On Life (4 of 4)

The third part in a creative writing exercise of mine. The first part  was On Beauty, the second was On Faith, and the third was On Time.

(cc) zedzap on Flickr

(cc) zedzap on Flickr

The dirt road grew deeper and more worn, and he passed intersecting paths and crossroads with growing frequency. As he approached the still distant city, the surrounding world was increasingly under its shadow. Another day’s walk and the road would turn to stone under his feet, then grow smooth and busy from the traffic.

He smiled at the thought. When he decided to return after so many years, the traffic was not something he considered. Yet now, surprisingly, he realized he missed it. The chaos and the noise and the craziness were overwhelming, yet it was a comfort in its own way.

For now the dominant sounds were still birds in the trees and rabbits in the brush. He had never come this way before, the long way around the mountains, and it was nice. There was potential here in this greenery.

An unusually large tree grew right up next to the road, its branches extending deep into the woods on one side and far over the road on the other. Nothing grew beneath it but grass, as the greedy green beast stole all the sunlight in its domain. It made a nice spot to stop and fish the pebble out of his boot that had been bothering him the last mile or so.

He took off his pack and leaned it up against the trunk. He sat atop, tugged off his boot, and watched with satisfaction as the nuisance of a stone slid out and into the grass. He put his boot back on and took a deep, slow breath of the cool air. He would have to come back this way again once he got things settled. Maybe a cabin out here for when that bustle of the city finally grew old again.

He fished the letter from his pack and read it. He didn’t need to since he could recite if from memory, but it was more than the words on the page. By holding it as he read he felt a connection that went deeper than the letters and the ink. The page was creased and more than a little abused, with one corner purple from a spilled cup of wine, but that made it all the more real.

He carefully folded the letter back up and slid it into his pack. A strange sound reached him from the far side of the road as he stood to get moving again. He cocked his head and heard it again, but he could still not tell where it was coming from. He left his pack against the tree and stepped out onto the road to investigate.

His pack was still up against the tree, pulled open and scavenged by animals, when travelers paused at the same spot two weeks later. The travelers fished through it, taking whatever they found of value, and left the rest scattered beneath the large branches. As they rode away, the letter fluttered across the road in the wind, caught on some brambles, and tore.

On Time (3 of 4)

The third part in a creative writing exercise of mine. The first part  was On Beauty, and the second was On Faith.

(cc) batintherain on Flickr

(cc) batintherain on Flickr

He followed the path, now more a road, away from the crumbling church. The dead were likely grateful his noisy interruption was at an end and they could get back to their conversations with the worms and the soil.

Around a small bend in the road, not too much further ahead, he reached the edge of a town. In little better condition than the church, broken walls and collapsed piles of rubble were all that remained. The grass and green had reclaimed much of the place, taking the land back from the brief loan it had made to man.

As he walked the small, main road through the town, it felt more haunted, more sad to him than the cemetery he had seen before. In the graveyard was a sense of peace, while here was a sense of interruption. Of loss. It looked like a place people lived, and their absence made the resulting silence all the louder.

Past the town the road split in several directions. Checking his map, he took the leftmost branch. In a few minutes he heard the gurgle of a small river.

The wooden bridge that once spanned the water had long ago rotted away, but large rocks at the crossing still made it simple to get to the far bank. There he sat down to fill his canteen.

He looked back at the town, only a few buildings visible from his spot, and wondered what became of them. What drove them from their town and their lives? He idly plucked blades of grass and flicked them into the river. He didn’t see the usual scars of war.

Glancing down at the river, he saw his blades of grass were gone. The long green pieces already carried far downstream, or churned under the water to feed the fish. This was the same river the townspeople probably used for water and washing, yet all the people it once carried were gone. Washed away in the currents, but the river itself remained.

He wondered if anyone knew what became of them. If their children in some far away town told tales of their fate. Or if it was a secret only known to the river at his feet, and the water long since washed out to sea.

He topped off his canteen and, after taking a long cool drink, continued onwards.

On Faith (2 of 4)

The second in a creative writing series I did. Part one was On Beauty.

Photo (cc) nuskyn on Flickr

Photo (cc) nuskyn on Flickr

The path led down through scrub as it wound around the mountain and dropped towards the valley floor. The brush gave way to trees and long grass, but nothing as thick as on the way up. The way was shaded heavily from the peak behind him, and while some days this place would likely see brilliant sunlight, that was not today.

He was quite chilled by the time he hit the floor of the valley and the space widened around him. Trees gave way to grassy fields and rough rocks. He stuck to the trail, which itself grew into nearly a small road. More traffic had come here once, just little had gone back up the trail to the sky.

A wide space broke open to his right, and in the middle stood an old, ragged stone wall. High and wide, it was once part of a powerful building. Now it was just the last piece to hang on before all of its stones once against returned to the earth. He turned from the path and walked to it, tall and gray in the sunlight. It was far enough from the base of the mountain that the sun was starting to hit the world around him again.

He stumbled, nearly tripping over a squat stone. Chipped and worn, it was man-made and not part of the building ahead. A tombstone. He stepped more carefully so as not to trip again, and more soft stones seemed to nod at him from the long grass. Their faces no longer held names or years or kind words. Just a familiar shape to tell someone what lay in the soil beneath.

Reaching the wall, he ran his fingers on its face. Smooth from who knows how many years of weather and wind and time, yet carved with ornate bricks and features that still stood clear. This was a church, once upon a great while ago.

He pushed against the wall and it did not move. The earth would not get these rocks soon, he thought, but the earth was patient. The sun felt good against his face and he needed a rest. Sitting down in the rippling grass, he leaned his back against the big wall and kicked out his legs. The tombstones did not protest and gave him room.

He felt a calmness there, sitting with the forgotten dead, sharing their simple breeze. He could feel through time all the mourning and grief that once surrounded each headstone as they were first put into place. He could hear through the wall’s thick rock the songs and prayers that shook the church from the inside, long before it fell. The dead were probably grateful for the silence.

The warmth of the church wall felt good on his back, the stone giving back the sunlight it had been soaking up all day. The breeze kicked up in a small gust, and in the calmness and comfort of the moment, he fell asleep.

On Beauty (1 of 4)

A free-writing exercise that turned into a four-part, loosely connected story. I’m a big fan of letting the mind loose in creative endeavors to see where it leads. This chapter was written in one sitting and only edited for typos and minor word-echos and clarifications.

Photo (cc) barynyz on Flickr

Photo (cc) barynyz on Flickr

The path was long and winding but you could not see far ahead. The trees and brush had grown tight against against the trail, but the bare dirt was so worn and packed beneath his feet that it held fast against the the vegetation on either side. Perhaps animals still used the path, but while it was once heavily trod by people they had long since ceased coming this way. The leaves and limbs pulled against his coat as he hunched and clawed forward.

A sharp jag of blue finally peeked through from far ahead. It gave him a renewed strength, a renewed determination, and he pushed the final branches out of his way. The blue grew with each step, the green finally relenting until he stood in the open.

The sky stretched far and clear into the horizon. He stopped at the sight to take it in. The trail wound around the edge of a cliff, but now only gray rock guarded him on his left. To his right was nothing. Space. Falling free and wide into the canyon below. He looked down the canyon, up across the far side, and past mountain top after mountain top into the far distance.

It was so stark, so empty, and so beautiful. Behind him the trees hid the path he had followed. The gray and craggy mountains made the path he fought against for the past hours seem lush. The leaves and branches that had been a hindrance now seemed rich and full of life. Life that refused to go where he now stood.

He leaned against the rock and watched the lazy clouds roll across the sky. Simple and clean and far above any influence he had but to watch. Somewhere down below he could make out the faint rush of water, but it, too, seemed detached and impersonal. The scene before him drowned him, lost in its expanse. He felt small and yet part of all that he saw. He looked at the distant peaks and knew he could never reach them if he tried, yet they touched him at their distance as if he stood upon them. In a way they touched him more than if they were truly under his feet. He took a deep breath of the cool air, taking it into his belly and through his nose. He absorbed all he could of the moment, the small slice of the world, from the tiny corner in which he stood.

He kicked a pebble down the canyon. It clicked and clacked as it tumbled, until it was silently out of sight and hearing. He smiled and committed all he saw to memory, willing it to be a part of him he would never forget. A place to which he could return no matter where he went from here onwards.

He stood up from the rock and continued on around the bend and away from the open, impersonal, majestic sky.

An Awkward Arrangement: The Relationship between the Inner Writer and the Inner Editor

Since I joined this writing group, I have not finished my novel or even published a poem. I think because I am still wrestling with doubts about the value of being a writer compared to other work. The doubts are not so strong that I have given up altogether, but they are strong enough that they have given pause to my writing even in the face of ample opportunity. Failing to move forward, I have begun to ask myself deeper questions about writing in hopes of discovering what is holding me back.

I decided the purpose of creative writing is to share your thoughts, dreams, and ideas. An engineer creates tools, but a writer creates ideas. This should be easy: I have ideas after all. I need only write down whatever comes to mind.

But not every idea is necessary, useful, or relevant; they must be selected, edited. After all, I want to be a good writer; I don’t want to share any and every thought. Unfortunately, my interior editor is the worst kind of micromanager: demanding only the best before I have even started, worrying about the potential fallout of exposure, and questioning the intent of every word.

On several occasions, people have suggested to me that I simply dismiss this aspect of myself, if only temporarily, and let myself write. Perhaps, their interior editor is quiet, easily subdued, or simply nonexistent. But, sometimes it seems that my editor and writing selves are less like two conflicting individuals who can take time apart and more like conjoined twins who must learn to work together or they will fail to live their lives.

So far this awkward arrangement has facilitated some writing, but it moves forward ever so slowly. The inconvenience of such an arrangement has left me missing the normal functions of typical writing society, such as daily work on drafts and the desire to share what I produce.

Now, I am on the verge of starting a full time position as a program data analyst. It is my hope that this new employment may act as a spiritual surgery effectively separating the editor and creative and giving them each their own body of work: the editor to analysis and the creative to creative writing. If this proves out, they will no longer be tripping each other up or pulling in opposite directions and essentially getting nowhere. Ideally, they will still check in on each other now and then: you know, sit down, have a cup of tea, hear about each other’s day, provide a little alternative perspective. But maybe now they will each flourish in their own respective space and my brain can move on to a more harmonious and productive bliss.