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Something Magic This Way Comes

Something is happening.

There’s quiet here, in a morning where I woke too early and fell victim to a busy brain that was ready for Thursday far before the rest of me felt like it. There is stillness outside, movement in. There’s a thought I’ve held in my hands for a long time, turning it over and over again like a smooth river rock: language is the closest we come to magic on this earth.

What I can’t stop thinking about this morning is what language actually is. It’s a thing that connects people; it’s a thing so private we dare not let words escape our mouths. It can travel through time and deposit emotions thousands of years old into a mind that’s only been here a few years. It is printed; it is sung. There’s a philosophical debate about whether language is public or private or both, whether it’s something we use to explain our world to ourselves or to explain ourselves to the world or both or neither.

What interests me today is how it unlocks doors in us that we might prefer to keep bolted–and doors we’ve been hammering at with our hands until our wrists throb with the impact and still nothing will budge. Learning a new language is a dance of breaking through and running into walls alike. It’s moments of absolute pure clarity and moments of being humbled by how much you don’t know. Today I’m interested in the former.

I wish I could tell you exactly when it was that I first wanted to learn Gaelic (or Polish, or German, or Spanish). I’ve tried to answer that question when it was posed to me several different times this week, several different days in a row, by several different people. Mostly I felt like I was fumbling my answer. So let me try again, this time to try and explain it to myself:

Polish is an old friend who first greeted me by asking how I felt about George W. Bush. It’s moments of shock and laughter at my first attempts and curiosity about why I’d even try. It’s the first time we were able as friends to move from my native tongue to his. It’s having a conversation that bridges years and salmon-coloured walls and halting nervousness and bone deep camaraderie.

German is laughter and community. It’s being surrounded, unintentionally, by words that just sort of hover there, happily existing until I can’t help but ignore them. It’s afternoons in Kraków sitting across a desk in a room that smells of paper and floor cleaner, reading out newspaper articles. It’s a sick anteater. It’s a cafe on the Rynek playing word games and packing imaginary suitcases with absurdities and extraordinary moments of friendship.

Spanish is kind of like that too, but quieter and waiting and nonetheless ready. It’s accidentally using a slang word that’s faintly vulgar in a conversation with a friend’s grandma because I learned it from context but didn’t quite grasp the tone. Whoops. It’s laughter at my expense without malice or meanness, just the understanding that sometimes this stuff is hard–finding the funny keeps it human.

And threaded through all of that, Gaelic’s been there, woven through whatever tapestry makes up my life like a song I feel like I should remember the words to because I know I’ve heard it a thousand times, maybe a thousand thousand times, maybe I always knew it, maybe it always knew me. Every so often I’d turn and look at it, with longing and frustration because I just couldn’t reach.

Language is magic. The word for bicycle in Polish is rower, pronounced like Rover if you can roll your r’s, and I always liked that because it reminded me of an old friend’s cat, and her little brother who couldn’t pronounce his r’s and said them like y’s and used to very earnestly tell me that “Rover goes pee pee in the yitter box.” Which has nothing at all to do with bicycles, but for whatever quirky little programming makes up our brains, it kept that word cemented in mine. The word for bicycle in Gaelic is rothair, pronounced a little like the Tolkein land of Rohan, if the han part were faintly head instead. And I made a noise that was neither of those words when I discovered that, because now the Gaelic rothair is married to the Polish rower and a pinprick of time a long time ago, and a bit of silliness.

Language has something of physics that makes it up, like the strong nuclear force that holds the protons and neutrons at the centre of an atom. It connects things that don’t seem like they should go together and yet do, likely in more than one way, as unexpected as a Polish-Gaelic cognate pair. It connects people.

Yesterday I was diligently going through my wee (not really that wee) list of common words, trying to see what holes there are, what I need to fill into my Gaelic foundation before I can really start to build. This is where something happened, between forest (coille/mòr-choille) and key (iuchair). I like that it happened there, even on an arbitrary alphabetical list. I make my home between forests and keys fairly often. It’s a good place to be.

The word was a month, and the month was June, which in Gaelic is quite literally the young month. An t-Òg-mhìos. The thing that happened was a thing that is starting to happen with a lot of frequency to a lesser degree. Often now I’ll look up a word and discover I’ve heard it before. (Laugh at me if you’d like for not bothering to learn the names of months before now.) Last night I saw the word and immediately said, “Oh!” I knew precisely where I had heard that word before, so I went there. It’s a song from Julie Fowlis’s album Mar a Tha Mo Chridhe, called Tha Mo Ghaol Air Àird a’ Chuan. I looked at the line of lyrics, which I’d listened to recently but hadn’t really heard, and suddenly it was clear. Clear as the June dew it was speaking of, and I heard it. That thread of song woven through and unreachable was right there, in my hand, where I could see it and hear it and feel it for what it was.

If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.

This morning I finished my fiftieth day of consecutive yoga. For years people have suggested it to me, but I brushed it off because I am the Least Flexible (TM) and because I’m that kid who got told too often that they were precocious and smart and that smart was something you were and not something you built and thus I still suck at realising I’m allowed to suck at things before being good at them or kind of okayish at them.

So anyway, in January I decided to give it a shot and got on the mat. Fifty days later, something is happening.

I can put my nose on my knees now. That’s not something I used to think would be a life goal, but it’s been a hard few years of navigating this world where Nazis are bubbling out of the mire again and we entered the darkest timeline. Touching my knees with my nose may not serve any greater purpose to the world, but one thing it did teach me is that sometimes I can surprise myself. Two days ago, I went into a forward fold with a now-familiar kind of relief and release, letting my weight hang, and I realised my palms were on the mat and my legs were straight. I’d been so focused on finding what felt good and right for my body that I forgot I used to be unable to touch my toes from that position at all and suddenly I’d reached past them. Then yesterday? I balanced the weight of my body on my hands in crow pose. Just for a couple seconds, barely even a breath, but if you’d asked me to do that a year ago I’d likely have made a noise like a crow at you and flown away squawking.

It’s something to build on, something to move forward from. Something to enjoy right now or right then or whatever dot of time is currently flashing by.

In giving myself space to explore, I was able to better understand the language of my body. And now, looking forward, I’m excited for what comes next, because language is a breathing, powerful, living thing that connects people and bridges time and space.

Now Gaelic is laughing so hard I cry with people who were strangers in September. It’s someone quietly muttering “dè cho mòr?” (how big a CAKE, you perverts) and giggles filtering through a classroom and someone replying with “bhodca ‘s orains, mòran taing” which is not even a logical progression but makes sense in a context we made together. It’s sixty blending voices striking a chord that hums through my skin. It’s seeking language within language to be able to speak about myself with clarity. It’s people from points all over a map drawn to one singular space and moment. It’s being a bit of a deer in headlights and muttering under my breath until I can pronounce a line of a song without tripping over my tongue. Gaelic is becoming a friend instead of a distant hope. Language is transformative.

Something is happening. Something magical.

Creativity: Something Mucked Up My Water Pressure

Part of this post is literal.  A few weeks ago, some folks who bought the shop adjacent to our flat decided to convert it into a new flat and they did something to the water pipes, which suddenly took our formerly stunning water pressure and made it into a spurty, annoying guessing game. One that sometimes makes the shower go frigid in the middle of soaping up, which is an adventure in the middle of winter.

 

They insist they did nothing, which…okay. One day it was fine and the next it wasn’t, and that day was the day they started digging about in the ground where the pipes live.

 

But I digress.

 

I have been trying to write for weeks. I am juggling several projects that I really want/need to get done, or at least get going. I’ve got like five novels working, which is some novels, along with some short stories, a novelette, and some other projects. And yet even though I know where I want something to go, I just can’t seem to get it moving.

 

Part of it is that choir’s got a big concert coming up and I’ve been trying to get ready for that. Studying a lot, practicing a lot. Another bit is that I’ve now done 47 consecutive days of yoga, which is really exciting. My energies have been kind of divided, and I’m still trying to find a rhythm that encourages both bodily/mental/emotional health and creative health.

 

It’s tough though, when the words won’t happen. Professionally I’ve been living this dichotomy of on one hand having a book coming out in a few months that I am SO proud of and excited to share with everyone. It’s a book that’s taken four years of my life to get to you, and that’s huge. On the other hand, I’ve had so many professional disappointments over the past few years that I honestly don’t know what to do next, and it’s really, really hard to create when I feel like there might be no point to it if I can’t get my stories to the people who need them or want them.

 

I want to be able to write without thinking about the business aspect of it, but it’s super tough to do that when it feels like you’ve sort of been left in the dust. That contrasts with the perception of my career, and while I don’t want to minimise the successes I’ve had, I’ve yet to actually break in, let alone break out. I still feel, after all this time, like I’m standing with my nose pressed up against some pane of glass that is nowhere close to breaking and I’m just getting my nose smears all over it all the time. There’s a lot to say about rejection being part of the game, yeah. I get that. I’ve had several hundred of them. For a while they stopped stinging a bit, but now they’ve grown barbs again, especially after I started getting some that were blatantly queerphobic and transphobic and others that were more…coded but familiar to any marginalised person. (Ie: readers won’t relate/can’t connect to characters like ______ when ______ is literally who you are)

 

So it feels like something mucked with the water pressure of whatever creative font used to allow me to crank out four books in a year. I haven’t finished things lately. I submitted a story to a mentoring programme, a few others to magazines, and it feels harder and harder to finish something at all, let alone show it to anyone. I get such conflicting feedback–from my readers on Patreon and reviews of my books that are out, I feel like I remember why I do the thing at all. (Seriously, y’all bring me life. Thank you.) From the industry? When it’s not full on silence forever, it’s that constant, wriggling thing of “this isn’t enough” or “this is too much” or both at once. Figuring out how to navigate that when I’m in this liminal space of having literally eight books out but still not really launched is…bizarre and kind of mindfucky. I honestly don’t know if any of my work “deserves” to be out there at this point, which admittedly makes it pretty hard to write more.

 

All of this said, telling stories is what I want to do most. I told someone the other day that I want to be a bard when I grow up. It’s hard to see people write one book and like…take off. That’s something I’m not sure we talk about, how much of an anomaly it is for someone to write one novel and get an agent and sell it. I’ve written fifteen, with so many false starts and dead ends and major setbacks that I definitely envy those who get out there and have something happen fast (fast in this business is anything within a year). Maybe my books really aren’t commercial enough to merit the kind of attention others get. Maybe I have extraordinarily bad luck. Maybe it’s Maybelline. WHO KNOWS.

 

What I do know right now is that I don’t really want to be blogging. I want to finish a story. I want to finish the books I’m working on. I want to get excited about sharing HEARTHFIRE with you. Gods, it’s been a long road. But right now I’m…tired. I need to figure out what’s going on with the plumbing so I can open up whatever flow makes me go again. And it has to be something I can control that doesn’t depend on someone else’s approval, which…is a tall order sometimes in this business.

 

Anyway. The point of all this is just to say that I am trying to sit with these emotions rather than tell myself to just push through or visualise whirled peas or fuck everything or don’t talk about that. I’m going to talk about this. I know I’m not the only writer in this space of feeling like our stories don’t matter. It might be one of those things where the only way out is through. Where we’re getting all soaped up and warm and then suddenly ICE WATER ON OUR SPINES. I do not know.

 

If you’re feeling this way too, you can sit with me. It’s okay to feel what you feel. It’s okay to wonder if you missed a major memo or a boat or a chance and that you’ve been left behind. It’s okay to feel that way. It can be really hard–really hard–to know how to navigate these murky waters where art meets business. Money plus creativity equals serious confusion, often a healthy dollop of nepotism, and absolute chaotic luck in just about whatever creative industry you’re talking about. Hollywood? LOL. Music? Yep. Publishing isn’t exempt. So…if you need somewhere to sit and feel kind of sad and flubby and look at the trickle of your creativity and wonder how to get it flowing again, feel free to write a comment. I invite you.

 

We can sit together for a while. We don’t have to know what comes next.

 

Love and many-a-Council-visit,

Emmie

Find Your Mirrors

 

The last year has been rough. For so many people. I’ve been thinking about fatigue lately, along with what rejuvenates us. I’m no longer in the States, but the knowledge of what exists there right now, along with my own valid fears has been crushing in many ways.

Last week I felt something very akin to desperation to get out of the city. I needed to be away from people, away from Facebook, away from Twitter, away from the internet. So yesterday I got up at 07.45, hopped a subway, then a train, then a ferry, then a bus, and took myself to the west coast of Scotland. My plan was to hike up Strone Hill and stand at the top and stare out over the islands and sea lochs. It took about three hours to get there, and when I did, the promised rain for the day wasn’t happening, the sun was peeking through the clouds and casting gorgeous golden rays on Holy Loch, and I kept stopping every few yards to look at something lovely–a snowdrop patch here, some blooming heather there, a gorgeous stone arch made from white quartz just beyond.

By the time I made my way to the trail head, it was 11.30 and…the trail I wanted was closed due to some diseased larches, expected to reopen next month. It had taken me three hours to get there, which isn’t a small amount of time to reach a place.

I was a bit disappointed–I’d really, sincerely looked forward to that particular hike. But instead, I went down by the shore of the loch, sat by the waves, and had a nice lunch in the sunlight. I ended up finding another hike of similar strenuousness at the village’s arboretum.

And the day was perfect. It just was. It was a lovely, gorgeous day with little bits of rain and lots of sunlight on moss. I did my now-daily yoga on the side of a hill with my hands on the squishy damp ground and it was exultant. I got to sit by the waves and walk among the trees and enjoy fresh air, and that was all priceless.

When I got home, Monsieur had a date (we are ethically non-monogamous, remember?), so I took a bath and curled up with a book (How to Be Both, by Ali Smith if you’re wondering), and in it was a surprising little scene that perfectly mirrored a conversation I’d had with someone last week. It was on a very random topic and it made me happy. I spent some time reading in the bath and also thinking about synchronicity, less in a “I saw Peter Pan in the newspaper and therefore am supposed to marry Peter” way and more in a “these two things have no discernible causal relationship but fit together nicely and cause warm fuzzies” way. Which it did. Cause warm fuzzies.

Do those things Mean Something? For me, things mean what we need them to mean. We could be wrong, I mean…I spent a wee while convinced I was going to marry someone because God said so (yay purity culture! EL OH EL). Or we could be content in whatever meaningful things we see in this chaotic world around us and use it to build meaningful connections with others.

This year has sucked enough. I don’t want to be an emotional nihilist.

To paraphrase a quote from Angel, if nothing matters, then all that matters is what we make matter. The answer might not be at the bottom of your coffee cup, but if the same line from a poem pops up twice in a week and it makes you feel validated as a person? It’s not worthless. Have a rich inner life. Tell yourself stories. Exist in a million worlds at once. Take the courage it gives you and fall in love. Give kindness where it’s unexpected. Smile at a stranger for no reason. Stand up for someone in the face of injustice because a story moved you to. Find solace where you can. Be someone’s solace when they can’t. Fuck emotional libertarianism. Take care of others and take care of yourself. Learn to say no and learn to say yes and learn that it’s okay to not have an answer yet. Have a favourite car park or fire hydrant or street lamp. Find meaning in a particularly round stone. Find love in the moss on a tree. Find strength in a stranger’s stride. Wonder about what never happened. Wonder what could happen next. Wonder what’s happening right now.

Find the strength to do the big things by letting the little things revive you. Big things are made of little things.

I spent most of the last four years thinking this book I wrote and adored wasn’t going to make it into your hands. Now it will in July–in other small coincidence newses, yesterday was lovely because I also got the cover for this book. I can’t wait to share it with you. <3

MOAR Gàidhlig Agus Cèic: New Year in Auld Scotland

Source (and a very good article): http://gaelic.co/gaelic-identities/

I’m trying to get better about updating here again. I spent so much of 2015 and 2016….and 2017 utterly burned out from blogging and totally overwhelmed that I feel like a wobbly wee fawn trying to walk for the first time into 2018. But! It’s a new year and there’s all sorts of stuff going on, so I thought I’d give a brief overview of what, however random (spoiler: probs very) it is.

1. Gaelic EVERYTHING. I started taking an Ùlpan Gaelic class in…October I think. I spent about fifteen years wishing really hard I would learn Gaelic by osmosis or something, along with some very ill-fated attempts to learn the language on my own from books, which did not work out. Two things dovetailed at the tail end of 2017, though (three, really). Moving to Glasgow and Partick in erm….Partickular….plunked me right in the heart of Glasgow’s Gaelic world. There are at least three Gaelic choirs in Glasgow, along with lots of classes, an entire centre/bookshop/Gaelic section of the library, and heaps of events. I started class and choir about the same time, and in two months I’m starting to understand things, can differentiate phonemes, and am recognising familiar words. Good place to be for an early learner!

2. MOAR GAELIC. Tha mi duilich–I’m sorry–did you think I was done? AHAHAHAHA. Me being me, I obsessively dig into my special interests, and in this case, I stumbled across a book called Fluent Forever that described a method of language acquisition that felt really natural to me. I’ve been applying it along with using the Mango language app (Gaelic is free on the app!) to supplement, and I am finding it’s clicking really well. I’ll try to periodically update my progress–the biggest thing I’m relieved about is having access to actual audio files and getting to interact with people who are native speakers, since that was something I flat didn’t have for ages. LearnGaelic.scot has 70,000 audio files if you are a struggling Gaelic learner–so glad I found it.

3. CHOIR. I sang in school choirs for years, and I really have missed making music. It’s been incredible to be part of this one, and we were even on the telly for Christmas Eve/Day on BBC Alba! V exciting. We’re performing with Mànran for the closing party of Celtic Connections a week from today, which will also be great, and in addition, the choir is about to celebrate its 125th anniversary in March, along with our director’s 50th year in the choir and 35th as the director, so there is going to be a fancy concert and fancy celebratory To Do.

4. Writing just like…everything in sight. I’m working on a sequel, a prequel, a YA contemp and a novelette. I wrote a picture book, a short story, and I’m about to start a screenplay. I’ve been actually writing again for the last two weeks, and I’m afraid I’m going to hex myself out of it, so I’m going to stop with that now. Suffice it to say that I’ve got a new book coming out in July (HEARTHFIRE) and miles to go before I sleep.

5. …Yoga? El oh el. You read that right. Me! Yoga! In the same sorta sentence! I’m doing Yoga With Adriene’s TRUE, a 30 day yoga challenge. I can sum it up thusly, in a real thing Kristin and I said to each other earlier today: “is she going easy on us or are we just getting stronger?” My wrists used to hate me and flinch every time she said to peel up into downward facing dog. Now I’m enjoying it! I used to hate forward folds, but now I can actually touch the floor, and having permission to modify by bending my knees a little is helping me get to a point where I don’t need to, which is great. I’m noticing some changes in my body with it, in my strength and endurance, which is reeeeally welcome. Enough so that I’m planning to keep it up and see what happens. I like that Adriene encourages you to explore rather than simply “do this.” It stripped away a lot of what I always felt made yoga really inaccessible to me, and she puts a heavy focus on self care. I like her lots.

6. Flossing. Y’all. Allow me to humble myself and say that at age 33 I have had an epiphany. I decided to floss every day for a week because I’ve never fucking flossed really in my life and my gums were swollen and I was getting aches and stuff in spite of never having had a cavity and erm. WELL. NO MORE. I’m now about a month into Actually Flossing Every Day and several things: my gingivitis is gone, my teeth don’t hurt, my gums don’t bleed anymore, some stubborn plaque is going away, and on top of all of that, fewer headaches. -_- This may be a no-brainer for most people, who knows. But maybe the dentists are right. *cough*

7. No poo. Yet another thing out of left field and already I feel like I am crunchier than I ever meant to be just using those two words together, buuuuuut as this is very much just a Me Experiment, ymmv etc etc etc. I have curly hair but didn’t uh…know it for a long time? I used so much heat on it and it kept getting supremely fucked up. I thought it was scalp psoriasis for a while. I thought it was build up for a while. I tried clarifying shampoos and medicated ones and noooothing helped. Finally a hairdresser a few years ago was like “This is caused by EXTREME dryness.” I’ve coloured my hair for ages, and tl;dr, my head was manufacturing way more sebum (y is this word so gross) than it needed. I got it under control by spacing out washes and only using things I knew worked for me, but it wasn’t enough.

I started noticing that my hair was getting ringlets under my ears and was like, “Huh.” My hair had been wavy since I was a kid, but I always just sort of assumed it wasn’t really? I dunno. I have no explanation. Anyway, my friend Elizah suggested I only shampoo the scalp and only condition the ends, which helped, and my hair started looking even CURLIER. But it was still really dry. I finally went into this huge rabbit hole trying to figure out what my curl pattern was and learning how to actually care for my hair (I’m between a 2C and a 3A–spirals when wet, etc.) I’d tried plopping before (Google it), but it wasn’t till I tried twisting it that I realised how much it wanted to spiral. If you look at certain pictures of me from the past few months where I’ve got hair in springy ringlets? Yeah, that’s literally just me twisting big chunks of it when it’s damp and then leaving it alone. O_O

Exhibit A:

So finally, after getting horribly frustrated for years with how my hair kept getting brittle and dry and so sticky/tangled I couldn’t get a brush through it, I thought what the hell. I’d try the no poo thing and try water only washes and see what happens. I started doing the following:

a. Brush it before showering.

b. Massage whole scalp under hot water like I would with shampoo, pulling my whole hands down the sides to the ends.

c. Condition the ends and comb through.

d. Twist or plop it after shower.

That’s it. I shampooed it a teensy bit last Sunday after a week of only water to see what would happen and sort of…control for the times I didn’t. In two weeks, my hair is springier, softer, and curlier and like…I do not know, my friends. My head doesn’t stink (and see above, re: yoga, because I have gotten sweaty), my scalp doesn’t itch as much, and I can always comb through it. I’m going to keep on for a while at least to see how it goes but holy crap, if this keeps working I will never buy shampoo again. shrug.gif

8. Celtic Connections, holy shit. So this festival is truly special. I ended up serendipitously (I keep using that word because stuff like this JUST KEEPS HAPPENING) being given a ticket to see Julie Fowlis after my daft arse bought the wrong one, and I got to spend the evening with a lovely sister and brother from Barra and their entire extended family, because why not? What a magical night it was. Remember that! A couple days ago, we went to Binneas nam Ban, a production celebrating the women bards of Scotland. My choir was out in force to support one of our members in the house band, and not only was it a spectacular evening of Gaelic song and story, but community and connection (dare I say….Celtic….Connection? Oh I dare.) with folks from the choir and then I ran into the Barra folks again, which was delightful. What an excellent…everything.

9. Random familial stuff? For all the (valuable and nuanced and necessary) conversation around DNA testing, I did the thing a few years ago and had a few surprises, but now with evolving tech and databases, the place I did it is showing some interesting additional information–like tracing specific places in regions where it’s probable your ancestors came from. Which really is fascinating. I’m taking it with a few grains of salt, but what they showed matched up with a lot of family oral history, my own previous research, and the research done by my aunties, so basically: kinda cool.

There’s the Polish Jewish woman from the Polish/German borders in the 19th century when my family butted up against the border–she shows up on the map (!) and in family oral traditions/handwritten family tree (thanks, Aunt Doti!), since certain Yiddish words trickled through the generations, which I find really amazing considering she was vastly outnumbered by German Protestants. My Scots Irish chunk from Donegal in Northern Ireland–they’re there. And all over Scotland, including my beloved Inverness and Glasgow. Inverness is where I hypothesised that an ancestor called Ann Lachlan came from in the late 18th century, and it could or could not be her, but either way: kind of rad to see some of the places I’ve felt drawn to over time actually on that map? *makes spoopy noises*

There’s a big blotch over Rannoch Moor where the it’s likely the Mearses hailed from, and a surprising patch out on the Isle of Jura, which was a wee serendipitous coincidence considering we’re singing a Jura song in choir (An t-Iarla Diurach, if anybody’s curious). There are dots around the Black Forest in Germany where some folk came from as well, and just generally kind of a cool thing to see unfold. Blood is what it is–it gets no special powers to decide who gets to be where (or shouldn’t, anyway) but it can provide us interesting looks back. Another sort of tangential point this all brings up is this: these things have passed overwhelmingly matrilineally. It has been, without exception, female family members doing this, and from female family member mouths I’ve heard these stories and gotten information.

I am interested in the curiosity and stories that looking backward this way lends itself to. I’m interested in exploring with an open heart and enjoying the incredible diversity and intrepid spirit of human migration wherever it leads or began. Having had people who came before me doesn’t make me who I am, but it can help me understand them, perhaps. What made them go or stay–and as an immigrant myself returning to one of those places, what made me do it too. It certainly wasn’t those blots on a map or leaves on my family tree that brought me here wholly, but the spirit of a place where, like so many did for so long going to America, I felt I would be welcome and encouraged to build a better life. Initially I came here because I wanted to see where they’d come from, but I decided I needed to move back because it felt like home due to the people who are here now–what matters to them and how they treat each other. The kind of home they want to build is a kind of home I want to be part of building too.

Some of my family in ages past left their homes under similar conditions and political upheaval as I just did. That is a somewhat sobering thing, but it is also an encouraging one. Things must have seemed pretty hopeless in the 18th century Scottish highlands and islands. Things are a little dodgy here now with Brexit, but they are hopeful, too. And certainly Gaelic is thriving here, almost three hundred years later, when perhaps my ancestors thought it would be wiped off the earth. Their oral traditions and storytelling made their way through centuries, and that is far more powerful than blood alone.

I’ll end this with a song by Libby Roderick, who is one of my all time heroes of song and a true Alaskan bard. It’s called Bones.

BONES

Words and music by Libby Roderick
c Libby Roderick Music 1997
BMI. All rights reserved.
From Lay it All Down

I come from a long line of dead people
I come from a tall pile of bones
My people lie sleeping all under the world
Their souls turn to roots, leaves and stones.
My grandpa went by whiskey in an L.A. hotel
His dad died of Ohio coal
And before him, and before that, they slipped under the ground
Fewer bones walk above than below.
My great grandmother’s eyes stare out from my face
Her skinny bones dance around in my clothes
You can almost hear the whisper of her sweet southern song
In this voice I’ve been calling my own.
A toast to the living, walk us walk down the aisle
So these bones can be married to the flesh for awhile.
A song, a song for the living, though the flesh worries when
These bones will be leaving to join family again.
I come from a long line of dead people….

A Many-Patterned Strangeness

I likely ought to be working on NaNo stuff or Patreon stuff or any number of other Stuffs, but it’s been a wee while since I updated here, and I’d like to get back into the habit of blogging more. (They said, for the fourteenth time in the past year without actually doing it.)

We’ve now been in Glasgow for almost two months. We have a flat and bank accounts and internet (at long last!). I’m drinking copious amounts of tea (which here is available most often in packages of 150-200 bags–take notes, America and your 20-bag boxes). I wanted to reflect a little on the changes since the move.

I also feel a little awkward doing so, because things have been bleak in the States. (Today, however, there was good news to wake up to, as well as no small amount of schadenfreude that that horrid bathroom bill author in Virginia lost the state rep race to a trans woman.)

  1. My mental health is better. Full stop. I almost don’t even need to elaborate. It’s just BETTER. I wake up in the morning happy. I get silly swells of emotional whatsit just walking down Dumbarton Road here in Partick, even if someone didn’t clean up after their dog or whatever. The air smells better here. It’s cleared away the fog. I rest easy knowing we’re in the bosom of Nicola Sturgeon and her dogged defence of Scotland’s social systems. I have also, no fewer than three times, seen a non-binary gender option on *official forms*. The option to chose MY ACTUAL TITLE instead of getting shoehorned into binary terms. The Glasgow City Council was one, for fuck’s sake.
  2. I have a GP literally across the street. No, really. I can walk out the door of our building, keep going, and run right into it. My healthcare is taken care of. I got two prescriptions filled in September. You go to the pharmacy, they fill them, they hand them to you, you leave. Notice anything missing in that list? I didn’t leave anything out. I read an essay yesterday that a friend shared, by a man expressing absolute love for his best friend, who moved in with them when his wife got cancer. There was a line in that essay that will fucking haunt me. He said: I juggled money because nobody would die if we didn’t pay our taxes, so the hospitals and surgeons came first. (Essay here.) That is something that should never be said, especially so casually as to basically be a throwaway statement in passing. America’s healthcare is criminal. That’s all.
  3. I am doing things I have wanted to do for ages. Not just living here, but I found a Gaelic class thanks to a friend, and it’s a 24 week course that transitions into more units, and basically the whole time Monsieur is at pharmacy school, I’m going to be learning Gaelic, hopefully to fluency over the next few years. Not only is this a massive bucket list item for me, but it’s good job security, as it’s a highly sought skill here. My classmates are a wide spectrum of ages, a few from the islands whose parents are native speakers, others who want to get in touch with older roots, and the class itself is taught with the Ùlpan method that originated in the Middle East, wherein everything is taught in the target language with very, very little explanation in English. I AM FUCKING ECSTATIC.
  4. I’m reading more. I’ve read more books in the past two months than I read in the past year. I’m rereading the Wheel of Time. I’m reading ALL THE BIRDS IN THE SKY by Charlie Jane Anders. I just finished THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES by Rebecca Podos. I’m excited about books again.
  5. I’m writing more. More importantly, I’m wanting to. I’ve been utterly crushed by the industry for the past couple years. I’ve been constantly battling the nihilism of “what’s even the point of submitting”, which isn’t healthy? Really not healthy.
  6. I feel safer. This isn’t really an illusion. It is safer here, physically and psychically, for someone like me. Just in general, really. Again, I’m serious. Crime happens here. Violent crime happens. But the drop off in odds for it to happen is so stark it’s a cliff, moving from America to here.
  7. I’m exploring my world. We went to Loch Lomond. Canoed. Talked shit to some ducks. Sailed about with some swans. Walked at twilight and watched the stars come out in a perfectly clear sky. I reunited with Jordan after six long years. I finally got to meet his amazing dog Dougie! I’ve reconnected with old friends and connected with new ones. I get to finally meet a Welsh friend in person next week, and more folks on Friday! Went to a neighbour’s party! (Hi Sara! COME HANG WITH THE CATS AND BRING YOUR SISTER.) I miss some Stateside people so much it hurts, but I can’t wait to show them around my home here.
  8. I’m playing. Playing! Sometimes that’s video games and sometimes it’s wandering about charity shops or finding new Pokemon around Glasgow or painting (!!!) or learning to KNIT or any number of other things.

This is a good place to be. A good place. I am so thankful to be here that I get all weepy and emotional at random moments during the day and then get embarrassed and SHUT UP WHAT ARE YOU LAUGHING AT.

I haven’t had a whole lot of dreams come true before. This list is a bunch of really, really big ones.

So yeah. Life’s good here. We’re going to Paris for our anniversary (aka Christmas/Boxing Day). We’re going to Inverness for my birthday (Monsieur surprised me). I got to speak Gaelic with humans for the first time ever after fourteen years of desperately wanting to learn. I’m about to hit the mystical age of 33. For the first time in I don’t know how long, I’m actually looking forward to my birthday.

Here’s a bunch of pictures, including lotsa selfies because why not. ENJOY.

What Goes Around

Today I woke up in Glasgow.

 

Three years ago today, I woke up in Silver Spring, Maryland, looking northeastward in the direction of a land about to decide its own future.

 

I hoped Scotland would vote yes that day.

 

In the three years since, much has happened in Scotland and the world beyond. In me, too. Three years ago I also made a choice. It wasn’t the placing of an X in a box marked No or Yes, but it was as momentous and it was as decisive.

 

Three years ago, I crept up upon my 30th birthday in a year that rivals the worst of my life. The years since have been full of disappointment, upheaval, not a little bit of floundering, and a lot of pain. But in the midst of all that (neither in spite of it or because of it), I met my partner on a train.

 

What’s odd (much is odd) of our meeting isn’t so much the manner of it but the orbitals of our lives that brought us near one another many times before that day, on two continents, in three countries. When he was growing up in California, I was visiting the San Fernando valley. When he was living in Hamilton, Ontario, I was visiting Julia in St. Catharines. When I was living in Scotland, he passed through Glasgow.

 

Sometimes we take circuitous routes to get somewhere.

 

Ten years ago, I likely could have moved here. I could have gone directly from my history programme into a graduate programme in Glasgow or Edinburgh, stayed under the Fresh Talent Initiative, and perhaps by now have been a citizen. Perhaps I could have voted in that referendum in 2014.

 

The world has changed since then.

 

Sometimes I feel like my fate is inextricably connected to Scotland’s. Those choices we struggle to make for ourselves are pendulous things. Who’s to say what a No or a Yes will mean until it does? What’s important is the choice itself and the ability to make it. It’s the ability to effect change in your life and others’, and in the course of that change, to recognize that in the midst of disappointment, upheaval, floundering, and pain that wondrous things can happen, things that shift your course just a bit, just enough, so that maybe a little farther on than you expected it to happen, you find yourself where you really need to be.

 

2016 was that year none of us could predict. We were all there—I won’t rehash it. But it came out of seeming nowhere and shook many of us to our toes. We’re going to feel the aftershocks for a long, long while going forward.

 

There’s hope, though, in spite of those tremors.

 

When you spend a day or a decade with held breath, looking in one direction and hoping, only to be disappointed, it can feel sometimes like it leaves you teetering on a precipice. The winds can get you there, with your toes curled over the edge and your arms milling against the force of them. It takes time to find solid ground, and sometimes we slide and scrabble before we can stand again.

 

I didn’t make it here ten years ago. When I came back seven years ago, it was as if I was walking through a dream of maybe. My life didn’t fit where I wanted it to, then. When I left, I felt certain I’d be back, just like the certainty I think many of us feel in the quiet moments, listening to the rain. Then, as now, the key is that when we get back there, when we get back to that home-moment of maybe, of hope—that we do not try to reach it alone.

 

Sometimes even together it’s not enough, not quite, but togethers can grow until they can be.

 

It’s been three years since that day, and I am home, and there is hope, and I’m ready to move forward. This time I didn’t come alone.

There Are Sharks in the Water, and You Smell of Blood (XIII)

You can catch up with this story by reading Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VIIPart VIIIPart IXPart XPart XI, and Part XII. (Or click the tag on this post at the bottom to see all of the pieces in one spot.)

***

Dear Evermyn,

I received both of your most recent letters.

I am weary. I took them to the grove and sat for a long while with my lap desk, troubling myself over the manner in which I ought to respond.

I decided after much thought that I would take this risk. Your words awoke something in me that I have not allowed to stir for some time.

To answer your question, Drake knows some. He knows who we are, and he knows of our promise. I fear the rest is perhaps too complex and fraught, though perhaps I also am not giving my husband enough credit. He is at times as pragmatic as either of us, and I believe he understands that pragmatism, even when in full force, does not create a zero sum that precludes the simultaneous existence of love. Some pragmatic acts turn into authentic affection.

This game continues to tire me, and I cannot help but feel that there is something on the horizon, Evermyn. Perhaps we are coming to the end at long last. You may ask what has changed; I cannot say. All I know is that when Drake and I tuck little Drake into his bed at night, there is something within me that I have never felt before. I never thought I would have another child. It makes all of this seem somehow more urgent, even though I am well aware that hastening the end of our work means hastening other ends as well.

I have been fortunate to live the life with Drake that I have lived.

If we are truly at such a crossroads (and I trust your judgement on the matter), it may be time to take steps.

There is little else here to report. Or rather, nothing of import, really. The city council voted to rename the village in Drake’s honour, and with the typically predicable level of creativity, have named it Draketown. Little Drake will need his ego punctured at regular intervals if we are not careful.

I trust that you will keep yourself close, Evermyn. Come visit us if you are able.

Samwell Park

 

Note from Vanhelm University: This lines up with the city records in Draketown, dating this letter in 5821, as expected. -Prof. Ilis Correl

There Are Sharks in the Water, and You Smell of Blood (XII)

You can catch up with this story by reading Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VIIPart VIIIPart IXPart X, and Part XI. (Or click the tag on this post at the bottom to see all of the pieces in one spot.)

 

***

Dear Samwell,

You must know that I read your last letter and approved of its contents. I do not have to say more, do I? I will say only that I am sorry for shaming you about Faras. In my grief–no, that is no excuse.

I returned to the letting house where I was staying with Faras to retrieve his belongings and some bits of my research. The letting lady informed me that someone had already come to collect it, a cousin, when Faras had no cousins.

I confess I flew into a terrible rage. I cannot say who took his things or who brought him to his end, but you know how I feel about coincidences.

You will tell me not to interfere. You will tell me to press on toward our goal. But I cannot, and you I think will know why. Perhaps even understand. Your choices have been so very different than mine, but do not think I have no understanding of family. Faras had become family to me.

Does Drake know?

Evermyn

 

Note from Draketown University: The following letter was found with several other letters from Evermyn Thedan to Samwell Park and translated from ancient Ahrinoshi (a dialect that preceeded the Alnori invasion by a full thousand-year) with the help of the Bard (7213). The Bard’s linguistic work underwent international peer review at the behest of the University. The letter utilises the Ahrinoshi alphabet and thus the handwriting required closer assessment in order to match it to the other letters from Evermyn. We owe thanks to the Departments of Forensics at Draketown and Vanhelm Universities.

 

Dear Samwell,

Forgive me the manner of my words.

There is always the chance that our correspondence will find eyes beyond our own, but today I am certain of it.

I must caution you, most fervently. After posting your last letter, six hours after it arrived in your home, there came a knock at my door. The letting-lady tells me someone had come to call upon me.

I brought the sun-glass and my research with me to the parlour, concealed, but on my person.

The man who greeted me claimed to be from Silvanfall’s university. He asked after my work, and he swiftly excused himself when I began to question how he came to know of me and my research. The name he gave me belonged to no-one on the faculty at the university. I trust you will sense the irony in my words, my old friend.

When I returned to my room, someone had been in it. Nothing was ransacked, but my pen was out of place, the wrinkles on the bed in different form, the mattress ever-so-slightly askew. Had I not the memory I do and the attention to such things, I would not have noticed or trusted my intuition.

I worry. I am too close to be thwarted by such creatures.

Be on your guard. Someone in your home is watching.

Evermyn

There Are Sharks in the Water, and You Smell of Blood (XI)

You can catch up with this story by reading Part I, Part IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VIIPart VIIIPart IX, and Part X. (I’m going to need a table of contents soon…)

***

Dear Evermyn,

You shame me. I may not have always enjoyed Faras’s company, but that is a far cry from wishing him ill. I am (Drake, too, of course) exceedingly shocked and saddened to hear that he was murdered.

I am thankful that you moved rooms, but I worry this will not be enough. We agreed last year that this would be the time to [illegible smudge]

(Forgive Sootly again. Dratted cat.)

pursue this enquiry at long last, but I am ill at ease about it. Perhaps it is wee Drake’s grief and our own. Waking in the middle of the night to the child’s sobs between us has been a waking nightmare every time it happens, and it happens often. Drake mourning the loss of his sister and her husband and his niece is almost too much to bear for any of us. You and I have become somewhat more accustomed to–no. I cannot finish such a sentence. No one ever becomes accustomed to death, however frequently one encounters it.

I wish to help you, if I can. Tell me what you would have me do, and I will do it.

Can you believe me when I say this? I hope you will find it in yourself.

I went to the grove, as you requested. The trees are still in their unholy quiet, but they did not pull away from your letter this time. Their leaves sang their sadness. This, I feel certain you will believe.

Perhaps now is not indeed the time, Evermyn. I cannot be sure of anything just now.

You should know that our adoption of Drake the younger did go through. We finalised it with the solicitor yesterday, and he is now officially Drake Elsin Park II. You will notice the discrepancy, since my Drake’s (they are both my Drake–I shall have to find a better way to differentiate) name includes no middle name, or didn’t. We could not bear to make the child give up his surname, and changing his name at all was something that we were, in all honesty, loathe to do. However, the adoption requires him to be a Park for inheritance purposes, so both Drake the elder (this also sounds wrong the more often I write it) and I added Elsin to our own names. Though Park will be our only legal surname, the whole of our little family will now carry Carthia, Kubu, and Martia with us until the ends of our lives.

Samwell Elsin Park

 

Note from Vanhelm University: Records of the Park family clearly show this adoption–the tragic deaths of the first Drake Park’s family and his adoption of his nephew have long been part of public record and knowledge. Aside from a few legal documents, however (the mentioned adoption papers and inheritance records, along with their eventual final testaments), most institutions omitted ‘Elsin’ from their official accounts, likely as middle names are uncommon in this part of the commonwealth. -Dean Idan Simmon

There Are Sharks in the Water, and You Smell of Blood (X)

You can catch up with this story by reading Part I, Part IIPart IIIPart IVPart VPart VIPart VIIPart VIII, and Part IX.

***

Appendix III: Selected correspondence. Sanworth, Mbuku. Correl, Ilis. Trummel, Adelyn. Park, Drake (XII, b. 7273)

(pp. 11-15)

 

7312, first harvest

Mbe,

I cannot yet leave Silvanfall, and I hope you will understand why when you read this. Indeed, it is my hope that you will apply to your department chair directly for a sabbatical and join me here.

There is a small college near the coast that is, I believe, a sister-school to a university in Dehalm, but the name of the university escapes me. I got it in my head to chase after a mention made in one of Samwell’s letters to Evermyn about East Valyn, and I have been searching for references to that place and finding none, until yesterday. It seems that in 5510–forgive me, I am getting ahead of myself.

I have been searching for East Valyn under the impression that it was a remnant example of orthographic drift and that it was related to the root word of Vanhelm, which drifted with Alnor influence from Valen, but I was mistaken. I made a passing mention to the librarian at the college who corrected me and informed me that Valyn was a transliteration of Fahlyan far to the south of Vanhelm where the Alnor empire conquered the Ahrinos people and snuffed out their old alphabet. Hence, ‘East Valyn’ was actually the Alnor translation/transliteration of Fahlyan, from ‘Fa’ (east) and ‘Ahlya’ (oasis or lushland).

I confess that there are so many pre-commonwealth civilisations that the Alnor empire devoured that I have been unable to make a study of them all.

Fahlyan, then, was a border village on the eastern fringe of the Ahrinos land where the first skirmishes between the Ahrinos people met with Alnor invaders. Which brings me back to my previous mention–in 5510, Fahlyan was destroyed by a massive calamity that the librarian assured me was entirely unrelated to the Alnori. The librarian is a pre-commonwealth scholar who specialised in the preservation of historical documents from lands the Alnori conquered. Her knowledge is as wide as a continent and deeper than the seas. The record of Fahlyan’s destruction can be found in the works of Alnori historian Hafan (a sympathiser with those his people crushed). Hafan managed, remarkably, to distribute records of seventeen different peoples outside the reaches of the Alnor empire (which certainly would have had such records expunged had they discovered his work).

This is a very long way of saying that Samwell was referencing Fahlyan’s destruction, an event that took place some three hundred years prior to his life. The librarian (I ought to call her by her name, Professor Emeritus Unama Rycan, though she insists I call her Unama) has promised she will see what she can dig up about Fahlyan itself, as she knew the reference and etymology but not the specifics offhand.

Will you then join me here, Mbe? Your presence and added intellect would be desperately welcome.

Affectionately,

Ilis

 

7312, first storing.

Ilis,

Your letter took me somewhat by surprise, and I have spent the past two nights mulling over it. I am somewhat familiar with the Ahrinos myself, as the stories of my own ancestors (the Hacuma) mention them as on-and-off adversaries and allies. I had not considered that the reference to East Valyn could have been a translation from Fahlyan, but it does make sense in retrospect, as there is still a place a hundred leagues southwest of Vanhelm by the name of Alya.

What I cannot stop thinking on is the tone in Samwell’s letter to Evermyn about it. It felt personal, which is odd considering their three hundred year removal from any contemporary connections to ‘East Valyn’–it would not be the first time in history people have closely identified with events long before their time, and I am not usually one prone to fancy. That said, it is more than passing strange, Samwell’s words on the subject: ‘It reminds me of East Valyn years ago. I’m sorry to bring it up, as I know you hate the subject, but there is no other comparison.’

Strange thing to say, that.

I applied to my department chair for sabbatical and was granted it. I believe she is taken with this project’s progress almost as much as anyone else in our midst, and like your Dean Simmon, she was put out by Drake Park XII’s presumptuous letter. You can expect my arrival one week hence, after I prepare my assistant to take on the autumn lectures until my return. I have been granted one year, since I skipped my last sabbatical.

I am most encouraged.

Affectionately, etc.,

Mbe