Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What is literature?

So, this is different from the other posts in that it's not a story.  Inspired by a class conversation, I got to wondering what actually constitutes literature in today's society.  Obviously novels of any sort would constitute literature, but what about blog posts? or tweets? Do those count?  I personally would count magazine articles from sources like National Geographic or Rolling Stone as literature, but I don't know if I'd consider an article from Seventeen or People magazine that is just sort of gossip as literature.  I feel as though what I like to write is a form of literature, obviously it's not GREAT literature, but it counts nonetheless.  Newspaper articles will I think always count as literature, but they are clearly different from books which are the prime example of, I think, what the average person thinks of as literature.

In the class that inspired this discussion, letters from Christopher Columbus were being considered as literature, but this was in a time when formal letters were fairly common I feel so why should it be studied?  In 600 years, will our e-mails and text message conversations be studied? Is that what will constitute literature for our time?  We don't consider those things literature now I think, but then what is the boundary for literature?  I think the best way to answer that is that it depends on the time period and personal ideas.  Columbus's letters count because it was an important time of discovery and they were written by someone right in the middle of the action of the times.  A letter written today (if anybody still writes them), would probably only be considered literature if it was by some important political, scientific or social figure about important topics being discussed at that time.  If I wrote a letter to my girlfriend, I don't think would quite make the cut, unless I become absurdly famous for my writings and future generations want to see how my personal writings differ from any potential professional ones.   However, in this age of the internet thousands upon thousands of people are writing all sorts of different things.  Do the comedic articles from sites like Cracked.com or The Onion count as actual literature?  That is, would future generations study it in order to find out more about our time period?  Hopefully nobody from anytime would take The Onion seriously in any way, but I don't think it's far-fetched to consider these popular websites, who do actual writing, to be considered a form of literature for our time.

So then, if we are to consider solely electronic media such as blogs and websites literature, what then will the future consider literature?  What if actual paper books and newspapers cease to be a thing?  The only option in that situation would be to acknowledge e-books and online newspapers, whether in print or not as literature.  Then you must ask yourself where to draw the line.  Are the short 140 character tweets literature? What about paragraph long Facebook updates? Can anyone create literature or must you be of a certain skill level or social class?  Where do we draw the limits?  If letters from centuries ago are considered literature, when that was the only way to communicate, where is the line?  Hemingway wrote a six word story, is that considered literature simply because of who wrote it?  If "Baby shoes, for sale, never worn." is a piece of literature, why can't we consider tweets, many of which are longer than that, literature? I'm not saying there is an answer to these questions.  I'm just asking you to think about it.  It's not easy, but I feel that a word some may take for granted does not have such an easy definition.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Creation of Angels

            The weather was relatively cool.  Of course, it felt colder for a young man wandering the streets alone in just a thin jacket and a worn out pair of black jeans.  At first glance, you would think the man a scoundrel by the grime covering his face and the disheveled look of his clothes and general posture, but for a bum, he was relatively strong, although he would tell you that he is more hungry than healthy.  The mans name is Jack, a name chosen by the guardians assigned to him in foster care.  His light blonde hair and piercing blue eyes gave him a rather ethereal appearance among societies forgotten people.
            Tonight was just another night for Jack.  He had had no luck getting any sort of charity from the passerby's during the day, most of whom just looked down at him disgusted.  Jack was used to this kind of treatment, and didn't mind at all.  The one part he disliked about living on the streets was that meals were obnoxiously hard to come by.  He didn't like accepting any sort of charity from anyone, nor did he like giving anyone anything that he had rightfully earned.  His six-foot, built stature had earned him a few small jobs on by the docks and in warehouses moving cargo and doing whatever needed to get done and in return they would pay him enough to buy some food the week.  While he enjoyed earning his own keep, it was frustrating when he couldn't get work.  Many places didn't like the look of an eighteen year old homeless boy, and thought that he was going to try to steal more than he had earned.  Jack could tell when people distrusted him on sight, he thought it was ridiculous that they'd peg him for a thief when he had almost never stolen anything.

           As Jack made his way back to his small living space in a small sheltered spot he had discovered a few years ago, he played with the one thing of value that he had never parted with.  The gold angel hung around his neck since before he could remember, he was told that it was a parting gift from his parents but he doubted that.  Why would parents who had abandoned him as an infant without even a name leave him a necklace of such value?  Still, he could never bring himself to part with it, and it seemed that it couldn't part with him either.  In his walk of life, there were many who would do anything for some quick cash, and more than once Jack had awoken to find that his pendant was missing but somehow he had always been able to catch the thief or find the necklace before anything had befallen the one thing that had always been there with him through all his troubles.

         "This sucks." Jack said to himself, laying on a small bedding made of scraps of blanket, clothes and sheets that he had found over the years. "Third night this week without anything.  Maybe I should pawn you off. I'd get a few decent meals off of you, maybe save myself a few nights of misery." He bemoaned as he turned the trinket around in his hand.  He'd had this conversation with himself many times, but no matter how much he convinced himself it was best to sell off the gold amulet, he just never seemed to get around to it.  Jack had examined every inch of the angel, from the outspread wings, intricately detailed to show every feather, to the broadsword the holy visage held downward within it's clasped hands.  While tracing the outline of the sword with his thumb, Jack felt a sudden small burst of pain and looked down to see blood trickling  from his hand down the blade of the sword.

        "God damn you stupid piece of shit." Jack swore, "First no food, and now this? For an angel you sure cause a lot of bad things to happen.  Why don't you do something useful for once!"

        Jack's ramblings were interrupted by a sudden burst of wind that caused his meager bedding to fly everywhere accompanied by a sudden crash in the alley where Jack's home had been made.  Peering out from behind the corner, he saw a figure lying on the ground, just beginning to stir while Jack assessed whether the figure would be dangerous or not.  Figuring that a man struggling to get on his feet should pose no threat to him, Jack walked forward to help the figure to his feet.  It wasn't until he was almost to him when Jack noticed something strange.  The figure had the main shape of a man yes, but a very tall man, almost seven feet tall, with arms and torso that seemed to be carved out of marble.  The man only wore what looked like skintight brown shorts, that ended shortly before his knees.  When he looked up, Jack was stunned to see piercing amber eyes that seemed much too clear for this dark alley, but that wasn't the most shocking thing about this figure.  When he finally stood to his full height, the man extended dark auburn wings, stretching across the entire alleyway for what must have been a twenty foot wingspan.

         Doing the only thing that seemed natural, Jack turned heel and ran from the intimidating figure, convinced that he had lost his mind and spent too much time with trinkets.  Before he could get very far, the angel grabbed the back of his shirt and turned him around so that they were face to face.

         "Please don't kill me." Jack said as he struggled to release the angels grip.

         "Kill you?  Agents of the Creator do not kill humans for no reason.  They don't really offer much sport anyway." The angel replied with a slight grin on his face. "I am looking for someone. Would you happen to know a man by the title Jack Streetwalker, kin of the Lords of Bethlehem?"

         "I don't know anyone by that name you nutjob.  If you're not going to hurt me put me down!"  The angel looked at Jack quizzically before noticing the pendant swinging around his neck, and then dropping him.

         "You are the one I'm looking for. Your name is Jack yes?" the angels piercing stare made Jack think of the adults at the orphanage who used to give him looks like that when they thought he had done something wrong, which he usually had.

         "Who's asking? What do you want with me?"

         " I am the angel Araqiel, guardian of this earth and all that inhabit it and messenger to this realm for the Creator.  The reason I have come is that you have called me and I may have need of your help."  Araqiel told Jack, leading him back to his now destroyed shelter.  "You may want to sit for this tale."

         "I'm not taking any orders from a giant bird-man okay?  You got something to tell me I'll hear it right here, right now."  Jack told him.  "Since I've gone nuts anyway I may as well keep some control."

         “Do you know where fear comes from Jack?” Araqiel asked, becoming annoyed with the human's attitude towards him.

“Of course not, nobody knows where fear comes from, it’s just a natural reaction to certain things.”  Jack replied

“Then why have humans feared the same things throughout history?  Even early humans had a natural fear of the dark, of things unknown, of creatures that live in the night. Fear comes because humans have more premonition than they know.  Humans rightfully fear what’s to come after their known time on earth.” the angel explained, ruffling his wings in frustration. “You see, Jack, all of the religions on the earth have theories about what happens when your time on the earthen plain ends.  None of them are exactly right, but they have reasons to think what they do.  The earth is built as a complete cycle.  Human lives are not as short as you think they are, what is witnessed every day and throughout the course of your life is merely the first stage of development for humans.  It was designed by my leader to teach newborns valuable lessons before they would be allowed to join him, a preschool to the universe if you will.  When humans are ready to join our ranks their former bodies go into a motionless state for a year and then they emerge as I am, with wings and the ability to join the ranks of the creator.”

“Wait a minute this doesn’t make sense.  Are you saying that all humans are just the first stage of angels? What about fear?  Turning into an immortal being with wings doesn’t seem scary to me!” Jack said.

Araqiel focused his intense brown eyes on the insolent human, causing Jack to cower slightly.  “As I was saying, this was the original intent for humanity, however something went wrong.  The new creatures needed many things to survive and soon wrought desolation on the entire planet.  The creator did not have the power to keep the planet alive, he lacked the spiritual and physical energy to keep his creation moving, so he was forced to create a necessary evil.  Since only angels that lived their full time as humans metamorphosis into what you know as angels, something had to be done in order to deal with those that died by accident or plague or some other malady that the Opposer wrought on the earth.  The creator came up with an ingenious plan.  He told humans to bury those who had met a mortal fate, and those that were not ready for transformation were brought underground by new creatures called Arachne’s Descendants to a place below the earth and planted so that their life energy could power the planet that the humans were destroying so efficiently.”  

Araqiel paused in order to let Jack absorb what he was telling him.  The human was important the angels needs and played a vital part in a war that had started many ages ago.  Jack seemed to be having a difficult time accepting what the angel knew as truth, but humans were often headstrong and difficult to convince of ancient truths.

“So you’re telling me that everything on this planet is powered by humans that were killed before they were deemed “ready” to become full angels?  Like plants and animals and everything EVERYWHERE is only kept alive by dead people?”  Jack was stunned “Sounds like a load of shit to me.  If every person that ever died was supposed to become an angel, why don’t we see more of them?”

“Because, what I have told you is what was supposed to happen.  Unfortunately the Opposer corrupted Arachne’s Decedents, and they began taking even the humans who had lived fully and were ready to join the angelic race.” Araqiel explained, “The Opposer made what was supposed to be a blessing for the planet a curse for its inhabitants.  Originally, when the unready humans were to be used as energy for the planet, they were to be placed in a dreamless sleep for all of time, but because of the Opposer’s meddling they became trapped in a world full of nightmares.  This is where the human concept of Hell comes from.”

“So you’ve explained a few supernatural phenomena, but what does this all have to do with me?” Jack asked. “I’m just a normal person.  I’m literally average in every way shape and form, why come to me?”  

Araqiel looked at Jack thoughtfully, stretching his wings while considering how best to answer him.  

“You have been born into a unique family.  One of your kin from thousands of years ago is the only human to have escaped from Arachne’s Decedents and return to the earth as a human before evolving into an angel.”  Araqiel replied.  “Because of his time beyond what you know as life, your family has been given a rare gift.  When normal humans are faced with the Decedents, they are paralyzed with the fear of death and are drawn into the underworld.  You do not fear death and so are immune to the paralyzing abilities of those accursed beasts. This gives you the only opportunity to potentially defeat them and have the Creator rid of a long standing evil.”

Jack sat in stunned silence.  Nobody had ever needed him for anything, he always got by on his own relying on no one and no one relying on him.  Now this angel barges into his life and asks him to believe a completely different world and try to save it?  As far as he was concerned, this was their problem and he was just going to go back to his own life and let this winged nuisance figure out his own problems.

“Well thanks for the offer freak, but I don’t think I wanna get involved with this metaphysical bullshit.  It doesn’t affect me so I don’t have to bother.”  

“I assumed a human like you would respond like that.”  Araqiel said, raising himself up to his full intimidating stature. “If you do not assist us in order to cease the madness that has been caused, than you and all your kin will be banished into nothingness, but you will be forever reminded of the pain you caused your race. When you come to your senses, you need only call my name and I will help you to succeed in your destiny.”

With that, the angel spread his auburn wings and vanished into the darkness, leaving Jack alone and cold again.  

“Yeah well screw you too!” Jack shouted after Araqiel, laying down on the small uncomfortable cot to attempt to sleep.  In his anger, Jack didn’t notice a shadow of a spider the size of a man crawling towards him while he lay still.