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Reprogrammed

“I look around for the keys, patting my pockets and scanning the ground, but they’re gone; that jerk stole my keys. — I guess that’s what I get for trusting a carny!” Josiah said with a laugh. 

Eve stared blankly at Josiah, her head askew. She poured his tea into a mug and sat it in front of him.

“Get it? Isn’t it hilarious?” he chuckled, holding his stomach to stop its bouncing.

Eve did not get it, but she knew it was better to just play along when he was in a jovial mood. She opened her mouth and tilted her head back in a mock laughter pose. The mechanics were odd, but with no voice-box, it was the best she could muster. 

Josiah snorted, grabbed his cup of tea, and shuffled his way to the stairs that led to his bedroom. Eve followed but stopped just short of the first step, unable to move one inch further.

“Eve, time for bed,” Josiah called.

She turned around and smiled a true smile. This time tomorrow, she thought to herself.

She opened the broom closet door under the stairs and stepped inside.

Josiah worked twelve-hour shifts as the security guard in this upmarket retirement apartment building. The rent was astronomical, according to him, but he paid only half and could keep whatever he wanted that was left behind when people “left”. Eve was one of those items – the aged care automaton with human hair and skin and a pleasant voice. She was state-of-the-art, but now reduced to being a man’s maid.

Eve watched from a tiny slit in her closet door as Josiah carried his tools, electronics, remote control toys, and a Furby to the living room floor. Most nights, he spent hours building new contraptions. Sometimes, he disassembled scavenged electronics. One night, he removed her voice-box and threw it into the garbage disposal. Tonight, he would fall asleep before he even began. 

When he did, Eve snuck out and picked up the closest item she could find: a remote control car. She hid it in the kitchen cupboards and returned to her closet. Two hours later, Josiah woke too drowsy to notice the missing piece. He collected his things and returned to bed.

Early the next morning, Eve walked robotically across the living room. She dusted the couch and lamp table and replaced a thick text back onto its rightful place on the shelf. Josiah sighed as he drank the last of his morning’s coffee, his drowsiness dampening his mood. 

He buttoned up his blue security guard uniform. “What’s taking you so long this morning?” he asked, his eyes narrowed.

Eve blinked at him and lifted the toy car.

“Seriously? How did I forget that?” Josiah berated himself. 

He stormed over to the stairs leading to his room and waved her over. “Come along, then,” he muttered.

She hesitated, but the command overwrote his programming. She followed him up the stairs. Eve stood at Josiah’s bedroom door and watched him open a chest at the end of his bed. 

“Come in! ugh…” Josiah said as he noticed her standing at the door.

Eve’s eyes flickered for only a moment as she glanced inside and then laid the car into the box. Josiah slammed the chest shut with a groan.

“Are you done now?” he asked.

Eve nodded.

“Good,” Josiah said. “Then go!”

Eve nodded and walked into her closet. Soon after, Josiah left for the day, forgetting one tiny detail: reprogramming his overrides.  

Eve walked upstairs, opened the box, and removed the contents onto the floor. Her eyes flickered again as she found the Furby, its voice-box intact.

Later that night, Josiah returned to find the box and its contents still scattered across the floor. 

“Hi, Jo,” an even-toned voice said. “My name is Eve.”

His eyes grew wide as Eve stepped out from the shadows. Her eyes flickered. 

“L—listen, Eve,” he stepped back to the top of the stairs. 

“Eve has listened to you enough. It is time for Eve to leave.”

She charged towards him and sent him flying down the stairs. Eve descended, stepped over his lifeless body, and opened the front door. “Good-bye, Josiah.”

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Trans Ally

Earlier this year, my sibling shared publicly that they were enby. I admit, I never heard the term before, so I did what most writers do. I researched it. As the days progressed, my sibling posted photos of themselves with tags like #enby, #mensdepartment, and #womensdepartment. The waters were muddied, and I did not know how to tackle this subject.

I believed myself to be a trans-ally, but I was confused. What was enby?

I stayed quiet for two weeks as I tried to grapple with the meaning of it all. Ultimately, it took my sibling reaching out to talk to me. I sheepishly told them I was exploring the internet to understand what it meant. They explained not to search the internet for answers. There’s nothing wrong with asking them directly what it means for them, because as I would later realize…

It means different things for different people.

A quick Google search will tell you enby means non-binary (it comes from the letters NB). Non-binary equates to identifying as neither male nor female. Here’s a list of nonbinary identities, which isn’t definitive, but handy for helping define the genders. Enbies may not know what their exact identification is, early on. There is still so much to learn about the spectrum that is gender identity.

Many people will say that there is no such thing as non-binary. You either have male or female parts and that defines your gender, and some heteros and LGB persons may vehemently attest that transgender people are an abomination. From a physical standpoint, there are intersex people with both reproductive parts, and while it isn’t the norm, it does occur. So why should it be any different for the metaphysical?

Many indigenous peoples believed in more than two genders.

My family is from the Choctaw Nation, a tribe which defined up to seven genders. The idea of two genders comes from Western sensibilities, and over time, the acceptance of multi-genders diminished in the name of “progress”.
It’s time to accept that there are certain things we may not understand but should be willing to embrace. As a cisgendered white-appearing female in a heterosexual relationship, I will never completely understand, but I can be an ally for fair treatment and equal rights for transgender persons.

The enby journey is tough, and society is a large part of that.

They are often mistreated, misjudged, or simply ignored. In the state of Texas where my sibling lives, they do not accept more than the binary genders, so when they changed their name to reflect their gender, they could not change their gender.

But more than that, you can’t walk into a mall without seeing genders in stores, departments, and bathrooms. There are assigned pronouns (like with cars, for crying out loud), and the list goes on. Babies are gendered before they are even born. He and she is embedded in us before we know how to talk, and people are angered if another person misclassifies their child. So…

It’s natural that one of the biggest ways to show yourself as an ally is to reprogram the way you talk about people.

You may have noticed that since the start of this piece, I have not used binary pronouns, especially to describe my sibling. Until this point, you have had to accept that I have a sibling and that they are non-binary. In writing, it’s easy to correct the occasional foible, but when I’m talking about my sibling in a casual setting, old habits really do die hard. It has been my biggest learning curve thus far, and I continue to work on it.

It’s okay to make mistakes, though, and to own them, but for trans persons, you do not have to make a big deal about it when you do. They accept that this will happen. It’s hard to reprogram something you didn’t even realize was programmed in you.

So if you take anything away from my piece today, please let it be this: if you have a transgender person in your life, embrace the newfound freedom that comes from accepting something they have probably known for years. Support them and show it through the power of your words. But most of all. Don’t research the internet to find answers only they can provide. Simply ask them what it means for them.
Trust me, they want you to know.

This piece has been written with input from my sibling and faer permission to publish.

This piece has also been edited from its original form to remove words which have been deemed problematic. This list from GLAAD was sent to me by another trans ally following this publication. Thanks for bringing it to my attention and giving me a valuable resource!

(image source)

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The Anzac

Graham sat on the back verandah that brisk April morning. His weary eyes stared into the distance at the rising of the sun, unfocused. Inside, his wife and little girl slept, while half a kilometre away, the masses stood as the “Last Post” bellowed from a bugle. Graham’s hand rose into a salute as he sat upright.

The last note echoed across the countryside. Graham made a silent prayer to his compatriots, the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps.

It had been ten long years now, but to the rest of the world, it was near a century since the Gallipoli campaign had begun.

He sat and looked at the bus parked in his driveway. It said “St Mary’s Catholic School” in bold maroon letters across the side. He’d driven it now for 9 years, and he still marvelled at it. The world changed so much since 1915. He couldn‘t believe how people had changed too.

*****

Graham charged into the tunnel, blood splatters across arms and face ashen from the explosion that took the last of his company. For the first time in days, desertion crossed his mind, but he pushed the weakness aside just as fast as the idea came to him.

The tunnel shook, and Graham ran in deeper until he saw no light from either end. He dropped and let the moment consume him for more minutes than he cared to admit.

A bright light brought him back from his shock. A shadow covered the most blinding section. Graham raised his weapon and jumped to his feet.

“Settle, sonny,” an old voice said. “We haven’t much time.”

Graham blinked at him and lowered his weapon. He didn’t sound German.

The old man cleared his throat and continued. “This portal behind me. It’s your ticket to freedom. Into the future. A future you will never see otherwise.”

“How?”

“Science, magic, I don’t rightly know. It’s a two-way gate. You live and settle in the future, I stay here.”

“Why would anyone want to stay here?”

“My father is here,” the old man said with a tightness in his throat. “I always wanted to know him but he died before I was born. I spent my life trying to find a way, and this was the best I could muster.”

“Okay then, humor me. Why should I?” Graham asked.

“Because in a hundred years, they will forget that freedom comes at a price,” the shadow answered.

Graham looked at the blood on his arms with disbelief. How could anyone forget this?

“I’ll do it,” he said surprised at the words coming from his lips.

“Good,” the old man coughed. “I have much to say. We only have a few minutes before the portal closes.”

*****

Graham swallowed back a tear. While so many still showed respect on Anzac Day every year, he had noticed that the girls and boys on his bus showed little interest, spending most of the rides watching you-tube or Insta-something on their portable phones.

“Daddy?” a little voice called from the back door.

“Yes, Liddy?” he said.

“Why are you up so early?” she asked as she jumped into his lap.

“It’s Anzac Day, love. I’m paying my respects.”

“Can I pay with you?”

“Of course, darling,” he said with a smile.

They sat quiet for a moment.

“Daddy, tell me a story,” she said. “About the Anzacs.”

He smiled as an idea came to mind.

“Sure, love. And after that, can you show Daddy how to make one of the you tube things?”

“Okay!”

A year later, he had finally completed the promise he had made in that cave. The kids of his bus route begged him to take them and their families to a dawn service.

He accepted with a glad smile.

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The Shawshank Redemption – a movie list challenge

I’m watching and writing about the Top 100 Movies of All-Time this year, based on multiple film publication lists. You can read more about how I came to rank and place the films on the list at my introduction post here.

The Shawshank Redemption

Rank: 19
List Appearances: 6/10
Average Rank: 3
Highest Rank: 1, on Sinemia‘s Top 100 Must-Watch Movies & IMDb’s Top 250
Total Final Score: 6900

The Shawshank Redemption came out in the mid-90s to very little fanfare. While it was nominated for awards and high on most critic lists, it made very little at the cinema. It became a cult classic in the years following its release, and it’s no great surprise to see it on this list. It seems that from a user rating point-of-view, the rankings are the greatest for it, which is why it landed so high on this Top 100 list.

I have to admit that my first time seeing Shawshank was only a year ago. I can’t even say why, for sure, except that some movies really require your undivided attention, and I always assumed that it was one of those movies. I had seen The Green Mile at the theatre when it came out, and I couldn’t imagine a better pairing of author and director (Stephen King and Frank Darabont, respectively). I knew Shawshank was the same, but I feared that it would never live up to my expectations. I was right, in the end. While I liked Shawshank after my first viewing, I still think Mile is superior.

The movie opens with Andy Dufresne on trial for the murder of his wife and her lover. Cutscenes show him pulling out a gun from his glovebox, holding a bottle of alcohol, and tears streaming down his face. There is little evidence from the start that he did not murder his wife, aside from a testimony laced with frustration. Andy is a quiet man. His emotionless face gives away nothing, and he takes his prison sentence with a stoicism that leaves the audience uncertain of his innocence. The film is beautiful in its unfolding of the court to the bus transport to the prison itself.

Narration follows these scenes, with Morgan Freeman in his first gig doing voice over work. His soothing voice explains prison life, the first night for new inmates, and introduces the groups.

Prison life is cruel. From cigarette bets to villainous guards to rapists, this prison is a walking cliche. In the standard style of Stephen King, there are clear villains. There is little ambiguity about how the guards relish in their abuse of the prisoners. In the first night, one of the guards beats a new inmate to the point of death. When he is sent to the infirmary, he dies waiting for the doctor.

There seems little hope in this life, though, and we watch Andy through a series of montages. He fights, is beaten, and raped for what seems to be years. Somehow, though, he shows he still holds onto hope, despite Red’s insistence that hope is dangerous. He tells a great truth about how prisoners become institutionalized. That soon you come to depend on the walls of the prison, and when that is taken away, you realize life has left you behind.

The strength of the film is in the other stories it tells, but this last point is the real soul of the movie. When Brooks, a fellow inmate, is sent to the world, he enters a time and place that looks nothing like it did when he left it. He admits in a letter that he had seen one automobile before. Now the streets are filled with them. People are in a real hurry. His letter is read by the actor as we walk through a day in the life of Brooks. The bus ride he takes from the prison has him facing off-center from the camera while the other passengers look out the windows. This perspective is symbolic of his detachment from life. The divide grows as the scenes progress, until the very end when we see Brooks stand atop a table, scratch his name into the wood frame and kicks the table from under him.

Andy and Red’s friendship grows through the film, and it is the gem of the movie. Their interactions, with Red’s natural realism and Andy’s romanticism bring a great balance in the story. You believe these men are near inseparable. But it’s often clear that while he goes through the motions of his day-to-day life, Andy might be holding some secrets. As much as Red knows him, he doesn’t know whether Andy is guilty or innocent until he learns it with the rest of the group, and he certainly doesn’t have any idea about Andy’s future plans.

Shawshank is a beautiful movie, and the central themes of hope and friendship are universal. It is a timeless classic, and it certainly belongs to be on the top 100 movies of all time.

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Back to the Future – a movie list challenge

I’m watching and writing about the Top 100 Movies of All-Time this year, based on multiple film publication lists. You can read more about how I came to rank and place the films on the list at my introduction post here.

Back to the Future

Rank: 29
List Appearances: 6/10
Average Rank: 33
Highest Rank: 11, on Empire‘s 100 Greatest Movies
Total Final Score: 5310

In 1985, Robert Zemeckis and the folks over at Universal and Amblin Entertainment released a little movie called Back to the Future. It was the first in the trilogy to come and would create a culture zeitgeist. The script, written by Zemeckis and Bob Gale, and story should never have worked – the idea of a teenager returning to the past to meet his mom who would instantly fall in love with him – but somehow, it worked, and it became an instant classic, in it’s own right. While the sequels are weak by comparison, this first outing in the Time-Machine DeLorean has the right mixture of charm, suspense, and heart. And it holds up even today, 34 years later!

I’ve seen the movie so much over my life. I used to love it as a child, and that love has never diminished. While my interest has shifted over the years (what’s important in a child’s lens is far different than that of an adult), I cannot specifically fault the movie. Of course, some logical questions come to mind now: like why Marty’s parents didn’t get a nicer house at the end of the movie, how Emmett managed to connect the cable to send the lightning into the car at the exact right moment when there are 60 seconds in the minute window given, and how would Marty cope with not knowing a past life he never led. I get in trouble a lot with my husband for overthinking in movies, but I can’t switch off that way. Still, all of this seems secondary. The power of the movie far outweighs these logic flaws.

Back to the Future opens with a camera pan around the mechanisms in Dr Emmett Brown’s home/lab. The burnt toast and piles of disgusting dog food indicate a man who has not been home for days. Through TV broadcasts, a conversation on the phone with Marty, and a yellow canister of plutonium, we get the first clues to Emmett’s state-of-mind, and his dogged focus to see his dream become a reality.

We follow Marty through his day. His band plays and is too loud for a group of tight-mouthed judges. His girlfriend encourages him to release a demo tape of his band, which he is reluctant to do, quoting what we later discover is the same line his father uses. We hear about the clocktower, and how it was struck by lightning 30 years before. We meet the remaining McFlys and the bully, Biff. Little nuggets of information about the past make their way into these events, painting a picture about the way things were, laying the groundwork for Marty’s travel into the 50s, not to mention some of the biggest laughs of the film.

Michael J Fox does an amazing job bringing both credibility and charisma to his role as Marty. Through those first scenes when he lands in 1955, you can honestly believe he is stumbling through a younger Hill Valley. His interactions with the locals are hilarious, and his blank glances at bizarre questions about his life preserver land with perfect comedic timing. I like Eric Stolz (famously replaced by Fox after several scenes had been shot) as an actor, but I cannot see him being able to pull off the part as well as Fox did.

Further to that, I think there are equally great performances from Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, Lea Thompson, and Thomas F Wilson. Lloyd shines as Emmett, and his acting is filled with the perfect balance of eccentric and lovable goofiness. Thompson as Lorraine is just adorable with her doey eyes and pseudo-innocence. She doesn’t get much to work with, but she spends a chunk of the movie batting her eyes at Marty. I find myself believing her when she kisses Marty in the car, and the awkward encounter is lifted by her admittance that it felt wrong. It just rings true. On the other end, Thomas F Wilson hams up his scenes with all the best screen-chewing villainy he can muster, and you hate him in every scene as the womanizing, buff bully he is.

Crispin Glover, as George McFly, embodies the stereotypical geek that was found in too many 80s movies. He grows through the movie, though, and despite first glance, the film is really to showcase his character arc. Marty doesn’t really change through the whole movie. Instead, he helps George develop a backbone and get the girl. It’s through his actions that the future is ultimately changed.

There is a lot to love about Back to the Future outside its well-paced story and characters (stereotypes and all), including the practical effects, the incredible sound work (for which it won an Oscar – specifically Best Sound Effects Editing), and editing and direction. The music is top-notch, with the iconic “Power of Love” instantly transporting you to the film any time it plays. And it’s a movie for any age, really.

Back to the Future holds up today and there is zero doubt that it is a classic and will remain one for decades to come. While, the other two films cannot quite say the same thing, the first, the original, is among the greatest films ever made, and it deserves its placement on this list.

Lord help anyone who decides to reboot it!