A Walk

You’re walking towards me in the low light of the September evening, an orange-gold haze settled over the city. I see you immediately, a faded grey t-shirt from college and black leggings. Before I can help it, I start grinning at you.

You smile. Your face brightens as your cheeks rise. Your eyes become half-closed crinkles of eye lashes and laugh lines. Your shoulders raise a little bit. You become as gorgeous as the sun setting right over your shoulder.

I see that smile as I slide my face in between your thighs. I can feel your legs tense as the stubble from my beard brushes against your skin. First I tease you. I kiss you over the purple lace of your panties. I can feel the warmth from your body on my lips. You lift your legs, resting them across my shoulders. You lock me in place. I know you’re ready, so I reach up and pull down your panties. I leave them dangling off your left foot. My hands move up your hips and I rest my fingertips in the soft flesh of your ass.

I marvel at your vagina for a moment. At the actual beauty of it. The symmetry and fullness of its shape, the depth of its color, the intricacy of its layers. You groan impatiently, moving your hand from its resting position on your leg and push my head playfully. I slap your thigh in response and you moan. That’s my signal. I run my tongue across your pussy from top to bottom.

The first taste of you is a little salty, that alkali-battery flavor as your essence rolls across my taste buds. I put gentle pressure on you with my mouth, and I trace your lips with the tip of my tongue. Your back arches in response. Another moan escapes from you. I circle your clitoris slowly, deliberately, before I suck it into my mouth. Your body twists and turns each time I inhale, as if I’m sucking with enough force to pull you off the bed. I steal a glance and see you clutching your breast with one hand. The other is on my head, pushing me into you.

Five minutes pass. Ten. I lose track of time and start marking how many times you say “more” or “there.” I count the number of times you pull at my hair. I count how many times I change my style-fast and light, just a flick on the edge of your senses; slow and heavy, putting my weight into my tongue and into you. You become silent as the pressure builds between your legs.

You sit straight up as you approach climax. I can feel your fingers sliding down my neck and back, bracketing my spine between your index and ring fingers. They stop suddenly as you seize up. You gasp. The first orgasm rips through you like a mini-earthquake. I bury my face into you as deep as I can. The second, third and fourth hit like aftershocks. Your fingers hook into my skin, squeezing harder with each convulsion that rocks you. The tension drains out of your legs, your muscles relax. You collapse backwards with a soft thud on the pillowtop cushion beneath us.

I pull my head out from between your legs, and look up at you. Your brown skin rolls forth like an oceanYour eyes are still closed from the force of how hard your body shook. When you open them, you glance down and see me peeking back at you, my eyes just high enough to make contact with yours.

You smile.

And then you keep walking.

 

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The [SPOILERS] is the Perfect Metaphor for Disney’s Poor Approach to Star Wars

Image courtesy of http://www.starwars.com

This post contains one minor spoiler for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. You have been warned!

Force Friday II saw several reveals of new merchandise related to December’s premiere of The Last Jedi. Among the new toys and games was a spoiler for Supreme Leader Snoke’s ship. According to a story published by Polygon, Snoke’s ship is named Supremacy:

The app describes the Supremacy as a Mega-class Star Destroyer, the only one of its kind. Unlike other Star Destroyers, which are elongated and dagger-like, the Supremacy is far wider than it is long, cutting through space like a bird of prey.

The dreadnought’s wingspan is 60 kilometers, making it a whopping 41 kilometers larger than Darth Vader’s Super Star Destroyer the Executor, which appeared in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. In terms of real-world comparisons, the Supremacy is nearly three times the length of the island of Manhattan.

Star Wars is no stranger to absurdly large ships, even in the original trilogy- Polygon’s article mentions the size of the Executor, and both Death Stars were moon-sized battle stations. The problem with the Supremacy, and Disney’s approach to the Star Wars film franchise in general, is not its sheer size, but the way that the reliance on making things bigger reveals the lack of creativity at work in the new films.

This is not to say that making things bigger is not an effective means of storytelling. When done well, it has a powerful effect on an audience. Let’s begin with the original Star Destroyer, and the way both the Empire and the Rebellion are introduced to us in A New Hope. Watch the opening scene of the movie:

The visual of a tiny rebel blockade runner being chased by a massive Star Destroyer sets the tone and the stakes of the struggle instantly in the first twenty seconds of the film. Our heroes are up against a mighty foe with far more power and resources than they can muster. This is not a battle between equals, and the comparative size of the ships communicates that more effectively than any line of exposition could.

What also makes the scene so effective is its novelty. You can only repeat this visual trick once, and the original trilogy does so to great effect in the Imperial fleet scene in The Empire Strikes Back:

This scene works, despite being visually similar to the opening of A New Hope, because it sets out to accomplish a different task. Whereas the opening of A New Hope communicates to the viewer the advantage the Empire has over the Rebellion, the introduction of the Executor shows the viewer how Darth Vader has come to overshadow the Empire itself, both literally and figuratively. He is no longer Grand Moff Tarkin’s enforcer, but now one of the most feared men in the galaxy by both rebels and Imperial officers alike. His ship is the visual representation of his status.

Which brings us to the Mega Star Destroyer. Of course, without seeing the movie, it’s impossible to say what the visual of the Supremacy “cutting through space” will communicate to the audience. What concerns me though is the impulse of the creatives and executives behind the recent Star Wars movies to simply make things bigger, as if size and power are compelling without context. Han Solo unintentionally lampshaded this problem in the ward room scene of The Force Awakens:

Exactly, Han. It’s bigger. So what?

It feels like the people who are responsible for these films can’t think of a way to communicate the threat of the First Order without falling back on the simplest, overused trick of making the threat physically larger. Bigger Death Star -excuse me, Starkiller Base-, bigger Star Destroyer, bigger Snoke (which may be the most ridiculous use of size to convey menace in the entire franchise). It represents a lack of imagination which has permeated Disney’s recent Star Wars movies.

However, far more concerning than the lack of creativity giving Snoke a really big ship represents is the lack of creativity with which these movies have been conceptualized and produced. The issues of The Force Awakens (and Rogue One) have been welldocumented, and I won’t rehash them here. Instead, let’s consider what a letdown the very idea of a young Han Solo movie is. Put aside the production issues, the recastings and reshoots, or the genuinely crappy loss of Michael K. Williams in the film. Just think about the vastness of the Star Wars universe, the depth of Expanded Universe material which could have been appropriated and introduced into the canon universe, or the opportunity to do something completely new. With an almost endless amount of possibilities, Disney came down on a movie which stars a character featured heavily in FOUR out of the seven episodes. To call that disappointing is an understatement.

More importantly though: where is the story for Han Solo? Han Solo’s character arc occurred in A New Hope (which is why, no matter what anyone tells you, it absolutely DOES matter that Han shot first). Any character development which takes place before that chronologically runs the risk of undercutting Han’s excellent arc in A New Hope even more than the Special Edition did. The alternative is to have a fairly static Han Solo just doing awesome stuff, which is a direction the movie could go in I suppose, but not a particularly interesting one. If the minds at Disney were hell-bent on returning to the scoundrel well, Lando Calrissian is a much better candidate for that kind of prequel exploration. He was the same kind of devil-may-care character in the past as Han, when he lost the Millennium Falcon to him. Yet something changed for him in the intervening years, because by the time we meet him in The Empire Strikes Back, he’s not only changed his ways but accepted the responsibility of protecting the lives of everyone who lives in Cloud City. That would be a fascinating transition to watch in a movie.

Alas, the powers that be at Disney don’t appear to have the creative courage to push outside of a narrow set of boundaries which they have imposed on themselves. The results are movies that are okay instead of good, ships that are big instead of menacing, and potential that is wasted instead of realized.

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The Second First Day Of School

Today was my daughter’s first day of first grade.  I wrote about her first day of school last year.  I reread the post because I was curious how this year compared to last year.  Last year, I wrote about my feelings of guilt associated with sending my daughter to school.  I’m happy to say that guilt wasn’t top of mind today.  Although, I’m sad to say that happiness and excitement were nowhere to be found.

She was quite excited for school to start.  She had a brand new backpack and lunchbox.  She picked out an outfit.  She made special requests for lunch.  She was chatting away all morning about how first grade would be different from kindergarten and even about how she was already looking forward to second grade so she could play on the monkey bars at recess.  It made me happy to listen to her and see her so excited.  But, I couldn’t share the feelings.

Overall, I guess I felt kind of meh.  It was just another day.  It didn’t even occur to me to take a picture.  It was only after I got to work and people started showing me pictures of their kids and grandkids on their first day of school that I realized it is customary to mark the occasion.

I suppose this year was a step in the right direction for me.  Meh is better than guilty after all.  I’ve known from the moment I found out I was going to have a kid that school would be hard on me.  I just have to remember that it isn’t about me.  And if I keep progressing at this rate, maybe I’ll share in her excitement when she starts college.

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Descent: A Dragon Ball Story- Chapter 1

Hey everyone,

This is the first chapter of a story I’ve been working on for a few weeks. It’s a Dragon Ball fanfiction, which means that while knowledge of Dragon Ball will help you to understand some of the layers to the story, I’ve tried to write it in a way that both fans and newcomers will enjoy. My goal is to serialize this story by posting a new chapter every week. I’d really appreciate any feedback you have on the story, because I had a blast writing it and I hope to continue with it for some time. If you like what you read, please, please share this with your friends who either enjoy Dragon Ball or simply a good story. I want to reach as many people as I can with this!

Without further ado, I present Descent: A Dragon Ball Story.


Chapter One

The itch in Tania’s back was unbearable. It was between her shoulder blades and centered on her spine. Her small hands flailed about her back, swiping at the agony she felt but falling just short of alleviating it. She lined her spine up with the cold metal pole she’d been holding on the train. She began sliding up and down, finding almost the perfect position before she noticed a thin man with a beakish nose watching her. Sweat beads dribbled down his cheek as he stared at her. Tania sneered at him before moving to the back of the train. There was one seat open in the corner. Its cushion had been ripped open and the padding was strewn across it, with various obscenities written across the rest.

Tania sat down quickly, avoiding the man’s gaze with her own eyes. She didn’t care about the comfort of the seat. The itch in her back had to be scratched, and she needed privacy to do it. The rest of the passengers paid her no mind. They were staring out the train’s wide windows, watching the gleaming towers of East City whisk by. They were complaining about the sweltering temperature and how the air conditioning always failed on the hottest days. They didn’t notice the rustling around Tania’s waist, the distinct sound of fur rubbing against nylon as Tania slid her tail through a small slit in the back of her gray slacks. It moved quickly up her back, finding the itch and rubbing its thick brown fur across it.

She had broken the rule her parents had drilled into her from the moment she took her first steps into the wider world. Even if they know what you are, even if you’ve told them you have one, never let the humans see your tail, her mother had told her again and again. Her father always stood silently by, nodding in agreement. He was a rigid man, almost two meters tall and with muscles that rippled beneath his shirt. Francis had a clean shaven head, and he never unfurled his tail, even when he was alone with Tania and Jeanette. Her mother was more relaxed, flicking Tania on the butt whenever she walked by with lightning fast precision. They’d developed their own way of saying goodnight when she was a girl. Instead of kissing each other like humans, she and her mother rubbed their tails together. It was their affectionate secret. Not even her father knew about it. Tania often wondered how her parents, so different from each other, had managed to stay together for so long. She could see why when they agreed. They were of one mind, unyielding, and they agreed reflexively on the matter of keeping their tails hidden in public. “It will bring you nothing but trouble,” her mother said, ending each conversation on the matter the same way.

“You’re a Saiyan?” the man shouted from across the train car. Tania had been absorbed by the relief she felt while her tail caressed her back, and jumped when she saw the man again. The twisted lust in his eyes had been replaced with anger. Spittle mixed with sweat as he shouted the word again, “Saiyan!”, thrusting his finger at her like a weapon. He’d seen it. He’d seen her tail. The rest of the passengers looked at the man first, then followed his crooked index finger to Tania. She was averagely built, with a heart-shaped face and large, almond eyes. Her short-cropped black hair was stiff and spikey. She was wearing a light blue blouse which flattered her brown skin but clashed with her dark grey pants and black shoes. She was a normal woman, on a normal train coming from her normal job like everyone else there. Except for the long, mahogany tail that was jammed into the upper part of her back. The tail that everyone could see now.

“Huh?” Tania managed to stammer out as the man stood and walked towards her. The other passengers began to mumble. She couldn’t hear their words over the man’s shouting, but she could see their glares. They looked at her tail with disgust. The other passengers stepped back while the man stormed forward.

“You filthy Saiyan!” he yelled. He was only a meter away from Tania. I need to get out of here, she thought. She grabbed at the bell to stop the monorail, and yanked on it again and again. “You think I’d be attracted to you, want to look at you, monkey?”

“Leave me alone, I’m just trying to get home,” she said, tugging at the bell again. The man was in her face now. Tania could feel the hot sourness of his breath filling up her nostrils. Bile rushed up her throat. “Leave me alone!” The other passengers in the car backed even further away. Their eyes were burning into her as the man shouted in front her.

“Hey man, chill out,” came a low, raspy voice from behind the man. Tania glanced around the man to see a scrawny boy, no older than a teenager, reach out and grab him by the shoulder. He was wearing oversized jeans and a black shirt covered in words Tania couldn’t make out. The man whirled around, confronting the kid.

“Get your hands off me! What’re you, some monkey lover? Or you a monkey too?” The train came to a halt at the stop, and Tania bolted for the door. She brushed by the man and the kid. She jumped down the stairs from the boarding platform, landing hard on her left ankle. Pain shot up her leg, and she stumbled forward before falling down to her knees. “Hey! Get back here monkey!” she heard the man scream from the top of the platform. She didn’t look back as she limped away as fast as she could.

Humans all around her stared as she stumbled by. Tania felt their gaze like a weight, pressing her down into the sizzling cement. Her tail flicked involuntarily, violently. Fear crackled through her entire body, a coiled energy built up in her muscles and waiting to explode out. But beneath her initial flight response, there was a different feeling building in her. It was beating behind her heart, a small but steady thump that grew stronger with each step. It told her to stop. It told her to turn around.

It told her to fight.

No. She shook her head. She’d already broken one of her parent’s cardinal rules. She couldn’t break the other.

Tania looked back and saw the man chasing her. He was only a few meters away. Her injured ankle had made it easy for him to catch up with her. What is this guy’s problem? How long is he going to chase me? At that moment she slammed into another person. He was a man, large and imposing, but in his surprise he fell over easily. He crashed into a woman he was talking to and knocked her over as well. Tania fell to the ground, landing hard.

“What the hell is wrong with you? Watch where you’re going, lady!” the large man yelled. Tania was frozen. She hoped they hadn’t seen her tail too, but it was too late. The mild annoyance on the large man’s face turned dark. “Stupid monkey.”

Before she could respond, Tania saw that a small circle of humans had formed around them. A couple of them were helping the large man and woman to their feet. The rest had surrounded Tania. The circle grew tighter, filling in as more humans joined in to stare. Their faces were curious, amused, interested. They crowded around Tania, mumbling to each other and pointing at her tail. The fear in her muscles and the pounding behind her heart were struggling for control, clashing ferociously in her mind as she looked for a way out. Then the man from the train entered the circle.

“There you are, you monkey bitch! You think you can embarrass me like that?” His fists were clenched at his side, and he leaned forward with all the force of his body as he shouted. He’s going to hit me. She tried to back away, scrambling across the concrete, but she bumped into the wall of humans behind her.  Tania wanted to cry out for help, but the words froze on her lips. She wanted to get away more than anything. Then she noticed that the circle had parted and another figure had stepped inside. It was a large woman, almost as tall as her father. She was wearing a simple magenta shirt with black athletic tights and black shoes with tan tips. She looked around the circle for a moment, then walked calmly, confidently past the yelling man. She reached down and grabbed Tania’s blouse with one hand, easily lifting her off the ground. She cradled Tania into her side, but her touch was gentle.

Tania looked up at the woman who was holding her. Her full lips were set in a grim line. Her eyes shined like obsidian, narrowed into an angular glower that looked unflinchingly towards the threat before her. Her thick, coarse hair was deep brown, reaching towards the heavens with a thousand spiked peaks. The arm that was holding Tania was like a taught steel cable around her. She could feel the same at-the-ready hardness wherever their bodies met. This woman was strength given physical form. Tania didn’t even need to look for the woman’s tail, wrapped prominently around her midriff in full view of the humans. She knew this woman was a Saiyan.

“Are you alright?” The woman said. Tania was struck by her voice. It crashed out of her like a waterfall, encompassing the sound’s softness and its fury.

“Y-yes I am,” Tania said.

“Can you walk?” she asked.

“Yes, but it hurts. I can’t walk fast.”

“I see. I’ll get you out of here. Before we go, point to the human who was chasing you.” Tania hadn’t taken her eyes off of her rescuer since she’d arrived. She suddenly became aware again that they were surrounded by a group of angry humans. And among them was him, the man who had followed her for blocks. He had all these people riled at her, ready to hurt her. A red-hot hate swelled up inside of Tania. It filled her like a balloon, grating against her throat and pressing against her ribs. She thrust her finger at him.

“It was him.” The woman’s eyes turned to him, and her mouth formed a frown. The man stared silently at her as the others around him continued to hurl threats.

“I’ll deal with you later,” she said. Tania felt the woman’s body tense as she crouched in place. She jumped, with enough force to crack the sidewalk beneath them. Tania gasped for air, the wind knocked out of her by the suddenness of their liftoff. The group of humans grew smaller and smaller in the distance. Tania could see the rooves of houses for kilometers around East City. They were at least fifty meters in the air. The fear drained out of her body, replaced with an airy joy. She felt like they would rise into the air forever, up and up until Tania would be able to reach out and grab bits of cloud to see what they felt like. She looked at the woman again. The Saiyan, like her. But so much more. Tania felt something beyond gratitude as she looked into her eyes, still straight ahead to perceive every possible event in her field of vision. She felt something beyond admiration, something beyond love. She felt proud of her.

They landed in an empty park. She placed Tania on the ground feet first. She grimaced a bit, but immediately hid her pain. She refused to show any more weakness in front of this woman. “Thank you for saving me,” she said.

The woman looked at Tania, and her expression softened. Her frown melted away into a warm smile. Tania noticed that the woman’s eyes were actually expressive brown ovals when not drawn together in anger. “I didn’t save you. They couldn’t have really hurt you, even if they’d tried.”

Tania blinked, confused. “Then why did you come to help me?”

“I had to get you out of there before you decided to fight back. You would have killed them.”

“What? No I wouldn’t have. There were so many of them they would’ve-“

“You’re a Saiyan,” the woman cut her off. “There isn’t a human alive that is a match for you. But you don’t know that. You believe them when they say that you’re weak. That’s why you would’ve killed those men if you’d fought back, because you don’t know how strong you are.”

The woman’s words pierced Tania. Strong? I’m strong? There were so many words she associated with being a Saiyan. Stupid. Dirty. Monkey. Even when they weren’t being said directly to her, they hung in the air above her head, burrowed beneath her fingernails, stuck to her skin like leeches. Strength was not one of them, until she met this woman. Now it muscled through the others, planting itself firmly in the center of Tania’s mind. Strong. Saiyans are strong. I am a Saiyan. Am I strong? She looked down at her hands and recalled that overwhelming thump she’d felt behind her heart. It told her to fight, to tear and kill, to destroy. It frightened her more than the humans surrounding her.

“How did you…how did you feel when you were standing there, facing all of those humans?” Tania asked after a long pause. The woman looked Tania in the eyes. She was desperate to look away from her; where the human’s eyes had raked over her like she was worthless, the Saiyan woman’s gaze went through her, to a core that was still raw and didn’t want to be touched. No more weakness, she reminded herself as she held the gaze.

“I felt excited,” she said. “I wanted one of the humans to take a swing at me. I could already see how I was going to snap his arm and toss him into the bushes behind us.”

“But you can’t fight,” Tania said. “You’re a Saiyan. It’s against the law.”

The woman smiled again. “You asked me how I felt. That’s what was going on inside my heart. Jumping out of there is what my head told me to do.”

“Do you know how to fight?”

“Yes.”

“How did you learn?”

This time the woman laughed. “You’re asking me all of these questions, and I don’t even know your name.”

“I’m Tania! Tania Green.”

“Tania, huh? That’s nice, as far as human names go.”

“What’s yours?”

“Aragus.” Of course she has a Saiyan name. “Can you make it home from here, Tania?”

“Yes, I can. Thank you!” she lied. Her ankle was throbbing and she had no idea where she was. Aragus had jumped across almost a third of the city.

“Then I’ll see you around. Take care.” Aragus turned away from Tania and crouched to launch herself into the air again.

“Wait!” Tania yelled to her. “I want to learn how to fight too!” Aragus stood back up and faced Tania.

“Why?” she asked simply.

“Because I want to be like you. I don’t want to fear humans anymore, but most importantly I don’t want to fear myself. I could feel something inside of me when I was surrounded earlier. I’ve felt it before too. It’s like a pounding, and it roars in my ears and almost overwhelms me. It tells me to attack. I can control it, but I want to understand it. I want to use it to make me strong.”

Aragus approached Tania slowly, and stopped directly in front of her. Tania was lacking any musculature. Her posture was poor and her feet were set in a stance where a strong gust of wind could have knocked her over. Her tail waved behind her, defiantly refusing to be still even in this moment of evaluation. It was a contrast to the Saiyans she normally saw in the 2nd District, who wrapped their tails beneath their clothes even when no humans were in sight.

“The first thing is to put that away,” Aragus pointed to Tania’s tail. “That’s your weakest point. If anyone ever manages to grab it, even a human, you’ll be helpless. Protect it at all costs.”

“Yes ma’am!” Tania said, snapping to a poor imitation of military attention. She wrapped her tail around her midriff, on the outside of her blouse. Aragus sighed at the sudden martial display.

“Look, don’t call me ma’am or anything like that. I’ve never taught anyone anything before. In fact, I’m still learning myself. I go to a secret place where Saiyans meet to learn about fighting and other things the humans don’t want us to know about. I’ve only been going there for about two years.”

“Please take me with you!” Tania pleaded. “I want to learn.”

Aragus turned to walk away. “Prepare yourself though. You won’t simply be learning how to fight. You’ll also be learning what it means to be a Saiyan. The humans have taken so much from us- our history, our culture, our heroes. But there’s one thing a Saiyan always keeps- her pride. Make sure you bring yours when you meet me here tomorrow.” Aragus jumped into the air, blasting dirt and grass into Tania’s face. She watched as Aragus grew smaller and smaller, until she became an indistinguishable speck on the horizon.

Tania wandered through the unfamiliar part of the city, trying to make sense of what had happened. She couldn’t get the image of Aragus out of her mind. Tania was surrounded by Saiyans for most of her life. Her neighborhood in the 2nd District was almost all Saiyan, with a smattering of humans living on the border with the 4th District. All of her classmates, friends and lovers were Saiyans. But none of them were like Aragus, not even her parents. Tania felt a pang of guilt at that thought. Her parents were good people. They worked hard and Tania always had her needs met. She had overheard their conversations when she was growing up though, always when they thought she was asleep. The heating vent in her room ran directly to the living room next to the sofa, and she could hear their worries as clearly as if she’d been sitting at their feet. Her father recounting how he was raised to hate Saiyans by his human foster parents, the way they forced him to repeat all of the awful things they said about Saiyans. How he was taught to shave his head so that the thick, unruly hair he was born with wouldn’t make him stand out.

Her mother would interject, reminding him that not all humans were as cruel as his parents had been. Most of them just don’t know any better, she would say. They hate because they’re afraid. What would we do if the situation was reversed, she’d say, and this alien race was spreading across our planet every time a new Saiyan baby was born? A race that was stronger and better than us? We’d react the same way, to control them and limit them. It’s just how humans are.

At first, Tania didn’t know what they were talking about. Humans and Saiyans looked exactly the same, except for the tails. And if a Saiyan cut their tail off, there was no difference. Besides, they weren’t full-blooded Saiyans anyway; the last two full Saiyans died hundreds of years ago. Everyone they called a Saiyan now was a human-Saiyan hybrid. There was no problem between the two races. As she grew older though, Tania began to see what her parents talked about in action. She noticed that all of the children in her school were Saiyans, and that their building looked different than the human schools she saw. Their schools glistened, the sunlight bouncing off of brand new buildings that looked more like college campuses than middle schools. There were no grocery stores in the 2nd District, and when she crossed into the 4th with her mother to buy food, she saw how clean their streets were. Their homes didn’t sag with old age and disrepair. Everyone seemed to have their own car pod for getting around, even the humans her own age.

It’s just how humans are. Her mother’s words would echo in Tania’s ears. She had to hide her tail around humans. Walk quickly so that humans wouldn’t notice her Saiyan features. And follow the laws. Whether she was in the human district or the Saiyan district, she always had to follow the laws. No fighting. It made sense- humans weren’t allowed to hurt each other, so why should Saiyans be allowed to? The rule went further for her people though. Humans could practice jujitsu and taekwondo. They were allowed to box and have competitions. Saiyans were forbidden from even learning about martial arts or any fighting style. No flying. That made sense too. With all of the flying car pods and other vehicles filling the sky, it would be too difficult to keep track of individuals zipping across the sky too. There were no laws explicitly keeping humans and Saiyans separate, but it made sense that they lived in different districts. It was an unfortunate coincidence that Saiyan districts were almost uniformly poorer than their human counterparts. It all made sense, seemed so reasonable.

Now, after meeting Aragus, it made too much sense. Aragus was what humans truly feared. And her parents were the Saiyans that humans liked- up to a point. Tania’s mother was a teacher at a Saiyan school, well-respected and loved by her students. She’d talked about what she could do if she was the principal someday, how she would reorganize the school to educate the children better and get their parents involved more. Tania had been hearing about her mother’s big plans since she was ten, and they both watched as human principals cycled in and out of the school for the last sixteen years while Jeanette’s applications collected dust in a filing cabinet. She would shrug sadly every time her attempts got no response. Next time.

Tania had limped her way back to Main Street. The din of hundreds of car pods hovering past her drowned out her thoughts momentarily. If she headed north, she would make it home in no time. There was a train stop just a block away that would get her home even quicker. No, she didn’t want to deal with the train again, not today. To the south was her office. She sighed. In her excitement to find Aragus again tomorrow, she’d forgotten that she would have to put in a full day of work first. Would she tell Ben what happened to her on the way home? He was always telling her it wasn’t safe for a Saiyan to take the train in the 4th District. He was the only human that Tania could call her friend, and she wanted to tell somebody.

By the time Tania reached her front door, her thoughts and feelings had settled enough for her to formulate a plan. She couldn’t tell her parents the truth. If they found out that she’d been attacked, they would insist on driving her to work themselves. There’d be no chance for her to see Aragus again. Tania knew she absolutely could not tell them about Aragus. She was the antithesis of everything they’d taught Tania about surviving in the human’s world. She looked up at her home for a moment. It was a modular collection of ovals and rectangles, fit together perfectly like children’s blocks. Her parents had added crimson shutters to the windows and a welcome mat. Otherwise it looked like every other Capsule Corporation modular home on her street. She sighed, and reached out to open the door. She caught herself just before she did, sliding her tail back into the waistline of her pants. She didn’t need her parents asking any questions beyond the ones she would have to answer.

“Mom? I’m home!” she said as she entered the house. She leaned on the wall as she gingerly removed her shoes. Her ankle was swollen and still burning. She could see the faint purple splotch of a bruise forming. Tania hoped it was just a twist or something else minor; she didn’t want anything to prevent her from starting her training tomorrow. Training, she said again in her mind. The word made her pulse quicken. Tania had practiced for various sports in school. She was an outstanding baseball player, and had done swimming, basketball and soccer as well. Sports were her favorite activities in school, and almost every Saiyan child was on multiple teams. Their games were fierce, often crossing over into shoving matches and the crudest forms of trash talk possible. But those were simple children’s games. What she would begin tomorrow was different. It was the answer to a need that she didn’t know she had.

Jeanette was sitting in the living room in her favorite chair, a ratty recliner which Tania suspected was older than she was. She looked up at Tania and smiled. They shared the same eyes that crinkled into a squint when they smiled. Jeanette’s hair was a little longer than Tania’s, although she always kept it bound in a simple ponytail behind her head. The light blue elastic band struggled to control her unruly Saiyan hair, and looked like it would snap at any moment.

“Hey. How was your day? How was work?”

“Work was okay, but the rest of the day wasn’t. I twisted my ankle getting off of the train.” Tania had decided that the best lie would be the truth, with a few key details left out.

“Are you okay? Let me take a look at it,” Jeanette said, jumping out of her chair.

“It’s okay Mom. It’s just a little swollen. I’m gonna put some ice on it. How was your day?”

Jeanette relaxed a little, but continued to stand and watch as Tania filled a small bag with ice. “Same old. Those kids can be a real handful. Now that it’s hot outside all they can think about is vacation. Some of them are getting a little grabby too.”

“You mean like the boys with the girls?”

Jeanette shook her head. “No. Well yes, but not in the way you’re thinking. They want to wrestle and rough-house all the time. Keeping tabs on them during recess is a nightmare.”

“They’re Saiyans Mom. You’ve been doing this long enough to know they get really rough as teens.” Tania sat at the dining room table and placed the bag of ice on her ankle. Shivers ran up her leg and into her shoulders. “Why don’t you have someone come in and teach them some basic combat skills? You know, just enough to burn off all that energy during the day. They could do it at recess.”

“You know that’s against the law,” she said in her condescending teacher’s voice.

“The humans don’t have to know. Do it like once a week. I know the kids would love it.”

“Tania, Saiyans can’t fight. We aren’t allowed to. If they ever showed up to the school and saw it, they’d shut own the whole building and arrest everyone involved, including the kids. Then what?” Tania knew she was right. Police raids into Saiyan neighborhoods had been on the uptick for months. Even the rumor of organized training was enough to get a visit from the human authorities. It was why Aragus had been reluctant at first to tell Tania more about her own training, she had to make sure she could trust Tania. Even though Tania knew her mother would answer like that, she was still disappointed.

“I know Mom, I know. Why don’t the humans let us fight?”

“Ask your father when he gets home. He knows more about that stuff than me.”

“Where is Dad?”

“He went out to grab some dinner. I didn’t feel like cooking tonight. He should be back soon.”

“Do you ever feel like cooking?” Tania laughed. She slid her tail back out and flicked it playfully at her mother.

“You try feeding two Saiyans every day, and then tell me how much you like doing it!” Jeanette shot back, unfurling her tail and tsk-tsking Tania with it. Their tails came together in their secret handshake, and Tania let hers linger longer than normal. Her mother was a good woman, and she loved her for it. She was trying to keep Tania safe. But Tania didn’t want her kind of safety anymore. She hoped that her mother would understand that someday.

“I’m going to lay down and ice my ankle. Come get me when dad gets here,” Tania said, hobbling back to her room. There were still posters of human movie stars and band members on the walls. It was the epitome of a hormone-driven teenager’s room, complete with nods to childhood like the stuffed elephant she could never bring herself to throw away, even now. She lay on her bed, immune to the grinding coldness of the ice on her leg. She stared at the picture of the boy on her wall. How could Humans and Saiyans look so much alike, yet still be so different? Her sleepy mind was too hazy to even begin thinking about it. The day had finally caught up with her, and in moments Tania’s snoring was so loud that Jeanette had to turn up the television. She didn’t even stir when her father arrived with the takeout.

The next morning, Tania allowed her mother to drive her to work. She was still too afraid to go back onto the train, but she let her mother think that she was still resting her ankle. She worked in a mid-sized tower in the business center of the 4th District. The only time Jeanette came into this part of the city was when Tania asked her to. Tania could see the way that her mother was gripping the steering wheel. They were surrounded by wealthy, powerful humans. The same rock of despair sat in Tania’s stomach the first day she entered the offices of Wong and Jackson as a legal intern. She wasn’t the only Saiyan in her office, but in the entire thirty story building. Still, everyone was nice as they asked her to get their coffee. They smiled as they skipped over her raised hand to point to a human intern who wasn’t even paying attention and ask them for the answer. They encouraged her to be happy as a paralegal even though she was in her third year of law school. That rock had settled into her abdomen, and Tania had simply learned how to live with it.

Today, she felt different. She put her hand on her mother’s, and smiled at her. “I’m going to have a great day today, Mom, and I hope you do too.” She flicked her tail at Jeanette before sliding it in her pants and hopping out of the car pod. As she walked past the humans in their grey, tough looking suits and serious business-length skirts, she smirked to herself. Not one of you is even close to Aragus She brushed through a group of humans standing in front of the elevator as she got off on the 18th floor and entered her office.

Ben was already at his desk, staring at his computer screen. “Can you believe the West City Southerners lost last night? The starting pitcher gave up five runs,” he said to her without looking up.

Tania tossed her bag onto her desk, perpendicular to his. “What did you expect? I keep trying to tell you that Cooperson is a bum.”

Ben scoffed. Tania could see in the reflection of his monitor how his dusty brown hair kept falling into his eyes. His nose was a little crooked, the result of a fight he’d lost as a boy. He lacked the rigid and defined physicality of all the Saiyan men she knew. His jawline was soft. His arms were round, with just a little too much flesh. He was human, and Tania very much liked those qualities.

“Did you actually watch that travesty last night?” he asked, spinning around in his chair.

Tania swallowed hard. Now was as good a time as any. “Actually, I had a bit of excitement last night.”

“Oh really? Who was the lucky guy?”

Tania blushed. “Not that kind of excitement, damn it.” Then she told him what happened on the train. It was a surreal experience for Tania to talk about it. It felt as if the events had occurred months ago instead of yesterday. She told him everything, except for the Saiyan woman’s name and that they were meeting again tonight. She watched as his expression changed from amusement at his own joke to concern, fear and then anger, and she wanted to tell him how much better that made her feel.

“Thank goodness that other Saiyan showed up when she did,” he said at last. “I don’t know why people can’t just live and let live. Are you okay though? Are you sure that the only thing that got hurt was your ankle? I’ll drive you home tonight, don’t worry about it.”

She wanted to say yes. “No, thank you, I really appreciate it. But I’m fine, really. I can’t let one person make me feel afraid to live my life. I’ll take the train home.”

Ben grabbed her by the shoulders and stood up. “All right, just because I know it’s impossible to win an argument with you. If you need anything for the rest of the day, let me know.”

“Okay,” she said, smiling.

The rest of the day dragged on. Tania tried to focus on scanning documents but found her attention wandering to the clock on the wall over the exit. 9:47. 10:16. 10:53. 11:08. She snuck into an empty office on her lunchbreak and forced herself to take a nap to make the day go by faster. She kept one eye on the time as the day crawled forward. The other was on Ben.

She raced out of the office at 4:58 PM. Mr. Wong frowned as she ran past him two minutes early, but Mr. Wong always frowned at her. She was too excited to waste time trying to dissect his passive aggression today. Tania’s heart was on full blast as she stood at the train terminal. Anxiousness had seized her- would the man be on the train today? And would Aragus be waiting at the park?

The train doors slid apart, and she jumped on board. She scanned the compartment. There were a couple of familiar faces from yesterday, a woman with bright red lipstick towards the front and a large man in sweatpants near her. They’d ignored all of the commotion yesterday, and Tania returned the favor. She sat in the back of the train to have a clear view of the man in case he got on at a later stop. He never did.

She rode the train past the stop she’d gotten off at yesterday, and past her normal stop as well. By the time she had reached the park, deep in the 2nd District, she was the last passenger on the train. She’d been too preoccupied with Aragus to notice the park itself. It was vast, a full city block, covered in pine and oak trees. Tania entered the park through the entrance, a portal within a brick wall that was covered with ornate ironworking. A dirt path snaked through the trees, leading to the rest of the park. She saw Aragus right away. She was standing in the center of the path, the same magenta shirt and black tights as yesterday. Her hands were resting on her hips, and she was looking up at a bird in one of the trees.

“I’m here,” Tania said, walking up to her

Aragus turned towards Tania and smiled. “I’m glad. How is your ankle?”

Tania thought for a moment. If she told the truth, Aragus might not let her begin her training today. But she couldn’t bring herself to lie to this woman. “It still hurts. The swelling has gone down, but I don’t have the full range of motion with it. It just needs a day or two. I’m ready to start training today though!”

Aragus looked at her, confused, then laughed as realization spread across her face. “Oh, don’t worry, Tania. You won’t be doing any fighting today.”

“I don’t understand. I thought that’s what I was here for?”

“Let me ask you a question. Do you remember what I told you to bring with you today?”

“Yeah, my Saiyan pride.”

“So did you?” Aragus asked. “Are you proud to be a Saiyan?”

Tania looked away. “Well, I…um-“

“Don’t worry, Tania. I was once where you are right now, and there are more people stuck in that same place than you realize. People who are ashamed, and ashamed of being ashamed. That’s where you have to start. Before you can learn the rest, first I must teach you to love your people, and then, maybe yourself.”

Tears stung Tania in the corners of her eyes. No weakness, she kept saying to herself. “I’m ready,” she said.

Aragus smiled again. “Good. To begin, tell me, Tania. What do you know about a Saiyan who lived long ago named Kakarot?”

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Bad Poetry Day

Today, August 18th, is Bad Poetry Day.  Apparently, it’s a day for people who don’t do poetry to give it a go.  I don’t do poetry as a rule.  But, I did write and publish a poem a few years ago.  Bad Poetry Day got me reminiscing.

When I say I don’t do poetry, I mean it.  I don’t write it or read it on purpose.  It’s not that I have anything against poetry.  I even run into a poem I like from time to time.  In general, though, it doesn’t hold my interest.

I have a group of friends, language geeks like myself, who like to give me challenges.  Many of these challenges have involved some form of poetry.  They might ask me to rewrite a Shakespearean sonnet as a haiku or have me explain the categorical imperative as a limerick, things like that.  While I don’t like poetry, I do enjoy a good challenge, so I do my best.  By far, the most challenging challenge came a few years ago.

One of my oldest friends, who happens to be in this same group of friends, was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Of course I wanted to help her in any way I could.  So, naturally, she said I could help her by writing (and illustrating) her a poem, in the style of Dr. Seuss, called “What Happened To Mommy’s Boobs?”  This was a challenge I couldn’t refuse, but it was one of the hardest writing experiences of my life.

First, how on Earth can I imitate the inimitable Dr. Seuss?  The man was a genius.  I decided to go with the classic formula of two characters, one of whom annoys the other one like Green Eggs and Ham or Fox In Sox or Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now!  I might not have the capacity to get the language right, but at least I could get some of the Seussian spirit.

Next, I had the issue posed by the title I was given.  It certainly sounds like a child asking someone about her mother’s cancer.  That’s pretty heavy.  But Dr. Seuss is never heavy.  It took me a while to make this work.  Finally I arrived at euphemisms.  I think euphemisms are fun in general.  I realized I could make this topic somewhat light by focusing on a dad’s uncomfortableness trying to talk about boobs with his daughter.  There’s humor there, so I went with it.

After that, I had to figure out meter and rhyme.  I don’t naturally think this way.  This is the part of the poem I’m least satisfied with.  I found something that worked, but it doesn’t feel Seuss-y to me.  It’s too sing-song-y.  As I said before, Dr. Seuss is inimitable.  So, this was the best I could do.

Finally, I had the illustrations.  I am less of an artist than I am a poet.  I knew I couldn’t get Seuss-like drawings.  So I went with sight gags.  I drew some stick figures and used clip art to show what the daughter was picturing every time her dad used a euphemism.

When it was all done and I was sort of satisfied, I sent a copy to my friend.  She loved it, which was gratifying.  After her reaction, I decided to publish it and put it on Amazon.  And, in keeping with the spirit in which it was written, I decided to give any money I make to a breast cancer charity.  I haven’t sold a ton, but it’s done better than I ever thought it would.

So, that’s my story of a non-poet writing a poem.  I like to think it’s not really bad poetry and someone might actually have some fun reading it.  Or if someone just wants to give some money to a good cause, I’d love it if you checked it out.

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Damn It, I Want Another Kid

“By the time I’m 39, Gabriel will be 18 years old. I’ll have my whole life ahead of me!” That’s been my rallying cry for over ten years at this point- part retroactive justification for having my son at such a young age, part reality. Raising my son and then being free to take my life back at a relatively young age has been one of the pillars of my adulthood. I proudly told my friends that I was a “one and done” parent, and that when Gabriel went off to college he’d have to guess where I was going to be when he came back for break. The clock is ticking, I told them, and then my parenting days are over.

Recently though, another clock has started ticking, even more loudly. It’s the biological clock, and it’s telling me to be fruitful and multiply.

I blame my brother and my ex-wife for this. Khalil and his girlfriend Danielle brought Khalia into the world in February:

Zoraida and her fiance had Soleil last August:

I see these babies constantly. Soleil is at my house almost every week when her mother drops off and picks up Gabriel. I quickly acknowledge her parent’s existence and then talk to Soleil while Gabriel and his stepdad unload his things. Khalia comes to visit less frequently, but I look forward to her visits all the more because of it. As far as I’m concerned, Khalil and Danielle are simply the chauffeur service for my niece. She’s the one I want to see, and I guess her parents have to be around too.

Look at these cuties. LOOK AT THEM!

Now I want one too. Watching Gabriel grow up has been the most rewarding experience of my life, as he’s gone from a blob of flesh that could barely open his eyes to a ten year old boy whose head is starting to peek over my shoulder. I love talking to him and making jokes and riding bikes and playing games, but I miss my two year-old son. I miss the excitement of milestones. I even miss the delirious state of near-exhaustion that a newborn keeps you in for the better part of a year. I think I miss those things more than I covet the chance for an early retirement from child-rearing.

But before I can conjure up another Ragland, I need a few things first. These include (but are not limited to):

1) A woman- Probably the most important ingredient of having a baby is having a woman to impregnate. I find myself recently single again, so I’m firmly in square one on this front. Dating is a skill which I haven’t quite honed yet (ask all two of my exes), which presents its own unique challenges. I think it’s possible to form a long-lasting relationship with another person, and then extend that into a family with a child. Once I figure out how, I’ll let you know.

2) An exorbitant amount of money- I need this for two reasons. First, it can be difficult to woo the aforementioned woman without the means to pay for dating. It’s also a tough sell to ask someone to let you put a baby inside of them if you don’t have a way to provide for the baby.

Secondly, I can’t have children the old-fashioned way, at least not right now. A few months after Gabriel was born, I got a vasectomy to prevent any further pregnancies for me and my-then wife. Most people thought I was crazy, asking why I would preclude the possibility of future children at such a young age. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly. Every form of birth control, and I mean every form, failed us at the time of Gabriel’s conception. Condoms broke. IUDs fell out. Zoraida was on the pill when he was conceived. She couldn’t get the shot for health reasons. We saw a future where in very short order, we’d have five children and no realistic way to care for them if we didn’t find a solution that worked. As we looked into permanent birth control, we learned that a vasectomy was an outpatient procedure covered by our insurance, while tubal ligation was significantly more expensive and invasive. I was the lucky candidate.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way though, and it’s still possible for me to help conceive a child. I can either have my vasectomy reversed, or me and a future partner can go through the in vitro fertilization process. Neither of these options are cheap, or even guaranteed. They will require me to be able to financially sustain efforts to conceive over the long haul.

3) Absolute, 100% certainty- Having friends and family with babies is doubly dangerous because their cuteness overwhelms you, and their ease of care deceives you. After all, whenever Khalia or Soleil start crying, need to be fed or changed I hand them back to their parents. All of the fun, with none of the work. I won’t be so fortunate with my own child. I’ll have to be there through the first fever, the teething, and the general annoyingness of children. I have to make sure I’m really okay with returning to changing diapers after being out of that game for eight years. Despite the challenges, cost, and my own judgement, I want a baby. All of those concerns are real, but they pale in comparison to how wonderful and special raising a child is.

So do you have any single friends?

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Some Thoughts on Dragonball Super

Artwork courtesy of Toei Animation and Akira Toriyama.

I’ve been watching Dragonball Super on and off throughout its run. I watched a good part of the Future Trunks arc, hoping that the story and action would live up to the potential that was on display. By the end, with Cloud Zamasu, it became clear to me that DBS would never live up to its potential. But I would pop in now and again, hoping that I was wrong, that the show just needed to find its legs. That’s what brought me into the Universe Survival arc, and once again I found myself unmoved by the show. I kept watching though, because I wanted to understand why I didn’t enjoy DBS. There was something I couldn’t put my finger on.

Episode 101 finally crystallized the major problem (for me at least) with DBS: there is no grounding for power in this show. Things just happen, with no regard to their origin or their future consequences. Kale is the personification of this problem. The audience can accept the idea of a Legendary Super Saiyan because that work was done in Dragonball and the Broly movie (which is a cheap trick- the show presumes you have the knowledge of LSS and never does anything to establish what it means within its own narrative). We’ve seen Kale’s first transformation into LSS, and we’ve seen her subsequent transformations. Both times, her transformation was characterized by incredible power and a loss of control. Fine. As unsatisfying as limitless, unexplained power is, there is precedent for that in the Dragonball universe, so I can let that go.

What we don’t see is any process at all which leads to Kale’s ability to CONTROL that power. It just happens. There’s no work, no training, no sacrifice or exploration of her struggles. They barely even pay lip service to the idea of control for her. Why can Kale suddenly control her LSS form? She just can. Power is arbitrary in DBS and responds to arbitrary criteria. There isn’t even consistency in her motivations for transforming; the first two transformations were a response to jealousy, but this one is the result of self-loathing?

Dragonball has always spent a large amount of time showing the process its characters go through to achieve their power. From training with Roshi to King Kai to Piccolo and Gohan to the Hyperbolic Time Chamber, the preparation for combat has been as important as the combat itself. Do you remember how much time DBZ spent laying the groundwork for Gohan to go beyond Super Saiyan? How the other characters tried and failed, and there was a learning process for all of them? DBS jettisons that in favor of power as a thing that just happens, and it feels empty and inconsequential. The fights feel empty and inconsequential as a result, because there’s no tension or drama. Characters can simply pull power out of nowhere, control out of nowhere. There’s no moment when you genuinely wonder, “How will our heroes win?” because you already know the answer: they’ll power up to some new level in a way that’s completely unearned.

It might seem silly to spend this much time deconstructing the issues of DBS, but I think it’s important to think about these things. I’m sure there are many of us watching DBS that are writers and artists, who hope to publish something someday. I’m sure many of us draw inspiration from Dragonball and the other manga/anime we love. There are important story lessons from all of the things Dragonball did right, and the lessons from all the things DBS is doing wrong are just as important.

 

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The Way Out

This picture has been making the rounds on Facebook after President Trump’s decision to reinstate the ban on transgender people serving in the military. This may be a person who exists; I can’t say with 100% certainty that there are no people signing up for the military for the chance to flout international law. I’ve never met this person though, or anyone like them. Let me tell you about the people I have met who have served.

My mother was born in Sylvester, Georgia fifty two years ago. I visited my family there when I was eight. A town like Sylvester is about as far away from the glitz and opportunity of Atlanta as Connecticut is physically far away. There were 3,600 people in Sylvester in 1960, and nothing else. While growing up there, she and her nine brothers and sisters experienced the most grotesque abuse, the kind you read about in memoirs. Her way out of that place was the United States Navy, where she met my father, a Marine with a GED and a desire to see more than the streets of Hartford where he’d been all of his life.

I have friends who were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times, when it was a very real possibility that you might not come back from a tour there. Friends with confirmed kills. Friends who have seen their buddies die. Friends who deal with the physical and psychological trauma of war to this day. They didn’t join the military to “slaughter poor brown people.” They joined for the GI Bill. One of them joined in the summer of 2001, right after high school. It was still peace time, and he needed help paying for college. He told me that he cried on September 11th because he knew it meant he was going to war.

There is an eighteen year old walking into a recruiting office right now somewhere in the United States because they believe their best option to better their life is to risk their life. They’ve made the choice that killing someone else is the path that leads them out of the misery they’re experiencing.

Before you cast your moral aspersions on that kid, you’d better have an alternative for them. Today. Right now. You’d better be prepared to find that kid, and take them yourself to that alternative which will pay them, shelter them, feed them, and offer them the potential for help down the road. You’d better have something more than a platitude for someone who has decided that the potential good of their decision outweighs the monstrous evil of death.

The world is a hard, cruel place. The poor kill the poor, and the rest cast judgment. If you’re opening your mouth with something other than an answer, you might want to consider what else you can be doing besides talking.

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Building Characters and Confidence With Breakdancing Shakespeare

I read Romeo and Juliet in middle school, and I vaguely recalled the important names from the play- the Montagues and Capulets, Mercutio and Tybalt, and of course, the eponymous leads. I didn’t remember that there was a nurse in the play, much less any of her lines.

That is, until Asaundra Hill stole the show last year as the Nurse in Hartford Stage’s Breakdancing Shakespeare production of Romeo and Juliet. Asaundra stood out as especially energetic and hilarious among a talented cast which made the play much more entertaining than when I skimmed through it in seventh grade.

Photo Credit: Hartford Stage.

Last year, I was invited by Hartford Stage to learn more about Breakdancing Shakespeare. It was my first time hearing about the program, and I wrote about how impressed I was by the level of dedication and talent on display from everyone involved. When I returned this year, I was fortunate enough to speak with Asaundra and Tamara Graham, another performer returning to the program this year. As we talked, the Breakdancing Shakespeare program took on a new meaning. It’s more than infusing The Bard’s timeless scripts with modern dance. Breakdancing Shakespeare’s great accomplishment is building the confidence, skills and networks of young people who don’t have other venues.

Asaundra has been involved in theater for most of her life, starting with a Cultural Arts program she entered as a child in Bloomfield. She has performed in productions for her church and Bloomfield High School, but Breakdancing Shakespeare was her first experience with a professional theater production.

“I would like to pursue theater as an adult,” she told me. “It’s really nice to get exposed to professionalism, being professional and doing a real production…This is a real show, under the lights, packing the house, professional choreography, all sorts of stuff like that. Being in this program has really opened my eyes to how things work in theater. And being in this program opens up alot of different connections. Your network builds.” One of those connections was an employee at the Hartford Foundation. When she saw Asaundra’s application for a scholarship to attend Howard University in the fall, she recognized Asaundra from her performance in Romeo and Juliet last summer. “The lady said, ‘When I saw your application, I just had to give [the scholarship] to you!'” Asaundra explained, laughing. She will be majoring in political science while minoring in theater arts at Howard, although she may change those plans into a double major over the summer.

Tamara Graham is another performer returning for her second year in the program. Like Asaundra, she got her start in Cultural Arts and also attends Bloomfield High School, where she will be a senior this fall. Tamara is already looking beyond her final year of high school and planning a career which incorporates the lessons and benefits she’s received from Breakdancing Shakespeare. Tamara is interested in studying psychology and dance in college. She wants to open both her own dance studio and therapy office, and combine the two to offer therapeutic services for her clients through dance. Tamara developed the idea from her own experiences. Dance has helped her to deal with difficult situations in her own life.

“Even when I come here [to Breakdancing Shakespeare], it’s an outlet for me, it really is, because outside of this I get stressed out by alot of things. When I come here there’s alot of positive energy and you’re only focused on one goal, and being focused on one main goal means alot to be able to be with people who share the same love that I do.”

Photo Credit: Hartford Stage.

Tamara also wants her studio to offer the kinds of opportunities that she didn’t have access to. “I’ve always wanted to be a part of a dance studio and sadly I was never part of a dance studio, so even being here with people who are part of different dance studios has motivated me to want to be that dance studio for somebody else later on. I know how it feels to see everybody and meet people and you just think they’re big on campus because you think they have a serious, official background and I don’t really have an official background, but I always keep in mind what my mom says: as soon as the music comes on, I move…and I use that as motivation when I see these people that I could be just as good as they can be.”

Asaundra echoed those sentiments. “It was nice to see people who don’t know me, who couldn’t know me from Sam over there, Joe over there, to just, to have impacted them, to touch them and for them to give me so many compliments and all of that and saying, ‘You stole the show!’, it was really eye opening to me. It just let me know you really could do it. Even if you don’t have all this formal training, you still can do it, and you got it, so do it.”

For these incredible young women, the Breakdancing Shakespeare program has been a key experience in their growth as performers. You can help Breakdancing Shakespeare continue to train young people in the arts by attending a benefit performance of this year’s production, As You Like It, on Saturday, August 5th at 7:00 PM. All proceeds will go directly into funding Breakdancing Shakespeare in 2018. General Admission performances will be offered beginning on Thursday, August 3rd and will run through Saturday afternoon. This program has made a difference for so many young people, so go out and show your support.

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I’m Not Too Sexy, Please Pass Me My Shirt

I’ve discovered in the last few years that I’m something of an exhibitionist. I haven’t done anything (too) crazy, but I probably should have realized this all along. After all, I write about myself at least as often as I write about about other subjects, and there’s a certain level of exhibitionism in that. I keep my blinds open at all times, and I’m the guy who does low-key exhibitionist stuff like take out the garbage with no shirt on.

So I was cleaning out my closet today. Thanks to the odd location of my apartment (the sun seems to beat down on it at all times of the day) and the lack of proper air conditioning, it was approximately 630 degrees, and that was before I turned on the oven to make some pizza rolls. Sweat was -running down my back in rivers, so I took my shirt off while I worked. I was filling myself up with pizza rolls while I was filling up bags with garbage. Eventually I had to make a run to the dumpster. I grabbed the garbage bags and walked towards the back door, ready to make the women swoon and the men envious with my chest-nakedness, until I noticed by distended belly protruding out over my belt. Had twenty pizza rolls caused me to become this bloated? I dropped the bags and ran into my bedroom to cover myself with the faces of Barack Obama and Joe Biden on a ratty old T-shirt.

It was the first time I’d covered myself due to embarrassment about my weight. I’ve been lucky to be thin for most of my life. Behold my glorious beach body from six years ago:

…and then there’s the picture I took today:

Friends and family have remarked that I’ve gained weight, especially in the last year. I visited my old coworkers at Trinity College last fall, and when they saw me they said,”Wesleyan must be paying you better than Trinity did, cause it looks like you’re eating better!” I went to see my grandfather last week, and he told me that I looked bigger. He wasn’t talking about my height (especially since I discovered last summer that I’m about 1.5 inches shorter than I thought I was). Their comments didn’t really bother me. I took them as jokes or mere observations, not judgments or derision. It wasn’t until today that I’ve really felt self-conscious about my weight, and it wasn’t caused by someone else.

Today, I was confronted with the reality that my body does not look the way it did six years ago, and I was ashamed. It didn’t matter that I haven’t gained that much weight, or that a little bit more exercise and a little bit less pizza rolls will fix that belly relatively quickly. The problem is that a fair amount of my self worth is attached to how I perceive myself physically- as a moderately attractive, moderately fit guy. I’m not scoring modeling contracts or running marathons, but I value my appearance and think others value it as well. That sense of worth is tied to the self-image I have of myself as that 25 year old on the beach. When I looked down at myself and saw the clear beginnings of Dad Bod, I realized that I’m not that person anymore. I wanted to make sure that no one else saw that.

I suppose we’re all self-conscious about something. Feeling weird about my weight, while new to me, is nothing that’s going to stop the world from spinning. And honestly, I don’t care enough about it yet to actually do anything to change it. That’s why I’m sitting here, writing this post with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich right next to my keyboard. With my shirt off.

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