Posted in WRD 422

WRD 422: Post 21

Ah, las paletas bonitas, how in love I am with you. I have always had mouth full of sweet teeth—I even lost one to a sucker in elementary school—so this discovery at La Michoacana was just right for me. Packing everyone on our field trip into the small establishment was a bit of a worrisome feat, but it gave me plenty of time to eye the massive menu board.

The atmosphere of the room itself was probably one of the most effervescent I’d ever seen, with walls the color of hydrangeas grown in six pounds of garden lime—in other words, not pink, but pink. Complementing this color was a veritable rainbow of cold confections, many of which were infused with the hues of the fruits they bore. The scents wafting throughout the room were those delightfully crisp tones found in any location featuring ice cream: cool, fresh, and enticing in a way no savory food can beckon.

The paleta de crema de fresas con crema (strawberries and cream paleta, made with milk; contrast paletas de agua, an ice-based option) was sweet without being syrupy, complementing the natural acidity of the strawberry. It was cold without hurting my teeth—a rare bonus for anything in the realm of frozen treats.

Would I go back to La Michoacana? In a heartbeat. In fact, I already have plans to do so.

Posted in WRD 308

WRD 308: Post 26

It takes two to tango, and it takes two components to establish visual rhetoric: the visual and the rhetorical. Furthermore, each of these contains its own constituents:

  1. Rhetoric requires the transmission of ideas from the producer to the consumer, the intender to the interpreter. Without the transmission of ideas, there is no rhetoric.
  2. The visual component must be, well, visual—and this is often accomplished through multimodal means, bringing together any or all of images, words, sounds, textures, etc. into a visual medium through which the ideas may be effectively transferred.

We return to my previous assertion of the definition of visual rhetoric, as “creative production with intent and subsequent interpretation of visual artifacts or multimodal media with the end of communication of ideas.” Though heavy, this definition encompasses a wide array of concepts, all of which may themselves be lenses through which visual  rhetoric is viewed. What was the intent of the creator? How does my interpretation of it differ? What are other interpretations? What are the individual components of the work, and how do they contribute to the whole? The definition itself is a framework for analysis, and I will admit that the only reason I was able to formulate such a definition was due to the analyses I performed in this class. It—much the same as my experiences and methodologies—is malleable and will continue to develop.

 

Posted in WRD 308

WRD 308: Post 25

For Assignment 4, I will be cutting the dreams down into single scenes for which to craft the visual components. However, I wrote down the dreams entire, and thought they should be included somewhere.

This particular dream was quite short, comprising only the single scene for which I will be creating the assignment. I expanded upon it to test my worldbuilding ability.

Dream 3: Supernatural Scene

She ran at me at breakneck speed, feinting left and right so that I had no hope of tracking her movements. When she slowed to wrap her arm around me in a headlock, I ducked, pushed my right shoulder into her stomach, and sent her to the ground, but not before her teeth raked across my forearm, eliciting a pained grunt from my lips. She growled in frustration as I pounced on her, raking my nails across her face as I somersaulted back into a kneeling position above her head. I took off, knowing that even had I stayed and gotten my hands around her throat, she would have just flicked me into the wall as if I were an annoying mosquito.

The next room held little in the way of hope. There were two windows I could crash through, incurring multiple cuts and bruises and still having the crazed ghoul on my tail; there was a counter with drawers that I could search through, though I wouldn’t have much time and there might not be anything useful; and finally, there was a heavy, dark-wooden table and chairs in the center of the room, under a sturdy-looking chandelier. If it could support my weight, I could be in an advantageous position by the time she ran through the door behind me. Jumping onto the table, I tested the strength of the large, metal contraption. It seemed solid, without rust, and I decided to try it. Swinging up between the chains and crystals, I hooked my legs through the rim and hung downward, reaching into the pouch strapped to the side of my leg for a weapon. That’s when I heard the loud crack that thrummed through the room above me. She hadn’t followed me at all; she’d gotten to the next floor to crash the ceiling in on me. The ceiling I was now hanging from. The ceiling that was now starting to give way.

Clawing and punching through the somewhat rotted floor of the room above me wouldn’t take her long, so I flipped down onto the table and tried to make a run for it. I was too late. Seconds after my boots hit the table, the chandelier groaned and broke free of the crumbling ceiling, the heavy frame that I had once though to be my savior now crushing me. As my back hit the wood, I saw a hole open in the ceiling where the chandelier had hung, and it was just large enough to let the ghoul drop down beside me. I thanked God that she didn’t come down straight on top of me, or else I’d have more problems to deal with than a chandelier.

I quickly tried to take stock of my situation, numbering the ribs that had probably cracked or broken under my metal captor. Groaning, I once again reached for the pouch, praying that I could still get to its contents. As she walked over, eyes fiercely intent on my limp form, I grasped my last hope in my hand. The ghoul quipped no witty one-liners, gave no Bond villain speech; instead, she unceremoniously kicked the chandelier off of me, eager to get at my throat. She was too far gone into the Rage to notice the open vial in my hand. I smashed the glass into her eyes, and she screamed as the water worked its way into the sockets. I prayed thanks for the warded pouch that had kept the flask safe and lifted myself from the table as the ghoul continued to rake at her face. The scratches she added to the ones I’d left earlier did nothing to prevent the flesh from melting and running down her shaking form.

Seeing my opportunity to escape, I lifted myself from the table and cautiously hobbled around the crouching, screeching ghoul; then, as fast as I could—which admittedly wasn’t very fast—I ran out of the decrepit house, clutching my side and gritting my teeth against the pain. “Ich! Ich! Get the car running, now!” I yelled as I came stumbling down the drive. My unfortunately named friend, Ichabod, jumped up from his lounging position in the back seat, left the door open so I could slide in, and turned the key from the driver’s seat all before I was able to lug my pained form into the back.

“Good Lord, girl, what happened?” he asked, wide-eyed.

“The ghoul got a jump on me. I interrupted her happy little feeding frenzy, and she got a little annoyed.” I paused for breath. “At least we know why all those corpses kept disappearing from Peaceful Rest. They were too mangled to salvage, though; probably for the best, given that there will be more ghouls to come.”

“So,” Ich sighed, eyeing my wounds quickly before returning his gaze to the road, “hospital, or Lynn?”

“Lynn,” I replied. “Cracked ribs are the least of my problems. The bitch bit me, and with all the running I’ve been doing, it’s only a matter of time before the festering starts.” I looked down at my arm, the blood already starting to congeal. Ichabod held back a gag. “Don’t worry, Ich. I feel just…” I paused as a wave of nausea overcame me. Ichabod shot me a worried look.

“Hold on, Celeste. I’m kicking this thing into high gear.” The last thing I saw was Ich’s pitiful attempt at a reassuring smile in the rearview mirror.

I awoke to the sound of man’s best healing implement sizzling in the background: bacon. I opened my eyes and immediately saw morning light projected onto the ceiling of Lynn’s modest apartment. I couldn’t quite hold back a shudder; cracked white ceilings were going to haunt me for weeks. Hearing my groan, Ich looked up from the recliner where he’d been reading a newspaper, and Lynn walked in from the kitchen, a plate piled high with all sorts of breakfast confections in her hands. She always knew how to please a guest. Before reaching up gratefully to take the plate, I felt the bandages along my side. The left ribs still ached, but the cracks were already well on their way to being healed; the right were apparently in complete ignorance of the fact that they had been sending me waves of pain last night. Finally, I checked my right forearm, and was glad to see an obvious absence of rotting tissue. Lynn had done it again.

Lynn was in training to become a doctor, but everyone on the farside knew that she was already the best healer in the city. Perks of being a White Arts witch. “You didn’t have to use the super healy stuff, you know,” I commented. “You should save it for special occasions. Short of the bite, this was nothing a few weeks of rest and a good doctor couldn’t fix.”

She rolled her eyes. “Every time you walk through my door, it’s a special occasion. Besides, I have plenty of extra herbs left over from that sale.” She smiled. “And, if you can’t move, how are you supposed to eat bacon?”

She had me there. I tore into the food as if it were going to evaporate before my eyes. Pancakes, eggs, bacon—oh, the bacon—and hash browns passed my lips quicker than my insulin levels could gawk. Don’t get me wrong, farside food is great, but there’s nothing like Lynn’s breakfast to get you back on your feet. I could see the remnants of Ich’s breakfast as well; given the thick coating of bacon grease glinting off his plate, I gathered that he’d consumed all the bacon on the first round, so Lynn had gone back to make more for me. The only question remaining at that point was why Lynn’s cat had yet to vacuum up the leftover crumbs. “Where’s Bob?”

“He’s out hunting again,” she said plainly. “Apparently, my breakfasts aren’t good enough for him lately.” I chuckled at that. No one—human, familiar, or otherwise—could turn down Lynn’s cooking, especially in favor of sewer rat á la Manhattan. If he was refusing, it meant he still had his tail in a twist over our last encounter. I suppose I shouldn’t underestimate a familiar, though, even if it’s a fat cat like Bob; I still can’t figure out how he gets up on the fire escape for Lynn to let him through the window. Either he can secretly levitate, or his jumping skills put Olympic athletes to shame. “So, Celeste, how did all of this come to pass?” Lynn asked with a vague gesture as she sat down in the chair opposite Ich’s.

“Well, you already know about the string of grave robberies, and how Ich and I traced them back to the creepy house.” She nodded. “We knew that it had to be a ghoul, so I went in armed to the teeth with firewater. I left the major arsenal in the car, because judging by the robberies, it didn’t look like we were dealing with one of very high intelligence. Then the chandelier happened.” I grimaced. “I got her, though. Melted her face right off.” Ich got that sickened look about him again. Really, after hanging out with a mercenary for so long, you’d think he wouldn’t turn green at the mention of gore. At least his nickname suits him, and besides, he’s the best Berserker I’ve found. It may take a while to get him worked up, but when he hits critical, what a sight it is. “Anyway,” I continued, “I underestimated my opponent’s ability to use her surroundings, I put myself in danger, I could have lost an eye or something, yada yada yada. Next time, I’ll take more healy things, and my knives, and a gun, and then we won’t even have to run through your bacon supplies.”

Lynn rolled her eyes. “My bacon is free for your inhalation at any time, as long as you stay out of trouble. Take your whip next time; I don’t need any gray hairs.” Lynn stood and began clearing away the plates. “That whip is special, you know. It really likes you.”

“Well, whenever I need an inanimate object to talk me over a ledge, it’ll be the first one I consult.” Despite my jape, I know how important my weapon is. Still, if I don’t get used to the other weapons in my arsenal, I won’t be as versatile—and that equals fewer jobs, followed by less pay. And I’ll keep giving myself these excuses until I actually need to pull out the darn thing.

As our conversation wrapped up, Ich left to get some real sleep, Lynn sentenced me to bed rest. As a result, multiple vampire movies were scrutinized, dissected, and subsequently laughed at for their improbability of occurring in real life. Afterward, I decided to head home, lest I risk more bacon calories in the morning. “I hope you know I vehemently object to this,” Lynn said, exasperated. “Please stay until morning? It’s all creepy out there.” I laughed, showed her the knives I’d strapped to my belt, and reassured her that I could make it two blocks without being abducted before setting out.

As I turned down the alleyway to cross behind the apartment building, I suddenly felt a hand across my mouth. My instincts kicked in and I tried to lash out, but I was promptly punched in my still-healing ribs with a jarring force that felt as though it were aimed precisely to amplify the pain. This guy knew I was injured. Doubling over, I tried to bite down, but the hand across my mouth just gripped tighter. “Shh,” a raspy whisper chided as he pushed me to the ground, “don’t struggle now. You’ll spoil everything.” I tried to reach for a weapon—any weapon—but it was no use; he was holding me down with all of his weight. One again, I found myself gritting my teeth against the pain, my brand new ribs starting to feel the strain. “Unfortunately, sweetie, I’m under contract. No kisses for you.” His twisted smile revealed a chipped front tooth that complemented his other rough features. I eyed him carefully, making silent note of his oily black hair and scruff, long nose, and cold gray eyes. He pursed his lips playfully and took a syringe from his coat pocket, his knee pushing hard into my stomach. “Oh, how much fun I’d have with you,” he lamented, “but that’s for another day.” He almost gingerly moved my wrists out of the way, holding both in place with one large hand. I was trapped beneath him, and despite my struggles, he pressed the needle into my arm without so much as a second glance. He hauled me up roughly, throwing me over his shoulder like an unfortunate sack of potatoes, and I grimaced. “She’s gonna like you too, I can tell.” He walked forward slowly until he reached a nondescript black car on the side of the road. After tossing me unceremoniously into the back, he hit the gas, and I blacked out for the second time in as many days.

I again woke to a smell, though this one wasn’t nearly as pleasant as the last. To be honest, it smelled like a sewer, which partly explained the rough stone walls and old lamps. As my eyes came into focus, I tried to reach for the a knife at my belt, only to be disheartened with the realization that I was tied firmly to a hard wooden chair. “You’ll save a bit for me, won’t you?” came a voice from behind me. It was the same guy from the alley. “Wouldn’t want the poor dear to go too long without my handsome company.”

A female voice clipped a reply. “You’ve got your pay. Now get out.” The tone brooked no argument, and I listened to the shuffling of the man’s feet as he retreated, perhaps down a hall. I heard the woman shut the door firmly behind her before she snaked her way around from my left, smoothing her gray pencil skirt as she stepped. “Farside cells,” she scoffed as she wrinkled up her dainty nose. “Have you ever smelled anything so horrible? It’s as though they kill cats down here for entertainment.” Well, seeing as how the Manhattan farside cells were owned by the Mahti family of ghouls, I’d wager that wasn’t entirely a preposterous guess.

“Don’t tell me you crossed the Barrier for little ol’ me,” I quipped.

Her catlike smirk didn’t fade as she smoothly shifted her weight between Prada heels. “It wasn’t out of our way.” The tall, sharply featured woman eyed my slumped form. “We all have our own agendas, after all.”

Was that supposed to be some kind of hint? What was this snake trying to get from me? I replied, mustering more bravado than I felt, “Glad to hear it, then. People usually have a hard time finding the Barrier crossings in the middle of Manhattan.” I kept my gaze steady on her. There were only a handful of reasons why someone would take a prisoner across the Big B, and not one of them was pleasant. “Or did you just get lost on your way back from a business meeting?”

Her plaster smile finally faded. “Listen, sweetheart, I’m going to be blunt. We want what you have, and we’d like to have it before things get messy. I’m wearing my best skirt today, and I’d rather not dirty it by physically riping an answer out of your throat.” Her already narrow eyes squinted further. “Now, are you going to tell me where we can find it, or am I going to have to get dirty?”

“What are you talking about? I don’t have anything, and trust me, I usually make a note when I steal something important enough to have an organization after me.”

She rolled her eyes in exasperation. “You’re going to make me do it, aren’t you? You’d just love to make me ruin this skirt.” She leaned closer. “The key, you imbecile. What have you done with it?” She folded her arms across her chest, content to wait until an epiphany came over me. It didn’t.

“Sorry, nope, haven’t seen one. Can I go now?” I gave her a winning smile. She seemed about as amused as Queen Victoria. Without saying another word, she clacked her way out the door behind me, slamming it shut in the process. “Well, Celeste,” I mused aloud, “looks like you’ve gone and made a new friend.”

Posted in WRD 308

WRD 308: Post 24

For Assignment 4, I will be cutting the dreams down into single scenes for which to craft the visual components. However, I wrote down the dreams entire, and thought they should be included somewhere.

Dream 2: Fantasy Scene

A girl plays in the forest as dappled light streams down through the trees, verdant summer leaves blowing softly in the breeze. A girl moves deeper into the forest, where not so much light dapples the ground, where the leaves are not quite so green. The girl likes it here, for this is where her friend plays, where they collect mushrooms together. On this day, while digging up a lovely pale mushroom, the girl finds a key. The key is small and rusted, with many teeth along its edge, irregular crenelations that stack into simple designs. The girl wonders if it might belong to someone in her village, and she begins wandering back home. The girl is thoughtless.

The giant walks steadily through the darkened woods, its club dragging through the brown leaves that dust the forest floor. The woods become lighter, the leaves greener, but this is before the giant passes. As he walks, tree barks lose the brightness of their hues, leaves begin to turn plaintively downward, and frost grows in tiny crystals underfoot. The giant steps onto the pond and turns its surface to ice, which cracks beneath its weight, but holds it firm. The girl stands across the pond.

The girl, now thinking, wishes to run back to find her friend—but she does not think quickly enough. The girl knows that the swiftest return to her friend lies across the pond, and she steps onto it, hoping to rush over the previously-formed ice before the giant turns to notice. The girl stumbles. The ice cracks further. The girl falls.

The girl floats in the pond as dappled light streams down through the ripples, azure winter waves drifting softly over the surface. She shivers in the cold, but her clothes seem so heavy now, and she wishes to be rid of them; she doffs a glove but quickly regrets doing so, and thus shoves her hand into her pocket. She touches the key, and wishes desperately. She wishes for warmth and a hearth. She wishes for a floor and a roof. She wishes to be wherever this key calls home.

The girl is now quite certain her clothes are too heavy—but so is her hair. It is no longer floating about her head, but is sticking to her. She opens her eyes. The girl sits in a bathtub. It is unfamiliar. In fact, the house in which she now is sitting is altogether very new. So too is the man who sits across from the tub, next to the warm hearth, wrapped in furs, eyes wide.

The girl’s mouth falls open in a stammer as she fumbles with her glove, trying to fit the wet wool over her hand so she might leave. The man recovers from his shock and says something that the girl doesn’t hear, for she is too concerned with her glove. The man kneels beside her and puts a hand over her own, looking at her with soft eyes. He helps her stand, and holds up one finger before departing into another room to the right of the hearth. He returns with lengths of dry cloth and furs similar to those draped over himself. The man looks at the drops of water that fall from the girl’s clothes into his tub. He hands the towels gently to the girl, folds the furs over the edge of the tub, and retreats once more into the far room, leaving her alone. The girl quickly dries herself off and fumbles into the furs, placing her wet clothes over the tub’s edge and worriedly biting her thumb. She decides to sit by the hearth. A knocking comes from the door behind her, and she tentatively calls out thanks for the hospitality she has been shown. The man takes this as his cue and emerges from behind the door, visibly pleased to see that the girl is now dry and becoming warm.

The girl is startled by a memory—her friend remains in danger. She pleads with the man to go to the darkened woods where the mushrooms grow, and warns him of the giant with ice in its steps. The man casts his eyes to a door opposite his room, beside which pegs have been nailed into the wall. One holds a battleaxe, visibly aged, long unused. He steps to it and takes it from the pegs, then opens the door. With a final look back at the girl, he steps out into the warm afternoon.

The girl looks around the cabin and sees the remnants of weapons and armor, now too rusted to use. She spies a longbow on the mantle above the hearth and is enchanted by its smooth, supple curves. She reaches out to feel the wood and is struck. Memories flood her head, but none her own; she sees summer in a glade as she stalks a deer, pulling the string taut on her longbow. The shot misses by a narrow margin, and the deer bounds off, deeper into the forest. The girl returns to herself, shaking and afraid. She opens the door and runs from the cabin, out into the cold evening.

The girl runs, heedless of her direction, until she comes to a path through the forest. She recognizes it and turns for her village, uncertain of herself, gasping from exertion. In the village, many stare, but none speak to her; she wears odd furs, and she is not well liked. The girl knows that the baker will speak to her, and she rushes into the bakery, startling the customers who have just finished their purchases. They scrunch their noses at the girl and edge around her as they exit the shop, and the girl sidles by to the counter, now very conscious of the space she is taking up. The baker is worried about the girl, who seems to be upset, and so she gives the girl part of a freshly baked loaf, upon which the girl sets with fervor. The girl, once filled, asks cautiously about the cabin outside the village, to which the baker scrunches up her nose in a fashion quite similar to her previous customers. The baker responds that she does not know the man in the cabin, nor does anyone with whom she is familiar, but she relates the town’s suspicion of the man who lives alone in the forest. The girl recognizes a topic best left alone, thanks the baker, and departs.

The girl now thinks to worry about the man: he is similarly not well liked, yet he seemed kindly. The girl worries further: he had only an old axe, yet set off toward a giant. Before the girl knows where her feet lead or why, she has reached the edge of town—and so has the man. He is bloodied, though from where the girl is uncertain, and he carries the girl’s friend over his shoulder. The man falls to his knees and sets the friend gently upon the ground, while the girl rushes forward. She checks her friend carefully and finds no obvious wounds, though he is unconscious. When she remembers the man and moves to see to him, she finds only bloodied ground in a pattering trail.

The girl is faithful to her friend and carries her to the baker, who views the friend warily but allows him to be placed into her bed while he recovers. The baker believes that he will be fine, but vows to keep him safe within her home until he proves well enough to return to his own home. The girl thanks the baker and runs now for the healer, hoping that she is not too late to help the man in the cabin.

The healer is obstinate, but bound by code to see to any claims of injury, and so accompanies the girl to the cabin. The man rests on his bed in the room across from the hearth, torn sheets wrapped around his bloodied leg and shoulder. The healer dislikes the situation, but is comforted by the girl’s words of his bravery, whether or not they hold truth. The healer cuts away the sheets to treat and wrap the wounds properly, noting that the girl must help to wash the blood away.

The girl is wary of the blood, but dutifully raises a sponge to the skin around the man’s leg wound. Her littlest finger brushes his skin. The girl feels dizzy and shuts her eyes. The girl feels pain. She moans and the sound is not like her at all, but is low and gravely; she opens her eyes and sees the healer above her—but she is not her. Her own body lies on the floor next to the healer, who worriedly looks between the two in confusion. Before she can act, a surge of pain blinds her, and she closes her eyes tight against it. When it passes, she looks up from the floor at the healer, who has decided that enough is very well enough and the bleeding person should be considered top priority above a mysteriously passing-out girl.

When the work is done, the girl tells the healer about what she experienced. The healer does not believe her. The girl, now thoughtful, plays it off as a dream, or as her imagination, and asks the healer to return to the village and look over her friend, who is resting at the baker’s house. The girl elects to stay behind in the cabin. The healer cannot be bothered to protest her decision, and sets out.

The man eventually does awaken, and lifts his hand to his head, wincing at the pain in his shoulder as he does so. As he notes the new bandages, the girl asks him what happened, and he briefly relates his battle with the giant. The girl asks what happened afterward, and the man says nothing. She asks about odd things during his sleep, whether he dreamed. He warily nods in the affirmative.

The man floated outside of his body. He saw sun-dappled forest floors and ice over ponds; he saw the winds twisting through branches and boughs as if high above them; he saw stars and suns and bands of color sweeping across the sky; and he saw himself, awake and in pain, though he was separate.

The girl asks what the man knows about magic.

The man begins to wave off her question, but he pauses. The girl is obviously in earnest, and has proven herself trustworthy. Still, the man thinks, looking at his hands and at his wounded leg. The man speaks a name.

Long ago, a boy’s brother hammers steadily as searing light sparks from the metal he works, the soothing heat of coals warming his leathery skin. A boy wishes to be just like his brother, and he sneaks to the smithy to watch his brother work. A customer is annoying the boy’s brother, asking too many questions and not leaving enough space; the brother hammers wrong, the horseshoe is bent too far, and master blacksmith becomes angry. He swings a pair of tongs at the brother, lashing him across the face. The brother is knocked bodily to the floor, and he does not move. Suddenly the master blacksmith lifts his hands to his throat, calling out in surprise. The customer flees, yelling of demons in the smithy. The brother comes back to his senses as the master blacksmith collapses in on himself.

Today, a man is cursed with the memories of his brother in a gallows, a wooden sign about his neck, words burned in harsh letters that he is told say “demon summoner.” When the trapdoor gives way and the rope is pulled taut, he looks away. A man will never know what his brother’s face looked like as he died. A man will always regret it.

Posted in WRD 308

WRD 308: Post 23

For Assignment 4, I will be cutting the dreams down into single scenes for which to craft the visual components. However, I wrote down the dreams entire, and thought they should be included somewhere. Some elements of the dream were altered (such as the main character’s eye and hair color) for nebulous potential plot reasons, in case I ever decide to expand upon the story.

Dream 1: Clockwork Scene

The ticking of the great clock pervaded the air, the ancient wooden structure looming over her as if she were a child. In its long, arching shadow, she might as well have been. “It’s safe?” she asked in a small voice. Her reply was a head shaken in solemnity.

“It is not safe, my dear. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Once you’ve entered, you cannot touch the shadows. Avoid the floor at all costs, and keep your dimes ready. Never throw more than you can pick up in a hurry, and make sure they hit their mark. Otherwise, you’ll never make it out again.” The old man sighed, pulling at his long, white beard. “Remember to get back through by midnight.”

“I will,” she answered determinedly. In the following moments, all movement around her slowed. She stood up straight, waiting for the clock to strike, but silently begging it not to. Perhaps, this one night, the mechanisms would break, or the hands would stick—anything to keep her from going in. But she knew that she had to do it. If you asked her why, she wouldn’t be able to tell you. It was just something she felt, something she knew deep in her bones, a trembling of excitement within her fingers and a spark of energy in her eyes. She couldn’t explain it any more than the old man could tell you why he guarded the clock, but she knew. She just knew.

Tucking her braid into the back of her woolen tunic, she crouched, ready for the doorway to appear. The time ticked, ticked, ticked, until she feared she could no longer bear it. As the timepiece finally resounded with the full-bodied tone of the hour, marked now and forever, she closed her eyes and rushed forward, letting the blinding white portal envelope her in its cold caress. Don’t touch the shadows, don’t touch the shadows, she reminded herself as she stepped from the blankness and slowly opened her eyes. What she saw in that moment struck her, and she stood as still as she could, taking in the wonder of it all. Forgetting herself for a moment, she stepped forward, but recoiled as a dark form darted past the spot where her foot had been about to rest. She exhaled and leaned against the cold metal wall to the left of the still-open portal. Turning to examine it more closely, she noted the intricate carvings, shapes of gears and cogs that seemed almost alive behind the wall’s thin coating of glass. It was then that she realized the carvings were moving, slowly turning in synchronized chaos, bringing order to the myriad contours and configurations. Casting her eyes upward, she traced the lines up, until her gaze met the ceiling, where thousands of large wheels and rods turned and twisted, their metal sheen reflecting the light from hanging chandeliers, illuminating the area. Sparks danced in and out of machinery, the gigantic mechanism swallowing the heat and dispersing it like so many fireflies. She looked in awe, and returned her gaze to the room in front of her.

Before her, underneath the balcony on which she stood, was a large, central hall. The hall stretched on infinitely, its end (if it had one) obscured by the far-off mist. The air echoed with the tick-ticking of the grandfather clock in which she was now enclosed. Beyond the balustrade on which she rested her hands was a table, larger than any she’d seen, surrounded on all sides by chairs that could have seated giants. Though she could see similar tables dispersed throughout the hall, most of her view was obstructed by the books.

Great shelves of ancient and valued tomes extended into the distance, protruding into the spaces between the tables, filling the air with an aged, musty smell. The enchantment of an old book was not one she was foreign to, and she breathed in the fragrance deeply, her soft azure eyes alight with curiosity. She could hear the tock of the timepiece as she perused the volumes, trailing her eyes across loose pages heavy, bound tomes, breathing in the scents that wafted upward from the lavishly decorated furnishings below. This was what she had come to see, to be part of.

She jumped nimbly from the terrace, landing with a soft thump on the central table, rolling forward to ease the swiftness of the fall. In her haste she knocked over a chalice of crystal, easily half as large as she was, gently carved with smooth edges that refracted the light into a multitude of colors. She caught it as it tipped and pulled it upright, her hands lingering on the transparent surface. The chalice was one of several on the table, and despite the immense size, it was light and easy to lift. She bent to pick up one of the large, silver knives and found it to be of almost negligible mass as well. Placing it gently back where it was, she continued her walk forward, stepping over plates the width of work desks and dodging bowls that could have swallowed her, each displaying a metallic sheen different from the others. As she neared the head of the table, she saw a marionette sitting in the opulent throne, gilded as the chair, but with soft lines. Her eyes followed the strings—more like thin steel cables than cord—as they reached up to the ever-moving ceiling. The strings ended abruptly at a rotating rod which turned slowly, changing the direction of its rotation every now and again when the strings grew taught. She climbed up onto the puppet’s leg, feeling its supple leatherwork and cushioning fabric, tracing the winding lines of gold inlay across its long, skinny leg. The puppet, even sitting, was much larger than her, and it took a deal of climbing to get to its head. From the top, she looked across the table, surveying the shadows for any suspicious movement. When she had determined that it was safe, the grabbed one of the marionette’s strings and starting hauling herself upwards.

Without anything upon which to tie herself, she had no support, but she was unconcerned about falling. The ceiling above her seemed as though it would never get any closer, and though she was not wearied by the climb, she soon tired of her snaillike pace. She once again scrutinized her surroundings, this time searching for something to land on safely. Further up was a ledge that she could jump to if she climbed a bit higher; below her were the table and chairs, which would lead her only back to the beginning. Giving a burst of strength, she pulled herself toward the ledge, inching slowly closer. Once she was safely a couple of feet above it, she launched herself over to the protrusion, grasping the cold, coppery metal with all of her strength. Hauling her body up, she held tightly to the overhang even after she was safely upon it. After a brief respite, she rose. Before her was a bookshelf, hanging down from an oddly still section in the ceiling, the ledge upon which she stood leading out to the middle shelf. Behind her was a maze of similar bookcases, each immensely larger than the last, some moving in time with the immutable gears above her, some jutting out from the floor. She turned to peruse the shelf, searching for something that might let her know why she was there. Her fingers brushed past anthologies, ledgers, treatises, and bibliographies, every one at least her height, every one upside-down, before coming to rest on the final book in the shelf: a novel. The work was by an author she’d never heard of before, but she liked the feel of the old bindings as she pulled it carefully onto the shelf. An odd symbol was carved into the tanned hide that formed the cover; carefully, she put her fingers to it, hoping that something would happen, that some light would burst out from the strange emblem and grant her some kind of magic power. But there was nothing. Disheartened, she briefly leafed through the faded pages, finding nothing much of note before she tucked the book under her arm. Now out of ideas, she took a running start out to the overhang and leapt onto the marionette string, hooking her elbow around the cable and sliding back down toward the table.

Coming to a stop on the head of the colossal marionette, she contemplated the title of the work in her hand. It was written in smoothly curving script above the strange symbol, each letter flowing into the next. This puzzled her to no end, though surely the old man would be able to tell her something about it. She shrugged silently and went on, tracing her steps back to the balcony on which she had first appeared, seeing now the two curving staircases that curled their way to the floor. Wary of what might lurk there, she leapt from the table to land upon the steps. They were worn and cracking, with one shifting underneath her every now and then as she made her ascent. Close to the top, one shifted more suddenly than the others had, and she was caught off guard. Stumbling forward, she dropped the book in order to catch herself. The tome opened as it fell, its loose vellum pages scattering over the staircase. Her forehead pinched in regret and pity for the old book, she knelt to gather up the paper and put it back into some semblance of order. As she did, her braid slipped out of its place inside the back of her tunic, and she knocked the silver mass of hair to the side. Once she had collected all of the pages, she realized that some of them were still missing, torn rather than having become unbound like the others. Several of the remaining pages were also stained almost to illegibility, some with a dark rust-colored substance that she didn’t want to think about.

Stalking back to the balcony with the paper stuffed unceremoniously between the covers, she pushed herself through the portal and dropped the tome on the old man’s desk, startling him. “Sir, I implore you, you must help me with this book,” she pleaded. “I don’t know what to do. The pages all fell out and some are still missing, and I thought that this book would help me realize why I went into the clock, but it didn’t and I still have to go back but I can’t without this book, I just know it!” The words tumbled out one after the other, and after she was done she realized how silly she must have sounded, worrying so much over a book she knew nothing about.

“Patience, my child,” the old man replied, tugging once again at his beard. “I shall have it fixed in no time at all, and then you may go back. You still have some time before the portal closes, as it remains daylight outside; I will permit you to return. You must return by midnight, however. Remember this.”

“Yes, sir.” The old man took the book and placed it on his desk, in a chalk ring divided by lines and symbols, murmuring unfamiliar words as a look of intense concentration crossed his face. The weathered volume shook, its pages turning as they were sewn into place. The old man muttered a few strong words and clutched the leather covers, staring hard at the empty places. Ever so slowly, bits and pieces began to regenerate. Transportation magic took its toll, even for items as small and thin as old pages. Every single scrap had to be transferred into place before the next could be compiled onto it. Some pages took longer to retrieve than others—they must have been even further inside the portal—and others did not regenerate at all, having been destroyed long ago. For those, the old man tapped into the pattern held in the magic of the book, for indeed it was magical, and he used its dark stains as a conduit to move them into the book’s pages. Gradually, the reds and browns that had previously marred the surfaces began to lift and fall into place where the missing pages should have been. This process took even more time, and the girl began to look about the room while she waited. She brushed past scrolls, chalk containers, bottles and vials of mysterious liquids and powders, and chests that had obviously not been opened in years, possibly even decades. As she was wont to do, she traced all of the patterns she saw, following the intricate designs as they led across one item to the next.

“It is done,” she heard the old man say, and she turned back toward his desk. “Girl, do you know what this symbol means? This one, on the front cover?”

She sighed. “I do not.”

The old man paused, a far-off look in his eye, as if he were recalling a memory from long ago. “Perhaps it is better that you don’t, for now. Once you have returned, I will explain its nature to you.”

“Is it harmful?” she asked, feeling very much a child once again.

“No,” he replied as he placed the book inside a soft leather satchel and handed it to her, “but nevertheless, you should be careful with it. Tell me, girl, why do you feel the need to enter the clock once more? Is there something you lost?” She tucked a loose hair behind her ear as she shook her head. “Well, we all have callings to the portal. Just be sure that you come out again, once you’ve satisfied your need to go in. Are you ready, child?” he asked in a fatherly tone.

She nodded and stepped before the portal. Glancing quickly at the grandfather clock’s old face to check the time, she stepped through. The mechanism had altered itself in the short while that she had been gone, and the back wall of the balcony around the portal was now covered by clocks. Each one told a different time, but she knew the one directly above the portal to be correct; it was a reflection of the grandfather clock outside. It was also the only one to tick, as the rest appeared to be broken or yet to be started. She swept over the banister and landed on the table, then paused as she heard a skittering noise. That was when she saw the shadow.

Looming out of the artificial darkness it had created under the terrace, a clockwork beast emerged. Like a demon clothed in dusk and flame, it was infested by a series of cogs, tubes, and pistons. The darkness that shrouded its legs reached up the line of its back, forming a kind of spine and ribcage that wrapped around it, holding it upright. Fire lit its eyes and claws, and its midsection was comprised entirely of the mechanism. It dropped to all fours, rushing out of the artificial shadow, its metallic screech echoing in the girl’s ears. She dug into her pocket for the dimes the old man had given her and flung three of the larger ones at the beast’s head. The pieces left burning holes where they hit, dissolving the clockwork demon’s skull and seeping into its eyes. It screamed, a sound even more terrible than its battle cry, and it clutched its head with its burning claws. The girl took the chance that was given to her and fled across the table toward the marionette. She could hear the fiend gaining ground behind her, imbued with a new fury. It crashed into the goblets and plates, blinded by the metal dimes, listening to the frantic beating of the girl’s heart to determine the location of its prey.

Horribly frightened and wishing desperately for something, anything that could save her, she climbed once more to the top of the puppet. Not knowing exactly why, she slapped one of her dimes onto the puppet’s forehead, whispering pleas for help. The dime began to sink into the cloth; startled, she fell backward, grasping the strings for support. In that moment, the marionette’s cerulean eyes began to glow, and it whispered inside her mind:

Light.

Suddenly, the clockwork beast burst into flames—but not of the kind that had pervaded its frame before. This fire was blue, a pure blue, the color of skies and oceans, a color shared in the eyes of both the marionette and the girl. The demon struggled, trying to put the fire out, screeching in agony, eventually curling up into itself, trying to hold its body together. Finally, it exploded in a fury of blinding light, which bathed the area with a harsh luminescence. When the light was gone, the girl, still perched on the head of the marionette, looked down at it and wondered aloud, “What are you?”

Posted in WRD 422

WRD 422: Post 20

Images for Research Review:

scaling
Source: Lagi, Gard-Murray, and Bar-Yam

Corn price (blue line) and curves showing the causes of price increases according to our quantitative model (red dashed line). The green dashed dotted line is the supply and demand equilibrium impacted by the demand shock due to increasing corn to ethanol conversion. The quantitatively modeled speculation contribution to prices is the difference between the total and the supply and demand curve. The corn price without ethanol shock or speculation would be essentially constant (black dotted).(Lagi, Gard-Murray, and Bar-Yam)

Capture
Source: Wise
Capture2
Source: Wise
Capture4
Source: “Biofueling Hunger”

 

Videos for Research Review:

Green Star Products, Inc. “Some Biofuels Add Significant Food to Your Table.” YouTube. Business Wire, 9 Nov. 2007. Web. 3 Apr. 2016.

Billy, Yves, and Richard Prost. “Seeds of Hunger.” YouTube. Icarus Films NY, 10 Sept. 2009. Web. 3 Apr. 2016.

 

 

Posted in WRD 422

WRD 422: Post 19

“Quote Tamales” for Research Review:

Tortillas are nothing less than a staple food in Mexico. They are an essential part of the diet of the majority of Mexicans, and in recent years, this has become problematic. One might think, given how much corn must be produced in order to craft all of these tortillas, that corn would be produced in mass amounts around Mexico to the extent of a surplus of exports; this, unfortunately, is not the case. In fact, Mexico is today a major importer of corn—a dependency that Mexico has been desperately trying to reduce through support programs for small farmers (“Biofueling Hunger 3). However, these efforts have been largely negated by the actions of the United States, “including subsidies for ethanol conversion and deregulation of financial markets” (Lagi, Gard-Murray, and Bar-Yam). And, of course, there was NAFTA.

The rise of Mexico’s import dependency, in large part due to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), has left the country vulnerable to rising US corn prices. Since 1990:

■ Mexico’s agricultural trade balance swung from a small surplus to a $2.5 billion deficit in 2011;

■ Mexico’s import bill from the United States soared from $2.6 billion to $18.4 billion in 2011; and

■ Mexico’s imports of corn went from 7% to 34% in recent years. (“Biofueling Hunger” 3)

These effects impact Mexican citizens on a painfully tangible level. As the average cost of food consumed by a family experienced an increase of 53% between 2005 and 2012, Mexico’s poorer populations experienced a much higher difficulty, and in some cases impossibility, of purchasing enough food to eat (“Biofueling Hunger” 10). This hit women and children the hardest, leaving five million children hungry.


 

Food price hikes have resulted in riots across over 30 countries (Lagi, Gard-Murray, and Bar-Yam). The rioters wanted justice, and they wanted answers—but it wasn’t until May 2012 that answers could be provided.

Many factors have been proposed as causes for the price increases, from adverse weather to meat consumption in China, from increases in oil prices to exchange rates. In a recent paper, we tested these factors one by one, and constructed a model that explains what is behind the odd behavior of food prices. The results show there are just two main causes: increasing corn-to-ethanol conversion in the United States and excessive financial speculation. (Lagi, Gard-Murray, and Bar-Yam)

Financial speculation—conducting a transaction at the risk of losing everything invested, in the hopes of gaining a significant profit (“Speculation Definition”)—was the sole cause of a 76% increase in corn prices and import costs to Mexico between 2007 and 2008. Additionally, while import-dependent countries such as Mexico were suffering from these effects, exporters were benefitting. In other words, the poor get poorer while the rich get richer—and so long as the top dogs keep getting the best bones, it’s not in their interest to effect change.


 

Ethanol production within the United States, which converts about 40% of its corn to ethanol, has contributed to the conversion of approximately 15% of the world’s corn (Wise 2). In other words, globally, 15% of corn is made inedible and turned into biofuel due to U.S. involvement, which has occured as such:

The growth in U.S. ethanol production has been dramatic and quite recent, stimulated by high oil prices, government subsidies and tariff protection, and a mandate for increasing biofuel use that has nearly 10% of U.S. gasoline sales accounted for by ethanol.

Biofuels expansion in general, and U.S. corn ethanol expansion in particular, are widely seen as among the major contributors to the recent surge in food prices. . . .  These, in turn, have had a direct impact on the food-import bills of developing countries, many of which have become heavily dependent on outside sources of basic food commodities in the last 25 years. (Wise 2)

This redirection of corn production removes a fairly large percentage of corn from the global market equation; without current biofuel policies, this corn would typically be used to feed people and livestock (Wise 4). This consequently reduces the supply while doing nothing to meet the demand, resulting in price hikes on agricultural commodities. The more biofuel is produced, the more expensive food becomes.


Biofueling Hunger: How US Corn Ethanol Policy Drives Up Food Prices in Mexico. Action Aid International USA, 2012. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Lagi, Marco, Alexander S. Gard-Murray, and Yaneer Bar-Yam. “Impact of Ethanol Conversion and Speculation on Mexican Corn Imports.” New England Complex Systems Institute (2012): n. pag. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Speculation Definition.” Investopedia. New York City: InterActiveCorp, n.d. Web. 3 Apr. 2016.

Wise, Timothy A. “The Cost to Mexico of U.S. Corn Ethanol Expansion.” Global Development And Environment Institute (2012): n. pag. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

Posted in WRD 422

WRD 422: Post 18

Tortas at Taquería San Miguel:

You know, social anxiety really sucks. It especially sucks when you’re debating whether to stumble your way through a conversation in English or Spanish. So, though the sign outside enticed me with its proud proclamation of “Tenemos Tamales,” I grew nervous when I couldn’t locate tamales on either the menu or the separate listings of the specials. For someone without social anxiety, the brain might process the situation thusly: “I cannot locate information on the tamales, so I should ask the man behind the counter about them. I will ask in English, as it is the language that is most comfortable for me, so that I do not accidentally mar my intent.” For the brain afflicted with social anxiety, the brain provides this report: “OH GOOD GRAVY TRAIN WE CAN’T TALK TO A PERSON! Are you crazy? Don’t use Spanish; forget the four years of education on it, because you’ve just forgotten all the relevant words. You’re nervous, which means you’re going to mumble, and he won’t be able to hear you. Forget anything resembling a conversation. Pick something on the menu that you can read clearly and order that instead. Kiss your beloved tamales goodbye.”

All that aside, the torta de jamon con huevo y salsa verde was delicious, and my friend thoroughly enjoyed her own torta de carne asada. I highly recommend Taquería San Miguel as a friendly and open restaurant, which deserves far more customers than were in it when my friend and I arrived. Go, give them your business, and get the tamales. Then tell me about them, so that I may go in armed appropriately on my next visit. Thanks.

Posted in WRD 422

WRD 422: Post 17

Tostitos-brand queso and salsa, with shredded cheese and chicken, sandwiched between two tortillas and cut in half for ease of consumption: the throw-it-together meal of a college student with an immutable hankering. The chef was my roommate Alexis, and though I did not stay to view the finished result, the progress report was promising:

IMG_0734

According to The Cambridge World History of Food, quesadillas were not prepared before The Conquest. And that’s about all it has to say about them. They include a tortilla, cheese, and whatever else you’d care to put in them, so they’re as flexible as a tortilla. For a broke college student (read: a college student), it’s an easy treat that can make for a savory meal.