Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Congratulations Rebecca Shubert!

Writopia writer Rebecca Shubert (above, reading her essay at Barnes & Noble in the fall) won two 2010 Regional Gold Keys for two stunning memoirs. Please help her celebrate by reading "Bakum":

The Bakum

BY Rebecca Shubert, 16

The Bakum Drafting Center, Israel. August 5th 2009, 9:15 am

The air is stifling. It hurts to breathe. But that's nothing unusual in August, not on the outskirts of Tel Aviv-Yafo. The sun blazes. We sweat rivers down the sides of our faces, and lakes on our upper lips. Eventually, we pardon and squeeze our way into a patch of shade near the wall of the drafting center.

Alon is drinking a diet coke, a rather poignant sign of how upside-down everything is. He once claimed he can not only taste, but also smell the difference between diet and regular, and that even thinking about diet makes him sick. He is utterly unaware of everything around him. Our hands are still clasped, as they have been for the whole car ride and the past agonizing thirty minutes in this place. Our fingers are woven together like the threads of an army uniform--much like the one he will be wearing within the hour. But we are no longer young, and playful and in love. Now he is drowning in a thundering river and clinging to me, the only log in the water. That's how his grip feels.

This moment is brimming with traditions and expectations. It represents centuries of political upheaval and controversy. But we are not thinking about politics, right-wing, or left. Being drafted is personal. It is the pain of growing up too suddenly. It is a sacrifice that I cannot grasp.

I check my watch. 9:17. Alon drinks his diet coke.

He brushes his free hand over the dark bristly strands on his scalp. They are perhaps a centimeter long. Twenty four hours ago, I was laughing and running my fingers through his hair. His long, messy, bewitchingly soft hair.

Alon's house in Ramat haSharon, August 4th, 10:30 am

I made Shohko, I announce triumphantly, two glasses of chocolate milk slushies in my hand. It's--I catch sight of his stricken face. What!?

I forgot, he says bleakly, I completely forgot. I have to cut my hair before tomorrow.

Cut your hair...I repeat, uncomprehending.

You know--he pushes back his bangs and mimes moving a razor over his head. For the--well, they have regulations. Everyone has to get their hair cut, at least in the beginning. Really short.

Shit, I say, Seriously? He smiles without humor.

Wanna come watch? I do not. I do not want to sit quietly and watch the beloved floppy mane get shorn into a prickly helmet. But I know he wants me to come. So I do it for him.

A Barbershop in Ramat haSharon, August 4th, 11:00 am

With each feathery tuft that sinks to the linoleum floor, it becomes harder to keep silent, not to yell Stop, stop, stop it! I can not bring myself to look at Alon's face in the mirror. I do not want to see the face I know on top of those slumping, defeated shoulders, in front of the dome of dark stubble on his scalp. He turns to look at me when it is all finished, and his face is a mask of anguish that I want to rip away.

Outside, we sit wordlessly on a the curb of a sidewalk, stalling because Alon does not want to go home and face his parents, who will gush over him and tell him how much he looks like a soldier, how brave and how grown up he appears. I hate his hair. He hates it even more.

I don't give a fuck, I tell him finally. Aloni, you know I don't give a fuck about the hair.

I know. His tone is listless and he does not look at me. It's not really that. And he's right. It isn't. I begin to cry.

It seems stupid, even childish to grieve over a haircut. I am fully aware that hair grows back. But this haircut can not be undone. The sad wisps littering the floor of the barbershop are gone. They are not coming back.

I am reeling in the strange awfulness of this moment, but it is not a shock. It has been roughly one year that Alon and I have known each other, and roughly one year that I have known he will be drafted. My mind flies back to our first few conversations when we met on our teen tour of Israel and the United States. I asked him where he wanted to go to college (he was seventeen--if he were American, he would have had at least some general notion).

No idea, really, he said unconcernedly.

You haven't though about it at all!?

Well, it's going to be years before I have to apply. The army comes first. Next year. You know. I felt a flicker of panic, even then. But next year was light years away. So I pushed it out of my mind.

I had even known the exact date of his drafting before coming to visit him. But something had to give, I convinced myself, something was going to happen to change everything, because the thought of Alon leaving was not awful--it was impossible.

He sits beside me on the curb, and I feel his heartbeat in his fingertips. But, as his hair announces, he isn't mine anymore. He is here, but I finally understand that they have already taken him away.

The Bakum Drafting Center, Israel. August 5th 2009, 9:24 am

The bus carrying the previous batch of recruits pulls away from the other side of the Bakum, amid a flurry of dust and gravel and confetti and shouting and crying. With equal parts dread and anticipation, I check the flashing sign for his name in hebrew. A realization surfaces that terrifies me: I want his name to be up there. This eternal, this excruciating waiting is more than I can bear. Let it be over. Let me start grieving. I am worn out from the suspense, and I just want it to be done.

And there it is. In flashing, blinking, red letters. Big and official.

Is it there? He asks.

Yes, I say. Left side. Near the bottom.

He looks at it, then he looks at me, then he puts his head in his hands. I am at an utter loss for anything to say.

Alon's father Barak slings his son's packed bag over his own shoulder, the small, zippered navy backpack that holds only a tooth brush and underwear and the few other things they won't give him at the base. Tsufi, his mother, stands next to me. Her face is half hidden by her sun glasses. People who don't know her well say she is cold and distant. Only the trembling of her mouth gives her away. You have to know what to look for.

We make our way into the middle of the seething crowd, just feet in front of the bus. There is nothing I want to ask out loud, but hundreds of things I want to know. What are you thinking, my love? Can't you smile, just once? Can't you feel my hand holding yours?

Why do you look at my face and not know who I am?

He hugs his father briefly, pats his brother on the back, shakes hands with his friends. He and his mother embrace for longer, but only because she does not let him go. He holds me for nearly a minute. I rest my head against the smoothness of his freshly-shaven cheek. My hands tremblingly rise and touch his shoulders. All compulsory actions, though I memorize them as best I can. I feel like a hollow wooden doll.

His kisses me once, twice. Gently. Have a safe flight back, he says. I'll miss you.

I'll miss you too. I say. You'll be fine.

We might as well be vague acquaintances, or business partners. Or people in the same biology class. This is not the person who constantly sings "Carry on Wayward Son" at the top of his lungs in the car, and insists that it is our song. Not the one who spent twenty minutes trying to "dip" me properly while we were dancing, like they do in the movies. Not the one who knows the exact spot behind my knee where I am ticklish.

Alon is waiting for me back at his home now, I am sure. It is this miserable, silent, stubble-haired boy--no, this man--who is leaving. I will tell Alon all about this man when we are sitting in the hammock drinking Shohko in the shade.

But as he boards the bus, and looks back at us for the last time, this strange man sticks his tongue out at me. Just the way Alon always does. He is there, somewhere behind the shorn hair and the vacant expression. In a matter of seconds, the bus roars away and Alon The Soldier is gone.

I link arms with his parents and brother, all of whom are crying. I want to cry, I feel that I ought to cry, but the sun burns above me and the tears don't come. Because, as I realize, this moment is not the start of the grieving. That has begun long, long ago. Before the haircut, even before this trip, however valiantly I fought not to believe it. I have known for nearly a year that our blissful time together has an expiration date. This is the end of the waiting, the moment of acceptance. So what is beginning now? A part of Alon's life--and mine as well--that is entirely new.

We leave the Bakum the way one leaves a cemetery. Broken hearted, and free. .
Read more!

Writopia at Scarsdale's Young Writers' Workshop!

What an amazing event! Over 500 kids from Scarsdale public schools spent last Saturday morning learning or writing with published authors. Writopia Westchester teachers ran four fabulous workshops (12 kids each) and were so impressed by the kids' enthusiasm, and the parent coordinator's commitment to creative arts. Read more!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Congratulations Riley Pearsall!

After months of honing his craft at summer and fall writing workshops, Riley Pearsall, 13, submitted his fiction to the 2010 Scholastic Writing Awards contest. His hard work paid off... Riley was notified today that his work was recognized with a National Gold Medal! This means that his work was considered to be in the top 1% of submissions this year. Please help him celebrate by reading his prose:

The Death of Apathy
By Riley Pearsall, 13

A rock flew through a window. As the glass shattered, the rock continued its journey through the air, soaring across the room, past the small and simple bed, over the miscellaneous piles scattered over the room containing everything from food to weapons, and finishing its airborne adventure by slamming into a cup of hot coffee and skittering across the floor until it hit the wall and ceased to move.

Milo Steel, Assassin First Class, only knew that he suddenly had boiling hot coffee over his hand, legs, and groin, and he didn't really care about anything else at the moment.

Milo's first action to welcome the rock's arrival was to fall to the floor, screaming in pain, and desperately trying to remember the cooling/burn treatment spells that were part of an assassin's required Magickal learning. He dragged himself across the floor with his good hand, inch by burning inch, over to one of the piles of junk that filled his small room, rooted around in it, and dragged out a dog-eared copy of Practikal Magick for Amateur Magi, which he opened to the page he had bookmarked “in case of hot things” and screamed out the most powerful of the charms.

Instantly the pain dulled enough for Milo to stand up and begin to wonder why his mug and window were lying on the floor in pieces. He searched around and eventually his eyes found the rock that was the cause of all the trouble, lying serenely on his floor.

A further explanation of the rock is required. It was vaguely circular, gray, and rough to the touch: all of which is completely inconsequential. The important thing about this rock is that it was surrounded by a sheet of parchment, tied on by a piece of string. (Although it may be argued that the rock was also important in that it caused one of the most talented assassins of the Organization to squeal like a five summer old while writhing on the floor in pain.)

Milo hobbled over to the rock, picked it up and clumsily untied the string. The paper floated to the floor. Milo glared at the rock. He brought his arm back and hurled the offending projectile across the room. The rock, its usual cheeky self, went flying through the only unbroken window Milo had possessed.

Milo colorfully swore. He had forgotten Rule #4: The Assassin Does Not Make Rash Decisions. The Assassin Handbooke might be filled with rules that one obeyed like the cops obeyed their No Bribes rule, but its advice could be handy.

Milo sighed and stooped down to pick up the piece of paper. It read 232 Phoenix St. Roland and Alice Juggernaut, Male & Female, Husband & Wife. Cause of Death, No Specifics. Pay is 2,000 Gold Upon Acceptance, 3,000 Gold Upon Completion, & Whatever You Can Loot From The Bodies or House. There was a picture of a smiling couple sitting on something the artist had not bothered to draw, holding hands.

Milo smiled. This was more like it. He had a job to do. And a particularly well paying one at that! He had successfully assassinated forty-nine men before he had been admitted to Class One, the best grade of assassins, his victims' lives worth no more than about seventy-five gold apiece to whoever was paying for their deaths. And now his first job as a Class One would see him with the most money he had ever seen at one time since he took that solid gold brick from Target #34’s house!

“You'd think they could slip these through the mail slot!” Milo exclaimed as he changed out of his wet and faintly steaming clothes. He slipped on a gray pair of pants and a light pair of boots. He then concealed upon his person ten knives of varying sizes, a file, a skeleton key (taken from a thief who tried to jump him and is now a skeleton himself), a pocket Practikal Magick for Amateur Magi, and a slightly squashed ham sandwich that would only become even more squashed in its confinement.

Satisfied, Milo walked out the door of his apartment, determined to accept his deadly though lucrative mission, and, even more important, find a competent healer specialized in burn treatment.

A man in his mid-twenty summers exits the shop on 692 Peddler St. Let us examine him. He is short, half a head shorter than an average man. His hair is obsidian black, cut not short or long. His eyes are a dark brown, his mouth devoid of laugh lines. He is wearing a shirt, pants, and boots, all a nondescript gray. He carried no weapons, as far as a viewer could see, but you never know. Who is this man? There is a sign over the door of the shop he walked out of. It reads Healer, Specialized In The Magickal Treatmente Of Poisonings, Burns, And Other Ailments.

Milo Steel, Assassin First Class (for of course it is he) took a big breath of air, exhaled, and strode down the street. It was, Milo reflected, a beautiful Qut-Weropian day. Look at the city! The air only slightly smog-filled! The crime rate was at an all-time high! Yes, today was a good day to be in Qut-Werop.

He cheerfully watched as two men passed each other by, the man walking towards Milo skillfully reaching into the other's pocket and withdrawing a few shining coins, the other walking by none the wiser. As the thief passed Milo, our Assassin called out, “Nice haul, Jack!”

The thief turned. “Milo!” he cried. “Nice to see you!” Jack had tried to rob Milo a summer ago, and, once he recovered from the brutal stab wound, the two resolved their problems with each other and become good friends. “Got any new work?” Jack asked with a friendly grin.

“Yes,” Milo replied, “and one that pays five thousand gold as well! I'm off to Organization HQ to accept.”

“Wonderful!” Jack said. “May your fingers be nimble and your profit large.”

“And may your feet be soundless and your blade strike true,” Milo replied with a grin. At this, Jack turned and walked down the street.

“Oh, and Jack?” Milo called after him.

“Yes Milo?” Jack said, turning on the spot.

“Could I please have back the fifty gold you took from my pocket?” Milo asked, his grin still on his face but a dangerous twinkle in his eye.

Jack stopped, reached into his pocket, and threw a bulging bag the size of a fist to Milo, who caught it and placed it inside of his shirt. “It can never hurt to try, eh?” Jack said wryly, the grin not decreasing whatsoever.

Milo shrugged and turned his back on the thief. He strolled along, pausing every once in a while to look at a particularly interesting bar fight, glancing at the golden statue of the current Emperor, Ido the IV, on Noble St, hurrying past Magickal University, which was a disaster waiting to happen during the test season, and in this manner reached Organization HQ.

From the outside, Organization HQ looked like a small house, painted brown, in the square style that was customary in Qut-Werop. (The inside was a subject of much debate among the uninformed.) Milo ambled over to the door and knocked.

The door was opened a full minute later by an old man, wrinkled and bent, wearing a bathrobe.

“Well?” the old man snapped. “What do you want? You’ve disturbed me from my rest, so if you don’t have anything to say, I’m going back to bed.” At this he began to close the door.

“Milo Steel, Assassin Of The Organization, First Class, wishes to accept a job offering delivered to him on the morning of the Third Lastday of the Month of the Dragon, in the 953th year since the founding of the country of Meracia, or the 34th year of the reign of the Glorious Emperor Ido the IV.” Milo took quite a deep breath after that mouthful.

The old man straightened and said, “Of what does this job concern?”

“The assassination of Roland and Alice Juggernaut.” Milo said.

“Do you, Milo Steel, solemnly swear by whatever patron deity, dead family member, or point of honor you wish, to kill Roland and Alice Juggernaut in the fashion the sender of this request asks?” the old man said.

“By the graves of my parents, I swear to this.” Milo replied.

“And if you should fail in any of this, are you aware that the acceptance money you will be given will be returned, as well as a ten percent interest fee from your own pocket, and your reputation as an assassin tarnished?” the old man asked.

“I am.” Milo replied.

“Then may it be known that Milo Steel, Assassin First Class, has accepted the killing of Roland and Alice Juggernaut, and has received two thousand gold in his account for this, and he will receive one-and-a-half times this amount upon completion of said job. May your feet be soundless and your blade strike true.”

With that, the old man shut his door, and Milo strode off, ready to kill the individuals whose lives were worth five thousand gold.

It was four days later, a Funday. But there would be nothing fun about this day for a certain Assassin First Class. Milo tried to rub some feeling into his legs again. It was a living hell for him: he had been trapped in a barrel for the past twelve hours, with nothing to do but rub his aching legs.

The pay was large because the job was hard: the house was covered in Magickal Wards that would set off an alarm and some would summon all kinds of nasty creatures. But through extensive research, Milo had found that his targets were fond lovers of wine, and had barrels of the stuff coming in daily. So with a bribe here and there, Milo found himself delivered straight into the wine cellar.

At midnight, Milo put a silence Magick on the barrel lid and kicked it. It flew off, crashing soundlessly on the ceiling and heading down like a comet. It rolled and bounced on the floor as the aching assassin climbed out of his small prison. He took a few minutes to do some aerobic exercises to limber up, and then crept towards the door.

Putting some oil on the hinges first so he could save his Magick, he slowly opened the silent door just enough for a man to walk through. Milo took some chalk out of his pockets, and Magickally commanded it to draw a circle with a diameter a few inches longer than his height. The chalk slowly moved on the floor, and a minute later Milo had a perfect circle. He then had the chalk draw another circle with a diameter a foot longer outside the first circle, and then personally filled the area in between with various Arcane Symbols that his pocket Practikal Magick for Amateur Magi described. After admiring his work, Milo lay inside the inner circle and started chanting. Once his chant was done, Milo stood up and looked down at his unconscious body. He had completed a successful Astral Projection.

His Astral self walked past the chalk circle, not scuffing the chalk as a real step should have, and strode out the door. He strolled through the path he had memorized from the wine cellar to the master bedroom, noting the subtle Magickal traps that had been set that his Astral self saw as clearly as if they had signs over them declaring where they were hidden. When he reached the hallway outside the master bedroom, he noted the two frog-headed Class Eleven Demons disguised as statues guarding the door. (There are seventeen different classes of Demons, from Class One minor imps to Class Seventeen demons that would give minor gods a run for their money. A C11 may have taken up to eight Magi to summon up. Two of them were no joke: they must have cost a fortune.) Satisfied, Milo slipped back to the room where his body lay prone and into his body.

Now Milo, in the flesh, started his walk to the bedroom, avoiding the traps his Astral self had noticed on his first walk. He paused now and then to put anything expensive and unguarded in a sack he had brought with him for exactly this purpose.

After continuing in this fashion for awhile, he reached the turn in the hallway that led to the master bedroom. A step further and the demons would see him. If he took that step, his options would swiftly become (A) being painfully knocked out and dragged somewhere for questioning or (B) a quick but painful death. Milo preferred (C) eliminating them before he was seen.

Milo took a pouch out of his pocket. Inside of that pouch was silversand: silver chopped so fine that a piece was as small as a grain of sand, and could only be purchased from dwarves or someone who possessed a diamond cheese grater. And, like silver, silversand happens to act like acid against demons.

Milo muttered a few words and a strong Winde suddenly blew down the corridor. Milo opened the pouch and cast its contents into the Winde. He kept up the Winde for a few more seconds, then let it die. When he peeked his head around the bend, there was a good deal of silversand on the floor, and no statues.

Milo then crept up to the door. He tested the doorknob: it turned, already being unlocked. (For who would bother to lock their door with two demons guarding against intruders?) He pushed the door open, and looked into the room. It was clearly the master bedroom: the bed was silk, the cabinets were jade, their contents were probably worth more than the lives of most people (as Milo knew quite well) and, in general, the place reeked of wealth like a drunkard on a spending spree stank of alcohol.

He crept up to the bed, silent as Death himself. He pulled a pair of knives from his wrist sheathes, brought his arms up, and quickly surveyed the couple, searching for their hearts. But his gaze suddenly stopped moving. A child who could be no older than five summers lay nestled between Milo's targets, with a look of peace.

Milo froze. Years flashed by his eyes over the course of moments...

He walked down the corridor to his parents' bedroom. He had had another night terror and was seeking comforting. He opened the door and saw a man leaning over his parents' bed. He was tall and thin, wore gray, possessed shrewd eyes and a beaky nose, and had two large crescent scars along the corners of his mouth, giving him a parody of a gigantic frown.

And the man was holding a bloody knife.

When he caught sight of Milo, the scarred man dived out the window and took off running, but Milo was not aware of this. His sight was blinded by tears, of sadness and rage.

Milo strode away from the bed as he recalled the decisions he had made in his life. He opened the door, and closed it silently. He walked slowly back through the house, and out the front door. Milo continued to walk to his home, away from the house on 232 Phoenix St., where Roland and Alice Juggernaut still slept, their child nestled between them.

The doorknob to Milo's apartment slowly turned. The door opened as Milo Steel, Assassin First Class, tiredly shuffled through the door. He moved to the small kitchen, poured himself a moaning glass of Dead Man's Brandy (they didn't call them spirits for nothing!), sat down at his coffee-stained table, and reflected on what he was doing with his life.

He had wanted revenge on his parents' killer more than anything he had wanted in his life. He had eventually found the killer, who was called The Pessimist due to the scars that looked like a giant frown. He had trained to be a swordsman under Romarlon Tarmin, a master swordsman. When he was seventeen, he had traveled to the Pessimist's manor and challenged him to a duel. Instead of appearing personally, the Pessimist had sent out a champion, who effortlessly trounced Milo and sent him packing. Milo then decided that the path of the assassin was the only way to take his revenge, so he found the Organization and begged to be taught the trade. The Pessimist was found dead a few months later, having taken a nasty fall out of his window, a conclusion quite obvious to the cops who had taken several bags of Milo's coin.

So why am I still doing this? Milo thought to himself. He was suddenly filled with remorse over all the people he had killed for no reason, after he had already taken his vengeance.

Milo stood, knocking back his chair. He knew what he had to do.

“On the first Fishday of the Month of the Phoenix, in the 953th year since the founding of the country of Meracia, or the 29th year of the reign of the glorious Emperor Ido the IV, Milo Steel, Assassin First Class of the Organization, has confessed to all his crimes, and revealed the identities of all other members in this Organization known to him,” the interrogator proclaimed to his scribe. “Let it be recorded so.”

Milo sighed, his work done. All the assassins in the city would be rounded up, and the deadly trade would be practiced in Qut-Werop no more.

“However, the aforementioned assassin has committed multiple counts of murder, punishable by death." the interrogator continued. "His Majesty, the Glorious Emperor Ido the IV himself will decide the sentence.”

The Emperor, sitting atop his ornate throne, nodded. “Let him approach,” the Emperor decreed.

Milo stood from his seat on the hard bench and strode across the courtroom to the Emperor, took a deep bow and kneeled.

The Emperor slowly rose from his throne and put his hand on Milo's shoulder. “Let us walk,” he said, bidding Milo rise and gently directing him toward a corridor leading into a hallway, while the gathered aristocrats muttered at this breach of conduct.

The Emperor had large strides, and Milo struggled to keep up.

“You have done a great service to your country, Steel,” the Emperor noted.

“Thank you, Your Majesty.” Milo replied.

“If it were up to me, you would receive nearly a full pardon for your crimes,” the Emperor said, “but the law demands that you must face your punishment.”

“I realize this, Your Majesty, and I accept it,” Milo said. “When you embark on a mission of revenge, you must first dig two graves. I have done wrong, and I accept responsibility for my crimes.”

“So be it,” the Emperor said. “Your punishment will be death, but you shall have no shame put on your name, for it will be stricken from the record, and your execution will be at an undisclosed location.”

“On a different subject, while the destruction of the Organization will be a great blow to criminals everywhere,” the Emperor continued, “crime is at an all time high in Qut-Werop. Criminals run rampant with no fear from the City Guard, as it is corrupt from its head to its toes. What the guards need is a competent and loyal commander, one who has a real reason to protect the citizens and clean up the streets.”

The Emperor turned to Milo. “Mortimer Copper, I think you would be the perfect man for the job. I hope you accept. The pay is high, and the benefits are great: good dental and healthcare, as well as avoiding execution.”

Milo (though he would possess that name for not much longer) smiled. “I'd be honored, Your Majesty.”.
Read more!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Scholastic 2010 -- Read our Stories!

Once again, Writopia writers had tremendous success in the Scholastic Writing Awards! Writers, ages 12-18, from across the city submitted over 3000 creative works in December. In the end, Writopia writers took home 76 of the 500 awards granted by Scholastic this year! In celebration of these young people's hard work, we will be posting their award-winning short stories, memoirs, journalistic pieces, scripts, and poetry over the next six weeks. We are kicking off this celebration with the funny, profound, and beautifully written memoir by Rachel Berger (above, reading her memoir at a Writopia reading last month). Please help her celebrate her success by reading her memoir:

The Hidden Implications of the Ten Dimensions Theory
By Rachel Berger, 15, Scholastic Gold Key Winner 2010

Before I tell you about my brother Isaac, I must tell you that I don't know anything about him at all. He is not a friend to me or even a person to me the way that other people are. More than anything, he is an excuse, hastily fabricated and twisted to garner a laugh. Sometimes he is a lie.

My brother is 6 foot 1. While this is not his most distinguishing characteristic, it is imperative that it be mentioned, and mentioned before any other, because it's the first thing you notice. He has always been taller than me, being two years older, and unless I develop giantism sometime between now and my 20s, he always will.

My brother and I are complete opposites. That's what I tell people, anyway. He's tall, I'm short; he's dark-featured, I'm pale. My grades are consistently high, his notoriously poor. He is the one who my grandfather sits down with, after report cards or after a fine for hopping subway turnstiles, to talk about his "future". I am, at least in terms of grades and criminal record, the model daughter. We take the bus and the subway every morning, each in opposite directions. Even our favorites colors -- red and green -- are on opposite sides of the color wheel. Isaac says his used to be red, until I came along and "stole" it, claiming it as my favorite too. So he changed. From then on Isaac always got the green balloon, and I got the red.

My brother plays guitar. He practices in front of the computer in my dad's old at-home office, where we fought for time at the screen since we were old enough to type. Now we each have a computer of our own. I use mine to do research, whether it's homework or just following my own dorky fancy, to look up words on merriam-webster.com, to check for updates on my favorite webcomics, and to send emails to my friend in Australia. Isaac uses his to look up guitar chords, to visit facebook, to listen to music, and to send endless IMs. He plays loudly, being of the typical teenage philosophy that music should be felt as well as heard, and it drives me crazy. Maybe I'm spoiled by my school's library, which is kept religiously quiet by our pertinacious librarian, or maybe I'm unusually sensitive to the synthetic chords of a red electric guitar, but I can't stand noise while I work. Confrontation is inevitable.


No answer. My brother's back is a perfect silhouette, shiny black hair merging seamlessly into black band t-shirt. He has grown skinny in the past few months, much to my mother's dismay. Given our history of physical contrast, this development should probably worry me too, but at the moment all I feel is a clawing irritation.

"Isaac!" I say again. Not my inside voice. His face half-turns in recognition, though he does not remove the headphones from his ears.

"I have an English paper due tomorrow," I tell him accusingly.

"I have to practice," he counters.

"Turn it down!"

He does, reluctantly, and not enough. I feel like we're six and eight and I'm asking for some of his cookie and he's breaking off the tiniest fingernail sliver of a piece to share. I want to hurl something at him.
I am not usually a violent person. My brother, however, is exempt from my usually stringent laws of conduct. I don't swear at anyone, but I swear at him. I try to be friendly and diplomatic -- but with Isaac I don't even attempt creative insults. I pride myself on my open-mindedness -- but honestly, how could anyone think that video games are an art form?

I treat my brother badly because I have nothing of value to lose. There's no one to judge in our disputes, nor eyes to shame me if I say something cruel. My brother won't tell my friends what he must think of me -- that I'm a cold, pretentious overachiever who loves books more than people -- because we haven't had a mutual friend since we took communal baths. Our relationship begins and ends with each other -- no strings attached.

My brother and I could go weeks without speaking and months without looking at each other. This was the way it was, and the way it was wasn't worth thinking over. I sought no relationship any closer than the distance between the backs of our desk chairs as we sit at our computers, each absorbed in our own lives. I couldn't bring myself to swivel my seat around to face him. I didn't see the point.

"Hey Rachel, I've got this theory."

I look up from my homework, eyes watering slightly as they adjust to the absence of liquid-crystal luminescence. Isaac is dripping wet and excitable, returned from a jogging excursion in the streaming rain. He slammed the door behind him when he entered the office, and now he is beside me, bright-eyed and too close for comfort. I have barely had time to register that he has just initiated a conversation with me when he starts again.

"Okay: Everything is math," Isaac announces. He looks towards me, then continues in a rush: "Like if you had a huge equation, like a huge math equation, you could tell the future."

I seem to be the first person he has encountered since his epiphany, and I wonder if he expects me to write down what he's saying.

"You'd need a lot of variables," I venture doubtfully.

"But if you had an equation, you could just put anything in one side, and you'd find the answer."

"I don't think it's that simple," I say, clearly skeptical now.

"Well don't take it so literally!" he retorts. "Imagine, just for a second -- have you ever heard of the ten dimensions theory?"

"The what?"

"The ten dimensions theory."

I have not heard of it, and am not entirely conviced he hasn't just made it up. As I type it into Google in

Isaac's still talking, explaining about dots and lines and tesseracts and mobius strips and interrupting himself, finally seizing an envelope from the office desk and drawing out a diagram. I'm intrigued by this point, though I wish he'd sit down. His enthusiasm unnerves rather than engages me. Isaac's sweeping panegyric to Mathematics seems infantile when I remind myself that, only last week, he needed my help understanding x and y coordinates.

"Are you listening?" he asks suddenly.

I nod. "I found it on YouTube," I say, showing him the screen. He shakes his head, the last droplets of rainwater jerking from his hair.

"Don't learn it online. You've got to hear it. I'm just trying to explain it to you the way it was explained to me, okay?"

"No, no, I'm listening," I quickly supply -- the way you'd tell your best friend, for the hundreth time, that she is pretty.

He's eyeing me sideways, waiting for me to say something else. Finally he speaks.

"'Cuz I feel like the main problem with our relationship is that I feel like you don't respect me."

My brother stares at me like he has nothing to be afraid of. I don't know when he became the peaceable one and my control faltered, but his slight frown seems a reprimand. In the brief expectant silence I sense that the tables have turned, that I am the one being judged here, and this infuriates me. Who is he to question me? The uncelebrated older brother whose mistakes I always learned from? The contemptible brother who was caught once with what was probably marijuana, even though he lied to my face about it? What had he done to earn my respect? What gave him the right to play the role model? Does he think that we can be made equals, his the age gap and my years of "gifted" education traversed by mere misguided goodwill? Does he think he can just start talking to me like years of sterile nothing never happened? Who is he?

"I'm listening," I repeat impatiently, asperity masking what is probably -- though I take no time to scrutinize -- something close to panic. What do you say to a statement like that?

Two minutes later, we disagree on the degree of ambiguity acceptable in algebraic equations.

"I get what you're staying, it just wouldn't work," I say, cutting him off.

"Well you don't have to attack me."

"I'm just taking the opposing side to test your argument," I respond, exasperated by his ignorance to debating procedure.

"Fine. Whatever. I --" my brother shakes his head irritably, forgetting what he was going to say.

"Yeah. Okay."

We both turn back to our computers, tight-lipped and discontented. My eyes are trained stubbornly on the screen, but I realize I'm scrutinizing nothing, unable to concentrate. With a final, histrionic grumble of annoyance I escape out the door to my room, nab my cat from her perch at the stairwell, and plunk us down on my bed. I can hear my brother's frenzied guitar-picking downstairs, but the notes are muted, obstructed by glass wool and Sheetrock. The air is a cool relief. I am safe enough now to feel confusion and guilt; to face the possibility that we have both been cheated.

The Ten Dimensions Theory is a very simple, very ambitious theory which starts with a point on a Cartesian plane and works its way up through the 3D world and time into parallel universes. The basic concepts in their entirety can be explained in ten minutes. In the first five, the parameters of our world are summarized and traversed; reality as we know it contained in a single point. Even without the intellectual implications, the ascent is dizzying.

Yet theoretical physics, after all, is only theoretical. No matter how far our minds take us, no matter how many universes we discover, we'll always belong to this one. While infinity stands still, to be thought over at our leisure, there are things happening in the most basic dimensions which continue to elude us, real people who keep changing whether we think about them or not.

I lie on my bed thinking, for the first time in a long time, about my brother. I have a dawning fear that I have disappointed him, and I'm surprised to find that I care. I wonder why he chose me -- if he knew, when he explained the Ten Dimensions Theory, what he was really trying to say. It's not something I can figure out in a night. I wonder when our relationship became a relationship.

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Come Hear our Award-Winning Writers & Rising Stars at the NYPL!

Writopia writers, ages 8 to 16, will be reading their prose, memoir, and poetry at the newly renovated St Agnus branch of the New York Public Library on Tuesday, March 16th, at 5pm. See you all there!
And here is the rest of it. Read more!

Monday, March 1, 2010

B & N: "Writopia is the Community Partner We've been Looking For"

 At the end of our Barnes & Noble winter reading series, an overwhelmed B & N event organizer approached me: "Wow, those kids are amazing! You should have readings here all the time...We will promote your programs... and host your workshops right here all summer. You are the community partner we have been looking for."

Writopia kids never cease to inspire me, each other, and all those around them. Read more!