Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Tale of Lady Midday (words: 568)

Lady Midday loved the smell of children in spring. She delighted in their honeysuckle hair, jasmine-imbued coveralls, and the hint of homemade oatmeal raisin cookies on their breath. They were all sweetness and light in joyful, tireless bodies, just as she once was. Now, standing in the cool shade of the weeping willow atop her grassy knoll, she watched two of them play near the bounds of the wheatfields, and she longed to join in their games.

Oh, how she loved to play.

The sun called to her then, dappling at her bare feet as the day’s heat spell reached its peak. Lady Midday stepped out from the shifting shadows of her tree, and her scythe glinted in the light. She was slender and moved like a woman in middle age. Her eyes were a cool green, and she wore a wreath of spring flowers upon her head--lilacs and dandelions pierced with daisy’s breath, woven through a crown of withered vines. 


She stretched in the blaze of noon, her sallow skin and sunken cheeks impervious to the sun's burning rays, and her white spring dress like a second skin. She knew neither sweat nor smell of her own flesh. She was an apparition to all including herself--a wraith of skin and bone who passed as a hag to those unlucky enough to meet her.


She looked up at the sky and reveled in the season’s caress.


Yes, it was time.

    

With a grin, she strode across the field, glided over a flowing stream, and rushed towards the children. They should have known better than to be out at this time of day, the sun hanging like a great searing orb above, looming over everything and everyone. The heat was not meant to be defied, and any sensible person knew it--their parents should have warned them long ago.


Lady Midday screamed.


The boy and girl looked up and saw her coursing towards them like a white-hot wave, her dress billowing behind her, and a scythe glinting in her hand. She raised the never-dull blade to the sky and cackled before catching the eyes of the frightened children. As she surged towards them, she called:


“Out of the sun your mother said

Else the Noon Witch has your head!”


The children turned and fled, their feet crushing stalks of cut-down wheat and racing along the fringes of the field. In the distance, the farmhouse was the size of a wheat kernel, and behind them, Lady Midday was a torrid specter coming ever closer. She continued her calls, which scraped at their ears like horrific lullabies.


“Play and sweat, and sweat and play

Just be home ‘fore Lady Midday;

The sun’s no good for girl or boy

It sucks out life and burns out joy;

So get on home while you still can

And tell my tale if you still stand."


She was upon them now in a clearing, the virgin grass an ecstasy beneath her feet, as the smell of  fear suffused her senses.


“Go away!” the girl yelled.


But it was too late.


“You should have listened to your parents,” the Noon Witch crowed, so close she could breathe in the essence of forget-me-nots in the children’s hair.


And as Lady Midday caught up behind them, she raised her scythe and down she cut them. In blood-soaked fields, she is known, and now through you, her tale has grown.


(background: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Midday)


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Fighting for the Life I Want

Currently, I'm sitting up in bed with my laptop in front of me as a gentle rain falls outside my open window. There's a soothing breeze coming into the room, and there's even the occasional sound of birdsong. Earlier on, I taught a couple of classes from the comfort of this very same room, had a coffee from my own kitchen, and answered some emails.

I don't want to give this up.

I've been working from home since losing my office job back in March 2020. The pandemic has had a massive negative impact on numerous areas of everyone's lives, but I can say that notwithstanding the bouts of depression, the stress, and the financial anxiety, it has also been the catalyst for the professional life I am currently living. 

When the pandemic hit, I made several professional decisions: To finish writing the English resource book I had been putting off forever, to launch a website, and to start my own private English training business. I am happy to say that I managed to accomplish all three of those goals by September 2020. While it sounds easy when it's written like that, it took a lot of work and emotional energy, and it continues to require a constant and consistent effort.

There are times when I miss socializing with co-workers and talking with people face-to-face. There are times when I think that maybe I'll go back to working for a school at some point in the future to get back that face-to-face interaction and to get myself back into a physical classroom. But then there are times like these, when I am calm, having finished my work, and I am chipping away on other parts of my business from the comfort of my bedroom office. And getting to do it in shorts and a t-shirt while listening to whatever music I'm in the mood for at the time.

So I go back to my original point: I don't want to give this up. I really do love this lifestyle and having the ability to set my own hours and create this thing that I'm building brick by brick with my own hands. It's incredibly satisfying and freeing, while at the same time requiring a lot more of me. Because if I don't make enough money next month because I didn't feel like marketing myself or because I didn't push myself hard enough to write my next English resource book, I have only myself to blame. Therefore, I will keep pushing myself to keep this life going and to keep it growing. 

Finally, this lifestyle has given me the room to get back to writing fiction and to put my hands to the work I want to do most. Working in an office won't give me this, which is why I'm dedicated to fighting tooth and nail so that I can keep doing this on my own terms. In the end, I see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create the life I want, and I simply can't afford to screw it up. I refuse to. 

(I realize how fortunate I am to even have this chance while so many others don't. I don't share anything on social media about how "comfortable" my work life currently is because I don't want to feel like I'm needlessly "showing off" my good fortune when so many are struggling. I even questioned making this post, but I feel most of my friends and family probably won't read it, so I feel much safer putting it up for everyone to see, especially since I won't be sharing it directly on any platform.) 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Weary Soul Holds the Light

Soothe the soul who's weary
Stumbling from the moment of sun's call
No commands could hear he
By night, steps turned to a beaten crawl

Snuffed out the light
No hope in sight
Of winning just today

Best to rest
And face the test
Of a brand new day

So sleeps he
And dreams he
Of heavy pressures worn

Through the night
He holds the light
Of being in sun reborn


Sunday, May 23, 2021

Waking up again

The goal is to keep writing. To keep your fingers on the keyboard, or gripping the pen or pencil and pressing it down onto the page. The longer you stay away from it, the more your skills can deteriorate. It's not like riding a bike. It's more like trying to remember how to use DOS on an old desktop computer after 20 years of being away from it. 

I've been blogging and doing some form of writing for a while now, but I've been heavily neglecting creative story craft. That's really the skill I want to get good at. But wanting isn't enough. Desire without action is just empty reaching--daydreaming that results in no great works, or any other types of works at all.

"Perfect is the enemy of published."

That doesn't fit my scenario to a tee, but it does shed light on the issue of self-inflicted creative paralysis. It's something that all writers, professional or otherwise, struggle with. It's the subject of countless "How the story looks in my head vs. how it actually comes out" memes on social media. Many writers can't get past the idea stage, and that's something I've been struggling with as well. For a long time, especially recently. Hell, probably over the past year and a half. 

The truth is, I made a conscious choice to focus on my language resource writing over my fiction. The reason behind that was that I already had a built-in audience to write to. So many writers have no audience or struggle to build one up for years. But I have one. At least, more than many writers who are just starting out. And it's great because that community is full of wonderful people as well, and I want to write for them and to create useful works for them. I want to give them practical gifts they can benefit from. 

And I've done that and I'm still doing it, and I'll keep doing it still.

But it can no longer be at the full expense of my fiction work. 

I want to write dialogues, and poetry, and short stories, and mini essays, and all the things that shake up my brain and engage my creativity. Sure, the struggle will very much be real to get back to even the level I was at a year ago. I recently read over Bless the Light Eternal and Venom Sucker again, and you know what? I like those stories. Hell, I think one of them could probably be published somewhere with a bit more editing work. So I'll go there next.

In terms of brand new stories, I've written two for a couple of creative writing challenges that I've been part of for a few years now. They were super rough and I only wrote one draft per story, but at least I've gotten off the ground. At least I've gotten my fingers back on the keyboard, and my heart back on imagined worlds and grander themes. Or just weird ones

Even writing this bundle of thoughts is just a way to exercise my fingers and to stretch my writing mind. And it's working. I don't know how this article is going to read to me six months from now, but at this moment, I'm happy that I'm putting it together and that it's allowing me to dust off the cobwebs and get back to the craft I want to put my hands to. 

So here we go. I'm back. 

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Bless the Light Eternal (words: 1870)

The heretic spat at Brother Baskara, spittle flecking the corners of his mouth as his eyes blazed with contempt.

“Bless the light eternal, Brother Confessor,” he said through gritted teeth. Confined to a chair by hempen rope, sweat smearing his round bearded face, he looked like a beast being denied his prey in the dancing torch light of the small stone room.

Baskara pulled a kerchief from his side pouch and swabbed the saliva from his surcoat and brooch. He lingered on the silver circle wreathing a candle and flame.

“Blasphemy without end,” he said, depositing the kerchief back into the pouch. “But the Light Giver’s mercy can still be yours, Ignus.”

The man puffed out his lips and nodded in mock repentance. “You serve such a benevolent god,” he said. “Such fine quarters he provides for his guests.” The heretic looked around the oppressive square room - the wall sconces flanking his left and right, the clay bowl of oatmeal remains sitting in the corner. “Is he as kind to rats as he is to people?”

Baskara was used to men, and sometimes women, rebuking the Light Giver, but not all heretics were as brazen as this man.

“Sarcasm is the last refuge of the lost,” he replied.

“And platitudes are the eternal refuge of witless imbeciles,” Ignus shot back, eyes as big and hot as the sun. Baskara narrowed his gaze and pursed his lips. He knew better than to be baited by a wretch.

“Do you know the charges against you?” he asked, folding his arms across his chest, his back stiffening. Ignus chuckled while shaking his head.

“The pursuit of justice, though you would call it heresy. Or perhaps sowing sedition amongst your precious Candle Bearers. Is that it, Brother?”

“Indeed,” Baskara said, nodding gravely. “With but one amendment: Treason. In sowing the seeds of discord in public, and in attempting to organize a cadre of non-believers to hunt down the Brothers of this priory, you have challenged and insulted the rightful god and threatened the stability of everyone on the Jenaian peninsula. Life outside the walls of this priory and below this mountain must follow the precepts of the Light Giver. Without them, order cannot stand.” A flash memory of fire and steel erupted in his mind.

“Your order, you mean,” Ignus said with a snarl, then leaned his head forward. “Tell me, Brother. How did you come to serve this priory?”

The clash of steel against steel echoed in Baskara’s ear, the remembrance causing his jaw to clench.

“I am asking the questions, brother Ignus.” Ignus barked with laughter at the honorific.

“‘Brother’ now? Blood of my blood, how gracious to call me so,” he said. “Cut me loose and pour the wine for kith and kin.” His lip curled in arrogant insolence.

“All men are brothers in the eyes of the Light Giver,” Baskara declared. “Whether pure of heart or blasphemers.” His tone tapered to a point on the final word, but it did not faze the scabrous soul before him.

“And you, Brother?” he said. “Are you pure of heart?” His eyes held a dangerous invitation, like flames gleaming behind dirty glass. Baskara’s chest rose and fell. He measured his words, thinking back to his rhetoric classes on the east side of the cloister.

“I am a Candle Bearer and the Head Confessor of this priory. Like all Candle Bearers, my calling is clear: To overcome my mistakes and agitations. To advance spiritually so that my heart is cleansed and relaxed. To become an unblemished wick for the Light Giver’s flame.”

“You are evading the question, Brother,” Ignus said. He appraised Baskara, from his close-shaved head to his leather sandals. “And were you wound any tighter, I fear you would coil up and disappear within yourself.” Baskara caught himself glowering. Ignus chuckled deeply from his chest, the air escaping his nostrils before laughter fled his throat and resounded off the stone walls. The light flared in his eyes.

Baskara stepped to the right side of the room and leaned against the wall, arms still crossed, his gaze dwelling a moment on the torchlight in its sconce. He closed his eyes, feeling the dappling warmth of the flame on his lids, then took a measured breath, loosening the tension in his neck and shoulders, the smell of ancient stone filling his nostrils.

He would not allow this wastrel to rattle him.

When he opened his eyes once more, he avoided Ignus’ gaze, instead looking past him into a world only he could behold.

“I understand you, brother Ignus,” he said, his voice deep and distant. “You question the Light Giver because you detest his subjects. You see Candle Bearers as weak-minded fools, incapable of governing themselves. And now you have come to this priory and judged the same of its Brothers. Of me.” He lifted a hand to his chin, cupping it between thumb and forefinger.

“Perhaps there is some merit to your judgment. No man walks the path of light without stepping into the shadows from time to time.” He paused and moistened his lips, drunk on the swirling of his own logic. “But it is the returning to the path which is important. It is the admission of imperfection that opens us up for continued spiritual growth. And that growth requires guidance: Priories. Churches. Places of prayer and refocusing.”

“Even if the belief itself is grounded in baseless superstition?” Ignus interjected. Baskara blinked rapidly, returning from the mists of his mental sojourn and turning his attention back to the heretic.

“So you say, but I will entertain your misguided perspective, brother Ignus." He held his hand out before him as if he were holding a flower petal between his thumb and forefinger while he spoke, occasionally covering his lips with the hand between thoughts. "It is the spiritual substance and practical consequences of the belief that are important. For the sake of argument, let us imagine that I am entertaining your lack of belief, to which I shall say this: Whether the sacred texts are historically true, or whether there is a Light Giver or not is irrelevant in the end. It is the belief and the value they add to human life which gives it worth. We provide a light for the lost.”

Ignus ground his jaw. Were it not for his bonds, he would lunge.

“A light for the lost? Old words, old arguments, Brother,” he said. “You and your ilk are dispensers of lies and destroyers of lives. You value love of a non-existent candle maker over love of one’s family.” He nodded towards the brooch on Baskara’s surcoat. “You wear that piece of silver and sell its false promises to people with the only price being obedience and a loss of will. There is no good in that, and I am beginning to wonder if there is good in you. Tell me, Brother, were you always a hypocrite, or did this priory turn you into one?”

Baskara strode back to the centre of the room in a storm and glared at Ignus. The heretic had lit the wick and sat gaping at the Candle Bearer smoldering like a far-off forest fire suddenly closing around a deer.

“Very well,” Baskara said, his eyes narrowing. “I will tell you how I came to be here.” Ignus shut his mouth, his expression stolid. Brother Baskara paced slowly, his sandals like petals on a pond.

“I grew up just below this mountain. This priory was always in the background of my life, looking down on all of Jenai. I knew little of it but what I had been told by my parents and teachers. ‘It is a place for monks and spiritual learning,’ they said. ‘The spiritual examples of all Candle Bearers.’ That was all.

“Life moved as it always does. It was a peaceful existence, but history would not see it continue as such. Perhaps you recall the day the usurpers came to the shores of Jenai over thirty years ago.” Baskara sized up Ignus, but could not divine his age. He could only say that he looked older than Baskara himself.

“I know my history, Brother,” Ignus said slowly.

“Then you know the Brothers of this priory took up arms to fight the invading heathens. They broke their vows of non-violence in service of protecting their land and their people. They fought alongside farmers, tailors, woodworkers, and fishmongers. Brother Von, the Head Confessor at the time, led a force of twenty five monks. Over half of them perished, but enough survived to ward off the invaders.

“I watched from my window as the Brothers took up spear and sword to preserve the blood of this land. And the people were grateful. From that day forth, this priory has been a beacon of hope and stability for all of Jenai."

Baskara held his arms out as his sides, his palms open towards Ignus.

"I became a dedicated Candle Bearer then, and eventually moved up this mountain to pursue a deeper connection with the Light Giver. I believed and still believe that the Light Giver is essential to Jenai. Which is why, brother Ignus,” he lowered his arms, quenching the wildfire of the past. “I cannot have men like you trying to crack its foundation.”

Ignus nodded, his eyes cast to the ground. “And what of the foundation of family?” he said. “As I said, I know my history, Brother.” He closed his hands into limp fists at his sides, lifting his head to meet Baskara’s gaze. “My father was one of the men who died that day.”

Baskara felt a prickling on the back of his neck and his breath caught in his throat.

“But he was not a hero. He was an abandoner. He was a good father and husband until the religious fever ignited in him, and he abandoned my mother and I for this bloody mountain to pursue Brotherhood. And then was slain for the glory of the invisible Light Giver.” He looked through Baskara with eyes of a different flame. “Your foundation is built on broken families, Brother. And it has been nourished with blood.”

“Only the blood of those who would shed it first,” Baskara managed to say. Ignus shook his head.

“Philosophically moral but hypocritical. Does not the Light Giver teach mercy?”

“You shall have the opportunity to ask him yourself,” Brother Baskara replied, duty-bound and far away.

Ignus chuckled, sapped of energy.

“I like you, Brother. You are at least open with your contradictions. I almost feel bad for wanting to put you in the dirt below this mountain.”

“Your pity is heard,” Baskara said. “Do you wish to repent for your crimes?”

“My conscience is clear, Brother. I pray yours is also.” He paused. “Though I doubt it is so.”

“Bless the light eternal,” Baskara replied. “May the Light Giver be ever clement.” He made the sign of the candle. “Goodbye, brother Ignus.” Baskara turned and pulled open the wood door.

The next morning, with the entire priory looking on, Ignus burned from a pyre atop the mountain, screaming to an empty sky, Brother Baskara standing at the edges of the flame.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

You’re doing okay

I wrote the first 350 words of a short story today. I feel pretty good about it despite there being tons of people who regularly crank out several thousand words per day. I figure that as long as I’m doing something to further my writing practice, I’m doing okay. 350 is better than zero.

That said, whether you’re doing more or doing less during this pandemic, you’re okay.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

A fantasy poem

An article on fantasy poetry inspired me to write this short piece today.

Ravens feast beyond the gate
Tearing flesh from bone
Ravenous for spoils of
A warrior alone

The Tale of Lady Midday (words: 568)

Lady Midday loved the smell of children in spring. She delighted in their honeysuckle hair, jasmine-imbued coveralls, and the hint of homema...