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Gene's photos 10-3-13 008Welcome to my writing blog. Here you will find my latest demented stuff as well as books, short stories, essays, and poems written and published over the past forty years. Please note that all material is        © Gene Twaronite and The Twaronite Zone. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given with specific direction to the original content.

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Radio Interview (Dragon Daily News)

I was recently interviewed on Green Knees, a radio show for children on KSFR in Santa Fe, during which I read three stories from my book Dragon Daily News. For those who live near Santa Fe, you can listen to it live on Saturday morning, April 30, from 7-8, on KSFR 101.1 FM • KSFR.org  or you can hear it at this link (first couple of minutes are devoted to Louis Armstrong theme song)DDN-kindlecover3-1https://www.dropbox.com/s/iudiju9ca4x12m1/GK160430%20Side%20A.wav?dl=0  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All in the Family

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                             Uncle Fred

“Unlock the family story in your DNA,” proclaims an ancestry website. Sounds harmless enough, so why does that fill me with dread?

Sure, I could discover there’s royalty in my Lithuanian DNA—perhaps a duke or a duchess—or a brave knight who fell at the Battle of … wherever. More likely, however, I’ll find some distant cousin who died face down on the bar floor after winning a Krupnikas-drinking contest. Perhaps a serial goat rapist or ax murderer, or some nutcase beheaded for questioning the birth certificate of King Mindaugas, the first (and only) crowned king of Lithuania.

Besides, thanks to modern science, I already know plenty about my DNA. Oh, the stories it could tell.

For one thing, I share almost 99 percent of my DNA with chimps and bonobos, and over 98 percent with gorillas. Though most of these relatives still live in Africa, I did meet one of them a few years back at the Bronx Zoo in New York. I was strolling through their Congo Gorilla Forest exhibit, when all of a sudden there he was—a full grown, male western lowland gorilla.

He was leaning against a tree stump, gazing off into space with a forlorn expression. Stepping closer to the glass separating us—which protects them from our human respiratory diseases—I paused to look into his face. He looked back at me in a way I will never forget. For one profound moment, there was some sort of connection between us. In that great face, I saw not a gorilla, but a personable presence, someone I could relate to. I have no idea what went on in his mind. Perhaps it was: “Why aren’t you in here instead of me?”

I’ve never been able to look at a gorilla in captivity since. Don’t think I could handle seeing one of my relatives locked up that way, despite all the arguments for conservation and education made by zoos. Supposedly, we humans are more advanced, with our superior big brains and all. The way things are going lately, though, sometimes I feel it is our species that should be locked up.

Met another African relative—though not in the flesh—back in 2007. She, or what was left of her, was on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Lucy her name was. That’s what the scientists who found her fossilized bones named them, after the then popular Beatle song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. She lived over 3 million years ago, in what is now called Ethiopia. Though belonging to a different genus—Australopithecus—she was a fellow hominid. Next to her precious bones, the museum showed a life size model of what she might have looked like. She was much shorter than me—only three-and-a-half feet tall—with a pelvis that was all female. Her face was only a reconstructed one, but again I had that strange feeling of connectedness across the eons, that she and I were still part of the same family tree. Perhaps it was just my imagination, but she reminded me a little of my great Aunt Lavinia. Her eyes seemed to say: “We are all African.” For that is indeed where our human line branched off from other animals. Together with gorillas, bonobos, and chimpanzees, we share much of the same DNA, along with the same common ancestor.

Turns out I have oodles of relatives, all over the planet. Many of them are fellow primates. Though not as close as African apes, my orangutan relations over in Borneo and Sumatra share almost 97 percent of my DNA. Not far behind are monkeys, at 93 percent. Whether I’m looking into an orangutan’s face or a monkey’s, it’s hard not to see the resemblance, though some of them might take this as an insult.

There’s even a fish, known as the zebra fish or zebra danio, with whom I share 85 percent of my DNA. A popular aquarium fish as well as research subject, this little freshwater minnow’s ancestors originated on the Indian Subcontinent. Dogs, by comparison, share only 84%, which just goes to show that you can’t always tell who your relatives are just by looking at them.

And next time you read about some new medical discovery involving some poor laboratory mice sacrificed for the good of humankind, ponder this: they share 90 percent of our DNA, which of course is why we use them in the first place, and why E.B. White’s classic children’s book Stuart Little still tugs at our heart strings.

Admittedly, some of my relatives are farther removed. For example, I share only about 60 percent of my DNA with a banana, and try as I might, I just can’t see any resemblance there. With roundworms, it’s only 21 percent, though I suspect some families share a much larger percentage.

Within our own species, there’s only a tiny difference in DNA among all humans on earth—about 0.1 percent. Regardless of race or national origin, we are far more alike than not.

Of course, even though we may share significant percentages of our genetic material, key differences remain in how our genes are sequenced, which does explain why most members of my family gallery don’t look like mice or fish (except for Uncle Vinnie). We don’t even know what many of our genes do. Within the human genome, we still possess many genes inherited from our evolutionary past that are not used because they no longer serve any useful purpose. So it’s important not to read too much into the fact that we share some of our genes with a banana.

But the mere fact that these mutually inherited genes are there reveals a more important truth. We are all related— humans, apes, mice, fish, bananas, roundworms, bacteria—all life on earth. It’s right there in the fingerprints of our DNA.

According to a study published in the journal Nature, evolutionary geneticists have traced this material back 3.8 billion years to what is called LUCA (last universal common ancestor). This remote ancestor may have resembled the strange organisms that still exist on earth within hot volcanic vents found deep under the oceans. Talk about long distant relatives. But from that ancient trunk would eventually spread the branches of our tree of life. It’s all in the family.

©Gene Twaronite 2016

Aging Awkwardly

DSCN0535In a few days, I’ll be 68—a little closer to staring off into space while drooling uncontrollably (actually, I’m already doing that), a little closer to that final scattering of my molecules into places unknown, which does sound kind of fun.

According to figures compiled in 2011 by OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development), U.S. citizens have an average life expectancy of 78.7 years. I could move to Slovenia, where it’s 80.1 years, but I doubt it’d be worth it.

So, with any luck, I should be around for at least another 10.7 years as long as I don’t do something stupid, like wingsuit flying or free soloing. I’ve also got good genes, since both my parents lived into their 90’s. So stick it, OECD!

I’m still left with the fact, however, that I’ve used up a good two thirds of my life or more. Not sure if Einstein would have agreed, but time does move faster relative to the amount you have left, the closer you get to that big black hole that awaits all of us.

Forget that Robert Browning claptrap: “Grow old along with me!/The best is yet to be.” While all signs indicate that I am certainly not growing younger, damned if I’ll sit back and wait for decrepitude to overtake me. Acquiescence is just not my thing. As for the supposedly greater wisdom that comes with age, I’d much prefer the libido and strength of my twenties.

We are bombarded with advice on how to accept our limitations and age gracefully. A recent CNN article (“The secrets to aging gracefully”) says I shouldn’t hide behind makeup (which I don’t, though on some guys it looks great) and that I should ditch the spa (never tried one, unless having egg on my face counts as a facial). People who age gracefully, it says, “exude confidence.” All I can manage is a little false hope before breakfast. They are also “up on the latest trends,” which means my Led Zeppelin t-shirts are out. As far as not being afraid to embrace my grays, how about silver?

Another article says that to live longer I should get plenty of sleep (check), avoid too much stress (check), and that I should not consume more than two alcoholic drinks per day (OK, forget that one). And, oh yes, aim to have sex at least once a week (actually I added that one, which does sound like a good idea).

When it comes to aging, I think the pundits have it all wrong. “Gracefully” sounds too accepting, like Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers dancing off into the sunset. No one’s ever compared me to Fred (Ginger maybe, but not Fred). I’ll just muddle along like always, making up the dance as I go along, tripping over my feet as I forget where I’m going. One thing I do know. I’m going to age as awkwardly as I’ve lived, lurching this way or that, higgledy-piggledy.

So I’ve come up with a few tips of my own. Make some noise every once in a while, just to let people know you’re not dead yet. For me, it’s cranking up some AC/DC or Stones (no soft rock allowed!). Let the neighbors know you’re there, though preferably not after nine p.m.

Do something silly—not stupid—every day. Silliness requires that you step outside of yourself and do something that makes no sense at all. Do it because it makes you laugh. Do it because it makes those around you think you’re nuts, which is part of the idea. It’s a kind of creative defiance that turns the world around a little, if only for a moment. And it doesn’t cost anything, unless you get fined for drawing a silly face on your tax return.

Part of being human is making an occasional ass of yourself, but try not to make a career out of it. I don’t care how respectable and careful you are. At some point in your life, you’re going to be an ass. I’m sure Pope Francis is a cool, upstanding guy, but even he must look back on some of his early days and say, “Boy, what an ass I was!” And look at St. Augustine. He got to have all that fun being an ass, then confessed it all and became famous. So it’s OK to be an ass once in a while, but eventually you have to own up to it and take responsibility.

And since everyone is an ass sometimes, try not to be too critical. Your turn will come soon.

Some final tips. If you do a lot of drinking, it’s best that you not keep guns around the house. And if you can no longer laugh at yourself or face another day, do like an old dog and go off quietly to die in the woods. Don’t blow your brains out in the kitchen. Have some sympathy for the cleaning crew.                                                                                                                                                     ©Gene Twaronite 2016

Trash Picker on Mars

My first poetry chapbook Trash Picker on Mars has just been accepted for publication late this year by Aldrich Press (Kelsay Books imprint). Though the title poem is science fiction, most of the other poems address more general themes, including nature, religion, mythology, popular culture, and feminism, liberally sprinkled with the usual dark humor. The poem “Trash Picker on Mars” first appeared in the online journal New Myths. You can read it here  https://sites.google.com/a/newmyths.com/nmwebsite/poems/trash-picker-on-mars

Small Talk

DSCN0535I’m one of those pathetic, lonely guys who still does his banking in person. Sure, I could do everything online, but then I’d miss out on some great conversations.

Take this morning, for instance. I was making a simple deposit at my local bank, and was gazing off into space with what I hoped was a look of serious contemplation when the teller glanced up from his computer and asked me, “So how’s your day going so far?”

The question startled me with its bold directness. It seemed as if the teller were trying to engage me as a real person, not just another of thousands of customers. And he wanted to know how my day was going?

I stared dumbfounded at the young man, who seemed as eager to hear my reply as if he were in a bar waiting for the punch line to a dirty joke. After several minutes had passed, his expression turned to concern, as beads of sweat and a look of panic appeared on my face.

You see, he didn’t just ask how I am, in which case a simple “fine, thank you” would have sufficed, but asked me how my actual day was going, which seemed to indicate that he wanted details. What really threw me, however, were those troubling last two words—“so far.” This demanded some quick evaluation of how my day was progressing at this precise point in time, as measured against my general existential standard of what a good day should entail.

Franticly I considered my options. I could take the easy way out and say that it was going great so far, but then come back at him with that grim reminder from the Don Henley tune about how “in a New York minute everything can change.” Make him think about the fragility of our daily lives and that “Nothing in the world lasts/Save eternal change.” (Honorat de Bueil, seigneur de Racan). Maybe my teller would start worrying about what his day had in store for him, furtively looking behind his back and searching his car for explosives before he drove home. That would take the smile off his face.

But I think what the young man wanted was a piece of me—some little vignette in the life of the real person standing across from him. Ideally, it would involve something more interesting than the fact that I had just picked up the newspaper and had enjoyed a great walk up Fourth Avenue, except that I had stepped on some gum and been nearly stampeded by a gang of college students late for class. So I thought of some possible replies with a little more pizzazz, as for instance:

“Well, in just the past hour, I’ve researched my next book, visited two porn sites, made an appointment for a colonoscopy, decided which organs I wish to donate in case of my death, and was recruited by three separate terrorist organizations, one of which promised me an extra dozen virgins in heaven if I acted NOW.”

Or I could take a more somber tone, tearing up and shaking my head sadly. “It was going so well between us. Just this morning, we talked about having our first child and naming him George (or Georgiana if it’s a girl) after my uncle, who died from a heart attack after mistakenly taking three Viagra pills when he couldn’t remember if he had taken them or not. I was so happy. Then my wife suddenly turned to me and began to sob uncontrollably. “It’s all been a lie,” she said. “I was going to tell you, but I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.” Then she told me the truth. She—I mean he—was a transvestite, which now that I think about it does explain why he had to have his own bathroom.

Or maybe I should keep it short. “How’s my day going so far? Well, I’ve just been to my doctor and he told me that I have exactly two months to live, not counting any unused sick days or vacation time, and demanded that I pay him at the time service was rendered, meaning right now. And you want to hear the really sad part? I was stupid enough to pay him.”

In the end, I decided to be honest. “Please tell your corporate masters that my day was going just great until I heard that you’re raising my bank fees, and that my day would be going much better if I could get a little more interest on my CD’s.”

                                                       ©Gene Twaronite 2016

Native Earthling

DSCN0535I was a native, once. It was back in 1980 when I still lived in my home city of Manchester, Connecticut, and all the time before that from the moment of my birth. But on the day in June when I moved elsewhere I could no longer call myself a native. Automatically I became a newcomer, outsider, alien—doomed to spend the rest of my life staring blankly at “NATIVE” license plates and bumper stickers.

You only get one shot at being a native. Move away from your birthplace for any substantial amount of time and you are no longer one of the chosen. It matters not if you live in a new place for fifty years, even for the rest of your life. The only way to reclaim your inheritance is to go back home and say you made a mistake. And if your town is now underwater—drowned by a dam for the good that is always presumed greater—you are out of luck.

Natives often speak of their heritage with a sense of accomplishment, as if they had something to do with it. I was born here, says the native. I chose to remain … while you did not.

Well, pardon me for living, but just because you accidentally happened to be born in Scarsdale, London, or on the Mayflower doesn’t make you any better than someone born in Somalia, Bangladesh, or Haiti. Staying put is easy, especially if your native home isn’t currently being blown to smithereens or sinking below the waves of rising seas. Sometimes you don’t have a choice.

I don’t care how royal, pure, or blue your blood is, or how your ancestors first cleared this land of native “savages” to make way for civilized white folks, at some point your genetic line had to come from somewhere else. This is what our species has always done, spreading outward from our evolutionary and cultural cradles to occupy all inhabitable spaces on the planet. We humans are always on the move.

There is danger, however, in too much movement. People who do not (or cannot due to forces beyond their control) remain in one place for a time miss out on one of life’s grand experiences—a sense of being part of a place, of sharing in its daily rhythms, of knowing that home is much more than comfortable surroundings.

So where does that leave me, a non-native son who has squandered his inheritance? I could try to go back to the life of my late father, a true native of our home city. Ironically, he had to briefly relinquish his claim during his last few years at an out-of-state assisted living center, though his remains have now returned to their ancestral soil. By choosing to stay there all his life, he knew and felt things about that “City of Village Charm” that I will never know.

But there are also many things that my father never got the chance to experience. The world beckons with possibilities. While some of us choose to be natives of one place, others like me cannot help but see each place as merely one aspect or extension of a larger home. Though I may dwell in and derive meaning from a particular location for a time, it can never be my full address. I am of this world as well as in it, a fact more real to me than the temporary happenstance of where I reside. My love for this native home transcends the love I feel for any one place, region or country. I get a lump in my throat whenever I see its portrait in space—a blue-white haven of hope amid the black emptiness of space—planet number three, home. Home to life. Home to mountains, deserts and seas, great empty spaces and great crowded spaces. Home to more wonderful things, creatures, and peoples than I will ever know.

I think I will stay here awhile. After all, I was born and raised here. No E.T. am I. Call me a native earthling.                                                                                                                                                                            ©Gene Twaronite 2015

Share a Gift of Laughter & Imagination

Gene Holiday DRAFT2-1For those looking for a fun gift this holiday season, take a look at my Books page. If you wish to purchase 5 or more copies of my books (in any combination), take 20% off the purchase price. This offer only available here. Please contact me at this website. Cheers!

Mastermind

We must be ever vigilant in the thoughts that go through our heads, especially in our reactions to current events. Here is a poem I wrote upon hearing of the death of the so-called mastermind of the Paris terrorist attack.
 
MASTERMIND

I saw the news flash on CNN —
Abdelhamid is dead—
and heard a voice inside me
rejoicing:
He is dead! He is dead!
His body mangled by bullets
and a nearby grenade,
he died not soon enough.
To call him mastermind
of the Paris massacre
makes him sound more important
than what he was—
just another cancer cell
in a metastasizing tumor.
Blind to everything but his belief,
he was master of nothing.
Relieved as I am to see
this murderous cell zapped
from the body of humanity,
I yet find myself looking back
at my thoughts, wondering
what kind of person it was
who could plot the deaths
of fellow humans as if
they were mere avatars
in a video game,
or whether he ever
looked up at the stars
and dreamed of a girl.
And I find myself wondering
what kind of mastermind it is
who this morning cheers
the death of a young man
who went so horribly wrong,
who once was human
before he blew it all up.

My Life as a Sperm

DSCN0535In their ongoing memory wars, memoirists seek to go ever deeper into their pasts, uncovering astonishing details about their first years of life. One writer recalls the intimate conversation she had, at two months old, with her mother and the family priest about whether the soul can enter heaven with heavily soiled diapers or if God prefers prosciutto or pepperoni pizza.

Not to be outdone, some writers claim to be able to recall their fetal memories as early as 30 weeks after conception. The severely limited social environment of the fetus, coupled with its lack of a comprehensive vocabulary, does pose challenges for the creative writer. Let’s face it, there’s not a lot of partying going on, and your conversation with the outside world largely consists of kicking. One writer insists, however, that he first decided to become a rock ‘n’ roll drummer when he became habituated to his drunken dad’s late night pounding on the front door.

I must confess that I remember little from my earliest years, aside from bratty episodes when I would scream and cry in the department store to make my poor Aunt Mary buy me a toy elephant, or the way I could put on my “ain’t I lovable” act and con my dear grandmother out of almost anything. As for my fetus days, forget it—they’re a complete blank. But oddly enough, I do possess vivid recollections of my interior life just before conception.

True, there’s not enough stuff to fill a book. The whole thing lasted only a few days—just after I entered my mother’s womb—but oh what days they were! Looking back now, I have to say it was the most challenging time of my life, full of danger, excitement, and emotional triumphs.

I remember being a lonely guy at the time, despite the fact that I was surrounded by over 250 million other sperm. I dreamed of finding just the right egg to spend my life with, an egg who would understand me and not make fun of the fact that I was 175,000 times smaller than she was. I was determined to find her.

Up through the deep dark caverns I traveled, with only my raw courage to guide me. It was a perilous journey that few of us would survive. During the first few minutes, I had watched in horror as millions of my comrades died in writhing agony in the acid bath of the vaginal canal. Tony and Eddie—such great kidders—who were always good for a laugh. And who can forget George, who was always tripping on his own tail, or my best bud Frank? Damn, how I miss him! Then came that awful cervical mucus—like swimming in sewage—where many of the poorer swimmers drowned. So many good men died that day, and for what? The same reason I was there, still alive and swimming toward my dream. I was young and strong and knew that she was up there waiting for me.

My tail ached as I swam and jostled for position. On and on we swam, up through the cervix and uterus, in a grim marathon where only the strongest would survive. At that point, I was swimming on pure DNA. Though few of us who had started the race remained, I knew I could do it. As we got closer to the infamous fallopian tunnels, I could see some poor saps taking the wrong tube. Hate to admit it, but I was not sad to see them go. A few less competitors to get in my way.

Just as I was about to enter the tunnel, I felt her presence for the first time. It was if she were sending me a signal to guide me to her. I started swimming like an Olympic sperm.

Now the real trick in these marathons is to pace yourself. You don’t want to burn out too soon, and I still had one big obstacle to overcome.

So I purposely let some of the other sperm get ahead. Actually, I had paid them all off beforehand to pass the torch to me. The idea was for them to arrive at my beloved before I did and start breaking down her resistance with their enzymes. She was very sweet, but had developed a real wall around her.

Suddenly, there she was—the egg of my heart. The guys had done their job, and by the way that she looked at me I knew she felt the same about me. She was ready. In no time, I was in.

For a few blissful days, we traveled together down the fallopian tube. After about a week, the honeymoon was over and it was time to get attached in our new apartment. I wish I could remember more. I’m sure there were some very good times.

Galaxy Flight to Midnight

First they fled out of Africa,
seeking new sources of food
or maybe a change of scenery.
Then they fled the ice sheets
and dire wolves haunting their dreams.
From hunger and drought they fled
over the Bering Strait and beyond.
From religious persecution they fled
to a New World of unbridled freedom.
From war, famine, and disease they fled
to whatever country would take them.
They fled the whips and chains
of Southern plantations to live
in crowded cities of the North,
as others fled the same cities
from immigrant hordes and dark races.
They fled into gated communities
to free themselves from parties
and viewpoints not their own.
They fled into space out of boredom
and because it was the last frontier.
Finally they fled from the earth itself,
in their luxury starship cruisers,
all the way to the center of the galaxy
and a big black hole
that swallowed them up,
every last one.

Originally published in Wilderness House Literary Review Fall 2015 (note: scroll down to second poem on page 3) http://www.whlreview.com/no-10.3/poetry/GeneTwaronite.pdf