Newtopia Rising, Book I: The Search for a New Utopia (ACT I, SCENE I)

ACT I; SCENE I

SPACECRAFT UNITY 10, REC ROOM

[Fully clad in spacesuits, eight crew members sit in quiet anxiety. One man, LINLEY YAMAGUCHI, appears to be praying. AIDA DESALEGN, a small doe-eyed woman, breaks the silence]

AIDA DESALEGN
Travelling on a spaceship
So far away from home,
To find a new and better place,
A planet rich with loam.

LINLEY YAMAGUCHI
[Looks up from prayer, smiling at Aida]

The first two we used up,
Bled each ‘till it ran dry.
Drained and purged ‘till naught remained,
But this time we must try.

BLAKE MEGAN
[Scoffs]

Try not to fuck it up
Quite so hard this time around.
I’m sure we’ll change, third time’s a charm,
Pretend we’re better than we sound.

SONNY DARLING
So spoke the pessimist,
One with the bitter heart.
Just watch and see, this time we’ll change,
We’ll all each play our part.

BLAKE MEGAN
Missions have failed before
Despite whatever specs were read.
Or like the crews before us,
We may end up simply dead.

And if we win it’s only
A matter of time before we burn
Through the planet’s resources:
We’re humans, we never learn.

SONNY DARLING
You can’t blame this generation
For the deeds of the entire race.
All we want is a place to land,
We homeless, adrift in space.

You’ll see, it will be different,
The Council has decreed
That every human work the land;
To respect the soil and seed.

CEDRIC CHAN
All we need is another chance,
A world with water, air,
And a certain type of ground –
Then we’ll take it from there.

ALL except BLAKE
Everyone is waiting
Suspended, fast asleep.
Dreaming of lives spent on a farm,
Of crops to sow and reap.

BLAKE MEGAN
We had a world so perfect,
Old Utopia or Earth.
Then we went and killed it so we’re
Without a land or hearth.

TWYFORD ATIF
How were you elected
As Seeker, or so called?
Any more of your Cynic views,
I’ll beg Aida crashes us all.

[Enter Captain Brooke]

BROOKE FITZGERALD
Time to go, all hands on deck,
Crew members look alive.
The moment for which we’ve all trained,
Prepare for what ahead lies.

With luck we’ll find a suitable world,
Perhaps a gruesome death.
All in the name of humankind,
This day won’t be meaningless.

Here we are, your time to shine,
Desalegn, take the helm.
The rest of you brace yourselves
As we venture in this new realm.

AIDA DESALEGN
Aye aye, Captain.

[Exit Aida. Everyone straps in for a rocky yet safe landing, Cedric praying and Blake swearing profusely]

ALL except BLAKE
We’ve really gone and done it,
We’ve really made the grade.
May it be, against all odds,
The world for which we’ve prayed.

BROOKE FITZGERALD
[Unstraps and stands]
Time to go, all hands on deck,
Crew members look alive.
The moment for which we’ve all trained,
Prepare for what ahead lies.

[Crew unstrap and stand alongside Brooke. Enter Aida. Everyone claps her on the back, Brooke ruffling her hair]

ALL except BLAKE
With luck we’ll find a suitable world,
Perhaps a gruesome death.
All in the name of humankind,
This day won’t be meaningless.

[Together, they step out onto planet. There is a moment of silence as they stare in awe at the new world, a savannah with sandy rolling plains scattered with trees and shrubbery. It is beautiful. Brooke turns around to face the crew]

BROOKE FITZGERALD
Waste no time, begin prelims:
Gather surface soil, rocks,
All details on the atmosphere,
All knowledge to unlock.

BROOKE FITZGERALD and BENJIRO SARA
Geology!

AIDA DESALEGN and CEDRIC CHAN
Chemistry!

TWYFORD ATIF
Meteorology!

ALL except BLAKE
[Point to Blake, who scowls]

And botany!

We’ll use our strengths and pit our wits,
We’ll cooperate and strive
To defy all odds, all obstacles;
We will, we will survive.

TWYFORD ATIF
[Scans atmosphere with Personal Operative Data Sphere (PODS), a metal contraption hanging around his neck, and shares the reading emanating from its holographic screen]

Insulating magnetic field,
Gravity .84g,
Pressure 10.1psi,
.9g/L density.

.01% CO2,
24% oxygen,
1.99% argon,
74% nitrogen.

[The crew stare at each other in disbelief. They begin to embrace, swaying as they link arms and touch foreheads. Brooke pulls a reluctant Blake into the group hug]

ALL except BLAKE
We’ve really gone and done it,
We’ve really made the grade.
Against all odds we found it:
The world for which we’ve prayed.

TWYFORD ATIF
[Looks down at PODS]

Captain, I have a reading
For something unrecognized.
A trace substance detected,
The system can’t identify.

BROOKE FITZGERALD
Thank you Atif, noted,
Continue to assess.
Desalegn begin transmission,
The Ship we must address.

[Aida makes call]

WORLDSHIP COMPUTER
Suspension systems deactivated.

[Holographic transmission begins. The Nine Arbiters begin to rouse and exit from their animation tanks]

BROOKE FITZGERALD
Unity 10 to World Ship Two,
Come in, Council of Devoted Nine.
The land, the air, it’s all we’ve hoped
And no detected life signs.

THE NINE ARBITERS
All hail, praise be with you,
You’ve saved us, Unity 10.

[One member presses buttons]

We’ve sent the first wave of settlers,
Wake us in two years hence.

[Step back into tanks]

And so we must now bless you,
Our brightest and the best.
Our Seekers of New Utopia,
Our fate in your hands will rest!

[Tanks close and hiss]

TWYFORD ATIF
But of course, no pressure!

LINLEY YAMAGUCHI
And now to set up camp
On humankind’s new world.
But first thing’s first, let’s get the flag,
Our pride and joy unfurled.

BLAKE MEGAN
[Knocks on Linley’s helmet]

You must be fucking kidding,
When we have myriad duties.
First thing’s first, inflate the Hab;
Sort your priorities.

BROOKE FITZGERALD
[Knocks on Blake’s helmet]

You are not their leader,
Miss Number Third in rank.
You go and set up the Hab,
Yamaguchi, tend the oxygen tanks.

[Blake follows orders, sulking visibly]

ALL except BLAKE
We’ll use our strengths and pit our wits,
We’ll cooperate and strive
To defy all odds, all obstacles;
We will survive and thrive.

BROOKE FITZGERALD
Megan, once you’ve done the Hab,
Go dig up some more dirt.
Then you may – manually
Urination convert.

[Blake rolls her eyes as she digs into the ground. Immediately, she falls screaming in agony]

[The lights go off but for a spotlight on Blake and a giant backdrop screen]

[Blake stops screaming and writhing. Shaking, she stands up and turns to face the screen, which plays scenes from her life]

[In humanity’s last moments on Earth, plagued by natural disasters, much of Blake’s childhood was spent in anti-hurricane survival capsules. During adolescence, her father forced her to abandon him, along with the rest of the planet, to be part of the first wave of interstellar colonisers]

[On the new human planet, she joined the Transcendents – a group devoting their lives to history and progress, waking up every 30 years to analyze societal states and make recommendations. She falls in love with a colleague but neither act on their feelings, as they are discouraged from personal attachments. After the Transcendents’ first suspension, they awake to a hostile political environment, with disputes over territory and resources. They give counsel before reluctantly re-entering suspension. When they awake, the planet has been devastated by unrestrained consumerism and war]

[The Transcendents are now the Cynics. One by one they commit suicide, including Blake’s love who leaves a note which reads, “You were the single gleam of light in a worthless world.” In the fashion of ancient samurai, Blake makes to kill herself by disembowelment but at the last moment stabs herself in the shoulder instead. She joins the military of a random side after flipping a coin, and spends years deftly killing scores of “the enemy”]

[More spotlights turn on, revealing more and more humans, stealing, destroying each other and throwing out the very material things for which they’ve killed. The backdrop screen plays a montage of the most traumatizing moments on loop. The fighting humans converge to form a grotesque giant head which chases and eventually consumes Blake. Screen and lights turn off]

MED CABIN

[Blake lies on a stretcher, surrounded by the crew]

ISAAC RIVERA
[Hovers over Blake, scanning her body with PODS]

Pulse elevation,
Pupil dilation,
Blood vessel congestion,
Tremors, perspiration.

BLAKE MORGAN
[Pushes Isaac away, runs hands over face and body, stands up, walks briskly towards the med supply cabinet and grabs a bottle]

ISAAC RIVERA
[Rubs hand where Blake slapped it away]

But otherwise all clear.

[Blake leaves towards the rec room. An alarmed crew follow her. She grabs a packet from the ration cupboard and with trembling hands mixes powder with the liquid]

TWYFORD ATIF
Fruit powder with pure ethanol …
Do you really think that wise?

ISAAC RIVERA
An act which as Chief Medic
I simply can’t advise.

BLAKE MEGAN
Oh go fuck yourselves.

[One by one, the crew try to physically restrain Blake, who flips each on the ground. Only Brooke and Benjiro stand back, watching and shaking their heads. Blake gulps her makeshift cocktail, glowering at the crew. The crew glower back]

CEDRIC CHAN
[Clearly unnerved]

Captain, I ran the ‘nostics
On all of Morgan’s gear.
The trace substance Atif found …
It’s inside, it surrounds us here.

ISAAC RIVERA
Impossible, how could it
The airlock permeate?

[Crew turns to Brooke]

BROOKE FITZGERALD
Megan, prepare for an EVA.
We are to investigate.

BENJIRO SARA
Captain! I volunteer
To assist and survey the land.

BROOKE FITZGERALD
Don’t be ridiculous,
You’re second in command.

[Turns to leave]

Act like it.

[Brooke and Blake exit.]

CAVERN

[Brooke and Blake enter an underground cave. Both their PODS beep with increasing intensity, their holographs showing a high concentration of the mystery compound]

BLAKE MORGAN
[Grinning mischievously]

Cap, are you not frightened,
On a planet unexplored?
Perhaps within these hollows
Is ET life, all prepped for war.

BROOKE FITZGERALD
How many captains have
A prime crew like I’ve got?

[Places hand on Blake’s helmet affectionately, almost maternally]

After all, beside me is
The military’s best shot.

[Suddenly, the PODS flatline. Nearby apparent rocks unfold into dancers. They are the physical manifestation of harmony, balance, mutual dependence, and love – limbs entwined, every movement part of a larger cycle. Behind, the screen shows the anatomy of planet, all its resources and their pace of renewal]

[Lights turn off except for a spotlight on a suddenly nude Blake. A second spotlight reveals Blake’s deceased love, also naked, moving towards her. Blake drinks in the sight of him, takes his hand and kisses it, falling to one knee. Lights go off]

[Spotlight falls on Brooke. A new spotlight shows Benjiro, who moves towards her slowly]

BROOKE FITZGERALD
I ordered you to stay back,
What are you doing here?
I told you once, commanded,
I –

[Benjiro kisses her. After a moment of hesitation, Blake wraps arms around him. They do not part]

[Lights turn off and on again, revealing Brooke and Blake on the floor. They awake, stare at each other for a beat, then scramble to their feet and exit the cave, running]

BACK AT CAMP

BENJIRO
[Pacing back and forth]

We should go, they’ve been too long.

[Points at rest of crew]

Follow emergency protocols.

[Brooke and Blake pull up abruptly on their shuttle-ship and clamber out. Benjiro draws back arm bashfully]

BROOKE FITZGERALD
Doc, you’ll need to inspect us both,
But first: attention, all!
It seems that what we’ve found
Is a planet sentient.

Aware of its own surfaces,
And armed with self defense.
With a psychoactive substance:
I went, I saw, I felt it.

To use any of its resources we must
Its balance understand, commit.

[Brooke and Blake each take a shovel and penetrate the ground. Nothing happens]

BLAKE MORGAN
[Quivering with excitement]

This could not be more perfect,
Unlike most planets, it’s active.
The big picture we must bear in mind,
Our only way to live.

BROOKE FITZGERALD and BLAKE MEGAN
Against all odds, all obstacles,
We’ve found our panacea:

ALL
We must be the Keepers,
We’ll make this our Newtopia!

A Double-Edged Sword: The Toxic Effects of Chivalry on Men and Women

He’s supposed to buy my drinks and pay for our dates. He’s supposed to open doors and lavish me with flowers and jewellery. He’s supposed to carry my shit.

The mechanics of romance has become more egalitarian than ever, with 58% of surveyed women in London expecting to go Dutch on a first date. Yet gendered norms still play a dominant role when it comes to dating etiquette – to the detriment of all parties.

EFFECT #1: MUTUAL OBJECTIFICATION

When used as a means of acquiring rather than expressing affection, chivalrous practices monetize romance and establish expectations for reciprocation – or, as some men so charmingly describe, for a “return on investment”.

And so, the most immediate effect heteronormative dating standards has is of objectification.

On Females: Money + Power = Women

Perhaps the most notorious objectification is that of women as eye candies, as notches on belts, as trophy girlfriends and wives. The position of “prize to be won” is reaffirming in that it seemingly validates sexual desirability and social status.

On Males: A Free Ride

In turn, men are objectified as mere resources – useful for a good time, for a free meal, for financial security, for network connections and career advancement. The position of “provider and protector” is reaffirming in that it seemingly validates sexual desirability and social status.

When we tell boys that a woman’s affections must be won with gestures and gifts, we teach them that above all, material goods trump character or mutual rapport.

The feminist undertone in Seth MacFarlane’s ‘Ted’. Source: Netflix/Ted

The feminist undertone in Seth MacFarlane’s ‘Ted’. Source: Netflix/Ted

EFFECT #2: SYSTEMIC INFANTILIZATION

On Females: “Honey, you can just marry rich.”

Imagine you were constantly provided for and had things done on your behalf. Imagine you were explicitly told that you didn’t have to get a job as far as money was concerned, and so never tried to uncover your calling. Imagine if the stakes were never high and there was never a need to rise to an occasion, never a need to learn or grow.

When girls are told marrying an affluent partner is a viable career option, chivalry ceases to be remotely romantic. It instead acts as a device enabling the developmental stunting of a specific group reflected in earlier systems of oppression – associating femininity with socio-economic passivity.

Hélène Cixous, professor and feminist writer. Source: Ségolène Royal

Hélène Cixous, professor and feminist writer. Source: Ségolène Royal

On Males: Beasts of Burden

If part of the population is socialized to be taken care of, there obviously has to be someone to provide that care. Cue the traditional male-breadwinner regime, in which the most important role a man plays is to provide.

Gus Fring, the traditionalist. Source: Netflix/Breaking Bad

Gus Fring, the traditionalist. Source: Netflix/Breaking Bad

That’s a lot of pressure for one pair of shoulders – and it’s been shown to have profound implications for men. Those perceiving themselves as inadequate providers were found to report higher rates of depression and marital conflict.

And while male unemployment was a determining factor for divorce (with initiation made by both husbands and wives irrespective of marital happiness), female employment status was immaterial; epitomizing the “asymmetric” nature of the gender revolution, in which women’s roles and behaviour are changing faster than those of men’s.

EFFECT #3: PLACATION OF THE MASSES

On Females: Mollifying the Marginalized

Now imagine everyday you were placed on a pedestal, accustomed to special treatment wherever you went. Imagine you were the exception to most rules including waiting lines, price tags, administrative tickets and security measures.

girlsnight

The apparent benefits of being female. Source: BuzzFeed/Guys Describe A Girl’s Night Out

Through relative ease of day-to-day living, females are thus given incentive to remain within the status quo. It’s comfortable and downright nice, with comfort and niceness varying vastly across a racial and class spectrum; a Huxelian system of control in which oppression goes hand-in-hand with the provision of immediate gratification.

On Males: Making Men Pay

Differential treatment based on gender can lead to more grave repercussions.

The same patriarchal perception which paints women as delicate creatures to be taken care of paradoxically depicts them as ideal nurturers – to the systemic disadvantage of fathers. Even in recent decades, primary custody has been awarded overwhelmingly in favour of mothers: despite numbers which show perpetrators of neglect and physical (though not sexual) child abuse are more likely to be female than male.

When it comes to gender double standards, everyone pays a price.

CONCLUSION

The point isn’t to denounce the roles of housewives or househusbands. There’s honour and a deeply respectable devotion in making a home warm and hospitable for loved ones. Nor is it to dismiss genuine romantic gestures and the desire to spoil someone you care about.

But when roles are predominantly played by specific groups, it indicates cultural grooming and even structural design. And what’s alarming is that such artificial constructs are still depicted and accepted as part of a natural order.

Perhaps the delegation of duties based on gender made sense when we were fending off predators. But the sabretooths are long gone, human civilization has evolved, and education is more likely than physical strength to bring home the bacon.

Besides, what better and more romantic way is there to figure out the terrifying business of life, than together?

“Shadfly”

‘I’m leaving.’

She could tell he didn’t believe her. ‘OK.’

‘You could come with me. Which would be awesome, seeing as you’re my best friend and I love you and all – or you could stay. In which case it would suck, but I refuse to stay here.’

He turned to consider her. ‘You can’t be serious.’

‘No – just deadly serious.’

‘And go where, exactly?’ he asked, bemused. ‘Where could we possibly even go?’

‘Oh, so you are going with me,’ she teased, tilting her head in mock innocence.

‘C’mon. I thought you were being serious.’

‘We’d travel. As long as we follow the bank, we won’t stray too far out into the water.’

‘Why do you even want to go? It’s not that bad here.’

Effie looked at him incredulously. ‘Not that bad? How many of us are sick? How many died as fucking virgins?

Mero rubbed his forelegs together, the long bristles bending against each other. ‘This is our hatchery, though. We can’t very well just leave.’

‘Why not?’ she challenged.

‘Well, for one, we’d miss the final moult. And the nuptial dance. I mean, what would be the point?’

For a moment, she was silent. ‘We’ve waited over two thousand years to fly,’ she said gently. ‘Do you ever really think about that?’ She often remembered the moment, glorious and shining, when their swarm (if it could have been called as such with their numbers so sparse) finally emerged. She remembered the resistance of the water as she burst through its skin; the explosion of freedom and ecstasy and sheer terror. She remembered lingering, clumsy in her newest body, before spreading her wings and rising with her siblings in the air, a single cloud at one with the sky – flying and dancing and alighting on every possible surface, exploring a world they had only ever dreamed of.

 

Yet festivities were fleeting as they realized in horror that the disease that had plagued them in the bedrock had followed them above. That someone, anyone, could be afflicted with the debilitating sickness; could so quickly deteriorate before one’s eyes. The only difference was that up here, there often were no bodies to mourn – the victims simply folded their wings and plummeted towards the water, leaving behind nothing but air and grief, much as if they had been devoured.

Mero cocked his head to the side. ‘What does that have to do with staying or leaving?’

‘We’ve spent most of our lives hiding. From this disease and every asshole in the water – even those Stonefly bastards.’ The larger larvae had always attacked from behind or below. She remembered watching, utterly helpless, as monstrous pincers sank into her sister’s abdomen and consumed her alive, indifferent to flailing limbs or agonized pleas.

‘And the most fucked up part …’ She would never admit it to anyone but Mero. ‘All I could hear myself thinking was, please don’t let it be me. I was hoping it would be somebody else – anybody – just not me.

‘That’s when I realized … how much of a coward I really am.’

He ran his antennae over her face, the myriad protruding curves of her eyes and the crease between her head and thorax, caressing and soothing. She hated how safe he made her feel, when they weren’t really. Not safe. Not here.

She murmured, calmer now. ‘The shit we’ve been through, all the shit I’ve seen, I promised myself – swore that once we were above, it would be better.’

‘It is better, Effie.’

‘Yeah, Mero, at least we’re not being cannibalized. But it’s still horribly wrong. We may not be able to see it, but something’s still killing us in masses.

‘And maybe it’s just too late. Maybe even if we figure out the cause, we won’t be able to do anything about it. Maybe we’ll have a better chance if we leave.’

‘Effie, we don’t know what’s out there. It could be so much worse.’

It could be so much better. How will we know unless we try? Fuck, I’m not asking for paradise or anything! Just a place where … where the odds aren’t so stacked against us. Where we might actually stand a chance.’

 

‘Everything’s going to be OK.’

She pulled away from him. ‘I don’t need you to tell me everything’s going to be OK. I need you, for the first time in your life – no offense, but this is something you know about yourself – to make a decision.’

For a moment he said nothing, and she feared he’d sulk irrationally.

‘Alright. I’m always with you.’ He swung his tails, suddenly playful. ‘So does this mean we’re gonna be mates for sure?’

Her heart skipped a beat, though Effie refused to show it. ‘Yeah, it would.’

 

‘But only ‘cause of the complete lack in alternatives,’ she added slyly.

 

They took flight at the same time, him chasing and her throwing further taunts and both laughing – and for a moment, all worries and tribulations were meaningless.

 

They spent the next two years in blissful solitude. There were plentiful places to land, serene and inviting. Yet they pressed on, talking and joking and racing as if nothing and no one existed in the world but them …

In their third year they alighted on an isolated plant with sturdy broad leaves, instantly recognizing the quickness of breath and the constriction of their shells, weighing them down. Since her days as a hatchling, Effie had moulted over forty times. Yet panic still took hold as her breath stopped abruptly; as her joints grew stiff and immutable, trapping her within her own body. Desperate, she writhed until at last the old shell split open, exposing her to a shock of air, cold and biting against her soft skin. For what always felt an eternity she struggled, pushing, twisting, wriggling. When she finally pulled free, she perched atop the abandoned casing and slowly unfurled her new wings, the tips rolling out from under and stretching in a dull, sweet ache. Then, with a deep gasp, she resumed breathing.

‘Mero?’ she called out, panting heavily.

‘I’m here.’ The voice came from behind.

Effie wheeled around and for a moment was struck mute and dumb, her mind wiped of all coherent thought. Standing before her was a full-fledged male. He was bigger, his legs and tails much longer. His thorax was enlarged and powerful, sunlight gleaming off his already hardening shell. His wings were now sleeker; transparent and glossy, no longer opaque or covered in fine hairs. He was beautiful, strong, irresistible. She had been close to Mero ever since they were hatchlings, young and innocent – had always had a crush on him. Yet in their final skins, everything had changed.

‘What is it?’

‘You’re … you’re the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen,’ she said stupidly.

‘You’re one to talk.’

They drew closer to each other, drinking in the sight of the other as though they had never met before. Then they took to the air with a newfound agility, their exhaustion from the moult forgotten. They propelled back and forth in harmony – in an ancient dance, their wings beating a routine that had never been taught yet were known all the same – titillating with flight and desire.

She shuddered with pleasure as he stroked her abdomen with a leg, leaving her shell tingling where he traced it. She was engulfed by passion, by insanity, by a heat which told her to climb on top of him, to ride him fast and hard. She knew he was driven by the same madness, that he also knew what to do as he dipped midair and positioned himself beneath her, his long forelegs wrapping around and clutching her thorax. The moment she felt him inside, she realized she had been half a sandgrain all along, realizing its brokenness only when the waters, with rare mercy and by impossible chance, had reunited the two pieces. She was whole, now in this embrace. They consumed each other with neither reserve nor shame, until she begged for him to shoot it inside her.

When they climaxed, they did not pull apart. They drifted downwards in tandem, two leaves with a shared stem, their interlocking bodies descending lazily upon the breeze.

They closed their wings in upright position, ready for sleep. ‘Y’know,’ Mero said softly, ‘I wouldn’t have minded staying back.’

 

‘What?’

 

‘The hatchery. I mean, yeah, it wasn’t perfect. But it was home, it was easy, and we were with everyone.’

Effie bristled, at once angry and frightened. ‘Then why did you come with me?’

‘Because our entire swarm didn’t mean half as much as you do to me.

‘I initially thought it didn’t really matter where I was, so long as I was with you. But now I’m starting to think you may have been right.’

She stared at him and wondered what she had ever done to deserve him. ‘I do tend to be right,’ she quipped. He pushed against her playfully.

‘Maybe leaving really was the best chance for us. And for what’ll hopefully be like, three thousand of our babies.’

Effie twitched her hind wings with a pang of uncertainty. Since they were larvae, everyone had looked forward to becoming parents. Everyone except her, it seemed. She had only imagined procreation with trepidation – and overwhelming fear. How much would it hurt? What if they came out wrong? How many would end up dying? Yet when she thought of making life with this beautiful male, nothing seemed more fulfilling.

 

‘One thousand. No one lays three anymore.’

‘Two.’

‘One or nothing!’

They fell asleep in peace, the tips of their antennae touching lightly. When they awoke, they exchanged a single glance before taking flight – taking to each other’s legs once more before setting out.

 

She was the first to know. She could feel the eggs growing within. Her entire body felt different: heavy yet with unprecedented alertness, her two sights sharpened as never before. He was ecstatic, just beside himself with joy. She laughed and called him an animal, obsessed only with reproductive instinct. He called her a miser obsessed only with guarding themselves and letting the world think they were more angsty than they really were, and continued to titter and babble like a larva, newly hatched from egg. Then they made love – wildly, recklessly, completely without abandon.

He was the first to die. They had always been cautious, travelling far above the surface. They were supposed to be safe. Yet the scaled behemoth jumped – flew – from beneath, closing its jaws around Mero and taking him down to its watery hell.

Her best friend, her love, her brother, the father of her eggs. There all her life, and lost in one moment. Gone forever. Effie had laughed hysterically, bitterly. Didn’t they always say men lived longer?

She went on through the heat and haze, every wingbeat an agony.

She knew when it was time. She descended towards the surface of the river, dipped the tip of her abdomen into the water, and let loose the children. She tipped her wings and circled back to watch them: two thousand and twelve eggs swaying and spiralling as they sank towards the riverbed, leaving a trail of bubbles in their wake.

She watched, and felt nothing.

Let’s Talk About Drugs: A Letter to Future Offspring

To my dearest children Wilhelm and/or Lyra,

(Yes, your names were determined prior to the remote possibility of your conception.)

Let’s have a serious talk – one of the rare conversations that may leave you squirming in slight discomfort yet which are crucial for us to have.

As you enter adolescence, you’ll likely encounter youth culture’s obsession with both drugs and sexual intercourse. We can put a pin in discussing the latter for now.

Let’s talk about drugs.

Socializing and loosening inhibitions is fine, but know the importance of being able to differentiate between personal volition and external expectation. Know that some people, even those you consider friends, won’t hesitate to take advantage of you in your compromised state. Know that if you drive while your motor skills are impaired, you’re never too old for a beating.

More than anything, the alcohol will flow – getting “shitfaced drunk” will be a popular ritual. Know that ethanol is a neurotoxin – literally a poison that will hurt every organ in your body. Learn to take it slow and watch your intake. If you choose to exceed your tolerance level, expect vomiting and pure agony.

Chances are, you’ll be exposed to marijuana. Know that frequent use will hurt your memory and attention skills. Know that reactions can be extremely subjective, and largely depends on your mood and mindset. If you’re anxious or paranoid, expect things to get so very much worse. Again, learn to regulate intake. Overconsumption never killed anyone, but it can lead to dysphoria – and I guarantee it’ll be the most uncomfortable experience of your young life.

Wherever you go, you’ll be exposed to tobacco. Know that nothing will kill you faster. Know that it’s more deadly to humans than HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis and malaria put together. Know that if there’s a single socially acceptable substance I ask you not to experiment with, it’s cigarettes. Please, please don’t do it. I assure you, it sucks.

In the glorious days of your youth, you should have fun. If you choose to do it, whatever “it” may be, do so in moderation. Do it in environments you’re comfortable in and with people you trust. If you decide to experiment, feel free to do so at home, in the safest and most familiar possible setting with the two people who love you most in the world.

Above all else, be safe and come home.

Beyond the High: The Implications of Marijuana Law Reform

‘Young people, I understand this is important to you, but you should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace – maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana.’

Listening to President Obama’s words, I bristled in mild offence. And for the next few months brooded, as brooders tend to do.

 

Me, Me, Me: Personal Importance

From a purely selfish perspective as a regular user, legalization is of course a major issue. Why shouldn’t I be able to share with friends this social relaxant within the privacy of our homes? Why can’t I choose weed as a recreational alternative that will (for once) spare my future self the discomforts of a hangover, or as migraine medication with minimal side effects? Why can’t drug policies be based on empirical data, with legality based on quantitative individual and societal harm?

This is folly. By which I mean, complete and utter bullshit.

Dismissing the personal for a moment, though, let us discuss cannabis in relation to the broader issues of the economy and jobs, to war and human lives.

 

Economic Benefit: The Green Rush, Jobs and Public Expenditure

For generations, individuals have smoked marijuana regardless of its prohibition – have in fact been smoking more since the days of Reefer Madness. The only meaningful impact legality has on the demand and supply of cannabis is determining the type of economy in which transactions take place: formal or underground.

A Happy Taxman

The greatest benefit of legalization – as in the benefit which most affects society as a whole – lies in the collection of taxes. While the amount won’t save a national budget, it still increases the provision of public programs and services – exemplified by Colorado’s Amendment 64, which requires that the first $40 million in marijuana tax revenue be appropriated into the public school capital construction assistance fund.

In 2014, Colorado collected 47 million dollars in tax revenue – 10 million of which was transferred to the fund.

Jobs (omg)

If implemented on a federal level, a legitimate cannabis industry could be a significant contributor to the economy in general – much akin to the alcoholic beverage industry responsible for over $170 billion in annual sales and 3.9 million jobs. Legal marijuana creates jobs for service-sector workers as cannabis cafes and dispensaries become as chic as wine bars and wineries – and creates investment opportunities at every step from manufacturing, distribution, retail, and ancillary products and services such as quality-testing laboratories.

A Socio-Economic Effect: Women and Marijuana

The birth of a completely new industry also means the opportunity to bypass labour-market inequalities. It means the chance to build higher-management structures from bottom up, as opposed to infiltrating and reforming existing ones. And that’s exactly what female entrepreneurs have been doing in the developing cannabis industry: increasingly assuming leadership and CEO positions.

While one industry may not be enough to close the gender gap at the executive level, it certainly makes a difference – and makes for heartening progress.

Hemp: The Versatile Industrial Plant

Perhaps the sector for which federal legalization in the U.S. (and the decades-overdue repeal of the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act) will make the greatest economic difference is agriculture. The Cannabis plant isn’t limited as a mind-altering substance. As a fast-growing and relatively cheap plant with a long list of potential products, cannabis can be a lucrative cash crop for farmers.

Hemp is used as:

  • fiber similar in texture to linen, with historic uses as clothing and ship cordage
  • construction material producing durable, breathable and insulated housing when combined with Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF)
  • a natural weed killer
  • composite material for automobiles
  • a high-protein food source with seeds rich in magnesium, zinc and iron
  • animal bedding
  • paper
  • and biofuel, though there are cheaper alternatives such as wastewater.

Most importantly, cannabis is a sustainable and renewable resource requiring little pesticide and no herbicide – and actually absorbs heavy-metal contaminants and other impurities, improving soil quality.

When it comes to hemp, everyone wins.

 

Medicinal Benefit: A Magic Green Tree

The versatility of cannabis exceeds industrial uses. Medically speaking, marijuana is nature’s frickin’ miracle.

Cannabis compounds have the potential of becoming effective treatment for the following conditions:

And yet, despite the plethora of data indicating therapeutic use, the U.S. maintains cannabis as a Schedule I drug with high potential for abuse and no accepted medical uses, and has condemned paraplegics, individuals suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and the terminally ill to prison for growing their own medicine.

 

Political Benefit: A War on Fellow Humans

The hypocrisy and outright injustice of prohibition isn’t limited to patients.

Individuals have been stripped of health coverage, separated from their children, incarcerated for entire lifetimes without parole, and executed in their own homes during surprise pre-dawn drug raids – all for using or distributing a substance less detrimental than a bottle of Chianti.

Made every day in the name of the war on drugs: heavy-handed measures and violations of human rights.

Yes, frequent use of marijuana is not without its risks – most notably a small yet discernible effect on short-term memory, working memory and attention skills. No, it won’t increase crime rates. And no, Mr. President, you can’t just dismiss the gravity of the issue.

When cannabis was initially criminalized in the U.S., it was done so against the advice of the American Medical Association; against the tenets of science and empiricism. The sheer economic and human cost of the insensible public policy – for which lies and propaganda were key instruments and which was only implemented to serve the funding agenda of a single politician in the 1960’s – isn’t just asinine. It’s a moral outrage.

Yes, legalization is about fighting for the right to use mind-altering substances; a behavior exhibited by our species since recorded history. But it’s also so much more. As a direct result of prohibitionist policies, human lives are adversely affected – and too often extinguished.

The Term ‘Stoner’ as Analogous to ‘Feminist’

With the reform of marijuana laws must come a corresponding revitalization of social perception. As advocates of cannabis seek to carve out a new and socially legitimate image of the substance and that of its users, many have understandably attempted to distance themselves from the word ‘stoner’.

I fully embrace it.

It could be argued that the term ‘stoner’ is analogous to the term ‘feminist’; though perhaps it is as an individual who identifies with both groups that I perceive similarities. Both are subject to lingering stereotypes, which while not always hateful are nonetheless misconceived. Both have proponents, those who support the group’s basic principles, hesitate to publicly associate with the term for fear of either social stigma or more grave repercussions.

By stringent definition, a feminist is a proponent of gender equality, and a stoner is a habitual user of marijuana. There is a need not necessarily to reclaim the word and certainly not to reject it, but to expand upon it. Although the 2014 “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” campaign by Fawcett Society and Elle UK was sullied by its ethically questionable use of sweatshop manufacturers (the issue of which opens a whole different can of worms), its core intention was commendable and resonating: to demonstrate that those who identify with an ideology come in various shapes, sizes, and genders.

Similarly, cannabis, as the most widely used illicit (no longer illicit in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Washington D.C.) substance in the world with 38% of the populace in the U.S. and 40% in Canada admitting to experimentation, is enjoyed by vastly different individuals, not limited by gender, ethnic background, profession, or level of education. A homemaker and parent may look to cannabis to alleviate his or her chronic back pain. A corporate lawyer may choose a joint over a glass of wine to alleviate stress. A novelist may take up vaporizer in hand when confronted with that mortal enemy, writer’s block.

The key is not to project animosity and fear towards the word itself but to make evident the diversity of the individuals with an appreciation for the Cannabis plant and its medicinal, recreational, and creative uses. Instead of allowing the word ‘stoner’ to become the focus of controversy, let it instead become assimilated into colloquial usage; let it be taken at face value.

I adore weed. Whether I relate more to the iconic Tommy Chong or the ambitious young women at Cannabrand (or a combination of the two) is a secondary matter. By virtue of mutual appreciation for marijuana, we are all united. We are kindred.

My name is Hayoung Terra Yim: advocate for equality, reader of books, assembler of words, drinker of fermented grapes, and smoker of dried Cannabis leaves. I am – as my friends so affectionately describe – a huge stoner.

 

A Cannabis-Induced Feminist Awakening

“Never mind.”

A phrase uttered with increasing frequency under specific circumstances: at large social gatherings, high out of my mind.

Though marijuana may not be a reliable truth serum (as it was briefly used in 1942 by the U.S. Office of Strategic Services in the interrogation of prisoners of war), it can certainly render its user more loquacious–more liberal than they otherwise might be with their speech. And the words that so liberally and so often flowed from my stoned lips happened to be of a distinctly feminist nature.

I have made strong comments on the Key-and-Lock analogy (which proclaims, “If a key can open a lot of locks, then it’s a master key. But if a lock can be opened by a lot of keys, it’s a shitty lock”–glorifying male promiscuity and villainizing female promiscuity in one fell swoop) and its inherent perception of women as passive recipients of sex and as prizes to be won, at a friend’s potluck. I have heatedly discussed the misguided perception of penetration as a dominant act and its repercussions for male rape victims (an outrageous lack of social recognition or support) at what was supposed to be an enjoyable night of movies and pot brownies. I have pointed out that referring to the vagina as a “Penis Wallet” is as patriarchal as referring to the penis as a “Vagina Stand” would be matriarchal, ruining what was intended to be a lighthearted joke at a party. I have incited an argument with less-than-subtle feminist undertones with Grandma over Christmas dinner.

I have since learned that inciting debates on gender equality and our constantly improving yet deeply rooted patriarchal society is not the most appropriate conduct in many social environments, and that doing so has the potential to alter interpersonal relationships. A friend now appears to walk on eggshells in my presence, inclined to mistakenly assume that I am raising a socio-political issue whenever I speak. And I’ve no doubt lost standing as Favorite Grandchild.

Initially, the cause-and-effect connection between my cannabis-use and feminist speeches left me perplexed. What could possibly explain the relationship? Then, I recalled a crucial passage from Martin Booth’s Cannabis: A History, which asserts that marijuana “does not create anything new but embellishes what already exists,” bringing abstract thoughts and feelings to the surface and helping convert them into coherence.

Learning about feminism in university, though deemed fascinating and important, never provoked any revelation of self-identity. It is through pot that I have uncovered the strength of my own convictions: that a man or a woman wishing to be a homemaker and stay-at-home parent should be able to do so without their gender setting limitations or expectations; that ponytails and pink are a hairstyle and color for males as much as for females, should they feel so partial; and that despite the achievement of legal and workplace equality, entire industries dominated by certain genders–such as the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and nursing sectors–indicate systemic trends and merit closer examination of cultural grooming.

It is under the influence of cannabis that I have realized my identification with Third Wave feminism; and it is this cannabis-induced epiphany that reinforces my love for the substance.

As if I didn’t love it enough–as in wholly and profoundly–already.

 

* Originally featured on Ladybud, the top women’s lifestyle and drug reform magazine!

Love Sonnet to Mary Jane

Mary Jane, my muse – no simple flower

Bestows a light, a clear and different view

When answers hide in vex’d times and dark hours,

And casts fresh sight, the old told now anew.

 

Sweet lady love, her arms offer respite;

She soothes stone shoulders at each week’s long end.

High I soar – on journeys of taste and sight!

And bask in shining eves she so oft lends.

 

She eases aches and pains, both nurse and friend,

Gentle, her hands heal all my sores and wears.

Those blinding migraines she can swiftly end,

No chance they stand ‘gainst Mary’s tender care.

 

Urge swells the heart to profess and decree

Undying love for this magic green tree.

 

* Originally featured on Ladybud, the top women’s lifestyle and drug reform magazine!