Tag Archives: Summer

Angelus Ferri

My cat died. I will post on it soon, but it’s had me down.
In better news, though, my muse is perking up. So while I hope to do better soon, I will at least post some fictiony stuffs.
This is a continuation of Prism Sentence and Light Reading. Both of those stories were based on Inspiration Monday posts by BeKindRewrite.
In keeping with tradition, so is this one. I give you the dissonant serenity of the Angelus Ferri. I am starting to figure out where this is going. I think.
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What are you doing, cowering like a five-year-old? You’re Angelus Ferri. Get up. 
Tenebrae pushed herself to a crouch. Her whole body was shaking uncontrollably causing the bladed ‘wings’ shielding her back to make soft metallic sounds.
The blue searchlight that had been chasing her for days beat down on her, but nothing else had happened. She felt exposed, cornered, but her tormentors remained maddeningly silent.
Shading her face with with one ‘wing,’ she looked up and roared.  “If you want me, come for me!”
The blue light flickered. Shadows cast by nothing she could see began to look like forms and faces. She squinted at them. Her attention fell on one that looked familiar. Realization trickled through her like cold water. He was one of her former comrades, left to die when she defected. That connection caused her to recognize the others. All of them were dead. Either she had killed them under orders, or they were collateral damage from her shifting allegiance.
She turned, again, and ran.

“Shift change. Thank God!” Sertor stretched and handed a clipboard to his replacement, Adrian. “Everything’s been pretty standard. No issues.”
“Thanks,” said Adrian, flipping through the notes. Aula’s replacement, Marius, was already practically asleep at his desk.
Sertor snorted at the sight, “Lazy lump,” and kicked the leg of Marius’s chair. The man startled awake, glared groggily, then rested his head on his arms again.
Some time after Sertor walked out, Adrian moved to check Marius’s pulse.
Oughta sleep for a while, after a dose like that.
He flipped through the notes to find the cypher Sertor had left him.
-It’s starting to get to her. We need to act quickly. See prismer 71.-
Adrian felt his stomach tighten. What if she won’t cooperate? What if she breaks?
Swallowing his anxiety, he quickly checked both his own prismers and Marius’s. The last thing he needed was the oneirologist checking in on them.
Everything looked good, for now. But he had only one shift to do what needed to be done. He glanced over the list of prismers to find the most recent addition. The longer anyone had been there, the less likely they would be of any help.
As Sertor had said, it was prismer 71. “Octavian  Laurentius,” Adrian mumbled. “Nasty list of charges. But nothing she can’t handle, assuming she’s still herself.” Carefully, he adjusted the prism for 71. Then for prismer 67, bringing them to a slightly closer frequency. Little by little, over the next few hours, he continued his adjustments.

Tenebrae’s feet pushed the ground behind her until, finally, a step met no resistance and she fell. It was almost a relief to be helpless, to know that there was nothing she could do. Falling was very like floating until the end.
She landed hard, but not hard enough. Her wings, never designed for flight, had closed together to protect her from their sharp edges. She flexed them open again and stood up.
The searchlight was gone, now. Instead there was a globe of light near her feet, shining up through a translucent floor. The ground stretched out, featureless, as far as she could see in any direction, until it met the unnaturally still storm-cloud sky.
Picking a direction at random, Tenebrae started off at a loping, energy-efficient run. Every time her foot struck the floor, there was a flare of light.
I might as well be screaming “hey, I’m here!” Not that I’ve got any better option.
As she covered more ground, she began to see shapes moving under her. They were difficult to make out, but a moving curve, here, and a flickering reflection there, brought her to a halt.
She watched the floor intently. There. What is that?
The line of a flank slipped by, as graceful as an eel, and the size of a whale.
The creature moved out of sight. Then it struck at her feet, causing the floor to vibrate. Tenebrae saw a wide orange eye and a flash of inward-curving teeth before it withdrew, only to ram the floor again a moment later. She tensed to run.
Run where? Why?
The calm she had while falling came over her again. Another eel-monster had joined the first and was also striking at the ground under her feet. Tenebrae knelt down, staring at the teeth with a dissonant, disconnected serenity.
When the creatures struck again, she began pounding in the same place with her fists and the wrists of her wings. Cracks formed between them.

Octavian had no idea how long he had been walking before he emerged from the forest. He came out onto a dry red landscape under a cool twilit sky. It was beautiful, but no more settling than the forest. The hateful giant lightning bug was drifting along beside him, but he tried not to think about it. The only thing he remembered clearly about his recent experiences was the pain of touching the thing.
A sound like the first crack of lightning, without the accompanying echoes of thunder, split the air. Looking up, Octavian realized that what he had taken for roiling clouds were giant eels, as big as dragons, swimming through the sky. Several of them had converged on a bright point, from which spread glowing cracks.
The sky shattered, raining down shards as the eels escaped up into the black expanse above. Octavian dove for cover against a tree.
When he looked up again, the red landscape was dusted with something too crystalline to be snow. It crunched under foot, and sent up puffs of dust if he wasn’t careful.
Ahead of him was another light, like the one that followed him. He felt desperate at the sight of it, though he could not have said why. Slowly, he made his way towards it.
His light, and the one he was approaching, flickered together. They both looked like bio-luminescent jellyfish suspended in midair.
There was a person lying on the ground in front of him, very still.
Angelus Ferri.
The metal wings reflected the dim light and cast the rest of the body in shadow. When it moved, Octavian took a step back. The face that looked up at his was scarred, and the eyes were unreadable.
The Angelus only spared him a glance before taking in the rest of her surroundings. Then her face twisted in what could have been anger, or frustration, or anguish, and she slumped back to being a heap on the ground.
“You… have a light, too.” He said, after a while.
The Angelus twitched, but did not respond. Octavian sat down and wrapped his arms around his legs. There did not seem to be anything to do but wait.

Adrian studied the readouts, holding his breath as they finally synced. He waited for a few minutes, his heart racing, to be sure that they were stable, then he sat back and closed his eyes in relief.
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Hymn for the Season

Life is hard. Beautiful, agonizing, wonderful, terrifying, joyous, grief-woven, sublime and small. All at once.

Times of transition, whether external or internal, are tough. Yet without them, we don’t grow. Like Bilbo with the ring, we go on living without gaining more life, and if that goes on too long, we may look in the mirror and find Gollum staring back.*

We’re (skip down if you want to avoid foul language) fuckups.

Even the best of us, even at our best moments. We try to do things, and we fail, we’re self-deluded and we think ourselves wise, we look through a distorted lens and believe what we see to be truth. To use modern parlance, we are Epic Fail.

We are. If you think I am wrong, that’s ok. Maybe you’re right. But if what I’m saying makes you angry, may I make a suggestion? Sit quietly for a while and ask yourself why my words anger you. Or don’t. I’m not the boss of you. Be glad of that. I’m a bad enough boss over me.

This probably sounds like I’m down on myself, and on humanity as a whole. That’s the funny thing about life, though. It’s full of seeming-contradictions that somehow aren’t contradictory. They just seem like they should be.

I’m more free when I admit this kind of crap than when I try to deny it. I’m free to love myself and humanity when I admit that all is not well. When I try to pretend that I am fine, that I’m not a rampaging mess, I find myself imprisoned, and I find myself doing more damage to myself and to others. The more control I take, the less I have.

Admission is not the same as acceptance. I admit that I struggle with obsessive-compulsive tendencies, a predilection for addiction, depression, and worse than all of those together, I struggle with selfishness, anger and pride. I do not, however, accept these things. I call them out by name and then I turn and fight. I do all I can to overcome them.

I often fail. If I had only myself to rely on, I probably would have given up long ago. Why fight my nature? Against it, I am outmatched. I can only overcome one part of it by indulging another. To quote C. S. Lewis:

“Pride can often be used to beat down the simpler vices… The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride—just as he would be quite content to see your chilbains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.” -Mere Christianity, Chapter 8: The Great Sin

It’s the admission of failure, coupled with the desire to continue to fight, that makes me deeply grateful for the action of my Savior in my life. I’m dead tired, both from internal and external battles. And here He comes, to pick me up, to hold me while I sleep. In Him I find freedom even in the midst of the raging war. He frees me from my self-inflicted slavery, and from the slavery of the world around me.

I am a mess. But He isn’t asking me to get myself together, first, then come to Him when I am ready. He wants me now, mess and all, and if I will come, then bit by bit, painful though it may be, He will make me into my true, free self.

There are some words that, if spoken to another person, spoken as a “you” instead of an “I” or a “we,” become horrible. The following hymn is an example. If anyone can read it, or sing it and not feel that s/he is one of the “sinners,” then it loses all of its power for good. To me, though, in this place, it is a song of life. Because I am a sinner, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore. And if I tarry till I’m better, I will never go to Him at all.

A hymn for the day:

Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy – words by Joseph Hart

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies.
On the bloody tree behold Him;
Sinner, will this not suffice?

Lo! th’incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Source: Cyberhymnal

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*In case anyone doesn’t know, this refers to characters in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien


Light Reading -continuation of Prism Sentence

This is a continuation of Prism Sentence. I’m not sure, yet, where this is going, if indeed it is going anywhere, but then that’s part of the fun. Again, this is based on a prompt from BeKindRewrite’s Inspiration Monday: “Light Reading.”


Octavian lifted a hand to his face and noticed that his own arm was draped in layers of dark fabric, the same that covered the inhabitants moving around him. He grabbed the nearest passing figure and jerked back its covering.

A rounded, tortoise-like head blinked up at him before the creature shoved him back with a short, but powerful, arm. It shrugged the covering back over its head and wandered off at a faster shuffle than before.

Again Octavian was aware that the world moved while he remained still. When the tortoise-man shoved him, it shoved itself, and its surroundings, off of him. He took a step back and  nearly lost his balance. The movement felt strange, but he could not remember why.

He pushed the ground under his feet until he shifted it to the nearest doorway. The place had the appearance of a public building, drab with dirt, but decorated in elegant, carved scrolls and fern fronds. It was familiar.

His light came in contact with one wall, and as it did, it shifted into a sconce.

Octavian paused to stare at it. He took a step sideways. The light traveled along the wall in pace with him.

With a shaking hand, he opened one of the large doors and bolted inside. The light followed, silently, now matching the interior fixtures, glass flowers hanging from spiked chains. It was farther over his head, but the increased distance made matters worse. He knew it was present, but could no longer watch it without craning his neck.

The room he entered was a quiet, open gallery with a floor of dark granite, polished to a mirror-like shine. One of the fabric-draped figures was slumped at a long central desk, its back rising and falling slowly, as if in sleep. Octavian ran forward until he hit a flight of stairs, then pushed the whole world down with each step. His feet echoed loudly. When he reached a landing several flights up, he paused.

His instincts were screaming for him to jump off the balcony. Will the world move when I don’t touch it? Or will I move in it?

Jump.

He was over the railing before he had time to think, but the space below made him pause. A soft creaking sound drew his attention and he saw his light sway above him, just barely.

It cast a strange shadow and, turning, Octavian saw the shrouded desk-keeper moving up the stairs. It didn’t shuffle like the other creatures had. It didn’t move as if it had feet.

He released the railing and fell. The stairs rushed past. When the floor hit him, he felt an impact, but not much pain. A bright burst enveloped and blinded him.

 Sight returned gradually. Sparks popped across a dark field, then they shifted into dim fireflies, drifting about on either side. For a long time that was all he could see until, looking up, he found a silhouette of evergreens framing a patch of sky barely lighter than black.

A whispering sound caused him to look over to his left. A firefly, about the size of a grapefruit, was sitting on the ground beside him.

He tossed a handful of pine-needles and dirt at the thing. It flicked its wings, but otherwise did not seem to care.

Anger outpaced his terror and he rolled over and tried to smash the insect with his fists. But touching it filled him with burning pain that centered on his heart and flowed through his whole body. He collapsed, writhing until the feeling abated and he lay still, breathing hard.


Aula pursed her lips as she studied the read-out from Octavian’s prism. Then she laughed.

 “I win!” she scooped up the small pile of coins sitting on the table. Her companion, Sertor, groaned and put his feet up on his desk.

“Dammit. The cocky ones’re usually too cowardly to try that for days.”

“This one’s gutsy, I’ll say that for him, but he won’t try it again any time soon.”

The voice of  Secunda, the on-duty Oneirologist, crackled through the intercom. “Aula, you need to even out prismer seventy-one. At this rate, you’ll give him a stroke.”

Sertor rolled his eyes, but Aula obediently fiddled with her controls, tweaking the light through Octavian’s prism.

“She’s new.” Aula shrugged. “Scared of having an accident on her watch.”

“Maybe I’ll leave his record on her desk. A little light reading might give her some perspective.”

“Bad, huh?”

“You didn’t read it?”

Aula twitched. “You know how I feel about personality violation. If I’m going to do my job, here, I’d rather not have the details.”

“Fair enough. He’s a dear.” Sarcasm drenched the last three words. “So, when do I get a chance to win my snack-money back?”

“Hm. Well, what’s your newest prismer up to?”

Sertor glanced over at the read out of one of the prisms under his charge. “Not much. She must be worn out after that chase-dream.”

“Ok. If yours gets going first, you get your money back. If mine does, you’ll watch all the prisms while I take a nap.”

“Done.”



Prism Sentence

Results of several InMon prompts from BeKindRewrite! The prompts are: Prism Sentence, Afraid of the Light, and, to some extent, Autoimmobile.

“Any parting words?”

Octavian glared at the ceiling and did not reply. The Lightkeeper pulled the final strap tight around his arms, then stepped back, out of sight.

“For the crimes of dream-theft, subconscious manipulation, and personality violation, you are hereby sentenced to ten years in Prism.”

Ten years. That number was bad enough, but in Prism, time was a variable. Once released, most of its inmates claimed to have wandered for hundreds of years, being pulled from dreamscape to dreamscape, nightmare to nightmare. They would have no more stomach for dream-crimes. Most were afraid to go to sleep, afterwards, and had to be drugged.

Octavian closed his eyes. Soon, the motion would have no effect. There is no closing one’s eyes in a dream.

He heard the first switch flip, and on instinct, opened his eyes again. The doors beside him slid back and he could see the Prism, it’s sharp edges just catching the ambient light. It was such a small thing, about the size of a grapefruit.

The second switch ticked over, and he was bathed in fractured light.

At the sounding of the third switch, nothing happened. He lay there, waiting.

Nothing.

Had he been reprieved? Had his lawyer caught, last minute, some mistake made by the prosecution?

“Hey, you bastards? What’s going on?”

The rainbow flickered. He looked at the Prism again, and his whole body tensed. It wasn’t a prism anymore. It was a lamp, an old gas-lamp with a blue flame in it. He shuddered. The light frightened him.

Without thinking, he sat up. A faint memory crossed his mind. Hadn’t he been strapped down?

But then it was gone. The light flickered again. The lamp had changed into a globe dangling from a curving stalk. It pulsed, bright, dim, bright, dim, as if it were breathing.

Octavian could feel his grasp of time slipping. The lamp had changed. It had, hadn’t it?

A sound came from the darkness on beyond. He stood up and made his way towards it. The light followed, and as he moved it changed again. Now it was a brazier filled with glowing coals. He took a few more experimental steps and realized, to his horror, that he was not moving. When he walked, it was the space around him that moved by him and his inanimate companion.

Dawn, or something like it, broke across the horizon and he watched the first dreamscape unfold itself. He was in a city, streets wet and shining from a recent downpour, air heavy with the humidity. His light-fetter shifted with the surroundings, blending in as an unassuming electric street-lamp.

People, or at least he thought they might be people, shuffled to and fro, backs bowed, heads low, all hidden under layers of dark fabric. One of them bumped into him, mumbled something that might have been an apology, and stumbled on.

Octavian closed his eyes. Nothing changed.


 

Part 2: Light Reading


Cybernetic Mystification

Not sure where that title came from, but I think I love it. BeKindRewrite, that probably needs to be an InMon prompt!

So, I am mystified by the critics of the cyborgs. Of all the things I never thought I would say…

If you like The Terminator, and Terminator 2, go see Terminator: Genisys. Go see it in the theaters. It is well worth your time. But whatever you do, DO NOT WATCH THE LATEST TRAILER. It spoils a great twist.

Terminator: Genisys screen shot

Terminator: Genisys screen shot

The critics are raking this film over the coals, even moreso than the abysmal Terminator 3, and Terminator: Salvation. While I grant that the film is not as solid as the first two installments in the franchise, I contend that it blows T3 and T4 completely out of the water, and yet it’s rating from the critics falls well below them. Fan ratings are more mixed, thankfully. My brother and I are not the only fans who enjoyed it.

I’ve heard/seen all sorts of complaints about this film, but here is my non-spoilerific assessment:

Despite what a lot of folks have said, I found the writing to be solid. The dialog is effective, the call-backs are tasteful (which is a very rare thing in sequels) and the plot, though convoluted, doesn’t fall apart any more than that of T1 and T2. In fact, I have some very interesting theories about what is actually going on in this film, and I expect to see more explained if any sequels see the light of day. The writers have given themselves some very intriguing options.

Before anyone who disagrees with me decides to launch grenades, hear me out (it’s amazing how fast a fan-base can fall to vicious infighting). From the very beginning, The Terminator was a paradox. (Spoiler for the original Terminator film): You have John, born well before his own father, who sends his father back in time to protect his mother from a cyborg that would not have been sent to kill her if he, John, had not been born in the first place (/T1 spoiler). Terminator: Genisys complicates the timeline, but it does not hand me anything less believable than the original paradox. Enjoying the Terminator films at all requires suspension of belief.

Being familiar with the first two films will, most definitely, contribute to one’s understanding/enjoyment of this one. I did not watch it, the first time around (yes, I plan to see it again in the theaters), with an eye to how it would strike a newcomer.  My guess is that it would be overwhelming. Even with my background of being very familiar with the 1st 2 films, the pace in the second-half was a bit hard to follow.

The call-backs and references to the earlier films are everywhere. I am VERY picky about call-backs in sequels. It is easy for them to feel forced, to be used as a crutch to prop up a weak copy. Done right, though, call backs can act as a touchstone for fans, or even an inside joke. This film, for the most part, uses them right. It reverences the first two films, but it manages not to rely on them. I like the way James Cameron puts it in his (The video contains SPOILERS!) Featurette endorsing the film:

I start to see things I recognize. It’s being very respectful of the first two films. And then, all the sudden, it just swerves, and now I’m going on a journey.

The writers paid attention to the first two films. I think they must even have loved them in order to get the feel of this one right. Terminator: Genisys, feels like it belongs with T2, it works as a continuation. It has a similar style of dialogue and humor. Where Genisys drops the ball is, in my opinion, in the pacing. There is so much crammed into this movie that by the time we reached the climax, we were still, mentally, lagging a few scenes back. Said climax is confusing, and fails, on some level, to work for me. However, it wasn’t enough to break the film. It’s several pegs below T2, in my mind, but that does not make it a bad film. It still works. I still enjoyed it, and I am still thinking about its implications.

I found the twists intelligent and interesting. I won’t go into them more, here, because spoilers, but I will allow spoilers in the comments, so if anyone wants to pick my brain, feel free.

Oh, and as a note, if you know anything about helicopters, you might want to shut your brain off when the whirlybirds show up in order to enjoy the scene. It’s fun, but it laughs in the face of physics.

The acting is effective. Reese was the least-right, in my mind, (a very different Reese from T1), but even he didn’t grate on my nerves. Watching how Arnold handles his role in this film is gratifying, (yay development!) and Emilia Clarke is very fun to watch. They managed, shockingly, not to sexually exploit her very much. The film focuses on her as a person rather than focusing on her physical attributes… yes, I am glaring at you, T3. In good Sarah-Connor fashion, she’s a person with agency, not an object. I’ve not seen Game of Thrones, so I’m not biased about Emilia one way or another.

So the long and the short is this: It’s a fun, non-cringe-worthy film. No, it’s not perfect, and no, it doesn’t measure up to its first two predecessors, but really, who was expecting that? It is smart enough to hold up under discussion, and I had a roaring good time when I went to see it with my brother (to whom I owe my introduction to the Terminator films). Also, lots of Dakka, but some very interesting non-dakka stuff goes on as well. Terminator: Genisys has earned a place on my dvd shelf, which is something T3 and T4 never even came close to doing. I finally feel like we have a trilogy of Terminator films, and I have some hope that any that come after this have a chance of also being good.

For those who are curious, my ratings of the franchise are as follows: T1: 9/10, T2: 9.5/10, T3: 3/10, TS: 5/10 (ok film, but NOT a Terminator film), TG: 8/10

I cannot vouch for the comments! Spoilers will be allowed. I do ask that spoilers be marked as such.

If you’re curious, here are some reviewers who have a similar opinion. I’ll add more as I find ones I like:

Angry Movie Review (Spoilers)

The Examiner

Bandit Incorporated (Despite what it says, a little spoilerific)

The Leisure Time Blog (a little spoilerific)

And, of course, James Cameron’s Featurette mentioned above.

For Fun

HISHE: Terminator – One of my favorite mashups ever

ERBoH: Robocop vs. Terminator  – be advised, this video contains some adult themes and foul language. But the Geek in me doesn’t care, it’s great!

Honest Trailers: Terminator 2: Judgement Day – contains spoilers (duh!)


Dose of Tolkien

Because, you know, I can’t let this blog go too long without something Tolkien-related.

The leaves were long, the grass was green,
The hemlock-umbels tall and fair,
And in the glade a light was seen
Of stars in shadow shimmering.
Tinuviel was dancing there
To music of a pipe unseen,
And light of stars was in her hair,
And in her raiment glimmering.

There Beren came from mountains cold,
And lost he wandered under leaves,
And where the Elven-river rolled.
He walked along and sorrowing.
He peered between the hemlock-leaves
And saw in wonder flowers of gold
Upon her mantle and her sleeves,
And her hair like shadow following.

Enchantment healed his weary feet
That over hills were doomed to roam;
And forth he hastened, strong and fleet,
And grasped at moonbeams glistening.
Through woven woods in Elvenhome
She lightly fled on dancing feet,
And left him lonely still to roam
In the silent forest listening.

He heard there oft the flying sound
Of feet as light as linden-leaves,
Or music welling underground,
In hidden hollows quavering.
Now withered lay the hemlock-sheaves,
And one by one with sighing sound
Whispering fell the beechen leaves
In the wintry woodland wavering.

He sought her ever, wandering far
Where leaves of years were thickly strewn,
By light of moon and ray of star
In frosty heavens shivering.
Her mantle glinted in the moon,
As on a hill-top high and far
She danced, and at her feet was strewn
A mist of silver quivering.

When winter passed, she came again,
And her song released the sudden spring,
Like rising lark, and falling rain,
And melting water bubbling.
He saw the elven-flowers spring
About her feet, and healed again
He longed by her to dance and sing
Upon the grass untroubling.

Again she fled, but swift he came.
Tinuviel! Tinuviel!
He called her by her elvish name;
And there she halted listening.
One moment stood she, and a spell
His voice laid on her: Beren came,
And doom fell on Tinuviel
That in his arms lay glistening.

As Beren looked into her eyes
Within the shadows of her hair,
The trembling starlight of the skies
He saw there mirrored shimmering.
Tinuviel the elven-fair,
Immortal maiden elven-wise,
About him cast her shadowy hair
And arms like silver glimmering.

Long was the way that fate them bore,
O’er stony mountains cold and grey,
Through halls of iron and darkling door,
And woods of nightshade morrowless.
The Sundering Seas between them lay,
And yet at last they met once more,
And long ago they passed away
In the forest singing sorrowless.

– J.R.R. Tolkien


Autumn in Tennessee

Autumn opened its eyes, smiled, still half asleep, and rolled over.

At least, that is what it felt like.

We had a spell of cool weather, unseasonably, bizarrely cool, but lovely. Right on its edge, I thought I caught the scent of Autumn. There is no smell like it, no smell that quickens my blood that much. It is like the breath of God entering my lungs and enlivening the spirit He once breathed into me.

August, in my hometown, is hot, oppressive, and usually muggy (though we are in a mild drought this time). 30+ years living here, and indeed, further south where it is worse, have not helped me to like summer weather.

There are things I like about summer. The food is great, the greens of the landscape are rich, some of my favorite wildflowers put on a show and there are awesome insects and migratory birds everywhere. The other day I saw a clearwing moth, and just yesterday, I watched two female ruby-throated hummingbirds compete over coral honeysuckle, native salvia and a feeder.  And cicadas. I revel in summer cicada-song! But the heat and humidity wear me down quickly, and I run inside to escape.

The three other seasons, though, make up for the heaviness. For one thing, our seasons are pretty evenly spaced, around 3 months apiece. Spring, instead of being a brief link between winter and summer, is a long stretch of flower successions, greening, warming, and rain. It smells of sap and clean earth and breaks through the grays of winter with sharp, vibrant splashes of yellow, purple and white. Then, as the green begins to show, red, orange and blue mix in with the first colors, like a Fauve painting.

Winter, here, has little in the way of snow or persistent ice (though we always get some) but it is filled with opalescent grays, fawn-browns, and frost. A hillside covered with mostly deciduous trees looks like the speckled flank of a sleeping beast with a long, soft, gray-brown winter coat. It is subtle, and yet beautiful, like the many grays of the limestone sky. And in the morning, as I go to work in the dark, the street-lights set lawns and leaves sparkling with frost. It is as if every surface of the world is covered in glitter, and the smell of frost quickens the cold air.

But autumn. It leaves the rest behind. For some reason, the season of dying is life-giving to me. Sumac is the first to turn, a brilliant scarlet, brighter than flame or blood. The sugar-maples, perhaps the most spectacular, create a spectrum that runs from green, through yellows and oranges and into red, all at the same time. They look like shards of living rainbow. Sweetgums turn dark crimson, purple and black. Each tree species (and sometimes each tree) has its pattern and its method, and we have well over 100 species here. Some non-evergreens even retain their dead leaves to whisper through the winter, shedding them only when the new growth arrives in the spring.

One of my favorite species, eastern red cedar (which is actually a juniper) is an evergreen, though it takes on a winter sheen of dark bronze.

But if it were just about visual wonder, Spring and Autumn would be equally loved by me. They are not.

Spring breaks into winter just when I am weary of the gray. It is welcome and enlivening. But there is something about Autumn air. It blows across my mind, causing the embers there to redden, dusting away the white ash until flames flicker to life. It sparks my creativity, my well-being, my life. The taste we had recently whetted my appetite for that rare wind. I am never satisfied, it is never enough. Even in this place, that has a long autumn, it is too brief.

But for that short time, every year, I seem to touch something beyond myself. Perhaps it really is a time when the boundaries between worlds grows thin. I do not fear fairies, or the dead. What I feel coming near is different from that. It is the Christian song. I feel like I breathe in eternity, that eternity that is already here, present within me, but that I do not fully understand. Not yet. Not yet, but one day. Until that day, I have the contradictions, the mystery, a keyhole through a door.

Autumn, dying and living, curling up to sleep, comfort in fear, but not a vulgar fear as of being afraid. I am not afraid, but my heart is racing. It is so hard to express.  I think C.S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton are right about that desire. The desire I feel that is soothed a little in this world, but never satisfied, the hunger for the excitement of adventure coupled with the comfort of coming home, that contradiction in my soul during Fall, fear and comfort, excitement and peace, thrill and balm.

I think of Bilbo Baggins. That journey at my feet, the road tugging at me, that song in the wind. Maybe that is why Bilbo’s song always brings me tears, good tears, and makes me think of Autumn.

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains of the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

-J. R. R. Tolkien: From Bilbo, in The Hobbit and (the last stanza) Lord of the Rings.

..

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*I’ve been told that this post can easily be taken as disrespectful to other beliefs. If you find it so, I apologize. That was not my intent.


That gun is loaded

Riza Hawkeye, from Fullmetal Alchemist by Arakawa Hiromu.

Nothing like a sniper to teach one gun safety. Riza Hawkeye, from Fullmetal Alchemist by Arakawa Hiromu.

Would you feel comfortable with someone waving around a gun they do not know is loaded? How do you feel about someone who is not a marksman doing trick shooting?

No, this is not a post about Gun Control or Firearm Safety, it is a post about writing.

No one in their right mind will deny the fact that stories humans tell have patterns. Some of these patterns, over time, become so common that they earn the title of “trope” or “cliché.”  You know some of them by sight, having seen them again and again. New ones appear every so often, Sometimes old ones go out of fashion, and sometimes they return and, for a little while, seem new again. Sometimes “new” tropes and clichés are actually old ones in disguise.

Let me pause a moment to define how I am using these terms:

Trope: a common or overused theme or device

Cliché: something that is so commonly used in books, stories, etc., that it is no longer effective

A trope can be a cliché, but not every trope has to be. “Cliché” is what happens when that loaded trope misfires and a character, scene, or entire story dies to the reader’s interest because of it. I know you know the feeling.

That moment, in a movie, where that thing that always happens, happens and you groan inside. For that moment in the story, if not for the whole of it, the writers have lost you. You are back in reality and rolling your eyes at the choices made in creating the film.

The story lies bleeding. Maybe it’s just a fleshwound. Maybe it is fatal. Either way, it could have been avoided.

So the question becomes: How can we, as writers, practice acceptable trope-safety?

Step 1: Awareness

We are all inundated with tropes. Whether they would arise from our minds independently, or whether we are simply fed them from early childhood, they are in us. Chances are the first thoughts coming out of your head when you sit down to write, are tropes. In order to avoid any unpleasantness later on, you need to learn to recognize them, see them for what they are.

Step 2: Acceptance

I am of the opinion that tropes are neither good nor bad. I know people who struggle to avoid them altogether. The truth is, that is a trope in itself and often creates meaningless mush. Tropes exist, and continue to exist, because they serve purposes, and often serve them well. Fearing them is counter-productive. You will never be able to write anything meaningful by avoiding them completely. If you don’t believe me, spend some time wandering around tvtropes.org*. There is a trope for everything.

*Warning. This website will eat your time like a huge time-eating sarlacc.

Step 3: Education

So we cannot avoid tropes. What, then, should we do with them to prevent accidental story mutilation?

Before a firearm can be either safely used, or safely discarded (whatever your preference) the person who has it must know what it is and think about what they want to do with it. The key is education and thought. Learn to recognize tropes, decide not to fear them, and then be deliberate in how you use them. The difference between effective use of a trope and a trope-turned-cliché can be very slight.

This sounds vague, I know, but I cannot tell anyone how to use tropes because there are so many and I have no idea how any writer, other than myself, wants to use them. I think there are a few strategies, though.

a. Turn the trope a little. Don’t change it entirely, but tweak it (and make sure you know if the tweaked trope is also trope). Think of this like a feint. Your audience gets something just different enough from what they expected to cause them to look at it more closely.

b. Flip it. This one is pretty common, so be careful. It is usually referred to as an inverted trope. Princess saves knight can work quite well, but inverted tropes are tropes, too, and can become cliché or, worse, feel forced.

c. Play it straight. Be very intentional. Know what you are doing, and have a good reason why. It is a little safer to do with with less-common tropes, but sometimes it’s fun to go with the “well-worn.” Just try to avoid doing this by accident because purposeless tropes easily become boring or even annoying.

d. Subvert it. If there is a trope you really don’t like, consider using it to make a point against itself. This is the ultimate bait-and-switch of storytelling. I don’t particularly like this strategy, though it is sometimes very effective. Just be careful not to make war on straw.

e. Leave it. If the story will work just as well if you abandon the trope, or move to a less-expected one, then maybe you should do that. While tropes can be fundamental to plot or character, often times they are just trappings. Trappings can matter a lot, but not all are of equal worth.

f. Beware the implications of your tropes. This isn’t so much a strategy as very good advice. If you write about a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, make sure you don’t miss the problematic undercurrents. Whether you play them straight or subvert them, being unaware of them can undermine whatever story you are trying to tell.

Ultimately, this post is me working through these questions for myself. I value input, and if this post has helped make you more aware of tropes, or helped you see new ways of dealing with them, then I am glad. Many times have I seen a perfectly good story or character fall prey to careless trope-use. If I can see it less in my own work, and less in the work of others, I will be very happy.

Do your part to reduce story mortality!

Practice Trope Safety:

Awareness, Acceptance, and Education.

.

I would like to dedicate this to BeKindRewrite. I promised her, long ago, that I would write this post.  She has written many good articles on this kind of thing, too. For starters, check this out: How to Be Original

Riza Hawkeye from the anime Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, adapted from the Fullmetal Alchemist manga by She's awesome with handguns, too. Riza Hawkeye from the anime Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, adapted from the Fullmetal Alchemist manga by Arakawa Hiromu.

She’s awesome with handguns, too. Riza Hawkeye from the anime “Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood”, adapted from the Fullmetal Alchemist manga by Arakawa Hiromu.


N. T. Wright: “The line between good and evil does not lie between ‘us’ and ‘them”

This blog is hit or miss for me (though always interesting) but this quote is a definite “hit.”

Dover Beach

N. T. Wright

“The line between good and evil does not lie between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ between the West and the rest, between Left and Right, between rich and poor. That fateful line runs down the middle of each of us, every human society, every individual. This is not to say that all humans, and all societies, are equally good or bad; far from it. Merely that we are all infected and that all easy attempts to see the problem in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’ are fatally flawed.”
– N. T. Wright, Surprised by Scripture

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Xena, Arizona Ranger

The other day I was listening to Marty Robbins, as I do now and again (after all, the man’s voice is like gelato, creamy and smooth). Specifically, the song Big Iron. Songs often influence, or interweave with, my writing. This song makes me think of the main protagonist of my WIP, who is a ranger, though not quite like the Rangers of the Old West, idealized or otherwise; not entirely unlike them, either.

The thing is, my ranger-protagonist is a woman. She’s not a gun-slinger, partly because her distance-vision is terrible, but mostly because there aren’t any guns in her world. However, I can definitely see her hunting down an outlaw and taking no prisoners.

So, on impulse, I stopped the music and began to re-sing the song to myself with the ranger being female. Then, when I reached the part about the outlaw, he became a woman, too. The result follows.

“Big Iron,” by Marty Robbins, altered lyrics in red.

To the town of Agua Fria rode a stranger one fine day,
Hardly spoke to folks around her, didn’t have too much to say.
No one dare to ask her business, no one dared to make a slip,
The stranger there among them had a big iron on her hip,
Big iron on her hip.

It was early in the mornin when she rode into the town.
She came ridin from the south side, slowly looking all around.
She’s an outlaw, loose and runnin,” came the whisper from each lip,
“And she’s here to do some business with the big iron on her hip,”
Big iron on her hip.

In this town there lived an outlaw by the name of Texas Red.
Many folks had tried to take her, and that many folks were dead.
She was vicious and a killer, though a girl of twenty-four,
And the notches on her pistol numbered one and nineteen more,
One and nineteen more.

Now the stranger started talkin, made it plain to folks around,
Was an Arizona Ranger, wouldn’t be to long in town.
She came here to take an outlaw back alive, or maybe dead,
And she said it didn’t matter, she was after Texas Red,
After Texas Red.

Wasn’t long before the story was relayed to Texas Red,
But the outlaw didn’t worry, those that tried before were dead.
Twenty folks had tried to take her, twenty folks had made a slip,
Twenty-one would be the Ranger with the big iron on her hip,
Big iron on her hip.

The morning passed so quickly, it was time for them to meet.
It was twenty-past-eleven when they walked out in the street.
Folks were watching from the windows, everybody held their breath,
They new this handsome Ranger was about to meet her death,
About to meet her death.

There was forty feet between ’em when they stopped to make their play,
And the swiftness of the Ranger is still talked about today.
Texas Red had not cleared leather ‘fore a bullet fairly ripped,
And the Ranger’s aim was deadly with the big iron on her hip,
Big iron on her hip.

It was over in a moment and the folks had gathered ’round.
There, before them, lay the body of the outlaw on the ground.
Oh she might’ve went on livin, but she made one fatal slip,
When she tried to match the Ranger with the big iron on her hip,
Big iron on her hip.

Big iron, big iron,
When she tried to match the Ranger,
With the big iron on her hip.

 

It certainly changes the mental imagery, doesn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I love the original version of the song, too, and am as happy to sing it as to sing my slight adjustment.  Since doing this, though, I’ve tried flipping the pronouns in other songs, and it nearly always works.

Anyone who reads my blog consistently knows that I consider myself a feminist, and I in no way feel that I have to choose between feminism and loving and respecting men. Feminism, to me, means being considered a whole person, on equal standing with men, who are also whole people.

The culture I live in is riddled with messages that I don’t like. Few stories have interesting (much less powerful) female characters, and alternative feminist narratives sometimes seem to belittle, if not demonize, women who desire traditional female roles. It all makes me want to throw up my hands and shout “stop telling me what I should want and give me some better stories!”

Things are getting better in this regard, but progress seems slow. I will keep playing with songs and writing my own stories that neither limit women to periphery or symbolic roles, nor demonizes them if they make their mark on the world by keeping a home and raising children.


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