The Lullaby Vignette
Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015
Programming Note: There will be no installment of The Great Galavar tomorrow. Next weekend, however, it will return almost with certainty—barring only devastating computer failure or an acute case of sudden Josh death syndrome.
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Last week my sister visited me at the Mountain. And when she left, I did too: She returned to her home in Tennessee and I moved from Texas to California, ending one sojourn and beginning another.
This week I'll be writing about some of my thoughts and experiences during this time, and how they relate to The Curious Tale.
The Pathos of Moving Away
My time on the Mountain was an enchanted one, with vistas so far-flung I could imagine the curve of the Earth itself, and nighttime skies so dark they burst with stars. Among many other experiences, it was in these five years that I finally found my footing with The Curious Tale, and it was last year—the Year of 32—that at last I began publishing in earnest, fifteen years after the Tale's ambitious beginnings.
I left the Mountain with mixed feelings. Having originally scoffed at the lesser greenery of the forests there, and at the short height of the hills, I went on to become truly enamored of that place. It's peaceful and beautiful, and I met opilions, found many other beautiful creatures and things. I left with sadness in my spark, knowing I would never live there again. I could almost imagine the lamentations of the immigrants of old, who left behind their homes, whole continents, knowing they would never even see those lands again, let alone live there.
I left with relief too. I am not a Texan, and never had any intention of becoming one. I belong amid the verdure and the sea, in the West. And in another type of relief, it was time to move on for a much more practical reason: Although Amy and I remain friends, I had sorely worn out my welcome with her. She needs to be her own person, free of my presence in her day-to-day life, and I need someone in my life who is more emotionally available and supportive. I felt very alone on the Mountain, more so with each passing year, and that wouldn't do.
Aloneness is an interesting thing, and it has different colors. Though I miss having a supportive mate in my life, Far West Texas is surely the most innocuous part of that troubled state, a place of vast distances where you never need to ask to be left alone. I like that. I'm an introvert and I love the wild places as well. I have two sides to me: the cosmopolitan who loves being able to walk two blocks to the café, and the frontiersmate who dwells far beyond the stirrings of any city. There was a certain kind of aloneness at the Mountain that I treasured, and sorely miss.
I've found, in my years, that living in one setting increases my appetite for that setting, and diminishes my appetite for the other. When I left Seattle in 2010 I sorely the bustle and the vibrancy. When I left the Mountain this past week, after five years in the middle of nowhere, I found myself feeling antisocial and very much desirous to be alone again.
But I also left with excitement, to be getting on with my life and bound onward to meet new people and have new experiences. There were many things I wanted that I just couldn't get at the Mountain, and by moving to other climes I can begin to put some of these other ambitions into motion.
And I left with trepidation and feelings of disappointment, for my next sojourn—and the house from where I write today's article—is my parents'. I'll be spending six months here. This is a lateral step in my life rather than a forward one. It gives me the opportunity to save up money, because even though I'll be paying for all my own general expenses and utilities while I'm here, there's no rent. I never imagined I would return here as anything other than a visitor…but here I am. I am a sojourner here, and while not a resident, a sojourner is not a visitor either.
Yet at the same time I return here with feelings of gratitude, for I know how glad my parents are to see me, and I'm glad to be able to do them some good. My coming here really is a case of "everyone wins."
So you can see that it's impossible to say that my move is "good" or "bad," for it truly is a matter of mixed feelings, an emotional rainbow.
But, this being Curious Tale Saturdays, where does The Curious Tale fit into all this? Well, that's the thing: It doesn't.
We'll get back to that, but first there's another part of the story to tell.
Those last couple weeks on the Mountain were a whirlwind, and not the pleasant kind. My sister's visit was mostly pleasant, but I was also in the midst of packing, and I was sorely underslept—as both packing and visiting with guests tend to do—and of course I was caught up in the poignance of my departure.
But there was something more: During this time, I also suffered from a mysterious debilitating illness that felt like some kind of cardiac event. It began in August, calmed down, and then flared up again during a spontaneous jog one night. (You should be so fortunate to walk under the starlight during dark time, with no moon in the sky, in Far West Texas.) And it didn't calm down this time. I was very sick for over a week, and seriously doubted my ability to complete the necessary work for my departure.
Worse than that, I was genuinely unsure if I was going to live through the experience. If you're a first-time reader maybe that sounds dramatic to you, but I'm not that sort. I'm well attuned to the emanations of drama in all its forms, and I don't say such things idly. I had never experienced anything so debilitating, other than a few particularly nasty cases of the flu, all of which were identifiable as such. The worst part wasn't losing my ability for physical exertion, but lying down at the end of the day and having to face a rush of anxiety accompanying my continuous chest pain. It would take me a long time to get to sleep. One night I even had an all-out anxiety attack, the worst of my life. Those weeks were a scary time.
I have made a partial and gradual recovery since then—at least in my capacity for physical exertion and the subsidence of my bedtime anxiety. But the continuing chest pain and limited physical ability tells me that all is not hunky dory just yet, not nearly, and I am in the process of trying to secure health insurance in my new state. (My actual state of residency is Washington, but the insurance company told me to go climb a tree, and suggested I enroll in California's system.)
The heart has always been an object of sordid preoccupation for me. Not in the usual sense; I never cared for the metaphor of the heart as the seat of human identity. Rather, it is the physical function of the heart that fascinates me—and the anxious thought of heart trouble.
Indeed, heart trouble is a common theme in my writing. It showed up in the original After The Hero RPG in multiple characters, and remains a frequent trope in the Tale today. In some instances it even rises to the level of a plot point. If, in the future, you should read works from The Curious Tale and think they were inspired by my own experiences this summer, you would be mistaken: That much is a coincidence.
It's hard to convey how strange it was for me to be so utterly incapacitated. I'm 33 years old—(at least this chest trouble had the decency to wait until the Year of 32 was finished)—and am not the sort of person who customarily has to make big plans for doing something like getting up and going across the room to fiddle with the window shades. But in the latter half of September, that was my life. My ability for physical exertion was so limited, and the cost of overexerting myself was so high in pain and anxiety, that I felt as hobbled as an old mate.
It's this anxiety that brings us back to the heart of today's topic, and to my little cliffhanger from the previous section.
Where Are My People?
For me, the greater part of my sense of purpose in life is tied up in my storytelling—not just in The Curious Tale, though that is the flagship. For me, then, my storytelling is in my spark. I can't not do it. Scarcely a day goes by when I'm not thinking about the world of Relance and its inhabitants in some respect. If nothing else, there is always Silence, who is a constant fixture in my imagination—a true alter ego.
Not lately, though. Ever since I got sick that second time, in the middle of September, my creative drive has been completely suppressed. I didn't get a chance to take many Sunset Constitutionals in my final weeks at the Mountain, but the ones I did take were all notably lacking in the wanderings of my imagination. I cared nothing for Relance. I looked for Silence and she wasn't there.
And it didn't even hurt.
If you've ever had a core part of yourself just be absent one day, and stay absent, you know what I mean. Such is the disembodied horror of a fetter upon the spark.
How strange that was—how profound a testament to the severity of my illness, which, truth be told, I'm still not sure isn't going to kill me.
And so, therefore, because of the whirlwind of my final weeks on the Mountain, with the packing and my sister visiting me, and the repeated loss of sleep, and the pathos of moving away from a beautiful place on mixed terms, my sickness hit me that much harder, and the greatest casualty of all was my creative side. During the week my sister visited, I didn't do any work on any part of The Curious Tale, nor any creative work of any kind.
Even during my drive out to California, when I had nothing else to do and could definitely have used some mental stimulation, I had no inclination to be creative. I tried. I tried to do some planning for The Great Galavar. But like a slippery rock, I couldn't grasp onto it.
I arrived in California on Tuesday of this week. And while you're reading this on the following Saturday at the earliest, it's actually Thursday as I write it. Tuesday afternoon and all of Wednesday were both heavily prioritized for rest. Today is my first concerted attempt, and it's going well so far. The stress of moving is behind me, as is most of the stress of my arrival, and my illness has subsided—in symptoms if nothing else. I've gotten some rest. The beginnings of normality are beginning to mingle with the novelty of recent days.
And my strident hope is that my creative drive will return in full, without further delay.
(A Saturday Update: As a matter of fact, my creative drive has been slowly and steadily returning since Thursday. Yesterday, Friday, I even caught my imagination wandering about Silence as she practiced sword forms. It was the first strong daydreaming I'd done, and a welcome relief. Since then, my creative drive has improved further still.)
One last bit: My sister's visit reminded me of the prominence of sibling relationships in The Curious Tale. You might frown at that if you've read The Prelude, where such a trope does not appear, but I assure you it's a rather prominent one in the Tale, so far as second-tier tropes go.
There's something about the divergent fates of blood kin that I find compelling. Virn and Zalisar, Tayden and Celithemis, the Black children, Silence and Grendel, these relationships and more are very much woven into the story.
My sister's visit reminded me, quite intriguingly, of one place where the inspiration for such a trope does not come: my own experience. For me, my family experiences growing up had an extremely limited direct impact on my subsequent creative writing. (There was plenty of indirect influence, of course.)
In other words, you won't find much insight into my own family relationships when you look at the relationships of my sibling characters in The Curious Tale (or at my parent/child relationships, for that matter). For example, even though my sister has the same shade of Silence's red hair (something that I never even realized until I was in my twenties), there's no Silence in my sister, and I'm certainly not Grendel.
Such reminders are fascinating to me, and if I may be honest they're a bit of a relief. I would hate to think that my creative psyche could be so easily picked apart.
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!