“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live.... I'd type a little faster.”
Isaac Asimov

author: Nicole J. LeBoeuf

actually writing blog

as the unicorn said to the harpy
Wed 2014-07-09 17:58:58 (in context)
  • 6,468 words (if poetry, lines) long

As it turns out, I was right--I got to Chicago barely 15 minutes prior to boarding time on my connecting train. There was no time for anything except the ridiculous walk down the long boarding platform, into the station, then clockwise around via the main concourse and the central ticketing/passenger services hub to finally arrive in the South Terminal and wait in line to go right back out onto the main concourse and thence to the boarding platform once more.

I was oddly jealous of the passengers connecting with Train 30 who were told, "Your train is on the tracks opposite ours. When you get off this train, just cross the platform and get right on Train 30." None of this walking-the-long-way-around-to-get-back-where-you-started business for them! And "all" it cost them was the stress of a will-we-won't-we nick-of-time arrival in Chicago. Yes, I'm joking. But only sort of.

Anyway, I did manage to get online while the California Zephyr was stopped at the station in Galesburg, Illinois. O fortuitous Galesburg and your free city wifi! I was able to run all my internet errands there: Upload yesterday's blog post, check off all my tasks on HabitRPG, disable the Dailies that I can't do whilst out of town (sorry, plants, but I cannot water you from all the way over here!), attempt to download my email and the latest posts on my roller derby league's online forum. I say "attempt" because the email did not, in fact, download. And while I could retrieve the Activity Stream on the league's VBulletin forum, I couldn't pull up any actual posts. "Response denied by WatchGuard HTTP proxy. Don't think you should be going there?" Apparently the city's wi-fi gateway disapproves of VBulletin cookies. They are too long and full of suspicious characters.

Speaking of HabitRPG, I seem to have turned on my Train 6 seatmate to its joys and wonders. Huzzah! More lives gamified! Let us go smite Shadow Dragons with such fearsome weapons as Taking Out The Trash and Returning Books To Library!

In story news, I am working my way from beginning to NEW AND IMPROVED ENDING GOES HERE slowly, smoothing out the lumps as I go. My hope is to have some idea how NEW AND IMPROVED ENDING goes by the time I get there.

Meanwhile, as part of my campaign to Be An Informed Hugo Voter, I've just finished reading Campbell Award candidate A Stranger In Olondria by Sofia Samatar. (I'm pretty sure I misspelled the title in a recent Tweet. Forgive me!) It is a gorgeous piece of work, written in a lush poetic language that transforms my very thought process as I look out the window of the train and watch towns to which I am myself a stranger roll by. I even dreamt in the book's cadences the other night after reading myself to sleep. Samatar might have my vote for that alone. But then she uses such language to create a rich world complete with competing cultures and vibrant mythologies and their own canonical works of literature. And then on top of it all, the story it tells belongs to that category most near and dear to my heart: In Praise Of Books.

It belongs to other categories, too: Coming of Age Story. Like Father, Like/Unlike Son. Feet of Clay. Unrequited Love. Changing The Course of Empire. Laying the Ghost. But for me, the most important thing is the main character's falling head over heels in love with reading, and how that love frames every other passion in the story.

Once, when I was perhaps eight, on one of the many nights when I stayed up long past my bedtime with a book I couldn't put down, I heard my mother coming up the stairs. Quickly I doused the light and hid my book under my pillow. Moments later, when Mom opened the door, I was pretending to be asleep. She was not fooled. What she said next will live in my brain forever, in shades of both pride and rue: "God help me, I have one child who won't read and another who won't stop!"

Which is why passages like the following speak so keenly to me:

The silence. End of all poetry, all romances. Earlier, frightened, you began to have some intimation of it: so many pages had been turned, the book was so heavy in one hand, so light in the other, thinning toward the end. Still, you consoled yourself. You were not quite at the end of the story, at that terrible flyleaf, blank like a shuttered window: there were still a few pages under your thumb, still to be sought and treasured. Oh, was it possible to read more slowly?óNo. The end approached, inexorable, at the same measured pace. The last page, the last of the shining words! And thereóthe end of the book. The hard cover which, when you turn it, gives you only this leather stamped with old roses and shields.

Then the silence comes, like the absence of sound at the end of the world. You look up. Itís a room in an old house. Or perhaps itís a seat in a garden, or even a square; perhaps youíve been reading outside and you suddenly see the carriages going by. Life comes back, the shadows of leaves. Someone comes to ask what you will have for dinner, or two small boys run past you, wildly shouting; or else itís merely a breeze blowing a curtain, the white unfurling into a room, brushing the papers on a desk. It is the sound of the world. But to you, the reader, it is only a silence, untenanted and desolate.

It doesn't hurt that this passage is saying something else at the same time, about other griefs, other abandonment. But even if it were "only" talking about how reaching the end of a book, even one with a happy ending, is always in some sense a tragedy, it would still give me the chills.

It put me in mind of a similar passage in Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, to which Olondria felt in many ways like a tribute:

If you have never spent whole afternoons with burning ears and rumpled hair, forgetting the world around you over a book, forgetting cold and hunger--

If you have never read secretly under the bedclothes with a flashlight, because your father or mother or some other well-meaning person has switched off the lamp on the plausible ground that it was time to sleep because you had to get up so early--

If you have never wept bitter tears because a wonderful story has come to an end and you must take your leave of the characters with whom you have shared so many adventures, whom you have loved and admired, for whom you have hoped and feared, and without whose company life seems empty and meaningless--

If such things have not been part of your own experience, you probably won't understand what Bastian did next.

What did Bastian do next? Why, he stole the copper-bound volume from the bookshop while Cornelius's back was turned, thus unknowingly committing himself to saving Fantastica. (And no, Cornelius didn't set Bastian up. That knowing nod and smile is entirely a fabrication of the movie. In the book, Cornelius actually lost all memory of ever having had the book at all.)

There's a shock at finding oneself recognized so closely by an author; this, by the way, is why Dorothea Brande warns us that the non-writer may regard us as witches. "Nothing but witchcraft, [the layperson] seems to believe, could have made another human being so wise in the ways of his kind." But after the shock of recognition comes the warm relief of having been recognized. It takes one to know one, as they say. Being understood means not being alone. "Oh, you are like me!" as the unicorn said to the harpy.

Another point in Samatar's favor is that she made me cry in plain sight in an Amtrak sightseer lounge car. Dammit. Talk about your awkward moments.

As I finish this up, the train is sitting somewhere south of Jackson, Mississippi, waiting for the freight traffic ahead to clear. We've been precisely on time up until now. Outside is a swampish waterway lined with trees I ought to be able to name. A constant drizzle polka-dots the surface of the green-brown water. White crestless wading birds with long necks and yellow beaks stand on one black leg, single-knee-deep in the water or perch warily in small trees. The only sign of human encroachment is the very railroad track that brought us here and the small square wooden sign beside it bearing some code unintelligible to layfolk.

No one is in any hurry at all. It's glorious.

I'll upload this post from my parents' house, my old house, in Metairie. But that's several hours off yet. Between now and then, I hope to make some real progress on the story. So, here's to good news on that front tomorrow.