hangry in Antigua

As my boyfriend and I walked down the cobblestone streets and alleys of the ancient capitol of Guatemala, a dusty, colorful and quaint remnant of Spanish colonialism, I grew quiet.  Everything around me faded as if the world beyond a five-foot diameter was an undefined white miasma.

Then I blurted out: “Just to let you know, I’m going to need to eat in the next five minutes.”

The ‘oh-shit’ look transformed his features as we embarked on a not so pleasant adventure to find the closest eatery that had: 1) food; 2) vegetarian options that wouldn’t cause vomiting or severe intestinal cramping; and 3) had a chance of being delicious and heathly.

Here’s the confession:  I am one of those people. You know the kind. The ones who go from 0 to scary in five minutes if they don’t receive immediate nourishment.

It’s embarassing, and causes its share of problems. As my boyfriend has pointed out, food is the source of 95% of our arguments.  Considering we don’t fight often, that’s  significant.

So what is it that drives me to become the explosive ice queen whenever I get hungry?  Or ‘hangry’ as some people call it.

As it turns out, there’s a science-backed answer in the giant morass of the great intergalactic library called the Internet.

That’s right … Science is on my side.  (And my physiology is to blame.)

Hungry is an emotion

Some things are happening in your body when you get hungry.  The concentration of glucose in your blood is depleting. Once it achieves a certain level (from 3.8 to 2.8 mmol/L), your brain, which survives on glucose, initiates a desparate cry for help.  A progressive SOS goes out to the pituitary gland, pancreas, and adrenal glands who in turn respond by releasing growth hormone, glucagon, and adrenaline and cortisol, respectively.  The body releases these hormones in stages.  Early stages are supposed to trigger glucogenesis, a process whereby the body converts amino acids into glucose so that your greedy, gluttonous brain doesn’t have to stop bingeing.  Adrenaline and cortisol come into play when the glucose levels further drop.

Being low on glucose is a bit like being drunk.  Muddled thoughts, slurred speech, and difficulty concentrating are some typical symptoms.  Being really low on glucose is dangerous, and can lead to seizures, coma and death.  Seriously.

The link between adrenal, cortisol and anger seems obvious, however it’s not the only thing driving this irrational behavioral response.  You know how genes provide the basis for our programming.  Well, the one controlling hunger also controls anger. Neuropeptide Y (benign name for such an implement of destruction) is found to be significantly elevated in the cerebral spinal fluid of some lucky individuals, together with a higher incidence of the Y1 receptor. [ASIDE: Neuropeptide Y, like many things in the body, has  different functions, and can induce various responses to diverse stimuli.  For example, it plays a role in obesity, aids in dealing with PTSD, enhances performance under stress, and may provide protection against alcoholism.]

Is anger ever a good thing? 

Evolutionarily speaking (because who doesn’t like gazing back on those knuckle dragging days with misty-eyed nostalgia) increased aggression while hungry probably served a very important biological function… like making sure you beat out the competition and didn’t die of starvation.

As it turns out, my irritating habit of losing my rationale mind when I get hungry may have been beneficial in some kind of yesteryear.  I imagine my ancient self racing across a muddy savannah, flecks of earth sailing through the air like miniature bombs against the smoke-filled sky.  Spear in hand.  Prey trying to escape me, but turning its sharp tusks at me once I finally corner it.

*sigh*

It’s no excuse, nor is it fair to my amazing friends and family to become she-hulk when my blood sugar drops.  How do I combat evolutionary biology?  I haven’t quite figured that out yet.  Some basic tricks are always having a healthy snack on hand, no matter where on the planet I am.  Maintaining blood sugar levels requires a bit of vigilence, as well as a deeper knowledge of our own internal bio-rhythms.

Perhaps the main thing is to remember a moment of hanger is temporary, and to stay grateful for my boyfriend, who is so patience with me, and keeps an internal map of all the closest eateries.

the things we leave behind

the things we leave behind

On the streets of Antigua Guatemala, February 2015 © JL Colomb

It’s afternoon.  We’ve been walking the streets of a foreign city for hours, taking pictures and talking and absorbing our environment for hours. The lighting in the city is surreal.  Clouds migrate above us while the stone streets and plaster walls glow.  We come upon a street corner and there, carefully placed upon a ledge, is a used doll. I love things like this.  Her face is smudged, and her little pink jumper suggests a state of undress.  The absurdity of this trinket – reeking of a kind of innocence left in a place that is hard, effervescent with life and all its requisite hope and desperation, its meager achievements and monumental failures – appeals to me.

I don’t know what the doll’s story is.  Perhaps a child dropped it, and some well-meaning stranger discovered it and left it in the most protected place they could so the thing could be recovered.  Maybe it was thrown in rage, or simply left as a sort of goodbye to a past, which has no shape in the future.  In any case, there is this discarded thing, disconnected and waiting.  But material possessions are not the only things we leave behind.

We abandon habits, people, and beliefs. Friends, lovers, childhoods and visions of the future.  I’m chagrined to think that I have left people to the past, that I have few vestiges of family history. It galls me and at the same time it has very little importance.  As appalling the notion is that things with inherent intrinsic value can be cast aside, it is also necessary.  Life is a process of acquiring and discarding. Destroying and rebuilding or building from new.  This is true for our physical environments, our bodies and also our psychological and spiritual selves.

People, thoughts, bits of knowledge, beliefs, and other things in our lives serve a purpose in our development.  Like a tank of gas, they carry us to a certain point until they are spent.  Maybe we are grateful for the territory covered.  Maybe not.  But it is our journey, and these things we leave behind have given us shape and meaning.  We would not be who we are and where we are without them.  And when the time and the reasons are right, like a doll left on a ledge, it is okay to let them go.

the art of decay

Today on my drive home, an image kept plaguing me. Not this one. This rotting gauge serves as a tawdry little stand-in because I neglected to seize a moment and photograph the shit out of a beautiful living corpse of a building in DC. The image was this: peeling paint. Paint coming off in crispy corkscrews. Paint licking up like a dog’s engorged tongue.

This… made-up skin was nearly gone. Time had washed away the rouge. The wood, grey by now, rasped in the late Spring air. It’s texture was something between bone and leather.

The image reminded me of life. Not in a grand-sweeping-epic sense, but in a tearing-away-the-layers sense. Let me explain. In this image, I kept tying in paint as a metaphor for social conventions and expectations. It represented all the things people tell us we should be, how we should or should not behave, how we should talk, what titles mean and the kind of license they give people to be unintentional (or squarely intentional) assholes. The shadows of past traumas (small and large), the layers of education, both in school and through the simple interactions we have with people EVERY SINGLE DAY.

I feel like paint, i.e. conventions and shoulds, are masks. They veil a truth, and maybe hide that truth from both the external and internal observer. And this event of the paint coming away is an opportunity to discover a “who” beneath what we’ve learned to be. What is our true nature? Who is our most authentic identity?

This is not a gentle art, nor is it pain-free. But it can be filled with beauty, and a freedom in the pursuit of it.

By Hook or By Crook

(Fair warning: This story includes expletives, aka good old-fashioned cursing.)

The rusted hull of the ship assailed me.  It was the only vessel in the space docks, and looked like something out of the Age of Exploration, long before the Collective had gained legitimacy, and well before the start of this so-called era of diplomacy, which has claimed you, Love, as a casualty.

The representative of Directorate waited quietly.  He was a docile thing with dark hair and skin so nearly translucent it belonged to a newborn babe.

I stared at him.  Hard.  “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“It’s the only available ship in the Collective’s fleet,” he said calmly, as if he’d been programmed to.

I clenched my teeth.  “This piece of Collective shit belongs in the basement of a museum.  It’s not good enough.  If you people hadn’t manipulated the convoy manifest, I’d already be to the edge of the galaxy.”

“That token was made in error.”

Breathe.  I had to command myself to breathe.  “There’s a jump freighter leaving for that vector.  You’ll barter my passage on that one.”

He smiled a passive simpering little smile that incited my amygdala to leak corrosive hormones into my body.  My hands clenched into fists.

“We cannot.  The freighter is full.”  He didn’t even try to care.

“The freighter is not full.  I know the captain.  I saw the manifest not 45 atomic minutes ago.”

“Hmm.  You are mistaken.”

I punched him then.  Not once, but twice.  Love, I know you would have been horrifically amused by the act, maybe not so much by the emotion behind it. I literally could not control myself.

After a couple of blinks, a little red light flared in his eyes. “System re-routed,” he said with a smile.  “That will not improve your situation.”

Motherfucker wasn’t even real.  It was just then I remembered Magnus.  He was that cybernetic Labradoodle you brought home from one of your missions.  An adorable cuddly thing, until you made me take out his hard drive.

“You’re sick,” I screamed at you from my perch on top of the dresser.  Magnus was snarling and lunging at me with the exact intensity of a rabid devil.

“My Love, my life,” you said, your voice exuding the calm of an ocean at dawn.  “You watched me do it.  Now you do it.”

“He was docile when you took it out.  Then you reprogrammed him into this maniac.”  I threw a jewelry box at Magnus.  He snatched it, shook it in his jaws, then release it.  It exploded when it hit the wall.

“It’s all about tactic.”

I glared at you, not exactly hating you.  It was those moments I hated. Whenever you came back from a mission, and I defrosted, we’d trace each other’s bodies with our fingertips, relearn the lines and contours, the texture of our skin.  We’d make love over and over. In between, you’d teach me things.  At first they were reasonable things, like how to clean the heads to improve a holo-projection. Then you’d have me dismantle the whole system and put it back together.  Perfectly.  That was when I started hating these moments.  And then Magnus.

You stared into me, love in your gaze and something else I could not quite decipher.  “You can do this,” you said.

I believed in myself, but you believing in me was so much more.  I focused on Magnus, jumped to the bed.  When he leapt after me, I shoved a pillow in his mouth, and wrapped my arm around his neck.

You handed me the knife.

I swallow back my own vomit as I cut into the dog, right along the sternum.  I jammed the knife into the slot, and amid the madness, heard a tell-tale click.  The dog stopped screeching, and went rigid in my arms. We worked on the program next.  You made me write the code for a parallel system myself, from start to finish.  By the time Magnus was whole again, you’d received your next assignment.

Before you left, you said, “I want you to do something for me.”

I nodded.

“Don’t go into hibernation just yet.  Study.  Memorize all the cybernetic lines.  Where the hard drives are.  The processors.”  You kissed me on the forehead. “Keep the tool—”

“The knife.”

You raised your right brow as your lips skewed to the left.  “Keep the tool on you at all times.  And perfect the program.”

Did you have this moment in mind?

I looked at the Directorate’s representative.  “Are you a C-87?”

He blinked, confusion perturbed his brow.  “I am a first-class S100.”

Nipple.

I tackled him, knelt on his neck and stomach.  In three seconds, it was done.  In three seconds, his nipple hung like the flap of a tiny door.  Open.  I held his essence in my fingertips.  It took five minutes for the program to transfer from my All-Comm to his chip.  After I reloaded it, I repaired his nipple with some skin glue, wiped away the ooze, and fixed his shirt.

He sat up, and looked from me to the ship.  “I do not presume you will travel in the vessel as is.”

“Then what do you presume?”

He walked to the ship and tore off a panel of the outer haul with his baby-soft hands.  “This is not part of my directive.”  He looked back at me as he tossed the rusted metal at my feet.  The light in his eyes flashed violet.  It was the output signal of the parallel program.  He tore off another piece.  “But I must make the ship suitable for travel.”

 

Author’s note: This story is part of a non-linear narrative called “My Life as a Robot”.  The idea of the Collective is credited to JTM.  This story was inspired by him, and something he wrote for me in another life.

Once more, with feeling

The door opened.  Lavender light flooded the ship.  It revealed dust and grease and frayed wires.  For the first time, I observed how worn the walkway was.  Aside from the sloping concavity made by my old feet, my newer feet had dented the walk at regular intervals.

I sensed the air vibrating, and turned to the source.  Forty-two humanoids—correction, people— stood in a group, and looked at me.

Mission review: Travel to Colony X.  Deliver the directive.  Reunite with the ambassador.  He had another role. <Cannot retrieve the record. File corrupt?> Stay with him.

Execute.

I walked down the ramp, and scanned their faces.  Their construct was soft, framework breakable.  Their optical processors—correction, eyes—dilated.  One of them stepped forward.  The blood flow to his skin diminished even though his heart rate exceeded its normal operating range.

“What happened?”  His output frequency modulated.

My neck twitched three times.  It happened when I processed complicated data.  Correction.  It happened when I thought.  I looked at the ship.  Large sections of the shell were missing.  “I had to recover metal from the exterior to make this container.”

The person’s face contorted.

“This body.  Is that expression called a frown?”

He said nothing.  His face became more <cannot translate>.

We looked at each other, registered each characteristic.  His container was different, too.  Specific details correlated to data in my archives.  The way he stood, the expressions playing through his  face.

This bit of data did not make sense: something lived in his eyes.  An energy, a spark.  It activated another processor.  It was an old one.  An original part.

I translated the data better.  His expression was horrified.

“The hibernation chamber malfunctioned.  And the drives.  The ship was in multi-system failure.  I sent a transmission.”

His face went slack.

My neck twitched three times.

He said, “The transmission was from the ship’s mainframe.  It said you were delayed and gave a new arrival time.”

I reviewed the records.  Yes, that was correct.  “I am here now.”

Silence responded.

I examined the other people, the landscape. The iron-rich sandstone was deep red and orange. Large domes, white and ethereal, scattered across the terrain.  A ceremony happened in one of them.  The ambassador told me about it in an archaic transmission.  A letter.  The data had been received a long time ago, and that transmission had initiated my directive.

Silence continued.

My neck twitched.  “I was damaged.  My options were limited.  The systems were malfunctioning.”

He still said nothing.

“I had to fulfill my directive.”

He only nodded.

There was silence and it was heavy.  If I had skin, sensation would have crawled through it to shake my spine, to flare through my head and pierce my heart.  There was silence and I had to fill it. “You are the ambassador.  Part of the convoy.  But you have another name.”

He finally made a noise.  It was a sob caught in his throat.  Wetness leaked from him.  “I call you Love, and you called me the same.”

in the wilds of vermont. or, what is home?

June 2012, Vermont by InkSpot's Blot
June 2012, Vermont, a photo by InkSpot’s Blot on Flickr.

Funerals and weddings. These are the rituals that give some shape to life, along with holidays and those quirky events some families invent. These are the things that usually draw those of us who have left back to our hometowns. Except for me. I hadn’t been back home since 1993. There’ve been a few funerals, and quite a few weddings. My own even (never mind the divorce). And all this avoids the obvious. Nearly two decades passed before Meme’s death forced my Mom and I to return home.

Three thousand miles is nothing. Two decades, however, make for some rough travel. Landing in the Burlington Airport was surreal. Meme’s body had arrived hours before us. We were renting a car, and so insisted no one meet us at the Airport. Stepping off the plane, retrieving luggage, taking the shuttle; it all adds up to mundane, something we’ve both done before. Once we turned the rental North on Route 89, the routine flickered and reality peeked around the edges.

The roads were wet from a rainstorm. Color saturated the sky, and the thick clouds sopped it up, too. Green surrounded us, which is actually an understatement. I almost felt like the trees were infusing me with light, trying to counteract the darkness, which was not sadness but nerves. Family was waiting. So was grief.

When we reached St. Albans, Mom drove around town, pointed out the things she remembered. All the while, crazy thoughts were looping in my head. My cousin—who I remember as a kindergartner—is pregnant. The one in elementary school has facial hair and lives with his girl friend. My Aunt and Uncle are gone. My cousin has served umpteen tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hard core tripping.

As the week unfolded, however, some of the awkwardness faded. Many of us faced my grandmother’s funeral together, as a family. It was painfully small. Most of her friends have passed, and there aren’t many of us left either. But we shared memories, our grief. We shared moments under the stars, in the pool, drinking and watching the lightening bugs dot the edge of the forest. It ached. It was wild, and full. And it was home.