Friday, November 11, 2011

Grief


When I was in Aswan recently, I ended up being stalked through a souk by a little Egyptian man who was determined to sell me a statue of Anubis. Granted, it was my own fault; I had gone for a walk further up the market with two of my tourmates, and while they were haggling over canopic jars the other merchant asked me what I wanted. As my bag was already overfull (and the recently-acquired belly dance costume was not helping; after a year of lessons you'd have thought I'd remember how heavy those things are), I wasn't much interested. He tried to sell me the usual cheerful touristy traps. "You like Isis? Nefertiti? Tutankhamun?" I kind of blinked at him and said "I LIKE ANUBIS." The expression on his face was really quite priceless. However, these people in the souks remember you, and on both subsequent visits I made to the souk before we went upriver, this man found me and tried to sell me Anubis.

In the end I came home with a tiny faux-obsidian canopic jar with Anubis on the lid. I believe it's for the stomach? I'd have to look it up, as I've forgotten a lot of the things my Egypt-mad childhood self learned back in the day. Unfortunately I haven't a picture of it; I sent it back to New Zealand from London and I'm in Australia right this minute. It's a pity, and he's rather cute. For a god of death. (You could say the same for Sobek, the crocodile-headed god; now I can't remember what he is god of, but we went to a temple (I think in Kom Ombo) where he and Horus were all over the walls, and he was bad-ass. Oh, yes.) But I was thinking of my wee friend Anubis both last night and today, and it was because I've been dealing with grief.

Now, I was saying yesterday I was going to write a short story about evil fae before I went on with my third novel completion project, but I opened the last part of TJB -- the file is rather poetically entitled the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew.doc -- just to see what awaited me and wouldn't you know it, I got to writing. I did it completely against the way I was supposed to, as well; with these fights for the finish I'm supposed to go to the very beginning and work my way through from there so I catch all the fragments and start to catch continuity errors. Which tend to be rife, considering I generally write out of order. However...

There's a scene about two thirds of the way through the third part of TJB that involves grief. I came to the internet when I was sixteen, in the late nineties, and I was an unashamed fanfic fangirl. And emo. Which means that basically, emo death!fic was my bread and butter for rather a long time (and I believe the fact that I kind of stumbled into my first publishing credit in an anthology of erotica was not accidental, thanks to reading far too much PWP in those same days). With that said, I got out of the habit of killing people left right and centre while claiming dramatic license a while back. Which isn't to say I won't kill characters, but my stories are no longer complete massacres for the sake of trying to be a tearjerker.

Last night while I was flicking through the .doc I found that this scene in TJB was only fragmentary. For some reason, I wanted to finish it. Oddly, Eliot is in varying states of grief all the way through TJB, but this was the first time I had ever seen him really let it go. And it hurt. There is always something of me in every character that I write, but rarely is any character so close to me in personality they could be called a Mary-Sue. It's more that they take some aspect of myself, amplify it so I empathise with them, and then they go off and become their own person until I start screaming at them to behave. Which they never do. Eliot...is not like me in a lot of ways. He's a smart-ass, sure, but says what he thinks and he is rarely backs away from a confrontation. Honestly, he's more likely to run head-on into them. But this is largely because Eliot has a death-wish. Eliot wants to be dead. When I created Eliot I was deeply depressed, and before he found himself in a full-fledged novel he was just a collection of short stories I wrote to work through that depression without directly harming myself. But for all that, Eliot rarely displayed actual grief. And I think that is something I share with him. I am often depressed. But my grief is my own.

Giving that grief voice through Eliot was an odd experience. I'm still trying to understand it. I've since had to move on to some other scenes, but I am proud of what came out of it. I just...I rather wish I had my canopic jar here now. I want to turn it over in my hands, rubbing my thumb across the maw and ears of the jackal, remembering the scent and darkness of the night I bought him in Aswan near the ancient whispering currents of the Nile. Death is natural, for us. For Eliot, it is anything but. Yet grief is all the weapon we have against it. I suppose in the end we must all learn to wield it in our own way.

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the bless├Ęd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

(Ash Wednesday)
T.S. Eliot

2 comments:

  1. "It's more that they take some aspect of myself, amplify it so I empathise with them, and then they go off and become their own person until I start screaming at them to behave."
    So true!

    "Yet grief is all the weapon we have against it. I suppose in the end we must all learn to wield it in our own way."
    That's a very poignant line.

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  2. I just wish screaming at my characters actually made them behave. It really just tends to make them worse. But then I never learn, so I suppose they go with the thought "Well, why should I, then?" >_<

    Grief is...interesting. I've never been good with it in reality, as I'm a flamingo. Writing's one of the few ways I can actually deal with it, though I don't think it's completely personality. Western cultures just don't deal with death very well at all. I remember the other day seeing some crime drama channel on FOXTEL going on about how we love the mystery of death, but "it may always be a mystery why." I snorted. It's because in our lives, we don't deal with it. We're supposed to put our chins up and "accept" it. It's better to grieve. ...which is why I'd like to examine the different approaches to death by the different cultures I'm creating in my books, because I imagine it will tell me rather a lot about them as people.

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