Mystic Fables for Religious Misfits ™

Here’s something I’m working on which has not yet been published. The working title is Around the Rimless Sea: Mystic Fables for Religious Misfits; each features a mercenary cook and former holyman named Prosatio Silban. This excerpt is from one called Passing Notes, about our hero’s time-lost love who won’t go away …

“THAT’S SWEET,” SHE SAID. “BUT work now. Later…” And she kissed him again, waking odd corners of his body.

Senses engaged and soul singing, Prosatio Silban set to his task with a will. The stack of corn-wraps at his left grew steadily, was taken away, grew again more swiftly. He discovered that the process had its own rhythm — slap, smell, flip, smell, remove; slap, smell, flip, smell, remove — which seemed to coincide with the music wafting into the smoky kitchen. This is not hard at all, he thought, stealing a glance at Ashlaya’s perfect form and inadvertently meeting her amused eyes.

He opened his mouth to speak, when the cook to his left — a pasty-faced youth named Otlon, who had been filling and rolling the fried corn-wraps and arranging them on cloth-covered wicker plates — coughed loudly and made gargling sounds.

“Don’t mind me,” he said apologetically. “I can never get used to whatever plants or flowers or weeds they have around here. Don’t they bother you?”

Schooled in politeness, Prosatio Silban refrained from putting his hand over Otlon’s thin lips.

“Not as such,” he said, one eye on Ashlaya. She had finished her mixing and was now shaping raw wraps for the skillet.

“Why not? They surely bother me.”

“Ah… I don’t know. Sacreant’s Privilege, I would think.”

“What’s that?”

“Well…” He noticed Ashlaya listening out of the corner of her ear. “In exchange for our ministrations to the faithful, Sacreants receive from the Dancing Gods certain benefits. We … the Sacreants don’t get colds or headaches and the like, for one thing, and tend to heal faster.”

“Does that include hearts?” murmured Ashlaya.

Prosatio Silban looked at her, ready to spill a flirtatious reply.

“I wish I didn’t get colds,” Otlon said. “But every summer, it’s the same thing — three weeks of dripping hackery. And the sleeves! I wish I were a Sacreant.”

“No, you don’t,” Prosatio Silban said, feeling as though his heart was running motionless at full speed. He turned again to Ashlaya.

“Why don’t I?” asked Otlon.

“Why don’t you what?”

“Why don’t I wish I was a Sacreant?”

“It’s not exactly as wonderful as it might seem,” Prosatio Silban said.

“Why not? Get to live in the Great Shrine, eat well every day, get to be in charge of everything and tell people what to do. I’d like that better than slaving for old Ape-piss.”

“You only say that because you …” lack the experience to contrast it to your current station, he almost said. Am I going to talk this pompously for the rest of my life? No wonder people dislike us … dislike the Sacreants, I mean. “You don’t have anything to compare it to,” he finished.

“Compared to this, anything’s better,” grumbled Otlon.

“Be gentle,” whispered Ashlaya. “You’ll learn to like yourself. In time.”

How did you know what I was thinking? But Otlon didn’t give him the chance to ask.

“Why did you quit being a Sacreant anyway?” he asked.

Prosatio Silban’s limbs stiffened in sudden anger. How could he explain, in brief and to a complete stranger, his entire life? That he had been abandoned as a baby at the Great Shrine by one or another poor mother? That, in gratitude for growing up strong-minded and clean-limbed under Sacreantal discipline, he had vowed to repay to his benefactors a debt of someone else’s making? And that he had eventually discovered only disillusion where he had once confidently sought Truth? He groaned inwardly, and relaxed his rage.

“It’s a bit complicated,” he said. “Sometimes a thing isn’t as nice up close as it is from a distance.”

“Sometimes it’s nicer,” Ashlaya said softly. “But you can’t tell that. Before you know it.”

“I think everything’s wretched, from a distance or otherwise,” said Otlon. “You’ll see. Especially here.” He picked up a plateful of filled corn-wraps and ambled off.

Prosatio Silban sighed in relief. Finally. Now for some real conversation.

But when he turned to Ashlaya, she was looking at him apologetically.

“The pitcher’s empty. I must get some more water,” she said. “Wait for me?”

“For you, anything,” Prosatio Silban replied with a bow. “But every heartbeat is an eternity until you return.”

“Then. I shall always return.” She smiled enigmatically and padded away, carrying his heart with her.

“I can’t believe how many wraps these people eat,” Otlon said, returning. “I bet they don’t get colds either.” Prosatio Silban sighed.

Stephen3PO

Or should that be 'Stee-3PO?'The writers’ strike wears on, but our nerves don’t thanks to those daring and resourceful folks at Operation Facestrong. Long may it wave.

“I Seen It Too!”

WAITING FOR THE GRATEFUL DEAD with Sputnik at the Shoreline, c. 1989ish, one of us began the following conversation:

“For example, that guy over there with the ‘I Climbed Lassen’ T-shirt.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, he obviously wants everyone to think that he climbed Lassen. But ‘those who know do not speak,’ so…”

“So you’re saying he didn’t really climb Lassen?”

“I’m saying that whether he did or he didn’t, he wants everyone to think he did.”

Pithyism #0

The future is an open hand; the past is a closed hand.

What’s in between?

Mapping God

Like any Torah Nerd, I’ve never met a commentary I didn’t like — the more abstruse and seriously-taking the better — but I’ve always had difficulty with the traditional view of God As Punisher and Rewarder.

Perhaps that stems from an inherent distrust of authority, honestly earned by dint of entering my formative years about the time Nixon was talking to the White House portrait gallery. But whatever the reason, the Deuteronomic Theology has never struck me as an accurate model for my own devotions; I’m much more of an “I can’t figure it out, so I’ll enjoy what I can while I’m here, help others do the same, and try to do my best” Ecclesiastician.

But what if we take “God of Justice” as a culture-specific metaphor for, or understanding of, the Universal Law of Inescapable Returns — otherwise known as Karma Popula, What-Goes-Around-Comes-Around, Don’t Excrete Where You Eat, et al?

And what if the Torah’s take on this most basic of closed-system principles is a logical consequence of the Torah’s concept of a personal God — One we can cut a deal with, speak to, and Who has a deep and abiding interest in our welfare and actions?

After all, if we posit a personal relationship with the Source of Existence, it’s easy to take things personally when they don’t go our way — when they’re out of our control; when we ask, “What did I do to deserve this?”

One cannot guess the mind of God, but certain actions (and patterns of actions) remit almost guaranteed consequences — and when we know this, the God of Blame becoems the God of Responsibility.

“Neither the security of the wicked nor the afflictions of the righteous are within the grasp of our understanding.” — Pirke Avot

Word.

Posse Commentatus

IN THE BEGINNING was the Text. But not for long.

The Text – definer and exemplar, authority and comfort, platform and trampoline – was no ordinary collection of words. It spoke of history and possibility, treated miracles as though they were commonplace and elevated the commonplace above the miraculous. Its basic gist was that humanity matters, even if humanity couldn’t always understand why.

Yet while the Text was finite (after all, its Author had to stop writing somewhere) it did contain the seeds of an infinite perpetuation, though not in the most obvious of ways.

Topically all-encompassing, the Text also seemed contradictory or vague – at least on first reading. But its devotees were so in love with the Text and its ideas that they couldn’t help amplifying and illuminating these apparent inconsistencies, often at great and obscure length. Some of these clarifications were laughed out of the circles which bore them; others took hold to become part of the Text’s official lore, in turn spawning their own hyper- and meta-comments. Some of this secondary lore was so treasured and logical that many who had never read the Text first-hand (but who couldn’t help soaking up its concepts and practices through occasionally distorted dissemination) assumed that the expositions were actually primary documents.

After enough time had passed for the Text to inextricably intertwine itself into the culture which carried it, three main schools of thought began to develop. One held that no intelligent person could understand the Text without its body of subsidiary lore. Another proclaimed that the Text was inherently perfect and no intelligent person would gussy it up with a lot of commentary-come-lately. The third was composed of a grumpy few who insisted that any intelligent person could see the Text was “just a story,” and devoted as much time and energy to disproving the Text and its importance as the Text’s devotees did in celebrating it.

These three schools also invested much time and energy in attacking each other’s opinion and occasionally each other as well. So when a fourth school emerged, holding that the Text was just a set of clothing for an Idea, you may imagine the rage and blather which ensued from – and, ironically, united – the first three.

This fourth school, however, knew that the test of intelligent persons wasn’t in which school they followed but whether or not they believed Text’s basic Idea – that humanity matters. (Some members of the other three schools believed this also, but they tended to be more uptight about it.) With what seemed annoying smugness, but was actually ecstatic enthusiasm, the fourth-schoolers acknowledged that the Text was just a story, but an extremely important one – both inherently perfect and valid fodder for exposition – and that only a damn fool wearing either-or blinders could possibly disagree at this late date in the Text’s history.

Such views, of course, were heresy; thus, it’s no wonder that the fourth-schoolers tended to feel a bit lonely and picked-on.

But their heresies did not end there. Some bold souls, who had observed that story-telling (especially story-telling about story-telling) was one of humanity’s oldest and deepest traits, began to notice that what made the Text unique wasn’t the Text itself but the way in which people related to it: whether the Text was Torah, Gospel, Quran, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Roddenberry or Lucas (some would add Beethoven and Jefferson, and occasionally Capra or Huston). What’s more, its devotees displayed the same compulsive can’t-leave-it-aloneness: whether the question was one of authorship (man or God? Will or Francis?), psychology (why was Abraham willing to sacrifice Isaac? Was Hamlet mad, or simply adolescent?), intent (was Sauron a metaphor for Hitler? Did Paul corrupt or clarify Jesus’ teachings?), consistency (how did Klingons go from smooth to bumpy foreheads? How can God simultaneously command us to submit and to question?) or common sense (how could the Jedi not see that Palpatine was Darth Sidious? If Moses transcribed the entire Torah, how could he write about his own death?).

In short, the heretics had discovered a Great Truth: You don’t have to take the Text literally in order to take it seriously — and if you take it seriously, there’s no end to the fun.

Of course, the fourth-schoolers couldn’t share this cross-Textual speculation with anyone but other heretics. They realized that most Text devotees believed that only one Text (i.e., theirs) could be emulated and embraced, and all others were “just different, that’s all.” This made them sad; partly because they weren’t terribly keen on eyeless-among-the-blind pariahood, but mostly because they wanted everyone else to enjoy themselves, and the Text in all its manifestations, as much as they did. As they could neither understand nor overcome their neighbors’ stolidity, these unhappy souls resigned themselves to a life of furtive isolation.

But not, they hoped, for long.