States of Matter is a collection of five short stories that focus on a group of young friends as they grow up. Primarily centered around the main character, Ray, each story takes place during a certain spiritual and intellectual milestone in his life. The first story takes place when he is about ten years old, the second one comes when he is around fifteen, the third when he is around twenty, the fourth when he is twenty-five, and the fifth one when he is thirty. Their personalities and opinions are constantly being reshaped by one another, their environment, their society, and their sexuality.

These stories were written as part of a semester-long project in my final creative writing class at Texas Tech University. They can be read in any order because the plots are separate and distinct, but I would suggest reading them in order. They are presented here chronologically, with the innocence and ignorance of youth eventually giving way to increasing levels of maturity.

Please note: This book contains strong language, sexuality, drug use, and adolescent behavior. I didn’t put these things into the stories to be controversial or offensive. It is simply meant to be a portrayal of what it’s like to be a young adult in America at the time.

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Spoiler warning! The information below is for people who want to know more about the stories. Though these stories don’t have shocking twists, if you haven’t read them yet I would encourage you to stop reading until after you’ve read the book.


Characters

There are over a dozen named characters, but only a few that you really need to remember. I’ve included this cast of characters to help you out, but you really just need to remember Ray and his three closest friends: Carl, Anna, and Teona. I was careful to depict them as accurately as I could based on experiences with friends and acquaintances I knew growing up, but none of them represent any actual people. The information in their biographies hasn’t been thoroughly checked for accuracy against the story, and is mostly here to give you background on the characters. There are mild spoilers in the biographies, so people who don’t like to know what’s coming should be aware of that. Please note: I do not know nor am I in any way affiliated with the people in the pictures that accompany each character. I only used them because they were the closest thing I could find to what I imagined when I wrote the story.

RayName: Ray

Bio: The main character in all the stories. He is a spiritual person, always searching. These stories are the most important milestones in his spiritual development.

Who is your favorite musical artist?
“Of all time? Mozart. But, I don’t listen to enough of it these days to really give that as my answer. How about we leave it at ‘eclectic’?”

Who is your favorite visual artist?
“Alex Grey”

AnnaName: Anna

Bio: Becomes a close friend during Ray’s college years. She introduces the group to pot when they first meet. She and Ethan do not get along well because Ethan is self-serving and destructive. Ray spends more time with her than he should because he really likes her company. She starts dating Ray’s best friend Carl about the time that Ray and Teona start dating. Their relationship is assumed to last far beyond the stories in this book. She understands her sexuality better than Teona, and uses it to her advantage in a handful of instances, usually for the benefit of the group.

Appearance:
Doesn’t usually dress “like a girl,” but always looks feminine. Her brown hair is usually hanging around her shoulders or tied back in a half-assed ponytail. She is very attractive and laid back. She spends a lot of time making sure she looks good, no matter who she is hanging out with. This is not because she is vain or materialistic, but simply because she knows she is attractive. She sees no reason to hide it and often finds clever ways of using it to her advantage.

Who is your favorite musical artist?
“Bob Marley, Dave Matthews, Phish, Bela Fleck, and Moxy Fruvous. I’m not gonna pick a favorite.”

Who is your favorite visual artist?
“Maybe Monet. Or van Gogh. Or Renoir. Or…”

CarlName: Carl

Bio: Grew up with Ray, just one of many other kids at school. Carl left his school system for a few years, but moved back the year before high school. That was the year he reintroduced himself to Ray. Though they hung out and considered one another friends throughout high school, they aren’t true friends until one night when they truly connect with each other. He and Ray attend the same college, and they move in together for a while. He starts to date Anna.

Appearance:
Attractive, if only in an unconventional way, he had dark hair and a wide smile. Slightly lanky, he stood just over 6’ tall and had made large, sweeping gestures. He wears what would normally be expensive clothing, but since it is twenty years old and from a thrift store, he can afford it. When it’s cold, he likes turtlenecks.

Who is your favorite musical artist?
“I enjoy Gustav Holst.”

Who is your favorite visual artist?
“The Hubble telescope,” he says, nudging me.

TeonaName: Teona

Bio: Teona became a friend of Ray during his early college years. She is a spiritual fruit who is often mistaken as a religious nut. She is never a permanent part of Ray’s life, though it seemed to other people that they might last forever. They dated for quite a while, but she proves to be too intense for regular consumption. Her appearance attracts the wrong kind of men to her, and this distracts her from those who know how wonderfully insightful and beautiful she really is. One evening, before they were a couple, she got upset with Carl, Ray, and Anna. Feeling guilty about her outburst, she apologizes to Anna. Wanting to make up, she comes by one evening and prepares the four of them drinks of orange juice and mushrooms. The four of them trip all night long, eventually passing out in the same bed.

Appearance:
She is a beautiful young woman with a beautiful young mind. She has long blonde hair for most of her life, but cut it chin-length when she got to college. She has a sweet face with bright blue eyes, and a small, sensual figure. However, the only clothing that fits tightly on her is her underwear. She doesn’t flaunt her body purposely, and usually requires coaxing from Anna.

Who is your favorite musical artist?
“Have you ever read Moby Dick while listening to Moby? I find it really interesting. You know where Moby got his name, right? He’s a descendant of Herman Melville. Think about it. I know it doesn’t actually mean anything, but the whole cyclic idea is pretty damn cool, don’t ya think?”

Who is your favorite visual artist?
“It used to be Salvador Dali. Then I discovered Frida Kahlo. Now, I’m not sure. It’s always hard to pick a favorite.”

AbeName: Abe

Bio: Abe smiles often and is an extreme extrovert. The group can always count on him if they need him to talk to someone for them, among other things. A lifelong friend of Ray’s, they met in church as young boys and attended the same public schools until they graduated and went to college. Though they were very similar in many ways, eventually they grew apart because they couldn’t seem to agree on basic, fundamental things in life.

He often compares Thomas and Ray, seeing them as practically the same person. At the same time, Ray sees Thomas and Abe as practically the same person. One day Thomas and Ray were having a religious conversation, and at one point Abe intervened, saying, “You guys. Two sides, same coin.”

He is very passionate about his beliefs, but his actions always made Ray question his reasoning. For example, Ray would remember how Abe would complain about the hunger he felt from his (self-imposed) fast while unconsciously thumbing his cross necklace. His mother gave him the necklace just after Abe was born. She died when he was very young.

Appearance:
A slim, handsome, olive-skinned male about 6’ tall with dark brown hair and a beard-like goatee (once he is old enough to grow it). Always seen wearing the cross necklace his mother willed to him. He stands upright and confident, willing to put an arm around anyone. He likes to wear whatever seems popular at the time, finally settling for the “retro” look from a time when he was just a baby.

Who is your favorite musical artist?
“Well, um…either Creed or P.O.D.”

Who is your favorite visual artist?
“Michelangelo.”

AndroName: Andro

Bio: Large, athletic, and aggressive, his strength and speed impressed and frightened Ray. It also made Ray a bit afraid of him since Ray was always so much smaller than him. He is intelligent, but his anger and adolescence often overrides his intelligence. He proclaimed that he would become famous one day. Someone in the group asked him if he really thought he could be famous. He responded, “Are you kiddin’? I was made for that shit!”

He gets a scholarship to play football at Texas University, and the guys see him playing time and time again. Eventually he did indeed make it to the NFL. Ray and a few of his friends would occasionally reminisce about the time when they were all interviewed by Sports Illustrated magazine.

Appearance:
A naturally large guy, he is the only post-junior high football player of the group. Tall and physically mature, he is very athletic. A tight t-shirt and tight jeans kind of guy, as a youth he is often too large to wear much else.

Who is your favorite musical artist?
“Dude, Lynyrd fuckin’ Skynyrd. Do you really have to ask?”

Who is your favorite visual artist?
“That guy who designed those aliens in those ‘Alien’ flicks. H.R. Puffinstuff, or whatever.”

EthanName: Ethan

Bio: The closest one of the characters to a hedonist. His parents are filthy, stinking rich and give him the money to provide for himself. He introduces the group to alcohol, always able to get his hands on large amounts of it. He and Ray stop hanging out about the time Anna comes into Ray’s life because they didn’t get along well.

Appearance:
Attractive and extroverted, he is shorter than most of the guys, but taller than Ray. When he is younger, his hair is medium blonde and his eyes are bright green. As he gets older, his hair seems darker and his eyes are usually too clouded over to make out any color. He is well-dressed and stylish, though sometimes he is too drunk to care.

Who is your favorite musical artist?
“Man, Jack Johnson is the shit.”

Who is your favorite visual artist?
“My dad has a great collection of paintings, but I’ve never really looked at any of ’em.”

ThomasName: Thomas

Bio: Unable to throw away the idea of God, but highly skeptical. Gets into arguments with both Abe and Skinner about certain things that lead nowhere. He and Ray are friends throughout high school and college until Carl inadvertently makes Ray realize that their relationship is mostly pretend.

Appearance:
Only slightly overweight and often seen wearing a polo shirt, cargo pants, and brown leather shoes.

Who is your favorite musical artist?
“Don’t laugh, but I love Styx. Always have, always will.”

Who is your favorite visual artist?
“Storm Thorgerson. You know, the guy who does all the Pink Floyd albums?”

SkinnerName: Skinner

Bio: Childhood friend of Ray. He is a new age mystic, certain that the Illuminati trilogy is actually a true story. He thinks “JFK” was the most important movie ever made, and always wanted to write for the X-Files. Eventually he stops hanging around with Ray because he and Thomas did not get along.

Appearance:
Big tennis shoes, socks, jean shorts, black t-shirts, long and scraggly hair, black-rimmed glasses, and always about ten pounds lighter than he should be.

Who is your favorite musical artist?
“Well, it used to be Metallica.”

BramName: Bram

Bio: Meets Ray at college, but they have little interaction. He is studying engineering, though Ray couldn’t figure out what kind. Ray guessed it was physics because he seemed quite knowledgeable about particular things. After he has smoked a sufficient amount, he starts a conversation about multiple universes, specifically the idea of cyclic universes.

Appearance:
Skinny, with very dark skin and big, expressive brown eyes. He is obliviously confident, not aware of certain social expectations. He always wears loose-fitting t-shirts, brown slacks, and Converse shoes.

Who is your favorite musical artist?
“I like Asha Bosle. Have you heard of her?”

DowName: Dow

Bio: Meets Ray at college, but they have little interaction. He is very quiet, and rarely speaks unless spoken to. He talks Andro out of getting into a fight with Ethan, who insults Anna.

Appearance:
Fairly short, with pale skin and dark features, his smooth face is friendly but subdued. His eyes make him seem to be perpetually grinning, which suits his disposition. None of his shirts have buttons in the middle or collars that lay down.

Who is your favorite musical artist?
“I am really loving Buddy Holly right now.”

SergeName: Serge

Bio: “A really really great, really really spaced-out guy.” He drops out of high school early, and visits Ray occasionally. It is hard to keep up with him, much less have a conversation with him. Starts attending college after getting his G.E.D. He decides to go into physics. He meets people from all over the world and befriends as many as possible. He brings three of his friends, Bram, Dow, and Sid, over to Carl and Ray’s house.

Appearance:
The modern equivalent to a hippie by appearance, his clothes are often little more than rags sewn together to fit like clothing. His blonde hair is shoulder-length and seems clean but poorly taken care of. He has a permanent slouch and smile that he carries wherever he goes…wherever it is he goes.

Who is your favorite musical artist?
“I don’t think I own anything but Aphex Twin these days, man.”

Who is your favorite visual artist?
“Motherfucking nature!”

SidName: Sid

Bio: Meets Ray at college, but they have little interaction. He grew up in America but only started attending college in his late twenties. He leaves suddenly in the middle of the semester, amid rumors that he went, “to like, Midland or something.”

Appearance:
He is the oldest of the characters by a couple years, and appears to have Asian roots, though no one knows for sure. His round face appears serious most of the time, but when he smiles it monopolizes his whole face. When he is indoors, he takes off his jacket and drapes it across his arm, which he holds close to him.

Who is your favorite musical artist?
“Ravi Shankar”


Look closer.

I don’t want to give it all away, but very little about this book is arbitrary. The plots, the names, the characters, and the events are all full of Easter eggs. But, I don’t want to make that too obvious because they were meant for you to find, not for me to point them out. However, since you were curious enough to highlight this I might as well get you started.

So, what kind of Easter eggs are in this book? Well, for example, every single character in the story (with a name) represents something, not someone. Ethan gets his name from the word ethanol, which is the active ingredient in alcohol. If you’ll notice, Ethan is always the one who gets everyone drunk. The excuse is that he is a rich kid with access to his parent’s alcohol, but the truth is he is alcohol incarnate.

The plots have their eggs as well. The third story, “Gas” is preceded by the definition for the word “homage” for a reason. That particular story is (among other things) an homage to three other works that I love and respect. The first section “Pressure” is an homage to Shakespeare’s “Much Ado about Nothing.” Notice that nothing really happens throughout the section, and that the misunderstanding is based on false information. There’s a whole ordeal over nothing. The title is also representative of the story because the scenes are full of social pressures and a buildup of unnecessary stress. The second section “Volume” is an homage to Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Also Spräch Zarathustra.” In Nietzsche’s work, a man is in a cave until he feels enlightened. Ray is in a dark closet and doesn’t come out until he is (relatively) enlightened. This section is also full of more conversational substance, or volume. If you know the plots of Much Ado and Also Spräch, you should notice a lot of correlations. Finally, the third section is a quick homage to “The Sound of Music.” The title of this section, “A Constant of Proportionality” completes the three fundamental aspects of gases. Ray is that constant, and it’s no coincidence that rays of light are drops of golden sun.

And, here’s one more to ponder. The word “sublime” is used in the story “Gas” when Ray has a moment where an old (solid) belief immediately leads to a journey into the abstract (gas). The processes of a solid bypassing the liquid phase when becoming a gas is sublimation.

I hope you consider these things after you read it and it motivates you to re-read it with a different frame of mind. Though the plots, dialogues, names, and behaviors may seem arbitrary, I assure you they’re not.