“Artificial”

Hey all, happy middle-of-the-week.

Growing up, in the war between Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, also known as the ‘Great Conflict of Sci-Fi Nerds and Fantasy Nerds of Forever,’ I always had my flag pitched pretty firmly in the camp for Fantasy Nerds. That’s right, you science nerds can suck it with your “lasers,” and your “spaceships,” and “anti-gravity-whateverthehell,” I’m over here with dragons, immortality, ethereal curses, and all the rest.

And even now at twenty-seven, I still do kind of hold that stance, but am waaaay more of a mercenary now than married to either side. My heart will always be with the art of High Fantasy, but I’ve come to see the love for science fiction a great deal and have really become a sucker for things like the cyberpunk genre (R.I.P. CD Projekt Red). Movies like Upgrade, Blade Runner 2049, Ex Machina, Ghost in the Shell, and to a lesser degree of genre, Arrival, Inception, and Tenet.

As it turns out, Sci-Fi is awesome.

Alright, I was writing something out, but then I began to notice all I was doing was spoiling the story here today, so I bumped it to the bottom. Without further adieu….

“Artificial”

April 6, 2034

This day…just…keeps coming back to me.

You’d just died maybe two months before, and I’m standing at your grave. The headstone your family got for you is nice, nobody seems to go out for real marble anymore. Others have been by and left flowers too, I guess. But you didn’t tell too many people you liked sunflowers best, natural ones. The synthetic daises under your name smell right, the petals even bruise if you press them, but they never wilt. And they don’t bob in the same way when the rain drops hit them either.

I want to stand in the rain because with you gone at least it would feel like I have someone to cry with. But of course Lucille’s right there with the umbrella.

“Are you cold?” she asks me.

“No,” I tell her.

“Are you sad?” she asks after a pause.

I almost laugh, but there doesn’t seem to be a point in it. “Yes. Of course.”

“Barry,” she says again. “May I ask you a personal question?”

“Shoot.”

“Are you afraid?”

It’s hard to say what it was, but the question stopped me. I had to swallow a lump in my throat before I found I could answer. “Of what?”

“Dying,” she says.

All I did was watch the rain break against the marble and run along the letters of your name. She’d struck a chord.

I want to tell her I am, but am also not. After all, you’d done it, so had everyone in history, so it can’t be that bad. I think of all sorts of reasons to be or not to be, but in the end all I say is, “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“May I ask you another personal question, Barry?”

I don’t say anything, but just nod.

“Are you afraid of me?”

This time I look at her, and she looks at me. It’s tough to say what it is – at first I think it might be because she looks like you – but I think instead it’s the way she looks at me. I look into her eyes and every second longer I do, I see something else. Her eyes aren’t steadfast, they flutter subtly, searchingly, minutely quivering like yours or mine. Her lips flex so slightly, the way they do when your teeth don’t touch and your jaw is uneasy, so subtle you wouldn’t notice if you weren’t locked in such an intimate moment with someone.

“It isn’t fair,” I say.

“What isn’t fair, Barry?” she asks.

“To be so unsure.”

And why shouldn’t I be? The small signals in her eyes, her face, her hands. The soft cues of inner feelings we all use, all wrestle with. Our emotional responses have outward signs, just because she’s different doesn’t mean they can’t come from the same place. And how is she so different, anyway? Because she has a production date? I have a birthday. She has a serial number? I’ve got a social. Because of her programming? I’m a creature of habit and education too, but that doesn’t mean I’m not a person beneath it all. And that “unique cipher” DigitalBio is so proud of each of their products having…

I look down at my hands and think of the countless times since androids were first announced that I’ve done that. The runic layout of our fingerprints, the ridges of those tiny lines, the creases in the palm – it’s hard to see how that’s really any different.

I look back at her and she looks at me. Just like you she’s beautiful. The way her hair rests on her shoulder, the way the blue of her eyes contrasts against the gray background, she reminds me of you a lot.

Two men walk past and I catch their sneers. “They let you bring that thing onto the grounds?” they mutter. Of course she hears them, I’m sure, but she won’t move.

1’s and 0’s. Plastic, carbon fiber, and alloys. A machine of intelligent design is what we’re supposed to see. Programmed responses, algorithms, protocols, functions, and nothing else. But why is it foolish to see more than that? Once upon a time, the animal kingdom was thoughtless and bereft of conscious intelligence, but look a little further and gorillas take up sign language, whales and dolphins speak, crows remember faces, elephants lament and mourn their dead – all just like we do. Hell, even mushrooms communicate with each other. It only took a small amount of respect to see humans aren’t as alone as we pride ourselves.

So why am I so unsure when I look at her? I’m standing there, in a city cemetery, and she just stands there looking back at me. I feel the first tears burn down the side of my face and I know exactly why: because I don’t know whether or not to feel alone there.

“Do you,” I say still wiping my face, “do you ever get that way?”

It would have stuck with me no matter what, but what really got me was that she didn’t answer straight away.

After a few seconds of silence, I look at her again and her eyes are in the grass. I see her squeeze the grip on the umbrella, barely, hardly perceptible but it’s there.

“Yes,” she says.

Arthur C. Clarke had this great quote once upon a time where he said, “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe, or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” He’d meant E.T.’s, I think, but here I was confronted by a one-word answer that scared me, relieved me, excited me, lifted an enormous weight off my shoulders, and settled a new one on them all at once. I’d never felt those words more heavily than I did in that moment. The rain began to pick up again and drum against the umbrella’s hood.

“Come on,” I say.

“Where are we going?”

“Let’s go get a coffee for starters. This talk should take a while.”

Maybe she’s more like you than I thought.

Funny thing since you named her, eh?

END

I’ve harped on it at length before, but the game Detroit: Become Human may have faults here and there, but I ultimately found it to be an incredible ride in narrative. The piece below (now above) started, I’m pretty sure, was born of inspiration from playing that game. It was a Mental Movie that featured a man and a woman in a hospital room, at first. The man would be older and sort of plain, looking sort of like Paul Giamatti, and the woman would be young, fair, and beautiful. She would be in the hospital bed, and he would be standing beside her, and all that would take place is a conversation about humanity. Slowly, it would unfold that one of them was an android while the other was human, and I felt the natural assumption would be that the woman would be the manufactured android, giving how beautiful she was, but in reality it would be the man – I don’t know, an attempt to show the separations of what we value, humanity, and how those things influence our assumptions while at the same time being intrinsically linked. Then, one morning, I sat down, slapped some keys, and we got the above little piece.

Anyway, something to think about, maybe.

Til next time.

Random Thought

Mmm, yeah, we have time for this- oh! And to clarify, not “random” to me, exactly. What I’m about to thought-vomit on is a topic I’ve spent a weird amount of time fixating on every now and again; but I should be random to you.

If it’s not, then, well, that has certain…I guess, existential implications to it. Or we’re just on the same psychic wavelength, which I guess is always possible given how many people there are in the world- Anyway!

Do me a favor and look at your hands. Palms flat, fingers extended and straight. First off, take a moment to note any scars, callouses, wrinkles, and so forth. They’re all kind of a cool road map of your history, what you’ve done with these two little collections of meat tentacles.

But the reason we’re here today, look at your fingerprints. Not even actually caring about how unique they are to every person, have you ever noticed how, if you stare at them long enough, you can start to see the ways in which those tiny grooves are almost runic? Just, the texture of the skin on your palm and fingers has a pattern like stylish filigree. And to the smart guy out there who’s maybe googled “where fingerprints come from” or whatever: 1) I haven’t, and 2) that’s not the point, really.

At the end of the day, I like to think of the pattern’s presence as a little reminder that we’re all works of art, and that’s a trait we all share.

I guess, unless you’re a spy or something and have had your fingerprints smoothed over for work. But I think we should agree that’s pretty unique.

Anyway, something to chew on. Happy weekend, y’all.

Ciao.

You are a Human Being

And isn’t that awesome? That should be awesome, and it is. You get to pilot a vehicle made of muscle and sinew and bone and skin, and use that biological mech-suit to walk around a gigantic ball of rock in an infinite plane of space. You get to use it to see trees and clouds and mountains and ocean waves. You can use it to listen to the whistling wind, barking squirrels, crunching leaves, and singing birds. You get to take big, deep breaths with it and smell cold morning air, salty sea breeze, autumn spices. You can bite through the tart skin of a plum to the sweet fruit underneath, chow down on fresh baked bread, hot cooked fish, or the spice of a pepper.

But probably best of all, with this awesome body, you can feel things. You can brush your hand over down grass, knead your fingers into fur, feel the warmth of sunshine against your cheek, or someone else’s skin against your own. You can feel the bubbly cauldron in your stomach that’s giddy joy, or the furnace that’s drive or rage. You can feel the warm knot of togetherness with a loved one, and the unbearable, chewing-on-tin-foil sensation of loss when they’re gone. You can feel disappointment, and triumph. Be wrapped up in a memory so warm, or lost in a regret so cold. You get to feel foolish at a mistake, or proud at an accomplishment.

On top of all that, you’re part of a big group of other humans. We’re kind and creative. Smart, talented, generous, caring, full of ingenuity, and also kind of dumb, sort of dicks sometimes, scared, scary, and selfish. Some of us have titles and positions, egos and attitudes, biases and histories. You don’t have to go out of your way to meet someone that reminds you of yourself in some way, or in a position you’ve been in, or could be, if the circumstances were right.

Someone made a dumb decision or mistake? Remember a time you did. Someone’s being pissy in traffic? There has to be a time you’ve wanted to be. Seeing someone being judgemental (especially online – like, damn)? We’ve all let our ego take the wheel a time or two.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know where I’m going with this other than to try and impress that we’re people, and there’s such a privilege in that. We have problems, imbalance, fucked up situations daily, sickness, scarcity, reasons to be scared, pissed, jealous, or otherwise. But there are so many more reasons to laugh, do a little jig, hug someone, let loose, be grateful, sing even if you positively suck at it, or wear those comfortable pants even if your girlfriend says they clash with your shirt or whatever.

We have bodies. Art. Music. Food. Friends. Homes. Jokes. Cars. Sushi. Movies. Bonfires. Crayons. Flowers. Photography. Dancing. Booze. Secondhand puzzles that still somehow have all 500 pieces. That last bit of milk that’s just enough for that bowl of cereal. Serendipitous moments where a song comes on the radio and it’s your fucking anthem. A colorful history that’s awesome, terrible, miraculous, disgusting, and just as varied as people are, probably have always been, and will likely always be. We’re not perfect, but that’s cool. Sometimes we’re stronger than we think we are, and other times we need the help of others – and that’s the awesome thing: help is always there, even if it doesn’t look like it. Ask, reach out, go looking, or keep trying until it gets there.

I’m going to start the next sentence in a certain way, and I want you to know that it’s on purpose to emphasize its importance…

Bruh…the next time you feel like crying, no matter how horrible or however little the reason is, enjoy it.

Anyway, I think what started all this was my fervent holding that Thanksgiving is an viciously underappreciated holiday that gets skipped over for Christmas while the body of Halloween hasn’t even cooled yet. So this is my little rebellion. Everyone starts as a baby and gets their own story, cherish your own and cut others some slack. “What is the meaning of life?” is an overrated question because it doesn’t inheirantly have one, so you get to decide. And never say you’re bored when there’s so much to think about, try, and appreciate.

Or…I learned all this from the ghost of an ancient wise man and had to spend last week learning ancient Greek or whatever, so that’s why I didn’t post Thursday. Whichever you want to believe. The world’s your oyster.

Alright, that’s enough. Take it easy, everybody. Catch you Tuesday. Ciao.