Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Fiction: How to make a golem

How to make a golem, God forbid you ever need to

I tell you this in the hope that you never use this knowledge. I tell you this in the hope that the world has changed enough that you never need to use this knowledge, that there will be no more pogroms or genocides. I tell you this so it will not be lost, because God has given us the gift of knowledge and learning and to let such things die is a sin.

You start, my child, with intent and need, the way you undertake any great work. And then the way God started, with a lump of clay. You must touch it with your hands, as we did. We were scholars, our hands unused to such rough work, so we could not shape it into anything more than the rough form of a man, but it was enough. Your golem, if you ever have such need, will surely be a thing of great beauty with delicate hands and well-shaped eyes. If you make it in haste when they are close on your heels and it is poorly shaped it will still work. Its form does not require eloquence.

You must breath life into it, as God did to man, as you might if it were a friend who has lost their breath. And with each breath your associates must utter the true name of God. I tell you that when I heard this as my lips were sealed on its moist, cool mouth, I could feel a trembling begin underneath me, as if it were my lover.

And then you simply write the Hebrew word for truth on its forehead in the damp clay. This is important, remember, because when you must destroy your golem (and a time will come when you must) you simply erase the first letter and the word for death is all that remains, because is there not some small piece of life and death in every truth?

Step back quickly, my dear, because the golem will rise to do your bidding. Anything, exactly as you request, so be careful. Do not, for example, ask it to bring someone to you, because it will do so with no care to their condition when they arrive. I know this.

Do not ask it to speak. If it speaks then it is almost a man and its heart may break with the knowledge that it is yet without a soul. That would be too cruel. I have heard that a golem can sing with such sweetness that angels come to listen, but the ears of men are not made for such song, nor are our eyes now made to witness visitations.

Remember this, my heart. A time will come when the golem knows what it is and that is when you must erase truth leaving only death. Once a thing shaped by human hands knows it is not divine, its wrath becomes boundless and no kindness will ease its sorrow. I know this, too.

I tell you this with the hope that you need never use this knowledge.

I tell you this because I know the world has not yet changed enough.

(c)2009 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pending fiction

I was considering writing about gratitude, this being the week for it, but then I realized this is something I write about a lot. I don't need to delve into gratitude especially for Thanksgiving week because it's an ongoing theme in my life. You can read some of my thoughts on gratitude here. Or here. Or here. You get the idea.

So what to say? What's first and foremost on my mind is the arrival of my family for a Thanksgiving visit. It will be both wonderful and stressful, the way these visits usually are. You know what I mean. Any loving crush of people always has joy and stress associated with it. Right now I'm thinking:

  • Will the bed be comfortable? Will they be able to sleep?
  • Do I have enough food in the house?
  • Are the towels clean?
  • What will we do once dinner's over?
  • What did I forget?
  • Am I a good enough daughter?

I'm sure some large percentage of you can identify with these questions, but that doesn't mean it would make an interesting or useful blog post.

What occurs to me, however is that last year Thanksgiving was immensely challenging. My blog post told only a little of the story and I'm not going to expand upon it here. But that story has now fed other stories. While I don't tell the "true" events, the truth of it has become excellent fiction. The sick friend? Oh yeah, there's an echo of her in a story or two. The potential illness? Of course that's influenced my work. It's certainly influenced my levels of sympathy. My own history with my family? Doesn't our history touch all of our creative efforts? All of that stress and joy has fed into my creative engines and is emerging as deeper, richer, truer fiction.

And that's what I expect to happen over the next few days, though I hope with less drama than last year. I need to remember, when I'm clenching my teeth and thinking I am not carrying on my family traditions or I'm not patient or... my life becomes pending fiction. So does yours. Enjoy.

(c)2009 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The art of letting go

I don't know about you,  but I have an unfortunate tendency to fill my life up. I fill it up with stuff, with activity, with worry, with nothing. Nothing can be pretty time consuming. What I need is less of all of this. I need more white space. That's where creativity, healing and play happens most easily. I need to remember to schedule in more white space that I don't fill up with doingthedishes, watchingtv, frettingaboutsomething, otherthingsthatoccupybutdon'tnourish.

What's hard for me about creating white space, and maybe for you too, is that it requires me to do a couple of things.

1. I need to say "no" to things that might be fun or that I feel some obligation towards.
2. I need to let go of some projects, social engagement or other creative activities.

Both of these are a kind of letting go.

When I give myself more time to think, dream and play I can create more readily, feel and understand my emotions, move through my life with more integrity. These aren't new or original thoughts, but it's topical because I've decided to let NaNoWriMo go.

I've written about NaNoWriMo before; for those of who don't know, it's a month long writing adventure wherein you, and thousands of other people around the world, commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in one month. It is an excellent exercise in writing discipline and shitty first drafts. I've completed it twice and was really looking forward to this year.

But this year Brother Blue died when I was three days in, having written just over 5,000 words.

Some things are more important than others. I needed to take care of my chosen family and myself. I needed to learn how to navigate through all of the emotions I've been feeling. I'm still learning. I needed to take a lot of down time to just breath. I did not need to write an arbitrary 50,000 words.

It was really hard, realizing and accepting that I wasn't going to complete NaNoWriMo, even knowing that my reasons were excellent and I'm still writing other material. It's been a superb lesson in letting things go and has gotten me thinking about other things I can release.

Do I really need that stack of magazines I've not gotten to in months? Do I need to hold onto so much stuff?

Do I really need to worry about the inconsequential details? What happens if I ask for more help or delegate?

Is it so wrong to lovingly say, "No"?

What is left when I let go of this? and this? and that?

It's a good question. The art of letting go is one I find challenging, but I keep practicing. So I ask, what can you let go? What seems precious and essential but is really just standing in your way? How can you create white space in your life?

(c)2009 Laura S. Packer

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Grief and gratitude

A praise song.

My mentor of the last 20 years or so died last week. It's taken me to today to be able to write this. It's taken me to today to be able to write much of anything, the words were pretty much knocked out of me. But in the last week I have learned so much about love, grief and gratitude. I am so grateful. I am so grateful.

I've written about Brother Blue before. He was an extraordinary man. Born in Cleveland in the 1920s, he went on to serve as an officer in WWII (no small feat for a black man in the 1940s), then attended the most elite educational institutions in the US. By the mid-1970s he was telling stories on the streets, in prisons, to the homeless, pretty much everywhere. And he was listening, spreading the gospel that everyone has a story to tell, that listening to one another can change the world.

He was right. He has changed a multitude of worlds by telling his stories and listening to others' stories in turn. We all contain worlds within us, we each are our own little world, and Brother Blue changed just about everyone he met. He was kind and compassionate like no one else I have ever met. He accepted people. He had an unrivaled depth of curiosity that would lead him to ask questions and listen and listen and praise and listen.

I am who I am because of Brother Blue.

While I might have told stories anyway, I became a storyteller because of him; I've tried riskier, scarier stories because I knew Brother Blue would be there, listening, telling me, "That's good, that's good." I try to be kind in part because I saw his kindness over and over again. My belief that listening and compassion are the hallmarks of my path through the world undoubtedly was shaped by him.

The last time I saw Brother Blue I kissed him on the cheek and told him that I love him. He patted my cheek and said, "Alright, baby. I love you too." And really, in the end, that's the best any of us can hope for, that our loved ones know how we feel and we know they love us. I am lucky.

I am immensely grateful for Brother Blue's presence in my life, his presence in the world, for all the lives I know he has touched and the thousands more I will never know about. While the world may seem smaller without him, I know my world is infinitely bigger for his presence in it.

Thank you. I love you forever and ever and ever.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

Monday, November 2, 2009

Wisdom from the mouth of ghouls

On Friday I went with a friend to Spooky World, a collection of "haunted" houses. It's a blast, kind of an immersive theater experience, though there is a sameness to most of the attractions; some variant of zombies or scary clowns, a section with strobe lights and another with faux bodies hanging from the ceilings. I found myself yelling at the actors before they could yell at me, perhaps some old survival instinct trying to frighten away the spirits before they could get me. It was really a lot of fun.

One of the attractions stood out from the rest. For one, I went through it alone. My friend had already gone through it. For another, it had a coherent theme throughout - instead of a bunch of disjointed rooms the whole thing was a Victorian dinner party gone very, very wrong. And finally, it was dark. There was no real illumination beyond the glowstick I was given to light my path. I cupped it in my hand held high above my head to shine a weak light in front of me.

This attraction was genuinely scary. I walked through it alone in relative quiet and had to find my way in the dark. The actors (the ghouls) perhaps because I was alone, didn't jump out at me as much, but talked with me a little more than they did in the other houses. It was fascinating and creepy, more like really talking to the dead than like having people in costume jump out and startle me.

One ghoulish woman was especially effective. She drifted up to me in the dark and asked, "Are you wandering alone in the dark like a lost little child?" to which I replied, "No, I'm in the dark, a lost adult." As I said it I realized how this was a double edged statement and not entirely inaccurate. A moment later she reappeared, "Remember, not all who wander are lost," and she was gone.

I wandered into the next room, then the next, talking with various ghouls, jumping at some, laughing with others, but this one woman has stuck with me. She gave me such a gift, inadvertent spiritual wisdom from this side of the grave. I doubt if she remembers doing this or knows that her clever line was meaningful, but for that moment she became the ghost with gifts, a gift I needed. Thank you.

(c) 2009 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License
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