Los Querubines del Mar (pt 2)

The Queru were discovered, among many new species, during the Universal Migration. When it became obvious that climate change was not manageable with Earth’s ballooning population; planet production, discovery and upgrading become big business, and within 50 years everyone who wanted off Earth got off.  Although people were supposedly free to move anywhere, most chose to move to the planet their native country sponsored. Not only was it cheaper and less legalistic, but people, being people, preferred to continue living in a place where they would not have to adjust to a new language and culture along with a 10 hour day or a three mooned sky.

Queru inhabited Nueva Luz. All new life forms were initially called “aliens”, technically an absurdly unfair characterization, as we were the foreigners in the worlds we took over. Nueva Luz, named for its color and its promise, was claimed by Spain when they discovered it in 345 NC (New Cycle). It shone a blazing golden yellow due to the chemical composition of its surrounding gasses.

Because its color implied overwhelming heat and its proximity to its galaxy’s primary star, previous explorers had bypassed it, believing it uninhabitable.

In reality, it is an incredibly healthy planet. 80% of its surface is covered by water and most of the landmasses congregate around its equator, which contributes to its astounding, immensely developed sea- and tropical life. To date no poisonous animals or plants have been discovered and all discovered life forms rely on photosynthesis or vegetation for sustenance. It is an impossibly peaceful planet.

The Queru got so much attention initially because of their humanoid characteristics, but they soon proved an object of fascinating study in many ways. Most similar to Earth’s dolphins, they are friendly and playful. They seemed able to understand us, but we were never able to communicate with them. The Queru life span, which maxes out at five months and averages closer to three, make Queru reproduction and development both subjects of hot debate among scholars. Neither seems to exist for the species. Rather, Queru seem to regenerate through splitting.

After three or four months of life, when it is arguably in its “prime”, the creature seems to consciously decide that it has lived long enough. It grows increasingly exuberant. Its energy levels increase until its body begins to vibrate constantly of its own accord. After a day (roughly 32 hours on Nueva Luz) of this the Queru stops. Two Queru, identical in feature but varied slightly in vibrancy of color, are then visible. After two or three hours the parent dissolves, seemingly into nothing. Despite the most in-depth research, no one can figure out how a complex, multi-celled organism manages to perfectly divide itself into two complete wholes or how the adult disappears without a trace.

Occasionally Los Querubines, when sensing that their population is low, will spawn three or four duplicates upon their deaths. The process expends huge amounts of energy, though, and the parent always expires after the fourth child. The fourth child is also usually an imperfect copy, usually characterized by an elongated face, blotchy skin, sharper teeth, a greater likelihood of being despondent or aggressive, and a refusal to split at the usual 3-5 month marker, seemingly out of fear of death. They are also not usable for consumption. Several human deaths were reported when fluids or meat from this subspecies accidentally got on the market.

Initially researches claimed that the Queru had previously controlled the subspecies, called El Harén del Diablo, like slaves or pets. Until they were studied rigorously no one actually believed that the two creatures were related at all because they were so impossibly different.

It is painfully obvious where this story is headed.

We were greedy.

Not only did Queru heal our every illness, they also made us fabulously wealthy.

We would have worshipped them if we weren’t so busy slaughtering them.

Eventually statutes were put into place. Only licensed boats could fish and only during a certain part of the year. Licenses were impossible to come by without the most intricate chain of connections and even then, a bribe the size of a small planet was usually involved.

Repopulation was vital. Queru-farms were created, but their populations always died or morphed into Harén within a year. Everything we tried to do to save them only killed them faster. We were like children grasping at the miracle of bubbles, wide-eyed and open handed. We could not understand that it was our touch alone that made the slight popping noise and emptied the space in front of us.

Scientists worked madly to figure out how to duplicate the Queru, how to grow them in petri dishes, how to copy and recreate any part of them. But we were aliens and every starting point that was a standard on Earth was folly on Nueva Luz.

Queru only work whole. If one becomes imperfect it dissolves.

And then its nearest companion begins to vibrate.


For six generations, across 3 galaxies and on innumerable planets, we saved ourselves. The blood of innocents kept our cheeks rosy and our breath even. Through the minds of watery children we achieved bliss and mental youth. For six generations.

Our children are susceptible to disease. We watch their skin turn pink and sweat drip down their foreheads.  We listen to them cry and observe as they clutch their stomachs and heads in pain. We don’t know what to do.

We have only ever known one remedy.

No Queru swim into our nets. No Queru are sighted from shore. No Queru bob along the tops of the waves in the middle of either ocean. We sound the depths and they ring up empty of the perfect half-children. Our satellites cannot find them on the ocean’s surface. Neither can we.

Some people claim, with the fear all too clear in their eyes, that the Queru will return one day. That they are repopulating on the bottom of the ocean, taking their time so their faces will stay round and their skin will stay smooth. One day, hundreds of tiny heads and arms will emerge from the deep, bearing sea-flowers of every color, like tiny sheep offering themselves for a massive sacrifice. Their voices will ring out like underwater bells and chimes, muted and silver.

This is what legends are made of.

Reality is made of the increasing hordes of Harén who haunt the shallows.

They glare in our direction.

Their groundless hate is palpable.

Their tiny brows furrow whenever we draw near to the water.

Their generations are passing, too quickly for our comfort, and as they do they change. Gills are fading away from their ribcages. Harén fins slowly split in two and their skin wrinkles as it ages. They groan in the dark and squirm uncomfortably against each other. Infants have joined their midst. They sharpen sticks and play with fire and powders that burn and crackle, always with one eye on our homes, our children. And they don’t vibrate with joy at the end. They cry and scream and grasp their children by their throats and spouses by the hair, begging for two more seconds of air, one more day of hate and pain and suffering.

Once upon a time, the Queru were forced to give their everything to us and we consumed them.

Now they are have become us and they want our blood as we once wanted theirs.

Los Querubines del Mar (pt 1)

They were beautiful.

I watched their tiny, lifeless bodies glide by endlessly.

One corpse would have been sad; two would have been tragic.

Thousands were nothing.

Technically speaking, I knew from the beginning what I was getting myself into.  I had knowingly applied and consented to work at the processing plant.  I knew that “harvesting” the tiny aquatic creatures meant killing them and I knew that it was our responsibility, as employees at the plant, to cut them into pieces and put those pieces into bags and label those bags with packing dates and subspecies before shipping them off in huge, frozen crates.

Inflated to twice my size in my two sweatshirts and raingear, I had known what I was looking at when I watched the fillets glide by on the conveyor belt.  I would reach out a gloved hand and turn them so that they all faced one direction, small end to the right, large end to the left.  They looked like featureless, pink fish swimming down the blue river of the conveyor belt.  Their near-animation had been comical then.  I had stifled many a sick chuckle as I watched the flesh writhe inanimately as the conveyor belt jolted or twisted underneath the perpetual train of meat.

I had washed and vacuumed blood off their decapitated corpses without a second thought.  I had pulled organs out of their bodies and separated the bright egg sacs from those organs without thinking about what I was doing.  I had put frozen pieces of them into plastic bags and put stickers on those, denoting what piece of the creature could be found inside.

None of it had meant anything.  Those were only tiny pieces of an already destroyed whole, baby steps in a larger-than-me process.

Meaningless.

Now they had eyes.

I had been moved up the line and now I had to see them whole.

They had tiny, dimpled arms and cheeks.  Their small, slack faces stared blindly into mine, over my shoulder, or at the hordes of their deceased brothers and sisters, who pillowed each other’s limp bodies, as they came rolling down the conveyor belt from the boats to the front of the line where I waited for them.

Some of their eyes were filled with blood, like helpless, frustrated tears that would never fall.  Every once in a while an eyeball rolled, bodiless, down the steel slide to my left, before its owner made it to me.  A few of them had mismatched eyes, still stuck in their sockets, stunningly bright and a reminder of their former individuality.

After half a day of moving the miniscule, chubby bodies through the soap scum and into the halving machine I locked myself in a bathroom stall and tried not to cry.

Humanoid is not human.

That had been their final verdict.  It might have been different, but the tiny, flawless bodies were more than just beautiful, they were valuable.  The omnipotent “they”, with its consumer and profit driven mind, decided that the pros of mass consumption outweighed the cons of mass destruction.

Los Querubines del Mar, named as such because they resembled tiny cherubic mermaids, were a delicacy and a miracle.

Their tails were healthier than any earthly fish and the meat quite literally melted on a human tongue like chocolate.  On top of that, every part of their bodies was useful.  Their bones, although tiny, rivaled ivory in popularity, beauty and price.  Their skin was tanned and turned into outrageously expensive wallets and shoes.  A small society of jewelers had discovered a process that solidified the tiny eyes and turned them into semi-precious stones.  The uses people discovered for each part of those tiny bodies were as many as they were disgusting.

Worst of all, we found that their blood cured every disease of the body.  Their brain fluid cured every disease of the mind.

Los Querubines del Mar were our key to immortality, perfection and wealth.

Eventually, even PETA shut its collective mouth.  How could it not when cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, rabies, schizophrenia, depression, PTSD, blindness and every other plague humankind has ever had to suffer through was destroyed?

When Querbies, as they came to be called, were first put to use, I even heard of a man who, in an outrageous leap of faith, used his entire life savings to buy a liter of Querby blood.  His left leg had been amputated when he was a child to save his life from leukemia.  Every day he took a tiny dropper of the blood and faithfully massaged it into his stump.  It took a long time, but somehow the limb, 26 years gone, grew back.  It shone with an aquamarine hue, but it grew back, strong and sturdy as though it had never been gone.

That was all in the beginning, though.

Things are beginning to change.

(I started writing this story when I was working in a fish processing plant in Cordova, AK.  I am hoping to complete the story soon and submit it to the L. Ron Hubbard Writer’s of the Future contest/scholarship thing.)

Let’s Talk About School.

For those of you who are not aware, I am starting school again.  In the past four years I have attended four different colleges.

First, as a hopeful freshman, I attended Hofstra University.  I was going to double major in film and philosophy (after which I would become an ethicist and independent filmmaker), but the tuition freaked me out and the education level was reminiscent of my high school’s.  Granted, I went to an awesome high school, but college should be a step up, regardless.  My philosophy and math classes were especially bad and my religion class was hands down the easiest I’ve ever taken anywhere (although that professor was also one of the nicest I’ve ever had.)  My English and Latin professors were superb, but two out of five classes that meet expectations (is it wrong to have high expectations?) do not warrant the excessive pricetag.

Then, in the middle of a quasi- life panic-attack/depression I did what I said I never would and I went to the family school.  My mother, father, brother and sisters all attend(ed) North Park and I had no intention of doing the same, but sometimes when you’re under duress it’s easy to let people make decisions for you.  North Park is a good school.  I had some great teachers and took some interesting classes while I was there.  I would never go back.

I have recently decided that I might want to be a professor at a community college.  (Yes, Grantley, you thought I was joking, but I wasn’t.)  I was consistently impressed with the caliber of my teachers at Inver Hills, and, as a general rule I found that professors at my community college were more interested in creating and maintaining relationships with their students (Dluger [NPU] and Fichtelberg [Hofstra], you are exceptions to this rule as I found both of you to be extraordinarily, impressively invested in your students).

Honestly, I had really negative connotations regarding community colleges before I started, and I am still unnecessarily defensive about my education at Inver Hills (“I just wanted to finish really quickly”, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I wanted to get an AA under my belt.” etc., etc.), but in reality it was probably my best year of school.  I was very involved (theater, outdoors club, art club, and more) and I was positively challenged in most of my classes.  I would like to be a part of the education system that doesn’t get the respect that it deserves and continue providing students the opportunity to learn in a challenging environment even if they don’t have the resources that people who can attend a typical university for all four years do.

Now I am slotted to go to Shimer.  First, I should say that I am outrageously excited about this program.  It is a great books school, which means that our curriculum is centered around classic texts that scholars (and people in general) claim continue to be relevant, challenging and informative throughout history.  Classes are small and discussion oriented.  We meet around tables instead of in lecture halls.  And, wonderfully, although centered on the progression of Western thought (we do live in the United States, which is a part of the Western world, after all), Shimer seems to do a decent job of representing minorities in their curriculum, so we are not a Dead White Male focused school.  We study Flannery O’Connor, W.E.B. Dubois and others.

School is going to be awesome.

The problem that we have is this:

Or…more accurately, the fact that I don’t have that.

I was looking over my financial aid package today and despite Shimer’s generosity I am still screwed for coming up with tuition.  I will rack up $19,500 in loans over the three years I go there (it would be $6,500 less if they had maintained their initial claim that I only need to attend for two years) and, on top of that, I need to muster up $16,000 per year after financial aid.  That is $48,000 of upfront costs in three years.  Altogether (loans and immediate cost) I need to come up with $67,500.  This does not include books or living expenses.

I spent a lot of time looking and applying for scholarships today, but even when using fastweb and zinch I did not discover the overwhelming scholarship opportunities people say are out there.  A lot of the scholarships are oddly specialized (must be a member of the llama club?) and a lot are seasonal or scammy.  I don’t get how people do it.  Scholarships seem to average at $1,000…according to my calculations above that means that I would have to apply for and win SIXTY EIGHT scholarships.  While attending school.  And presumably working a job or two.  And not, evidently, having a social life.

Is a piece of paper and boxy hat really worth that much money?

I mean look at them.  They’re pathetic.

The problem is that now that now that I think I know what I want to do I also know that I need the education.  Becoming an educator mandates higher education, so any wiggle room that I used to have has been obliterated.  Still, I am putting $67,500 that I don’t have into a future that is not guaranteed.   I want to study Shimer’s reading list on my own and then Sparknotes the hell out of their curriculum and read other related commentaries if need be.  But the truth is that I think discussion and community, especially the kind that I’ll find at Shimer, are important.

I believe in the program that Shimer offers; I couldn’t justify a fraction of Shimer’s cost at another school, but because I believe so strongly in their program I have to do it.  It scares me because I hate debt, and dollar amounts that I cannot wrap my tiny middle-class brain around freak me out.  I have no idea how I will pay off the next three years.  I have no idea if I will be able to scrounge together the finances that I need to go on and get the Master’s degrees I want (religious studies, philosophy and/or literature, in case you were wondering).

This is me biting the bullet.

Balance

Perched atop the water,
Slowly moving onward,
The snippet of green,
Fading to brown,
Tries its best
Not to drown.

An Almost Regrettable Rekindling

It is still there.

I can hear it in the way his questions,
Although about me,
Although to
And answered by me
Are not for me.

I thought it was gone.

I returned to tales of conquest,
Vaguely lude introductions,
A successful poor man’s swagger,
And nary a whisper of what had been.

Step, step, step.

Leaves,
Shredded,
Flutter quickly to the ground,
Damp with the sweat from my fingertips.

Poor boy…

Words and ideas,
More luminescent in his worldview than mine,
Followed him home
And whispered hope and unused history,
Price tag still attached,
Into the dusty corners of him.

Questions,

Pointed shards of mirror,
Flashed aged desire in my eyes.
I wince at its veiled bluntness,
Glad he knew not to try.

Good Ole Uncle Screwtape.

This morning I had coffee with a dude from my church.  I spent the first half hour of this excursion reading a really cool compilation of short stories called The Universe in Miniature, In Miniature, by Patrick Somerville while I waited for him.  It’s a really cool book because Somerville writes a page long short story followed immediately by one 30x as lengthy, and the actual material ranges from the quasi-fantastic to the thing that you probably saw happen across the street two weeks ago.  So much variety in one tiny book = pretty tight.

Anywho.

The conversation I had with my church buddy was really good, and, as is true of most good conversations, it made me realize something that has been bouncing around in my head, looking for attention but not getting quite the level of focus that it needs to be resolved.

Every generation of Christians seems to pick and latch onto a part of Christianity that they think their predecessors and then they turn that part of Christian theology into Who Jesus Is and What Christianity Stands For.   For those of you who are not aware, Social Justice (I felt obligated to capitalize that) is huge in the church right now.  The Western church, its young people in particular, are tired of fire and brimstone, condemnation, and conversion-centric Christian teaching.  The new focus is on relationship, community and looking after human needs, which is, imho, awesome.

But I’m one of them, so I would think that.

Enter C.S. Lewis.  Not only did this dude write one of the greatest series of children’s books ever, he also wrote some of the most accessible, hardcore and relevant theology out there.  One of my personal favorites is The Screwtape Letters, which is a set of letters, written from one demon to another, that were “discovered” and published as found.   The writing demon, Screwtape, is older and wiser and trying to school his nephew, Wormwood, in the art of tempting humans away from Christianity.  Wormwood is a novice and not very good at what he does, so with every new error that he makes with his “patient”, we get one more glimpse into what those wily demons do to make us slip away from the “Enemy”, ie Jesus Cristo.

It’s amazing to see how consistent human behavior is, because almost every single issue that Lewis brings up in this text is something that we are still struggling with today.  Sometimes our struggle has changed its focus a little bit, but we have the same exact problems and the same exact inability to perceive our problems for what they are.

For example, one of the tactics that Screwtape suggests to his nephew is to convince his “patient” to take up an admirable “cause” and then to:

“…quietly and gradually nurse [the “patient”] on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the ’cause’, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can offer in favor of the [cause]… Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing.  Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours – and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the more securely ours.” (p. 34-35 in linked text)

Right now the church’s cause seems to be Social Justice and, if Lewis is on the right track, by becoming so interested in Social Justice we are only succeeding in slipping away from Christianity in a different way than our predecessors, rather than getting any closer to perfecting it than they may have been.  Once the cause becomes a Christian’s main focus and the relationship with Christ takes second place it is over because it is, according to Lewis, not Christianity anymore.

It is activism.

About a month into Acts 29 our team split into smaller groups for a week and a half and each group went to a different town in India.  One group in particular came back really confused/angry.  The mission they had shadowed was doing really good things in its community, but no one who benefited from the mission even knew that it was run by Christians.  They never thought to ask the organization why they decided to help them and the organization wanted to do good things without ruffling feathers, so that’s exactly what they did.  They waited to be asked and the questions never came.

In other words they were all Social Justice and no Jesus, which is the way missions through the church are leaning these days.

And I can’t decide if I have a problem with that or not.

Half of me does.  This half of me says that if you believe (which I don’t know if I do) that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that Jesus is the only gate to Heaven (hullo, John 14:6), then how can you possibly spend so much time and energy on a group of people and only improve their lives on Earth?  You are, based on your own theology, making their lives more comfortable here, only to knowingly damn them to whatever hell is because you didn’t want to offend anyone by suggesting that their beliefs (or lack thereof) were wrong.  And that’s mean in an eternal way, rather than insensitive in a finite way.

The other half of me does not have a problem with all Social Justice and no Jesus because a) I’m kind of confused religiously to begin with, and b) how can you have a problem with something that is doing good?  You are giving microloans and helping people take care of themselves?  Cool.  You are putting food in hungry bellies?  Awesome.  You are curing diseases that they don’t have the resources to cure on their own?  Right on.

Also I have that same fear that holds any Christian back.  I gauge people really carefully before I am completely open with my religious views, and I usually only tell half the story anyways depending on who I am talking to (secret’s out, thank you interwebs).  If I’m talking to someone who seems more agnostic, I lean that way.  If I’m talking to someone who seems more Christian, I lean the other.  It’s lame, but it’s true and my inability to pick a side is probably what confuses me about this question so much.

But that doesn’t answer why my believing friendskies don’t pick a side.  And why they don’t pick what seems to be very clearly the RIGHT side for a believer.  We are just as bad at picking and choosing what parts of the gospel appeal to us as our forebearers were, but we pick the friendly side instead of the mean one so we can convince ourselves that we are making some mythical kind of headway that we are, in fact, not.

There is not a singular face to Jesus.  He, like all of us, has personality quirks that seem like contradictions, but, in reality just make him real.  Was Jesus into social justice?  Well, he spoke of and to the ostracized with fondness and familiarity, which seems like a yes to me.  Was Jesus insistent that he was the only way?  Sorry, yeah.  Did Jesus say that everyone was welcome to the eternal party in the sky?  With the help of God, yes, but sometimes life on Earth is too good.  Was Jesus welcoming, despite that strictness?  Pretty much…he spent time with and protected tax collectors, adulterers and children, despite people thinking that he was wasting his holy time with them.

Jesus was a fricking smorgasbord of philosophies.  He knew when to lend a hand and when to preach and if we actually want to be followers of the dude, we need to find that balance as well.  And yet, despite this, we have somehow convinced ourselves that Jesus would approve of a church that is all about social justice and neglects the spiritual consequences Christianity almost entirely.

Sounds to me like our demons are listening to good ole Uncle Screwtape’s advice.

And it’s working.

Tabloid – Truth and Lies

A couple nights ago, very last minute, I received free passes to see Tabloid from these folks (thank you!).

Tabloid is a documentary that tells the story of a young woman (Joyce McKinney) who falls in love with a Mormon fellow (Kirk Anderson).  One day he disappears, so she hires a private investigator to find out where he went, which happens to be England, where he is doing mission work with the Mormon church.  She thinks they kidnapped him, so she kidnaps him right back and craziness ensues.  The documentary follows what two English tabloid papers found out about her and how their stories impacted her life in the moment and years later.  The film is quirky, funny and it screws with your head a little bit because NOBODY is telling the same story, even though they’re all telling the same story.

I like this movie a lot because it covers one of my favorite subjects in the entire world:

Truth.

(I cannot guarantee that the following will not contain any spoilers, but it is a documentary, so spoilers don’t really count, anyways.)

It is almost impossible to take a side while watching Tabloid, despite naturally wanting to have someone to cheer for and someone else to cheer against.  Two opposing stories cannot both be true, after all.

The perspective of a giggly woman who repeatedly calls herself a romantic and is clearly worried about the “brainwashing” of her boyfriend from the Mormon church, which she calls a  “dangerous cult” does not jibe with the story the newspaper men tell about the woman who posed in some very sexual photographs and put sketchy ads in the paper offering nude massages, among other sexual services.

With photographic evidence on the table, it is tempting to write off everything McKinney said as lies told to cover actions that she knew as well as anyone else were wrong.  But she tells her story so sweetly and without a hint of guilt or wrong doing.  She is teary whenever she talks about Kirk disappearing and she lights up like a fricking schoolgirl whenever she says how much she loves him and why.

The story should actually be creepy, and several times I found myself wondering if this story could ever be told if she were a male pursuing a female instead of the other way around.  (It couldn’t.  The margin of uncertainty would be erased and it would be a story about rape and kidnapping, not unrequited love and fun disguises.)

Regardless, there is just enough confusion in the story that it is impossible to know for sure which parts of whose tales are true, which are conscious lies and which are lies that the tellers have forgotten, for their own sakes’, are not actually true.

People remember events differently, and often incorrectly.  Sometimes it is simply physical perspective that shapes our differences (a person standing behind home plate will probably see the success of a runner differently than someone standing behind first) and sometimes we rewrite our perspectives in our minds by over-thinking things that happened in the past.  The more a person thinks about an event, unfortunately, the less accurate that recollection becomes.

I think McKinney thought she was doing right when she kidnapped her boyfriend.  I think she really loved him and he probably loved her, too.  When he left without a word it freaked her out, for good reason, and she traded her once strong morals through lude photographs and sketchy services to earn the money she needed to find and save her boyfriend.  Unfortunately, he valued his religion and her intensity and consequential inability to understand why he was in England being a missionary (and her refusal to believe that he was not brainwashed ) made him fall out of love with her.

How could she not be intense, though?  She sold her innocence for the man she loved only to find out that he wasn’t in danger, which is a reality powerful enough to shatter anyone’s worldview.  She had to continue living the fantasy or be destroyed as well, so she lived, playing the part of a lovelorn fugitive with more drama than was necessary for as long as she could stand it and then disappeared when the expenditure of energy proved too destructive.

Then she told herself and anyone who would listen the fantastic version of the story she needed for sanity’s sake until the story did for her what she needed it to do.

She might know on some level that she was referencing herself when she said:

“Y’know, you can tell a lie long enough until you believe it.”