Tuesday, March 28, 2017

15 Years Of Solitude

In his masterpiece, 100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez, weaves a tale of a village isolated from the rest of the world by distance, time, and a certain magical power. In one part of the tale the people of the village are all struck with insomnia and so they lose their memories and dream while they are awake. Reality begins to escape them entirely until they are cured.

That’s an oversimplification of that section of the book, and nearly anything I could tell you about it would be. The novel is a very complex and very ethereal piece of work, and it takes a very specialized type of reader to enjoy it. Mostly, I think, Americans miss the point of it because there’s a lot more people I have met who didn’t like it than who did like it. Yet most of the people I’ve met from other countries who read it enjoyed it a lot.

You have to wonder how much of Márquez’s work was brought on by the effects of insomnia. I’ve never met anyone who wrote much and slept much, too. There may be cause and effect here or it may be that we who write aren’t geared to do anything in the small and long hours but what you’re seeing before you. I can feel something inside of me trying to reach the blank pages that will define its life. All I can tell you right now is that it is there and by telling you about it, by opening the door for its existence to be acknowledged, it will come forth. I suspect this is somewhat like summoning a Demon; all I need is the blood of a virgin and some candles.

The walled fishing city of Hesper is calling me again, and it’s been a very long time since I wrote about it. It shares with its walled cousin of Rhegma the vicious physical punishment that lawbreakers must endure but Hesper is a place where there are virtually no newcomers or travelers while Rhegma is a city of merchants and caravans. Where Hesper is a town, more or less, of families and craftsmen who pass their trade down through generations, Rhegma is ruled by warlords and only those with the gift of graft can survive there long. Yet both are, in their own ways, primitive and unforgiving when it comes to law breakers. While Hesper cannot afford the luxury of having crime within its ways, for order is the only way it will survive in a harsh and very cold climate, Rhegma revels in the sport of punishment and criminals are entertainment no less than in ancient Rome. Both are object lessons as to what is normal and what is right to a society may seem incredibly strange to others but when born to brutality there is nothing more natural than to see human beings as object of violence.

Rhegma is more like Los Vegas and Hesper is more like puritanical New England. The object of staying alive in one is to live with as much decadence as possible and in the other keeping order and staying alive is the rule. In Rhegma magic is a weapon and in Hesper it is a tool. In Rhegma nudity, except for armor, is common while in Hesper, where there is snow nine months out of twelve, the human body is almost mythical.

But this is something else. It feels like neither the Tocsin nor Sara. I’m like an old sailor who is sniffing the air for some scene of wind that might fill my sails. There’s something odd here, something unfamiliar in the thought patterns, like seeing a dust devil creep over a wave and scatter into a million tiny impact points in the water. You wonder how many of the grains of sand on the beach have been pushed by water and wind, pounded by storms and buried and unburied a million times, and then finally, it lies uncovered on top of everything, blissfully warmed by the sun, until a swirl of wind takes it out to sea again, to sink below the clear waters until light is just a memory in its crystalline structure.

All of what I have written so far might be symptoms of what is going to arrive soon. Perhaps a city underwater, made not of stone but of sand, but without walls as we know it, but reflections of the sand that produce light, dim to everyone else, but bright and shining to those who live in the deep. How odd it would seem to these creatures, to find a ship descending from the light heavens, crashing down upon them, with weak crushed creatures, fragile and drowned. Perhaps they are a magical race of beings, and they produce a spell that keeps a sailor alive in an air bubble, and they wonder what to feed him, and they wonder, after many years, if the creature they keep in the bubble wished for some company. For the sailor’s part, he sees monsters of the deep, cruelly playing with him, keeping him alive for reasons he cannot understand, but he also knows that escape is certain death.

Or perhaps this will be a captain of a ship whose nets have transgressed upon the sea creatures time and again, and finally they drag him down under the sea. The King of the Sea People curses him, so that he can only breathe water, and direct sunlight will burn his skin. Yet the King does not give him the ability to swim as they do so he is destined to walk on the bottom of the ocean, not truly human anymore and not one of the people of the oceans. After many years, he decides to plea for forgiveness for his sins, and the King of the Sea People grants the human mercy, but he must wage a war against those who fish in the King’s realm. The man devices traps and snags for nets and sailors are shocked to see a human rise from the anchor chain with a sword to cut their nets. Alas, in a net he is snared and as he is drawn to the surface he bursts into flames and swirls around the fishing boat disappearing into bits of sand that scatter into the surface of the water.

Or, perhaps, this human wanders the bottom of the ocean, able to swim across great canyons, yet limited by his human form to move very slowly, so like one of the first explorers of a new continent, he sees wonderful things, but has no way of telling anyone or communicating it. Shipwrecks might hold great wealth for him but what use is heavy metal to a creature that yearns to fly? Still, his journeys at the bottom of the ocean for so many years causes one of the Sea People to pleas with the King to free him, or kill him, but not to leave him alone for all time, and the King agrees his sentence is far more harsh than intended. Yet the human has grown fond of the sea and life at the seabed, and instead asks for the power to transform drowned people into more of his kind. Imagine a race of people who lived life at the bottom of the oceans, not swimmers or divers, but people who had to devise some vessel to ride the currents without getting to close to the surface for the lack of pressure there would kill them. You might see one in a diver’s suit, taken from a human, and lifted near the surface of the ocean at night, away from the burning rays of the sun, to take his species first look at land, and wonder if they would ever walk upon it…

There is a story here, I think.

This is what I do when you are sleeping. As the sun gets up I am already done with a few hours of writing and now must begin my day as a worker drone and I must navigate the world of those who sleep at night, and do their dreaming there.

Take Care,

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Language of the Dead


I can remember the first time I realized I spoke with an accent, and I can remember when I realized that all of the people I knew spoke with accents, too. It was an epiphany of sorts, an intellectual dawning that told me the place I lived all my life wasn’t the way life was lived in other places. There were some great insights to be had here, and one of the best was not everyone eats grits for breakfast. I’ve always hated grits. That says a lot about me down in this part of the world, actually.

In the last year I’ve read two books that rearranged the way I think about how language is used and operates. The first was “ Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle” by Richard B. Frank. This book gave me some insight on the incredible amount of information that could be gathered to decipher a coded message. The men and women who put the pieces together were reinventing a hidden language and I am willing to bet that most of them could have gone on to much more interesting studies of language had someone offered them the opportunity. The next book was by far the one who addressed the issue more directly and this is, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. This is the book that explained to me that each and every human language evolved from single source. There are no languages that cannot be traced back, and deciphered therefore, through going back and looking at where the language is from and what it evolved from, and who once spoke it. There are limitations on this, certainly, but if there is enough written evidence to say a civilization existed and enough of the language written in some form, be it clay tablets or hieroglyphics, we can tell what they were trying to say when they wrote it.

Now let’s go back to 1980, when I discovered that not only did I have a Southern accent, it was a very serious and strong accent, to the point that people in LaCrosse Wisconsin had a difficult time understanding me, even though they though the way I spoke was very charming. The differences between Southern Georgia English the way that a very closed and immobile society spoke the thing, versus a larger Midwestern town that was home to a University that spoke English in a totally different manner, may seem a question of enunciation and pronunciation, but it is a little more profound than that.

I arrived back at my hometown for Christmas and was stunned at what I was hearing. Suddenly, everyone sounded like they had just been teleported back from a Snuffy Smith Comic strip. From my grandmothers who I had always revered to my friends I had grown up with, everyone spoke with an accent. It was like seeing people naked for the first time.

Being a voracious reader from the time I was four or five had extended my vocabulary well past the average in South Georgia, but one thing I did not realize is how differently Southerners treated words. They chopped them off, truncated them, made some words up entirely, and used words in ways that the rest of the world never considered true speech. Southern euphemisms were not something I thought remarkable until someone asked me exactly what did “As happy as a pig in mud” meant.

 What I never knew as I was growing up is I spoke a dialect. When a closed society, and let’s face it not too many people on earth have ever moved to South Georgia on purpose, at least not in the sixties or seventies, there tends to be less growth in language and more stagnation. This is actually how new languages are formed. A portion of a culture seeks out new territory or leaves for some reason, becomes isolated from the mother tongue for a few generations then suddenly the people they left one hundred years ago are difficult to understand.

To give you an example when I was little boy shoes worn for sports or for playing, not dress shoes or date shoes, where known as “sneakers”. Let’s suppose that someone were to use that term today. If someone walked into a store and asked for “sneakers” they may or may not have a hard time explaining it. But suppose someone wrote that one a note, “I need to go buy some new sneakers” then trying to decipher what this means would require a knowledge of that word. If the note read, “The soles of my old ones are worn out so I am going to buy some new sneakers” then there is more evidence as to what sneakers are, but there is also some confusion. Is sole a fish? What is meant by “old ones”? Is this a reference to people or fish or…?

In the Near East, especially in the area known as Mesopotamia, thousands of clay tablets from many different cultures give us quite a clear picture of who was saying what in half a dozen different languages. We now believe we know enough about the ancient language of Sumer, perhaps the first one every written down, to be able to use it as if we were born to it. We know their alphabet and their letters. There are some who think this might lead us to even speak the language again, and who knows, maybe they are right.

In the end, I’ve kept reading. I know a lot more words than most. I think this gives me an idea of how vast English is that gives an idea of how vast the language of Sumer might have been. I’ve seen a few stars in a cloudy night sky and now I imagine a universe of stars just as this Earth has produced a galaxy of languages. We here on earth right now have an accent, the accent of now, but we have no idea what we sounded like three hundred years ago or three thousand years ago, or three hundred thousand years ago.

Or what we will sound like tomorrow.

Take Care,