FICTION FRIDAY: Flashback Edition, “Who Conditions the Air?”

I can’t recall if I’ve shared this on here or not, but it’s always been a bit of a personal favorite. I can’t exactly say it’s terribly good, but it was a good idea and I don’t think I ever caught that lightning. I’ll leave it for you, though. Half short story and half slam poem, I think I wrote this back in 2013, during my first residency in grad school. (I at least remember reading it then.)

They tell me that the air conditioning in the building is broken.

It’s a warm summer day within the stacked brick walls of the school house, and without the AC on my students are climbing the walls in hopes of opening a window and letting in a breath of air. The oscillating fan in front of my desk is an insult to everyone except the one student brave enough to sit right in front of me in exchange for a puff of breeze once every fifteen seconds or so.

They complain to me. We can’t focus. Can’t we have class outside?

I tell them no.

They plead. But we had so many of our other classes outside. Why can’t we? English is better when we can see the sky. It’s so much more inspirational; it’s so much more alive.

And I tell them no to that as well. Tell them that I don’t want them surrounded by the living and that instead they should surround themselves with death. This disconcerts them. They’re unhappy, and confused. They insist. But writing is inspiration and life. Why surround ourselves with death?

I tell them to open their notebooks and to write why they think it would be important. Because I want to see the words find their way out, just like I know they can. Because as soon as you surround yourself with death and decay, the life inside you forces itself out and refuses to be squelched. Because these emerging writers are in a field that publishes their words in piles of dead trees printed with ink that was never alive in the first place and will send it out to be in a world that at least in the city we live in, has resigned itself to a slow decline and demise.

So yes, students. I want you to sit in this hot room and let the dead air go into your lungs. I want you to sweat with the effort of staying alive in a stagnant world and I want you to take each labored movement and force it to be new. I want you to learn to refuse the cold of air conditioned oxygen because you have not been given a choice about what that air has been conditioned to do – to feel – to think. In the heat you can make your own decisions, and you cannot be forced to take that chill into your lungs and your heart and your mind because you are too busy being forced to think and breathe and live.

So I say leave the air conditioning off. To hell with Pavlov. I’ve never liked dogs anyway.


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