Daily Photo: June 30, 2011

Squirrel, scratching his…well, you know.

We have a lot of squirrels where we live; I caught this guy tending to himself on the back staircase. He got embarrassed after a while and ran off.

Tales of Despair: The Light at the End of the World

I have spoken of My Dying Bride before in this series, but their canon of despair is vast, and bears revisiting. Here is a tale of utter wretchedness, loneliness, bitterness and despair.

Imagine, for a moment, the abyss of complete isolation. Alone, upon an isle, lost at the end of the world. The sole companion – a light, that burns for no man.

Now consider the wretchedness of the memories of her, of the love that completed you, that made your heart whole, and the bitter knowledge that she is forever gone. Gone, to the winds, dust to the ground, and your fate is to live forever alone, never to be redeemed. Such have the gods done to you.

And the dreams, and the thoughts of madness. Sometimes, the sight of home behind closed eyes, the green trees and the laughter; sometimes, the waking to madness, the knowledge that such a past is forever gone. And sometimes, the bird visits; taunts, tells of life, and raises hope – only to dash it, like the water upon the rocks.

And then, just as the torment becomes the day and the night, to be expected forevermore – the gods bring mercy, and hope beyond hope! They make an offer: to spend one, single night with the woman, the long lost love. But oh, there is a price; this one night would seal the fate of eternity alone, until the ending of life.

Would you take it? Would you throw your hopes to the rocks, for one night with her?

The agony, the soul-crushing blackness, to wake the morning, and to find – after that one, oh-so-brief night – that she is gone. And gone, now and then, for ever, and ever. The doom, the screams, the despair.

Such is the terrible fate of the man who tends the light at the end of the world.

An isle, a bright shining isle

stands forever, alone in the sea.

Of rock and of sand and grass

and shade, the isle bereft of trees.

Small.  A speck in the wide blue sea.  ’Tis the last of all the land.  A dweller upon our lonesome isle, the last, lonely man?

By the Gods he is there to never leave, to remain all his life.  His punishment for evermore, to attend the eternal light.

The lighthouse, tall and brilliant white, which stands at the end of the world.  Protecting ships and sailors too, from rocks they could be hurled.

Yet nothing comes and nothing

goes ’cept the bright blue sea.

Which stretches near and far

away, ’tis all our man can see.

Though, one day, up high on

rock, a bird did perch and cry.

An albatross, he shot a glance.

and wondered deeply, why?

Could it be a watcher sent?

A curse sent from the gods.

who sits and cries and stares at him,

the life that they have robbed.

Each year it comes to watch

over him, the creature from above.

Not a curse but a reminder of

the woman that he loved.

On weary nights, under stars,

he’d often lay and gaze.

Up toward the moon and stars.

The sun’s dying haze.

Time and again, Orion’s light

filled our man with joy.

Within the belt, he’d see his love,

remembering her voice.

The twinkle from the stars above,

bled peace into his heart.

As long as she looks down on him,

he knows they’ll never part.

One day good, one day bad.

The madness, the heat, the sun.

Out to sea, he spies upon land.

His beloved Albion.

Cliffs of white and trees of green.

Children run and play.

“My home land,” he cries and weeps,

“why so far away?”

Eyes sore and red.  Filled with tears,

he runs toward the sea.

To risk his life, a worthy cause,

for home he would be.

Into the sea, deep and blue,

the waters wash him clean.

Awake.  He screams.  Cold with sweat.

And Albion a dream.

Such is life upon the isle,

of torment and woe.

One day good.  One day bad.

And some days even hope.

The light at the end of the world

burns bright for mile and mile and mile.

Yet tends the man, its golden glow,

in misery all the while?

For fifty years he stands and waits,

atop the light, alone.

Looking down upon his isle

the Gods have made his home.

The watcher at the end of the world

through misery does defile.

Remembers back to that single night

and allows a tiny smile.

(His sacrifice was not so great,

he insists upon the world.

Again he would crime,

Again he would pay

for one moment with the girl.)

Her hair, long and black it shone.

The dark, beauty of her eyes.

Olive skin and warm embrace,

her memory never dies.

’Twas years ago, he remembers clear

the life they once did live.

Endless love and lust for life,

they promised each would give.

Alas, such love and laughter too,

was short as panting breath.

For one dark night, her soul was kissed,

by the shade of death.

(Agony, like none before,

was suffered by our man)

who tends the light now burning bright

on the very last of land.

(Anger raged and misery too

like nothing ever before.)

He cursed the Gods and man and life,

and at his heart he tore.

A deity felt sympathy

and threw our man a light.

“Your woman you may see again

for a single night.

But think hard and well young man,

there is a price to pay:

to tend the light at the end of the world

is where you must stay.

Away from man and life and love.

Alone you will be.

On a tiny isle.  A bright shining isle

in the middle of the sea.”

“I’ll tend the light, for one more night

with the woman whom I love,”

screamed the man, with tearful eyes,

to the deity above.

And so it was that very night,

his lover did return.

To his arms and to their bed,

together they did turn.

In deepest love and lust and passion,

entwined they did fall.

Lost within each other’s arms,

they danced (in lover’s hall.)

Long was the night and filled with love.

For them the world was done.

Awoke he did to brightest light,

his woman and life had gone.

To his feet he leapt.  To the sea he looked.

To the lighthouse on the stone.

The price is paid and from now on

he lives forever alone.

Fifty years have passed since then

and not a soul has he seen.

But his woman lives with him still

in every single dream.

’Tis sad to hear how young love has died,

to know that, alone, someone has cried.

But memories are ours to keep.

To live them again, in our sleep.

My Dying Bride – The Light at the End of the World

Thought of the Week: The Harshest Critic

The Redemption of Erâth is nearing completion (yes, I know I’m late – I’ve had a busy and difficult week, but the last chapter will be out later this week; you’ve waited this long, you can wait a little longer!), and I’d thought I’d like to share some thoughts on its development. In particular, I thought it might be interesting to discover how it has grown over time, and and how I’ve received, and adapted to, feedback.

They say you are your own harshest critic. They’ve clearly never written for an eight-year-old boy. As you may already know, I began this whole tale as a story for my son, that we might read together as it grew. The inspiration for this came from the serial novels of Charles Dickens, and I loved the idea of keeping him (and myself) waiting eagerly for the next weekend, the next chapter, never knowing what was to come (truthfully; I often had little more idea about the next set of events than he did).

Over time, the tale has grown from the simpler children’s story I had thought it would be, into something much deeper, and much darker. Sometimes I feel almost as if I’m not in control of the tale; that I’m merely the teller of someone else’s story, that I’m merely relating the facts of what happened. I remember trying to explain this to my son one evening; he said, “You mean you stole it?” Ouch.

This is where it gets interesting. I had no idea when I started this that it wouldn’t be my own invention. I thought that I would write, and talk about it with my son, and together we would work out what was going to happen next. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that I couldn’t just make up the next chapter. What, then, was I to do with his feedback, and his thoughts? You see, I needed this to be interesting for him.

When I sat down with him at bedtime, for the first chapter, he asked why I didn’t have our usual book (Harry Potter at the time, I believe it was). I asked if he remembered that I had told him I had wanted to start reading a story to him that I had written. He said, “Awwwww…do we have to?”

Auspicious beginning, no? I asked him to bear with me for the first chapter, and make his mind up from there. So I read, and he listened, and he fidgeted, and I was becoming very nervous; at the end of it I asked what he thought of it. “Um…it was okay,” he said. “A little boring.” I wondered if that was what Tolkien’s children had said when he first read The Hobbit to them.

So I returned to the book, and dejectedly started on the second chapter. The following weekend, I pulled out Harry Potter, sat down and started to read, when he said, “Dad, where’s your iPad?” (I had put the first chapter on the iPad to read to him in bed). So – not a complete failure, then!

Things really picked up with chapter three (A Tale of Blood and Battle), and became our weekly routine from then on.

The thing is, it became important for me to keep the audience happy. From this early experience, blood an battle clearly won out over dialogue and back story. But what was I to do? This tale simply wasn’t going to have a lot of blood and battle, I could already see that early on! So I did what any self-respecting historian would do: I embellished.

It became a weekly judgement of storytelling technique, plot interest and emotional level. Sometimes it got too scary (like when the wolves surround Brandyé in a dream); sometimes too soppy (such as when Brandyé and Sonora start to spend time with each other). And sometimes, it was just plain boring (I could tell when he started pretending to ride his stuffed animals instead of listening to me).

Still…in the long run, I think it has been at least a mild success. He’s never asked me to stop reading (in fact, he’s reminded me the few weekends we were away and unable to read), and he’s even told me he wants me to include some creatures of his own design in the later books (some more embellishing here, I guess). He even started writing his own epic fantasy story about ninjas, which is awfully cute.

The wonderful – and torturous – thing about this weekly feedback has been its dreadful honesty. “What did you think of this week’s chapter?” – “It was really boring; can’t there be more fighting next week?” Sometimes I wondered myself if I was dragging things out too long, and here was the proof: if someone who wanted to know more thought it was boring, what on earth would someone think that had no prior vested interest in the story?

In the end, he’s enjoyed listening, and I’ve enjoyed reading. He does want me to write the sequels, as long as I promise there’ll be more battle. I’m pretty sure there will be (embellished or not). But wow – if you ever want to know the truth about your new novel, read it to a kid. They’ll tell it like it is.