Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Saturday, April 13, 2013
Because (despite my son's assurance that our house is "quiet, too quiet") my house is full of the sounds of Minecraft mood music, cats knocking porcelain things from high shelves, imaginary light saber battles, etc., I find that I often have to plug up my ears with music that will inspire writing rather than interfere with it. In a perfect world, I'd write in perfect silence, but as it is, I find one song that helps me to picture a scene or feel a mood, and I play it over and over until it becomes a suggestive silence of its own.
Andrew Byrd is perfect for that sort of thing, and his song I was a go to for me while working on sync in November. I was the song that helped me to experience my protagonist's sense of isolation and fear in his most trying moments.
In this scene, Charlie's been dropped into the House of Darkness, the Sumerian afterlife:
If Charlie had feared the consequences of such a long fall – he could not see a bottom to the pit – his fears were soon replaced with fears of a different sort. Around him, he heard the rustle of wings flapping against the blackness, and he felt a presence nearby that he couldn't see. In the next moment, his arms were seized by what felt like talons, biting into his flesh. Something large had captured him and was pulling him through the air, in what direction Charlie couldn't tell.
At some distance, Charlie could see a faint flickering of reddish hued lights, and a shiver went through him. He was approaching the House of Darkness. His eyes had somewhat adjusted to the gloom, and the trickle of light afforded him a view of the creature that had captured him. He looked up and saw that he was in the claws of a beast with the body of a lion and the filthy wings of some giant bird. The face, though, brought a cold chill to Charlie’s heart. It was the face of a man with glowing eyes and the sharp teeth of a vampire. The creature was intent on whatever path it was on and ignored Charlie, and Charlie was glad of it.
The lights of the House of Darkness did not grow brighter as they neared, but they did grow. As the assembly of the gods had been built of a white marble that seemed to stretch in all directions, the House of Darkness must have been built of infinitely dark matter. Though Charlie sensed a structure, it was invisible in the darkness. He felt the floor when the creature dropped him, but he couldn't see it, and so he seemed to walk through nothingness, and his body jerked repeatedly, instinctively, to catch him from falling.
Amber flames flickered here and there, and Charlie, drawing near to one, saw that there were souls or demons, he wasn’t sure which, trapped in these, gnashing their teeth at him when he came too close. He backed away towards what felt like the center of the space and continued walking through the great room of the house. He wasn’t sure where he was going, but he continued moving forward.
He wasn’t alone in the House of Darkness. He heard moans and whimpers, whispers and groans around him, and when he strained his eyes against the darkness, he vaguely saw the shapes of men and women who were covered in matted, gray feathers, some sitting, some lying prone, some pulling up clumps of dirt and shoving it towards their mouths ravenously, some scurrying about carrying baskets and earthenware bowls in the pitch blackness. He could make out hills and mountains rising in the murk, and upon close inspection, he saw that these were built from the relics of the inhabitants of the House of Darkness. One mountain was made entirely of crowns: gold, silver, platinum, tarnished, encrusted with jewels that did not sparkle or glitter in the darkness of the underworld, whose royal lights had been dimmed. Here, all men were the same, thought Charlie. No wonder Gilgamesh went in search of immortality.
Ahead, Charlie saw a conflagration of the amber orbs that cast just enough dim light to allow him to make out the rising of a great throne.
“This must be the place,” he said aloud, just to hear his own voice. In the utter darkness, he had begun to get the sense that somehow he didn’t exist. He felt bodiless, and therefore voiceless, and he wanted to reassure himself that such was not the case. It was an entirely different sensation than what he'd felt on the mountaintop. Then, that bodilessness had made him feel a part of all things, now it made him feel a part of no thing.
He drew near to the throne, which was constructed of an array of bones faintly glimmering with a golden hue under the orbs, and he could see the figure of a woman seated upon it. She had wings that grew from her back, enormous and black and widespread like a vulture sunning itself in the early morning. She wore a crown of gold-tinted bones tangled in her mass of black hair, and her feet were the feet of a great bird with long, pointed talons. Sitting at her feet, her legs crossed, was another woman who held a tablet of gleaming black stone and read from it to the Queen of the Netherworld.
The two raised their heads in unison when they saw Charlie approach, examining him the way that he had seen his mother examine cuts of meat at the grocery store.
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Even though I rail against an educational system that depicts life as a series of multiple choice problems with very limited actual choices, in reality, there are always only two choices in life at any given moment - continue on as I am or choose something different. Either way - whether I choose the security of where I am or the uncertainty of where I might be - there are risks, I'm just ignoring them when I make one choice and acknowledging them when I make the other.
This seems to be a running theme for me lately, and for good reason. I'm about to change my whole life as well as my child's - getting married, moving to a new place, enrolling in a new school, finding a new job. While my status quo has included all the struggles that any single, working mother faces, the struggles have been predictable. Though I've missed the variety of New Orleans, the culture and the opportunities, I've grown accustomed to the quiet nights of a small town. I've had moments of loneliness, but I've gotten used to being alone.
Despite inherent monkey wrenches in the machine, I've carved out a safe, cozy little life, and now I'm leaving it behind in favor of an exciting unknown. There's a certain amount of trepidation in sacrificing the comfort of a dull familiarity, an often worrisome familiarity, even in favor of a promising unknown.
There was a moment, months ago, when I had to weigh those two choices - to stay or to go, to risk or to retreat - and make a decision. It was nerve-racking trying to imagine every possible scenario that might result from either choice, and of course, it's impossible. There was no doubt in my mind that I loved my fiance Jack and that we'd be happy, but it meant changing everything my kid and I know in one swift motion. Everything. A very patient friend, after months of listening to me worry over possible futures, finally said, "You don't get to know what will happen. You just have to decide."
Jack has said the same thing about my writing. I've always written just for myself because I enjoy it. I've written a novel a year since Fain was a baby, but they were always just an escape for me, a free vacation. Recently, as I've considered publishing, I've been gripped by fear. Writing for myself is safe; writing for publication is a risk. Jack consoled me in a moment of neurotic crisis by telling me that if I tried and failed, nothing would change anyway, so I may as well get on with it. (Poor man, he's taken the great risk of marrying a neurotic lunatic.)
If I don't choose the risk of the unknown - whether it's marrying, moving, or writing - then I may as well quit teaching. If I won't take risks myself, even if it's scary as hell, I've forfeited the right to ask my kids to take risks.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
I've spent most of the day walking around New Orleans, re-exploring. Although North Carolina has been good to me during the past seven years, I did miss the sense of unexpected possibilities that I always had in New Orleans.
After walking around my small town in North Carolina a few times, I had memorized it. Once I became that familiar with it, I started to forget what it was like to be surprised and excited by constant newness. I think in a way, it also limited my sense of my own possibilities. Walking around today, peeking down streets, into shops, I got that sensation of expansiveness that I remembered from my time here before.
I remember my very first night in New Orleans. I was twenty four, and I arrived at the hostel where I'd managed to get a job just as the daytime sky was fading into a gray blue evening. I remember standing outside the old house on Prytania breathing in the air. It had that thick, sweet nighttime in the South smell that I'd never noticed anywhere else before. I recognize it in other places now, but it always makes me feel as if I'm standing back in New Orleans on that first night. I imagine it's the smell of old oaks and palms and jasmine breathing out a sigh of relief with the setting of the sun.
I was overwhelmed with excitement back then. I'd always wanted to visit the city, but I never imagined that I might live there. I'd grown up in a small town with a strong sense of expectation and duty. Striking out into the world alone hadn't been among my plans, and it was just a strange caprice that prompted me to pack everything up and leave what wouldn't be packed up behind. Standing there then, I was still surprised by what I'd done. I was still a little dizzy with a sense of the unreality of it.
That was probably what made New Orleans so special to me. My snap decision to break out of the limits that I imagined for myself seemed bound up with the city so that I attributed to it a surreal magical quality that continues to color my view of it. I get the same thrill now when I strike out on a long walk here that I got those fourteen years ago. That I'm on an adventure. That anything is possible. That I might still surprise even myself.