A bit more…

THE NOVEL continues to come together.  Not only do I have structure, but I think I even (GASP!) have developed a plot.  Of course, at almost 30,000 words, you hope your characters aren’t still bumbling around aimlessly.

A further sampling:

“I’d like to try to get to Zimbabwe.  While Jim is still there.  I want to see all those great stone cairns, all the houses.”
Linda looks up from her reading.  “Have you heard from him recently?  Jim?”
He’d run off earlier that year this the Peace Corps, spreading AIDS prevention materials and attempting to assist in the building of some new clinics.  “I heard form him a few weeks ago.  The guy was hard enough to keep in contact with when could corner him with email, cell phones, and stalking.”
“But he’s obviously making a huge effort if he’s emailing at all.”  She sniffed.  “I haven’t heard a peep from him.”
“Yes, but did you want to?”  I laughed at her.
“Face it, Jim gained appeal as soon as he was no longer available.  I, at least, made the effort while he was here.’
“Well, he is one of your best friends.  It’s expected.”
“Just like it’s expected he’ll make the extra effort to email me now.”  I could feel my face freezing into seriousness.  “I miss him.”
“Yes, but you haven’t lost him.  That’s the imperative thing.”

Living in a foreign country at all times carries with it a sense of unreality.  If there were a period in my life clearly marked as ‘without consequences’, those years away from my own family and typical friends and lasting environment would’ve been that time.  Perhaps Conrad is right, that without some civilizing influence, we are all lost to a savage, more primal world, some dark heart that is kept locked within each of us by the proper marked decorum of our familiar world.  But if he is right, and that decorum rests in the delusions and protection of women and the home, then we are already lost, and civilization has failed – this same darkness rests also now in me, dreaming only uncomfortably and shifting in its sleep.
I had lived for two years on the line between propriety and daring.  I occasionally taught in tank tops, exposing bare shoulders to the young and impressionable minds of my male students.  I danced with abandon every time the opportunity presented itself – with other teachers, with students, with university administrators.  I walked in sandaled feet through the winter chill (in Slovenia, every chill was winter chill) and risked my death in the isolated and drafty countryside homes of several of my charges.  I went out, at night, alone.  While my skin could not identify me as a foreigner, my habits did.  As soon as I opened my mouth, my voice did.  My accent and lack of coherent sentences did most of all.  I began to find I was more afraid of the world than I had thought – the risks I knew and calculated and had lived with in another place seemed distant.  In their place, was the odd fear of a system I would never quite understand, that I could never quite use to my complete advantage.  It was a fear I would bring back with me – i began to see my old patterns of behavior as an outsider.  Comfort was scarce, confusion varied.  I was stronger than change, but barely so – my self-image shifted and reformed, melted and rewove, became a fire-flicker of change.  To this day, I am not yet resolved into a single coherent whole.

Maps, yum.

Cartography has always been an area that has interested me.  How do we express our relationship to teh landscape in depictions that are supposedly ‘accurate’?  what features of landscape or human relationship do we emphasize?  What details reveal how much (or little) we know about a particular area?  What markers and symbols to we place on the edges of maps, at the edge of the known world?  How do we orient ourselves?

But recognizing those prejudices also allows the way for something else.  Recognizing the flaws inherent in representation, we can begin to tell other stories with these same shapes – the outline of borders, the sizing of regions.  And technology is beginning to help us in this flow of information manipulation, in this case, new software that creates equal area cartograms.  Using the software and compiled data, a book has been written and a website launched, displaying visually some of the more interesting and startling comparisons between nations in the world.  In particular, I thought the span of the Shinto religion was very interesting and spread over a strange area.  I guess it’s the Pacific Islands that make it that shape, but still, whoa.