The March for Science; by Jeanne Mack

When the March for Science happened in Flagstaff two Saturdays ago, I was not there. I wasn’t one of the local Science advocates parading down the street, banging on a drum, and shouting generally pro-Science things at the top of their voices. I wasn’t there, partially because I was at the Thin Air community writing workshop, but the fact is that I’m not sure I would have gone even if I was free.

Our workshop was held in the community room of the public library, which is right along the route that the March took as it circled downtown Flagstaff. We’d opened the windows to let in some fresh air, and as the warm breeze filtered into the room, so did the screams for Science and drumbeats in the not-so distant distance. As I listened, I thought about why I wasn’t willing to lend my support to “Science” in general.

It’s not because I don’t realize what good Science has done–furthering humanity’s understanding of the Earth we live on, enabling people to overcome deadly diseases, etc. It’s that I’m unable to overlook all the bad that Science has left in its wake as it powers forward, toward those impressive achievements.

For every life saved, there is another life that has suffered in the name of Science.

Imagine a close friend or family member of yours has a mental illness, maybe severe depression. Maybe you don’t even have to imagine this. But now imagine that when they go to a doctor to receive medical care, they are told that to treat their illness, a doctor will first need to sedate them and then drive a sharp ice pick-like instrument up through their orbitals, behind their eyes and into their brain, until their frontal lobe has been effectively killed.

Scientists, neurologists, and doctors believed that lobotomies were the cure for mental illness starting in 1936 in America. They held onto this belief for long enough that they were able to complete about 2,500 lobotomies.

Maybe thinking about the world with a scientific, analytic mindset allows for a certain remove from the human aspects of life–allows a scientist to view participants in an experiment as subjects and not people.

In the same era of lobotomies, there was also forced sterilization of the disabled, the non-binary gendered population, intersex populations, indigenous people, and ethnic minorities. There was the development of the H-bomb and atomic bomb, which allowed for the subsequent bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

I’d like to think that Science has learned valuable moral and ethical lessons from the horrors of its past. Ideally, scientists are more aware of both the positive and negative effects their work can and does have on the world. I’d hope that there’s more of a priority on slowing down, and thinking about things from every angle–appreciating the perspectives of those that their work directly impacts.

But it’s possible that Science will always inherently be at odds with less quantitative elements–like compassion, tolerance, and understanding.

I’ve been listening to a podcast that traces the fight for Mauna Kea, a sacred Hawaiian mountain that sits at over 13,800 ft elevation. While astronomers are desperate to construct a Thirty Meter Telescope at the top of the mountain in order to observe planets and stars and ancient galaxies with an eye sharper and more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, the local community is tired of having its sacred mountain defaced by scientists. Astronomers have already built sites on the mountain, and left the environment in disarray as a result. It’s a fight over the importance of Science’s quest to understand humanity’s origins and a community’s prioritization of preserving the culture and nature we already know about, immediately surrounding us.

Science has been and will continue to be a complicated arena, and while I understand that the March was in response to our President’s recent defunding of several different scientific programs and entities, and do not in any way support that defunding, it’s imperative that we remember the complexities that have arisen at the hands of Science. The lives of lobotomized and sterilized people, the damage caused by atomic bombs–were those sacrifices worth it? My inability to answer this question is what holds me back from championing Science as an inherently good cause.

Several Indisputable Claims and Why I Fear Chainsaws Simulated; by Justin Kanzler

Simulated Reality Theory argues that the universe is actually a simulation created by a computer with powers far beyond our comprehension. That means everything–including the interdimensional loose change that lives in every couch simultaneously–is actually a few imperceptible lines of code for us to blithely accept and complain about. A foundational argument for the possible existence of this omniscient computer is that nobody can prove it doesn’t exist. Also Elon Musk believes in it and that guy made, like, a bunch of cool shit so obviously this is something worth considering. I worry about the logic behind believing something is possible just because it’s impossible to disprove. And my fear of accepting the logic of simulated reality theory is, quite naturally, rooted in my deep fear of chainsaws.

I saw a therapist. He was on a tv show, but that’s the kind of therapy I can afford, and this tele-therapist said it is important to define what your fear is to you, so instead of listening to advice from someone talking directly to me or someone that actually exists, I’m listening to Dr. Television. My fear is chainsaws. To me chainsaws are the unwholesome union of engineering and a profession defined by hitting trees while wearing flannel. They are the product of cleverness and violence just like all of our greatest inventions: unmanned aircrafts, mustard gas, the microwave. What other than a mechanized razor stick could have come from this incongruous matrimony of brilliance and muscles. Other than their obvious utility as tree-murderators, chainsaws have 2 things going for them that frighten me to my nougat core: they are silent until activated, and they can be purchased as most large home improvement stores. Silence and Home Depot create the frightening possibility that everyone around me is quietly hiding a chainsaw behind their backs or in their comically large trench coats or even a teeny tiny chainsaw tucked away in a purse next to 3 mismatched sticks of gum and someone else’s sock. There could be a chainsaw in every hand if that hand is out of my field of view, and nibbles at my piece of mind like a rabbit nibbling at a lost and sorely missed lumberjack thumb.

With the information available to me and with the rationale posed by Simulated Reality, I can make the following indisputable claims:

Claim 1
There is a man with a chainsaw outside my room. The door to my room is closed. The curtains are drawn. It’s that time of night where anybody outside is either a murderer or an astronomer. Outside my door there is a hulking man with a greasy burlap sack over his head, and he is holding a jagged collection of unsympathetic metal teeth powered by internal combustion. There is a silent chainsaw-toting beast-man outside my bedroom door, which I have only now realized is totally inadequate defense against chainsaws because it’s wood and wood is what they eat, and based on the information I have available to me, I cannot possibly prove he’s not there. I can see every corner of my room; I can understand everything I can perceive with however many senses I have. Based on the information my senses give me–limited as they are by damage from loud concerts, reading at night, and sneezing like I fucking mean it–I can’t prove that someone isn’t about to shred my door with an unsympathetic wood-ravager before doing the same thing to me.

Claim 2
I was seconds away from a buzzing evisceration yesterday at my bus stop because the woman by the trash can had the new Echo CS-370 Chainsaw strapped to her back and hidden beneath her coat. That warm smile wasn’t one of greeting when I walked by. It was a smile hiding a graphic secret, a smile that knew she was planning on loudly making my entrails into extrails using a tool that can turn a healthy vertical tree into a horizontal dead one in under a minute. My squishy body wouldn’t provide a third the resistance a tree could, and that smile showed me that maniac knew it. I can never prove that my bus stop companion was mere moments away from hauling 40.2 CCs of slaughter from the trash can before doing to me what she’s probably done to countless blocks of ice: carving me into something wet and misshapen. I can’t prove it, but I am certain she wanted to see what I looked like as a puree.

Claim 3
When I closed my eyes during Heads Up Seven Up as a kid, the other children actually stalked the room with chainsaws instead of creeping around touching thumbs. I haven’t been afraid of chainsaws for my whole life, but that just verifies what I always knew: I was a stupid child. Looking back, it’s laughably obvious that the only reason eye-closing was a part of Heads Up Seven Up (HUSU?) was so the other children would have a chance to whip out their child-sized chainsaws–which come in Hello Kitty print, Camo, or faux blood stain–and prowl around the room picking who they want to annihilate. The only comfort I have is that the teacher would have intervened if a child had actually tried to saw another child while they were defenseless–probably because the teacher was saving them all for later. I’m onto you Mrs. Piers; your therapist tone and poofy gray hair can’t hide your secret murderous intent. I can never prove that my seemingly placid and apparently loving 5th grade teacher had a chainsaw hidden under her dress the entire year I knew her, but my 10 year-old senses were less acute back then. I was an amateur to paranoia, but now I am seasoned like a good chicken. Even if there’s no way to prove it, I bet she was poised to attack every time I was distracted during mid-morning journal hour.

So what lesson can we draw from the potential of a simulated reality? Fear. We should be afraid. Absolute bowel-voiding terror should dominate every second of our lives because there is no possible way to prove you are safe from potential chainsaw vivisection or any of the other three thousand and six ways the warranty on our soft ham-bodies can be voided. It is impossible to dispute my chainsaw-inspired fears because the evidence against them just doesn’t exist. I live in fear because I cannot disprove the possibility that someone nearby is hiding a chainsaw and amping themselves up to tear through my supple flesh and transform my walls into a lumberjack-son Pollock painting. I cuddle my cat and weep my terror because we can’t commit to thinking something is ludicrous just because it is difficult to cite common sense to a philosopher. So I’m cowering under blankets–which may or may not be digitally generated–because that seems to be the only viable option.

Let Me Explain To You Why You Get No Extra-Credit; (a dispatch from your web-editor)

Let Me Explain To You Why You Get No Extra Credit
by Eric Dovigi

I.
A dead skunk is permitted to decompose on the side of a road until it dissolves like a putrid dandelion, yet I’m not allowed to sit on a public bench for more than a half-hour.

II.
On this Earth, to shoot, stab, blow up, push, stone, set on fire, toss in acid, banish, exile, ostracize, discourage, hate, and ridicule are the most ubiquitous methods of empowerment.

III.
In our culture, people are invited and encouraged to commoditize themselves on human-sharing websites that suggest they assign themselves a status, a profile, neat lists of friends, events, and take photos of themselves with squishy faces, let people know what sorts of boring things they will be doing that night and invite other people to share in the boredom; or by means of a carefully chosen quotation, express the intention to spend a lifetime in pursuit of artistic accomplishment of which they will never, ever, in a million years in a million possible universes, be even partly capable.

IV.
People jump on top of alligators for fun, eat spoonfuls of cinnamon, lick frozen aluminum poles, build paper mache wings and leap from the Eiffel Tower, all with more confidence than I have ever had, doing anything, in my entire life.

V.
This morning I walked to work with plastic bags tied around my shoes. My shoes were made for running in the summertime. The right shoe has a large hole in the side.

VI.
It is winter. Snow is everywhere. By the time I got halfway to work the plastic bags had torn mostly off. My right sock was drenched. I stumbled and fell cutting through the dry gully by the graveyard.

VII.
Every day I wake up tired, and I spend so much time during the day just being tired that by the time I go to bed, I’m not really that tired anymore, so I lie awake until it’s morning.

VIII.
You came into class twenty minutes late yesterday. Twenty minutes. Here is a list of pretty much the only people that are ever twenty minutes late on a regular basis: a) employees who are about to get fired, b) people having sex at near-absolute-zero temperatures, c) Gandalf, d) the New York Phil’ under Leonard Bernstein (I don’t expect you to get that joke), e) Kanye West when his watch is set forty minutes ahead, and f) the rabbit from Alice In Wonderland.

IX.
You have not been writing down the word-of-the-day since at least September. I watch you.

X.
I don’t like your Facebook profile picture. Yeah, I looked up your name on Facebook.

XI.
I make less money now, as an instructor at a university, than I did when I worked retail–by a long-shot. Lagavulin ain’t getting any cheaper.

XII.
I’m starting to go a little deaf in my left ear. What’s that? Extra what?

XIII.
I’m afraid of dying. I want those extra-credit points for myself. I want to horde them up. Maybe my inflammation will reduce. Maybe cell-senescence will slow–or reverse. Maybe my traumatic memories will disappear. Let the serotonin flow. Let wine rain from the sky. Give me those extra-credit points! They’re mine! num num num…

XIV.
No. I don’t want them. I don’t want those extra-credit points because they’ll only dull the pain for a moment, child. The elation won’t last. The sense of safety, of accomplishment, of pride, will pass quickly and leave no residue, and the weight of Earth will descend with swift eagerness and you will be utterly crushed, you tiny tiny human. Old people will fuck you over forever, until they die, and then you’ll be old, and the dead skunks will dot the roads and you won’t be allowed to sit on a bench, and cars will hit you, and people will laugh at you, and you’ll have spent your entire life as a teacher making less money than you did when you worked retail, and then you’ll die.

XV.
There is no such thing as extra-credit.

Voyager 1 Meets God; by Justin Kanzler

After home I have seen light.
And I have drifted unmoving through an emptiness
That never saw me,
small beneath spheres colossal
casting shadows infinitesimal
in the lit wake of titans.
I am here to watch and to understand,
and here is never the same.
I am out,
alone,
the first to find what
has been forever here.
Before you,
I found
red faded light playing upon me even as it died,
and a massive turbid monster perfect scarlet punctuating marbled brown,
I have seen fractured crystal cold dancing circles as a crown,
and I have seen blue eyes wide against a wall of black,
I have been here in the company of giants
alone,
but what is here,
really,
is nothing,
passive, enveloping everything,
and there, too, is light.
Then,
I found you,
alone,
black eyes bearing heavy hallowed distant light,
your body, nothing coalesced and impossible,
and I saw through you
to far lights
improbable.
In the teeming glow of drifting stars,
I found you
watching, too.
But you looked in all directions
like something lost,
or like something had lost you.
And you were so unhappy,
knowing as you did everything that had come to pass,
and looking as you can to everything that would be,
and who could be happy so paralyzed by inevitability,
waiting,
for what you knew would happen
but unable to intervene
because you knew you wouldn’t.
But the same light that lit me golden
finally illuminated you with my reflection.
And you knew I would come,
and I knew you would follow,
away,
together to find new light and giants.

	

Tricky Wash; by Matthew Johnstone

People called coyotes

will take you across,

                                                                                  highways will have roses

to stray the hell, no

one says animals

veer at name, how

this blurry dust field

home ends,

 

                    the wend fell us moving

                    white light aside, why

                    men wear the names of

                    animals down their

                    fronts, as cooks,

 

                                   or pitch their bodies, down

                                   to what, a method of state,

                                   no walking at to where is

                                   away, season seen onto

                                   the eye, then this true

                                   else is our nor, down

 

rows of shoulders, how border

share us down to none, we, an

act, leak at field, that or as

far as collapsing in directions,

coasts, that include, eyes

 

                                            in the sun blurred bodies,

                                            gave and met, and ripped

                                            apart, us and out into

                                            them slowing, to suggest

                                            we easily become else to,

                                            speak in these, breaths that

                                            hung from mustache

 

                                                                            through chain link

                                                                            fence, snaking inland,

                                                                            near here the field,

                                                                            remains horses, bones

                                                                            curled on their sides

                                                                            atop floating pollen,

 

                                                      blind though edgeless, as west,

                                                      were stupid to further, the

                                                      lice white suns the sky apart so

                                                      sky in this ravine makes little

                                                      sense, they handfuls in sightless,

                                                      search where were there no

                                                      places,

 

                    You are calling this canyon   

                    Tricky Wash

                                  choking thousands, no

                                  animal asks you why the

                                  sun speaks a synonym of

                                  us, anywhere earth not

                                  become ours, cars that

                                  press against one

                                  another, no coyote,

 

the more you look someone

has no eyes

in the eyes

Narrow Chimney, 2016-2017 kickoff

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, readers and writers, it’s that time again. Your Monday will no longer be that drab, soul-dampening harbinger of yet another tedious workweek that it has been all summer. For the next several months, Monday will mean EXCITEMENT. Monday will mean ARTISTIC EXPRESSION. Monday will mean NARROW CHIMNEY.

We kick things off on August 29th–the first day of school. What could be more fitting. Even your students can come; the event welcomes individuals under 21 years of age.

We are lucky to have local writers Nicole Walker and Natalie Rose performing for us on the 29th. Come as you are. Bring your friends. Bring a book so they can sign it. Bring questions for the artists to ask after the performances. Bring a few bucks so you can get a drink and maybe some of that great Irish food. Bring your verve. Bring your zazz. Bring your dog.

Particulars:

Uptown Pubhouse, August 29th (Monday). Natalie Rose, & Nicole Walker. 7pm to 8pm. Free. Weekly spoken word event, every Monday, with MFA students from NAU as well as local figures.

Be there or be square. I will be there. I will also be square. Both are options.

Signed, your thinairmagazine.com pilot,

Eric Dovigi

(photo credit: Remedios Varo)

For All The Men Who Slept With Her

By Damyanti Biswas

From a distance, she took him for a boy. But on looking closer, Laura knew him for a boy-sized man, one of those people nature chooses to sport with.

She felt a gush of rage. She wanted to gather him up in her soft arms and tell him he looked good in his charcoal blue librarian’s uniform, his pale moustache, his curly head of hair, the way he smiled at the girl in front of her in the queue. When the girl walked off, Laura stepped up to the counter, and gave the boy-man her best smile.

Jasper, his nametag said. No surname, just Jasper, looking lonely.

“I have a few problems I’d like your help with.” Laura leaned over the counter, hoping to give Jasper a good view of her cleavage.

He smiled, his gaze not sliding down from her face, and said, “Sure, how may I help you?”

He pronounced the word ‘help’ separately from the other words, with a pause before and after. So he had chastised her, asked her to take her boobs off the table and focus on the work at hand. She showed him the book she had reserved, the receipt, bearing her name, and the title, ‘Georges Seurat, 1859-1891: The Master of Pointillism.’

He looked at his computer and nodded, “Just give me a minute.”

Jasper rose, his eyes still on his screen. He didn’t ask her if she was an art student, or smile.

“No wait, Jasper,” she said, her voice low and hoarse, as if about to confess a secret, “I have another problem.”

“Sure, tell me.” Jasper sat down again, his head still bent towards the screen.

In the distance, Laura heard cars screech to a halt, sirens. A door opened and shut somewhere behind the counter.

“You see,” Laura rustled the pictures in her book, Degas’ ballerinas, all twisted and bump-curvy, “There’s a tear in this, I want to make sure it’s repaired.”

“Sure, I’ll see to it.”

“There won’t be any charges?”

“Did you cause the tear?” Jasper looked at her for the first time, his gaze like that of a pigeon, curious, side-eyed.

“No, of course not. I noticed it, and didn’t want to drop it back with the tear.”

On the torn page, a bare breast looked up at them, like a peach pudding, its nipple red like a maraschino cherry.

“I’ll get your book now.” Jasper swallowed and turned away.

Laura stood there, under the air-conditioning, surrounded by rustles of newspaper, the hushed laughter of children, the whistling of a call tune instantly smothered. She pictured herself a wife at home in a blue apron, baking. But instead of Rashid who warmed her bed these days, she saw Jasper enter the kitchen, the poor little boy-man.

A shrivelling happened to all the men who slept with her. She sucked them up, heart, innards and all, and spat them out. They diminished as her painting grew, their life-blood colored her canvases. A witch, that’s what she was, but she wouldn’t take this one. She marched off, leaving the torn book at the counter, the balled-up receipt of her reserved book in her hand.

As she walked out to the entrance, she heard a stage whisper behind her. “Laura,” the boy-man called back to her, like a hoarse talking bird, “Laura, come back.”

She didn’t stop. She would paint Jasper this morning, and using all of an artist’s witchery, she would give his handsome face a befitting body.

Damyanti Biswas’s short fiction has been commended at the Bath Flash Fiction award. She’s published at Bluestem magazine, Griffith Review Australia, Lunch Ticket magazine, and other journals and anthologies in the USA, Malaysia and Singapore. Her debut novel in progress is longlisted for the Mslexia Novel Competition, 2015.

G.K. Lamb at Bookmans Saturday

By Christine Davis

I remember being seventeen in Ms. Knudsen’s AP Environmental Science class. She was Canadian and had purple streaks in her hair, so everyone wanted to enroll. Each day we learned that the planet was doomed. G.K. Lamb’s dystopian, debut novel is about this inevitable doom as told through the first-person lens of Evelyn, a young girl full of hope and fight. She might have done well in Ms. Knudsen’s course, but in Evelyn’s world free thought is rebellion, family is complicated, and answers come at the ultimate price.

World building is key in young adult fiction, and Filtered delivers in this arena. The novel centers on the premise that air pollution has resulted in toxicity so severe all citizens must wear masks while outside, and rely upon air filtration systems inside. Lamb creates images of tall buildings, tightly locked doors, and a billboard declaring, “Remember, a fresh filter everyday keeps death at bay!” The Great Society is responsible for regulating safety, but their regulations encroach upon almost every human right. Evelyn’s schooling is a perfect example of The Great Society’s stiff expectations. Students aren’t permitted to look authority figures in the eye, move out of synch, or question anything about their world. When Evelyn encounters her first taste of rebellion, she says, “There’s life here,” and her new companion retorts, “Uncomfortable, isn’t it?” Lines like this capture the psychological world-building Lamb accomplishes alongside the physical landscape.

Readers fall even deeper into the familiar landscape of family, but once again they find a filter. The family lives in an upscale apartment with plenty of fresh filters and store bought food. Her father works late. They watch T.V. However, any displays of “normalcy” are interrupted by the ever-present threat of death. In addition to communicating through literal filtration masks designed to protect them against pollution, they also must communicate through the masks of fear and ignorance. Evelyn’s mother falls deeper into isolation as the novel progresses, leaving Evelyn thinking, “I wish she were someone I could trust…one look at her and I know she can’t be any of the things I wish her to be. Her frame is already withering, no doubt from malnourishment and confinement.” She wonders, “How much of our imprisonment is self-inflicted?” but she is alone with this question, unable to include her family in any quest for answers.

Lamb’s plot and ultimate climax are nicely tied to both the world he creates, and the family Evelyn must break away from in order to come of age in a time of rebellion. Readers will want to engage in her fast-paced adventures, full of villains, broken heroes, and misguided youths. The more Evelyn commits to uncovering the truth, the more she finds herself entrenched in a historical tug-of-war that leaves her fighting for her life in more ways than one.

The result of reading a book like G.K. Lambs’s Filtered is not only to leave entertained, but also educated. At Evelyn’s age I had Ms. Knudsen to tell me about the perils of this world, but did I listen? Filtered provides young readers an intricate look at the results of environmental collapse through a character they will want to follow anywhere.

Saturday, February 27, G.K. Lamb is signing books at Bookmans from 3:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m., as part of the Bookmans Flag AZ Author Fair. Lamb joins Mark Bordner and Austin Aslan.

A publication by Northern Arizona University's MFA Program