Posted by: Ariel | February 14, 2014

“Queen of the Snowflakes”

Each cloud is made of a million million tiny clouds
Which are made of even smaller clouds and so on
The smallest clouds of all are my subjects
And I watch them sometimes

No not because they need to be supervised
They like to be watched even the shy ones
And they are all wonderfully special so
I love them the best that I can

It is forbidden to leave my domain but they always do
They fall out of the sky some wildly and some wearily
Swooping and gliding on wings of hope and fear
Knowing they can never come back

I don’t know where they go though I wish to
My poor children the wanderers
I can’t see that far away
But I remember them

Posted by: Ariel | November 13, 2012

Happiness and Meaning

There’s been some recent positive psychology research into the overlaps between happy lives and meaningful ones. Check it out here:

I particularly like the point they make about happiness being solely in the present, while meaning results from the incorporation of past, present, and future. Balancing the present self (often seen as temptation or the devil) with the more rational, practical, future self is, I think, one of the most important balancing acts of our lives. The research suggests that taking results in happiness and therefore satisfying the present, while giving results in meaning and therefore satisfying the future self. It also points out that happiness and meaning are correlated, which means that most of us find some measure of both. All fairly intuitive results but great to put words to nonetheless.

It also explains why sometimes, instead of sitting down to read or wage virtual war, I roll up my sleeves and do the dishes. When I was young I thought the point of life was happiness. Then I thought it was the pursuit of happiness. In the past few years, I would have said that the reason for living was to help other people. But I think I can more accurately phrase that sentiment now. When you help others, you give meaning to your own life. Like those who have jobs they love, if you’re lucky enough to enjoy helping, you’ll probably end up very satisfied. So maybe the reason we’re here is to be one more opportunity to give and to take, one more person to work with and play with, one more soul to love and be loved.

Posted by: Ariel | October 20, 2012

“Out of Eden”

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. To keep her own guests waiting a minute more would be unforgivably impolite. She picked up a tray of mini-quiches, rearranged her face into a smile, and stepped out into the dining room. Madeleine Harwood was tired, though she was too proud to show it. She could admit only to herself how tired she was of cooking, of hosting fundraisers, and of pretending to care. She was even tired of her name, and had introduced herself as Maddie to a couple of the bigwigs, to their perplexed smiles.

The kitchen wasn’t much, a cluttered slab of counter underneath a window, but it was enough to be her sanctuary. She had taken to leaning against the wall and reading in there. It started as something to pass the time while baking, but recently hours would slip by as she shifted her weight back and forth, unwilling to sit and unwilling to move on. She was in the middle of Out of Eden, a story about the adventures of a guy called Adam and his wife Eve as they buy a house in the suburbs and try to make a place there. She was itching to pick it back up, and had already started planning her next excuse to get back in the kitchen.

She looked around for her own partner, and spotted him immediately. Her eyes were drawn so easily to Brian, just as they’d always been. He was chatting intensely with Elise, the senator’s aide, and even when he was listening he tilted his head sideways to let his salt-and-pepper hair do the talking. Maddie hated politicians, but she knew Brian was really after this connection. Just from his body language, she could tell that he was in one of his oddly effective stubborn moods. It seemed to be working, too: Elise was looking like the hard-to-get phase was officially over. Madeleine tried to catch Brian’s eye for a few seconds but soon gave up and was sucked into small talk with a gaggle of school board representatives. It was easy to let her mind wander then, and she drifted back to her book, feeling exhausted. Maybe, she mused, Adam and Eve actually ran out of Eden. Maybe we’re only given a finite amount of paradise when we’re born, and when we use it all up, there aren’t any more wonderful surprises.

She wasn’t expecting any tonight, anyway. Brian and Elise would close the deal, which meant a late night, with lots of drinks, followed by a litany of apologies she wasn’t looking forward to. “C’mon Mad, don’t be mad,” he’d say jokingly, and seize upon her tiniest sigh as forgiveness. Don’t be Mad. As if it was that easy to just will someone out of existence. Then again, maybe it was that simple – he was doing a good job of it, after all. He had the dedication necessary. And yet somehow, she couldn’t seem to do any more than play her part, as if her life was a story that had to be advanced one page at a time. She was walking calmly back to the kitchen now, the perfect hostess; but in her mind she was already there, already picking the book up, already on the next chapter. She thought she had some Eden left, and she wondered what she could make out of it.


This was an entry in NPR’s Three Minute Fiction round 8 on March 25. Enough time has passed now that I’m allowed to post it myself. It didn’t win, which is unsurprising; there are many better entries to be had by clicking the link.

Posted by: Ariel | October 19, 2012

“The Devils in the Details”

Stuart moved slowly as he rinsed down the stack of chipped plastic dishes, feeling the double breaded popcorn chicken settle in his stomach like so many rocks. It was getting dark and he could just see the flickering glow of the Henrietta’s Chicken Shack sign start to light up the parking lot. He was exhausted just from standing at the sink, most of his body’s energy going towards more pressing issues, such as what should be done about the double breaded popcorn chicken.

It was all Janice’s fault. She’d slacked off again and left him to handle most of the dinner shift by himself. By the end of it he was so behind that he’d been forced to wolf down that morning’s discards on a stool in the back room. There’d been a bucket of secret sauce sitting on the counter, in between the lard and the fry oil, and one by one he’d dunked the misshapen blobs of flesh in the bucket before shoving them in his mouth.

Stuart had already forgiven Janice. He would have forgiven her anything, but it had been an especially hard week for her since Lucy stopped showing up. When he’d called out to her from table 5, she’d paused with one hand on the door and looked at him, a look that said “I’m going outside to wait for Lucy, my one true friend.” But day after day, Janice waited and Lucy did not come back. There were rumors, of course, that she’d talked to some reporters, that she’d been digging into company secrets, that she knew what went into the secret sauce.

Things were slowing down for the night, as the grease and fat settled over the customers like a heavy blanket so comforting that you welcomed its slow smothering. Stuart’s stomach churned as he mopped up, and he stopped in the back room to stare balefully at the bucket of secret sauce. It stared back, seeming to churn itself as shadows from the ceiling fan flitted over its viscous, dull orange surface. Was something moving? Stuart dropped the mop, wiped the sweat off his forehead, and leaned over the bucket.

“Do you wanna know what’s in there?” a voice whispered behind him.

“Cheese and fries, Jan!” Stuart exclaimed as he whirled around in surprise.

“No,” she said quietly. “It’s not cheese and fries.” She looked scared. And sad, like she’d just come back from a funeral. “Please don’t look, Stu. That’s all Lucy did was look, and that was enough.”

“What are you talking about,” Stuart muttered. “It’s just sauce.”

He dipped a finger in the bucket, despite Janice’s whimper, and sloshed it around, the smells sending his stomach on new roller coasters. He was just pulling his hand out when it brushed against something furry and rough. It wasn’t just floating, it was moving. Squirming. He looked wide-eyed at Janice, but she had her eyes shut tight and was halfway out the door. He heard her wails recede into the distance as he compulsively turned back to the bucket. They were so obvious now, the things that were living in there. They drank the secret sauce and excreted it, slept in it and played in it. It fairly bubbled with their furious motion, globs of thick liquid spewed this way and that as they cavorted and danced in the fluorescent light. Stuart was sick to his stomach.  One of them laughed, and the orange sauce bubbled out in a froth. A chunk of black sludge was nibbled at by two or three tarry mouths. Two more were going at each other so wantonly that jiggling sprays of syrup were sent airborne with every salacious thrust.

The room spun as Stuart stumbled out the door. Everyone had gone home except a well dressed woman in a black pinstripe skirt suit.

“Stuart Brenner?” she asked, standing and extending her hand. “My name is…well, I’m the corporate liaison for this branch of Henrietta’s.”

The logo of Henrietta’s Chicken Shack was embroidered on her breast pocket.

“Please sit down,” she continued. “I’m here to talk to you about the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Lucy Rusman’s termination.”

Stuart sat dully, holding his stomach with one hand.

“Are you feeling quite well?” she asked in a concerned tone. “How ’bout a stiff drink? It’s after hours, isn’t it?” She took a flask from her bag and mixed it in a plastic cup with Coke from the machine.

Stuart stared at the cup for a second before taking an ambitious sip. “Lucy…” he began.

“Yes,” the woman said, smoothing her skirt and smiling as she took the seat opposite. “I’m afraid we had to let her go, but I can tell you we’re very pleased with your performance in her absence. You and… Janine, is it?”


“Ah. Yes. I should really write that down.”

Stuart wondered how many sips it would take him to gather up the courage to tell the lady about what had happened in the back room. She was scribbling something in a little notebook, and crossing something off. He took another sip and the woman smiled as his eyelids fluttered and drooped. He resolved to say something after just three more. He needn’t have worried though; as it turned out, one sip was more than enough.

Posted by: Ariel | October 13, 2012

“Best Enemies”

I will wake up in the middle of the night and the blankets will be gone. I will be cold as I try to tug them back from her, and I may mutter dark things. Where you see someone sleeping, contented and at peace, I see only the enemy.

It’s not her fault, you’ll say. I will laugh and say bedsheet manufacturers don’t make a size for people who like to wrap themselves up like burritos.

The fact is, her subconscious won’t care about our half-jokes, nor our earnest promises to try a little harder to share. There will be no love lost between me and the enemy.

I will lie awake plotting the next move in the war, and retaliation will not be enough – there will be retribution. If she makes a soft noise and rolls away with the blanket still in her clutches, I will roll on top of her and right over her like a steamroller from the childhood game of the same name which my brothers and I invented to torture each other.

I will remember reading something about how marriage is like making an enemy that will last you the rest of your life. One that knows the worst about you, who sees you at your least flattering, and who may be the only person to truly understand how selfish and petty you are inside. It will ring as particularly profound at that moment.

Eventually, I will go back to sleep. We are not married, but as I look at her and the ruined burrito I will think that she is shaping up to be the best enemy I will ever have.

Posted by: Ariel | October 12, 2012

“High Score”

In another castle, there’s a princess
Could use some rescuing, you guess
But now you’ve started, what’ll you do?
Can’t quit a rescue halfway through

Jump and dance and make me laugh
Make romance your guiding light
Now I’ve got you in a trance
You ought to dream of me tonight

Is the princess real or in your head?
Do you love her or what she said?
And will you hear when people say
Some predators enjoy being prey

Only by dying you prove your faith
By trying and failing and only through grief
I’ll make you feel just like you’re flying
All I need is your belief

Posted by: Ariel | July 17, 2012


Everything is the past.

Everything I am, everything I was, everything I hate, and everything I’m not.

The past is all I know, the basis for all my judgements, all my fears and hopes. I have expectations, and they are either disappointed, met, or exceeded. Besides, I can only have each surprise once, and who knows when. Too little surprise and I will be bored. Too much and I will be afraid. I think we both know what’s going to happen.

What is left then to look forward to, when everything I see and hear is already fixed and unchangeable. Any deviations from the projection are retroactively smoothed out by my brain. Memories distort themselves to match whatever narrative I buy into. Even with the immutability of history, it can be made to make sense. It must. Distrust, betrayal, selfishness, hurt, mistakes, war. They must be smoothed out, or the past would overwhelm me. It’d overwhelm you.

You’re wondering why nobody else thinks this way. Why everyone is keen to be part of these exciting times, so excited for the future.

Well, they just don’t see that a song that goes on forever is probably stuck on loop.

Or maybe they knew that once, and forgot.

Posted by: Ariel | July 7, 2012

“Historical Footnote”

Next slide please.

Let me paint you a picture to illustrate my point. A bead of sweat. A plodding step. A vocal exhalation. Mouth slightly open, head bowed, utterly defeated.

Next slide please.

This histogram shows the average movement speed of the people in aggregate region 4 as a function of temperature for ten Earthly rotations. As you can see, not only does movement become quick and purposeful during cold times, but higher temperatures correspond to slower activity.

Next slide.

Our conclusion can only be that unlike us, human metabolism was crippled by heat. Their fleshy exoskeleton and inability to burrow must have left them quite vulnerable. Still, it is possible that they and other species like them reigned peacefully for many ages. Any questions?

Yes. If what you say is true, why did average temperatures increase exponentially during the human period of dominance? One would think that with their problem solving ability…

Ah, that is a question for the anthropologists, and beyond the scope of this talk.

Posted by: Ariel | May 23, 2012

“Family Ties”

Lightning flashed an easy, charming smile at Willow as she walked past, and was rewarded with the usual eyeroll.

“Man,” he exhaled, “is she something. So graceful. So tall.”

“Why do they always have to be tall,” grumbled Thunder from across the table. “Just eat, so we can go back to work.”

Lightning fidgeted in his plastic seat, working up some static electricity that popped and crackled annoyingly. “You’d never understand.”

The brothers glowered at each other over half-eaten tacos. It was sunny out, but the birds had stopped singing.

“I understand, all right,” Thunder said. “You’re a hotheaded ingrate only capable of thinking of yourself.”

“Ingrate? Who got us this job, huh?”

“And we’ll lose it if you can’t take it seriously.”

“Don’t you ever want anything? Do you even know what desire is? I love her! I love her and I want to be with her and I don’t…”

“Oh, so now you love her. Oh, that’s sweet. That’s so beautiful.”

“Screw you, man.” Electricity arced angrily around his clenched fists.

“Dude.” Thunder tried to take a conciliatory tone. “You’ve got to stop doing this. We aren’t kids anymore and Dad is gone. We have…”

“Don’t say it,” Lightning warned.


The sky darkened. Lightning stood up slowly and deliberately, radiant with power and ambition and purpose. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m going after her.”

Thunder sat back wearily in his chair, which squeaked with the weight. He reached for a chip and dipped it in the salsa.

“This’ll only end in tears,” Thunder boomed in his best prophetic voice. Lightning laughed giddily and was gone in a hum and a sizzle.

“Check please,” Thunder rumbled in the direction of the waitress. He reached for another chip and sighed. Soon, the pursuit would begin again.


This is an entry in Cherie Reich’s 2nd Annual Flash Fiction Blogfest. Click to read the other entries!

Posted by: Ariel | May 1, 2012

Marco Polo

If poems are meant to represent reality, then Hangover from Billy Collins succeeds. I love the way the Prairie Home Companion audience swells up to end the poem even though the author never reads that last line and it may not even actually exist.

I’m also reminded of this painting which, to me, represents the ultimate in frustration.

Death by Stress

by `alexiuss

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