David Parsons The Valley Below on the 2009 album Jyoti …
Trawling through my social media accounts during the week, I came across a little article written by a man in his late eighties. He said the thing that cheered him up most through all the troubled times that he he experienced in his life, was his daily habit of composing a positive personal headline.
I had a think about the idea for a couple of days without doing anything about it. I was negative. How could any of my personal positive news compete with COVID, political stupidities, cyber-attacks on all government departments (in Australia), and the thing not sitting just over the horizon but already in our midst, climate change and the continual ending of species diversity?
Then a new baby was born in the family.
I let all that stuff up there go. Released it from my mind. I filled my mind with thoughts of the baby’s parents. Her other grandmother, her grandfather. Her little brother. How could I not celebrate her arrival? Even in these frightening times, a new baby is a powerful sign of hope.
My headline? Two-times grandmother welcomes her grand-daughter into the world.
Of course, yes, I know the world is not a perfect place. When was it ever and for everyone at the same time? That’s Utopia we’re talking about.
In this world, there are positive things happening. The #BlackLivesMatter movement. I heard #GretaThunberg speak again yesterday. The Fifth Estate keeps plugging away for more green jobs, green buildings, green cities. People are still planting trees. I’m looking at you #Brunswick Valley Heritage Park, Maslen Arboretum in Mullumbimby.
A couple of months ago I stumbled across a CSIROscope competition in honor of World Ocean Day and as I had just been researching ocean clean-ups and the work done on the gyres, I thought: Yeah, I’ll give that a go. The prize would be an analysis by a bunch if scientists of the feasibility of the idea and the illustration once it had been used for social media promotions.
Mmm. An illustration by Campbell Whyte? Could be useful for a story I might write one day. It seemed like a very faint hope/plan/dream/possibility.
I thought up the words, reverse engineered them down to the required number, posted my entry and then forgot about it. The Covid thing makes you forgetful on a lot of fronts. Duly got an email telling me the good news that I was one of four winners. I was amazed.
So, yes, I’ve tried embedding to show-off my prize. I’ve tried merely to link. I’ve tried to post the URL. I’ve tried … to no avail.
I don’t see the problem.
Ah ha … stopped the embedding function. Learn something new everyday. I better hurry up and post. Battery is down to 47% …
My interest in time travel began when my birth-family arrived in Australia as immigrants from the Netherlands. The first place where we lived was a migrant hostel outside Sydney. We children mostly noticed differences. The English language of course. The food. What the hell is this orange stuff? Pumpkin? But that’s cattle food. And what is vegemite? it’s horrible. Nothing like apple butter.
And the bush. Walking along the dirt road to our house block at midday, there was no shade. The thin vegetation let the sunlight burnish right through it. The only living creature we saw that day was a snake sunning itself on a sandstone slab protruding above the road’s surface. A venomous brown, in suburbia. My father said to stamp on the ground to scare it away. The landscape seemed very alien.
Adults noticed the seeming backwardness of the new country. There was not a decent cup of coffee to be had, for instance. Schooling was 30 years behind European education, many parents thought when they took their kids to the migrant hostel’s school. Most of the breadwinners, having their European qualifications downgraded, could only get laboring work.
A common complaint was that we had traveled back in time.
But the primitive building code enabled a lot of families to live on a house block and build their own accommodation. Many children saved shoe leather by going to school on bare feet. And if you lived in the outer suburbs, it was cheaper to buy a week’s supply of fruit and vegetables at Paddy’s Produce Markets in central Sydney and carry them home in a hessian sack, than getting stuff piecemeal at the local shops.
The existence of tropes as a category of themes tells you there’s nothing new in fiction. But I’m cruisy about using a conventional theme, if I can do something new with it, time travel as an immigrant having prepped me.
Though I’ll tell you right now that I won’t be sitting through the 700+ movies that apparently use time travel as their theme. Wikipedia has a nice page on Time Travel in Fiction listing the main sub-tropes of time travel generating a manageable list of things to read/watch.
From all the above, and without having to watch anything, I gather that what I’ve been writing into is the time-slip sub-trope.
In the present day consensual all writing has ground to a halt. The self isolating jig is in full swing. The main street is as silent as the CBD of a ghost town, which normally is abuzz with cars, coffee places, people and outdoor life generally.
As I live only one block back from it all, and today it might as well be the depths of a public holiday, and the silence is already quite oppressive.
I’ve been filling the silence with music. I’m wearing earphones hours a day. This week I discovered the Dirty Three. An Australian alternative band, led by Warren Ellis, a violinist, they play a great variety of post rock, experimental, rhythm and drone.
Whenever I’ve built up a bit of strength, I move the next item of furniture in my big project of fitting an architect’s drafting desk into the house. Yesterday was Day 3, and I moved a chest of drawers into my bedroom that will be used to store seasonal stuff … blankets and winter clothes.
Trouble is, when that chest of drawers stood in the sun room it contained kids’ toys, photos and photo albums, and various other stuff. All those have been displaced and today is the day of decisions. Hundreds of them. Like, I have too many photos. It’s a cull.
I haven’t started yet, and I also still need to go out … the IGA for food and the chemist for advice and band-aids.
Needing to be a low-FODMAP eater for life, I’m constantly on the look out for easy recipes for sweet treats. While good cook books and online recipes are now no longer as scarce as hen’s teeth, I’m still always searching for EASY recipes.
Nothing turns me off from cooking or baking quicker than a recipe with dozens of ingredients–also called an ingredient stampede.
Not only that, I’m after a recipe for choc brownies or non-chocolate ‘brownies’. It’s that consistency of batter, I’ve decided, is the easiest to bake. Fill the cup-cake tray with the patty-papers, fill with the batter, and put in oven. Easy.
And I’m not eating the silicone off the baking paper, or from the silicone baking trays. I’m a Luddite in that respect. No silicone baking for me.
So recently I’ve been experimenting with the Rule of the Egg. I came across this rule many years ago in the hand-written cookbook of a friend of the family, Mary Morgan. I don’t think she would’ve minded me mentioning her name in regards to traditional Australian cooking and baking, she was a star. (1925 — 2011)
I have several recipes in my own hand-written book of recipes named after her. You know the sort, Mary’s Sponge; Mary’s Marmalade; and Mary’s Pav. But to get back to the Rule of the Egg.
In the case of today’s experiment I put in two eggs and four tablespoons of peanut butter. So that’s a doubling of the nut butter/butter/margarine/oil.
Then for each egg used, add one tablespoon of each flour you’re using, and one tablespoon of sugar.
I didn’t bother with salt as the peanut butter had salt in it. But normally it’s a pinch.
I mixed the ingredients in as I went, starting with the eggs and peanut butter. There’s a rule about order of adding that I’m somewhat hazy about. I figure though that since I’m not using a flour with gluten in it, there need be no worry about developing the gluten with too much working of the batter.
And finally I moistened the batter to a good consistency with rice milk. I’m sure any milk-like fluid can be used for this step.
Half-fill the cup-cake-cases. I got eight cup-cakes out of this batch.
Preheat oven to 180 C / 350 F. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Cool on a rack.
It’s useless to be thinking about the future when you are starting out, on anything. You start your working life putting up signs, you have no clue that one day you might be working on high rises installing in glass walls with the help of a robot.
People starting out as writers are the same. I started with writing poetry. I had no idea then that one day I’d take on an sf trilogy.
Nearly everybody here in the Discord’s Writing Cartel has a world/universe that they are either writing into or using as scene setting for any number of creative projects. Yesterday I watched a short film on Youtube, there are people developing games, writing novels, short stories, you name it, it’s being written.
Every one of these worlds/galaxies/universes are huge. Many of us have spent every spare moment of our boring work lives thinking up detail. There will always be areas in any of these worlds that will stay private to their creator, and other areas that will see heavy traffic of stories.
We’re all doing it for the love of it. World building is one of the most satisfying mind games we all engage in, relaxing and psychologically uplifting. Next comes the harder thing. Convincing other people to put their own worlds aside for an hour, and engage with us in ours. So we write stories, develop adventure games, produce visuals, film about our worlds.
The Discord Writing Cartel community is all about sticking our toes in the waters of our worlds, writing though the shallows, and finally committing ourselves to writing fully fledged stories to share first with each other, then with the world.
Only then, with that last word, can you start thinking about how much money you might make.
Though, of course, these are just my own thoughts. Take them well salted.
There’s jogging and there’s jogging, I think. The second kind is when a pair of people jog with a stretcher on their shoulders. The person on the stretcher jounces mercilessly and indeed must jounce to help the joggers keep their pace. Which is what I discover when I try for a change to sit with my back straight.
Wren and Meerkat, my bearers for that stretch, slow to a walk. As we’re approximately in the middle of the line everyone behind us also slows. What’s worse, the line breaks. The fast front continues jogging. The rear slows to a walk.
Limber drops back from the front to discover the wherefores. “You two tired already?” he asks my bearers.
“Only been at it a couple of hundred paces,” Meerkat says. He sounds offended.
“It’s the way she’s sitting, straight as a maul-handle,” Wren says. She indicates up with her thumb, steadfastly refusing to name me. “Without give in her, she bounces, comes down hard. The sticks bend deeper. They want to spring off from our shoulders.”
“Show me,” Limber says.
We advance the few paces needed to illustrate Wren’s explanation. “She wants to ride, she’s got to move to the rhythm of the ponies,” Wren says.
“Wren has a point, Shaman Jeb,” Limber says. “It’s important we don’t split the group. Easier for Lotor to take out a small group than a larger one.”
“I apologize, Wren. Meerkat. Limber.” I try to catch their eyes to show that I mean it. I force myself to relax into the cross-legged jouncing posture and my bearers resume their labor.
Limber springs ahead to warn the fast front about the gap and the need to allow the rest of us to catch up.
I wonder whether the rules Puma has set for this stage are really necessary. Keep the line unbroken. The pace is a slow jog. Follow in the footsteps of the person in front.
As in, keep exactly to the single-file trail. “Who leads?” I ask. I’m guessing Meerkat will answer.
“Every thousand paces, the leader of that stage falls back,” Meerkat says.
“Funny how she hasn’t noticed them checking their way to the rear?” Wren says. “What Limber just did, didn’t he?”
Oh. I continue the conversation silently. This is my first time traveling by stretcher. I sneer at myself. That’s just an excuse. There’s a lot to see. Another excuse. But none of my conversational gambits will solve the reason for Wren’s dislike if I don’t open my mouth. “This is my first time traveling the desert. Lame excuse, I know.”
“Limber was at the end of the front,” Meerkat says. “I never heard about anyone being born on a platform. Everyone else will have had a first time in the desert too.”
“All you boys are smitten with her, and for what?” Wren says.
“Oh!” I can’t stop myself bursting out. “I suddenly see why you persist in speaking about me. It allows you to do exactly what you just did.”
I’m not totally sure what I am accusing Wren of, just that it suddenly made sense for a moment. The effect of my outburst is total silence in our little group. I have time to notice that the wind from the south is picking up. Its searing soughing hits the cavalcade side-on. Everyone’s clothes flap northward.
I see Limber skipping back down the line from the front. The person he needs to pass sways to one side, Limber sways to the other. Both manage to keep their feet on the single file path.
Very clever I’m sure, I think grumpily. Why couldn’t I have noticed that before?
Limber reaches us.
“Wren is done here,” Meerkat says. “But I will need a hundred thousand paces to work off my rage.”
Limber looks to me. I shrug helplessly. I feel as hopeless as ever about my chances to fit into the society of my age group. I used to pretend high and mightiness and that their resultant dislike was because of my totem. “I’m sorry.” For being what I am.
“I am so fucking angry,” Meerkat says conversationally. “I’ll probably strangle someone if I get loose. Get Ant.”
“I am so fucking angry I could burst,” Wren says. “That ugly bitch up on the sticks takes both my boyfriends and I’ve got to carry her like she is an Earth-born princess?”
Limber signals to the rear.
I pull my hood over my eyes and close them for good measure. I try not to take any notice of the changeover. I hear Wren and Meerkat take the loads given them. I hear Meerkat sent to the front. I hear Limber order Wren to the rear. Was Mongoose one of Wren’s recent boyfriends?
“There now, my pretty,” I hear from a way to the front.
The old shaman strokes my soul and my eyes almost overflow. I imagine the Totem Reality. It has slopes of lush grasses, stony outcrops and a blue sky. Sunlight beams down.
I spread my wings and hunt down a rabbit. Just when I’m about to crush its life, I notice it has Wren’s face. Out of shock I release her and she escapes down a hole. I press my hood against my eyes to soak up my tears.
New Chief, Old Shaman
Uncle flaps a hand. The red-tailed woman and one of the men, both of the guard squad, step through the seated crowd. With soft encouragements that I don’t hear, and without touching him, they direct Simmon to the edge of the platform.
Where he sits down. The guards stand either side of him. Not at their ease.
Uncle must have signaled that there is something more about the prisoner than the mere inconvenience of his presence? I feel a bit better.
“So here we are.” Uncle’s tone says that he will not accept any nay-saying. “What’s not to protect?”
People meet Uncle’s glare or they don’t. It’s a good way of discovering his, and so my supporters. The way people accept Uncle’s leadership surprises me.
Ant jumps into the opportunity both feet first. “So I was thinking back along the road a bit that Puma should be Chief?”
Uncle narrows his gaze.
“A boy talking,” Simmon calls from his place. A lot of people bristle.
“Sez you,” Ant says. “You’ve been with us for how long? Got a loud voice when you don’t even know if we’ll keep you.”
“What is it with you doing all the talking suddenly,” Jackdaw says. “Usually it’s your mate.”
Ant takes a deep breath. “I figured my role in the Great Project could be to liaise between the young Shaman and the group?”
“Why bother with that when you’re set on picking me as Chief?” Uncle says.
“Often Shaman Jeb won’t be able to talk with everyone separately, when separate is needed. She doesn’t know people the way Thyal knows everyone from birth practically. And by the time we have forty in the troop, say, even Thyal will have a problem getting to everyone’s individual concerns. I can help with that.”
Everyone is sitting there slightly agape, it seems.
Ant continues. “And we should always have a singing group on standby. It doesn’t have to be the same people all the time. I can help organize there. Jeb isn’t accustomed to the kind of life we lead, always on the move, I’m already helping with that. I’m pretty sure more things will come up.”
Then Ant repeats what he said to Mongoose and me, adding in a few encouraging words. “Much less confusion with a separate Chief. What the Ark-Ship says, not knowing the conditions on the ground, might be a lot different to what an experienced Chief will recommend. Better to have a discussion, with a Chief’s final vote than Jeb being advised by all and sundry and worrying alone.”
“Ha!” Simmon says. “There’s that worrying again, Jeb. Everybody is onto you.”
Despite that Simmon should be a person of no consequence to me, I think back. Was I worried while I was in the white cell? Only when people were doing things to me, or when I wasn’t in control of my life. Was I worried escaping through the black cell? Didn’t have time. Was I worried walking away from the old man in the chapel? I was walking away. So … maybe I worry when I’m not in control?
“I see that you don’t merely choose a chief,” Uncle comments, “but that you also expect him to be open to discussion. Is that your idea or Shaman Jeb’s?”
Ant and I both stay silent.
“It’s the love-struck loon’s idea?” Uncle says.
Lithe grins. Mongoose grins.
“It’s the idea of all of us pack animals,” Meerkat says. “We’ve been brewing it. And we’ve decided we need just one person giving us our instructions, not fifty all wanting their own stuff carried in as many quirky ways. And, most of all, we need someone who realizes that if we carry all day every day, we won’t be much good carrying nights as well.”
Now everybody young enough to be a pack animal, grins. “Meerkat for chief!” says a girl.
Limber is the next to agree. Which he does quite sneakily? “So when shall we start the next stage, Chief?” he says.
Uncle thinks. “Tonight is too soon.” He smiles a fleeting glance toward Ant with approval and gratitude mixed in it. A chief-in-waiting can’t take the position no matter what the need as he sees it. He has to be chosen.
“Got a couple of pack animals needing a night off,” Uncle says. “The next stage is twenty-five kilometers. We’ll be crossing several regions of the carnivorous sand.”
I’m sure I grow pale. I feel the skin of my face constricting.
“This platform is higher,” Uncle in his Puma-guise says. “So we’ll pare some longer staves from the stem. Make a stretcher so we can all help carry our young shaman. Pair up according to shoulder height. Nobody carries more than a thousand paces at the time.”
“Is a chief really necessary?” Simmon says from afar.
I hear how he makes his voice sound bored. If he thinks he’ll influence people that way, he doesn’t know us at all. And why is he even trying to keep people aware of his presence? I grin. Answered that myself just then.
Lithe leans toward him. “Earthborn, how long do you think I will tolerate you in the troop without a totem? Puma is the right man for the job. Always before, he was Puma-in-waiting as I was Lithe-in-waiting, as Limber was Limber-in-waiting.”
Limber smiles and expands on his brother’s comment. “We waited for trouble and jumped in according to need. But we two,” he salutes his brother. “We are also of the Black Swan Totem. Which comes with its own and entirely different role.”
“We welcome Puma’s leadership,” Lithe says. “Him taking the lead will enable us to spend more time on our Black Swan work without worrying things will fall apart in the organization of the troop.”
He glances at me.
“That’s right,” Limber says. “But don’t think to play up, anybody.” He glances round maybe at the known troublemakers. “We’ll still be Puma’s lieutenants. As the Ant said, much less confusion.”
I guess because of the confusion of a pair of identical twins telling how it is as if they are one person. I want to know more about the Black Swan totem and why Lithe looked at me just then.
“So. Simmon,” Uncle Puma says in the slightly ponderous way he has always had, but which now suits his role. “To stay with us, my lieutenants feel you ought to adopt a totem for real.” He stared at Simmon, maybe daring him to tell us he already had a totem, the Sea Eagle. To prove it, he’d have to shuck his shirt for us to see his Sea Eagle tattoo.
Simmon stares back and stays put. Therefore no Sea Eagle tattoo, or totem. More likely in my opinion Simmon hopes to keep us ignorant of the skin disease.
“Thyal and you won’t be carrying,” Uncle says. “You’re the wrong size. Thyal is old. In return for you backpacking Thyal’s swag, he’ll teach you your totem. Twenty-five kilometers gives you plenty of time to pick it up.”
Thyal laughs old-man-style. “Huh huh huh. He’s a Grey Wolf if I ever saw one. Got some of the character already. Can grow into the rest, the way we all do.”
Simmon perks up.
Though I worry about Simmon’s infection passing to Thyal, I laugh into my hand. Everybody wants to be a Wolf some time in their lives. Usually when they are kids.
“I guess the Earth-born contains information that hasn’t yet been extracted,” Mongoose says. “Learning the totem will be enough of a distraction, maybe, that they can pick his brains while he doesn’t realize.” He ends doubtful. “Maybe. He could be smarter than people realize.”
The dome of the sky overhead is studded with stars.
I don’t sleep. Not enough exercise, I expect. The Ark-Ship passes regularly along the arc of its orbit. The stars along the edge of the platform become red pinpricks. They are wild little eyes above hungry little mouths waiting to eat me alive …
“Come to me, young Shaman.”
A voice like a soft paw pummels aside the little things with eyes and mouths and nattering teeth. “We will practice a vigil together. Many are the nights that a vigil is all that I achieve.”
The paw speaks to me? I see a flash of sandy brown fur. A long back striped with black.
“Old Thyal, seated to your north.”
I see him now. A shadowed triangle shape breaks the pin-pricked rim. Everywhere else lays the troop, restless or still according to the quality of their sleep. All their heads near the dangerous rim, feet toward the middle. Left and right of me sleep Ant and Mongoose.
“Take the inner road, young Shaman. The Earth-origin gadget will not bother you again.”
I can’t sleep anyway. Trust him about the gadget? Why am I so scared about everything? Been dallying on the low road, I answer myself. Despite that I already worked out what happens when I do.
But, is it because I don’t know how to love and live at the same time? How will I learn that? I slip from between Ant and Mongoose, both near but courteously far enough not to be touching. Although Mongoose manages to keep a big toe so near to my shin, he might as well be. Lithe called him a love-struck loon?
I tiptoe through the central depression, expecting at any moment to feel pain shirring up my feet.
I breathe out in relief and take a great gulp of air before sitting myself cross-legged in front of the old Shaman. The shine of his eyes catches the starlight until they are themselves twinkling stars.
“There now,” he says. “There now. You get no peace from your vigils, I think.”
He waits, it seems.
“I’ve always used them for deep thinking, to try to solve problems,” I say. “The Head Shaman …”
He takes my left hand with his right hand. His left arm is missing to above his biceps. “I remember the Head Shaman,” he says. “He’d bonded with the Tarsier Totem when I knew him.”
I’m shocked. This old shaman knew my mentor and calls him mischievous?
“There now, my pretty.” He rubs the back of my hand with his thumb.
I don’t pull away. He’s old, half-blind, and pretty is just a word.
“Your eyes are very beautiful,” he says. “Your loon fell in a heartbeat, did he not? Unfold and flower, my pretty. Look on him with love and he will never leave you.”
I feel my heart jump. I hear its glad thudding high in my chest. I wish I wish I wish. Thump. But how will I be independent as well?
“Come back, my pretty.” The old shaman turns my hand in his and rubs my palm. “Now,” he says. “The planet progresses along her path. Do you see the Ark-Ship?”
I locate the ship. “A point of light in the northeast quadrant.”
“I trust you. My old eyesight doesn’t reach that far. Two hundred and fifty kilometers above us …” He shakes his head at the wonder of it. “Do you know what our Ark-Ship looks like?”
“Neither do I,” he says. “It must stay a point of light in our minds for now. But reaching it is the Great Project of our hearts. Track its journey for me, down through Lotor’s sky sphere.”
I kneel up. “With your hand?” I lift his hand and pointing finger, and trace the Ship’s path along its arc until it disappears behind the planet. “It’s gone now. Behind the planet.”
I sit back down.
“Let’s think now about the Ark-Ship’s interior,” Thyal says. “How things might be arranged inside it. I hope there will be a Totem Reality where we may harness ourselves into our Totem animal’s skins, to live their lives for a time, so to learn their wild ways for the sake of understanding our totems the better.”
He looks at me. “What will you imagine?” His voice fades while he still instructs. “Don’t tell me … think it … dream it … practice your shamanic arts.”
Can I still be the Harpy Eagle? I need her strength. Can I integrate the two people I am becoming? I spread my wings. Time stops while I soar up the thermals. A green grass and grey stone mountain-scape unfolds beneath me. Goats and smaller prey animals live and breed on the slopes. I hunt and give thanks for my existence.
“Come back, young one.”
I wake to the old shaman stroking my hand.
“Go back to your loon now,” he says. “We’ll practice our arts again another night.”
I am mesmerized. I don’t feel the glassy platform under my feet, maybe I’m still soaring. I subside between Mongoose and Ant.
“Took you long enough,” Mongoose mumbles.
I don’t laugh because I don’t want even a breath of my lightness-of-being to escape me.
This began as a piece of paper I used for practicing leaf shapes with a new brush, using indigo with a bit of yellow top and bottom.
Then, doing this project, I’m recycling paper as I go since everything I do is trial and error.
So, when trying phthalo blue over indigo and mopping out the centres of shapes–another thing to practice–that fish became a thing when I added its eye.
I realize that it is only through the corrugations formed by leaf shapes that I have a shaped mouth, and that I’ll probably never be able to reproduce it.
This pic began with red. Bush-fires have burnt out large swathes of forest and hundreds of animals have died, four humans among them.
Red mixed with indigo and phthalo blue gave me the fire-ground. Indigo for the bat with a touch of orange for its eyes. The blue touches contrasted and made the clouds. Made it realistic, in fact.
After the fire when dead trees stand smoking and still aglow. The sun still shines, an angry ball. This little scene was to give me shades in indigo, but as usual I get carried away by the content.