The Safe-Cracker’s Puzzle


By Dane Mutters
2016

She is locked in a wooden safe, with the handle on the inside.
The dial on the outside spins
To the
Click
Click
Tick
Of a safe-cracker’s twitch.

His wrist is stoically poised,
The back of his hand just outside of his vision;
His fingers twist one way, as his thumb tilts to the other.
The safe clicks and ticks, but doesn’t open.

This safe is a custom build that nobody has been able to crack.
Though wooden on the outside, it is petrified to the hardness of steel.
The woman inside has a demur smile as she quickly opens the door to other pursuant safe-crackers,
Allowing them a timid peek at who lounges within,
Before slamming the door shut, again.

They are left with dreams of twinkling eyes and a sunrise behind swaying brown vines.

But for this safe-cracker, she leaves the door wide open until he approaches near.
As he smiles, she smiles and closes the door an inch.
As his footsteps echo upon the marble floor, she closes it another two.
Before he can offer his hand, the door is closed, so he walks away.
This safe-cracker is no fool.

…But after years of dreaming, he can’t resist the call of the safe that has never been cracked.
More than a Browning safe, with its floral design near its base, and proud name at its top;
Or a stoically red Amethyst safe with a single, tantalizing, golden handle;
This safe sings his praise, and promises secret riches of beating rubies, dripping pearls, and adorning diamonds.

For a long time, he stood far away, remembering the click of the closing door.
He cracked other safes in hope that they would satisfy his craving.
He walked to other cities and conquered strongboxes, stores, and banks by the power of his keen senses;
And their strongholds did nothing but adore him, swinging their hinges apart to give their treasures.
But their diamonds he dropped on the ground,
And he walked away shaking his head.
He can’t return to those places.

Why?” he thought, as the safe quietly went, “tock.”
He froze for a moment, and reached for the handle that wasn’t there.
He heard a footstep from the other side.
He pulled his hand away from the door and held his breath.
The door went “clunk”, but didn’t open.

From the other side, he heard someone slowly spinning a dial, as if listening for the right combination.

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Proverbs That Last Forever


“However, a much older Near Eastern origin is suggested by a near equivalent in the 6th century BC Proverbs of Ahiqar: ‘a sparrow in thy hand is better than a thousand sparrows flying’.”

I love finding proverbs that have somehow survived 25 centuries of linguistic translations and societal changes. Such proverbs are almost certainly somewhat accurate (in the right context), because the only way people would keep saying them for 2,500 years is if they feel like they have a decent reason to do so, themselves, and to teach their children to say them, too.

Interestingly, it’s possible that personal adherence to old texts of philosophy, poetry, mythology, scripture, and fable–stems from the same phenomena; and that, therefore, religion, philosophy, ethics, and more are a result of old thoughts being consistently seen as worthwhile enough to repeat and teach future generations to repeat.
The historic use of force to enforce adherence to ideas skews this effect, somewhat. This includes classic examples of European churches imposing laws and punishments, as well as popular non-religious philosophies making law with legislation and court cases (incl. case law), and punishing those who violate those laws. It can’t really be argued that the modern law and punishment is as brutal or authoritarian as ancient law and punishment; but when an armed person can come to your home and put you in shackles (handcuffs) for not obeying, one can neither argue that this isn’t the use of force. Sure, the methods are different, but disobeying gets you punished.
How do we decide whether and when old ideas are more/less valuable to us than new ideas? How effective have those uses of force been in making a given idea persist? Does an idea that has been appreciated (even/especially out of pure expediency) for 2.5 millennia have more (objective) believability than an idea that’s been around for 50 years? Each person chooses how to weigh these and other factors to create a personal philosophy. Then, they explain their philosophies to their children using proverbs.

Prose Poem: A Smile And A Promise


Sometimes, when someone touches me, I flinch before realizing that I want to be touched.  Then, I think about it for a second, and convince myself that it’s OK, but by that time, the lovely person has already assumed that I had rejected her. I don’t know why it’s like this; it didn’t used to be this way, but somehow, across a distance of a few decades, a part of me has grown to expect things to turn out badly, even when the evidence before my eyes suggests otherwise.

Sometimes, I’m so terrified that one more thing will go wrong, that when I want to reach out and take a chance on an amazing person, I convince myself that there’s no point in trying, but don’t realize that it’s just my insecurities talking until the opportunity has already passed.

Somewhere between being hit by family members and foolishly marrying a woman who started abusing me within days of saying “I do”, I forgot how to accept the idea that, sometimes, when a person reaches out with her hand, it’s because she loves me, and not because she wants to hurt me until she feels better about herself.

I wonder why, despite the anecdotal evidence we see around us, we automatically assume that if someone is being hurt by a person of the opposite gender, it’s a man hurting a woman. I wonder why we assume that the only wounds that hurt are physical ones, and that the only real violence is the kind that leaves a mark.

I’ve read that nearly half of all domestic violence is perpetrated by women, but overwhelmingly, only men get punished for it. I think that this is because women are better at talking about their emotions and admitting to being hurt, whereas men are more likely to be silent when they’re in pain.

A friend once told me that he had been repeatedly raped by his ex-girlfriend. He was beside himself with shame because he had let her convince him that he deserved it, and still couldn’t quite shake the belief that she was right. He was a large man with a delicate heart, who couldn’t bring himself to hurt a woman, no matter what she did to him. He couldn’t believe that if he called a rape hotline, the person on the other end would even listen to his story without condemning him as a faker. So, I called for him, and screened out two hotlines who clearly believed that only women could be raped, or didn’t care if the opposite had, in fact, just happened, because this hotline was “just for women”. There were no hotlines for men. When I finally found someone who would listen compassionately and take what I was saying seriously, I gave him the number, but he never called, because he was too ashamed.

Still, I choose to love women rather than hate them—not because they’re inherently more pure or decent than men, but because if I didn’t make this choice, I might become bitter and angry like the people who have hurt me, who believed that they had the right to hurt me because, at some point, someone had hurt them. Sometimes, I wonder how many violent offenders have been created by people who thought they had a right to hurt one gender or another, in retribution for crimes long past. Ted Bundy hated women because at least one woman hurt him when he was a child; and how many men have been hurt by bitter women and over-zealous law enforcement officers because of the pain that abusive men have caused to women? Will the cycle ever end, or will we continue to say that our hurts are, somehow, more important, and act like our own rights are all that really matter, unconcerned with what that means for other people?

I would like to see people raising awareness for men’s issues in the same way that we see people raising awareness for women’s issues.

I wish that feminism were always really about gender equality, and not so commonly an outlet for women who are simply angry at the other half of their species. I wish that we would do away with terms like “feminism” and “masculism” as references to causes worth supporting or condemning, depending on which gender one identifies with. I wish people would organize “equalism” rallies and shout down people who show up with the obvious intent to support only one gender.

I see beauty in the ocean of yin and the fire of yang, and I believe that neither one should try to “convert” the other with the dogmas of academics or politicians. I see men taught to be silent and timid because they can’t communicate emotions as well as women. I see women being taught to be silent and timid because they lack the logistical talent that men tend to be born with. Whether we call it “NonViolent Communication” or “Management Training”, if it teaches someone to be afraid to speak up and be honest, then it’s broken and abominable.

I’m hoping to find someone who will understand that I’m afraid of what women might to do me, but am willing to offer my heart anyway—even if I flinch, at first. I’m looking for a woman who chooses to see me as a unique individual, and not a surrogate upon which to lash away the pain of past wrongs.

I’m hoping that, somewhere, the word, “partner”, really refers to equality in all things—regardless of who has which talents, or who makes more money. I would like to see a world where it’s considered normal to be a “stay-at-home dad”, where people consider such a position to be just as honorable as working at a technology firm. I want to see a world where men and women both have the freedom to take on stereotypical gender roles because that’s what makes them happy, or to do something entirely different for the same reason.

I would like to hear it called “manly” to give a woman a foot massage.

I would like to hear someone say, “I am woman, hear me roar”, in a quiet voice, before kissing a baby.

In a perfect world, we would hear laughter at this poem, because all of the above is a ridiculous re-hashing of the past, but for now, let’s just share a smile and a promise.

Love Is


Love is wanting to take her out to eat, but knowing you can’t afford it, and offering to cook, instead.
Love is opening your heart instead of your wallet when it would be easier just to spend money.

Love is when you know that you could get into bed with her just by being shallow, and insisting on getting to know her first—even if that means losing the opportunity, forever.

Love is seeking a “yes”, rather than avoiding a “no”, and being happy with whichever you get.
Love is knowing when to say yes, and being patient until then.

Love is seeing that the lawn hasn’t been mowed, but thanking him for doing the laundry, instead of complaining about the yard.

Love is when you say a kind word when an insult might be more appropriate.
Love is swallowing your pride and saying you’re sorry.

Love is writing something sweet on a post-it every morning before work, even when you’re mad at each other.

Love is giving your partner the last piece of chocolate.

Love is giving someone a massage when your own back hurts.

Love is cooking food that you can’t or won’t eat, because you know he likes it.
Love is eating “burnt offerings” with a smile, and then asking for seconds.

Love is abandoning a closely-held belief because it hurts someone you care about.
Love is choosing to support your partner’s eccentric ideology, even if it doesn’t entirely make sense.

Love is being unafraid to discuss religion, politics, or anything else—and always being willing to change your mind when a good point is made.
Love is choosing dialectic over of debate.

Love is when you give without caring whether you will receive.
Love is when you work a job you hate, so you’ll both have a place to come home to.

Love is dancing badly to terrible music, and enjoying it anyway, because it was your partner’s turn to choose the night’s activity.
Love is observing “date night” no matter how busy you both are.

Love is sitting through an embarrassing class or lecture so that you’ll know how to please her.
Love is learning to be satisfied, whether he figures it out or not.

Love is knowing when to hold her close, knowing when to give her space, and realizing that you need to ask, because you don’t have a clue.
Love is answering him patiently even if you think he should know better; and sometimes, love is admitting that you don’t have a clue what you want, either, and deciding to be OK with not getting it.

Love is accepting the love that is given, even when you don’t speak the other person’s language.
Love is learning the language of your partner, and giving him what he wants, rather than what you want.

Love is realizing that whatever love is, it’s definitely not what’s in movies and popular novels.
Love is reading those novels with her, anyway, no matter how silly you think they are.

Love is sitting through all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls, even though neither of you can keep up with the subtitles, and she keeps pausing it every few seconds so you can read them.
Love is making it worth his while to keep watching.

Love is setting reasonable but firm boundaries and sticking to them.
Love is respecting each other’s boundaries.

Love is accepting the sovereignty of another person, while also accepting the sovereignty of yourself.

Love is offering olive branches until the whole orchard dies.

Love is forgiveness.

Love is wishing she would quit smoking because you want to be with her a little longer,
But still watching the sunset through a cloud of burning ash, because that’s how you can be here with her, now.

Love is the act of changing the bed pan of someone who doesn’t look like the person you married, and realizing that the good times are still happening.

Love is almost dying of a broken heart after the funeral service,
But deciding to keep going because you know that she would want you too.

Love is the blue sky, and the trees, and the fresh flowers over your new bed.

Love is smiling at a stranger as you plant some fresh flowers on the grave of your ancestor.

March 2nd, 2014

Simply Be Beautiful


In the sweetness of hope does the new person hold my gaze. She’s pleasant to the eye, but that’s incidental to the fact that, like few others, her mind is sharp enough to elicit my attention.

Brown eyes, more tantalizing than any perfume, and a lavender heart more potent than a field of mauve; the gold spark of genius is a thing to behold, and a rare pairing with a heart that pumps red sanguine. Like any true marvel, this creature is an ethereal beauty that blossoms from beyond the veil and only shows a few budded petals in this azure reality.

With the gusts of wind, it loses them to the fickle fancies of diverse interest. In every corner of the world, there is a garden that yearns for the grace of such a rare phenom, but with all things so prized, each plot is left wanting for its deus ex phronēsis to save its gardener from his doleful and ongoing affair with mediocrity.

A prodigious flower is the coveted plaything of many greedy masters, pollinating the world with her acumen, while sitting in an empty plot.

One wishing to engage such a person will sometimes find that the closer one gets, the more blighted the soil becomes; because a being of such wit may have, at some point, concluded that the only way to keep from being overwhelmed by weedsome intruders is to make the entire plot barren, but for barely enough room at the center.

But that’s OK. When one is ready for more, one becomes available to accept more. For now, maybe it’s enough to simply be beautiful.

Sept. 14th, 2014

The Dreaded Blue Screen of Death


This is a poem I wrote in 2002 for my college creative writing class.  The professor hated it.  Most other people love it, or at least don’t hate it.  I’m pretty sure that’s a metaphor for college education, in general.

The Dreaded Blue Screen of Death

The archaic din of white text superimposed upon a black screen is no more.
The blinking curser and the cryptic jibe,
“Syntax error,”
have receded from the much-coveted position of
“operating system”
into the subcutaneous untreaden cave of
“MS-DOS Mode.”

Upon the release of Microsoft’s 1995 crowning innovation,
the new “Windows” operating system,
fully equipped with tranquil desktop themes
and a myriad of cheery, sound-coordinated pop-up menus,
people around the world rejoiced.

No more will the unconscionable
Config.sys errors
of yesteryear interfere with the high-profile,
high-fidelity
file management systems of modern times.

The gratingly irritating beeps
and infinite lists of “Bad commands” or “Filenames;”
the stubbornly unbootable hard-drive has given way;
techies around the world groaned
for they knew that the days of horribly stubborn operating systems had ended,
and their jobs as the unapproachable gurus of the Great OS
would soon cease to exist.

But there was hope.

For the dreaded Blue Screen of Death has been replaced
by the Gray Window of Frustration.

Woe be
to the unsuspecting user who
dares check
the internal workings of his system—
who dares click on

Control Panel > System > Performance

the windows popping up—
cascading”—
presenting him with that
forty-two billion dollar grin of approval,

and the user,
piles of driver disks and small papers on the desk in front of him,
stares,
with half-closed eyes
at the messages:

Compatibility-mode paging reduces overall system performance.
Drive C is using MS-DOS compatibility mode file system.

Noooo!
say his unflinching, half-closed eyes.
Briefly,
he reminisces about the
real operating systems of old.
He thinks,
why did they have to make this thing so dang user friendly?

The “Default”
green desktop stares back at him,
unaware of its error.
He stares for a moment longer
at those two
insolent messages,
and at the five-cent euphemisms–
the kind that make this operating system
the most widely used operating system in the world–
and explain why his computer is running so
DANG SLOW!

The stuttering CPU fan blows hot air
out of its overworked medium tower.
Glaring light from the ceiling fan reflects
in the dark window behind the computer.
He stares, dazed, tired
at the clock on the Taskbar.

I should have hired a techie,”
he murmurs as he futily replaces the yellow driver disk
with yet another version of the software.
He restarts the hardware installation program.

Windows will now search for any new Plug and Play devices on your system.
Your screen may go blank during this process. This is normal.

One pulsating vein highlights his greasy forehead
as he clicks the Next button.

Please wait while Windows searches for new Plug and Play devices.

For a few fleeting moments the hard drive activity indicator flickers its compliance.
Mother board resources, mother board resources,” he chants,
in vain hopes of coercing the stupid machine into subjecting itself to his will.

For the next five minutes there is no activity.
His limp fingers grope around on the keyboard for those three familiar buttons:
CTRL+ALT+DELETE
.

The End Task window doesn’t appear.

He sighs as he presses them again.
Then chuckles, reminiscing,

as he longingly smiles at the familiar blue screen in front of him.

The Cowardly Artist


I just finished writing this, and I performed it for the first time last night (at 100th Monkey, at 5th and Ivy in Chico, CA, USA).  Enjoy!

Update June 13th, 2013: Added hyperlinks for some of the more obscure references.

 

The Cowardly Artist

Pierce was gallant,
and Pierce was brave;
and pierce who oft dropped
all his candle-staves:

He was an artist;
he was a man;
and one day he got noticed
by his “Uncle Sam.”

“Pierce!,” it said,
in letters written by Sam’s hand,
“Get yourself off of that fat old can!

“Your country needs you,
by golly, by Josh!
And you’ll get into our army;
and we’ll even pay you dosh!”

But Pierce was a tenor,
and a carpenter by trade,
and a painter,
and a writer,
and a maker of candle-staves…

Though none of the latter typically
made it to the Pick ‘N’ Save…

…But still, his arté—
better than shoddy
(at least, when he was at his best)—
put fires into his eyes,
and bellows into his chest;
and pins under his thighs;
And he’d typically be found,
tinkering, on this wise:

“Hmph…
powder of copper oxide,
for green…
or…yellow…
ah, crap;
another one for the scraps…drat.”

…But since Uncle Sam
was a bitter old coot,
he dragged Pierce in to boot camp,
and taught him to shoot,

…And to make his shirts tidy,
wherewith his pants and shiny boots,
could be found next to his bunk, ever-tended,
and his pants be found ever-mended,
and his potatoes peeled, if ever he trended
to do any thing which was not what was intended,

Until one day,
with his bunk-sheets tight and neat,
Uncle Sam, the mal-contented, said,
“Get your sorry backsides up-ended!
We’re going to no-where’s stink-hole
because our country needs being defended!”

So off Pierce went!

Of course, old Pierce,
he felt like a clown,
with his britches still too-baggy,
yet his “aft-pants” none too saggy;
he stepped his toes fairly lively,
and for fear of becoming bloody-nosed,
he kept his wise-aching pie-hole closed.

Then, finally, came Pierce
to those fierce enemy gates,
with his sword in hand
(as ever he imagined it for romance sake),
and with his buckler strapped on
(though having the strength of just paper),
and his satchel by his side,
and his fake military pride in his eyes;

He approached therewith to the enemy gates
but there being a man of much “finer” heart,
he decided to choose “the better part.”

“A shield is good; and like, a sword in hand,
but I don’t fancy them much as art,
so here, I’ll go and depart.”

So, fancy-free,
and with wise old feet,
the artist man,
he beat them fleet

…To the country-side,
with his ponch much a-swagger,
he departed—“À dieu!”
to those who called him a “tail-wagger!”

The country-side was fine,
full of old wine,
and fat old swine;
and that foreign bacon,
with some good rib-racks
was always pulled tastily
off those fat, old hogs’ backs!

‘Course, the captain-fierce,
was mad at Pierce,
and said of that old ar-tisan,
“If we find him, he’ll see the “mort-isian!”

But Pierce didn’t care,
so he grew back his hair,
and leaned back in his new chair,
and at the ceiling began to stare…

Until one day, he thought just a little too hard,
and figured,
“What about those things we call, ‘tran-sis-tars?’
I’ll bet if I take the wire, just so,
with a fourth lead, inserted top to bottom—parallel, but in a row,
and cram in a rectifier so that the direction we could know;
then, could not this new ‘tran-sis-tar’ count to,
‘do re me fa so?’”

Then, were the generals a lot less irate,
and came to Pierce, saying,
“Your court marshal can wait;”
and,
“let us look here, at this, your creation;
let us not hesitate!
For you’re still needed by your nation!
Would you like to return back, again to your state?
Where you can, once again,
exist without further perturbation?”
And Pierce said…

“No.”

So, to the ire of all those generals, and colonels and captains, too,
he released his design under the name of,
GNU:”

A General Public License,
like a thumbing of his nose,
toward those who scorned home-brew—
and used not 3D printers;
and his genius,
and his designs…rose.

But never did the generals,
nor the critics of GRU;
nor the “Rooskies;”
nor the Chinese;
nor the successors of Vargas, too

Make weapons with Pierce’s tech,
nor his body, nor his mind.
And though he was a traitor
(as it was most popularly defined),
his invention over-lasted
the guile of military minds.

Of course, Pierce was fat,
and still ornery,
and still cantankerous as a loon,
and still his many detractors said,
“He’s mooching off our spoon!”

But Pierce, with his inventions,
didn’t fade from moon to moon;
and his sky never darkened,
that untimely, but brilliant buffoon!

So, centuries later,
when we say the name of “Famous Pierce”
it’s the name of  one “Cowardly Artist”
that flows out,
into our ears!

–Dane Mutters, 2013