Fiction: Half Shaman, 6

6: The Meerkat Totem

I’m thinking about everything to do with signaling.

A shaman-to-Ship signal is hidden in a totem couplet that has more beats than the signal has elements. Or the couplet needs at least a beat for each element of the signal.

Which limits the couplets available? Or, different signals use different couplets. I mean, some couplets are quite short. Signals may be long. ‘Couplets’ is a bit of a misnomer too. Often there are four lines, not two.

Second, there is the fact that a dot and a dash are different in length. Must dots fall on short beats and dashes on long beats? I don’t know.

Give me, give me, give me a couplet to work on. Ants together carry their towns a stone at the time. Totems together carry their country a heart at the time. Together we live singly we die.

Don’t know why that one sprang into my mind, for I don’t know any Ant Totems. It is customary to capitalize the word when referring to people, says a shaman-teacher in my mind. I had the Shamans to guide me for three years. Ignore the meanings of the songs. Leave them for those who live the totems to cogitate on, the Head Shaman said.

So if I sing “Z to A” will the Ant totem couplet give me enough elements?

Mm. Write it down somewhere? Inner arm. Scratch it there with fingernail. Four letters. Ten elements. Dash dash dot dot / dash / dash dash dash / dot dash.Yes, there are plenty of elements in the Ant song. But not the shorts and longs in the right sequence, I think.

Use another couplet. Not any of the Eagles. The Meerkat?

I sing the words under my breath. Charged with surveillance, a meerkat stands sentinel. Charged with caring, a meerkat protects the young. Charged with food gathering, a meerkat leads the foraging. To carry your family is to carry yourself. Whoever reaches the top, reaches down for the rest.

Yes.

There’s a sequence but don’t cheer yet. It’s only the first step. The code for Z, dash dash dot dot, can be sung as Sta-a-ands se-e-en tin el, where the two dots are short plosive sounds.To’ will become dash / dash dash dash, and can be sung as cha-a-ar ged wi-i-ith su-u-ur vei-ei-eill ance. ‘A’ is equal to dot dash, and will bea meer ka-a-at.

I sweat. It seems to work. But I’ve changed the sequencing around. Will that matter? Will it matter in the singing? What if I sing it three times and hide the wrong-way-round section between the other two?

I gasp because now I must sing. My cell will be my sound chamber, I remind myself. Start softly, normal speaking voice. Stand with my heels touching the bottom of the door. Face out toward the window. Remember to sing alto-tenor. Normal enunciation.

I sing the first two lines. “Charged with surveillance, a meerkat stands sentinel. Charged with caring, a meerkat protects the young.”

Now the sequence. I raise my chin, fill my lungs, sing as loud as I can. “Charged with surveillance, a meerkat stands sentinel. Sta-a-ands se-e-en tin el. cha-a-ar ged wi-i-ith su-u-ur vei-ei-eill ance. a meer ka-a-atCharged with surveillance, a meerkat stands sentinel.”

Down in the yards, the murmuring stops. I’ve been hearing it without realizing. The Earth-born are listening and maybe the Lotor-born as well. I can’t help it. I fill my lungs and sing again. “Charged with surveillance, a meerkat stands sentinel. Sta-a-ands se-e-en tin el. Cha-a-ar ged wi-i-ith su-u-ur vei-ei-eill ance. A meer ka-a-at.Charged with surveillance, a meerkat stands sentinel.”

The phrases blend as if they belong. I’m cheered despite being the one and only doing the singing. Guards, who else, come tramping up the stairs.

I sing again, “Charged with surveillance, a meerkat stands sentinel. Sta-a-ands se-e-en tin el. cha-a-ar ged wi-i-ith su-u-ur vei-ei-eill ance. a meer ka-a-atCharged with surveillance, a meerkat stands sentinel.”

The guards arrive at my door. They stand on the other side of it. They’re apparently waiting.

For what?

Sting sting sting in my arm.

I gasp. These stings are patterned something like my coding.

A thing vibrates in my arm! My amulet, of course. My flesh around it vibrates. I feel my letters in my arm the way I felt them vibrating in my throat when I sang them.

The coding simplifies. Pin-prick, needle-stab, stab, stab, prick, prick. Which represents AZ. Prick, prick, stab, stab, stab, prick. Which represents ZA.

I weep because the Ark Ship gives me its call sign and mine. Then I scream joy scream dance cry sing dance pull my hair. The ship! I want to scream. It talked. It signed me. It still knows me. I swallow and swallow and I cry and cry. Snivel snot and tears.

The guards shove open the door finally, shoving me along the floor with it. Yank me up, an arm each. Run me down the stairs. They throw me into the narrow yard between the two wide yards.

A Cat’s Story Ends

Miss Maggy-bag

A sad thing to report … Miss Maggy-bag was euthanased this morning due to tick paralysis. She was eleven years old and the most intrepid cat I’ve ever had the pleasure of guesting.

Intrepid because though she was too swaggy and inept to climb trees, she ran up walls after Asian House geckos, up fences to see off intruding felines and up the shade-cloth shed to sneer at the neighbor’s dogs.

She lost every collar with bells she was forced to wear as well as every flea collar. Under the house there will be a place where all these things lie, a testimony to a smart cat.

She was missing for sixteen hours. When I called her I only heard that squashed-frog sound, that frogs make when they are stuck in the drainpipes and it’s raining.

Finally found her at the bottom of the steps, cold, wet and unable to move. That noise was her, even her vocal chords were paralyzed.

I could’ve taken out a loan and gone through all the rigmarole of seeing if she’d make it with the antivenin, but she was 8x smaller than my dog who got a tick the same size and barely made it.

So I have her at home, swaddled in a towel, dead on my lap. It’s easy to imagine she is still alive because she is lying against me and I am breathing, she with me. It’s raining at the present, softening the ground. Later I’ll go out and dig a hole.

Maggy, wishful thinking. She tore off her toe on a fence and she could not go outside

Writing is Gardening

Mullumyard in the Rain

Gardening is like a hands-in-the-dirt kind of writing. That’s the thought I had about them both while I pulled out weeds this morning.

What I was doing there–with that thinking–was trying to construct a metaphor. You will have noticed, though, that I had doubts and inserted a ‘like’. The two things that I was trying to relate to each other at that moment felt like they are too different from each other and I settled for making a simile.

But what is there about gardening and writing that I thought I could bring them together in a metaphor? Thinking thinking thinking. I guess it is more about the ways that I engage in each process.

Gardening, you pull your garden gloves on, walk into the backyard and start weeding. For example. When you’ve picked all the dandelion flowers due to set seed and put them in the organic refuse bin, you’ll see that the newly planted pansy plants are looking a bit limp. Without having to wonder what you’ll do next, you’ll get a watering can, fill it and give the pansies a drink. Next, you’ll notice that the excess thyme plants you ripped out last week, are looking nicely dried. You’ll give them a good shake above the vegetable patch to release all those little dry leaves, where they’ll add to the mulch. Every little bit helps. And so on.

Writing, you’ll open the software you’re using, open the files you’re working on, and start adding into or subtracting from the section you last worked on. Soon you’ll discover that if you add this action to a character’s arc here, you’ll need to seed that character earlier in the piece, and you work on that for a while. While you are getting your lunch, you think of a nice metaphor with which to explain one of your most recalcitrant plot points, and so when you get back into it, you shift your attention to that part of the arena. And so on.

See the similarities?

Gardening is a hands-in-the-dirt kind of writing and writing is gardening with words.

‘Pantsing’ versus Planning

One of my typical ‘pantsed’ embroideries. Even the frame surrounding it was unplanned. Proof is in the areas where it touches or goes over the inner design.

This week I started to rewrite my work-in-progress before I have even written the last two chapters. Since I already know how they must proceed, it didn’t seem as important to finish the work as fix the holes I was finding while re-reading.

Some of these holes are places where I need to ‘seed’ facts to familiarize readers with concepts that will later be used as part of the plot. About five of them, so far.

For example, in Meld, the novel I’m working on, I’ll be writing a time-jump scene. There’s a space shuttle involved that I can’t just have appearing out of the blue … I’d be accused of using a plot device known as a deux ex machine ‘whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and seemingly unlikely occurrence …’ (Wikipedia)

I’ll need to ‘seed’ the shuttle earlier in the story to show that it belongs.

A second problem are the areas of credibility stretched thin by an over-use of descriptive detail, or an over-use of dramatic elements. The former is easy to fix. I just need to decide which bits of description the story can’t do without, and delete the rest.

The latter, the dramatic elements, are more difficult. In several cases these consist of personal characteristics of one or other of the characters and as such have been used to influence outcomes of behavior throughout the novel.

First I had to plot all main characteristics of each of the 6 most important characters … I hear you asking … why wouldn’t you do that before you start writing? And I would say to you … there speaks a planner. Which I am not. I’ll always will be doing this kind of thing half or three-quarters of the way through a project because I am a pantser.

I get an idea for a story in the form of a piece of dialogue between two characters. Or a thought. And I start writing. Dialogue and narrative are the first of my output. I plot and plan down the track. Insert and rewrite. Often.

Pantsing is a lot like sketching. I write and rewrite until a distinct story/image forms among the crowded words/pencil marks. How do you get your story out?

Blog Post Titles

Every so often we all need to revisit lessons from the past. I’ve been blogging for over nine years now, and have learned a thing of two about the tagging system as used by Google and now WordPress.

Titles are more important than tags!

I’ve often thought that a blog post, to be read or even just glanced at, hardly needs any other tags than a really good, snappy, catchy title.

Five days ago I posted a blurb with the sort of milk-coffee title that has much more milk in it than coffee. We all forget ourselves sometimes. And as can be expected that post gained no hits whatsoever.

Google and or WordPress just weren’t interested. The phrasing was wrong. It started with a pronoun. Had no keywords in it. I could go on and on with the parsing.

Usually I prove my point by posting up a great title with either no tags, or just a couple of seriously general ones. No problem getting hits.

As this is an experiment about titling, I won’t even include an almost obligatory interesting image. We’ll see how I go.

Writing, what else?

When I’m My characters out of time, in the first draft of Meld are stuck in a patch of mud and I ,part 2 of the Doomed series, as I am today, and don’t yet know how to write my characters them through that experience. I nowadays turn to another project.

Drat. The sentence above had 45 words as it stood. Why can’t I write long sentences in my fiction? (Editors and beta readers often complain.) But I guess I’d better unpack it in the interests of readability.

Something to look at in the meantime … one of my embroideries … Fleeing the Heat

Yes, so I murdered my first first sentence. I’m limited showing you exactly what I did, not yet knowing all the possible ins and outs of what I can do here. The new first sentence reads …

My characters in the first draft of Meld are stuck in a patch of mud and I don’t yet know how to write them through that experience.

When I’m in that kind of situation, I don’t call it writer’s block. That story-stew is merely waiting for new ingredients. Because it was a time jump that got them into their present predicament, the characters need to have a ‘where-are-we-in-space-and-time’ discussion while at the same time protecting themselves from the wild life. I need to research all the ways in which they can discover ‘when’ they are.

In the meantime it’s OK to write a blog post, work on a short story, or even re-organize your media collection so it can be housed on the internal hard drive. It’s all part of writing.

Synchronicity …

One thing leads to another. It all began with me trying to find a place to start publishing my Eleven Islands saga. This blog isn’t it. Blogs are structured for journaling and or writing episodic narrative, as everyone I know who writes a blog has told me. Yes, yes. I will knuckle down and blog.

Though it doesn’t mean I will let the other idea go. I started to look at different kinds of platforms. At the same time re-read some of the material I was deciding to rewrite to fit the new parameters.

Glaze representing water on a ceramic tile that looks like water
Example of a serendipitous event is this glaze that represents water in this ceramic mosaic
that also looks like real water from a certain angle.

Synchronicity happened. While I was writing short blurbs for the Eleven Islands Saga … they are still up, see The Eleven Islands page on this blog … I came across a romantic interlude between two of the younger characters. Inquired about its suitability for the next Worldbuilding Magazine … and away I went, rewriting it to suit.

So, writing has been the go all week on a project that took off after an impulse that led to me joining Worldbuildingmagazine.com

I love synchronicity.