AITA For Infecting My Cousin with Uncontrollable Hulk Powers?

“A couple weeks ago, I (Bruce, 52m) went for a drive with my cousin (Jennifer, 37f). I admit it, things got a little out of control — a giant spaceship cut us off on a winding mountain road, hurtling us down a hillside toward our certain death, you know how it goes. Long story short, my cousin pulled me out of the wreck, saved my life, and I repaid her by giving her uncontrollable super-strength along with a much needed makeover by bleeding all over her gaping wounds. Hey, we all look better in green, am I right …” (Read more)

Join me today in Greener Pastures today for an AITA from an under-appreciated Avenger.

All Those Defiant Sparks

All my life, I’ve believed that no matter how dark this world gets, there’s light behind that darkness, light that always shines through in the end.

This belief has been fundamental to my writing, to the sometimes-dark stories I tell and to all the stories I tell. Terrible things happen. But light—something within humanity that generates light—finds ways to fight that darkness.

This belief has been fundamental to my life, too, helping me see my way through the challenges of childhood—bullying by my peers, growing up in a home with a share of love but also a share of chaos and yelling and strife.

Things might look dark, but no darkness is absolute. Light finds a way through, one way or another. For so many years, I believed that. I was never sure where my belief came from: The stories I raised myself on? God? Some mix of these things or some other thing entirely? Whatever the source, I’d always been grateful for this conviction, always known it for the gift it was. 

Until the pandemic—and the years leading up to the pandemic, too—challenged all that.

Not because of the virus itself. Because of the many people—not just outwardly problematic people, not just actively hateful people, but more people than not out of all people—who’ve decided that in the face of the virus, they’re just not up for caring about each other anymore. At least not when it comes to slowing the spread of a contagious disease that even now kills thousands of people a day and disables a great many more.

Not if they have to do it for more than a handful of months. Not if they have to be inconvenienced or change habits or rethink how they live and socialize over the long term.

Not if they have to make real sacrifices.

Some people are out and out vicious about their lack of care for one another, bursting into hateful screaming and abuse and occasionally even violence when asked to do something as simple as put on a mask. A great many more people are merely indifferent, though, and in many ways I think this is worse. These are the people who shrug and say if mitigation measures like masking and testing and contact tracing are no longer required, they just won’t go to the trouble. The people who go with the flow and wear masks and get vaccinated and avoid indoor dining when other people are doing it, but when other people stop, they stop too. The people who say they care, but also that they miss concerts and conferences and indoor sporting events too much to do without them.

The people who instinctively reach for the “normal” they know and miss, and don’t think twice about the cost.

And then there’s the most indifferent, most immoral, and most common reason for pursuing that normalcy of all: 

I’ve evaluated my personal risk and decided it’s low.

My risk. Not the risk posed to others, even though during a pandemic no risk is truly “personal.” Our actions affect other people; that’s how contagious diseases work. We’re all more vulnerable than we think, but beyond that, the infection that’s mild for one person becomes part of a chain of transmission that could kill a vulnerable stranger they’ll never meet.

Yet more and more people are saying, with disconcerting directness, not just, “I’m taking care of myself (a good and necessary thing),” but “I’m only taking care of myself.” Everyone else is on their own.

Everyone is on their own. That’s the part of the pandemic that has broken me. We’re denying our connection to one another, denying it so deeply that we’d rather see strangers die than admit the world has changed without warning and might never change fully back.

Everyone is on their own. Where did all that light I saw shining through the darkness even come from, if it wasn’t from people finding ways to connect with one another, to care about one another, to in some small way redeem one another, even in dark times?

These are dark times, not because of the virus, but because of what we as humans have let the virus turn us into. (And because of other things too. If I’m honest I have to admit all of this began long before Covid, and that I bear a fair amount of privilege and responsibility for the fact that I’ve been able to avoid fully feeling and facing it until the past few years.)

But how do we come back from this? How do I come back from this?

How do I find my way back to believing in a world where light can be hidden, sometimes for a long time, but is still always out there, waiting to be found, waiting to shine through once more?

How do I find my way back when all around me are people so scared of the dark that instead of trying to light one another’s way they’ve turning their own small lights off entirely, because their personal risk is low and they no longer know how to think beyond that?

The fact that I want to believe such a world still exists is a start, I suppose.

Now I just have to figure out whether I really do still believe in it—and where to go from there.

I was ready to end this essay here. Yet even as I wrote the lines above, something inside me spoke up and said:

Start by focusing on your light—the light you yourself have to offer, the light you’ve defiantly refused to let gutter out, even now. Focus on that light and what you can still do with it, rather than on the light others have forgotten they even possess.

That sounds hard, honestly. It sounds lonely. 

But light sparks light, after all. Somewhere deep down I still know that. And shining our own light can make us more aware of all those other defiant lights out there sparking, too. 

Maybe, just maybe, that can be a start, too.

Decades Come and Decades Go

Or what I’ve been doing the past ten years

Recently, when I told an extended family member I had work to do, he snapped back at me, “What work? When was the last time you wrote a book — ten years ago?”

His response says more about him than me, of course. I’ve gotten “come on, you’re not really working reactions” from the occasional person near to me at every stage of my career—though less and less frequently over time—and I’ve come to know this response as a sort of leveling, a way of saying, “Don’t think too well of yourself.”

I’ve also come to understand that most people don’t bother saying “Don’t think too well of yourself” unless they’re feeling badly about their own selves, and are looking for some way to soothe that insecurity.

And yet. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t an inner voice in my own head, too, after so many years, that also sometimes chimes in to say, “Come on, really, who do you think you are? What do you think you’re doing?

When that voice speaks up, the answer can seem like, “Not much.”

So I’m writing a post to push back against that inner voice. I’m writing a post to list out something of what I actually have been doing this past decade. Because from the outside, these might look like quiet years, but from the inside, they look really rich and full and challenging and significant and wonderful, and I need to remind myself of that.

Along the way, maybe this post will help some of you reading it to push back against your inner voices, too. Because whatever you’ve been doing the past ten years, it matters, and it’s enough, and you have every right to be proud of it.

And in the end, really, whatever we do or fail to do, whatever we achieve or fail to achieve, isn’t the entirety of who we are anyway. Every single one of us is bigger and more wondrous and more wonderful than that.

What I’ve Been Doing, 2012-2022 Edition 
(An Incomplete List)

  • Finished three novels, including Faerie Afterthe final book of my Bones of Faerie Trilogy
  • Published two of them, one under my own name and one under a pseudonym
  • Wrote a guest episode for the Zombies, Run! App
  • Wrote the video game script for The Huntsman: Winter’s Curse
  • Sold a new short story to Stars of Darkover (and then donated the proceeds when I learned some hard truths about Darkover’s creator)
  • Volunteered at a wildlife center
  • Volunteered with an expressive arts group for local refugee families
  • Camped and traveled and hiked and explored
  • Mourned several friends
  • Became a parent
  • Finished rough drafts of four novels-still-in-progress
  • Curated a Writing for the Long Haul blog series
  • Served as the inaugural Writer-in-Residence for the Pima County Public Library
  • Served as Guest of Honor at TusCon Science Fiction Convention
  • Spoke at countless other book festivals, conventions, comicons, and writing conferences
  • Practiced multiple styles of bookbinding
  • Created designs for t-shirts, journals, stickers, mugs, and more at my Redbubble store
  • Mourned my father
  • Settled my father’s estate 
  • Did I mention becoming a parent?
  • Became politically active and took part in dozens of pro-democracy actions
  • Battled depression
  • Wrote more than 400 blog posts
  • Redesigned and reorganized my blog and website
  • Launched and published two chapbooks in my new Writing Life series
  • Redesigned and re-released new editions of three short stories
  • Designed and published Unicorn Seasonsa new short story collection
  • Re-designed and re-released a new edition of Tiernay West, Professional Adventurer
  • Taught myself some basic Mandarin
  • Had open heart surgery
  • Recovered from open heart surgery and went through rehab
  • No, really, parenting needs more than a line or two on this list
  • Homeschooled my kid during a pandemic
  • Lived during a pandemic, one that is still ongoing
  • Volunteered at a vaccine clinic
  • Published a humor piece with the Weekly Humorist and three humor pieces with Frazzled.
  • Published a non-fiction piece with Modern Parent and two pieces with Blank Page
  • Mourned my mother
  • Redesigned and re-released a new edition of Thief Eyes
  • Redesigned and re-released new editions of Bones of Faerie Trilogy
  • Marketed the new Bones of Faerie editions well enough to have the best year, from a business perspective, of my entire career
  • Did I mention parenting? Because parenting could easily fill ten years all by itself 

So yeah, it’s been a decade. Love and loss. Lots of ups and downs. Lots of living. Lots to be proud of, some of it writing and career related, a whole lot of it not.

I’ll take it all. And I’ll look forward, with whatever cautious optimism as I can muster, to the next ten years.

[Arms outstretched in front of an image of a turkey vulture]
We all have larger wingspans than we realize.

“Once long ago, there was a seal who loved the sea…”

Writing is a strange business sometimes. We think we’re writing for readers, and then it turns out we’re writing for ourselves. We think we’re writing for our present selves, and then it turns out we’re writing for the children-we-were or the adults-we-will be.

Or both. Today I came upon ”Seal Story,” a selkie short I wrote more than a decade ago. Selkie stories are by their nature about the pull between two worlds, and when I wrote this one, I was thinking about my fears around one day becoming a mother, about the tensions between the creative world I already inhabited and the world of parenting, which are often presented as two very different, irreconcilable things.

But when I reread the story today, I found myself thinking instead about losing my own mother, and my struggles with being her adult child—about reconciling her need to be so many things to so many people with figuring out my own place in her life.

I don’t know whether Mom and I ever got to the final version of this story. I do know there are things I need to think about here, though, and that this was a story I needed to reread today.

In case it’s a story you need—or even just want—right now as well, I’m sharing it below.


Seal Story

You know this story.

Once long ago, there was a seal who loved the sea. On bright days she swam through the warm water, while waves crested with foam and salt scented the air. Yet she also loved the land, so on dark nights she shed her skin, took on human form, and danced, not through waves, but on cool, wet sand.

One night a young man caught sight of her, and when he crouched behind the rocks to watch her dance, he also caught sight of her gray skin shining in the moonlight. The young man couldn’t believe his good fortune. He stole the skin, and he hid it like the treasure it was.

The seal woman had no choice. She could not turn back to a seal; she could not return to the ocean. Instead she made her way to the young man’s home, and if the road that led there cut her bare feet, this story does not tell of it. It tells only that the man and the seal woman were soon married, and that they lived together in his house near the sea. Whether she grew to love him or hated him all her days–the story does not tell that, either.

What it does tell is this: in time, the seal woman had children. Her love for them was as deep as the sea, the joy she found in them as true as the stones beneath it.

And yet.

The young man’s house faced the ocean, and through its windows the seal woman could see the changing tides. Walking its halls, she could hear the crashing waves. Restlessly she paced those halls, long after her children slept, until one night she found the skin the man had hidden. In the attic, in the cellar, beneath a stone–again the story is silent. It says only that the sea grew loud, so loud, as she held her skin once more.

She could not ignore that call. She kissed her children as they slept, and she crept quietly down to the sea. But her eldest daughter woke, and heard, and ran after her mother.

The girl wasn’t fast enough. As she reached the sand a flash of gray disappeared beneath the water, and then she saw only waves.

This girl was human-born; she could not follow her mother. She returned to her father’s home, and the stones did not cut her feet. But even as she walked, she knew she would never forget that while her mother loved her as deeply as the sea, the depths of the sea were nothing, beside her mother’s love for being a seal. She would never forget, and she would never forgive.

You do not want this story. You are a child; you are unkind. The seal woman’s happiness means less, to you, than the girl’s.

Very well.

Once long ago there lived a seal who loved the sea. When she sought to return to it, her daughter ran after her.

The girl was fast enough. She cried out, before the seal woman disappeared beneath the waves, “Do not leave me!”

The seal woman heard, and her daughter’s voice pulled on her, as strong as the tides. She could not ignore that call. She shed her skin once more, and she carried it back to the young man’s house, her daughter clutching her hand all the way.

She found joy in her children for many years more.

And yet.

In the end her children grew up and moved away, even the daughter who’d begged her to stay. The young man grew old and died. The seal woman also grew old, too old to return to the ocean. She lived, bitter and alone, in the house near the sea.

She did not forget, and she did not forgive–not the young man who stole her from the water, and not the daughter who stopped her when she sought to return.

You don’t want this story either. You want the seal woman to be happy, and her daughter as well. You are trying to be kind.

Try this, then: The girl ran to the edge of the sea, and her mother heard her cries and knew she could not go.

Not that night, and not for many nights after. But one night, when her daughter was nearly grown, the seal woman returned to the waves after all. She did not kiss her children goodbye this time. She did not want anyone calling her back.

Her daughter mourned, but in time she did forgive. She knew her mother had stayed as long as she could. Besides, the girl lived in another town by then, or perhaps even in the city. She had a young man of her own, and she did not wish to return to the house by the sea, for her mother or anyone else. Instead she married, and in time bore children who pulled on her, strong as the tides.

And yet.

The story does not say whether the daughter ever longed to escape her own young man, or even her own children. It says only that she knew she could not leave, not when her mother had left her.

You are still not satisfied. You will have a happy ending, or else none at all.

I cannot give it to you. I can only give you this: The girl was fast enough, and the seal woman heard her cries, even before she pulled her seal skin over her human one.

So she did not go, but neither did she promise to stay. She drew her human daughter close. “I was a seal before you were born,” she said. “I will be a seal after you leave. I am a seal now, and I am also your mother. I will not be only one thing or the other.”

The girl did not understand. She only cried louder, because she thought her mother was leaving her after all.

“Trust me,” the seal woman whispered. She pulled on her seal skin then, and she slid into the sea.

I do not know this story.

Perhaps the girl goes home to mourn her loss, only to have her mother return to her, hours past dark. Perhaps she waits by the water’s edge until the seal woman reappears, dripping and human, to take her daughter once more in her arms.

What I do know is this: as her children grow, the seal woman spends time on land and time at sea. Perhaps the girl rages at this, and perhaps she weeps, because she misses the seal woman, when she is away. Because she wants her mother to be one thing, for her and no one else. I do not know whether the girl will come to understand, in time. Perhaps she’ll forever fear the day the seal woman will leave her for good.

And the seal woman will leave in the end, though not for the sea. You are a child, but surely you know this.

Still, when that day comes there will be nothing to forgive and nothing to forget. By then the girl might have children of her own, in this town or another. I like to think one day she’ll turn to them and say, “Your grandmother, she lived on land, but she also lived in the water.”

I hope there’ll be more joy than sorrow in her voice when she says it, and when she takes her human children into her arms. “Once long ago,” she’ll whisper to them, “there was a seal who loved the sea.”

Then she’ll smile, because she knows this story.


Seal Story” first appeared in Merry Sisters of Fate on February 28, 2011. You can find a full list of my stories here.

Fact Check (a found poem)

Scientists
Are not opening a portal to hell.

Scientists
Restarted their accelerator—
The world’s most powerful accelerator—
To learn more about the origins of the universe.

Social media suggest a different purpose:
That scientists are using the machine to open a doorway
For demons,
Wicked spirits,
High Evil Principalities.

The claim is baseless.
Scientists are engaged in scientific-related activities.

Experts use the collider to study
Unexplored energies,
Microscopic particles,
The creation of the universe,
Dark matter.

Scientists are engaged in scientific-related activities. 
The collider cannot open up portals to other dimensions.


Found poem from “Fact check: Scientists at CERN are not opening a ‘portal to hell’,” USA Today, July 26, 2022.

There is no “back to normal.” There’s only forward to whatever comes next.

The trouble with talking about getting “back to normal” is that time doesn’t run backwards. It runs forwards.

We can no more return to a pre-Covid world than we can return to typewriters or gas lamps or steam trains or diplomacy without the threat of nuclear weapons.

The fact that Covid is likely to be with us for a while yet is not a reason to pretend it isn’t here anymore. It’s a reason to evolve and adapt and find better ways of managing and existing in our changed world. 

Whether it’s learning new ways of socializing outdoors or improving ventilation indoors, learning to live with masking, getting better at quickly developing vaccines that respond to current virus variants instead of long extinct ones, or countless other things we haven’t thought of yet because we’ve been so busy trying to go backwards instead of forwards that most of us haven’t really stopped to think, haven’t really tried get creative, haven’t put in the hard work of finding new ways of being and doing—as well as the hard work of finding new ways of communicating the need for change, too.

If we keep trying to go “back,” we pay the price in human lives, all while grasping for something that’s well out of reach—grasping for a time and a way of life that are no longer ours.

But if we let go of what was and instead try to move forward—well, then maybe we can find our way through where we are now to something new. Something that works better. Something that costs fewer lives.

Something, even, that makes us feel hopeful about the future, instead forever sad that we can’t reclaim the past.

And maybe, just maybe, once we’ve done that for the pandemic, we can also do it for all the many other looming challenges we face together, as well.

Broken windows

I always thought personal responsibility meant not just taking responsibility for how your actions affect you, but also how your actions affect others.

I mean, if you throw a ball and it breaks a window, you don’t just check whether any of the glass shards cut your own skin and then move on. You also apologize to the person whose window you broke. You especially apologize to the person whose window you broke.

You definitely don’t say the owner of the window is to blame for not using safety glasses or putting up shutters or for having the bad luck to live in a house within easy shot of a playground.

And okay, sure, there will always be people who hide or run or deny that ball was theirs. But they’re the ones who are failing to take personal responsibility. We all know that.

So how did we come to believe that, during a pandemic, personal responsibility instead means just taking responsibility for whether our actions cause us and our loved ones to become sick, disabled, or even die? How did we come to believe it only matters if the glass cuts our own skin?

That’s not how it works. If I willfully act in ways that increase my chances of infecting others, I’m personally responsible for that.

Even if the people I infect choose to be around me of their own free will. Even if they’re high risk or have comorbidities or are just in poorer health than me. Even if they seemed “healthy” but got hit hard anyway. I’m personally responsible.

Even if no one else around me was acting to protect others, either. Even if there’s peer pressure not to protect others, and I don’t want to speak up or say no or be the only person in the room wearing a mask. I’m personally responsible.

Even if the people I infect are fine but they go on to infect strangers I’ll never know and never meet and never hear about who aren’t fine. I’m personally responsible.

Even—yes, even—if they failed to get vaccinated, failed to protect themselves as fully as they could have. I still threw that ball through the window. It doesn’t matter if the window should have had safety glass in place. I’m still the one who broke it.

If we remembered what personal responsibility meant in other contexts, would we act to protect others during this pandemic, instead of mostly only acting to protect ourselves and those closest to us?

Or is that too much to ask, in any context? Have the stresses of an ongoing pandemic broken somehow inside us, making it too much to ask?

Leaving us unwilling to be personally responsible for our actions after all?