only our dreams are true

11 June 2012

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To Love Life, by Ellen Bass

The thing is
to love life
to love it even when you have no
stomach for it, when everything you've held
dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands
and your throat is filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you so heavily
it's like heat, tropical, moist
thickening the air so it's heavy like water
more fit for gills than lungs.
When grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief.
How long can a body withstand this? you think,
and yet you hold life like a face between your palms,
a plain face, with no charming smile
or twinkle in her eye,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you again.

Walking in London, 14 May 2012

I feel, often, a piercing loneliness, and wish that I had someone with whom to share my travels. But there is a virtue in traveling by oneself, that being mainly that there is no one you need satisfy except yourself.

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As grey-eyed Athena was sprung from Zeus's headache, so I have headaches for my grey eyes.

And with them complete paralysis of the right side of my body. Apparently it's a mutation; I'm not up on the research of a cure, and the pharmacy medicines I've tried are ineffective.

When I close my eyes during a migraine I see things-- a sunburst that turns into a neon star, computer-generated people making creepy gestures, a centaur walking away, elevation lines like a map. I have no idea how my mind comes up with these things; my mind does not work properly during a migraine.

I endure it because I have to, there is no choice in the matter. I slept for two days, aside from throwing up and using the bathroom, and my roommate took care of me (which I am deeply ashamed of). It is only today that I feel somewhat better-- but only somewhat.

But. Gods, during a migraine I truly appreciate the miracle of this freckled skin, these unbroken bones, my hair that sparks twenty colors in the sunlight. I appreciate my skills, humble though they may be, because I lose them all. I appreciate my memory because it disappears; I appreciate this computer as a miracle of technology; I contemplate stories and words because they mean so much and I can't speak a single coherent sentence during a migraine.

Human lives are so fragile. My own brain does this to me, and always I am afraid-- what if it lasts forever? What will I do?

I don't know.

april is the cruelest month

I had just finished a tremendously depressing conversation with my family. Not that there was anything particular wrong, it was simply a bad day, and so all the problems bubbled up. My great-aunt, whose health is starting to go. My brother, who seems to be angrily miserable in every aspect of his life. My sister, struggling to support her husband and daughter. My father, irritable and temperamental and terribly bad at handling it. My mother--

No surprises, really. Same old, same old. But that in and of itself was what made it so terribly depressing, because these things-- except for my great-aunt's getting-old problem, which is not so much a problem as an inevitability-- have been problems for years. And they're still problems. And they're still going to be problems tomorrow, next week, next year.

Why are we so helpless in the face of these issues? It's not like we don't try to solve them. And yet they persist, year after year-- problems of situation and problems of personality.

It reminds me again one of the reasons why I have chosen to live far, far from these people who I love. Because I can see everything so clearly. Because sometimes I can even see how to solve the problems. And I can't. Nothing I say or do will ultimately fix the situation.

I wonder: is the whole world like this? Does every person who walks the earth move beneath a cloud they can never escape? Are we so broken, why can we not fix ourselves?
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song of the caged bird

I was at Sensei's house one time, and his son, and some of his son's friends, were studying in the kitchen. Sensei asked my then-roommate and I if we would come downstairs so that the kids could try their English on us; we agreed. We went downstairs and answered their questions in our best slow, clear English-teacher voices. I don't remember most of them save the last; they asked us, "what is your favorite place in Kyoto?"

My flatmate said Kiyomizudera, a beautiful temple perched on the mountains to the east of the city. It's the obvious choice, of course: the buildings and grounds are beautiful, there's a view of the city, the temples and relics are old and significant, they illuminate the cherry blossoms in the spring and the maple trees in the autumn, there is a perpetually-flowing spring of pure water you can drink right out of the ground. The road up the mountain is through a charming old district; the shops have been catering to tourists for hundreds of years. The great stage of Kiyomizudera is a miracle of engineering, built without a single nail. It floats among the trees, and catches a refreshing breeze even in the stickiest Kyoto summer. There are fun festivals there; it even boasts credible wisteria which grow on trellises and shade benches where pilgrims can rest. There are charming eateries tucked among the groves of trees beneath the temple. Maiko and geisha regularly come to visit in full regalia, since it is the patron temple of one of Kyoto's "flower towns."

Everyone nodded when my roommate gave her answer; clearly Kiyomizudera is one of the most wonderful places in Kyoto.

Then it was my turn, and I had to think. What place in Kyoto could compare to Kiyomizudera's virtues?

"This house," I said.

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I have no skill at art whatsoever, but I doodle for fun, and thought I might as well put up a few of my slightly-more-credible scribbles. Behind a cut to protect your eyes. Primary mediums are pencil (my favorite cheap-ass Bic mechanicals) and colored pencils.

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the lark ascending

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra has a delightful series of 1-hour concerts on occasional weekday evenings, from 6 to 7, called Cl@six. The idea being that you go after work, listen to beautiful music for an hour, and then head home relaxed and content having neatly missed the rush hour.

At 5 I stood up from the day's work, changed into my jogging clothes, and ran to St. Cuthbert's as my much-needed exercise for the day. It was not a particularly pleasant one, grey and gloomy from start to finish. St. Cuthbert's is pleasant enough outside, though somewhat spooky and gloomy-- the facade is blackened with age, and it's down in the basin overshadowed by the high cliff of the castle. Adding to the general sense of oppression are the shadowing trees that grow in the churchyard, and the dark, perpetually damp stone tombstones scattered higgledy-piggledy like broken teeth. It's a pleasant enough place in the sunlight, full of dappled shadows over verdantly green moss, but the least bit of atmospheric gloom and it becomes spooky and foreboding. And this being Scotland, atmospheric gloom is considered the default weather setting.

I had never been inside the church, and was surprised to find it a cheerful contrast to the somewhat gloomy exterior. It could be described as ornate, but not in an overcrowded gothic way-- more Romanesque, decorated with marble panels, a marble bas-relief of the Last Supper which was probably well-intentioned, and solid art-deco frescoes. There were straight clear lines for the balcony, and light expanses of white and teal-turquoise walls which contributed to a feeling of cleanliness, of light and airy space at odds with my initial impression of the church.

And there was music-- oh there was music.

The surprise ending made me smile:

I just closed my eyes for the whole thing. Truly sublime:

I . . . seriously thought, listening, that they were playing Mozart. It was actually Schubert. Apparently he was infatuated with Mozart when he wrote this symphony:

I let myself pause outside the churchyard to look around. In the belfry came the constant pealing of bells, restlessly refusing to harmonize; perhaps a lesson in bell-ringing. Someone had dug rows of flowerbeds among the tombstones, and planted them with sweet-smelling daffodils; I resolved to come back and see them in the sunlight at my next opportunity. The church was illuminated with spotlights, as was the castle above; I could see in the distance the dark spire of the Scott Monument, and beyond it the illuminated clock tower of the Balmoral glowing like a jewel in the night.

what an icebox heart I've been given

A random person on Facebook wrote some sort of happy update about her joy in arranging her wedding. I read it and shrugged. How strange, I thought to myself. I didn't understand.

I didn't understand.

I . . . can think of no time when I have loved and it has brought me pure and absolute joy. Every time I have thought, I love you, it has always been tinged with a knowledge of loss, of the ephemeral. I love you, and we will part. I love you, and this moment will pass. I love you, and soon you will go, soon I will go.

Love may last, but happiness does not.

carnival of basel

There was a small gnat flying about my arms as I was doing the dishes. It landed light as a feather's brush on my skin, and I held myself back from swatting it, from running water over it-- because if one is going to subscribe to a philosophy of the preciousness of life, one must hold to it even when inconvenient. Instead I blew gently on my arm, and the gnat took off again, circling the sink, then close to the plate I was washing-- too close: it got caught in the waterfall of water over the edge of the plate, and carried over to dash against the side of the sink. I turned off the water, but it was long past too late; the gnat's body was a tiny, twisted black scribble on the metal surface.

"For heaven's sake," I told it, "if you go courting your own death there's not much I can do about it."

. . . it should be noted that my philosophy on life does not extend to mold, cockroaches, or mosquitoes. Perfection is for God, after all, according to the Qur'an.
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the lady is a tramp


The problem with all of these competing Internet services is that they tend to divert you for the shear ease of usage. Actually writing an LJ entry actually takes some devotion, some thought . . . not much, but even so. And so people don't, because it's easier to put a shorter entry elsewhere, and so there's less reason to come to LJ in the first place, which means you end up not updating as much and . . . vicious circle.

But the fact remains that, while other services might be more convenient, LJ still reigns when it comes to having coherent and meaningful and in-depth conversations with people . . . when there are posts to comment on, that is. And when people actually comment. Granted I'm no model as far as that's concerned.

The thing that's been eating up large amounts of my spare time these days is Tumblr; mine is over here, if you're curious. I occasionally write brief pieces inspired by the pictures that I post. Not often, but occasionally.

LJ, however, remains the most convenient place for posting writing, especially as so much of mine is not in a finished form that might qualify it for a place like AO3. Et alors!

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"I thought you might be one of those people. You know. Proselyte-ing-y ones."

She shook her head. "I have two religions, one for my head and one for my heart. Science--" she tapped her temple, "--and poetry." She laid her hand on her breast. "Neither has any particular need to evangelize."

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'Do you want your receipt?'

'You may keep it. Consider it a gift from my heart to yours. I don't know what it says about my heart, that it produces cheap paper and pumps blue ink, or that it considers such things suitable gifts, but nonetheless I hope you'll accept it.'

Rose: your heart does not produce cheap paper and pump blue ink. believe me--i've checked. would you like to see the blueprints?

Me: The blueprints might be handy. Usually my heart produces smooth lined paper and pumps aetheric graphite, so this change is a bit alarming. Of course, it's SUPPOSED to produce vellum and pump egg tempera and gold leaf, but it's never worked quite right from the beginning, so . . .

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I played a random priest in a game set in 1666 London, and he was great fun. Father James Savant: High Anglican/crypto-Catholic, power-hungry and utterly ruthless, but absolutely convinced that he was doing God's work, with a taste for the finer things in life (mainly fine art, but his absolutely simple cassock is blacker than black, and his crucifix is ornate silver, and his Bible's cover is inscribed gold and jems, and his shoes are heinously expensive . . . you get the idea).

I came home from the game absolutely wanting to write stories about him, and despite the late hour sat down to hammer one out . . . only to find that the voices were ending up all wrong, too amusingly lighthearted, and I was actually writing a scene from a fanfic. So after an attempt at repair I sighed, gave up, changed the names, and now it's an XMFC AU snippet and that's it (there's precedent! Marvel 1602 by Neil bloody Gaiman, because he gets to do all the most fun stuff).


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. . . let us pray the merciful gods I write no more, at least of this.

I always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library

I just recalled a particularly vivid memory of a place that no longer exists-- specifically, the children's library in my town before it was extensively renovated. I remember where the Outlaws of Sherwood was, and the picture books, and the Albert Payson Terhune books, and the Choose Your Own Adventure books, and the ancient computers where I played Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. There was a projects board where you could build things from paper, a different project every summer. One summer there was a medieval theme, and so you were trying to build a castle-- read a certain number of books and you got another piece for your castle. The ceiling was low, with unpleasant ceiling tiles and long florescent lights. The pile carpet was a dull maroon. The shelves were oak stained a dull brown. There were rectangular brown stools for reaching the higher shelves.

There was a tree outside, and in the summer it was like an overturned bowl of leaves. If you walked inside the leaves it was like being inside of a green building. The bark of the tree was grey and smooth without being glossy. There were so many branches it was quite easy to climb, and no one could see you there at all.

. . . I remember the library better than I remember the room I grew up in.

‎Come to think of it, I remember all the libraries perfectly. The libraries at my schools growing up, all three of them. The town library; the children's section from before it was renovated, and then the way it is now. The library a town over where I often went with my dad to get books our library didn't have. The library at my university, the library at the university where I studied abroad. The libraries in the schools I taught at in Japan. And now, the libraries at my postgrad university, and the two I regularly visit in town.

I remember the layout of the shelves. I remember where specific books I retrieved are, I remember where different sections are. I remember what the shelves were made of. I remember what they smelled like. I remember the stairs. I remember the library furniture. I remember how the buildings looked from the outside.

seven magpies

I woke up to a blue sky this morning, and sat for a while in a short-lived pool of golden light. The night before I had wondered, briefly, just what it was that I was going to get up for, today. The hours stretched before me without plan or design.

You knew, once, I reminded myself. How to be lonely. How to be alone.

About time you learned again.

I had a lovely spicy paella for lunch, and then a square of mingled dark and light chocolate, and then a cup of Earl Grey, and the flavors blended one into the next with utter perfection. I listened to 'Here and Heaven' on repeat.

Joy in small pleasures, in things done solely to please yourself.

I contemplated whether or not to go to the gym-- the gym to which I've been ten thousand times, always the same route (however pleasant), always the same boring gym. Then thought of the nature trail I'd passed so many times, but never explored.

Late November, I thought, it won't exactly be at its best.

But surely every season has its own charms-- I knew that, too, once. My exercise clothes are getting worn, but these days everything I own is becoming endowed with private significance. The jogging trousers I bought in Japan for sports day. The socks from Uniqlo, too expensive for me these days but worth it. The t-shirt that my father brought back for me from his trip to Memphis. The sneakers, a second-hand gift from a friend. The black hoodie bought at a charity shop that somehow kept me warm through last year's biting Scottish autumn. The over-long scarf my friend knitted me from Japanese wool, in its wonderful muted fall colors.

I jogged out past the school fields. There was some sort of sporting event on, and I envied the schoolkids their colors and their easy smiles. Their tendency to take up the entire sidewalk was less endearing. Before I had fully passed them it was starting to rain, and the wind had gotten stronger-- there's Scotland for you, and the perversity of the weather gods; it's a lovely day until I make it out the door.

The nature trail was all over with mud, but not so much as to divert me. The trees were bare, and what leaves still clung stubbornly to the branches were bright yellow against the grey bark. But the holly throughout the wood was green and lush, as were the climbing vines, not yet stripped of color.

I walked through the woods, and began to climb. A feathered pine reminded me of Japan. A stone wall meandered through the woods, another path branching through the gap. Abruptly the sheltering woods fell away into gorse bushes, their darkness leavened by yellow flowers. They seemed low, but still their branches topped my own height. In between, close green grass. I climbed carefully to the crown of the hill, scoured bald by the relentless wind-- the very same trying to push me off the top in abrupt gusts. My scarf flying, my hair whipping and twisting into elf-locks, I watched the clouds rush across the sky, the curtains of pale rain that drew and then parted once more, so rapidly. Birds rose from the abrupt hills around me, dark and rapid and fluttering like leaves as they battled the wind. The long hardy grasses lay flat; small rodent holes and rabbit fewmets scattered amongst the moss. Far away and below, the Firth of Forth was whipped to whitecaps. Between us, the spires of many churches-- I identified the lopsided crook of St. Michael's, the three tall cones of St. Mary's, the strange domes of the abandoned hospital.

I passed a tree strangled by mistletoe on the way back down, and in it perched seven magpies.