* Welcome to The Big Jewel. Just because we are leading lives of quiet desperation is no reason that you should do so as well. Be of good cheer. And you can start by reading the latest from Marianne Hess. NOTE: There is a swell new literary humor magazine called Kugelmass, edited by Big Jewel contributor David Holub and featuring our own editor Kurt Luchs. It is print-only so you can't see it unless you get the hard copy. Order by clicking on the link at the right-hand side of this page under our Blogroll.

Henry David Thoreau On Mars

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I have lived most of my life in the Martian colony of Concord, having come from Earth as a lad when my surrogate parents sent me away for what they claimed would be two weeks at space camp. It is my home. However, I have been feeling restless of late. I believe it is time I left the colony and became more intimate with Martian nature.

Many factors figure in my decision. Chiefly, the mindsets of my fellow colonists. Every day, they grow increasingly fixated on material possessions, as if owning one more spacesuit or oxygen tank will somehow make them happy. I envision a Mars devoid of life-sustaining paraphernalia, and even shuttles and rockets and water-processing plants. All these things merely prevent us from living simple and thus happy lives close to the rocky, barren terrain and scarily bottomless pits that Mother Mars has so willingly provided.

Besides the usual accusations of feeble-mindedness, many colonists have taken to accusing me of laziness. I do not consider myself lazy, but lacking a desire to work for what I do not believe. Growing beans? Yes, but not for an entire colony. My fellow citizens of Concord, especially the traumatized orphan children left here after World War III obliterated much of Earth, should have to feed themselves. Instead, I seek to trek across some bone-dry crater or desiccated flood plain and grow my own damn beans. Mother Mars has provided .03 percent water vapor in our beautiful vomit-pink sky for this very purpose.

Other colonists have accused me of outright negligence. Sure, the overseers have assigned me the job of mending our roofs. And sure, I could finally fix that hole in Sector 9E, thus preventing us all from slowly suffocating to death and/or succumbing to severe frostbite. But would I be content? I daresay my quiet desperation would still haunt me, if not in a more clear-headed and warm-bodied way.

Solitude is my only cure. How I long to stand alone and unsuited on some infertile mountaintop, staring up into the thin, carbon-dioxide-based atmosphere, the 150-mile-per-hour high-altitude wind gusts pressing gently against my cheek, pointy rocks whizzing by me like nature’s bullets. Up there with the ethereal dust — its rusty ambrosia filling my lungs and exfoliating my skin like acid — I believe I will ultimately come to appreciate life.

Therefore, I must leave, despite pleas from every citizen that I stay lest I somehow kill us all. Worthless gossip, all of it! Whether I open the airlock and let in a squall of toxic air and dust that will clog the filtration system is my own business. It is a vainly idle mind that finds fault in another, especially when all those idle minds should be concentrating on fixing that hole in Sector 9E, because it doesn’t look good.

The colonists have expressed their disdain in other ways as well. A dozen or so have followed up my assertion that I wish to live simply with a scoff and the retort that I will be lucky to simply live. Then they have either smacked me in the head, claiming to knock sense into me, or threatened to toss me in the grain thresher. Colonists of the gentler variety have said, “But it is folly to venture so far from our advanced medical facility.” They would be right. Due to such fears, these colonists would never dare leave Concord without a spacesuit, citing instant asphyxiation. However, I say the greatest folly is to allow fear to control your life. I do not even mind traveling out of range of the Medivac Rovers, not just because I have confidence that Mother Mars will provide, but because those rovers look eerily human and will probably turn against their creators someday.

Despite the closed-mindedness that surrounds me, I refuse to sacrifice my individualism. And so, on some sunny, -80 degree sol, I will leave this fickle, man-made place and stroll across the miles and miles of sand dunes outside. After that, I will find some placid dried-up lake bed in which to bathe and drink. By it, I shall build myself a cabin out of rock, and grow my own rock garden. I see in this God’s plan. He says to me, “Here is a rock. Use it as you will. And there is a‚Ķrock. Also use it as you will. And that one over there. A billion rocks. See? I provide rocks. And strange hematite blueberry things.” God is great.

Every day, I will hike and engage in silent contemplation. As I scrutinize the interminably tedious vistas and contemplate the miracle embodied in the possible traces of ancient microbial life, I will come to understand many truths unknowable to the simple-minded bio-engineers and astrophysicists who populate the colony. Eventually, I will realize that humanity is one with Martian nature. For instance, we expire into dust, just as the dust here causes us to expire. Surely, there will be more realizations, but I cannot think of any now, while still confined inside this terribly artificial micro-Earth.

I can only hope that my feelings have been laid bare in this essay. If not, perhaps they can best be described with an anecdote: Once, a long time ago, there was a wise man on the moon. His fellow astronauts said, “We have such a great view of the Heavens.” But the wise man was sorrowful. “I see no Heavens,” he said, “just the translation of them in this pesky helmet.” So he removed the helmet and saw clearly. There is still a monument to him on the moon today.

If any truth is extracted from this essay, let it be this: It is okay to march to the beat of a different drummer. But there are no drummers on Mars, and I find that very perplexing.

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Let Us All Gather To Discusse The Plague

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My fellowe citizens of London, as ye may knowe, the greate Pestilence hath spread through our faire City. Mine selfe and many noble men of limited education propose that the only waye to vanquish this unholy Plague is to gather every citizene on the mouldering banks of the Fleet River at noontide on the morrow, with the purpose of discussing quarantine procedures. It was first advised, by the late Venerable John Dimme, that such an endeavor mighte enlighten the masses of the need for avoiding those stricken ill. Thus, at the conclusione of the gathering, it is hoped that all shall fully realize the dangers posed whilst gathering for such a gathering, and that such a gathering will prevente such gatherings in the future.

In the houre of Dimme’s death, due to erupting pustules and hellish fever, I leaned close to his pocked face, and he thus spake these delirious words: “My dear friend, gather the people ’round ye, by the stinking river. Gather all the people. Let them come from every dank alley and turreted castle. Let them come from the theatre and the church steeple, the inn and the plague house. Gather them together and preache to them the dangers of such a gathering. It is the only waye.”

Though I be stricken ill todaye, the swelling splotches in my groine and armpits feare me not. Indeede, I have a Physician of the greatest understanding. In additione to smoking much tobacco in my presence and pouring many fine leeches upon my foreheade, he hath buttered up my buboes, doused my skin in arsenic and filled my belly with the urine of a man-childe. I have also been informed, from the unlicensed apothecaries who roam the streets, that the Humours are to blame for my anguishe. Therefore, I have ordered all my maid-servants of a wet constitution to spit into my drye mouth. This will even things oute.

I doubt not that on the morrow, I shall be welle enough to wander the filthy crowds and make my waye to yonder wharf amongst the rats, straye dogs and putrefying bodies, where I shalle give this most crucial of dialogues. As such, I present to you the schedule, of which ye should take careful heed:

1. At noontide, the gathering will commence with a communal bathing in the river, in order to purge our souls of sin. It being filled to the brim with sewage, our faire citizens are certain not to drown.

2. Once we are cleansed and yet shivering, we shall line up to receive clothing donations from those who have lost loved ones to the Death. In this waye, the garments of the deceased mighte warm the living.

3. The many children presente shall find entertainment in the demonstrations of a rat catcher. He will take volunteers from amongst their innocent ranks, so that they mighte hold the vermin for him to catch in his basket.

4. This will be followed by my speech, and much shaking of hands and kissing of cheeks, as is the foreign fashione.

5. We will stare at the clouds in order to interpret their meaning. If it be fluffy kittens we see, the plague shall spare us. If wrathful angels, the end is nigh. Those who claim to see nothing but clouds shall be lined up and hanged on suspicion of being atheist.

6. Though it be supper time, all Londoners shall abstaine from beer and pottage, in order that we mighte grow quite faint and frail. The clergy, before they fled to the country, preached the importance of fasting to cleanse the soul, hence this will prepare us to meet our maker.

7. To purge the air of its dreaded effluvia, we will light fires all ’round us, and then burn pillars of gunpowder. During this, if any person be found to sweat, that person will be assumed to harbor the Pestilence and will be swiftly buried in the nearest churchyard.

8. Once concluded, all citizens shall return to their drafty, overcrowded huts. The only persons excluded from quarantine are those with enough capital to bribe the watchmen. Note: if that be ye, the watchmen prefer to receive their inducements in the form of fine curly periwigs, made from the copious hair of plague victims.

9. Bodies shall be placed in the death-carts.

It is to be observed that our esteemed majestie, the King — before retreating to the country with his Court — commanded that all Londoners attend this gathering, at risk of death in the Tower. Thus I have ordered the assistance of many waifs and men of the basest variety to drag forth from their homes any who so refuse. Most of these waifs and men are dying of the Pestilence. They are encrusted with a lifetime’s worth of stink, have had countless wayward chamber pots emptied upon their heads and are teeming with fleas. I tell you this not to frightene ye, nor do I send them to steale, rape and murder — as they undoubtedly will do. I do it for the welfare of every citizene, so that all shall attende this most important of sermons. We must showe God that we in London have giveth up our sins, so that this terrible French Pestilence might visite the Irish insteade.

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