Tale of Two Mountains- Part One

If it weren’t for the fact that J.K. Simmons won the Oscar for best actor in a supporting role for Whiplash, I’d probably feel guilty for not posting last week, but now and then life just happens, and last week was particularly happening.  Sorry about the unannounced absence.  Hopefully that won’t occur too often.

While things were happening, I didn’t get the opportunity to work on the book (small house equals little privacy when people are home sick and your desk is the dining table), however I did write a bit of backstory on Elijah‘s parents, Isabella and Noel.  Over the next few weeks I thought I’d publish it here in mini-chapters for your entertainment, though I may post other things here and there.  It’s something you won’t get in the books (book one glances over it), but I hope you’ll enjoy anyway.  Without further ado:

isaandnoel

NOEL

Nearly a year had passed since he left Fendhaim in the middle of the night, in search of something most believed no longer existed. Just one more year among thousands, Noel thought as he looked up at the towering wall of black looming over him, the Milky Way casting an eerie glow on its snowy peaks. He had expected to feel something once he arrived, an intrinsic connection to that place reassuring him of the things he had experienced. Instead, he was beginning to think Foote was right. Maybe they were all right, and he was chasing ghosts, but he couldn’t sit around anymore, waiting for miracles, training up an army of Nobles, and for what? A fight that may never happen? For a girl who might never be born? He had long considered that it might all be nothing more than stories, passed down for generation upon generation, until they became the stuff of legends, and none of it was ever meant to be taken seriously. Ten thousand years was an awfully long time, after all. Ten ages had come and gone, yet here he stood, and all he felt was cold.

As he breathed a cautious sigh, he watched his breath curl away, like a cloud before him, drifting off on a westward breeze. If he didn’t find the entrance within the day, he decided, pulling his cloak tighter around him, bracing himself against the furious chill that waited for him at the top of that mountain, he would head for home. Perhaps he should have told someone back home exactly where he was going or at least that he had left the Australia at last, in case something happened to him, but if Foote knew what he had gotten himself in to, he expected he would laugh himself blue in the face. Phileas Foote was no stranger to adventure. He had been all over the world searching for clues as to the prophecy’s meaning, some hint that might tell them just where or when the child might be born, so he knew all about chasing ghosts.  Noel couldn’t help but think he had grown apathetic towards it after all of these years.  Every time Phileas came home from some remote village, untouched by the modern ways of man, bones in his beard, face stained with the droppings of some rare tropical bird, they all laughed at him, and none harder than Noel. What he wouldn’t give to be back at the Iron Bones now, nursing a pint of honey mead with Phileas, Wells and the others, laughing as Murphy wove yet another tale of how Foote was caught deflowering the daughter of a tribal chief and just manage to escape with his head, trousers still hanging round his ankles. Instead he was contemplating over seven thousand meters of rock and ice, in the dead of night, following clues he had found in a dream. It was madness.

Phileas assured him before he left Fendhaim that he had already traversed the whole of the Australian continent and spoken with every rumored Shaman along the way, though none of the ones he held brief audience with were very eager to own the title, their world now being dominated by Christian men, who don’t look kindly upon magic of any sort. When he returned from his latest journey, he told the elders there was no point in spending anymore time there, that the aboriginal tales, while hinting at a deeper truth, were just like the stories of all men—distorted and confused, impossible to decipher because Fate had flooded their minds in the culling, as man’s punishment for their part in the Fall. Every one of the people Phileas interviewed told him the same thing, to look to the people north to find a true Shaman who could answer his questions, so he had looked to the north of that island until there was no further north he could go, which was when the last of the would-be spiritual leaders told him the truth: the real magicians were somewhere in the islands north of there, yes, but if one were to go looking, he would never find them, because such a place only existed in the Wangarr time, the Dreaming, the beginning from which the Aboriginal people believed everything came. That’s when Phileas Foote gave up Down Under.

But Noel was intrigued. The culture of these people, their stories, had been around for more than sixty thousand years, according to some, long before Fate cleansed the earth, even before the prophecy was set down in the Book of Ages. As far as he was concerned, the Shaman had been speaking in riddles. Rather than seeing this metaphor of looking to the north as one more unreachable, mystical end, beyond which mankind had none of the answers, Noel thought Phileas had failed to realize he was being tested from the moment he landed. Noel told him he should have asked about the Dreaming, asked the Shaman to explain, that the only way they were only going to get any real answers was if they learned the ways of the Yolngu people, the tribe of that last Shaman, taking their time to understand the Madayin law, not just throwing up their hands and walking away because their ideas seemed primitive. The Shaman had to see them as more than just balandas, white men intruding on their customs and faith, after all it was not so long ago that the balanda came into their lands and slaughtered many of the Yolngu clans driving them nearly to extinction. Even today they have difficulty trusting and understanding those who have for so long sought to change them, to force them to abandon their sacred history, he reasoned.

Phileas agreed he had not taken much time to really understand the people he met on his path, but still he refused to go back, except when he was needed at Perth, to help Paul and Henry with the training. So Noel, reliable, skeptical Noel, went to Fendhaim and volunteered to return in his place, telling the elders that he hoped the Yolngu would at least be able to give them some hint about the people who received the prophecy of the last hope ages ago, because it was obvious these people couldn’t explain why ten ages had passed and the prophecy remained incomplete. The Aborigines had survived the Fall and the upheaval of their lands during the culling, survived with their stories of ancient times mostly intact. Ten thousand years was a very long time to wait for the culmination of one prophecy, but sixty thousand years was a good deal longer. It was their best hope, he reasoned. Though Phileas advised against it, Noel insisted he would just go anyway if he wasn’t given permission, so the elders gave him three months leave to explore his ideas, and he set out that very night, before anyone else tried to convince him he was pursuing a lost cause.

It took him two weeks to find Taree, the last Shaman with whom Phileas spoke near Dhalinybuy, an isolated community in Arnhem Land. It took him a full month more to convince the old Shaman he had not cheated, by avoiding the test of Madayin, coming to him with knowledge his friend had acquired during his journeys, instead of learning for himself, “as all must do, as it has always been thus.” Early on, he stopped communicating with the elders as they grew impatient.  By the time his three months were up, he had cut his ties all together, knowing no one would be able to find him if they came looking, as Taree rarely held still for long. In all, the past ten and a half months had been spent gaining the trust of the Yolngu people, wandering around at Taree’s side, learning their stories as told by the earth and the sky, learning their language and their way of life. When at last Taree told him he would be inducted as an honorary member of his clan, an adopted Yolngu, though the other men laughed at this notion, because only one born of Yolngu could ever be Yolngu, Noel was grateful enough for the things he had learned from these people, who derived so much of their identity from the distant past and the world around them, that he didn’t even flinch when he found out that part of the ritual ceremony was to drink an ancient potion that was meant to enable him to see the whole of the universe, a potion concocted from milk extracted from the root of the an-dubang and venom of the Taipan, among other deadly things. When they reached the sacred cave where boys were taken to become men, Taree told him he was either very brave or very stupid to embark on the path to knowing, as one who would never truly be Yolngu because he lacked a Wangarr spirit, but he allowed him to drink anyway, and he left him there, saying only, “Live or die, you become part of this place, Noel Loveridge.”

For three solid days, Noel lay alone, dying on the cold, hard floor of a cave covered in indigenous paintings that occasionally came to life and spoke to him of terrible things, though he did not understand them as anything more than indistinct ideas, but somewhere in between the dying and the drug-induced insanity he was living, he understood that he had entered what could only be described as the Dreaming, but in thus dreaming he did not see the whole of the universe, as Taree claimed those who reached manhood see, as proven by the scars borne by every initiate in their clans. Seeing was not the right word for what happened in that cave, because the fact was, once he entered the Wangarr time, he didn’t see anything at all, not even a vast expanse of blackness stretching on for eternity. Once he had slipped into that sleep, he had no physical senses any longer; he might have been there for only a moment or for a thousand years and it would have been no different to him. Instead he felt an answer, a single answer, clear and instantaneous, as though it were a part of himself and he had known it all along but required the Wangarr to show him:  Four thousand miles away, hidden somewhere in Pemako, a place sacred to the Buddhist Monks of Tibet, nearly at the top of Namcha Barwa, the Breast of Vajrayogini as it is called by those men who go there seeking spiritual truths, there is an entrance to a subterranean paradise, where Fate speaks directly to those who would listen, for they had always listened.

Eight days after drinking Taree’s potion, Noel woke up from his delirium certain he had touched the creator himself. As soon as he was well enough to leave Arnhem Land he set out for Pemako, where Phileas Foote had already spent plenty of time searching for inspiration, but Noel hadn’t been thinking of that when he first left Australia. That was two days ago, when the euphoria still held him firmly in its grasp, but now he wondered if perhaps it had all been an actual dream, a trick of his mind suffering the effects of a highly potent mix of neurotoxin and hallucinogens.

He could almost hear Phileas laughing.

“All right,” he huffed, picking his rucksack up from the ground and slinging it over his shoulder, “one day’s rest is long enough.” Pulling the hood of his cloak low over his face, Noel took off into the night, soaring straight up through the thinning air, his breath turning to ice on his lips and chin the higher he flew.

__________________

Tale of Two Mountains, Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3, Pt. 4, Pt. 5, Pt. 6, Pt. 7, Pt. 8, Pt. 9, Pt. 10, Pt. 11, Pt. 12, Pt. 13, Pt. 14, Pt. 15, Pt. 16

Waking Up With Whiplash

SEE THIS FILM!

Now that I’ve gotten that bold red header out of my system, let me say I’m not going to get in the habit of doing film reviews (this is not a review, by the way), but it is very seldom that a movie truly catches hold of me, slams me against the floor of my soul, strangles me with the tethers of own fear of inadequacy, and then makes me want to stand up and cheer for it, like it’s done me a favor, so bear with me for a moment while I just add to the endless list of accolades this film has already received:  Whiplash is absolutely spectacular,  Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons are phenomenal, and really, you must watch

Okay, I’m done raving.

Since its release in October, it has been up for debate whether or not Whiplash sends the right message to aspiring artists, or if it crosses a moral line, especially where the pedagogy is concerned, as J.K. Simmons attempts to torment Miles Teller until he is one of the greatest drummers who ever lived.  We know every artist suffers for his art, because in order to create masterful works, one must first become a master, and that takes time, patience, practice, dedication, a willingness to debase and humiliate oneself on a daily basis, admitting even the tiniest faults as many times as is necessary to perfect both the artist and the art, and, of course most imperative, one must have a massive will to survive, because in order to be great, one must first be broken… repeatedly.  Given the volume of clichés surrounding the tortured and struggling artist, it would seem on the surface, if you haven’t bled for it, your work just can’t be good, or maybe it is good, but just good, and the work will never be anything beyond that because the suffering isn’t there.  There are plenty of good works out there.  As a matter of fact, the abundance of good in the world can be so deceptive, some would claim we’ve forgotten what great really should be.

Though I’m certain a slew of people would argue with me, in my opinion the best line in Whiplash is when Fletcher, the abusive professor, says to Andrew, his impressionable student, “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.’  It’s true.  To those who could be great, but don’t know it yet, those two words build a barrier to achieving excellence, as the average praise smothers the drive to be more.  To those who would be great, and are struggling, the words are a poison.  They find themselves whispering quietly to themselves, “Just good?” and if they lack survival skills, they don’t make it past being repeatedly broken by those two little words.  That’s why there are so few greats.  It takes so much more than talent to be great.  It takes fortitude.  Not many people have that.

As a writer, I completely related to Andrew Niemann’s brutal affair with his drum kit.  Most days I’m content with being the drummer, pounding away, seeking perfection, knowing I’m not good enough, not yet, and I may not ever be, but I will continue on until the day I die.  On occasion, I find myself playing the part of those drums, being beaten by bloody hands I can hardly recognize as my own.

Is it wrong to admit that I don’t want what I create to be good?  I want it to be great, so I’ll continue struggling.

Time to get back to work.

Fast Girls and Rock Stars

Our oldest daughter, presently sixteen, has decided she’s bored with high school and is ready to graduate this May, a year early, which is how she and I found ourselves traveling an hour out of our way this past Friday, to have her Senior yearbook pictures taken, long before I was emotionally ready, though I’m afraid I can’t say the same thing about her.  She’s always been a fast girl.  No, I don’t mean it that way.  Lilia is the sort of girl who, at the ripe old age of three, got frustrated with a cartoon she was watching because the bad guy didn’t consider that if he destroyed the world, as he planned, he’d be destroying himself too, so she decided to help me cook dinner instead.  Fast.  Sometimes I wish I could slow her down, remind her to take her time, that it’s all right to be a little ridiculous and to enjoy her youth, which is funny because she often says the same thing about her little sister, who is two years younger than her and, in her opinion, much more serious, though really they are just serious in different ways.  Then I get glimpses of days like Friday, and I can breathe a small sigh of relief because my fast daughter’s in love with a drummer she’s never even met.

As we climbed into the car Friday morning, and she proceeded to jack in her phone, simultaneously grinning boldly and looking flustered, Lilia informed me that she had a dirty little secret she needed to share, so I should just be prepared to spend the rest of the day listening to only one band–5 Seconds of Summer, the Australian boy band that has captured her heart, even though she knows she’s supposed to be above that sort of thing.  “I don’t feel very guilty about it, because they aren’t really a boy band anyway, they’re a garage band,” she said rather emphatically, perhaps expecting me to judge her because their music is mainstream (what can I say? My kids know I’m a music nazi, though I’ve tried to loosen up some over the years and will even listen to their Pandora stations on road trips, if only to avoid the same ten Top 40 songs that are always on the radio).  “They all play instruments,” she continued, “and they write their own music.  They’re real musicians, Mom, and here!  Just look at them!” she swooned, shoving her phone in front of my face while I tried to keep the car on the road.  “Sorry.  I’ll wait until we get to the gas station.”  …Fast.

Let’s face it, Ashton Irwin is not going to show up at our little town and sweep my much-too-young-(and-probably-too-fast)-for-him daughter off her feet anytime soon, so I gratefully listened to Voodoo Doll at least four times anyway, along with every other song 5SOS ever played.

We laughed together about how she could, “totally marry a rock star, especially a drummer!” even though she has no idea how to meet a drummer, let alone how to date one.  Being the sort of fast girl she is (and her mother’s daughter), she Googled, “how to date a rock star,” and right there at the top of the results was Mat Devine’s recent article in Galore, “5 Ways to Date a Rock Star“.  So she read aloud, and we laughed some more, because there is something refreshing about a guy who admits right off the bat, “I’m pretty *expletive*… [but] Any girl that knows I’m in a band, and still kinda likes me… I’m like… RED FLAG!”  (For those girls still determined to let their red flags fly, he went on to provide three and a half mostly-sensible pointers, which actually apply to dating any guy, not just rock stars.  For the record, #4 only gets half credit, because there are some things on that list even fast-in-the-traditional-sense girls should never do, however where the line gets drawn is at #5, because unless you are at the show, the rock star you are dating should definitely want to have a proper shower before he sees you, otherwise he’s not worth your time.  Even a Red Flag girl’s gotta have standards, Mat.)   It was quite fun being on the inside of one of my daughter’s rare full-on teenager moments, but in the end my fast girl returned to her senses, deciding that perhaps it wasn’t the rock star she wanted to date, so much as it was the music.

I’m with her on that.

I mentioned that before I went off on a days-long tangent exploring other dimensions last week, I had every intention of posting about the music that has inspired my writing.  Instead of writing about it, I think I should just let you fall in love the old fashioned way.  So, here are three of the bands, who inspired The Eleventh Age in various ways, playing songs in the order of how rock star relationships usually turn out:

The Shins, Saint Simon.  They woo us with genius.

 

The Libertines, Boys in the Band.  Turns out we’re not the only one’s they’re wooing.

 

Oasis, Don’t Look Back in Anger.  As it happens, rock stars say a lot of goodbyes that don’t mean much.

 

Thanks for listening.