Iterance

It rained today. Not a lot of rain; just enough to inconvenience a person carrying a folder full of endangered papers, who didn’t have an umbrella. Just enough to make you question if it’s weird to wear gloves in the rain; if it’s better to just take them off. Won’t we be cold anyway?

It rained today for the first time since the ice melted away, and as I crossed the path between the skeleton of a winter-ravaged park and the rolling wheels of the street, the scent of rain on dust hit me; the sort of smell you didn’t realize you missed until you smell it again. Until it stings your eyes. Until you can taste the incoming spring.

We sat in that café again today, and I asked myself again what I would leave behind. My grandmother told me a story some months ago, about a man who died in a foreign country not knowing his purpose. You can die without knowing what you have contributed; that’s for later generations to know, not you.

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From Before

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When summer was still alive, we left our candle-lit tents and made our way to a clearing lined by the dark shapes of the Lithuanian forest.

There’s something special in being involved in the rituals of other cultures—in being a spectator to something that carries so much. To experience the swaying movement, the closed eyes, the voices that rise and fall. I’ve never heard music like Baltic music; there’s something raw about it, like it’s been drawn out from deep places.

We stood around the fire as two boys pounded on drums, and I looked up at the nighttime sky—so far removed from the lights of cities, aglow with thousands and thousands of stars that have seen millions of years. A thin wisp of smoke lifted itself into the air from the bonfire to the stars, like a signal to whoever was watching. And it occurred to me, as I felt the grass beneath my feet vibrate with the sounds of our presence and the breeze curled around us, dipping in and out of the forest, that it would be very easy to imagine that nothing had changed in thousands of years. That this was not 2016, that we didn’t have cars and phones waiting for us by the tents, that we had ever spoken something other than this language—this language that was lifting itself up into the sky by so many voices that had somehow remembered, that had been kept alive despite so many attempts to erase it.

In the firelight, it was easy to imagine that no time had passed at all. A girl across from me had dark hair, hooded eyes, her lips parted in song. Her linen dress and bare feet over the dirt conjured images of a maiden from a painting, if only I could render her properly.

I didn’t speak the language. I shouldn’t understand the words. But somehow I did, there in the forest, holding hands with strangers. So much life has taken place; so much is beautiful that it cannot all be remembered. It must be bottled up, carefully, in songs and drums and those moments near midnight when youth wander into clearings and sing the words their ancestors wrote. When the ancestors listen.

I think a lot about what music does to culture; about what it says about our history. I wonder if those ancient Baltic people ever expected that their rhythms and words would still remain after so many generations have come and gone, after so many wars and occupations have threatened the memory of them. I wonder what any of those people, from the recent past and the distant past, would think if they knew that I—a strange combination of nations and cultures—would hear their words and identify with them.

I wonder if I know them a little more, now. I hope that like this, they can be a little less forgotten.


The reason for this delay in posting is that, although I’ve had this written for months, I was hoping to combine it with another post and connect two ideas rather ingeniously. It turns out that I can’t. So here you go: part 1 of my music musings.

Late-year updates:
– My second article, “To fight back: Harry, Katniss, and what the world really needs right now” was published on Hypable in November.
– I won NaNoWriMo 2016 and finished writing the draft of the rest of “The Tisroc and the King“. Once I get to edits chapters should be out with more regularity.
– I also published 3 new one-shots, for Narnia and Harry Potter, so check them out if you haven’t already. I’ll do an end-of-year round up of everything because there’s too much to say here!

Forestation

20160627_113035 (2)Vilnius was built in a forest, and trees hug its walls as it rises in their midst, red roofs painting a stretch of autumn foliage in the midst of the deep green. Forest ripples and stretches out on the horizon, rising slightly over the city level, as if nature is refusing to be outdone by man-made structures.

The buildings don’t seem to mind.

Lithuanians carry themselves like the inhabitants of a friendly wood; after all, they tell me, nothing in Lithuania is poisonous – except for maybe one snake, and even that won’t kill you. They emerge from the block-like cement buildings they live in, the last remnants of an old regime, and seem to rise like plants in the sun. On the walk from home to the bus stop, time is taken to taste leaves from the trees, to touch petals, to smell flowers.

It is strange to me that someone thought to enclose these forest peoples in concrete boxes. I wonder that in summer they inhabit the indoors at all.

There’s a spring of water behind my home, in a dip in the woods, so pure that you can drink straight from it. The banks are lined with wild strawberries and blueberries. Between the foliage I glimpse the bent backs of people harvesting wild mushrooms and other things – this plant tastes like garlic, this one is good for salads, this one helps with scarring. Sometimes, people wander barefoot; no plant dares to sting your feet in Lithuania.

People seem to blend into the forest, like new flowers taking root where they were meant to stand all along.

I take a taxi one night, at three in the morning. The streets are bare, the only movement the intermittent switch of a traffic light from green to yellow to red. On the corner, a grassy hill surrounded by a semi-circle of trees, cut-and-paste into the city. In the center of it, a large hare as large as my own torso, ears gleaming in the moonlight. He stands still at the very top of the hill, as if he knows I’m watching, as if he’s standing there for me; long enough to let me feel the piercing stab of nostalgia for something I will never know: for the depths of the forest at midnight, for a life of nothing but rain and sunshine, light and darkness. Then he hops back into the trees and out of sight.

I find that roots are starting to grow beneath me.

They say summer is a bright three-month oasis in dreary white winter. I imagine it now, blurry white replacing the greens and blues, but even in my dreams, the same quietness remains. A forest is a forest, be it warm or cold. Vilnius is a forest – sometimes a forest made of bricks and cement and wood and business, but a forest nonetheless.

For a tourist, weary of overcrowded postcard-perfect scenery, Vilnius is like finally seeing — it is not a theme park of an ideal; it is the ideal incarnate in reality. Though it is the capital of a country, it lacks the wolfish hunger, the gaping hugeness of a capital. There is no rush, no clamor, no shocking sounds or smells. I emerge from the woods and the trees turn to buildings, the sound of swaying leaves into the hum of trolleybuses, the chirping of forest creatures into the voices of people – but it gives me the impression that if I had my eyes closed, I would not notice the change at all.

Just past midnight in August, I wrap a blanket around my shoulders and walk out into the chill air. The trees are quiet, not even whispering, as if they’re being considerate of sleeping people. Overhead, a mass of clouds advances over the stars, lit up in reddish-grey by the city lights.

I reach the neighborhood basketball court, a black rectangle between walls of communist architecture, the lights of apartment windows like little LEDs flashing on and off in a smoothly functioning machine. The trees around the court shiver, their branches reaching to hide the lights. In a moment, the buildings will be dark, like hollow logs full of sleeping forest creatures.

I lie down in the open air, my back to the asphalt, tucking myself in with my blanket like a child going to bed. The wall of clouds shifts, like the earth is reaching out towards the galaxy. Summer happening in space.

I see the first shooting star of the night. My body is rooted to the ground, and when I close my eyes, I hear only the forest around me.


Chapter 5 of The Tisroc and the King has been posted. The 2016 Narnia Fic Exchange has begun, so expect more Narnian fics next month. Fall also means that I’ll be starting regular Marius updates. Thanks for reading!