Just a (Not Very) Small Introduction
These things are a bit strange for me--you don’t rip out your heart, bleeding and beating, present it to your date, on the first date, and say, “Tah-dah!" Most sitting on the other side of the table would be put off by such a grotesquely honest display. Who could blame them? The appetizers haven’t even arrived.
Yet, here us writers are, knees quaking and back sweat trickling, forcing a smile, with our dripping heap of creative vulnerability wrapped in nothing more than a thin cloth napkin, praying you won't scream and run away.
Selling ourselves is no easy task, especially when a majority of the time, we have no idea what we’re selling.
You see, this collection, at its conception, was originally about the various stories I’ve amassed from my countless times sitting in the backseat of Ubers, listening to my drivers, hearing their heavy confessions--the kind meant only for strangers. Sort of a riff on “Humans of New York”, except less pictures and a lot more words. I still think this isn’t a half-bad idea, but as I started, there was only one story I felt comfortable telling:
I remember I closed the door, leaned back, and sighed. "You're a lifesaver, man."
The driver, we'll call him Dinh, just laughed, turned the key, and began the journey home.
I grew up in a place plagued by light pollution, so seeing a clear night sky littered with twinkling stars will always be a miraculous sight.
"I just want to apologize for being a late pickup. It must be exhausting working this late."
"Really?" I said. "Must be a night owl, I guess."
I saw him shake his head through the rear-view mirror.
"Not at all. I love my mornings. I teach at the university. It's a blessing, really."
"So then why work so late?"
"You want to know?" he asked, eyebrow raised.
"I got time."
"It is a bit long."
"You got twenty minutes."
"Okay," he said. For a moment, his eyes became distant. "I was 21 when the United States pulled out of my country."
"Where you from?"
"It was terrible. When the north came down, I had no choice but to run, leave everything I knew behind. All I had was my older brother. We ran for the coast. Knew we could escape there. On the way, they caught us. I had a chance to escape, but I had to leave my brother behind."
"Precisely. I think about him a lot..." He became quiet. "I made it to the shore, and boarded a boat with 20 others. I cried. It hurt to see my home grow smaller and smaller in the distance. We were at sea for two weeks. No one had a plan, and no one knew how to steer a boat. It was terrible. And then pirates came-"
"Get the fuck outta here."
"I am serious."
"We were scared. The men thought they would be gutted and the woman prayed their disembowelment would be the worst of it; but we were not. They only wanted our valuables, like our clothes, and then they left us at sea, naked and starving. They were nice pirates," he said, with a slight smile and small laugh. "Anyway, not a lot happened during that time. We just laid there, hot in the sun. Starving. Dehydrated. I was in agony."
"That sounds awful."
"It was. But life is funny. It can be cruel one minute, laughing at your pain, then be your savior the next, gifting you salvation. After a few days, we hit land: the Philippines."
"Get the fuck outta here."
"We were more than fortunate. Bare and weak, we found some help, and found a way to the U.S. embassy, and I ended up here. The rest is just boring. I went to college. Got a degree. And now I teach."
"Thank you. And that's why I work late. I know what it's like to be stranded and want to go home."
We talked about other things, but that will forever remain between us.
I still think about that twenty minute ride a lot during late-night introspections. It's one of those nights I'm still not completely sure happened because it was so surreal, like a scene in a movie, or a sequence in a book.
But every one of those famous scenes and sequences came from somewhere, at their cores. So that's enough for me to keep believing in it.
So I started with Dinh, and raced through a slew of other conversations I had, but I soon found myself struggling to finish any, if at all. I omitted key details, changed words, misquoted to better fit a certain theme in the narrative. Ultimately, the stories I would end up with became either watered down banter, or fabricated stories with only a passing resemblance to their source materials.
At first I didn't know why this was happening, but then I realized, and accepted, that these conversations were said in confidence. Aside from Dinh, everyone else was talking to a ghost, a non person. There was an unsaid promise that the conversation was nothing more than a cathartic bellow into the wind passing through open backseat windows.
So after trudging through much of that initial iteration, I put down the pen and went back to the drawing board.
Luckily, idea-famine is an issue which plagues me not, and I considered a thought I've had for quite some time: the number 12, and it's strange ubiquity.
I noticed that both the western and eastern zodiacs had cycles of 12, that each annual chapter in our lives was told in 12 parts, that 12 gods sat in the 12 seats of the romantic council, that Jesus retained 12 disciples, that in some tellings of the Arthurian legends there were 12 knights of the round-table, and that the Beatles had released 12 albums.
Ergo, this title came to be.
For the first set of this collection's duodenary tales, we will be visiting the Babylonian Stars. We will be dancing on the rings of Jupiter with Sagittarius, check up Cancer during their nap within one of the many craters of the moon, and even bask in the sun while Leo regales us with tales of their many cosmic exploits.
I do have a confession: while my work and words dwell within many fantastical realms and touch upon many of the wondrous worlds of speculative science, I myself hold no faith in spirituality. And if the art reflects the artist, then many, if not all, the zodiac signs may not fit the general mold of their traditional parameters. I do apologize about that, but I've always been told to write honestly. So please, forgive me for any inconsistencies within the sign's personalities. There is a very high chance I've gotten them wrong.
I did attempt to retain the core essence of each sign within their respective stories, so because of that, I have not explicitly named the signs. You will only read their stories. Perhaps you can figure out to whom each of these tales belongs.
So nestle in, dear reader--if it is cold, find the thickest blanket with the sweetest drink; if it is hot, find some nice shade where the dark allows your phone to shine. Here is much of what I think about, much of what I believe in, much of what keeps me up at night and stirs me from my dreams in the morning. Every installment in a writer's work is an encapsulation of themselves at the time. Dramatically, here is my heart, beating and bleeding. Be gentle, but still, do with it what you will.