Cute Eats Cute

by C. B. Murphy

Central Question: What do era designations mean?
Inventor of BC/AD year-numbering system: sixth-century Scythian monk Dionysius Exiguus; Rationale for BC/AD system: to number the future dates of Easter and to remove the name of the cruel Roman emperor Diocletian from the calendar; Dionysius Exiguus’s nicknames: Dennis the Small, Dennis the Short, Dennis the Dwarf; Common misconception about “AD”: that it stands for “after death”; Real meaning of “AD”: anno Domini, or “in the year of our Lord” in Medieval Latin; Notable event in 1 AD: Ovid begins writing Metamorphoses; Notable event in 2 AD: China concludes its first national census, counting 59,594,978 people; Another common misconception about the BC/AD system: that a year zero exists; Albert Einstein on time: “The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”

C. B. Murphy’s comic coming-of-age novel, Cute Eats Cute, takes place in the late 1990s, a time the publisher’s promotional material calls BT, or Before Texting. It’s a clever conceit, and an effective framework not only for situating the story in time but also for situating our modern era in five thousand years of recorded history. Unfortunately, the ad copy is the only place where the term appears. The absence of texting in the novel carries no symbolic significance; it doesn’t color its depiction of daily life or reveal anything about the lives of its characters. Rather, it seems an arbitrary tag assigned by a marketer to enliven the product description.

In this sense, the book’s time period could just have easily been named BOM (Before O Magazine) or BAI (Before American Idol), which raises a question: couldn’t every period of time be named something else? As the familiar BC/AD system demonstrates, just about anything could be year one. For instance, many modern pop historians use punk as a stylistic dividing line, characterizing bands as proto-punk and post-punk; likewise, blues scholars use World War II to denote an artist’s or song’s place on the continuum of aesthetic evolution. During the first half of the 2000s it was common to describe time as pre- or post-9/11. And so on.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Aaron Gilbreath

Aaron Gilbreath has written for the New York Times, the Paris Review, the Kenyon Review, Brick, Black Warrior Review, and the Oxford American. He is the author of the chapbook A Secondary Landscape, and is putting out a collection of jazz essays. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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