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LeeC
July 10th, 2016, 07:18 PM
A shared opinion of beta readers re my revised edition was that my opening sketch needed to be a bit more immersing. So, after working on it more, I'm posting it here to gage reactions. Any writing related comments and suggestions are welcome.


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From:


Calan's Eden
Revised edition
A collection of connected sketches
by L. G. Cullens

1. In Ending A Beginning

"For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one." ~ Khalil Gibran


Wearing only khaki shorts and sandals on a sweltering day, I'm trying to help my wife as best I can in the garden. The dog snoozing in the shade has more sense. A faintness coming over me, I brace on my canes, and with a stabbing pain involuntarily groan. My wife yelling "Calan?" as her and the dog come to my aid, dissolves in my swirling perception. Why am I seated cross-legged on a buffalo hide by a smoldering fire, feeling a mixture of déjà vu and trepidation?

Mesmerized by smoke tendrils amongst dancing dust, my mind is screaming. How in this age can I rationally embrace what seems a primitive Medicine Lodge, one of interlaced branches supported by lodge poles, let alone the company of others clad in animal skins decorated with dyed porcupine quills, the males with painted faces? Even the dirt floor has a cushion of pine needles — fresh by the pungent scent. More unsettling, I don't see an entranceway.

My senses are in overdrive, yet curiously the debilitating pain I've lived with is absent, and there's no sensation of warmth or coolness. Even my aged skin and gnarled limbs have a revitalized glow. All so real, yet surreal with flickering shadows independent of movement, and the subtle luminescence being more an aura of this inner sanctum than having a source. This has to be an illusion, not some imagined time dimension with the strange shadows being other presences. I daren't stir lest I break whatever connection I'm experiencing, inviting nothingness.

As the drum, hoof rattle, eagle bone whistle, incantation, and rhythmic movement wane, my perception rends further when an ancient figure materializes and begins speaking in a language beyond time. Somehow I understand, as if the unknown words weave images in my mind that dance before my eyes.

While the language is at first distracting, the voice is quietly lulling with a ring of familiarity in what is imparted. No wonder, in beginning when the Earth was fire, then flooded, then Turtle Island formed. I hearken back to elders' legend telling in my youth on the reservation, but the imagery in my mind's eye is more vivid these many years later. With the passing of years and broader cultural influences, I've shrugged off literal acceptance with the symbolism employed, even doubting source. Living so close to Nature as they did though, it's easy to understand their more realistic focus on the community of life as they knew it. Something we seem to have lost sight of in thinking we're above it. But Hey, what's the point here? It's a little late to be messing with this old fart's mindset.

It's creepy how my thoughts flow in this place, as if stirred by an unknown hand. My consciousness seems to be swirling in a cauldron of surreality, producing the illusion of seeing through the veil of physical existence or some such baloney. This is crazy. Shuddering inwardly, I ought to feel the urge to scream, yet contradictorily the experience is calming in seeming at arms length.

As similarly told in my youth, the Great Mystery created all life forms in mutually beneficial balance. I know we've progressed to more complex scientific theories of how life began, but in conveyance the ancient legends are akin to belief teachings today — keeping it simple for all to grasp, with supernatural phenomenon thrown in here and there for awe. Even so, there's growing ecological awareness again of Nature's delicate balance of give and take. My mind is wandering into troubling waters here.

Not for the first time in my life, my thoughts are seething in trying to get my mind around the inherent conflict in this grand design of life being fueled by life. I get the continuum of life bit, but does it have to be mostly at the expense of the individual? Where the hell is the balance in that? The luminescence in this inner sanctum flickers as if in a silent electrical storm. Is something trying to quell my thoughts?

The imagery appearing before me is our little blue canoe, with life blossoming, shrinking, and blossoming even more, over and over, evolving in geologic cycles as life forms affect each other and their habitat. A late arrival is humankind, whose increasingly destabilizing footprint accelerates faster than any before. Then unexpectantly the imagery dissolves. I'm feeling irritated in not seeing more, and thinking this is all a bit one-sided, when the luminescence briefly erupts like a sparkler. Did I piss someone or something off? Welcome to the club.

I guess my thoughts aren't allowed in this strange place, or could I be dreaming with my mind off on a lark?

The ancient speaker is allegorizing balance, with a legend about a council between man and his cousins to further respect for each others' needs. This supposedly in a distant time when they could communicate with each other, yeah right. Before me an image materializes of a council fire, around which man, eagle, rabbit, crow, bear, and all manner of animal, fish, foul and reptile are seated. Are the plants part of the council? What a ruckus, and quite strange with the fish being out of the water. I'm wryly thinking, yeah, so where are the insects, when I notice a large scorpion crawling on my leg. Ooook, any ol' invertebrate is close enough.

The reality of the image is increasingly disquieting, as others in the lodge are blending in, exhibiting shapeshifting powers I know aren't physically possible. Even the ancient speaker briefly takes the form of a gray wolf. Is something beyond my comprehension influencing my mind in what I see? A voice in the back of my head is crying out, what the hell is going on, why am I here?

Noticing a large trout close by, staring at me with cold eyes (my mind has to be out to lunch), brings to mind a mountain trek where the lake spirits were less than supportive. Then the image of a passed on canine companion appears, calming my irritation, and giving rise to the credibility of some form of communication possible.

Still there's the lulling familiarity with elders' teachings, buried all these years in the effort of getting by. I know the elders' legends aren't centered on worshiping physical forms, but rather the belief is analogous to animism. Various spirits were sought out for guidance, protection, and augmenting prowess, in much the same way as today's belief practices. All life originates from stardust, so why can't other life forms have spirits if one believes humans do? Damn, what am I doing talking to myself? Is there more than one level of communication here?

Like a freight train my thoughts tumble on. Now I'm telling myself that human advancement has been in effect to distance ourselves from the natural world that sustains us, our religions following suit or maybe leading. One thing for sure, in imagining ourselves superior we're complicating the struggle to survive. The luminescence in this place momentarily glows brighter. If whoever's in charge here knows I think this way, why not go pick on someone that doesn't?

It's taxing how this ancient speaker embroils my mind with bird's nest thoughts. I'm in over my head, being more comfortable with natural world realities I understand. There's more than enough evidence to support the concept of Nature's balancing act, and evolution as the change agent in adapting life to ever-shifting conditions. I understand the implications, why can't I leave it at that?

More déjà vu as the flow of my thoughts seem to closely follow those of the ancient speaker, however knotty. Who is leading who in this indeterminate place and time?

Now the ancient speaker is delving into the war raging within every conscious-life being, between the greater good and individual desire. I'm reminded of the Two Wolves legend I was told as a child. Actually a metaphor for the struggle between good and evil, that's looked on as quaint nowadays. I miss those early times with Shoshone friends, when the world ahead seemed so bright.

Recalling an elder's teaching, I nearly break my silence with laughter. The elder had said Gray Wolf possessed the power to change animals and plants into other forms, and would do so based on behavior. As I remember his words, "Some, when they were good, Gray Wolf changed into birds with beautiful feathers and the power to sing. Some, when they were bad, he changed into smaller beings," then raising his voice a notch added, "and if they were very bad into skunks." Adding to my amusement, one of the presences here appears before me as a skunk, with a seeming look of indignation on its face. What? Does political correctness extend to this dimension, or wherever I am? I have to be dreaming, this is absurdity.

Back to the grind, the ancient one expands on the aspect of good and bad relative to excesses. That is in differentiating between what is in keeping with balance, and what destabilizes the community of life. With various life forms employed in the telling, here again shapeshifting occurs. Surprisingly by now, such seems almost rational. What's happening to my mind?

One of the examples portrays a family group of gray wolves. The gist being that with plentiful game the wolves would gorge themselves for potential lean times, even going so far as killing for no apparent purpose. The latter could be seen as beneficial in prey population control, but as the gray wolf population thrived and increased could become detrimental. That in reducing prey populations beyond what could support future generations of the wolves. I suppose the point is that Nature's delicate balancing act is like a pendulum swinging both ways. Something that's not necessarily easy to predict, in being complicated by cascading effects throughout the larger family of life. But dammit I knew that, so who's trying to impress who here? The luminescence in the lodge flickers once more.

An image springs to mind unbidden. That of the the skin and bones of wolf pups in an abandoned den. Heartrending in eliciting the thought of the parents lack of consciousness suffered by their offspring. Are we even meant to have enough consciousness? This is maddening. I feel moisture on my skin as if the air is laden with tears.

I'm wondering more and more why the waste of time on this old man? Let me get back to enjoy my remaining days with my wife and dog. More might be accomplished by dragging non-choir members here. So many things don't make sense to me.

If this is only an illusion, then it must vary by individual. I chuckle in imagining someone not familiar with this setting likely wetting their pants at the strangeness. Wake up Calan!

As if ignoring my thoughts and tiring receptiveness, the ancient one expands the point of the greater good encompassing more than the immediate community of life forms, extending to all life forms and even their unrealized progeny. Then he launches into yet another legend. I'm trying to tune him out, but can't. It's like dreams I used to have in the military. A falling sensation when my parachute didn't open, but there I always woke before hitting the ground. Why don't I wake-up?

This legend supposedly taking place in the Northern Rockies, many lifetimes before I was raised there. In short, another culture invaded the region, killing animals for sport, and cutting and burning forests where other animals lived. Such incensed the Great Mystery to the point of flooding all but the mountain tops, and it was many seasons before the original inhabitants reestablished a respectful coexistence with the animals and plants. It strikes me more as wishful thinking, but in a pinch I guess could serve as yet another allegory of the consequences of hubris, not that we take them to heart. By now my mind is screaming, Enough!

Thankfully, on an ending note the ancient speaker says, "Life is like fire, wind, and water, relentlessly moving from place to place, picking up and discarding all in their path in creating anew. In an individual's timespan, with focus more on the immediate, the longer cycles of cause and effect are veiled. Even this has its purpose in facilitating life's continuum."

Yeah, I can see the point I guess, but I still don't see why I'm the designated audience.

As he concludes, quiet ensues. For an unmeasured time I'm relaxed, thinking not about why I'm here, but the course my life has taken, and the many other lives whose paths I've crossed. What a rollercoaster, if my father hadn't been an abusive drunk in my first few years, I might never have experienced wilderness on a grand scale. Nor with other twists in the road might I have experienced Shoshone culture. I might have been just another bored child of a well meaning workaday family, growing into the same kind of life. I'm happy life took the course it did, because now I can truly appreciate the real beauty in this world.

I become anxious again in sensing that without physically touching every psyche present is forming a circle with me included. Even more unsettling is the strangeness of the flickering shadows on the lodge walls, beginning to slowly rotate despite everyone remaining still.

When the lodge covering dissolves into a starry vista, and the ancient one melds into the vastness I panic, but can't break the circle. And when my departed friend Derek appears in the circle, with a smoldering sage branch in hand, my consciousness spirals into a vortex.


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ned
July 16th, 2016, 01:11 PM
hello - an engaging read - that has a unique perspective of thoughts and images generated within from an outside source.
and the conscious reactions to these 'dream-like' events gives it an interesting twist - like a grounded commentator on
these strange flights of fancy - the self awareness at the absurdity of the situation, is a fresh angle.

I feel that it's, perhaps, a little drawn out - like different phrasing just repeating the same message - essentially, harmony
with one's environment (and you did well not to descend into that cliche).
although the sense of dreaminess and halluicinationory imagery was put across well, I wanted the story to move on in some
way - maybe a more solid incarnation of the boyhood memories referenced - or a retrospective of certain life moments, perhaps.
not necessarily key or memorable moments - but something to give the experience context.

although, from the opening paragraph, this story was always a strong contender for the passage of life to death - the title and
the Gibran quote are complete spoilers - and takes away from the impact of the ending, and the narrator's shock is not that shocking.

I feel, the atmosphere and imagery would benifit with more detailed descriptions - the setting needs to be better established -
I didn't realise it was set in a brushwood hut, or that other people were present until part way through - nail this image to put
the reader right in there.

the writing is very good, easy on the eye, and easy to follow - although a little prosaic in places - ie.
as told in my youth and now, the great mystery... = as told, the great mystery... (its history is inherent)

Back to the grind, the ancient one expands on the aspect of good and bad relative to excesses

sums up the strength and also the repetitive nature of this story, and the fine balancing act required.

cheers
Ned

LeeC
July 16th, 2016, 04:30 PM
Thank you ned. An insightful reading and constructive critique. Your incisive eye was what I was hoping for in posting this.

A very good point is that maybe in trying not to be over-wordy, I assume too much in the setting. For example, to me a medicine lodge is as familiar as say an old South Dock apartment block might be to you. I'll have to help the reader's mind's eye a bit more.

I also like your point, as I saw it, about tying in in more with Calan's life experiences, to better balance the preachiness. It does need better tie in with following sketches. The book is supposed to be a collection of connected sketches, exploring watersheds of Calan's life path. On the other hand, as one beta reader incorrectly focused on, the book is not intended to flow like a novel. Balance, the game of life eh.

My sincere appreciation,
Lee

escorial
July 16th, 2016, 08:23 PM
after reading your work i'm always in that mindset that i like whats coming..especially when i think like this piece it say so much about you..one can never understand what someone else thinks but your writing gets me as close as i will ever to understanding your thoughts and i keep wanting to read more.....

LeeC
July 18th, 2016, 03:08 PM
Just playing with words esc :-) With today's tweaks, I'm about tweaked out. Other comments I had from beta readers were that even though the book was a collection of connected sketches, this sketch wasn't "connected" enough. Of course, only those that had read a version of the book, like you, would be able to comment on that aspect. I especially thank you for reading and commenting, having waded through so much of my scribbling :-)

LeeC
July 23rd, 2016, 04:59 AM
In the last almost two weeks, I've been tweaking the original post 1, and tonight have many more changes. Rather than post a duplicate here, or start a new thread with such, I'm noting that significant changes have been made to post 1.

What I'm primarily interested in now, is if this opening sketch to my collection of connected sketches might be reasonably effective in prompting the reader to read further. Of course, any comments about the writing, or any mistakes noticed, are welcomed.

Sorry to be so OCD, but as in my artwork I rework something till I feel reasonably comfortable with it. So please let me know. Much obliged for your time and patience.