Tag Archives: wtf

The Vigil

The only idea I had for a blog this week was a pretty hacky entry on how I see similarities between writing and making stew (I made a big ol’ pot of stew last week) and that was both extremely uninspired and also dangerously close to advice. Instead, I present the following, which is an expansion of my reaction to a picture one of my friends shared on Facebook. Yes, I went with the cat picture idea instead. I hope you’ll like it better than the stew thing.

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In our village there is a church, old and stone, worn and weathered in a fashion that lends it an aura of imperishability. When the church was first built, no-one is certain; people from the schools have come, sketched, measured, studied, and disagreed. But it has been here a very long time. You cannot find a description of the village without it.

In the church lives a cat with long, thick, grey hair. The cat belongs to nobody, although it sleeps in the rectory on cold nights, prowls the churchyard, and sits by the lych-gate each Sunday. Each day at noon it climbs to the roof, and out onto the back of a particular old gargoyle, spotted with lichen and smoothed by time. There the cat sits, and watches the horizon, all afternoon.

It watches in every season.

It watches in all weathers.

The cat’s watch has never failed.

The cat seems as though it has always sat on its perch on the church-roof, and the church looks as though it has always been here to serve as the cat’s watch-place, and perhaps both things are true. What the cat watches for, no-one can say. No-one can remember, exactly, when the cat came and took up its vigil. I cannot recall a time before the cat’s watch began, nor can any of my friends. The cat has watched a long time.

Of course we discuss this, in the village, from time to time. All cats like to climb high, and look out across their kingdoms, this is well known. But most cats do not go to the very same spot at the very same time each day, and most cats do not gaze out into the distance quite so long. Most of us have our memories of cats: marvellous, cherished, and gone, but no-one has a story to match this one.

So we talk, and imagine, and create our own reasons, sometimes believing they are true but never truly feeling we understand. It is a puzzlement joined by each person who visits the village, for there is not a great deal to see, and in time every visitor comes to the church, and sees its sentry. What the cat watches for, no-one can say, but every person who comes to our church-yard, and sees the small grey cat on his lofty perch always ends by agreeing that they are somehow glad the cat is there, and glad it keeps its vigil.

The sun is high in the sky, clear and bright today, and it is nearly noon. I stand outside my house and know that the cat will soon be watching. I look out to the horizon and wonder what it watches for. Does it look to see that something is there, or perhaps to be sure that something does not approach? I wonder, if I had the answer to that question, would I be comforted or afraid? I wonder what will happen on the day when the cat looks out and sees a difference in its world. The cat, apparently, knows to watch. Does it also know what must be done next?

Will we be shown, or told, or is that secret, and the vigil, for only a cat to know?

A vague uncertainty squirms in my guts now, and I walk to the corner, where I can look down the street, and see the church-roof.

The cat watches still.

(Thank you to my friend Victoria for sending me the picture that led to me writing whatever this is. I wrote this pretty much straight through so it is, I am sure, more than a little rough. If you have any comments, as always I’d love to hear them.)

(The church in the picture is in Knightshayes, Devon. I’ve never been but if I ever visit I hope the cat will still be there. If you own the picture and would like credit, or me to take it down, please let me know.)

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Hello Demon

Hello, Demon.

You’ve been quiet for a long time but there you are, again, today.

Because it’s been a tough week and a shit day already and that’s where you live, isn’t it?

And, hey, what’s a little shot in the coffee to take the chill off or one in the cola, and it’s the holiday season, it would even be festive, and what’s

one

little

drink

anyway

But, no – I see you.  I know this play, that you try from time to time, when you think I’m not watching.

I see it.

I see you.

Never.  Again.

I win.

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Slightly Off

A few days ago one of my friends from the UK posted a picture on Facebook of a dinner they ate as part of an evening out – it was fries and a hot dog. (Hang in with me for a second here, I swear this is going someplace) What with this being a British hot dog, I was reminded of my own experience with those when I went to school in York for a year.

It was my first full day in England, I was still heavily jet-lagged and hadn’t eaten anything that didn’t come from an airport or a vending machine in at least 24 hours. I hadn’t been to anything to do with school yet, but I thought it was a good idea to go and explore the city. When I did, I came across a man selling hot dogs from a cart in the city centre. I was feeling pretty disoriented and dazed and confused and thought a hot dog would be a nice familiar set of sensations and so I bought one.

Boy was it not. It turns out that hot dogs in England are, for some reason, both longer and skinnier than the standard issue wiener here. The bun (at least on this occasion) more strongly resembled a thick slice of bread. The mustard was not the blazing yellow ooze we usually deploy here, but a (probably superior) product involving actual mustard seeds and a more reasonable hue. The whole thing left me feeling more disoriented and alienated than ever.

I had anticipated something I knew very well and had well-established expectations about. What I got was something that almost, but not quite, met those expectations, but was different in a number of really very subtle ways. I think this is often more disturbing and harder for us to handle than if something is a completely new experience. There’s probably some explanation here from psychology about how our brains work and look for patterns or anticipate input and then get upset when these things are undermined. I don’t really know, but I have found it generally true that things feel most alien when they are almost, but not quite, what I expect them to be. Even allowing for the jet lag, that hot dog in York was one of the most alien things I have ever eaten, because I thought I knew what I was getting and then got something that wasn’t quite it.

I didn’t directly take this hot dog experience (I mean really) and use it to inform my writing, but I think the same general principle holds true for writing horror and creepy fiction. I think we’re more disturbed by situations that seem as though they’re familiar, what we expect, and what we know, but are then just slightly off. A monster in some fantastic realm that is nothing like our own is likely to be impressive, and exciting, and we can agree it sounds pretty dangerous. But a monster that shows up on your street, or one that seems to be just like the person next to you on the bus, until it makes its move, is far more likely to really bother us. The world that conforms to our expectations of what is possible and what can occur until the moment that it isn’t quite right is scarier than one that is completely alien.

We like to think we know what the world around us is like. Experiences that suggest that that isn’t actually the case are the ones that, I think, really get to us. If you have the right (or wrong, I suppose) kind of brain these experiences are all around you. When you go for a walk in the park, and find a single shoe by the path, you know (or you’re pretty sure you know) that it was just lost or discarded. A far more unlikely explanation is that the shoe is all that’s left of the victim of some predatory creature that now lives in the woods here. And now the park feels very different.

I guess that’s what I have tried to do with The King in Darkness and Bonhomme Sept-Heures – to make the monsters of the stories part of a hopefully familiar world around us. I think they’re more likely to bother you (in the enjoyable sense!!) that way. A lot of times people ask what the difference between fantasy and horror is, and I think part of the answer is that horror is supposed to unsettle you on some level, and I think we’re most easily unsettled by what hits close to home, and to find ourselves in a world that is almost – but not quite – what we think it is.

In any case, this entry is rather dangerously like advice (but it is not advice), but I thought I’d share the train of thought my friend’s no doubt alarmingly British hot dog triggered off. Thanks for reading.

——

By chance, today’s blog falls on the anniversary of the Ecole Polytechnique shootings in which 14 women were killed by a man who was filled with hatred. I promised long ago not to let December 6th pass without taking a moment to remember. As should we all – bad things happen when we forget to oppose them. I think we’re rightly pretty proud of our society in Canada, but there is still so much work to do. There are still far too many women who are victims of violence and discrimination. We owe it to them all to do so much better. We can.

Fourteen Not Forgotten:

Geneviève Bergeron

Hélène Colgan

Nathalie Croteau

Barbara Daigneault

Anne-Marie Edward

Maud Haviernick

Maryse Laganière

Maryse Leclair

Anne-Marie Lemay

Sonia Pelletier

Michèle Richard

Annie St-Arneault

Annie Turcotte

Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz

——-

If you’re in Ottawa, you can now pick up a copy of Bonhomme Sept-Heures at the Heart Tea Heart tea shop at Merivale Mall. It’s a fantastic way to do it because they’ll even suggest which one of their amazing teas will go best with your read, and you could grab other titles from Renaissance Press and S.M. Carriere while you’re there! Give them a visit, in person and/or on the intertron here.

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The Load

Inspired by something I read yesterday.  I don’t know how much I like it.

——

I know that if I put this down

It doesn’t go away

It just becomes a load for someone else to carry

I want to drop it

I know it but

I want to drop it

I know

I can carry this a little longer

I can carry this

I can carry this if

you promise to be with me

If you promise to be with me

I can carry this

Still.

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These Shoes

Well, we’re finally down to it. I haven’t had a chance to watch the new X-Files yet and so this week I’m writing about shoes. These shoes in particular:

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I have had this pair of shoes for a long while. I bought them for distance running, and after they wore out for that they’ve been walking around shoes for the last several years. As I guess you can tell from the picture, they’re pretty well done for that as well now. They leak, the soles are nearly worn through and falling to pieces, and the uppers are coming apart at the seams.

With the onset of a proper winter, it was time to put the summer footwear away, and the thing is that I probably can’t get another summer out of these guys.

Now, a sane person would have just dumped them in the trash and thought no more about it. I, however, got to thinking about everything these shoes have done in their time.

These shoes and I have been out for morning run after morning run, through ice and mud and goose poo and glass and whatever the hell else was out there waiting. These shoes got me through a half marathon. These shoes have done the plough push, deadlifts, hill sprints, and the farmer’s walk. These shoes did the run up Suicide Hill where Adam Godwinson runs for his life in The King in Darkness.

Speaking of, I wrote basically the entire book while running in these shoes. All those moments and characters, by and large, came from where-ever they come from into my mind while these shoes and I were doing our thing. For that alone, I feel like I owe them.

These have also been travellin’ shoes. These shoes have been on the beach and across the ocean. They have climbed pyramids, walked in the footsteps of the Lionheart and Eleanor of Aquitaine, through a tropical forest, and on the sand at Juno Beach. They’ve been to Alcatraz Island and in thousand year old cathedrals. They have done the ‘oh god can’t miss this flight’ sprint. They’ve been on cities afloat and on medieval streets I could follow forever. They’ve been on the paths of my child hood and shot arrows at my grandfather’s farm, which I think he might have enjoyed seeing.

In these shoes I have had days that were the next thing to perfect and some of the worst days of my life. They always brought me home in the end.

It is strange, and I suppose more than a little silly, to put so much significance on an old pair of shoes and to feel badly (as I do) that I’m going to have to give up on them in a way they’ve never quit on me. It is time, and yet I genuinely feel guilty about the idea of dumping this worn out pair of Asics. I know not everyone does this, but I also know I’m not absolutely the only person who gets somehow attached to things that I own and have used for a while, or things that have come to me in ways that felt important at the time. The shoes are the latest example of this, but I’ve been doing it all my life.

Perhaps predictably, I think it has to do with stories. I don’t think we really form connections to inanimate objects (for the most part); what we’re feeling is the link to the memories, and therefore the stories, that those things represent and remind us of. These are things that have been part of our stories and remind us of them and, as creatures of memory, it’s not easy to put those things aside and perhaps lose our link to those memories, and to the stories. After all, as everyone notices in time, our minds are far from perfect storehouses and we forget things we’d much rather keep close to us forever. I think that’s why people like me like to keep our little treasures around us: to help preserve those stories for when we need them. But there are limits, I don’t actually want to live in a trash heap, and so sometimes things just do need to go.

For a while, I was trying to think of the right way to put these shoes to rest, since (being a goof) putting them in the trash just seemed insufficient. Fortunately (maybe) I’ve come up with something. This summer I am running the Spartan Race here in Ottawa and I am given to understand that whatever shoes you wear to that thing get utterly destroyed. So these old shoes will get one last day on the field of glory and get me through one final race.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

I’ll also try to have something a little less goofy for you next week.

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Running Poem #4

Another run, another poem.  This is becoming a thing for some reason.

——–

The slanting light of dawn

Gives even me a long shadow

Looming over pond and slope

A temporary, apparent, giant.

To the baby rabbit with a mouthful of clover

I am high-voltage danger;

To the tiny path-crossing turtle

We are all titans.

This vast and ancient world

can make us all feel tiny.

But

wait

For the light

to

slant

just

right

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Pluto

Last week was a good one for people who are into science, space exploration, and then by extension SF, because we got news about a distant planet that might be rather like Earth (except with double the gravity) and those amazing pictures of Pluto and a couple of its moons. I was personally rather astonished by the pictures sent back by the New Horizons probe (which I still think is a kind of unfortunate 8th grade social science-y textbook title of a name) because of how utterly, completely wrong they were.

To explain: In my mind, for as long as I can recall, Pluto has been green. A kind of blue-green teal sort of deal. Neptune, of course, is blue. Uranus is a deep violet. I’m not sure where I got these ideas from – perhaps there was, in some long-ago classroom, a Solar System wall chart that implanted the colours in my mind – but they have been consistent in my imagination for as long as I can recall.

Now of course we get actual pictures of Pluto and it isn’t green at all, it is various shades of brown. I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed by this, exactly. I mean the stuff we learned about Pluto is pretty damn cool. Nitrogen glaciers on a planet so cold the atmosphere may be freezing to its surface, with a moon shaped like a jelly bean, are all pretty amazing discoveries.

It’s just not how I had (for whatever reason) pictured it, how my mind somehow assured me it would be, and so when I first saw the New Horizons pictures, I did a bit of a ‘waaaait a minute’. It’s often this way, I think – we imagine events or people or places to be a particular way, sometimes quite intensely, and then when we go to the actual place or talk to the actual person or experience the event we have long pictured in our minds it isn’t quite how we thought it would be. Even if the real thing was pleasant or good or enjoyable, it’s different and that can end up being vaguely disappointing. It’s even worse if things are somehow not as good or as pleasant or as rewarding as we thought they’d be. You can’t go back to the dream, now. I suppose that’s really just life and generally you just get on with it but there’s generally a tiny part of me yelling ‘but Pluto was supposed to be greeeeen’ in the background.

I can only imagine this happening on a somewhat greater scale when the first hard data started coming back from Mars. The planet that had so often been imagined as a place of life (sometimes bug-eyed threatening life), of canals and golden-eyed aliens and tentacled horrors was, in truth, a barren, frozen desert. Not how we imagined it. I won’t say it isn’t a wonderful place (because a lot of what we’ve learned about the Real Mars is, again, pretty cool) but the loss of the idea of a Mars awash in life must have taken some digesting.

We’ve actually been very slow to let go of the idea of life on Mars – leaving aside the genuine science being done to see if there ever could have been basic forms of life in the past, there is still a good amount of fiction that gets created with the idea of ancient, extinct alien life on the planet. Sometimes it wakes up or gets dug up to dangerous effect. On some level, it seems like our imaginations really want there to have been Martians. And if I close my eyes, and think of Pluto, it’s still green.

To me there is now a divergence, between my imaginary Pluto and the real one, or the Pluto I have always pictured has now been nudged out of the (arguably) real universe into a purely imaginary one, along with the Mars that has the golden-eyed people on it and all the other places that never existed. Learning about the universe is fascinating, though it forces ever more things purely into the realms of the imagination, where perhaps writers (and readers) can rescue them from time to time. I guess I have a strange nostalgia, sometimes (if you can be nostalgic for things that never were) for my green Pluto and all the things that maybe could have been, all the places that were maybe out there, until we found out they were not.

Sorry, that was all very bizarre, even for me. More concretely, the New Horizons probe is (I guess, and I will be happy to be corrected) more or less the end of a period of discoveries about of Solar System that I have been fortunate to grow up during. I remember the Voyager probes sending back their astounding pictures of Jupiter and Saturn and then later, Neptune and Uranus (also not the colour I imagined). I don’t remember the Viking probes real well (although slightly) but we have had the various Mars rovers that have sent back a seemingly endless stream of fascinating stuff. We’ve found an ocean on Europa and Enceladus. We harpooned a comet, for f’s sake. It’s all very cool.

We’ve had a good look around our immediate neighbourhood (it seems to me? I’m sure there’s lots we don’t know about) and it has been wonderful to have a reasonably steady drip of exciting, and brand new, revelations about planets and moons coming out throughout my life to this point. I wonder whether that is at least in part why I love SF and speculative fiction as much as I do.

In any case, I’m very grateful to have experienced, ever so slightly, all of these discoveries. I’m grateful to the people who have poured so much of their heart and soul into making all these missions of exploration and curiosity happen. I hope, that in a society that seems to be ever more concerned about how things look on a balance sheet, that we aren’t entirely finished with this kind of endeavour.

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It happened again

Not quite awake

I move through the misty slumbering quiet

Brushed by leaves dripping with dreams

Past sleepy flowers

Insomniac moths

last night’s snails

and beaches filled with goslings

A gradual stirring, emerging

Rowers on the river

Dogs on adventures

Inevitable cyclists

Hello, city

Let’s go

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