Well. It’s been quite the year, hasn’t it?
Listen, I’m not going to write a thinkpiece about the state of the country/world/human race here. I’m sure you’ve all read as many of those as I have lately, and I’m not really in the mood to read, let alone write, one more. Instead, what I’ve got at the end of this bizarre year is a list, some quotes, and some writing.
Because I’ve been a terrible blogger this year (again) (look, it’s on the New Year’s resolution list) (…again), here’s a list of some things that happened in my life this year:
- I completed an AmeriCorps term, having spent 10 months helping families whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Sandy finally come home.
- I wrote two separate Strongly Worded Emails in a professional setting (one to a potential employer, one to an actual employer) about how they were Doing It Wrong (the former about mental illness, the latter about racism in children’s literature).
- I got fired for the first time, from the actual employer in the above bullet point. I genuinely don’t know if these two things are related. Either way, no regrets.
- I’ve spent about six months of this year getting paid to teach in some capacity, which is a major step down the life goals path.
- I was the maid of honor at my beautiful twin’s wedding and now I have a brother-in-law! This is the best bullet point on this list.
- I wrote the first draft of middle-grade story, several drafts of werewolf story (Misbegotten Creatures), and two academic papers.
- I presented one of those papers at a conference.
- I’ve dedicated at least two hours every week to political action since November 8th )(and will continue to do so from now on). I’ve also pretty much held on to my mental health since then, which given the specific nature of my intrusive thoughts is something to be damn proud of.
Which leads us to the quotes. I’ve written on this blog before about my two tattoos, which both involve flora and words. The words are “Watch me” (and though context-less on my ribs, the intended context is from Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go) and “with nothing on my tongue but hallelujah” from Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” (Clearly, this was one of the many deaths of 2016 that got to me, but at least he was actually fairly old, unlike some of the others.) I’ve been thinking a lot about both of those lines lately, about how I’ve etched determination despite all odds into my body. After all, the lines leading up to the end of the last verse of “Hallelujah” include “and even though it all went wrong,” and anyone who’s read Chaos Walking knows that like 2 of 10,000 of the things that happen in those books are actually good things. The plants, too, are about this: a branch from a willow tree, fragile yet abundant, and a Christmas cactus blossom, which blooms only in the darkest part of the year.
So all of that is who I am and who I will continue to be. I’m glad I already know that about myself. I’m glad I know I’m not one to give up.
Another quote that’s been on my mind is from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: “What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.” Not much to add to that, other than this line has been a helpful mantra to me in the past, and also we should all try to be more like Hagrid in our daily lives. (I mean, within reason.)
Last quote, also from J.K. Rowling, but this time from an interview. She once said “sometimes I know what I believe because of what I have written.” This has definitely always been the case for me. I have figured out so many things that I think are important (as well as a lot of things about myself) through writing fiction. Sometimes I’ve found it’s a good idea to lean into that and allow writing to help me define my own state of mind. So I wrote a scene that takes place in between story (The Children’s War) and its as-yet-mostly-unwritten sequel that’s about all of the above quotes, as well as waiting, as well as loved ones. And some architectural theology, because why shouldn’t I have some fun with it, too? I’ve been waffling about whether I should put it on this blog, but I wanted the few of you who know these characters to be able to read it if you want. So click through if you’d like, and happy New Year to everyone. I’m glad I get to meet whatever’s coming with all of you.
Tamma knew she shouldn’t linger. As the siege progressed, the Counselor’s control would tighten throughout the city. Tamma was one of his prize pawns, so her movements would be even more monitored than most. At this point, Tamma was sure he had noticed her repeated trips to the Dentraeen quarter, but she doubted he cared yet. Still, even though she prayed that the Dentraeens would avoid all scrutiny when it came to the newsletter, Tamma couldn’t be seen around foreigners too often.
Besides, there weren’t that many Dentraeens, and eventually, Tamma would have to give up her “search” for a man the Counselor knew was not here. He would believe that Tamma felt guilty, which bought her some time, but he knew too much about her to ever believe her sentimental.
Everything was about to get a lot harder.
Which was exactly why Tamma stayed where she was. She looked around the hut, reminded of the weeks between the issue of the draft and the day she left Ubeloma. She had promised herself that she wouldn’t lose a single memory of her home and family. Venetus, of course, would never be her home. But her family . . .
Lissa’s aunt was tending to a friend, leaving Tamma, Lissa, and Dayvec alone. They had completed their work for today and hidden the evidence at least a quarter of an hour ago. Now the three of them huddled close to the fire, occasionally speaking but mostly leaving each other to their own thoughts. Even Lissa was pensive tonight. Her fingers were entwined with Tamma’s.
Dayvec sat with his chin on his knees, his arms wrapped around himself. He was frowning, but that was normal. He drew in a breath. Tamma braced herself for an onslaught of fear and worry.
Instead, he said, “What do Chrondonian temples look like?”
Tamma and Lissa turned to look at him. Dayvec blushed, his face glowing in the firelight.
“My father had only seen pictures in books, and he had to sell all of those before I was old enough to read them. He sort of described them to me, but my mother didn’t like him talking about foreign religions. I mostly just imagined them as churches with different artwork, but obviously that’s not true, because . . .” He trailed off.
“Because?” Lissa said.
“Because Tamma had never seen colored glass before,” Dayvec mumbled.
The memory was vivid. It had been a horrible day in a string of horrible days: trapped in enemy territory, smuggled to a moldering wreck of a Tentalian church, cramped and filthy and terrified. But when Tamma stepped into that abandoned monument to the strange Tentalian religion, the setting sun had pierced through the great wall of windows, and even the grime of neglect hadn’t been able to block the jewel-colored light that came pouring in.
“It was beautiful,” Tamma said. “I hadn’t seen anything beautiful for a long time.”
“I always liked the glass,” Dayvec said shyly, embarrassed as usual to say anything positive.
“I like our temples, too,” Tamma said. “There are some really old ones in Ubeloma. The Chrondonian soldiers tried not to destroy them when they – invaded.” That was her grandfather’s word. The truth of it felt strange in her mouth. “The temples are always round, to represent the universe,” she hurried on.
“The universe is round?” Lissa said, wrinkling her brow. “How do they know?”
“Well, they don’t know if it’s literally round,” Tamma said. “But it’s a whole. It’s everything.” She sketched a circle in the air with her hands, pulling Lissa’s hand along with her. “Does that make sense?”
Lissa didn’t seem certain, but Dayvec nodded. His eyes weren’t focused on anything in particular. Tamma could practically see him forming a picture in his mind.
“On the mainland, most temples are made of stone, but at home, most of them are wood. Inside, there are reliefs of the Children around the walls. Different cities and villages have different patrons, so the reliefs are unique in every temple, except all of them have Awe beneath the tree.” Tamma paused to see if she would have to explain this, but neither Lissa nor Dayvec looked confused. Lissa would have traveled enough to know this story, Tamma supposed, and Dayvec must have heard it from his father when his mother wasn’t around. Tamma realized that she was relieved not to have to talk about it, which unsettled her.
“There are windows at each of the cardinal directions, and then curved benches facing inward,” Tamma said. “At the center of the temple, there’s a pillar leading up to the center of the roof, which is always a dome. The ceiling is usually decorated to look like the night sky, with all the constellations. That’s supposed to stand for all the mysteries we should strive to solve in this life, and all the knowledge we’ll be rewarded with when we’ve died.”
Lissa smiled slightly. “Chrondonians,” she said. “Not allowed to rest even when you die.”
“Not just Chrondonians,” Tamma reminded her. “My grandfather also worships the Two. But – well, my grandfather always said that after death, learning was more about being than doing.”
“Meaning?” Lissa said.
Tamma groped for an answer, but she couldn’t find a way to be articulate and clear about her grandfather’s beliefs, which meant she couldn’t speak of them at all. “It’s not something I ever heard a Chrondonian priest say,” she said, not adding that this meant she never asked her grandfather to explain. She could see from the look on Dayvec’s face, though, that he understood. For once, though, he let her off the hook.
“Is there anything else in the temples?” he asked.
Tamma nodded gratefully. “On the central pillar, there will be some representation of the Two,” she said. “Their hands, mostly, because that’s the Chrondonian seal. In the older Ubeloman temples, though, sometimes it’s their feet or their eyes or their ears.”
“Never all of them?” Dayvec said.
Tamma shook her head. “How can you represent total perfection? It would be . . . presumptuous.”
Dayvec considered that. “That must be a pre-Chrondonian rule,” he said eventually. “It’s too humble.” He stretched his shoulders. “I would have liked to see inside one of your temples. They sound interesting.”
“You still could go someday,” Lissa protested.
Tamma and Dayvec met each other’s eyes, then looked away. A Tentalian – this Tentalian – allowed inside a Temple of the Two? Not likely.
“I’m just saying,” Lissa said. “No good acting like we’re never gonna do anything other’n –”
“Treason?” Dayvec supplied.
“I’m not really a traitor,” Lissa said. “Just a regular criminal.”
She grinned at Tamma, who couldn’t help smiling back, even though she didn’t know if she should.
“I mean it, though,” Lissa pressed. “There’s a lot of future ahead of us. We don’t know what it’s gonna look like.”
“Mostly bad,” Dayvec said, his face settling into a frown again.
Lissa frowned back at him. Tamma was just surprised he’d added the qualifier mostly. She held up her free hand to forestall an argument.
“We’re dealing with the future already,” she said, nodding at the corner of the room where the newsletters were hidden. “And we’re not going to get anything else done tonight. We’re all right.”
Dayvec’s frown deepened. “I thought you weren’t going to do that anymore.”
“Be comforting. Lie.”
Tamma hesitated before she answered that. Being comforting was a hard habit to break. Dayvec was impossible to comfort, though, so she supposed she didn’t need to bother. Lissa, meanwhile, would remain hopeful no matter what Tamma said. Sometimes Tamma couldn’t tell if she relied on Dayvec’s pessimism or Lissa’s optimism more.
“I didn’t say we’re going to be all right,” Tamma said. “Only that we’re all right now.”
Lissa squeezed Tamma’s hand. “That’s something.”
“Is it?” Dayvec said. It was not a rhetorical question.
Tamma reached over and took his hand, too. “Yes,” she said firmly.
Dayvec looked back towards the fire, but he didn’t pull his hand away and he didn’t argue. That was something, too.
Fifteen more minutes, Tamma told herself. She was never one to waste time, but – well, this wasn’t wasted time, was it?
“What did the church in your village look like?” Tamma asked Dayvec.
As he described the windows, Tamma leaned against Lissa and closed her eyes. For much longer than fifteen minutes, the three of them sat before the fire, their minds full of jewel-bright light.