Saturday, September 22, 2012

Short Story "Codename: Wolf Virus"

Author's intro: Here's a little sci-fi story I wrote in my spare time. I was trying to prove that you can turn any story into a sci-fi epic simply by setting it in Space. I suppose I was inspired by Avatar and Prometheus. See if you can spot its origin! (I thought of getting these stories I have published, but then I thought: I have my own publishing space!)


First, she looked around the bleak metal hull of the Wolf Base, then she drew out her force field tube, and generated the energy necessary to capture the brain-like entity codenamed the Wolf Virus. She stepped onboard her ship.

Shelley Shepherd, Commander of the science vessel Copernicus, was ordered to take the viral being to the nearest military lab. “Roger that.” she said over her sleeve comm. She placed the growing viral being in a force field bubble, and into a little observation slot. Strange, she almost felt a little sympathy for it, even though it had killed millions. Like a rabid dog being put down. But, off the ship went, blazing through hyperspace. In the total silence of the ship’s autopilot, she often felt compelled to check on the little bugger. She tapped on the forcefield bubble.

“Two eyes appear to function…” she said in fascination. Shelley felt a cool pulse in her brain, and then a stab as the creature responded.

“They are fine.” It said in garbled vocals. Telepathic communication! Shelley turned to go to bed, but then figured as they were all alone she might as well talk to the trapped brain-like puppy-thing.

“What planet are you from?” She asked it.

The thing glowed. “Kurs’zi. A planet of warriors.”

Shelley had heard of the destruction of the Wolf Base, but from this thing? She tapped on the field again. Surprisingly, the viral being did the same. Shelley couldn’t suppress her amusement. “Your jaws are fantastic. They change in size according to…what?” she asked.

“Prey!” The creature bit down on Shelley’s face, breaking through where she had tapped on the forcefield with its gigantic maw. The ship went into red alert, and robot security teams rolled in line by line with plasma rifles, but the little alien was gone, slurping around the lab. As it absorbed Shelley’s mind, it bit her briefly. In shock, she threw herself into the laser fire until she lie there in the aftermath. Her spacesuit took the laser's impact.

But, Shelley obtained a link with the being. She knew what it wanted. After all, he was a scared viral being from a race of warriors. He wanted a body to eat with. In animals, she noted, there is only basic instinct: hunger. In warrior cultures, only the hunt: he needed a weapon. She deactivated the red alert alarm and the robots fell silent. She gasped, as the viral being bared its teeth.

“You wanna eat me, do it now!” she yelled, summoning all her strength.

“Hold still!” the being growled and lowered its teeth to clamp down on her leg. But, with one free hand, Shelley opened the airlock, and knocked the creature into the robot chassis, sending it hurtling violently through space. In her spacesuit, Shelley survived. In its robot chassis, the being did not. But, it died of starvation having tasted food, and with a rifle in its robot hand. She honored it, but lived on.

Thursday, September 20, 2012



So, last week, about the same time I wrote the Avatar post, I went to the pawpaw festival in Athens, OH. For those of you who don’t know, like I didn’t, a pawpaw is a fruit like a pear, that has a soft texture like a banana. Everything there has to do with that fruit, except for some arts and crafts. I looked at some jewelry, and some cups that people had made. I love homemade crafts! But, also there were t-shirts, and beer, and the burrito buggy, and an open air concert.

As far as the people that were there, I saw hippies and hipsters of all ages. So, at the risk of being crass, a lot of tie dye and flannel shirts. And that’s cool! Even I self-identify as a hipster: I just really like art. Te whole thing was open air, and you could hear acoustic bands hawking alternative energy sources. The music was very mellow, except for some upbeat rockabilly thrown in. I must admit it wasn’t really my taste, but it’s Appalachian culture, and I was glad people came together to celebrate the American pawpaw fruit.

After I got tired of the music, I headed over to the dog park and played with some dogs. There were a couple German Shepherds (Eva and Jazz) doing obedience training behind a fence. The trainer let me pet them. I also met a cocker spaniel, a big black great Dane puppy named Peter, and an especially endearing three-legged pitbull named Stitch. Stitch actually approached me, and the owner said, “Oh, he likes you!” So, it was kind of a special disability relationship. To me, the dog park was the main attraction! And of course that pawpaw beer! I’m 26 and still look young enough that they ask for ID.

I must take issue though, with the parking. The parking took me the longest to find and there was no place to park even though it was an open air festival. But, the workers were helpful, and we parked on a hill, and let the ramp down. I think about half the population of Athens, OH was there. Pawpaws are a big deal there, apparently! I spent some time talking to shop owners. They were all self-supported artists!

It was a fun time in the Ohio sun. Nice opportunity to observe Athens, OH culture, and pick out fashion trends in music and clothes. I’ll remember Stitch for a long time, because he came up to me. And hey, I learned what the heck a pawpaw is! I must say, it was very refreshing. I know I’m all about sci-fi and technological progress, but when you get down to it, I like the woods, and the natural creativity that it inspires in me. I always feel like an alien, but wooded areas are like my home planet. Heck, the woman making the cups was a Trekkie, who gave me the Vulcan salute! We’re everywhere!

It felt really good. The atmosphere in the festival is busy, but very relaxed. It was the Pawpaw Fest’s 20th year celebration, so it’s actually a cultural tradition hitherto unknown to me. Great for me as an ethnographer. And everyone participates, so you can just relax, have a pawpaw beer (or juice.); people were very open to questions, and friendly. It’s a nice chance to get together with artists, bands, pets, etc. and just have a good time in honor of this unique American fruit!

Monday, September 17, 2012



“Everything is backwards now, like out there is the true world, and in here is the dream.”

- Jake Sully’s vidlog

James Cameron’s 3-D blockbuster Avatar is a perfect example of everything this blog is about: disabilty, cultural analysis and sci-fi. Through Alien Eyes is an expression of how I view myself as a person with a disability and the world around me. When the paralyzed marine Jake Sully looks at the world, he looks at it through alien eyes literally. Now, I know Avatar’s overall message gets mocked for being Pocohantas in Space among other things, but I need to discuss how well it crafted its fantasy world, exhibits culture shock, and shows the human world of the future.

The visuals in Pandora are amazing. They have depth, beauty, and make you feel as though you’ve transported into that Na’vi alien avatar. But the culture shock actually happens before Jake is in that body. he has to relearn everything through Neytiri, who calls him a moron. (Since I don’t speak Na’vi, I won’t attempt a spelling.) She makes him see the beauty and literal interconnectedness of the planet.

Now, rave reviews and bad reviews have already been written about Avatar’s visuals: this is an intercultural review. So, the first thing that I noticed when I watched it was that the culture shock process happens. Twice. In reverse. So, it is backwards, as Jake says. Let me explain.

The first scene is a monologue in a bar as he explains that he has fallen on hard times, and no matter how good his dreams are, he wakes up. He is recruited for the Avatar Program after his twin brother is killed and they need him to replace his twin. That gives him a second chance to give his life meaning, but immediately he is marginalized again by the RDA soldiers and called “meals on wheels” and “cripple”. Even after he meets the team of anthropologists, and learns about the Na’vi way of life, he’s not sure he can “do the science”. So, where he once had a new chance at a fulfilling life, he again feels dejected, as evident in his statement that it feels backwards. But, when he gets into the Na’vi body, he’s exhilarated and full of life. Also, when he meets Neytiri, he instantly feels a bound with her and tries to apologize for hurting the other animals. This can be said to be out of love, but he goes further and actively peruses membership in the culture by taming the turok, learning the Na’vi language (which he becomes fluent in!) and harmonious worldview. So that when he is out of his Avatar, he again feels out of place.

Culture shock has no “stages” in actuality, but we can often tell to what degree a person has adapted by the degree of participation that he/she chooses and why. From there we may proceed to model a “stage” of culture shock. Even when Jake encounters competition from other tribe members such as Neytiri’s suitor Tsuteh, he is not deterred. He goes out of his way, even questioning his mission (to gain Unobtainium, and move out the natives.) to become a tribe member. I think it’s the Na’vi way of life that attracts Jake as well as Neytiri. The communicate with their planet electrochemically, so that everything has a voice and stability. Which is ironic since the avatar literally is a shell.

They see their environment as connected as the body, in a way as just a shell. That appeals to Jake because it allows increased physical participation. Back at the RDA, he is tired of the selfish moves of the company, and even devises a plan to evacuate the tribe before the military moves in. The anthropologists seem on board, which is perhaps his second cultural adjustment. He has to act as a negotiator. But, when Col. Quartich unexpectedly gases the tribe out of their home tree, he fights against the military. So, that’s the second switch again. Quartich tries to stab Jake’s Avatar, but he’s rescued by Neytiri. The concluding action scene is awesome, but raises a question for me: Why does Jake have a manual chair in 2154, if the army has giant robots? A minor detail, but it makes up for the superficial Pocahantas plot, which is still too long in my opinion.

After that, he and Neytiri defeat the invasion force. The colonel dies of Neytiri’s toxic arrow. Jake announces on the vidlog that he won’t be coming back to the RDA and is transferred permanently to his Avatar. The humans are expelled from Pandora. Say what you will about the plot and its similarity to Pocahantas, it is a potent look into a different world. When you take the time to make an almost entirely 3-D movie, hire a linguist to invent a language, and populate it with alien plants, animals, and natives, you’re going to end up on an alien planet. That’s what James Cameron did, and that’s why the movie works. Because everything is beautiful and new.

Neytiri is in a sense, not only Jake’s love interest, but his guide through the new world. Though she’s resistant at first, she teaches him to “see” the world around him, as interconnected. As not just a body, but “seeing” through it, and recognizing that he is one of their own. She grows to love him precisely because he actively learns and participates. More important, Jake is able to more actively participate as the avatar, in spite of his trials. On Earth, he is more limited, and socially isolated. I predict that soon, more humans will try to understand the Na’vi and come back, perhaps in Avatar 2. Jake will no doubt become torn between defending what he considers his home now, and understanding a culture that he has become alien to as time passes.

In the end, my model for avatar’s culture shock is based on increasing active participation. And he participates not only because he’s more able, but because he wants to learn, and is completely unhindered by disability stigma. Though, he may have human stigma. And the human culture became foreign and strange. Because he understood the Na’vi values and way of life more than the RDA’s greed. The adjustment period was similar, he found someone to understand him (the anthropologists) and the source of the shock was different in both cases. Nevertheless, the more Jake understood the culture, the more he became accepted, but it was his defense of Pandora that identified him perhaps finally as Na’vi.

Active participation is a crucial part of cultural identity. I think this film demonstrates that quite well. It is full of living sci-fi cultures, and because we see through Jake’s eyes, the dream becomes reality. It literally happens through alien eyes. But, those eyes become his own. He will learn to see “both” ways, I predict. The James Cameron Earth of 2154 is full of good people as well as evil. After all, he is dependent on Earth technology to maintain the avatar. I’d like to see Earth be that beautiful and new alien planet to Jake!

Friday, September 7, 2012



Super Early Preview: Come experience the ReelAbilities Film Festival with me in Columbus! Whether you’re disabled in any way or not, come join VSA Ohio and I as we explore the inner world of disability through film in theatres throughout Columbus! The single greatest thing that film has to offer, in my mind, is that you can pour out personal experiences, images, and souls right onto the screen! And where else can one find such a passionate expression of disability art? Why, only with VSA Ohio and the ReelAbilities Festival in Columbus!

Do you wish you could talk about, or just share your experiences with others? Do you want to see a personal perspective of disability? Well, fear not! The ReelAbilities Festival will feature discussions after each of the films. ReelAbilities will have nine movies playing throughout the week of Nov. 3-7. Each theater will have some fantastic films playing, which are ALL made from the viewpoint of disability culture and lifestyles. Most have disabled directors! Why, I’m popping out of my power chair just writing about it! Yes folks, if you’ve ever felt the burning desire to create AUTHENTIC meaning of a disability experience, or just let your mind take you into it: then you won’t want to miss this chance to make your mark! But, don’t take my word for it: See the awesome international lineup of films, as proof disability culture knows no bounds!

Sunday, November 3 @ Columbus Museum of art
Warrior Champions - documentary, US & China

Saturday, November 4 @ arena GRAND THEATRE
Shameless: The Art of Disability - documentary, Canada
Ben X - drama, Belgium

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 5 @ osu urban arts space

Crooked Beauty - documentary, USA
Among the Giants - documentary, USA

White Balance - drama, Israel
My Spectacular Theater - drama, China

Praying with Lior - documentary, USA

Special People - comedy, UK

And as if that weren’t enough: I’ll be reviewing the films I can get to on this blog! VSA is trying to get the directors and maybe even the movie’s own actors involved! (For US releases.) I cannot stress enough that this is a rare opportunity to express ART WITH DISABILITY through film! As a person with a disability myself, I strive to create lasting monuments to my life experience that go BEYOND THE PUBLIC PERCEPTION. There is only one word to describe this opportunity to be represented and have fun: Amazing! I welcome everybody to come and see this.

Why, I’ve given out many Save-The-Dates myself at OSU, and I plan on going to a few films. It promises to be fun and spectacular! If you love art, you’ve got no better place! Just look at the range of venues and countries up there! This is simply too big to miss. I hope to see you there! And remember: That’s ReelAbilities, a festival about real abilities! Able-bodied or not, you have to be there to see these films!    

Thursday, September 6, 2012

First OSU German Club Meeting


Two days ago, I went to my first German Club at OSU in Hagerty Hall. I didn’t know where it was at first so a couple guys at the Max Kade German House (Hub of OSU Germans and German majors; with a ramp in!) were kind enough to let us in the kitchen while they called and asked directions. The residents were German majors, and they helped guide us. The kitchen was wide, and beautiful, but also had a distinct minimalist feel. Afterward, someone met me on the steps of Hagerty. He held the door open and I entered through the side.

As we came to the café, there was a table populated with German majors, and a real German, Lukas. Lukas said he thought there would be more people. But, I told him we had a good little group. 5, maybe 6 students. That’s good for a foreign language group. Afterwards, we discussed what classes we were taking, and where we‘re from originally. For me, these two questions are always the hardest. First, I have to think “Do I mention I’m auditing?” and “Do I mention I’m originally from Michigan or skip that and say Pennsylvania?” Then, I have to consider how to say all this in German. This time, I gave the full story: I graduated from Edinboro, PA with two degrees, grew up in Michigan until 18, and now I’m a “Guest Student” of German at OSU.

The rest of the students then naturally trash-talked Michigan, and the Detroit Area (A little too much, calling it “filthy”.) for a while. I have to say, I know there’s a school rivalry between U of M and OSU, but I’m personally always amazed at how quickly these particular Americans reverted to trash-talk and racism when conversing. There was a Chinese group a table behind us, they were making jokes about what the Chinese eat. Dogs, they kept saying. It made the whole conversation awkward. Humiliating; I bet they could hear, but I forget not everyone speaks German.

I didn’t want to be a part of it, so I just talked to Lukas, mostly except when discussing class. Lukas, it turns out is a Berliner. There were TVs all around the café area, and each dial tuned the audio to a different foreign language station. So, for a while, I played with the dial. I heard Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish, and even I think, Greek. Lukas told me the German station Deutsche Welle is on at 7 a.m. “But who’s up at 7 a.m.?” he asked. “Who cares?” I said. “You have the Internet.” I didn’t mean to be so nasty, but the rest of the meeting was so blasé and mean-spirited, I guess it sort of permeated my speech. Human interaction seems less important to me when it’s nasty.

Once the niceties were out of the way, and we actually started to talk, I guess it was all right. The chief difficulties arose from “What do I call myself?” (Lukas said “Just say Guest Student”.) and having to feel like I have to prove I belong in school. The tension with the German majors wasn’t that bad, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two belonged to something like the Aryan Nation. It’s just so sad they have to air racist ideas in my favorite language. I like inclusive language and expression that helps people.

Afterward, Lukas and a Chinese girl helped me get on my van back home. We waited for a while, because we didn’t know where the van picks up. But, I told Lukas that I’d be going to German Club “all the time” after this. He responded. “Ah, excellent!” (In English.) and then I was on my way back home, getting loaded onto the van. A nice outing, but it appears German Club may not be as culture shock free as I hoped: All new undertakings are difficult, and I’m still working out where I belong. Which is a shame, because the guys at the German House were so nice!

PS: Okay, I apologize to those at the club that night. They were probably just having fun, but making fun of other ethnicities is not my idea of fun. As a disabled person, a cultural investigator, and a German fan, I'm extremely sensitive to exclusion. So, although I won't condone the that night, I don't know their affiliations. So, I can't judge.

                                                               (The German House)