Digesting the Bits : Jeff Phillips
If I rotate the word “cohort” in my head many times, it doesn’t necessarily lose its meaning as some words do; it has an aftertaste. Cohort becomes a sort of sneaky verb. I start to think about what’s tying any group together, and it usually comes down to some sort of need in the individual and how it ping pongs against the other members’ need.
Maslowe’s hierarchy gives us many needs to consider. But still, the needs of the members of a cohort may not always be in the open. I think of secret societies, of hidden agendas. As in secret societies, agendas fascinate us all the more when we are cut off from them.
With American Dyno Kibbles, the aspect of the story I was most interested to explore was the feeling of separation from the group that Chucker feels when he’s awake, discovering he has missed out on something big. As in science, sometimes to understand a dynamic, you must study the absence of it. Exclusion can change an equation too.
One need driving cohorts may indeed be an ego yearning for validation. Chucker was once the big gun of his militia before blacking out, his militia moving onward with its revolution. Despite the revolution being successful, this man does not feel the gleam of achievement. A third string sportsman, no matter how much he feels himself a good sport, cheering on the team, there is a lingering distance between him and the others. Those on the field or the court or the rink are doing all the work, he knows. And in some, this may make them try all the harder, so that others may pay attention.
Chucker in his murky awakening thinks he must one-up his fellows. Perhaps they weren’t thorough; there may be more out there, a counter revolution perhaps, even it is one guy.
We tend to glorify the American Revolution. Our founding fathers are like demigods. Yet with such big personalities, it may not have been all good-guy-bonding and fighting evil empire. Stories are not told of those little moments where they may have felt inferior, that they're not doing enough. A nuclear arms race of accomplishment may be what inflates the give and take and growth of a group.
In a man’s mouth there are, if he’s lucky, 28-32 teeth. When chewing, some of the teeth may be called upon to nip apart a bit. In the course of a meal, depending on the trajectory played out by a mashing tongue, some teeth may not do very much work at all. As the bit is digested, it’s gone from sight, down in the belly. Some teeth may feel their reward, if it’s a crunchy food, it may self clean the tooth. The stomach may also churn up acid that fizzes the enamel off of some of the teeth. If a tooth goes bad, gets infected, the roots of others may be at risk. If teeth had consciousness, and perhaps they do, they may not feel their act of eating and subsequent health a perfectly fair democracy. I use this as an example, since the workings of a man’s mouth, the dynamics between his incisors, is something we rarely consider.
But this piece isn’t just about pulling weight. There’s the element of digestion. A group can experience the benefits of sleeping on an idea, letting something cool off so that they really may come together on a challenge. Not all members must give every task their all. A healthy group maintains longevity, consistency, which necessitates that performers are rotated, and that some rest. Perhaps Chucker’s haste in the end is because he’s still not done digesting those kibbles, and his new situation. If he had let things sink in, he may have realized he could make himself useful in other aspects than being the finest mercenary. But digestion can happen at its own unsettling pace. He may have never even digested properly why they were preparing themselves to be able soldiers.
The idea of ego has caused me some reflection as well in working on a piece for Cohort. Anyone creating something is at risk of tending toward the pride of ownership. But in backing away from such an urge, or attempting to, and really attempting to share a work, and listen to an audience as much as they may be listening to me, digesting feedback and reactions, so that a story may evolve. So that what I’m trying to reflect on as a writer may complement what one may be reflecting on as a reader. No wonder ancient mythologies are ascribed to a whole people. And a mouth is not singled out into which teeth are the most important players.