What would I do if the world were ending, which of course it is, as it has been ever since its beginning, just as you and I and all of us have been dying ever since the moment of our conception and maybe even before that?
So the question does not hinge on “if” but rather on “what would I do?” which must necessarily become “what will I do?”
What will I do, given that the world is ending and I with it?
It seems the only rational thing is to give myself over to being exactly what I am – a curious and passionate participant-observer in this whole doomed project. In fact, the finiteness of the project and the minuteness of my role in it is exactly what makes life so very, very precious. No time for pretense, for visions of eternity (which is also a thing although not my thing nor yours). No time for quarreling with the neighbors over transitory possessions or evanescent ideas (mine are ultimately as silly as yours). No time for anything but walking together, hand in hand, and laughing at the joyous unexpectedness of this opportunity to be exactly who we are.
The memories that matter are not at your grave site. There I find only tears, sad faces, loss. No, the memories I seek are in the houses where life happened.
In the kitchen where we sat together shelling peas or on the porch where we ate grapes with ice while waiting for the postman or at the table where we listened to the radio and played endless games and you let me keep score or under the trees where we gathered pecans in autumn. Today I remember life. Happy Mothers’ Day!
I broke a teacup today. Well, I didn’t exactly break it; it was broken when I unpacked it from the move. You can tell by the clean lines of the break that divided it into exactly four pieces that it was a pressure fracture rather than an impact. That would have shattered it and produced messy shards.
The cup was part of a delicate little tea set hand painted for my mother by my best friend’s grandmother in the late 1950s. Well, she was my best friend back then. After my family moved away in the summer of 1962, my best friend and I wrote letters back and forth for a while. We were in high school and by the time we both went off to college, we only saw each other a few more times. Now I don’t even know where she is or what her name is. These things happen to women. We change our names and move on.
One of my Facebook friends suggested I have the cup repaired by the Japanese technique that fuses the pieces back together using gold or silver, making the piece more beautiful for its accident, making the break a part of its history instead of the end of it. That didn’t seem right for this piece.
My friend Debra Broz said she could put it back together and make it look good as new. I’ve seen her work; no one would ever have known it had been broken. Except me. I’d always know. And I’d always know it was Debra’s art as much as my school friend’s grandmother’s art that created my teacup. That didn’t seem right either.
Another friend suggested I have one of the fragments made into a piece of jewelry. Maybe I’ll do that.
Or maybe I’ll just try to track down my school friend and we can talk about her grandmother and drink tea from the cups that didn’t break.
I needed a new cover for the re-issue of Way of the Serpent, something that could provide the basis of covers for sequels in what has now become the Recall Chronicles. I analyzed the covers of dozens of other dystopian science fiction novels. I perused photographs available online. I searched through my own considerable inventory of photographs.
I kept going back to this one painting (see above), to which I’d attached a rather complicated title, a title that was in fact a line from a Buddhist practice I did sometimes: “One is the agent, caught in the reaction of cause and effect.”
The more I thought about it, the more I came to the conclusion that this painting and my novels were coming from the same space, a space in which agency constantly grapples with conditions that are, after all, oftentimes a result of one’s own actions. We’re not puppets, but we’re never free of entanglements, never entirely free agents.
The characters in my novels are like this, valiantly battling the circumstances of their lives, circumstances that are, to a varying extent, their own fault.
If these sound like the kind of characters you’d like to read about, you’ll like Way of the Serpent and (coming soon!) Shadow of the Hare.
Valentine’s Day inevitably (intentionally) brings up questions of Love and Romance, and today it prompted me to examine the romantic relationships of the characters in my Recall Trilogy. Result? I’m forced to admit that my characters appear to have somewhat complicated relationships. Do I want to talk about that? I think I’d rather just give you a few examples.
Here’s Jenda Swain in Way of the Serpent:
Jenda had always found a companion, a lover, on each of her previous eight sabbaticals. The first was the only serious one, leading, as it had, to her marriage to Benjamin Cohen. That marriage had lasted only until Ben’s next leave. All of Jenda’s subsequent sabbatical relationships had been carefully circumscribed. In light of this experience, Jenda was finding Luis-Martín Zenobia unnerving.
Now Malia Poole in the forthcoming Shadow of the Hare:
At some point, Lio and I became lovers. I can’t say we fell in love, because it wasn’t like that, or at least not like the stories I’d read about people falling in love. We started hanging out together. Lio became my best friend…
Finally, Jonathan Swain in Book III of the Recall Trilogy, Flight of the Owl:
I’d always been drawn to Dextra, although not in a sexual way. My years as a monk and then as a retreatant had left me with a more deliberate sexuality than most. That’s hard to explain, I guess. Let’s just say I’d learned how to avoid being driven by my hormones into thoughtless entanglements. I’d learned how to decide for myself and I’d never decided to become entangled with Dextra. I was never sure how she felt. Understanding women’s feelings wasn’t part of my monastic training.
You see what I mean? Complicated. You may now proceed to psychoanalyze the author.
Read more from Donna Dechen Birdwell.