The Geiger Counter

Matt Geiger is a Midwest Book Award Winner, a national American Book Fest Finalist, and an international Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist. He is also the winner of numerous journalism awards. His books include “Astonishing Tales!* (Your Astonishment May Vary)” and “Raised by Wolves & Other Stories.” He once won an axe-throwing competition.
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The Big Picture

When you look at a photograph, you are seeing about one 60th of a second in time. That is all. I think this alone is sufficient proof of the importance of the small moments that make up our lives. 

The oldest, extant, written language is the Kish Tablet, found in modern-day Iraq. Written in Sumerian, it is 5,500 years old. Now, if any of us stumbled across it, we might notice how old it was, or how exotic the letters looked, or ponder the work that went into chiseling them into limestone. But there is one thing none of us could do: read the story it tells. Because none of us can read ancient Sumerian.

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Good Day

In recent weeks, I’ve been following Australian news rather than its US counterpart. It’s more fun, as a spectator, because I’m protected by a vast ocean from the idiots who headline their stories. If those politicians and criminals (putting “and” in between two synonyms feels incorrect) want to come here and harm me and my family, we will at least have some time to prepare, thanks to the 100-hour flight. Plus, their stories–including both the fluffy ones and the serious ones–always include bonkers details delivered in absolutely straight faces by their newscasters.

“A young girl who was eaten by a shark in Dungadoo last month has now taken top honors at the regional school spelling bee, eking out a victory against two wombats and a billabong,” a man in a suit will say in the teaser, causing me to scrunch my face and glance up from my work. Wait, what??

“The extinct BongaShark has been wreaking havoc on the Outback’s feral camel population. Find out how at six!” 

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Wrestling with the Truth

It’s very popular to lament the fact that we, as a species, can no longer tell fact from fiction. That we are suddenly incapable of grasping the riddle of reality. That we can no longer align the vexing Rubik’s Cube of truth. 

If you worry about this, I have good news for you: It’s not true. We were never any good at it. The truth has always been an elusive beast that wriggles and slithers and lives most of its life protected by darkness. 

I give to you Exhibit A: Sergeant Slaughter. 

He never served in the military, and while I didn’t actually check this part, I’m willing to bet he hasn’t even slaughtered anyone in his entire life. He’s not even cadet of murder, let alone a sergeant of slaughter. 

And yet that is what we called him, and what we believed him to be, when we were kids. 

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Her Name in Lights

My friend died this morning.

When I learned of her death, I dug up the first words I ever wrote about her, in 2013, the first of many:

“It was the early 1950s when a young farm girl named Bonnie Bakken stood in the doorway of her parents’ home in Black Earth. Her hands on her hips, the fiercely independent young woman told her mother she was leaving the farm, the church, and Wisconsin.

She was going, she said, to see her name in lights. 

“And I did,” she reflects today with a nod, cradling a small cup of coffee and flexing her hands to counteract the arthritis that often binds them. “I saw my name in lights many times.”

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The Hu

Sometime around 1162 AD, a child named Temuchin was born near Lake Baikal in what is now Mongolia. When he was 14, he stalked his older half-brother brother and killed him with an arrow, for which he was, I love the way one text puts it, “scolded” by his mother. Times were different, I suspect.

Later in life, he would go by a different name which has many spellings. They are Chinggis, Chingis, Jenghiz, Jinghis and Genghis. Genghis Khan. 

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We used to sleep high up in the trees, nestled among fragrant branches in the cool night air. Each evening we would ascend, far above the leopards and lions that so often devoured us below. 

But with slumber comes paralysis. With paralysis comes the very real possibility of falling from the tree. With falling from the tree comes the near certainty of death on the ground. 

Sometimes, just as wakefulness left us, our minds would start to detach from our bodies for the evening, our muscles would relax, and we would start to fall from our branches. When that happened, our brains would send an emergency signal to our bodies, a jolt of neurological energy that would make us shudder and wake up just enough to prevent a deadly plunge. 

That, according to some scientists, is why so many of us experience the sensation of falling just as we drift into sleep. That is why we sometimes wake, as if shocked, just as we begin losing consciousness. 

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A Little Wobble

This morning, I listened to an interview with Craig Harrison, a soldier in the British Army. He described a firefight in the desert, in which he and his compatriots were on the verge of being overrun and killed. “Smashed” is the word he used.

As bullets slammed into the ground, into flesh and into bone, and it looked like soon they would all be dead, he pulled out his phone and called his wife.

“I love you, you know?” he said. 

“I know,” she replied. “What’s going on? What’s that noise?”

“It’s nothing,” he said. “It’s nothing. I’ll phone you in the morning.”

“We went back on the roof,” he continued. “And yeah, we won the fight.” 

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Love is Like Plastic

Late last night, ensconced in the synthetic beige sarcophagus of an MRI tube, it occurred to me that love is like plastic. 

They were scanning my brain, looking for a tumor, like some foul X in the neon green sea of a space pirate’s map.  

It had begun on Christmas Eve, when I felt tipsy. Within two days, I was unable to walk without using a cane and the walls of my home for support. The world spun and spun, and it felt like the hand of some invisible god was actively holding me down as I lay in my bed, trying to smother me where I sprawled next to teacups and cracker crumbs that were making a new life for themselves among the sheets. Soon, I could only crawl. 

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Way of the Shadow Wolves

Did you know that Steven Seagal wrote a book? To be honest, I would have been surprised just to learn Steven Seagal read a book, let alone penned one. But he did. Sort of. He had a co-author. Someone to hold his meaty hand while crossing various linguistic streets. I’m guessing the co-author did much of the heavy lifting.

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I was interviewing a woman last week, when she said several things that struck me, like fists of gentle profundity. She was talking about 2020, but unlike so many people, she was laughing. Not an insecure guffaw or an affected chuckle, but a real laugh that bubbled up again and again, in the manner of the pure white froth on a freshly poured flute of champagne. 

“Stories are like prisms,” she said. “They allow us to see different perspectives.” These stories, she added, “work their magic” upon us, time and time again. 


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