So What’s Your Superpower?

Like most who do what I do, I started as a reader. The voracious sort, of anything I could get my hands on that had words on it. Fiction, non-fiction, cereal boxes, whatever. Comics were a big part of that.

Which brings me to “What’s Your Superpower?”

We’ve all seen that meme. “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” Always a little tongue-in-cheek, but there’s a serious element to it because you can tell a lot about a person by what they desire. Once you eliminate the obvious and over-used (super strength, flying and such) it gets a lot more interesting. Things like “I want to time-travel at will” or “Solve any crossword in under ten seconds” are not unheard of. Anyone who wants “People to do what I say” probably needs counseling, or at least a safe distance. It’s a sort of mini-test for the state of your head.

Me, I’m torn between two. The first is that I’d like the power to understand and speak any language I hear, and read and write any language I see. Forget super-strength, I think this would be incredibly cool. Not especially heroic in the earth-saving sense, but certainly very useful. We’d finally know what the Phaistos Disk is talking about.

The second is dangerously close to the “People to do what I say” option above. I’ve even written a couple of pieces with this notion: I’d like the ability, for example when I’m hearing a politician speechifying or a preacher preaching, to simply say, “Tell the truth.”

And they would.

Now, I’m not talking about catching lies as such, though this would often do that. Just make them say what they really feel is true. Facts are facts, but the truth of facts is they are open to interpretation. Facts are what is, truth is what they mean. Facts are dispassionate; truth is personal. Does a person really mean what they say? Even when they’re spouting absolute nonsense? I figure we can sort out the nonsense on our own; that’s our job. Also doesn’t mean the person speaking isn’t a vile waste of oxygen, but at least we’ll know if they’re a sincere vile waste of oxygen.

It’s a good thing to know.

So what’s your superpower?

Liminal Conversation

Since I’m currently torn between conflicts and thus not able to concentrate properly on any of them, I’m posting a piece of flash fiction in lieu of having anything to say. Except in a story.

The key word, in case there was any doubt, was “liminal.”

 

 

Liminal Conversation

Tisha was looking thoughtful. That was nearly always trouble. Then she looked at me, and I knew that the trouble had arrived. “Why does no one use the word ‘liminal’ in normal conversation?”

Dinner was over. Dishes were done. Tisha’s focus was almost scary, but once we were finished with the mundanities of the day, then a brilliant mind has the chance to wander, and hers could wander further than most. There had been a time when such questions left me bewildered, but that was mostly because I had been both smitten and impertinent enough to want to understand the thought process going on behind those haunting green eyes. After a few years together, I had learned to just go with it. “I imagine there are people who do, yet I’m not surprised there isn’t more of it. You have to admit, it’s a fairly obscure word.”

“But why then? It’s so useful.”

I blinked. “Well, in the esoteric sense of useful….”

She dismissed that. “Rubbish. I’m not talking Schrodinger’s Cat, here, where you need to express whether the cat is in a state neither alive nor dead, but in a transitional non-state. I mean mundane things, like a bridge. Liminal is the best description for a bridge I’ve ever heard.”

“Because it’s neither one piece of land nor another?”

“Silly. Because it is by definition the transition from one place to another. Once you set foot or wheel on a bridge, you are literally in a liminal state, neither here nor there.”

“And that state doesn’t change until you reach one side or the other?”

“Exactly. And let’s not forget its cousin subliminal, which I’ll admit does get used more often, but only because it expresses a concept that is defined by the liminal root. Liminal in that sense meaning ‘barely at the doors of perception.’ Subliminal is something a part of your brain recognizes and acts on, even if the conscious mind has no idea why.”

“As in just below the liminal threshold, whereas a faintly red sky near sunrise is at the liminal threshold if you recognize that it’s red.”

“You got it. Now how about a dock? A transitional state between land and sea, or rather land and ship. Completely liminal.”

“Or a shading between the colors red and pink? Neither pink nor red?”

“Absolutely liminal. Or how else would you describe the state between one breath and the next? You’re probably going to take that breath, but if you didn’t then it’s not between one breath and the next, it’s between life and death.”

“Or a bottle that just needs to lose one more bubble of air before it sinks?”

She nodded. “Really, anything of that sort. See how useful it is?”

“I do.”

Tisha was looking thoughtful again. “Do we still have that bottle of zinfandel? I could go for a glass.”

“Me too. I’ll get it.”

Three repeats of “red” and one mention of bottle. Liminal? Very useful, but subliminal? Winner, hands down.

-The End-

©2020 by Richard Parks. All Rights Reserved.

It’s a Puzzle

Every week (except this one, since the Library is being renovated) the Flash Fiction group meets and we read our pieces out loud, based around a “trigger” (word, not warning) from the previous week. Last week’s word was “comely.” Our group leader pronounced it differently than I always had, even though it’s an “archaic” word not used often these days.

I’ll also note that most of the writers’ work at these parties fits on a single page. Mine almost never do. Why? I’m too big a fan of dialogue to let that happen. So here is last week’s flash to illustrate my point, an almost completely dialogue driven, totally imaginary conversation on the correct pronunciation of “comely.”

It’s a Puzzle

She: “Thirteen down, six letters, ‘having a pleasant appearance.’”

He: “Comely.”

She: “It fits, but I believe it is pronounced with a long o.”

He: “Why in the world would you rhyme it with ‘homely’ when it’s the antonym of homely?”

She (shrugging): “Easier to remember. Besides, I think I’m right.”

He: (Pausing to Google): “It’s neither right nor wrong. Merriam-Webster says both are correct.”

She: “Rubbish. They can’t both be correct. One is right so the other has to be wrong. Ergo, you’re wrong.”

He: “Let’s not get Latin involved in a simple pronunciation dispute. Actually, now that I look at the definition again, I am wrong.”

She (Smirking the tiniest bit): “Told you.”

He: “I was only wrong when I said both are correct. There’s actually a third way to pronounce it, but it looks Swedish.”

She: “I’ll leave the Latin out if you’ll leave the darn Swedes out. It’s not a Swedish word.”

He: “I said it looked Swedish. I look Irish but I’m actually Italian on both sides.”

She: “You’re actually annoying on both sides. And there has to be a correct way to pronounce that word.”

He: “Nope. Merriam-Webster says all three are acceptable. You want to argue with Merriam or Webster?”

She: “I’ll argue with anyone I know is wrong.”

He: “Should have stopped after ‘anyone.’”

She: “Smartass. Besides, it’s not acceptable to me, no matter what Merriam or Webster say. They’re both wrong, and according to you I should say it as if it rhymes with cum-ly? That borders on obscene.”

He: “I’m saying I pronounce it as if it rhymes with ‘bumb-ly.’ You can pronounce it however your perverted little heart desires.”

She: “Did I ever say I love it when you talk dirty? Well, I lied. It’s pronounced ‘combly,’ and that’s all there is to it. As in comb your hair, if comb was an adverb and not a noun or verb.”

He: “Did I ever say I love it when you do crosswords, because it’s a relaxing hobby?”

She: “Not once did you say that within my hearing, so I guess you didn’t lie. That is where you were going with that little bit of business, wasn’t it?”

He: “More like a bit without the business. In the sense of a comedy bit.”

She: “Then that bit didn’t do the business. In the sense of being funny.”

He: “You’re never going to finish that puzzle at this rate, you know.”

She: “It’s never about the destination, it’s always about the journey. A good discussion beats a bad puzzle any day.”

He: “I thought we were arguing.”

She: “You also thought that word rhymed with bumbly, so what do you know?”

He: “Can we just move on? What’s the next clue, because I obviously need one.”

She: “When you’re right, you’re right. Fifteen across, nine letters: Unyielding or inflexible.”

He: “Obstinate.”

She: “That doesn’t sound right.”

He: “I’m staying out of this. Look it up in your Funk and Wagnalls’.”

 

-The End-

©2020 by Richard Parks. All Rights Reserved.

Checking In

My contributor’s copy for the reprint of “Night, in Dark Perfection” in China’s Science Fiction World arrived a few days ago, shown left. I can’t read it, but I hear the story wasn’t bad.

I’ll be participating in a group flash fiction reading at @littlefallslibrary  (Little Falls, NY) on Wednesday, November 13, at 6PM. Stop by if you’re in the area.

Little Fire & Fog has been selling well since its release (hard to do before release unless there was a pre-order. Which there wasn’t. I’m not that patient.). My thanks to everyone who took a chance on it. There’s one stellar review up already.

Otherwise, I’m starting a new project that’s going to take a while. Not saying what it is just yet because I don’t want to jinx it, but at least some of you will be pleased to hear..when I get around to telling you, that is. Until then, the occasional cryptic update might be all there is.

 

They Never Will Be Missed

In the Mikado, Ko-Ko, Lord High Executioner of the village of Titipu, had a little list of people who never would be missed. Just in case he was ever called upon to execute anyone. Apparently it wouldn’t have mattered who he would have killed. Just someone. If you’ve read the original, you know it was a terrible list. What wasn’t racist or misogynist was misguided and, worse, unfunny. Not that it mattered, since—spoiler alert—he never did execute anyone.

George Carlin also had a list of people who ought to be killed. As far as I know he didn’t kill anyone either. In my youth, when both hormones and passions ran higher, I also kept mental lists of people who, in my sole opinion, really should have done the world a favor, stepped in front of a speeding truck, and thank you for your cooperation. I never killed any of them, which is likely the only thing I have in common with a real comedian and a fictional executioner. And, since I’m not Lord High Executioner of anything, that’s probably for the best, but hey, one can dream.

Which brings me to lists. Almost everyone keeps lists. There are grocery lists, bucket lists, playlists, set lists, Things to Do lists, guest lists, and the list go on and on. So much so that it has devolved into a peculiar form of essay slash article slash advertisement: the listicle.

You see them everywhere from clickbait on FB to actual ebooks on Amazon. Ebooks, I should point out, which people actually buy. Fifteen Ways Kale Can Kill You. The Eight Best Planets to Visit. Seven Creative Approaches to Slicing Onions. The Top Five Ways of Dying While Taking a Selfie.

You get the idea.

Listicles don’t think you do get the idea. Everything on the list has to be explained, justified, expounded upon, which makes it a listicle and not just a simple, actually useful, functional list. Imagine a grocery list. It’s easy (if  you thought I was going there, wrong. Copyright violation).

  • Eggs
  • Bacon
  • Milk
  • Dryer Sheets

Now imagine someone going through every one of those items explaining why it’s there, the deeper meaning of what it means to buy eggs. The virtues of bacon, the advantages of milk for anyone over the age of five. What is the actual purpose of dryer sheets. Are you not enlightened?

All based on the humble list. The difference is that a simple list is actually useful. You make a list so you won’t forget who to invite to the party. Do you go down the list writing an explanation of why they’re on the list? It’s enough to know that they are. Besides, you already know why. Explanations would be for the people who aren’t on the list, but odds are they’d know too. I’m looking at you, Francine.

So what are listicles actually for? For taking monetary advantage of our natural curiosity. And selling books. In general, I’m all for selling books. But there are limits.

I’m going to make another, very short list.

They never will be missed.