Self-Transcendence For Bahraini Teens by Arianna Reiche

You appear in your mother when she is in her mother’s womb. Before they’re even born, girls have all the eggs they’ll ever have, and so you come into being in the year of your grandmother’s pregnancy. You have two birthdays.

You absorb ideas from previous generations; of course you do. A folksy saying that your father got from his mother who got it from her uncle might come out of your mouth without any intentional effort. I say ‘scuttlebutt’ not to sound cute: I say it because that’s what it is. Scuttlebutt.

I’m getting ahead of myself. This is the sample lesson. Lessons. From the curriculum you outlined in the job description. I don’t usually see this kind of job on the site. I liked the curriculum. It’s like nothing I would have been taught. I’ll get to that later on. I don’t think you asked for applicant references or anything, but I’ll give them to you if you want. Just say the word.

I just talked to you there. From now on, the you will be the students. Like it was at the start. Does that make sense?

Anyway, this absorption that I bring up – it’s the exception to the rule. Mostly, you filter, don’t you? You reject what doesn’t belong to you, and doesn’t belong when you are, on an atomic level, like you would do with the wrong blood-type in your veins. You do this not with conscious thought, but with the absence of conscious thought, keeping that time-traveller – that ghost – at bay, by simply accumulating lived experience.

This mostly works.

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But then there are implicit bits – small sections of a mould of personhood – that make it through your filter. They’re there because they made it through your mother’s filter. And maybe even her mother’s.

I have a friend named Harriet. She’ll never see this, so I feel comfortable assuring you that that is indeed her real name. Harriet is English, and what has made it through all the filters delivered to her is a sort of wartime thing. Something about sacrifice and the ability to cook meat just okay. When I say ‘sacrifice’ I don’t mean the goal for why there is sacrifice, but rather the brutality with which you choose what to sacrifice. It’s a quick menace, almost too quick to be seen underneath all the bootstrappery and stovetop jam. Looking to the sky and saying, “Is that a kestrel?” and the answer being: “No.”

For me, what got through was a Valley of the Dolls thing. Do you have that book on your sovereign island? I’d imagine not, so I’ll explain. It’s: Oh honey, take a pill and lie down.

But also, maybe what made it through my filter is the other thing I read. Someone uploaded a page of text written on a typewriter to an ancestry site which I accessed several years ago. It explained how a great-great grandfather of mine was a farmer at the border of France and Germany – Alsace. Rhine France. He’d been there all his life, and in his thirties he somehow made his way to Monte Carlo. Almost instantly he got into deep gambling debt and then – after perhaps a week – he fled to America.

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So that’s what made its way to me, too. The ‘uh-oh’. The if-not-now-then-when-would-be-a-good-time-to-run? question. Every close friend I’ve ever had has called me pathologically impatient.

EXERCISE 1: Does Harriet’s compounded generational values justify her being dismissive and snippy at someone whose own values, on an atomic level, don’t resemble hers? When she announced, at the pub, that “It was time to get on with it” with regards to the KPMG trainee scheme she’d been accepted on, despite three or four of us at that table being between jobs, freelancing in the arts, or finding copywriting gigs on massive online job boards, did she say this with malice? Or was she just being sloppy, and not even in an aloof or interesting way? Was it epigenetics?

Moonshot Thinking. Cool term, right? But what do you – the students – think it means? Because I have not got a clear answer. I guess I want to be transparent about that – although this item was supposed to be in the curriculum, I could find no comprehensive description of it anywhere online and so I think it must come down to idiomatic cultural differences.

But this is an opportunity – a chance for us to all exercise our resilience and resourcefulness (which are topics that we’ll explore in section 14). We won’t stall simply because we don’t know exactly what this is. For me, Moonshot Thinking is something disembodied from the problem which requires your thinking. It’s when there’s a very urgent problem facing you, and it would be unwise – irresponsible, even – to allow yourself to be distracted from solving it. And yet, here it is. The moon. You’re distracted by the thought of it.

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Do you ever listen to a song, smell a smell, recall a visual memory, and know that it does not belong to you? I encountered a street corner off Euclid in Berkeley, California when I was nine or ten years old, en route to a wood-planked shopping square for hot dogs from a beloved hot dog vendor. Maybe it was bento. Anyway, I was with my parents. I smelled eucalyptus, and in recollection of this moment I think: None of that is mine. The literal memory is, but the peripheral fog, the synesthetic terror of it belongs to someone else. Not my skin. Do you ever experience that? There was Simon and Garfunkle in there, in that borrowed memory. I go back to that phantasm place when I hear Simon and Garfunkle, Yes, or Jethro Tull – and a nine-year-old has no need for Jethro Tull. It cannot be a memory that belongs entirely to me.

Was it from my father? He was raised only a few miles from that square. He is the great-grandson of that Alsatian gambler.

Few of you actually belong to Bahrain, isn’t that right? I don’t know for certain. I wasn’t hired to know you, but only to put together a very specific curriculum in Future Fluencies. I’d guess that you’re the children of wealthy oil people. I’d guess that you are mostly European, and you don’t yet understand your wealth because it doesn’t resemble the decadence of cartoons. You live in new mansions that look less like French palaces and more like the scrublands of suburban America, though you’re probably too young to remember when all those new developments stopped being built, stood empty, boneyards all across the country, and were gradually reclaimed by nature in mildew and dandelions and fibrous vines.

EXERCISE 2: How will you use Moonshot Thinking in your next endeavour? How will you channel the spirit of adventure thoughtfully, with great consideration for timing and structure? Do you think that sensation carries a meaning outside of ourselves, or are things like deja vu a brief reminder of the power of our circuitry, and nothing more? A brief interruption from the sponsor, a crackling ‘thank you for flying with us’ message upon landing?

EXERCISE 3: Imagine an Alsatian gambler. Alsatian like the dog breed. Just as a little treat.

The next section is Emotional Intelligence and Empathy, and this cannot be taught. Skip to the next slide, please.

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What are you using to view these lessons? How does your literacy in those tools improve your life, and how would illiteracy in them make your life harder? Can you imagine what it would be like to consume this information in different ways, ways which don’t require a special knowledge of tablets or interactive interfaces?

This section is called 21st Century Skills – and I should really let you teach me all this, hey? Hey? Let’s get started.

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You won’t be old enough to remember a time before the internet. I do. Don’t worry, I’m not going to get sentimental about this. It’s pointless dwelling, because there’s no going back. When I was your age I learned to code just enough to make text bold, italic, or scroll across a page.

Many of you will be multilingual in terms of programming already, and the idea that you’d need to format your text in order to be better understood must seem quaint. For the future – your future – you will need to be equipped with insight into biotech: tech literally embedded in your biology, like your hand or your foot. You’ll also need to decide if you think that robots are really human. (No wrong answers!) And you’ll need to be open-minded about the linearity of time. You might be met by yourself, but older, or younger. Someone might appear before you who knows everything about you, down to the last detail.

If it sounds like this insight, this forecasting about valuable skills about this current century, is gathered from approximately three science fiction films then you wouldn’t be far off. This is not really my area. But maybe I’m going about it all wrong.

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The only technology I know so intimately that I could navigate it in my sleep is the one that led me here, to you. The jobbing platform. I was trying to break into the Filipino blog farms, $13 per post, each one hastily written, hardly written at all, or maybe something larger, an e-book on romance and Christianity that had already been outlined by an adult man somewhere and who just needed some blanks filled in, so to speak. I have very chic friends in cities like Budapest and New Haven, Connecticut who do this kind of thing to support their art, but I have no art. No, I think I was brought to you, to this curriculum, as a way to look at your wasteland. Your utopia. Your Bahrain where there’s not so much to see, but there are very clear margins, boundaries between my home and yours, my self and you. Only with that can you actually achieve Self-transcendence, Intellectual Optimism, Radical Creativity, all the topics I’ve not had time to get to and likely will not get around to sharing with you because I can already see the messages coming through, now that a few of these lessons have gone live, both through my in-site messaging centre and my personal email inbox, and there, yes – as I was writing ‘inbox’ my phone started ringing, not my real phone but the dinky, black, light-as-air plastic one I use for work. The one with T9 texting.

Where you are right now, you get to look inward. That’s great. I didn’t have that. No one was paying for contractors to teach me how to do that. Although even if they had, I suspect that I would have grown tired of it, especially at your age. I’m impatient, remember.

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I think at your age I might have stopped trying to learn about transformational ideas from adults like me, and just started walking in one of the four directions, but maybe where you it’s too hot to do that. And maybe all that inward-ness would have flipped outward, and stopped me on my way out the door, grabbed at my ankles, all those ancestral ideas urging me to feel heavy at the thought of exploration. Imagining them can’t be helpful. Calling them ‘them’ can’t, either, but somehow naming the heaviness feels good. Is there time for a section on that? On heaviness? No.

My phone’s still ringing, so I’m going to go try it out. Walking out the door, I mean. I wonder how long all this will stay up, and if I can use it in my portfolio.

If you want references – if you want anything at all – all you have to do is ask.

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Arianna Reiche is an American writer based in east London. She lectures in metafiction and interactive media at City, University of London, and her work has appeared in Ambit, Joyland, SAND Journal, New Scientist, Vice, and Vogue International. She won the 2017 Glimmer Train Fiction Open and the 2021 Tupelo Press Prose Prize, and her debut novel, At The End Of Every Day, is forthcoming from Atria Books.

Delphi has spent years working at a vast and iconic theme park in California, fleeing childhood trauma in her rural hometown. But after the violent, disturbing, and very public death of a beloved Hollywood starlet on the grounds, Delphi is tasked with shuttering The Park for good. It’s a job she takes seriously, even lovingly, enraptured by nostalgia and hidden crevasses of a crumbling wonderland that feels like hers alone. 

Meanwhile, two siblings with ties to The Park exchange letters, trying to understand why people who work there have been disappearing; perhaps there is a reason no one is meant to see behind The Park’s curtain. What happens when the park empties out and the guests go home? 

At once a novel about the Uncanny Valley, death cults, optical illusions, and the enduring power of fantasy, Reiche’s debut is a mind-bending teacup ride through an eerily familiar landscape, where the key to it all is what happens at the end of every day.

Early Praise for At The End Of Every Day

“A smart and surprising escape room of a novel, transforming America’s theme park urban legends and pop culture mythologies into something darker, stranger, weirder—or else only making clear what dark and strange and weird holds such amusements have always had on us.”  
     —Matt Bell, author of Appleseed

“At the End of Every Day takes us deep inside a dying—and sometimes deadly— theme park. Filled with richly detailed descriptions of the world her possibly unreliable protagonist, Delphi, knows best, Reiche’s unique take on the epic quest—featuring creepy bots, a death cult, subterranean realms, and more—compels you to hang on for the wild genre-and-mind-bending ride.”  
     —Laura Sims, author of Looker and How Can I Help You