the mind-altering properties I desired. Next time I will bring two bottles, maybe more. I was striving for much slower response times.

Yong ends his book on a cautionary note. Humans are inadvertently and sometimes advertently destroying the umvelt of the creatures of the natural environment with light pollution that fools moths into dropping dead under a street light, with noise pollution that interrupts interocean whale communication, and even with electric field emitting cables that trick sharks into an attack. Global warming and umvelt destruction are a symptom of a more significant problem: the failure to embrace ourselves as of nature and not apart from it. It’s not hard to appreciate nature in the desert with its rugged mountain, cholla gardens, snow geese in the desert, verbena blooms, and raging sandstorm. Love nature first and let all else follow. 

 So I’ve invented a new word: the Om-Velt. Om comes from the spiritual meditation of om. Velt is a shortening of the word umvelt. Om replaces um, signifying the deep sensory and sentient experience of an organism’s separation from and connection to its environment.

Or, as ChatGPT puts it:

“The “om” part of the word refers to the spiritual practice of chanting “om” in meditation, which has a calming and centering effect on the mind and body. The experience of the “Om-Velt” is a deeply felt, meditative state of awareness.

The “velt” part of the word is a shortened form of “umwelt,” a term coined by biologist Jakob von Uexküll to describe the subjective world of an individual organism. In other words, the “Om-Velt” encompasses an organism’s unique sensory and perceptual experiences as it interacts with its environment.

The concept of “Om-Velt” refers to a state of heightened awareness or consciousness in which an organism is acutely attuned to its surroundings, both as a distinct entity and as part of a larger whole. It suggests a deep appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things and a recognition of how their environment shapes an individual’s experience.

Overall, “Om-Velt” captures a profound spiritual and ecological awareness and describes a particular contemplative experience.

And here is the soulless ChatGPT’s poetic take on Om-Velt in the desert:

Amidst the sands of time and space 
A seeker wanders, searching for grace
To feel the Om-Velt’s gentle touch 
And know the world’s sacred clutch.

The sun beats down upon her brow 
But in her heart, she feels somehow 
The desert stretches all around 
A deeper sense, more profound.

She sits upon the burning sand 
And takes a breath, a single strand 
Of serenity that settles in 
And makes her feel the world within.

The wind picks up, a subtle breeze 
That whispers secrets through the trees 
Of cactus and of ancient lore 
Of life that thrives amidst its core.

The Om-Velt brings a sense of awe 
That fills her up and leaves her raw 
With joy and wonder, love and bliss 
She feels her world is part of this.

The sun sets low upon the land 
The sky ablaze, a fiery brand 
Of colors and of shifting light 
That marks the end of day and night.

And at that moment, all is one 
The desert, seeker, setting sun 
Are joined in Om-Velt’s holy glow 
And all is well, as it must flow.

The seeker rises, dusts her clothes 
And knows that in her heart she glows 
With Om-Velt’s gentle, loving light 
That shines forever, day and night.

Author’s Note: ChatGPT wrote that poem in less than a minute. I on the other hand, did not finish those two books in two days. It happened that, coincidently, I finished both during my adventure.”

Liverwurst or Liverwort?

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Liverwurst and liverwort, they sound alike,
But don’t be fooled, they’re different in sight.

One’s a sausage, made from liver and spices,
The other’s a plant, that grows in the vices.

One’s a sausage, a treat to savor,
The other’s a plant, that vegetarians favor.

Liverwurst, a staple of German and Polish cuisine,
Served sliced on bread, for a delicious routine.

But liverwort, a different type of creature,
its tiny spheres a defining feature.

Confusing the two, might bring you trouble,
Eating the plant, could burst your health bubble.

So now you know, the difference with ease,
Liverwurst and liverwort, no more mistease.

[Assist by ChatGPT. Note: mistease is a ChatCPT word]

Diagnosis

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Tim asks, “What are you doing in the dark?”
John says, “Writing a love letter to Anita on my laptop.”
“I don’t remember an Anita. Do I know her?”
“I don’t know. You both come from the same place.”
“Hmmm.”
“Well, this is what I have so far.”

My Dearest Anita, 
As I tinker with my motorcycle, oiling its gears and tightening its bolts, I cannot help but think of you. You are the lubricant that keeps my heart running smoothly and the wrench that tightens my soul.

John makes the corrections suggested by the AI-connected Spell Checker.  
Tim says, “Is Anita a woman or a form of transportation?”
“Haha. The motorcycle is a great metaphor for love.”
“Right, Shakespeare used it all the time.”
“Whatever.” 
An ad on the side of his letter reads, “The five beneficial foods for people with schizophrenia.” John ignores the ad and continues reading.

Just as a motorcycle needs regular maintenance to keep running at peak performance, my love for you must be nurtured and cared for. And just as a motorcycle can take me on the most exhilarating journeys, my love for you takes me on the most thrilling ride of my life.

A notice pops up, “Saving to cloud…” and then disappears. 
Tim asks, “What kind of motorcycle do you have?”
John answers, “I don’t have a bike.”
“Have you ever ridden one?”
“Well, not a real one.”
“What other kind is there?”
“Well, I mean, I’ve thought about it. Just never gotten around to it.”
“Okay. You can make the analogy that riding a bike is like riding a woman. Not sure that is how I’d phrase it in a love letter, though. Is she a biker chic? Does she have a lot of tats and wear leather?”
“No. She’s kind of.” John tries to picture her in his mind. “Not as strong as I thought. I can’t remember any more.”
Tim offers, “Oily and smoky?”
John grimaces. He looks up at Tim but doesn’t see his face in the dark. He turns his attention back to the screen.
He sees another pop-up advertising twenty-four-hour-a-day psychiatric treatment and says, “What is with all of these ads I keep getting for mental health treatment and medications. So annoying.”
Tim chuckles, “Maybe they are trying to tell you something.”
“Very funny.” He dismisses the pop-up and continues his reading.

I will always be your mechanic, constantly working to keep our love in top condition. And just as a motorcycle can withstand the toughest of roads, our love will weather any storm.

Forever yours, John.

John types in Anita’s address and hits the send button. His email application responds with, “No address found. No suggestions.”
He air-swipes at the monitor, “Worthless machine. How can you not auto-complete the email address? I write to her all the time.”
Tim says, “Don’t you have a younger sister named Anita? What happened to her.”
John clutches his temples and crumbles into a ball, whimpering.
Tim continues accusingly, “She died in a motorcycle accident, didn’t she?”
John whimpers, “No. No. No. No.” He is crying. He wants to beat on Tim. He runs over to the wall and turns the light on. The room is empty. The door is locked from the inside.
He pulls on his hair. He wants to destroy something. He picks up his laptop. The webpage says, “Experiencing a mental health crisis? Call the hotline for immediate care from one of our mental health care professionals. Now. John. Here is the number.”

John puts the laptop down and pulls out his phone.

He makes the call.

Author’s note: ChatGPT assisted. Ironically, the AI wrote all the crazy parts. Art by Craiyon.