Linguistic Shades: Why We’re Different People in Different Languages

Essays, Philosophy/Insight, Semantic Drifting

In one furious sweep after the Great Flood, God reduced the Tower of Babel to nothing. In our search for God, we came together to build the tower: one, universal communication system that would unite human kind and diffuse contention. This common link collapses, everyone disperses, and their language diversifies. A contemporary metaphor for multiculturalism, the Tower of Babel is the biblical account of the diversification of human qualities and, most importantly, our infinitely varied set of languages across the globe.

Speaking a certain language may relax us or tighten our lips; electrify us or sadden us. Articulating one consonant may make our mouth snarl. The steady rhythm of one language may subconsciously console use whereas the inconsistency and rapid rhythm of another may create anxiety. How our languages have manifested over time due to the influences of culture, language’s innate qualities, sound systems, and more, yields a kaleidoscopic variety. Linguists have largely debunked the rumors that different languages radically change our perception, yet there could a distinct influence on our behavior. When we learn a new language, we may adopt new behaviors, a new framework for perception… A different mask.

In learning a new language, we might try to connect with a different part of ourselves that’s shattered or repressed due to the cultural constraints. Learning a different language may be the only way we can compartmentalize ourselves in such way. In some cases of people with multiple personality disorder, people have assign different personalities to different languages. A sixteen-year-old boy in Nigeria woke up from a coma speaking fluent Spanish in a different persona after a head trauma injury. “Learn a language, get a new soul,” a Czech proverb declares. Though we may try to distance deviant or “shadow” identities by giving them a linguistic conduit, perhaps, deep in our psyche, the Tower of Babel remains. We may be superficially separate, but we are all one.

As infants, we are whole in ways we never will be as adults. Time narrows us. When we are that young, we have the innate and infinite capacity to learn any human language on the planet. This was never a given fact until Noam Chomsky, one of the founders of modern linguistics, pioneered his theory of an LAD—a “language acquisition device”. This “device” helps us learn our native language, and contains every parameter possible in a human language. As we go through life, we select which parameters our native tongue has: does our language put verbs at the beginning? How do we use the plural case? Do we have ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ nouns? Once we know, those parameters are “locked in”—and past age nine, it’s very hard for us to learn languages with drastically different parameters than our own. We may never go back to that place of infinite openness.

When we learn a new language, we become more whole. We gain a different lens with which to view the same thing—much like the blind men and the elephant—which alters our experience of the thing itself. Research shows we are sentimental in our first language and more objective in our second. A native German speaker in a study blushed when she heard “ich liebe dich” (“I love you”) but turned pale when she heard the English translation. Research also shows we may perform at a higher intellectual level in our second language due to this psychological distance from the words we’re speaking.

Maybe we’ll discover who we are in that language. Maybe we’ll become different subjective selves in all of them, and these are the building blocks, different vehicles of the human experience that lead to one allusive point in the sky.

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

I am drawn to new journals and notebooks to the point of an obsessive and compulsive craving.

Journal Fetish

Essays, Philosophy/Insight

I compulsively crave and obsess over new journals and notebooks. In the bookstore, Walgreens, and paper goods store, I walk directly to the shelves of Moleskins, Paperblanks, Deuts187s and Piccadillys. A journal serves not just as a utility to write. Before the writing happens, a journal is loaded with meaning.

Writing in some journals may mean participating in a historical continuum. Paperblanks’ cover images are restored designs from millennia ago. The aesthetics are orderly, symmetrical, and intricate—­foreign to the modern reductionist journal with a white cover and a tiny but rebellious black square in the center. The Paperblanks images, ranging from equinoxes, silk work from France, the book of Solomon, to Paris Noir, imbues each journal with a sense of historical continuity and connection. By writing between the covers which bare images of the old, we restore them to the present. The journal which contains the first draft of this essay bares a cover with a symmetrical, silver filigree design from Germany in the 1800s. The description inside proudly declares: “Silver filigree was made with the intent to celebrate human’s inclination to the ornate, the symmetrical nature to beauty and the delicate system in which beauty participates.” No matter how desolate the modern era appears to others, we can always restore our universal appreciation of beauty and the ornate. A notebook can thus restore and connect us to something greater than what it is we’re writing in the present.

This journal features the door number of Sherlock Holmes. While I tend to stay away from movie or book related notebooks, this notebook is surely alluring, clever, and mysterious.
This journal features the door number of Sherlock Holmes. While I tend to stay away from movie or book related notebooks, this notebook is surely alluring, clever, and mysterious.

Black journals are the most alluring of them all. Black, though the most soulful color, is not understood as such or even considered a “real color.” In objective terms, it is the very essence of color; it is all color condensed into one point. Darkness does not signify the absence of light but the complete absorption of it, as when pupils dilate in the dark to collect as much light as possible. Blackness gathers, collects, and condenses as a black hole does, inhaling the galaxy it inhabits. When I look at a black journal, I see colorful tales and mysteries condensed in the cover. Opening the cover titillates me, and I am always shocked by the white void of the blank pages.

We can neglect notebooks with different colors. They are too heavily associated with ever-changing personalities and moods. Red hot anger, yellow sunniness, green envy, imaginary purple—these colors have their own sentiments. I could only ever justify a notebook cover with a plain, light blue color, one reminiscent of water.

Water reveals what’s underneath, letting light in and reflecting simultaneously. In this way, the water can be a source of reflection, tranquility, and wonder which makes it an astute metaphor for the work that journaling involves. Water is a form of writing, like Dumbledore’s liquid pensive in Harry Potter, used to sift through memories, reflect, and relax. In writing, we wade through narratives, emotional currents, and epiphanies made by diving deep. Sometimes the waters are pacified and stilled with the pen, and I see a clear reflection staring back at me. Other times, I see something close to the Loch Ness: a dark and mysterious figure that manages to escape before I can take a snapshot. There is a mystery lurking in my subconscious, just beyond reach, awaiting discovery in a dream.

There might be something ironic in water as a metaphor for writing, as writing is a way to solidify passing thoughts on a page. Yet our words, no matter how tangible, are never absolute. No claim can ever actually be permanently proved to exist, although it can be improved and advanced, torn down, and critiqued. Just as I can write my memories down, my memories will change. I will have changed, for better or for worse, and inevitably look back on a memory which could feel foreign to me. By journaling, I can attempt to capture my memories as they were at that specific point in time. Yet just like a black and white photo, writing a memory down is only capturing a fragment, a basic shell of what it was. This brings me to the inside of the notebook: the blank pages.

Despite myself, I looked at these blank journals before anything else in the bookstore. The other books have already fulfilled their creative potential. Their creators will never walk into the bookstore to squeeze in their last edits. All is said, done, in print and for purchase as is. The empty journals are begging a writer to walk into the bookstore, pets in a shelter desperately looking for love. More so than a living, breathing thing, they are tragically incomplete and absolute without a writer.

This is a reason why they are also intimidating to start. Unlike spoken language, writing is slower and presents the possibility of rewinding, replacing, improving our language in retrospect. What we write can be taken apart; ­­people can take a magnifying glass to it like a detective and interrogate each word. We have to back up and defend what we write due to its permanence in the objective world.

A blank page is the blank day we might have ahead of us on our schedules, lucky as that is. It is another stomach waiting to be fed. We must really listen to know when it’s hungry and what it craves. A blank page is the emptiness any creative person feels before starting the project. This emptiness will persist, and therefore the creativity will live on. This satisfies the “logic of the fit,” ­­the model of the universe which states that no being exists as a solitary unit, everything is completed by its complementary part. And so, the blank pages keep turning as long as we are brave.

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

A Doll’s House and Mojada: Tradition, Ambition, and Being Humane

A Doll’s House and Mojada: Tradition, Ambition, and Being Humane

Art & Culture, Cultural Commentary, Essays

As a country, we are less compassionate and unmotivated to help others.  From the litany of sexual harassment cases to the reckless acts of celebrities and politicians, these public examples in American society illustrate larger, more disturbing themes.  At some point, we started only taking care of ourselves, partially due to “American ambition,” something deeply ingrained in our culture. No one kept count of the damages that kept slowly accumulating. Now, we’re paying for it—and it’s time to take a look around.

I don’t think Luis Alfaro’s Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles could have come at a better time. Luis Alfaro takes Medea, a Greek tragedy, and sets it in modern day Boyle Heights, Los Angeles. Medea, Hason, their son Acan, and Medea’s nanny Tita move there from Michoacan under tragic circumstances, making the arduous journey from Mexico to the U.S. that approximately 350 migrants die from each year.    

The conflict driving the story is between Hason’s career ambitions in America and Medea’s desire to preserve the traditions and culture of her homeland. Hason’s ambition is as American as it gets: he dreams of moving up the ladder in his contracting job, presumably so he and Medea can live like royalty. He doesn’t mind using whatever he can get his hands on to move up, including the affections of his boss, Armida. Medea is reserved, and characters frequently comment on how she looks like the physical embodiment of Michoacan. She treats everyone with care, making her new friend Josefina beautiful dresses and nurturing her son and husband.  Yet it’s clear that she doesn’t want to make anything of her skills or assimilate into American society.

The play’s central dilemma contrasts with antiquated plays where the conflict was flipped upside down. Women with ambition similar to Hason’s were stifled by their gender roles and society, silenced and allotted a husband. A popular example is Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, where Nora, the wife to Torvald, a respectable banker, tries to work under her husband’s nose to pay off a debt. When Torvald discovers her secret, he readily abandons her. Stories like these highlight the element of choice women in free countries experience today. A woman like Nora, who courageously stepped away from her domestic confines to see the world at the end of the play, would be revered.

So, where does that leave people who still respect their traditional cultures where the community is priority? If we are truly a society that respects differences, especially differences in choice (and yes, Medea is making a choice), should we not have a place for a woman like Medea?

The play ends with its own answer: a bloody, vengeful resounding: “NO.” This is because our society is driven by hypercompetitiveness, for building “brands” and empires, chasing gold rushes. It is the thrill of the American life but it is becoming its greatest downfall as we witness millions of people lose health care, live lives with untreated mental and physical health problems, and the planet go to waste. According to a Gallup poll, people in Mexico are the happiest in the world, prizing social ties over careers, despite political and economic turmoil. But space for traditions, family, and kindness between the busy work schedule and the next leg up is hard to come by here.  

When humans are blinded with power, enmeshed in the status games, other people become obstacles, assets, or zeros. They’re either in one’s way, helping them score, or entirely irrelevant, and thus, without identity. Hason openly admits Medea that Armida, his boss has a crush on him. He claims to exploit her feelings “for the family.” Medea slow becomes irrelevant. Her friend Josefina, the local gossip, tells Medea what she’s been hearing around the neighborhood: “Hason is like, well, like a king. You know, someone powerful and with ambition. But, well… I hear you’re not really like, his queen?” Medea denies this out of blind conviction, but Hason’s priorities become clear: he stays away from home and spends more time with Armida.

That we chose our ambitions over people isn’t news (the original Medea is now over 2,000 years old) nor is it intrinsically harmful. A Doll’s House is clearly proof of thisNora was trapped in a loveless marriage, used by her husband for entertainment, and left for her higher calling. What is harmful is when our choices have an increasing negative impact on our friends, family, and community. When we’ve become so absorbed in ourselves that we’ve forgotten about our responsibilities to others, and maybe our own values.

Alfaro’s contemporary Medea shows us the consequences of the discordant relationship in America between the pursuit of ambition and the preservation of community in Medea’s tragic ending. A deep existential torment takes over her life when it’s revealed that Hason married Armida. The real estate tycoon she is, Armida kicks Medea out on the streets without remorse. Without the love of Hason, Medea is desperate, hystericaland ends the play by killing her son.

Have we lost in lost the “village”? We’ve been quick to expand in industry without providing cushions for those who have lost their ways of life. We’ve become immersed in a fantasy of a better tomorrow for ourselves lost a sense of the people surrounding us, their humanity as it relates with our own. It may be a complicated way back—is it worth the search?

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

A digital collage by Ernesto Artillo

Collage Compulsion: Embracing Chaos

Essays, Philosophy/Insight

Collaging is one of the most subjective forms of art, a deeply psychological process, that is at once a conversation with the broader “objective” world, a world of objects and symbolic meanings. It’s our way of talking back to our physical reality, allowing us to make an imprint upon it just as its made an imprint on us.

A collage may be analyzed and broken down by critics like any piece of art. But notice, the artist doesn’t lose their integrity. Nothing feels “missed” or “lost.” The interaction of the components in a collage are a psychic play that is deeply personal to the artist, even if they’re unaware of it. It’s the equivalent of children playing with toys and dolls: they look at the individual parts, customize it to the story they want to tell or aesthetic they want to show, and play. They don’t make the dolls. They don’t make the toys. Most of everything is made for them, but yet, a deeply personal journey unfolds.

Here’s what Rick Poynor, lecturer, writer, critic, and avid collage fan has to say about the accessible nature of collage:

I think we should emphasize the radically open nature of collage. To make collage you do not need expensive tools, or training, or even need the ability to draw. Collage takes the radical availability of texts and images in consumer culture and transforms that material from a demand to consume into an invitation to produce. With only a blade and some paste, absolutely anyone can enter into the practice of art and potentially produce really powerful work. This is not to say there aren’t virtuoso collage artists but rather to emphasize how open the form is.1

Not only is collage accessible to anyone, be they “artists” or “non-artists,” accessible to anyone with basic motor skills and some supplies, it is arguably the most subjectively up for grabs than any other form of art. At a theater, you can see an actor’s wincing face making forced contortions and pray that he’ll emote during his poorly executed Hamlet speech. This speech is, under scrutiniy, a poorly executed performance. When I went to a Día de Los Muertos parade at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, there were spirited dance performances, but as I nodded my head to the drums, once dancer misses a crucial step on the beat. Writing bears the brunt of expert critique, broken now and excavated for necessary components in grammar, style, content, structure, and clarity.

The collage can be presented for view, it can be similarly broken down just as any piece of visual art can. But there’s an element that persists under the intense scrutiny of the critical eye.

The collage is incredibly personal. And aren’t all the other million and one other ways we express ourselves “personal?” The collage reflects our truly uniquue and internalized relationship with our “world of objects:” newspapers, magazines, buttons, plastic remnants, broken necklaces, coupons, cardboard, staples, paper clips, soda bottle labels. These objects have lived a life outside of the artist, and the artist brings them together in a way that satisfies a unique cognitive need on the canvas. In this vein, collages make the strongest statement on the objective world while simultaneously revealing the psychological needs of the artist.

In fact, the origins of what we call a collage today began as a response to a massive shift in the objective world, inspiring a psychological need for people to interpret mass production. This process began with the Cubists who, at the beginning of the 20th century, started pasting cut-out squares onto canvasses. They began dissecting the 3-D cube that artists were intent on mastering to deceive their viewers and laid it out flat.

This came about as mass production was at an all time high and skilled artisans started going out of business. Technology made objects with a uniform production method, treating them with science instead of care, stripping them of “charm” or a sense of life the comes of making something with human hands. The Cubists who flattened the 3-D cube were rehearsing what mass production did to objects: demystifying them. Yet society seemed to compensate through advertising, creating a dogma of false promises; we’ve all seen them: the bright shiny faces beckoning us forth to try this or that new home appliance, shaving cream, radio, and the ilk. Cubists satisfied a cognitive need to dissect the lies that were poisoning society through mass consumption. In their eyes, the 3-D cube was built with product deification and the collage dismantled myth in just a cut, tear, and paste.


It’s very possible this wasn’t their intent. Maybe they were satirizing classical art and its attempts to become stunningly real. Maybe we don’t need to look at a piece of art and be stunned by how “real” it looks. Maybe we should instead be confronted by how false it really is.

In the 21st century, and just as the Cubists did, we return to collage in its original form as a way of processing the mysterious world around and within us. We aren’t always, if almost ever, aware of what drives us to assemble objects on a page. As Carl Jung, a psychologist specializing in the matters of the subconscious, has said: “The hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.” Carl Jung’s sandplay therapy is strikingly similar to the process of collage-making. For those who are unfamiliar, it’s a therapy where patients select objects off a therapist’s shelf to assemble in a small sandtray, just as one collects scraps to glue onto a canvas. At the end of this sequence, sandtray patients are then asked what these objects mean to them, revealing subconscious themes related to archetypes and early childhood experiences.

Just as the patient may stare with a dumbfound expression at the sandtray objects, when we select items for a collage, we may grasp aimlessly. Maybe that coupon book means nothing to you on the surface. But then when that coupon starts interacting on the page, we’re letting our hidden mind communicate with us, ceasing to use our intellect as a drill to unearth mysteries and allowing the mysteries to reveal themselves.

One evening, I started a collage with a picture of a young girl dawning a large eagle from the newspaper. The girl is actually the subject of the documentary Eagle Huntress and is the first female falconer in Mongolia, breaking a longstanding male-dominated tradition that’s been passed down for millennia.


“Thinking about this image in the middle of a disenchanting election, that I viewed as a triumph misogyny, gave me profound joy, because I knew that hope still remained.”

I did a collage in the heat of the 2016 U.S. election between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, just two or three nights before Trump became the president elect. I didn’t know why I picked a particular picture until I looked at her powerful, resilient stance. This small girl raises her arm to a black eagle with a wingspan that doubles her height swooping down to land on her glove. Thinking about this image in the middle of a disenchanting election, that I viewed as a triumph misogyny, gave me profound joy, because I knew that hope still remained. Women can challenge and redefine any pressure put upon them if they want to. We can defy traditions set down for us for generations before.

And I didn’t realize this until after I put the embossing glue on.

Sometimes, we know what we’re doing with a collage very well. In the world of objects and myths, sometimes they don’t cohere, giving rise to tension and unresolved dissonance. Sometimes we’re merely ripping objects from their contexts and put them in their proper place. Take these two powerful collages that send us some signals about ads, their implicit messages, their false promises, and the cruel realities that commercialism refuses to acknowledge:



These models are pulled from their beach sands, sweeping views, clubs, bar stools, and pasted in the first picture, on a sweeping landscape and in the second, inside of a house with a raging war just outside the window. The model in the first lays on top of the world, her idealized and almost unattainable perfection permeating throughout the natural landscape. In the second, we see a nation of irreconciled paradoxes: glamour and luxury resting on the brutality and terror of war abroad, inextricably tied to the wealth of our America. We’ve drunk the sweet milk of ignorance, strolling on our smooth roads paved with money earned from greed, violence, and imperial control. These collages serve as a medicine for the virus of complacency, which has made us oblivious to the toxic paradoxes of living in a hyper-commercialized, money-driven society. We’ve been assaulted psychologically: so we put these objects and their lies in their proper place, restoring a soundness in ourselves.

A critic might swoop in and criticize the political undertones of these collages. They may argue for or against the messages they seem to purport. But the collage artist has discovered a truth for themselves, and who’s to argue against their subjective truth? Who’s to argue against experience?

Coming back to the Jungian sentiment of collage-making, Susan Levin comments in her work, Art from Dreams: My Jungian Journey in Collage, Assemblage and Poetry, that collages reveal truths in the way that dreams yell to our conscious mind:

Dreams, like collage, assemblage and poetry, derive their form and character from the aesthetics of juxtaposition – the placing of seemingly random images in proximity in a way that elicits a new level of meaning and understanding. In all three there is a role for intuition, a vested relationship to memory, a certainty that things are never only or entirely as they appear, and the presumption that everything carries with it a plurality of meanings. In the technique of assemblage particularly, commonplace, found, deracinated objects remain themselves even as they become something else. Like a dream, a work of art can reveal the hidden treasures of the mind and how it processes our surroundings.2

These random objects enter into our psyches in any number of ways, leaving impressions as they pass through our awareness. The physical world surrounding us forms an architecture of thought that may remain unknown, hiding itself in some dark nook or cranny. In reassembling the physical, we make our own impressions, our own architecture, changing the outside as the outside changes us. We participate in the dynamic, actually listening as the dream-like symbols of the real world speak to us.

What happens when our psyche grasps at an absence in the objective world? Or a presence that can’t be perceived or felt, but just as real? Einstein referred to reality as a persistent and deceptive illusion. During our best moments, we’re just as persistent to discover what’s beyond reality’s facade. In the case of someone wishing to articulate this in a collage, a conundrum presents itself. How does the collage artist satisfy a need to create something that isn’t there with the materials right in front of them? Will a collage only ever be an approximation of the imagined?

For this, I turn towards the film The Truman Show for an example. For those unfortunate few who have not seen the film (make sure you do), it centers around Truman, as portrayed by Jim Carrey, who was the first person adopted at birth by a corporation. The corporation makes his life into a television show and builds a humongous set, a city called “Seahaven Island,” that he believes is his entire world. The fictitious town is full of 50’s tropes, white picket fences, and retro products and designs, and all the sleepy promises of suburbia. Everyone on the set is a paid actor and the only “real” element is Truman–until he falls in love with Sylvia, a woman who finally tries to tell him the truth only to be whisked away abruptly by a mysterious man.

Truman never lets go of her, and while she’s disappeared from his physical reality, he’s desperate to reinvent her image. Every day he buys women’s magazines for his wife, supposedly, only to rip out parts of women’s faces in hopes of reconstructing that of Sylvia’s in a collage. The part he struggles with most is finding the right set of eyes, the embodiment of truth, a truth that he’s been searching for but has been denied to him. As he pieces together her face, the result is at once realistic but distorted, the mismatching colors and skintones an aching reminder that this collage is, indeed, only an approximation at her true visage.


“As he pieces together her face, the result is at once realistic but distorted, the mismatching colors and skintones an aching reminder that this collage is, indeed, only an approximation at her true visage.”

When a collage artist pieces together a vision of a truth, it probably really is, at best, a clunky approximation. But our imaginations must fill in the rest, and just like Truman, inspire us to go beyond our horizons, to find a truth that we don’t just know, but more importantly, feel.

The objects that surround us are taken for granted facts. They are apart of our set of “norms,” subconsciously ingrained rules that, if we thought about them at every moment, would be incredibly exhausting. A commercial ad can be taken for granted: we see a beautiful woman and a piece of lipstick. Classifieds are full of people bartering, selling, looking for employment. Yet there may be a psychic tension between what these objects are communicating under the table and what we may personally believe about them. In collaging, we explore and resolve a dissonance, and won’t allow for “reality” to have the last say.


1. Banash, David. “Collage Culture: Nostalgia and Critique. An Interview with David Banash.” Design Observer. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2016
2. Levin, Susan. Art from Dreams: My Jungian Journey in Collage, Assemblage and Poetry. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Upon the end, he howled like a true prairie wolf.

Uncle Roger


Upon the end, he howled like a true prairie wolf.


The sunset was obscured by the crowd of palm trees as I walked back from Santa Barbara Coffee Roasting where I spent three hours staring at a wall, comatose from endless sand and sun. There has to be a way that all of these people confuse relaxation with depression, a fine line I was playing with myself on my “spring break” from work. Before walking into the Spanish-style plaza to do some journaling as the daylight dwindles, I get a call from my aunt Laura.

She told me that my uncle Roger had stage four lung cancer. Terminal. I started walking on auto pilot, and landed on a street with a real estate office and condominiums, completely alone. The real estate agent with blatantly photoshopped pure white teeth smiles at me from his swinging sign, the palm trees and villas forming a cult around him. I knew Roger smoked a lot and had cancer a couple years back but he was also stealthy, bright, and full of strength. I tried to feel something in reaction to the news, say something in the void to make something happen, but I was speaking to a dial tone. Relaxation or depression. I guess I had a clearer picture of which one it was.

I was and am still new to death. When I’m supposed to feel something, I don’t. When I’m not supposed to, I do. Even having experienced two close deaths, it has remained distant enough to be nothing more than a theoretical notion, a specimen in my laboratory, an aesthetic symbol that looks great in blacks and grays works fabulously in an Evanescence song. But when I put my phone on my pocket and wandered off to the bus station to return to my Airbnb, it seemed my once secure lab rat had broken loose and was charging ahead at me on the barely lit road.

I scoffed. Death. Yeah, right, you elusive phantom! Sit, stay, roll over, you! Just keep being that character in A Christmas Carol and stop butting in on my life, can’t you see I’m in my 20s and don’t want to take anything seriously at the moment? Come visit Roger in Aidin, a town close to the Oregon border, a twenty-hour drive, Laura? I’m sorry, Laura. I’m sorry, Roger. I’m sorry, Death. The world keeps spinning like a carpet being pulled beneath me and each day is a game of catch-up in my generation’s race to the bottom in our “techtopia”, the modern world officially as inspiring to me as styrofoam or L.A. traffic.

At the time of hearing the news, I was employed by a company that specialized in helping children with special needs in their homes and at schools. When I first got the job, I was genuinely enthralled. There I was, living with my boyfriend in a 7′ by 7′ square “bachelor” apartment with no kitchen working at a godless restaurant, Akasha, owned by the former personal chef of Michael Jackson, and I found a decent-paying job working with kids. This was my chance to cultivate my garden of personal meaning, full of bounty and helping children in need. It certainly went that way for a while. But working there for almost two years and discovering the political negotiations involved in keeping my boss, the parents, teachers, and children happy yielded a growing pit of resentment and bitterness. Even worse, I stopped caring about the girl I was helping, who had severe tantrums and focus issues, who was very smart but equally manipulative. The “Melanie’s Personal Meaning” garden and its fauna saw much less sunshine. I quit not long after I heard Roger was dying.

During my frantic work search, I started to wake up to Death. He had taken up a corner of my room like a sad, miserable dog who is always there but you never get used to. I wanted desperately to ignore him, using my unemployment as an excuse. Sorry, too busy and broke to play! The more I did, the more he grew until six months passed since I heard the news. Outside of my window, the leaves fall off the trees, crispy. Beige. It’s already autumn and I haven’t seen Roger.

Alright Death, you got me. It’s time to take you out for a walk.

As I booked my flight from Los Angeles to Alameda where I’d hitch a ride with my uncle Mark, I thought of the most recent time I’ve seen him, almost three years ago now.

He was visiting in Alameda, the town we both grew up in. Just stopping by he said. No holiday, no Christmas party, no huge family gather. Just me, aunt Kathryn, uncle Mark and Roger driving around town to get lunch. He was wearing his workman’s jacket, nice brown leather, kind of  We pass by a morgue that’s been standing for decades, and while one uncle comments that it could’ve been around for a century, Roger grunts happily: “Steady business.” The visit turns into a nice ride around town, where I learned about the various mischief the brothers got up to that must have slowly eaten away at their loving Irish Catholic mother until the day she died. Roger points out their old childhood house, remarking on the new salmon-colored curtains, the unbecoming replacement of the ones he set on fire at age eight. I nod in approval, wishing that I had the bravery to be an arsonist at such a promising age.

He shows me some pictures of his bird paintings and figurines, products of his razor sharp eye and years in carpentry. We hug and he tells me how proud he is of me. Keep studying. Keep using your brain. Don’t doubt yourself. And, most of all: Don’t. Get. Pregnant.

It was time for me to go and visit Roger, now. After a flight from Los Angeles to the Bay Area, I went on a long quiet drive with my uncle Mark up to Modoc County. He reminded me to be prepared. I didn’t have the mental facility, the experience to form a projected image of Roger as I found him, thin, tired, and sunken in his bed in the middle of the living room.

There’s a picture of him standing next to his siblings while some joke or speech was being made at grandpa’s 90th birthday party. Out of them all, his is the only smile that lifts all of his features. His eyes lack the traditional round edges custom of our family. They’re alive and coyote like, wild and intelligent.

One Christmas, he even came down to Berkeley from Modoc, 14 hours away. We were all seated at John’s house. John’s kids are notoriously eccentric, but the one who rubbed Roger’s prickly edges was Damien. Being rather innocent and tiny at the time, Damien was very kind to me, telling me I’d grow up to be Winona Ryder and playing hide and seek with me while all the adults bantered. But among the elder siblings, he was known to instigate, such as when we were on our way to his brother’s college graduation and he jumped out of the moving car to get a pizza. But Roger didn’t lean on excuses for recklessness. Being one way was a choice, and there were always other paths worth fighting for, just as he fought to become sober.

Of course, most of us sniffed out a mental illness. But Roger thought it was about choices. I see this, of course, and I saw the choices Damien made that either alleviated or aggravated his condition. I respected Roger’s perspective, his advocacy for justice and ultimate personal responsibility. But if the universe rewarded people who took personal responsibility, I’m not sure everything would be as it was.

So at that Christmas party in Berkeley, when Damien slammed the refrigerator door on Roger’s arm, that was that. Some explosion happened and I probably didn’t see him again for a couple of years, but not before he gives me a hug and, at the glorious age of seven, warns me “not to get pregnant.” I relied on stories of quirky wedding tales or old Hopping brother memoirs until I’d see him again.


When I get to the house, I latch onto his paintings, thinking to myself and how our traditional family visits have gone. I realized that at our family gatherings, we sometimes become bobbly heads playing bumper cars, different wills and objectives clashing, idea transmission paramount to social interactions that slowly diffuse until we say goodbye. See you later. See you at the next Christmas party that I may or may not go to.

Visiting with Roger now felt less like bouncing signals and more like I was sitting by a pond with the sun setting behind it. The reflected light became softer with each passing hour. Roger was resting now, just able to move and give me a hug and a kiss. When we had our time alone, we talked about everything we could, everything that was important. I was happy to say good-bye to the world and its imperfections and learn about Roger, witness his joy and his remorse. Appreciate his unique intelligence and his “fuck thises and thats.” His armor was by his side, and I saw a sweetness and sensitivity that was more powerful than any words he had for me.

He won an award for stopping coyote trophy hunting contests in Modoc County. Every year, hunters would basically having dick-comparing contests and try to hunt the biggest coyote. What their ignorance didn’t tell them was that coyotes are actually really good for the environment, a fact that Roger wouldn’t relent on. So he took his camera out to document the horrors of these contests and took photos to post on the internet. A man in town, one of the participants, recognized him. They fought, and he pushed Roger onto his back, injuring his lower spine.

But his efforts were recognized and eventually the contests were ended. The trophy was a pointed diamond shape, beautifully carved of glass. He held it as he watched the leader of Project Coyote read a speech to him over Skype. His loving and supporting family beamed with pride, taking pictures and giving Roger pats on the shoulder. Upon the end, he howled like a true prairie wolf.

As I watched Roger’s signature slanted smile light up his face, time was reduced to a petty fact, both of essence and completely dismal and insignificant. Drama, the pushes and pulls of my work, demands, and relationships sat there with it. Everything in my mind became quiet, and my heart began to crack open, knowing now that we go through life thinking we want everything for ourselves. As the family sat with Roger for hours, a man looking out at the portrait of his entire life, I saw someone in awe of what he wanted and accomplished for the world.

We spent some more time alone. He saw a potential in me that I always regarded as a conspiracy working against me. He told me he thought my dad could have chosen a different path, to “brush his fucking teeth and ditch his street friends.” His own children made some unfortunate choices themselves, not unlike my dad’s. I cowered in fear, knowing this future of drug abuse and addiction was a slippery slope, always an inch away. Imagining the kind of heights he wanted me to climb to was even more daunting than walking flat on the path or falling down.

But still, he said he was excited to see what I was going to do, be it “an executive at a firm or a pole dancer”, as long as I showed up with a smile, and to never give up on myself. To never let anyone put their hands on me. He holds on tight to my arm now, his silvery eyes lighting up, his arched brows conveying a familiar conviction, but struggling with breath to form the three golden words:

“Don’t get pregnant.” With the amendum: “Men want one thing. To get laid.”

I was back in the Bay Area visiting friends and family. One of which was my half-brother, both of us born from Walter, Roger’s eccentric little brother. We had just spent an afternoon in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and I was now at the bus terminal. My dad could have been a block or two away. The Embarcadero was always one of his favorite spots. Imagining this always gave me a deep feeling of loneliness, knowing that even if I could find him myself, that he’d still be far away, suffering from this or that mental charade.

I thought of Roger, knowing that this day for me is one of his last, spent in Modoc country with our relatives. The full moon was right up there, hanging on its thread, nice and bright. Just at the right moment, it’s always there to save me from my firey headcage, locked on too tight sometimes, but still a better feeling than the Kool-Aid I was drinking during spring break in Santa Barbara.

Coyotes were once thought to be our first shepherds into the real world, symbols of youth, mischief, life, and death. But no matter where they tread on the planet, the moonlight is their home and sanctuary. This is where they howl, their call to the pack. Under my breath, I let out a howl in the pool of moonshine before boarding the bus back home.

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.

The Tale of Persephone

The Tale of Peresphone


To many, Persephone is a scandalous love story about a young girl taken from her mother by an evil, dark god. Others might view it as a twisted coming of age tale, with some not-so-subtle-allusions between “womanhood,” fertility, and the bright red colors of  pomegranate that Persephone eats. A more promising and philosophically poignant meaning lies underneath the tale. What makes Persephone’s tale so tragic is its necessity: the allure of death, and death itself, is inextricable in the continuation of life, rendering us all paradoxes in disguise. We live and thrive in our dissonances and conflicts, our beauty conceived by melancholy.

For those unfamiliar with the tale, Persephone was the alienated daughter of Zeus and Demeter, who were siblings, which made her both a daughter and niece to these powerful deities. Demeter was not only associated with agricultural bounty, but with the inevitability of death. Her daughter was precious to her, and so on that fated day, when her other brother Hades looked at the young Persephone’s graceful figure picking flowers in the spring and brought her down to the underworld, her wrath was fierce. She took away spring and dried up the earth so its inhabitants would starve until she got her daughter back.

Zeus tried to convince Hades to let her go, and he consented only on the terms that Persephone hadn’t eaten any of the fruits of the underworld. It was revealed that she had: the bright red pomegranate was her condemnation. Unlike Eve who was exiled from Eden, Hades made Persephone a prisoner for half the year, bringing us winter and fall. During summer and spring, she was free, reunited with her mother and the blossoming fauna.

Rossetti's soulful painting of Peresphone, the goddess of the underworld, wife of Hades, and the emblem of paradox manifest.

Rossetti’s soulful painting of Persephone, the goddess of the underworld, wife of Hades, and the emblem of paradox manifest.

In this depiction of her by Rosetti, she looks so awkward and tragic, doesn’t she? The vacant stare in her eyes. The twisted hand holding her forbidden fruit. Ivy, the symbol of death during this era, lurking in the background. She does indeed look like the trapped soul of the underworld that she is.1  We at least have the comfort of knowing that one day, she will see the sun.

Each moment, she lives a paradox. She is the queen of death, but her arrival to earth marks the beginning of spring and summer, the time of renewal and life. She is married to Hades but in love with the beautiful Adonis. She is the symbol of life itself but married to the king of death who is completely sterile.

This idea of life embodying a necessary duality is a compelling one. In our technologically-driven, alienated society we inhabit today, more lines than ever are drawn between our public and private lives. Men who do online dating, creating fake personas, having women fall in love with someone who’s not real. The religious and closeted gay politician. We’ve sorted conflicting identities and put them in different places. Perhaps this is out of fear, out of a distinctly American “black-and-whiteness” that says you have to be one thing or the other. Or perhaps we’ve always lived this way, men with a wife and children who frequent the harlot’s corner, devoted adulterers. Aren’t we this way out of necessity? Aren’t there conflicting needs and desires that are essential to our survival?

Being two things at once is normal. Yet failing to find symbiosis will end in destruction. Just as death gives birth to life, as the decomposition of plants feeds new fauna, people need to reconcile the dualities they embody to move forward.

A goddess like Persephone in our time couldn’t be the emblem of life yet the same woman who tortured a god in the underworld for trying to seduce her, a woman who’s depicted with a symbol of death, the pomegranate, and mint, the herb of innocence and fertility. That’s why a television icon like Dexter in our time is so fascinating and revolutionary—he’s a killer and a good guy wrapped into one, something our habituated American minds can’t comprehend. Our laws are built for black and white, innocent or guilty, victim or criminal, either or, not both. If you’re a liberal, you’re against everything conservative. If you’re an atheist, you’re not spiritual. These labels draw lines, and at the same time, take away our complexity, render us helpless when we’re surrounded by mirrors, each one showing a different angle on us, forcing us to pick one over the other.

Notice how whenever there’s a conflict, it’s about winning. The language surrounding conflicts is always about domination and competition. “You destroyed them in that debate,” “They crushed them in the court room,” “They won the case.” It’s never about a solution. It’s never about finding a common ground, or a lesson to be learned. It’s about extermination.

The tale of Persephone reminds us that contradictions are necessary. They appear in wisdom, they appear in Taoism, they appear in nature and humanity. They’re certainly not comfortable or simple to inhabit, indeed, they transcend our built in thought system which struggles to come to one conclusion, to reconcile paradoxes. But just as we live in the light of the sun, we also inhabit the dark night.

Melanie Falconer is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles, California. Her writing mainly concerns philosophy, personal experiences, cultural commentary, and her love of the visual and performing arts. If you’d like to reach out to her, you can do so here.


1. Rossetti was actually in love with the model who did this painting. She was in a bad marriage that he thought of as Persephone’s underworld and also had an affair with him, which he thought of as her springtime.