“No, no,” Meryre said. “Make longer strokes here.” He tapped the clay shard on my knee with his brush. “Your Ba’s tail is too short.” The long reed stung my scalp when he whipped it across my head. “Again!”

The days had proven warmer as the boat headed north, and Meryre’s spirit had weakened since he’d received a summons two days prior from the pharaoh’s daughter. He would say nothing more. He packed small bags for us and dragged me to the Nile’s shore at early dawn. The boatsmen were paid for silence, and he kept me working too hard to allow conversation.

I attempted forms half the morning while the boat swayed with the currents. Making brush strokes between the ebbs and flows took its toll on my patience, so I watched the reflections of daylight on the water. The river had begun to retreat from high ground, marking the season of peret with that pungent stench of silt and excrement. The floods had lasted longer than usual, giving good tidings from Isis—though it left us with less time to sow. Only the gods knew what that meant for next season and the season after.

It had been three floods since I began my apprenticeship with Meryre. I had been told he was an honored scribe from the north who came down our way to Thebes with a great thought school. His adept, a well-known and respected scribe, philosopher, and leader for our great pharaoh, Amenhotep III. I was not exceptional, but an exception. I had been but a street rat sheltered under an ass that brayed day into night until someone found me and took me to the priests. Aten shone down on me and gave me relief in the houses of the temple. In my eleventh year, I was put under the wing of this great fat man who snored like an ox. Why were we to this unheard-of city in the middle of nowhere between Thebes and Heliopolis?

“Ahem,” I uttered. Meryre didn’t budge. Louder, I said, “If it pleases you, master, I—”

“It would please me for you to leave me welcome the heat in peace.” He stayed as quiet as his constant grunting allowed before he pulled himself to a seated position at my face. “I am—” he stopped and fingered at the papyrus in his hand. “I am afforded a great honor with the royal wife of the two lands, in her house, may the goddesses bless me.”

His skin looked pallid against the sands as he spoke of blessed honors—as if he’d been asked to copulate with a sow. “Master, if it is a great privilege, why do you look burdened so?”

He refused an answer, so I returned to my writing, using both hands to steady the reed as I marked the curve of an owl’s wing. I could feel Meryre’s eyes drift from the waters to me and waited for another whack from behind with his reed, but he stayed quiet.

It relaxed me, the lapping of the waters, though the constant pitching of the boat made my work look like it was done by a crocodile rolling blood around on the page with a carcass. It was a pitiful sight, even I knew that, but he suffered my deficiency.

After a time, he pulled out a handful of clay shards from his sack and arranged them in a line at his feet. He then pulled a flint knife from his belt and began scratching, attempting care at first, making shallow scores, but after the first shard lost half of its identity, he became angry. I lifted my hand up, speechless, attempting in my own way to stop him. I was of no position to intervene in a master’s work.

By the time he reached the third shard he was aggressively slicing at images of the gods—Amun, Maat, and others lost their eyes, adornments, and flails. He chipped the stories of their interactions with the people of the two valleys until they were unrecognizable. Slivers of flint glittered in the sun and fell at Meryre’s feet.

“Master!” I eyed the boatsmen, who refused to look our way. They stayed their posts—it was no use to them seeing anything they must return home as secrets on their tongue. “Master, what are you doing?” I lunged and grabbed at the shards. I managed to pull the fourth away, but his knife caught and dragged across my forearm, leaving a spotted trail of blood.

Silence fell between us.

The sun left for its slumber, and Nuit’s starry blue dress appeared, sheltering us from the evil that crept at night. Smoke from small fires danced above the silt-covered furrows; the fields were squishy with abating flood waters and quick-drying mud. My arm pounded in unison with the drums that played in the village we passed, and Khonsu rose as a full disc, raining its white light on the Nile. The moon illuminated red the eyes of the crocodiles that waited for movement on the waters. I kept my hand over the trickling blood on my arm, refusing to weep. A boatsman quietly mended my wound with a bit of honey and mud, wrapping it with a small dressing.

“I’m sorry,” Meryre said once the moon rose well above the reeds.

“Master, I don’t understand—” He had never been cruel, but because he was not himself, I feared to continue pressing. “I’ll ready our beds.”

“No,” Meryre said. He pulled at my belt and pressed me to sit across from him, pouring beer into a cup from the decanter at his side. “Young apprentice, no words of honey will be leaving my lips, and for that reason, I command you hold your tongue once we set to shore.”

“Of course.”

“There is to be a new capital, between our home and the low lands. You will be given stay and well-kept for your affairs.”

“Why would Pharaoh move from Thebes?” It was not what I had wanted to say, and holding my tongue in my mouth made my face hot.

“The Pharaoh Akhenaten is to construct a new temple to Aten, where he is to lay utter worship to him and only him.”

“But, master, Thebes has many adequate temples, why—” What I wanted to say billowed as dry reeds on a campfire until it burst. “Had you told me we were not to return, I would have bid our home a proper parting, master. I very much wish—”

“No, Hap-mu, you fail to hear me. Thebes is no longer for us. The gods are no longer there. Only one god exists now—Akhenaten’s deity, Aten. As soon as we touch the river’s lips with our feet, we will no longer be allowed to utter a name that is not His. You will never return to Thebes, and you—” Words caught in his throat. “You will not be at my side. His royal wife Nefertiti will have me creating their new world under Aten. A temple not hidden in the dark like those before but in the open where we can worship him in the daylight. I know I can find a place for you, Hap-mu, but it will take time. Until then, I have arranged a job at the docks for you with a scribe there. You will never have to work in the fields—you will never have to go without, but you will not be with me.”

He grabbed my injured arm and held me in place. I felt snakes that wriggled hatred in my eyes. I wanted to jump off the boat and swim back to Thebes—or be eaten by the river. I wanted no more words from his mouth—each one uttered a profanity, and those words united became heresy; my master spoke falsehoods with every breath.

“You cannot,” I stuttered. “The very mention of it should strike down our boat. Akhenaten dishonors every god that sows his seeds and births his kin!” I picked up the defiled shards and threw them at his feet. “This is but practice for the entire city of Thebes? We are to erase the very gods that give us this river and the ink by which we make our living? You told me our way was of consequence, that our work was to live on until the last of us entered the Field of Reeds!”

“It is this or refuse and have us both struck down. It is a call that cannot be ignored.”

“You told me that you cannot change what is written, that a scribe writes to fill the page so that no falsehoods could fit between truths—a man can turn his head, but our truths are written on all sides—that an obelisk will light the path of truth to the four corners of our kingdom.”

“Apprentice, one day you will understand that the word of God is only heard by our great pharaoh. If the gods have told him this, then this will be written. The four corners of truth will know it whether we scrape at its face or not.”


“Master Meryre, I found this in the commons.” A boy holds a small stone. On it, a prayer to Neper scrawled with ash, asking for bountiful crops without rot. “They hid it in a bread mold. Shall I hand it over to Iabi?”

“No. I’ll take it.”

“If it pleases you. Senebty.”

The boy scutters off with the other young apprentices now in my care. They are talkative, hard-skulled, and uninterested in learning. All of them wish only to work by the boats to mark supply and inventory; none desire knowledge, and only one is grown enough to remember old gods. Five floods had passed since my move to Akhetaton, and nothing about this place feels like home to anyone except possibly Aten himself.

Akhetaten by Benjamin Parker

I sit under the heel of Queen Nefertiti and her soldiers as they scour common housing for idols of taboo deities. My duty is to her and Him, Akhenaten—commanded to hunt those I once worshiped and gave offerings. For this, I am owed, and I am given. They keep me in well esteem. They decorate my home on the palace grounds with fine linens and a bed made of wood. My neck reflects boldly the rays of Aten from pendants adorned with lapis and topaz, and my belly rides full of fruits and beer. I stand at the head of esteemed academics and royal guards, talking the philosophy of self with priests, and attend temple festivals.

But the city of Akhetaton stands as a disfigurement against Egypt. I walk it this day, through the narrow streets, holding a mirror that reflects an ugliness that scars the kingdom. Shabby homes leave barely room for stove or pantry and fold into each other with no space for two to pass. The silos for grain and corn are built poorly and nag attention from pests. The pharaoh had built this city for himself. He wished to look down upon his people, but he looks down upon the most hideous city yet seen by man.

It is I who is charged with polishing scarab dung until it turns to gold. I love for Aten but I see cracks from ill-weathered plaster on the palace of the king. His wife Nefertiti sits on the throne next to him and whispers what words come on the breeze. Akhenaten knows of hidden worship to the old gods and he does not arrest those that do, but he keeps the idols in a room that gather more treasure than his own court. The gifts of my office delay the anger that builds inside me, and I do not know how long I can mark true the longevity of Aten alone. Destroying the names of the gods and goddesses etched in Thebes storms a darkness across the lands that keeps its hold on me. I fear all the linens and jewels in the valley will not make comfort of my time after life.

Should I have chosen death for my young pupil Hap-mu and me when the scroll came? Hap-mu’s life now I do not know, and am too afraid to glimpse, though I learned only that he worked among the priests’ quarters. Would death have been the cost of refusal, or could Hap-mu and I have continued quietly to live in Thebes—turning from scraping our souls away with each disfigurement and choosing to live simpler lives on the shore? What life I have carved for us from stone that expels shards into our eyes with every blow of the hammer!

“Master Meryre!”

The children find something—they are proud of themselves. My belly shoots pain to my heart. Oh! How I wish Nefertiti allowed us to stay inside and work on lessons instead of recruiting my young students to find people’s hidden hopes and watch them delight in wresting them from their fists.

They stand at the entry to a grain silo. The family’s eyes look past me, cold, and watch the boys dance, joyous, as if they had found barrels full of honey.

“Away,” I said. “Make way to the temple walls. We will finish with a lesson scribing a hymn to Aten.”

Entering the silo alone, I make out a small area covered with dried reeds. I lift the false floor, and there sits an icon of my great master Thoth, scribe of Maat in the company of the gods. Under him lay a tattered papyrus, barely legible, with a prayer to the old god Amun from the late Huy—my adept long ago.

I sit and pray hymns to Thoth, silently weeping in the dark of the grain silo at dusk, wishing for all the gods to hear my pleas.


A young man watches me from the corridors. Every day he sits in the dark and scrawls on pots, hiding them among the discarded oddments of the past. I do not know what he scribbles, but he thinks well to conceal his thoughts among the rubbish that no man wants to see—what was once confined to a single room now spills into every hall and chamber of the palace. Idols of deities decorate every crevice with insults to both the king and the god that houses them. The gaunt pharaoh Akhenaten tore everything away from the people that came to his city. Their words now spit in the eye of every priest and royal that hid behind these walls. I’ve been in this temple from the first mud shaped to home. I am the reason for the first room in this valley—a prison to hide away what came before.

I urge to know what truths the young man writes for himself, hiding away from the blinding light of Aten.

He considered me but once during his time away from the sun, a day when I scrawled on the walls with rust from the bowl I am given water. Even now, I am forbidden from writing, though the city slowly grows over itself, and the sounds of the people busying in the streets have quieted. Only mutterings from abandoned animals and shouts from the few guards left to protect Akhenaten and his reviled queen remain. I find stolen moments to practice my forms—to write memories to project the truth to the gods above. I clang my cup against the small window of my room so that I might catch his attention.

“Boy.” My voice is out of practice, more than my writings. It’s barely a rattling whisper against the winds. He looks, making quick glances before sneaking his way to me. He is silent, and his eyes stay on the ground. “Your name, boy.”

“I am no boy. I am Hap-mu.”

His voice cracks like mine, dusty as empty uncorked jars that hold nothing but time.

“To me, you are barely out of childhood. Your bones are strong, and your skin reflects the light. You walk with a strong name. What profanities do you write on pots that they must be concealed?”

“Not profanities,” he snaps. “Only practice. Or—well, truths, as I remember them. Profanity is what I have done in my years here since. I—”

He looks into my small quarters. I am embarrassed at my crude work. Crooked forms of vultures point to jagged cartouches, cradling names of pharaohs of a time long since passed. Descriptions of grand Sed festivals speak of wealth and peace. The rusty ink bleeds down the wall, each symbol made with a pen crafted with hairs from my head.

“What old prisoner knows of such great histories?” Hap-mu says. “Surely, these are only the musings of dreaming while awake—madness from the dark.”

“No, young Hap-mu, they are truths hidden by our pharaoh and his court from time before his reign.”

I tell him my story, guiding him with the memories scribbled on the walls. I am Huy, scribe and trusted official amongst our last great pharaoh, Akhenaten’s revered father, Amenhotep III. I speak of a young Akhenaten, who cared nothing of the kingdom or of governance, who hated his father and everything he stood for, who at a young age decided to cut down all that he found beneath him as a ruler. I, who stood against him when he was only a boy, was taken under the dead of night by guards allegiant with the soon-to-be boy king and thrown into a cave outside Thebes’ borders. My great ruler thought me dead long before the boy took the throne, and as Amenhotep III was sent to the Field of Reeds, his son already had begun his plan. Obsession took him early, and the cult of Aten grew in the shadows until he chose the spot to hide me away at the center of his new domain. I tell him of watching through my small window as they erected obelisks that only shout to the sun god, and all mention of the past I wrote as hymns were scraped from the eyes of the people—scroll, pot, and temple alike.

He weeps as I tell my story, clutching the knife he used to carve his truths into clay.

“The profanities I speak of,” he says, “are those you condemn. I was brought here with my adept Meryre under command from the queen to oversee the removal of all things old gods. I spent my first six floods with the priests, rewriting lies over truth, filling in spaces to tell tales. I was made to spread the pulp of acidic fruits to ink and watch our history be eaten away. I could not bear it, though I watched Meryre rise to the occasions of inaccuracy. I ran to the dark of the priests’ homes instead of living in the temple of false light.”

My heart sinks deep. 

“Wait.” Hap-mu’s confession rings deaf in my ears as soon as he speaks the name of his adept. I do not know what could make lightness of my soul evermore. “Meryre, my young student from the lower valley, is the one that rips beliefs from the people?”

“Yes,” Hap-mu says. “He lives now, wearing a fatter belly than he came with more than twenty floods ago, catering to Nefertiti’s harem and seeing to the treasures that we hold inside. He left truth to live in the lying light.”

“The gods will know of his deceit, young Hap-mu, and they will know the truth in your heart. Your weight will ring as a feather against the evil done to you.”

“I will be forced to be scribe only to what the heretic queen desires. How will they know my wishes from my actions, master Huy?”

“Be steady in your desire, young student. Amun, the great creator behind the clouds, calls for storm. His high priest travels from Thebes and visits me in the corridors, behind the watchful eyes shining down from Aten. He tells me tales of the people at our rightful capital readying themselves for the return to what should be.”

“When?” he asks. “I can open your prison and leave with you now, were it your desire. I want to find peace in truth.”

“I am old and too tired for the journey, but take with you what you learn. The gods will again guide you should you find yourself back under the blanket of Maat.”


Akhenaten was dead. The people abandoned his beautiful queen Nefertiti, the temple, and their god. An army of priests and guards rushed through the city a mere week after the reviled king’s passing. They entered his tomb, carving out his and his family’s faces. His supposed followers chanted hymns to the old capital’s deity Amun, trampling and disfiguring Aten’s outdoor Sun Temple north of the city center.

Huy, my master through prison walls, died a few years after we first met. When the priests came to throw his body into a mass grave with temple builders, I stood at the gate and refused them passage. I bade them leave his body and prison walls alone and waited for the high priest that visited him from Thebes. The priest snuck his body out to be properly interred back in the capital proper.

The years pressed on, and I spent my time in his prison. I ripped the hinges from the door that never opened for him and used it as my chambers. I continued his work, using rust and ash to practice form, write truths, and pray to the gods forbidden from the city borders. When the army came to tear down what the heretic built, they found me in the dark, hiding from Aten’s light, writing to the gods they sought to bring back to the people. They read the inscriptions that lined every space, filled with histories told and those almost lost to memory. Thebes’ priests left and returned to help me preserve carved slabs from the mud brick—Huy’s writings were to live on, away from the stains this place laid upon the two lands.

On a royal boat I sat between two caskets, in the company of the new boy-king, Tutankhaten. To my left, a simple clay one with the life written of Meryre, the queen’s royal scribe, overseer, and my old master. The inscriptions showed a remarkable rise to power and his loyalty to the crown. To my right was an ornately carved stone sarcophagus of the heretic king himself.

Tutankhaten approached and sat next to me with a golden knife in his hand. His white linens were pristine around his waist, and a carved lapis image of Amun glittered at his chest. He pressed the knife’s handle into my hands and motioned at the sarcophagi.

“I cannot,” I said. “It is my purpose to press pen and ink to stone to tell your story.”

“Your purpose,” he said, “is to tell truths. Leave the stories, if you wish, but those names will not live on in the memories of those in Thebes.”

“Who am I to speak against the very offenses I commit?”

The boy-king smiled at me and pat me on the shoulder. “The gods welcome us with open arms back in Thebes. Their pillars and obelisks cry faceless into the starry night. They want their names returned to them in the mouths of the people. We will bring it. You, Hap-mu, will bring that. The gods know of your loyalty to them and to the throne. The age of the enemies is over. Now, while I reign, peace will fall as a warmth over the lands of Egypt once again.”

“The tablets I insisted come on the boat here with us; those are truths from your grandfather and my honorable master, Huy. He is a man of great reverence.”

“Then he shall be revered just as you, royal scribe.”


Prosperity (Flash Fiction Friday)

  • Word Count: 975
  • Word: Snow
  • Trope: Jealousy

PROSPERITY by Killian Levy

“Her name’s Liv. Don’t ask her what she’s been through. But something tells me you two would get along.”

My buddy wasn’t wrong. As soon as Liv flopped in the car, I felt harmony. She didn’t say anything, didn’t need to. She smelled like vanilla and ammonia. Sweat stains yellowed her white tee and grime shined the ankles of her skinny jeans. She looked like Maggie.

They all look like Maggie now. I could find her in every face that looked my way. Even my buddy can look like her. Liv was his aunt; they already looked the same.

Maggie didn’t look like anybody. She was remarkable, until she left, and now everyone looks like her. Liv was a user—so was I, and so was my buddy. Didn’t matter to me.

“Where to?” I asked.

Liv’s face burrowed into a gray hoodie. “Drop him off first,” Liv said, muffled.

She adjusted the two hospital bands on her wrist and looked out the window. She sat behind me while I drove, so I couldn’t see her in the rear-view. I guessed that was deliberate. I was a stranger, and she had OD’d twice this week. On purpose or accident, I wasn’t sure—buddy asked for a favor, and I owed him.

She hopped to the front when my buddy got out. Her eyes stayed glued to him until he was down the street and out of view.

“You holding?” she asked.

My hand was hot on my thigh. Of course I was. I’d had a vial on me every day since Maggie ditched out and left her face on every billboard and bus bench—every child that passed on a tricycle had her nose, and every girl at every party wore her mask. The vial was burning a hole through my pocket. “Didn’t you just get out for holding? Won’t they test you?” Liv was wearing Maggie’s mask now.

“Test me?” Liv laughed. She didn’t sound like Maggie. Her hair was different, too. “They don’t have a test for props yet.”

She was probably right.

Props. Prosperity. The name of the drug that hit the streets a few months back. I never did drugs until after Maggie—when props came around. Think my buddy got it from Liv the first time, in fact. My first snuff tasted like printer ink. It flipped me upside down and turned me inside out. Everything melted away—that’s when features first fell off everyone’s faces. Faceless people in crowds and clean slate mannequins in mirrors told me I was worth loving. Worth living. It gave me the confidence to write papers for class and ask girls out I never would have asked out. It didn’t get me Maggie back.

Liv put her hand on my leg and told me not to take her home. “Keep going straight,” she whispered. Her hand reached into my pocket and pulled the vial out of my jeans. She did a snuff and put the vial to my nose. It didn’t taste like printer ink anymore.

An hour later (after a stop at my propsmaster for more vials), we were outside of the city and pulling into a cabin that belonged to a friend of hers. I didn’t care who’s house it was as long as she kept Maggie’s mask on. Liv didn’t care that I called her Maggie halfway through the drive; she didn’t ask who the name belonged to. It belonged to her now. This cabin was ours now, too.

“What do I call you?” she asked. She was already walking away—she didn’t care—it only mattered what she wanted to call me.

“Do you have a mask you want me to use?” When the faces all blurred together, the attention could be from anyone; they became what you wanted.

She ignored the question and pulled into the cabin. I don’t remember how she got in—it hadn’t mattered.

I lit a fire—it burned the cold from my hands and the heaviness in my chest.

We snuffed and took turns touching each other’s faces. Hours dissolved with each new mask I wore for her—laying naked on bathroom towels in front of the fire, hearing all the words she spoke to the nameless: the dead, the hated, the abusive, the loved. I was all of the people from whom she needed to hear affirmation. I mimicked the words she mouthed with chapped lips, acted as the voice of the ghosts that lived inside.

“Maggie,” I whispered. She touched my thigh and moved her lips around my jaw. She said the name back to me in a harmony that sang the tune of ecstasy.

“I want you back,” she said. “I’m sorry. You’re all I’ve ever needed. You’re all I want.”

Maggie’s face began vibrating.

She screamed. “Who are you? What do you want? They’re all mine; these faces are mine!”

I stared in the mirror from across the room. I didn’t recognize who looked back at me as my skin wriggled across the reflective metal under the glass. Liv screamed—a voice I didn’t know. She shot up and bolted across the room. Her bare feet stepped on broken brown vials, and her hands rummaged for something in the drawers.

“Where’s Maggie?”


My legs crunch the snow when I pull myself up. I look down at the blue handle of a screwdriver sticking out of my chest—part of the handle is melted. Maggie lies next to me; her face turns to me, and she smiles. Her blue eyes match the color of the sky above, and the snow underneath her is quiet. Looking cold in her white tee, I drape a grey hoodie around her shoulders.

Three figures step out of the trees where a cop car wails sirens that echo through the valley.

They all have Maggie’s face.

What’s In A (pen)Name?

A name can be a tricky thing. It is you—at least the you that anyone will take with them. A name is the first thing someone learns about you. It’s the thing they try to remember as you jib-jab small talk—not many other details will stick (unless you have a dog with you…and then they will only ever remember your dog’s name for the rest of time).

Names are an identifier, albeit not a very good one. Look at how many James Smiths there are in the world (over 35k said one ancestry census). There is a good chance you are walking around with hundreds or thousands of people with your exact name. There are not a whole heckuva lot of people with my first/last name combination, but there is one particularly famous one—that’s where my current problem lies.

I think I need a pen name.

I don’t want one. I spent a long time thinking I didn’t need one. However, after a few years of moving my name around, trying my middle initial, and a few other ways to get around this famous person’s name on the internet, I have not gotten very far in establishing myself and popping this person’s bubble on Google. Now, my long-time internet ‘handle’ has its own life on the web. I’ve had it for twenty years. Exiled Replicant is singular and can easily be remembered and found. But I can’t necessarily publish books as “The Exiled Replicant.” I suppose I could, but wow, would that be pretentious.

I googled pen name generators and anagrams of my sobriquet. Still, it’s way too long to come up with anything resembling catchy by using those ordinary devices. Eventually, I came up with some possibilities and felt a new life forming. I got excited. (oo) I said to myself, thinking about the personification of the new life I’d created. Not a character, but a new me. Maybe, even possibly, a name I would have to stick with for the rest of my career (if by some miracle you ever sell something and become known by any small group of readers).

How do you choose?!

There’s also the small notion of having to change everything you’ve ever worked on up until this point to now be that new name. What are the easiest and choicest steps to changing your social handles, website addresses, and bylines on everything possible to erase your retired persona? Do you keep more than one nom de plume at hand for a time you need to incinerate some other version of yourself that you no longer feel you can encapsulate?

When it comes down to brass tax, the questions become: do I decide to juggle multiple names, Twitter handles, and websites for different components of my writing career? Stick with the one I already have and just deal with being on page nine of the world wide web unless I can surpass a famous musician? Or create one new name, one time, and just continue along my course, as myself personality-wise, with a new name?

How many of you know Anne Rice or C.S. Lewis’ real names? Kirk Douglas or Elton John’s? How long ahead of their career did they decide? Were they well on their way before they got the full agent “turnaround,” or were they smart enough to do it from the get-go? The only one I can think of was when I saw early acting videos of Willem Dafoe pronouncing his name differently. Everyone else seems to have quickly swept their old selves under the rug.

How many of you have gone with a pen name? And if so, did you always have that name from the beginning or have to choose your own path later on?

BOOK REVIEW – Fadeout by Joseph Hansen

This 1970 noir-style detective story titillates with an engrossing story and a queer protagonist.

Joseph Hansen was a famous poet and novelist from the ’50s until his death in 2004. I had never heard of him, which honestly is strange as a gay dude living in tinsel town. He was part of the first Gay Pride Parade in Hollywood and was notable in the community.

Fadeout is the first in a series of 12 books in the Dave Brandstetter mysteries, which now, of course, I’m going to have to buy all of immediately. I loved this book, and I can’t wait to read the rest.

Our protagonist is an insurance detective working for his father’s insurance company. He is a gruff and dutiful mid-40’s who also happens to be unabashedly homosexual. The story opens with a car accident and a missing body. Brandstetter’s company doesn’t want to have to pay the 150k life insurance policy on the man in the car because, well, his body is missing. Did he wash up in the sink somewhere unseen, or is there something more sinister going on? Of course, sinister! Everyone has secrets, and everyone seems to know the missing wannabe writer and mayoral candidate Fox Olsen. Brandstetter uses his skills of people reading and offering cigarettes to get down to the bottom of it.

Throughout the book, we’re given glimpses of Brandstetter’s life, and this is where I read with my mouth open. I’m ecstatic that Hansen could write this, a hard-boiled mystery, with an openly queer protagonist who doesn’t hide who he is. He has the typical drinks and cigs, gay flings, lesbian besties, and a penchant for dark young men. Throughout the story, you can see people around him use words like fag, flit, and queer without Brandstetter batting an eye. He watches them go about their homophobic rants without feeling the need to tell them who he is, even though a few throughout the story peg him pretty quick. He does the job, and the job is what matters. The story runs parallel with troubles in Brandstetter’s own life which gives you a good feeling of who he is.

At times there were too many characters introduced in a short time that I had trouble keeping track of who was who and how they were all related. However, it was still a fun mystery to unravel.

Rating: 4.5/5

NFTs: The Weight of Intangibility

Alright, I’ve joined the bandwagon.

Or, at least, to say, I have taken the first steps to join the bandwagon. The wagon is empty. Or, not empty – you can see it filled to the brim from a distance, like a mirage. The closer you get to the wagon, the more you realize you can’t actually touch any of the stuff in that wagon. That wagon is filled with NFTs.

The NFT Bandwagon


Non-fungible tokens. You can google them for a week and barely wrap your head around what that means. It can be anything – a piece of music, a painting, or even a tweet or meme. It is sold or traded like a cryptocurrency. Unlike cryptocurrency, not all NFTs are created equal. You have probably seen NFTs’ as extensive collections of 8-bit or low-res characters that have thousands of different iterations. A single key or group of keys, made in photoshop or something similar, and mod-ed with varying numbers of teeth, tops, chains, jewels, etc. I saw one of these low-res keys going for $14; on the same page, I saw one of these keys from the same collection going for $95 million. Yes, that’s with 6 zeros.

It’s all so…well, intangible. But there is something there. Something that, once the hype dies down and the beanie-baby-style collecting of 8-bit characters disappears, could be very tangible – especially for artists. I’ve been learning for a few weeks now. I still have no idea what I’m doing, but I am trying to dip my toe into the deep ethereal waters of Ethereum; the blocks of data that are Bitcoin; the flooded market of adobe pixels with little artistic value. Through all of that, I can see a little of something in there for the rest of us.


For writing, I can see a market where I publish a book in the NFT space. I have a run of 1,000 copies that sell. I have another run with unique features like a blu ray – versions of the book with extra chapters, maps of my worlds, and languages created during my artism. Character profiles, wiki links, and mythology deep dives. It’s a place for people like me – completionists. It would be really cool to have a place where you give people unique gifts if they figure out some particular puzzle hidden in an NFT. A world where the deeper you dive into a fantasy land, the more prizes and information you can learn about the world you wrap yourself in. That sounds like a fun place. And yes, a lucrative niche for artists.

Of course, I am naïve when it comes to new things. I don’t immediately think of ways to get one over on the population and how to skim the system. Sometimes I wish I was more cutthroat in that way, but I’m just not. I don’t know how evil the crypto and NFT space could be for people, but I would be willing to bet there could be a niche in there for real markets.

Concept cryptographic nft on a hundred-dollar bill franklin in glasses.


One of the most exciting parts of the NFT space is that it exists on the blockchain, public and decentralized. The idea is that when a photographer does a photo shoot, everyone attached to that photo will get a percentage of the profits every time that NFT is sold. If it becomes worth more money, that percentage stays the same for everyone. The makeup artist, hairstylist, wardrobe, photographer, and model can all be attached to that publicly every time it’s sold. When you buy a book at a bookstore (I know, I’m a romantic) and then you give it to a second-hand shop, and it’s sold for half price, in the NFT world, the author would still make a bit of that second sale in the NFT marketplace.

Now, of course, in any market, nothing is stopping that person from gifting that book to someone else or taking screenshots and sending it up as a torrent, but that’s never going to change. The majority of people don’t want to go through the steps to commit thievery online. Most will buy their books on Amazon (and everything else, for that matter). Using an NFT space gives the artists more control of how much money they make on each sale than Amazon.


Photo by Daniel Páscoa on Unsplash

Regarding the digital Amazon Marketplace, let’s talk about the volatility of buying things online. None of us can see Amazon disappearing overnight. We put a metric boat-load of faith in Amazon for what we buy. Whether it’s MP3s, MP4s, JPGs, or others – when we buy something digital on Amazon, it generally exists in one place…Amazon. What happens if that movie you bought on Prime was not there tomorrow? Somehow, if Amazon goes under or disappears, your digital assets are gone. Poof. The same problem exists for NFTs…kind of.

The silly thing about NFTs now is that the main selling point being worth money isn’t even the artwork they are attached to. It’s all about that blockchain proof that you own it. No one can argue with the fact that you own an NFT when you buy it on the blockchain. Unless you sell it or trade it, it’s yours. Now, what happens if that site you purchased the NFT from disappears overnight? Not much, it seems. Suppose that token gets corrupted or is no longer accessible through its originating server. In that case, the owner can always make a new token and say that the original is corrupt. But then, is it worth the crypto it was digitized on? The bragging rights around NFTs are that proof. People can still use the artwork all over the internet and not get sued, but only that one person truly owns that digitized piece. At the moment, that means very little, but it could mean more in the future. This is what makes collecting NFTs a possible positive investment.

Iffy news, but again, with the possibility of being good in the future. Buy a band’s new album as an NFT. You can download it physically (usually in more than one format or way) and keep it how you want, instead of it only being accessible on the site (like Amazon or Spotify) and trusting that they stick around forever. This is the thing I like about the possible future for the NFT marketplace.


It means to keep your ears open. This market isn’t new, and even though people say it’s just a fad that will quickly fade, it has been around for almost a decade and only continues to gain more traction. The news surrounding it is not great – with the carbon footprint and energy required to crunch the numbers that make the blockchain exist. With any new thing, it will change and mutate. I don’t want to be one of those old men shaking my head and refusing to use crypto when somehow it becomes the only way to buy stuff. I want to get ahead of it and learn a little about what could make this marketplace the future.

Tell me your thoughts in the comments! Have you had any experience in the NFT marketplace? What are your experiences?

Hobby Goals

Hobbies – those things you enjoy doing with a bit of time to yourself. Parents may never find time, and single folk may keep themselves busy with dating or social activities. Many people see having hobbies as something you do when you don’t have friends or you live that cat lady life, but hobbies are something everyone should have in their lives. They are also healthy activities that could eventually make you some passive income!

Calligraphy practice sheet.

Most people use hobbies to relieve stress for those constantly on the go, weighted with responsibilities and working their lives away. They are also a source of good stress (or eustress1) for those who don’t have enough to do – those without children, a demanding job, or other ways to pass the time. Some hobbies can relieve anger, make you more mindful, and some serve as an emotional outlet for depression or loneliness.

Hobby Producers

Why not use some of these hobbies as a way to make a little cash on the side? Hobbies that give you a “product” at the end can bring you stock for an Etsy store, wholesale to a retailer, or even a future full-time job. Now, of course, some already use their passions, art, and past hobbies as their career (this isn’t for you, you are already doing it!). But for those of us that haven’t spent every waking moment creating our own business from the ground up, those that have a different career or found themselves on a different path, this could be for you!

It’s playing the long game, with even short-term goals stretched for as long as it takes you. You don’t need to spend hours a day making something to eventually sell. If you are a creator and knit, crochet, paint, write, rock tumble, antique, build, weld, carve or, wrap – you are coming out at the end of your project with not only the accomplishment of finishing something, but you end up with a product you can slowly build! If you are a collector of thimbles, antiques, coins, stamps, comics, or anything you can stick in boxes and take care of, hell, we all know we are hoping to collect that thing that will put your kids through college or build your own private 401k. Don’t just create and give it away to friends or throw it in a Goodwill box; build your store!

Hoarding or Collecting?

When do you start selling? When your collection needs purging! If your living room, art room, or garage can no longer hold the product that you make, that’s the time. This is where the type of hobby you choose to spend your time on can help or hinder you. If you make coffee tables or build Burning Man floats in your spare time, you may have a bit of a space issue. In these cases, the word bespoke is the place for you. Take an order ahead of time from friends of friends with the idea that you will finish it when you finish it. They’ll take it, or they won’t – you’ll be making something either way. Having limited space to hoard your product isn’t a problem for passive income, as you’ll only need to rent out a storage unit if you lean into your hobby and start making real money.

You don’t need to worry about creating quickly to keep up with sales. Remember, this isn’t your career; this is passive income. You work at your own pace with no worries about making a specific number. This is something you are doing anyway, in your own time. However, you also want to make sure you know the difference between holding on to a product you can sell and hoarding crap no one will ever want to buy.

Cash or Cap?

How do you know if what you are making is saleable? Friends and research! Hopefully, you have mouthy friends like I do, who have no issues telling you if what you bring to the table is bank or bust. Leaning on family can always be hit or miss if you have the kind of family that thinks everything you do or make is pure gold. Mom and Dad goggles are strong – they are great for support if you have that, but not great on objectivity. Do research online, looking up the kinds of products you make with other people doing the same. Redbubble, for instance, has millions of items from artists that sell screen print clothing, pins, wall art, home décor, etc. Browse the many creator sites and see the quality of work, price, and sale-ability of your own art.

Many of the most popular hobbies only make money in the wholesale or “bucket” sale areas (like the tumbled crystals below). Still, these can end up making you quite a bit of money and generally don’t take up too much in the way of space.

Quartz and Chert rock tumble

Keeping it together

I may have one or two too many hobbies myself. Still, I am always trying to incorporate them into my daily life in a way that doesn’t take too much time (we can’t spend our entire life engrossed in hobbies, I suppose) and also trying to find a way to eventually make passive income out of some of them. For this, I try to organize my hobbies with a schedule. I divide them by pure introvert entertainment (reading, movies, Netflix, puzzles) and ones with potential future passive income (rock tumbling, photography, writing, calligraphy). I add social media as a large part of this as well (as much as I genuinely dislike the grind of social media, it is a tool we all need in our back pocket at this point).

Utilize the strengths you already possess for creation by taking something you love and turning it into a joy that works for you further than a well-deserved mental health break or completely disassociate for an hour or two. I won’t detail listing hobbies you could be doing that create product as there are hundreds of list-o-manias for that, but I will post below my goal list for a few of mine!

Short Term Goal List (I use Evernote for organizing thoughts.)

Setting The Bar (And Pace)

You can see that these goals are small and generic – that’s the point. Nothing too stressful or hurried. They are things you can take in stride, and if life gets too busy to work on them, it’s not the end of the world. They will be there when you get back. The point is that you can always be working towards a goal, even if you don’t feel like you have anything much to look forward to or that your work isn’t worth the fabric it’s printed on. Chances are, someone is willing to chuck a schilling at you for a cute sticker. Whether you do it for a break or to keep your mind busy, the process gives you something to show at the end to anyone who might be interested in dolling out some dough for your doilies!

The Hobby Foyer

I would love to do more hobby chatting with you! Highlighting hobbies, talking tools, and hearing your stories. Chat in the comments: What is your hobby and what does it bring to your life?

1Read more about hobbies and mental health in this article from

Blinkist – Non-fiction game changer?

As a full practitioner in escapism, I admit I’m not much of a non-fiction reader. I enjoy learning about history, religion, and the effect the two combined have had on the human condition – that is limitlessly interesting to me. But as far as self-help, biographies, the endless topics of government and war stories go…not so much.

Then I discovered Blinkist.

This phone app gives you access to thousands of non-fiction titles in small, 10-30 minute bite-size pieces. Spark notes for the modern age. You can read the text, which is separated into blinks. Blinks are separated chapters or topics that split up the ideas and the themes of the book. You can download them for local access on your phone. There are also podcasts and full audiobooks available.

I signed up for the trial, and as the majority of my trials go, it turned into a year subscription because I forgot to cancel it. The funny thing is, I started to listen to them. I don’t listen to podcasts or audiobooks. I like to read. I have a hard time listening to people talk at me. But the Blinkist app did help me. I “read” 6 non-fiction books yesterday. I have to think, is this beneficial at all? Can you get the knowledge of a book in a 15-minute jumble? Well, no, but for someone like me, who would never have read these titles otherwise, it’s a heck of a way to ingest basic ideas and topics in the non-fiction genre. One of the books I also ordered, as I liked the themes and ideas that the app gave me that I wanted to delve deeper into the topic.

I’d like to hear your ideas on this. Have you tried Blinkist, or is it something you would use?

Movie Review: “TENET” (2020)

TENET” (2020) dir. Christopher Nolan

Starring John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki 

This review will either fascinate you or bore you to death. Read to the end to find out which! 





Those who know me know that I am an enigmatology enthusiast. That is, the study of puzzles. I could write an entire review on the use of the word “TENET” for the movie title alone, as the word itself comes with deep meaning in history and in puzzle craft…and I might! Christopher Nolan is of puzzle-mind, has been from his first features, and has carried that love with him through every one of his films. I like Nolan’s work a lot because it tickles me in my enigmatism (word coined here). 

Nolan uses the famed Sator Square as inspiration for names used throughout the film. Judging the content of the film, I am also guessing he used the Sator Square as a blueprint for the entire plot of the film. A brief explanation of the Sator Square can help with the theme of the movie, even if you don’t want (and don’t need) to understand the intricate logistics of this film’s version of time travel. The Sator Square is a five-word Latin palindrome, meaning the same backward and forwards. The five words are: SATOR (the name of our main villain), AREPO (the name of an enigmatic art forger), TENET (a password for access to people who know about the inverted objects, and possible name of a secret organization), OPERA (the opening extraction scene by the CIA), and ROTAS (the name of the security company at the Oslo Freeport). The earliest example of the Sator Square comes from the ruins of Pompeii (a location mentioned in the film, and partly taking place nearby in the Amalfi Coast) but has also been unearthed in Rome, England, and Syria to name a few. This square will read the same top-bottom, bottom-top, L-R, R-L. It can also be rotated 180 degrees and still be read in those same ways. The Square’s symmetry group is the Klein four-group, which is a group with four elements, in which each element is self-inverse, meaning that the function is its own inverse. One of the photos I’m adding is of the Sator Square so you can see for yourself and see what I mean, why I said it, and how it relates to the film. 

In the movie, the “Protagonist” (John David Washington) is a CIA agent that gets caught and tortured during an extraction operation at an opera house. Instead of giving up information to the enemy, he takes a cyanide pill. He doesn’t die, and instead wakes on a boat and discovers he has passed a ‘test’ by taking the pill instead and is now recruited by a secret organization called Tenet. We are pushed through the opening scenes and storyline too quickly in the first ten minutes. It seemed like a race to get to the fun action stuff. I wish they spent a little more time here in the beginning while giving us all this exposition, as understanding what the hell is going to be happening for the next 120 minutes leans greatly on the idea that the watcher can grasp as least a little bit what they are about to be seeing. As we all know, Nolan loves to have loud music, loud sound effects, and almost muted voices amongst all of it. The first twenty minutes are no different for him. I think he must have gotten made fun of so much for it by now that he just does it to fuck with us. Hats off for not giving up but his movies now forever will require subtitles so you can hear the very important lines that are being said, even though he clearly doesn’t want you to hear them. So, the first ten minutes are like listening to Bane if he was a scientist trying to explain string theory to a deaf guy. 

What we and the Protagonist discover is that there are objects in the world that have inverted entropy and move backward through time! Cool idea, impossible to truly understand as a casual watcher. If you are a casual watcher, don’t think too hard about all the action and reverse time travel. It’s not worth the headache. Just know that some things move backward in time. To us, the people moving forward through time, it will look like these objects are moving backward, when in fact, they are moving forwards into the past with inverse energy. To them, it looks like we are all moving backward. This creates some very fun things visually in the film.

This idea and the visuals he uses to represent it are where Christopher Nolan truly shines as a filmmaker. This story could not be told in any other medium except cinema. It is an idea that can only be carried through by showing the viewer in moving visuals and sound. He is telling a truly individual and original story made to be told through the art of filmmaking. It’s beautiful and loud and visually stunning. The sequences of backward motion vs. forward motion are shown in an interesting way and a way that is purely Nolan. It will remind you a lot of “Inception”, especially the hallway fight scene. It’s clear he meant to do this, as the rest of the film’s color, cinematography, and sound mimic many of the ideas from that movie. A spiritual universe cousin, maybe. 

We find out that people or a group of people in the future have created machines that can make this inverse matter, or matter with inverted entropy, and send it back to the past, presumably with the idea to change things. We learn that they messed up somewhere along the way. The future is somehow dim and without more future. Why they decide to come back to the past to “murder the world” is never really made clear, but also, we don’t really care, do we? Bad people doing bad shit for reasons no one will ever know. It’s not that pertinent to the story being told. Just know that they are trying to go back in time and kill their own grandfathers. The big problem is that if too much inverse matter ends up in the past (where we live) and the inverse matter being sent back ends up having more mass in the world than the straightforward matter we have all come to know and love, the world dies. Poof. Boom. Whimper? We’re not sure how, but clearly no good.

When something enters these machines, they come out the other side as inverse. This means people, too, so when our Protagonist comes out the other side, he needs to learn backward gravity, inverse motion, and opposite thermodynamics. Ha can’t inhale the air because the air refuses to bond to the sacs in your lungs that are breathing backward compared to the rest of the world. The idea of traveling back in time has an interesting idea (and makes the most sense when it comes to logical time travel. That idea is that if you want to travel back in time, you move backward at the same speed as moving forward. So, if you want to go back a day, it takes a day to go back. If you want to go back ten days, it takes ten moving backward. Once you go through the inverse matter machine, your clock starts, and you move backward as long as you are out on that other side. You must go back to that machine or another machine in the world to get turned back forward, or you will continue going back forever. And you can’t breathe the air…sooo, that’s gonna be a problem. 

Some parts of it are really well thought out and other parts are glossed over…and that’s fine. Our brains are still trying to figure out if he picked up the bullet or the bullet jumped into his hand…If he never put his hand over the bullet would it have ever known that it was once dropped out of his hand to know that it could jump back into his hand at the right time? Yeah…that shit. Don’t sit with the specifics too long. Just enjoy the ride there. 

And that’s the plot! There’s some stuff in there with a girl and a bad guy that is helping bring the matter from the future to the past. He has a generic bad guy quality about him and a convenient bout of suicide fancy, so he wants to die and take the whole world with him (including his wife and son). Take out the inverse matter and time travel, and it seems like a straightforward Bond film. It’s got the hot girl that changes sides, the spy protagonist who fights better than he dresses and knows how to get what he wants. It’s fun. The action sequences are astounding and look practical instead of CGI messes. I thought the overall production quality of the locations was not that exciting. The buildings didn’t stand out, the rooms weren’t dressed very well. He didn’t use much in the way of thematic color palettes or bold choices when it came to fabrics or walls. It probably would have been too distracting or blurry with how fast the movie ran through each spot. 

Okay, back to the square now that you know the themes and mechanics of time travel. My favorite part of the movie. He took the idea of the Sator Square, a palindrome of names that goes forward, backward, 180, and inverse. He took that idea of words and turned it into a 3-D world. What happens if you take TIME and make it into a Sator Square palindrome. At the end of the film you see a very cool war scene with two teams, a red team, and a blue time, like laser tag. This felt so much like a little boy getting to make a laser tag war movie it made me giggle, but off-topic. The two teams split up and do what they call a “temporal pincer movement”, where non-inverted red team troops and inverted blue team troops make a simultaneous attack. This is mind-boggling, as the inverted team is doing everything backward. That means the red team is going into the war dodging bullets and running away from falling buildings from the aftermath of what the inverted blue team has already done. Walls are unexploding and trapping people behind the walls, buildings are un-collapsing just to be shot and blown up at a different place by the red team. It’s all very cool, but also is a great way to show the idea of the Sator Square if it existed in time at coinciding moments. What would happen if you could read every angle of the Sator Square in 3-D space at the same time, be able to see every side of a cube at one single moment in time…what does that do to time, or to us the knower? The idea of the Sator Square made physical in 3-D space is a puzzler’s dream and nightmare. 

The names he attached to each character/place that form the square have solid meaning behind them. Attached to each word is what it was in the movie and what its meaning is from the Latin. 

SATOR (antagonist) – Sower/Seeder – The man who found the first inverse matter and worked with the future to plant it all over the world. The beginning of the end. 

AREPO (the unknown and unseen art fake) – A hapax legomenon. In Latin, a word that only exists once in a text or by a creator. We never meet this character. He is only heard about in passing and never again. 

TENET (code word and secret organization) – Possess, Masters – The people who are trying to protect the code from being used to end the world. By the end of the movie, the people in TENET are the ones guarding the code that will end the world. 

OPERA (opening scene and the scene of the Protagonist’s “awakening” – Care, Aid, Service – The opening scene that awakens the Protagonist to this secret danger that lurks in the world. By aiding his own country and taking the pill, he shows his service to the cause. 

ROTAS (security group protecting the machine) – turn, rotate – This is the place where we discover the first turnstile, the machine that takes matter and turns it inverse. 

Did I like it? Yes and no. The little idea of one single square of words made into such a rich tale has me floored. His execution seemed rushed at parts, and like he passed over some aspects to lean in on others. This is not surprising when you are making a studio action film during a pandemic. 

One of my first favorite movies was “Memento”. I obsessed over it. I loved it. The way he created a story and told it backward in such a beautiful way was awe-inspiring to me. He continues, to this day, to create things that are not seen in cinema. I don’t love all of his movies, but I enjoy every single one. Even if so much of it is trite and boring and sometimes a little overwhelming, Nolan proves to us that he loves filmmaking, and knows how to tell a story using that medium in an effortless combination of artistry and action.