Protecting yourself on the Internet
Hey everyone, brief public service announcement.
A few weeks ago, I was attacked through the internet. An individual attempted to steal my essay. It wasn’t a particularly good piece of writing, but it had gotten a fair number of notes, and he or she wanted in on my five minutes of fame. This person printed off my work and made some laughable attempts at claiming he or she had written the piece a year before I published it. Never mind that it was autobiographical.
So it turns out that tumblr fears the DMCA, and if a person submits a claim to tumblr that a post is plagiarism, without any proof required, tumblr will delete the post. You can fight it, as I did, and you will get your work back, but it will be scrubbed from every blog that reposted you. Essentially, this stranger, with no proof or copyright, deleted my presence from the internet.
TLDR; anyone can attack your art and have an instant advantage on Tumblr. Be careful what you self-publish. The law may be on your side, but Tumblr is not.
When I read about the Chechen rebels, men who fought with terrorism for independence from Russia, I thought, “They’re acting just like a cancer, forgetting their original allegiance to the body nation, growing uncontrollably in an attempt for independence, and destroying the larger organism in the process.” I remember feeling proud for making the comparison.
A few months later, BP had their famous oil spill debacle in the Gulf of Mexico. As trillions of gallons of toxic sludge poured into the gulf, humanity seemed to have reached a new low. They had an environmentalist speak on the news, and I remember that he called us “a cancer of the earth.” It seemed apt. Our species had grown explosively, consuming the earth’s resources at a frightening pace. We seemed hell-bent on the destruction of our environment.
Cancer seemed like a perfect metaphor for the worst of human behavior. I could extrapolate the mindless action of millions of cells onto the focused and intelligent behavior of soldiers in Asia or companies polluting the oceans with oil spills. It was a tidy name to tack onto the atrocious aspects of our species.
Then my grandmother got sick. Tests revealed the tumors embedded deep within her brain. Those wily cells had found the best place to build a colony. They were inoperable. I could say that what those cells did to her mind was as polluting as an oil spill, as violent as a revolution. But that wasn’t what happened to her. The destruction was quiet and hidden. The only evidence available was the slow dulling of her eyes. And the moment when she forgot who I was. Eventually she forgot everything. And when the cancer took her, I was left with no metaphor to hide behind.
When I was younger I would collect flowers in the spring. I’d press them between the pages of the thickest books I could find—Shakespeare, poetry anthologies, and James Joyce. My mother always asked me to place them between glass plates, where their oils could do no harm to her old copy of Ulysses. I’d evade her exasperation and hide them in our library. I would forget about their existence only to stumble across them years later. Midway through a reading of Much Ado About Nothing, a couple tulips would slip out, and I would take a moment to admire the crumbling petals. On the page, a faint purple kiss would be embossed, the bloom of the tulip merging with the prose of Shakespeare.
As I write my essays, I worry they’ll end up like those poor flowers stuck between two panes of glass, stagnant and suffocated for all the world to see. In an effort to keep my writing free of clichés, romanticism, blatant allusion, and other such techniques abhorred by the Modern Era, I fear that I trap my words between the glass walls of self-imposed limitations. My quest for the perfect flavor of cynical wit has sanitized my writing. These are the glass walls that flatten my work. A reader may understand my essay and comment on its pretty features, but she will be cut off from its tactile fragility. No faint odor of emotion will reach her delicate nose.
When I write, I want my words to be pressed against the tomes of my childhood home, their scent permeating through the pages. I know they’ll take damage in the face of the corrosive canon of great literature; they’ll fade to resemble yellow pages. My sincerity will always pale in comparison to Whitman. By referencing Shakespeare in my work I’ll be illuminating my own flaws. Some of my writings will not survive this treatment, like the flowers that succumbed to an errant bookworm.
But years later, a granddaughter of mine seeking a reference in Dubliners will stumble across them. She’ll read my worn essay, stroking its faded sheets. Disintegrating at the edges, the words will float up on the breeze of an open window, and the motes will catch in her breath.
A Red Sinner in the White Church
I am seated in her office, surrounded by light, mirrors and a television, playing the local news. The leather chair is reclined. The temperature of the room is pleasant, the wall color unobtrusive. Cabinets line the wall, their contents hidden. She materializes in the doorway, her face free of aggression. She possesses the kindness of a private school dean, a kindness that muffles the necessary violence of the coming hour. Crows feet and dowdy demeanor are her camouflage.
She asks if I have been flossing daily. “Yes,” I stutter. It is a lie, and soon enough she will know. I have made mistakes, and I must repent.
She is a smear of constant chatter as she bustles about, but I can still hear the soft clicking of metal tools and see the peripheral flashing of little mirrors. She attaches a crisp tissue bib to me, and I use it to remove my lipstick. It is my last pretense, but I am cowed by her cheerfulness, her bubbly oppression. I wipe it off, and the swatch of crimson pollutes the crinkled white tissue. It is just the first of many violations today.
First, my mouth is forced open, my insides exposed. She begins with a metal pick, testing each spot for weakness. My teeth hold out, but my gums reveal me. I taste iron, and she comments on the blood.
More prodding, and now she is jamming tools between neighboring teeth. She seems determined to separate them from their roots. A mirror is angled so that I may watch as my torturer dispatches of my insides. I can see my mouth gaping wide, bizarre and foreign, an alien assortment of pink and off-white. There seems to be a rather large amount of blood.
In the dentist’s room we confess the sins of our mouths, our lazy brushing, the decaying sweet tooth. But unlike the forgiving wood of a church confession booth, this place is composed of lights and mirrors that expose our shame. We are vulnerable without a shadow to hide behind, and we choke on the confessions of our yellowing teeth.
Finally, she completes her task, admonishing me for my poor flossing technique. I sit up and notice that my bib is almost completely stained red. The taste of bile floods my mouth. My homely torturer hands me a receipt, her smile unmoved by the red weeping from my mouth. I stumble out of the office, gasping for air, retching into the nearest garbage bin.
On spring break, sorry for the infrequent posts. More coming soon, I promise.
In a room filled with the incessant rainfall of clicking keyboards, her taps were stubborn and slow, and the scant few words on the screen reflected her dismal progress. The other students were working quickly, struggling to up their words per minute rate. Their generation was not the first to rely on typing, but they would be the first to be utterly consumed by the intoxicating combination of screens and keyboards. They were the children of the digital revolution, and they needed to learn the language.
The names of the top three fastest students were written on the board each day as an incentive to improve. Her name had never made the cut. She struggled with the foreign association of letters to buttons, especially once the covers had been placed over keyboards midway through the semester. She grasped blindly, stabbing at what she hoped was a “P,” the first letter of her name, but the machine would return useless [brackets] time and time again.
Placed in the far back corner, she was the only one who heard the tentative knocking on the wall. There was a classroom opposite of the wall, but it was on the upperclassmen side of school. She had no way of identifying the person behind the knocking. Nonetheless, she tapped back a rhythm of tappa taaaap tappa and was rewarded with an enthusiastic response. This became a daily ritual. At the beginning of every class she’d hear a couple knocks and would send a volley back before returning to work. The dull beats of the wall would offer respite from the droning click of keyboards.
The wall conversations were without meaning. She’d heard of Morse code, a whole language compressed to one button, but had no way of teaching it to her partner. She felt like a linguist without a Rosetta stone; there was no way to bridge the solid plaster walls.
Two months in, the tapping stopped. She knocked regularly for ten minutes, but only silence greeted her. She sighed, aligned her fingers on the F and J nubs, and began the day’s assignment.
“Judy!” His voice is calling, a dagger cutting through her dreams. “Judy, are you awake? That was my dad. My mom had an accident. He said she’s in the hospital. I have to go. Judy, are you listening to me?”
He’s standing in the doorway, eyes frantic. He rips the comforter away from the bed, and Judy feels the rush of cold air. Her threadbare nightgown offers no protection. And just as she’s sitting up he’s fled the room. The distant thuds of his feet on the stairs echo through the house.
She reaches out for her glasses, her hand brushing past a stale cup of tea stained brown, the teabag floating flaccidly on the surface. Judy grasps at an object, but instead of her glasses, she feels the smooth surface of her wooden jewelry box. She drags it into her lap, undoes the latch, and squints nearsightedly at its contents. Inside is a charm bracelet, and she fingers each charm like they’re prayer beads, muttering their names as she goes. “Cat charm…meow… Dice Charm. Cow Charm. Moo…heh…Blue Jay..cheep cheep.” She arranges each animal so it’s faced upwards in the box.
He’s back, and someone’s with him.
“Judy?” his voice is several pitches higher than she’s ever heard it go, “I know these last few months have been hard, but I need you right now. I need you to take care of Leslie.”
“Leslie?” Judy whispers, and suddenly there is a whirlwind of sticky fingers and yellow hair in bed with her.
“Mommy, can we play?” The little girl is in her lap, and the overturned jewelry box on the floor.
“Ok,” says Judy in a small voice, and he is gone. She hears the front door slam a moment later. Judy retrieves the bracelet from the floor. When she returns, she slips it on her daughter’s wrist. “Dear,” she says, stroking the girls hair, “I got you a toy.”
Theme: Revise a previous prompt; make it character-focused
Frank cares for his truck. Sometimes, when he’s just with his buddies, he’ll refer to it as his wife. “Chipped red paint,” he’d chuckle, “And still out of my league!” He likes how his truck has been a constant over the years. She has stuck with him long after the buddies stopped hanging around. He likes that she’s American made, not like the foreign death traps on the road these days. He likes the feel of gears shifting when he switches from drive to park. He likes how the steering wheel has eight identical spots, centered at ten and two, where his fingers have worn away the plastic.
Frank glances occasionally at his hands as he drives now. There’s a crusty gash on the right one, and it’s not healing as fast as he’s used to. A Dolly Parton song plays on the radio, and he taps the wheel in time. Frank knows his passenger probably isn’t a fan of the music, but all the presets are classic country, and he’d rather not root around with the dial while driving. He’s driving into the sunset now, so he tilts the cowboy hat further down on his brow. There’s not another car in sight on this road, but Frank still takes precautions, driving just under the speed limit and using his blinkers. He’s always been a cautious man, deliberate in his choices. He waited three weeks before buying the truck, researching the quality of the vehicle in dusty drivers manuals, haggling with the salesman, comparing prices with the dealership across town. “But the wait was worth it,” he muttered, loud enough for his passenger to hear. For a moment, he’d forgotten she was with him, so taken had he been with remembering those first days with the truck. He reaches over to push her visor down to block the sun. She can’t do it herself. Her hands are handcuffed to the seat. And she can’t thank him either, due to the duct tape roughly slapped over her mouth. Frank didn’t blindfold her though; that way she could admire the rusty red truck.
Constraint: only vowel allowed is “o”
Solo cold doctors who fool blood donors only knock on front doors. Bloody Mormons. Only good for orthodox shocks. Doctors don’t know how to clot monsoons of wrongs. Doctors only sow worry. No honor. So tomorrow, sons of God, go work for songs of gold. Songs of words, worms, or color, not of sorrow or chloroform. Strongholds bloom oft on smoky moons. Don’t stop to stock clocks. Post lots of words. Cloth monks mostly stop blow jobs. Nobody looks to stop “poor old” doctors. Oncology! Job for crooks. Who stops tomorrow? Only doctors. Who stops doctors? Only moths of smoky moons, only sons of god.
My dear, now that you are here with me in my metal shop, come listen to the mill. It steals its buzz from a hornet, but its sting is far sharper. The bbbbbbzzzzzz is so steady until it tastes the metal and then zzzzZZZZZZZZZ! It is louder while it cuts, so you have to feed it oil or else the song will turn to ZZZZZZzzzzclipclipclipCRTCKZZZZ of the metal sticking and the bit catching and oh no! The bit is broken and the metal’s on the floor.
Flinching at flecks of spangled aluminum, you’ve got glasses for your eyes but what about your ears, what will keep you safe from the whine of metal on metal? You need to listen dear, even though it hurts. The highest pitches have the most to tell. Hear that? It is the SKREE of metal ripping, flying through the air, and it is sharp when it hits you, sliding under your skin, an embedded cyborg splinter.
Come try the band saw, traveling a mile a minute, with its fat angry teeth biting chinticktictictictic, and you have to listen OK? You have to be careful, because if the noise goes to guttural gurgling of blugblugbloobltatatata then flee, my dear, flee quickly, for the band has come loose from its barrel, it is broken and unhinged and now the teeth are a whip and your sweet soft skin is the target it so eagerly wants to touch.
These are your tools not your toys my dear. Your body does not speak their metal language, it can’t survive the noise and taste of their teeth; the machines will sing and their voices will rip you apart. But don’t fear my dear, our mechanized creations will warn you before they harm you; so take care, and please listen.