Sunday, April 26, 2020

[Story Lab] Biography: A Lament for Graduation

This sure isn't how I imagined finishing college.

Everything had been planned and prepared. My cap and gown had been purchased for the Graduation Ceremony, my dress blues had been bought and dry-cleaned in preparation for the Commissioning Ceremony to be sworn in as an officer in the United States Army, and I had finally gotten my RSVPs back from family to account for how many people I would have to entertain.

But the cap and gown have not left their Jostens bag. The spiffy wool jacket and the pants with freshly-sewn gold braids down the leg have not left the hanger - and have probably collected dust and need to be dry-cleaned again. And my family is not coming to see me graduate, or fact, I MYSELF will barely be able to see my own ceremonies.

Zoom is our new lifeline, the facilitator of anything we need to do and anyone we want to see. Most students are struggling, unused to having to buckle down to work in their own tiny living spaces, unable to go to the library, their college, or even outside. Our eyes hurt from translating hours in classrooms into hours on computers. Our brains hurt from trying to cram down the last bits of information, without assistance from professors or the reassurance of classmates. Our hearts hurt as our four or more years of work and stress culminate only in a Zoom slideshow, where our names might show up on a screen (providing we had filled out the online form correctly.) No walking across the stage, no dressing up, no going out afterwards with friends and family to celebrate this accomplishment on the path of life.

Some students face the unknowable pain of having lost loved ones to the virus. Some have gone home to be with their families; some have to stay put to avoid unwittingly bringing the illness home to their compromised parents or grandparents. There are many pains out there that far outstrip the sadness of having one's graduation cancelled.

But we focus on the issues that are the most easily controlled. We will lay our caps beside our computer screens, and maybe put on pants to watch the Zoom stream. We will have powered through our classes, scraping by with only a C in some and relying on the Pass/No Pass system to keep a visible plunge out of our transcripts. And then we will be released into the world, a virtual diploma in hand, to encounter almost no job opportunities as the country struggles to right itself after the desolation of this pandemic. But we'll keep our sights set on the future and hope for better times...after all, our vision was always destined to be 2020.

A Flying Cap (Personal Photo)

Author's Note: This one came straight from the heart, because it's on the forefront of everything right now. I started writing just from my point of view, but somehow as I went it spread out to some generalizations on the class of 2020, most of which were drawn from and confirmed by complaints on social media. I didn't try to control any word count or anything specific, it just kinda flowed and fortunately the order makes sense in retrospect. It is kinda dramatic; I had my girlfriend read over it and waited for her to laugh at me. I had, however, failed to clarify that it was supposed to be a biographical writing so she called it "oddly specific" and "...a little self-centered...?" Rude. But with everything jacked up for the moment...we're doing our best.

Reading Notes: Rouse's "Giant Crab", Part B

  • Lacknose (aka Paduma Jataka)
    • There was once a Gardener who had no nose, and he had a very nice garden full of every kind of beautiful flowers
      • Three little boys thought they would like a bunch of flowers, but didn't know how to get it
        • The first went in and greeted the Gardener, and tried to flatter him with a verse of poetry
          • "Cut, and cut, and cut again, hair and whiskers grow amain:
          • And your nose will grow like these: Give me a little posy, please!"
            • The Gardener knew well that his nose would not grow again and thought it was rude of the little boy to mention it, so he got angry and told the boy to go away
        • The second boy thought he would try his luck, and also wrote a verse of poetry and recited it after greeting the Gardener:
          • "In the autumn seeds are sown, and ere long they're fully grown;
          • May your nose sprout up like these! Give me a little posy, please!"
            • The boy thought the old fellow would like that, because he is a Gardener, but the Gardener saw through the trick, was angrier, and sent him away
        • The third little boy was honest, and decided to see what truth could do. He greets the Gardener, who is already grumpy, and recites,
          • "Babbling fools! To think that they, Can get a posy in this way!
          • Say they yes, or say they no, Noses cut no more will grow.
          • See, I ask you honestly: Give a posy, sir, to me!"
            • The Gardener was so pleased to find a straightforward and honest little boy, and he took his scissors and cut the most beautiful bunch of flowers, which he gave to the boy with a smile.
              • The boy thanked him and went away delighted
  • Bibliography: The Giant Crab, and Other Tales from Old India by W.H.D. Rouse (link)
Beautiful Bouquet of Flowers (Madhutvin, link)

Reading Notes: Rouse's "Giant Crab", Part A

  • The Hypocritical Cat
    • Once Upon a Time...
    • There was a troop of Rats that lived by holes in a river bed
      • a Cat would watch them come and go and wanted to eat them, but wasn't strong enough to attack them all at once
        • So he would stand early in the morning near their holes, with his face turned towards the sun, smelling the air and standing on one leg
    • The Rats wondered why he did that, so they all asked one day
      • They asked his name: "Holy is my name" said the Cat
      • Why did he stand on one leg, they asked: "Because if I stood on all four, the Earth could not bear my weight."
      • Why does he keep his mouth open: "Because I feed on air, and never eat anything else"
      • Why does he face the sun: "Because I worship the Sun."
        • They all thought he was very pious, and bowed to him one by one in the morning as they filed past to show respect for his piety
          • But every morning, he would pounce on the very last mouse and gobble him up.
    • The cat's plan was going fine for a while, but eventually the Chief of the Rats noticed that his ranks were thinning out
      • He suspected that the pious cat might know more about it than he let on
        • The next day, he posted himself at the tail of the troop, and watched everything that went on
          • The Cat prepared for his pounce, but the Rat was ready and dodged out of the way
            • The Chief Rat calls out the cat for his false piety, then lunges at his throat
              • The rats heard the scuffle and came trooping back, and the first ones had cat to eat, and the last ones went sniffing about the mouths of their friends, asking what cat tasted like
                • And the Rats lived happily ever after.
  • Bibliography: The Giant Crab, and Other Tales from Old India by W. H. D. Rouse (link)
An Attentive Cat (Wikipedia, link)

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Microfiction: Of Dogs and Pigs

25 Word Microfiction: The Guilty Dogs

The poor are condemned to suffering while the affluent are favored and governmentally protected. Why kill the innocent just because the guilty are the rich?

50 Word Microfiction: The Two Pigs

A woman found abandoned piglets and raised them as her own children. When they were to be slaughtered, they saved themselves with wise revelations about love: it was better to die happy and loved than to live miserably in fear. They were not killed, and the King rewarded their wisdom.

Pig and Dog: Happy Together (Barkpost, link)

Bibliography: Twenty Jataka Tales, by Noor Inayat (link)

Note: I used this week's class sources, one story from each half of Inayat's Jataka tales. The first is about a king's leather chariot straps: they were left out in the rain one night, so when they were nice and soft the palace dogs decided to chew them up. The king knew only that dogs did it, so he ordered all the dogs in the city to be killed, but not the palace dogs. The chief of the city dogs figures out the culprits lived within the palace, and went to the king, appealing for the punishment of those who were actually guilty and about to be overlooked, instead of the death of hundreds of innocents (seven hundred, to be exact.) The 25 word story sums up the spirit of the story, if not the tale itself, and reads a little bit like an anti-capitalism slogan. Honestly, I kept coming up a few words short (because the motto is fairly simple) so I had to do a decent amount of word-shuffling and embellishing.

For the second, I used the 50 word format and was able to tell more of the actual story. The older pig was able to sweet-talk their way out of being slaughtered simply by saying poetic things about "letting love envelope you and ease your suffering," and the King brought them into his castle and gave them jewels and perfume. The older pig also became the official settler of disputes in the kingdom, and they lived happily in the palace until the king died. This one was much easier to write because of the added leeway of a higher word count. This one I wrote up as the words came to me and only had to revise once, as opposed to the many revisions of the first story. I really like the microfiction format in general, because instead of telling a whole story you have to really think about...almost, how not to tell a story, but still get the point across.

Reading Notes: Inayat's Twenty Jataka Tales, Part B

  • The Two Pigs
    • Two little pigs were abandoned (presumably) at the side of a village road
    • A little old woman comes along and sees them, and tells them to come into her cotton basket and come home with her; she will be their mother
      • She laughed and smiled and was happy as could be, and named the elder one Mahatundila and the younger Cullatundila
        • Years passed and the little old woman fed and loved the two pigs as her own children
    • But one day a big feast was held in the village nearby
      • The men were all very drunk and had eaten all the meat in the village, and were unsatisfied and wanted more
        • They go to the little old woman and offer her money for her pigs. She says no; does one give away one's children for money?
      • The men made her drink, and asked her again for the pigs when she was drunk
        • So she says, I cannot give you Mahat, but take Culla.
          • She puts rice in the little bowl at the door and calls for Culla.
    • Mahat hears the call and thinks, Mother has never called Culla first; she always calls me first. What danger is upon us today?
      • Culla goes to the old woman, but sees the bowl and the men with ropes, and he turns back and goes to Mahat, trembling with fear, and explains
        • Mahat tells him not to grieve, that for this day they have been reared and fed, and tells him to go answer Mother's call
    • Moved by the tears in his brother's eyes, Mahat says this: "Bathe in the pool of water as on a bright feast-day, and you shall find a perfume that never fades away."
      • As he spoke all the world changed. The little flowers opened up their hearts to hear, the trees bent over, the wind became silent, and the birds tarried in their flight. The men and old woman were instantly sobered and dropped the ropes. His voice reached into the city and was heard by thousands of citizens, rich and poor. All were moved to tears and drawn towards the little house where they crowded around
    • But Culla, not being a very bright pig, was confused. 
      • He asks why his brother spoke those words, as they had never bathed in a pool of water nor do they find perfume. So he asks what they are
        • Mahat answers, and the great crowd was silent.
          • "The pool of water is love, and love is the fragrance that never fades away. Be not sad brother, be not sad to leave this world. Many stay and are unhappy, many leave and joy is theirs."
      • The sweet voice reaches even to the king, who cries as well.
      • The crowd waved their hands and uttered loud and joyful cries. They then brought the pigs to the palace
        • The King demands that the brothers be bathed in the sweetest perfume and clad in silken garments. They were given jewels to hang around their necks, and dwelt with the King in the palace
          • All disputes were brought to Mahat, the blessed one, and settled by him
    • Finally, in fullness of years, the King died and Mahat and Culla left the city to dwell in the forest, to the great grief of the people of Benares, who wept as they departed
      • However, the reign of justice endured, and the people continued to dwell together in amity
        • And all lived happily ever after.
  • Bibliography: Twenty Jataka Tales by Noor Inayat (link)
Two Pigs (Ruben van Kuik, link)

Reading Notes: Inayat's Twenty Jataka Tales Part A

  • The Guilty Dogs
    • One day, a king drove through the city in his chariot drawn by 6 white horses. When he returned at nightfall, the horses were taken to the stable but the chariot and harnesses were left in the courtyard
      • When everyone was asleep in the palace, it started to rain
    • The palace dogs decided it was their time to have fun.
      • They saw the leather harnesses, wet and softened by the rain, and bit and gnawed at them all night, then slipped away before dawn
    • The stablemen see that the straps of the royal chariot have been eaten and destroyed, and with "trembling hearts" go to tell the King
      • The King rose up in a fury and commanded every dog in the city to be killed
        • The 700 dogs in the city hear the order and all cried. But their Chief dog loved and protected them, and they set out to find him
          • They tell him of the danger
          • He thinks to himself that it is impossible for any city dog to enter the palace gates, so it must have been the palace dogs who destroyed the harnesses
            • He decides to show the guilty dogs to the King to save the others
    • The chief goes into the city alone. At every step men were standing ready to kill him, bu his eyes were so full of love that they didn't dare touch him
      • He enters the hall of justice where the King sat on his throne with his courtiers all around, and all remained silent.
      • After some time the chief spoke, and asked if it was the King's command that all the dogs of the city be killed
        • The King said yes. The Chief asks them what they have done, and the King tells him about the leather harnesses.
        • The Chief asks which dogs have done the harm; the King responds that he does not know so he ordered them all to be killed
        • The Chief clarified if all were to die, or if some dogs would be allowed to live; the king responds that the royal dogs only would be allowed to live
      • The chief gently asks if the King's command is just...why should the dogs of the palace be innocent and the dogs of the city judged guilty? 
        • The ones he favored are saved and the ones he doesn't know are to be killed. Where's the justice?
      • The King thinks for a minute and asks who the guilty ones are; the chief responds that the royal dogs are guilty.
        • The King asks for proof, and the chief tells him to bring the royal dogs to the hall and feed them kusa grass and which the leather scraps "came out of their mouths"
      • The King concedes that the Chief's words are true, and declares he will not forget him. He then commands that all the dogs of the city are given rich food and royal care, and they all lived happily ever after
  • Bibliography: Twenty Jataka Tales, by Noor Inayat (link)

The Royal Dogs, Probably (Frank Kovalchek, link)

Monday, April 6, 2020

Week 11 Story: The Most Brilliant Student

Once Upon a Time, there was a very large, very strong high school student who looked like a football player. But he was not; he was academically brilliant and dreamed of joining the academic team and competing in quiz competitions. However, he knew that because he looked large and buff and – let’s face it – not entirely intelligent, the coach of the team wouldn’t take him seriously. So, he decided to find a traditionally nerdy-looking guy who could pretend to be the brains of the operation, and the big guy could pretend to be his bodyguard.

So he goes into the band hall and sees a short, spindly student with glasses and a bow tie – perfect. He goes over and asks if the nerdy guy will front for him to get them both into the debate team, then the big guy will answer all the questions, and they can split any awards that they win. The nerdy guy agrees, and they set out to find the coach.

When the coach sees the two, she asks the nerdy guy, “Why are you here?” The nerdy student responds, “I want to be on your academic team.” The coach asks, “Who is the big guy with you?” and the nerdy guy responds, “That’s, uh, my bodyguard. If I don’t have him with me, I get scared and can’t focus on trivia.” The coach thinks for a minute then hands them both a registration form.

Having successfully joined the academic team, the dynamic duo wins many inter-school competitions. The big guy whispers the answers to the nerdy guy, who answers correctly every time. They conquered every high school in the county, and it is soon time for regionals.

Unfortunately, all the wins and cash prizes and praise were starting to go to the nerdy guy’s head, and he turns on the big guy, saying “I can do fine without you! You think you’re the only one who knows trivia? I don’t need you anymore!” He spat a few more unkind remarks and marched out.

But a few days later is regionals. This is the most important competition of the year, and the stakes are high. The academic team geared up, with the nerdy guy at the forefront. The big guy knew too well that the nerdy guy doesn’t know any trivia, so he shows up anyway, seating himself behind the nerdy student as usual. The beginning of the competition is called…and the nerdy guy panics. The big guy whispers to him, “Hold on, don’t panic. I’m here for you.” But the nerdy guy is so scared that he squirms out of his chair and dashes back to the parking lot, where he has to stop and puff on his inhaler, never to return to the world of academic trivia.

So, without missing a beat the big guy slides into the chair previously occupied by the nerdy guy and smoothly leads the academic team to a conclusive victory, delivering the answers that he had always known, but used to pass through the mouthpiece of the nerdy guy. At the win, the team cheered and called him “the most brilliant student” and made him president of the academic team, showering him with trophies (and college recommendation letters.)

The End.

Nerd and Jock: Irony. (Marko Raassina, link)

Bibliography: More Jataka Tales by Ellen C. Babbitt (link)

Author’s Note: This story was based on the Jataka Tale “The Brave Little Bowman,” about a small twisted man who was an excellent bowman and wanted to join the king’s army, but knew he would not be taken seriously. He recruits a big and strong man to get them both into the army, then does all the work. Finally, a war is about to break out and the strong man gets scared and runs off, so the small bowman leads the army to victory and is showered with praise and made the captain of the army when he gets back. I decided to turn the tables a little bit and make the protagonist someone society would normally accept, but who would not be welcome in the team he wanted to join. All ends well for him though, with a similar victory and being rewarded for the efforts that were his all along.