My 2006 NaNoWriMo novel. Woo! Note: since I am posting as I go along, the storyline is backwards. To read this, start from the oldest post and read to the newest.

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Location: Los Angeles, United States

I am an awkward, stubborn, slightly insane woman who would rather talk Plato than Prada, rather watch Frank Capra than Carrie Bradshaw, and rather listen to Norse myths sung in Icelandic than anything currently on the radio. Yeah. Told you I was weird.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Chapter 2

To: Angie Parr
From: Jason Slocum
Re: the City
Hope you don't mind if I ramble a bit. I turned in my journal at the end of last year, and I guess I still like the feeling of writing things out.
Thanks so much for taking me to see the staircase. I'm still thinking about that. It seems like so much great stuff gets wiped out without a second thought. Great things, good art, trees, plants, people, everything gone. But then this staircase is still there, right in the middle of this huge urban area, everything around it changing, but it's still there. And it still makes people smile, and laugh, and remember.
Why is that?
To: Jason Slocum
From: Angie Parr
Re: the City
Hey Jason! I'm glad you liked the staircase; most people simply don't care anymore.
I think that that's the effect that places and people have. It's sort of like an aura. It's why there are shrines and relics. I may sound crazy for saying this, but I think it's holiness, or something like it, anyway. Something hangs on long after the events and people are gone. I hear that the feeling of peace and silence is still present in Assisi.
Some people seem to think that it's harder to be a good person in a place like LA. I don't think that's the case. After all, it's not like the afterlife is going to be all solitary people with trees and flowers, etc. It's described as a city, the new Jerusalem. If we're going to be in a city, best start practicing now.
But aside from that, I think holiness can be found in a city, at least as easily as anywhere else. More people have lived and died here, and you meet more people: some of them are bound to be saints.
Ok, enough babbling now, I think I'm really sleep deprived. Sorry to ramble!

I really had enjoyed my trip to the staircase; it was a special place, and one I hoped to visit again. But I still didn't quite get it. Why did that fit in with Angie's reason for living? It couldn't be the staircase itself; partly because that was just crazy, and partly because it was more than just the staircase. It had to be something that drew everything together, the place she called the Kingdom of Heaven, the staircase, the angels, the Queen of the angels, probably even the streets of the City itself. But what was it?

"So, what attributes do you think are descriptive of God?" Dr. Kendall paced in front of the blackboard, tossing the chalk gently with his right hand. Theology wasn't my favorite subject, but it was kind of interesting, and Dr. Kendall at least took it seriously, even if his students did not.
"Yes, Mr. Johnson?"
"Um, righteousness?"
"Um..being righteous...pure, unstained, doing everything right?"
"Ok, good enough for now. Anyone else?"
"Awesomeness!" yelled out a voice from the back of the classroom; a few people laughed, most smiled. Dr Kendall, of course, took it seriously.
"Meaning? Yes, you, Mr. Tyson, I know who said it."
"Being bigger and better than anything else."
"Ok. Anyone else? Can anyone think of anything that absolutely defines what God is? Well, as much as we can define it, anyway."
Silence. A few rustles of paper. Then:
"Yes, Miss Ward?"
Katie nervously lowered her hand, and stood up. She was dressed in a cream colored sweater, and long blue skirt, the black frames of the glasses contrasting with her skin. "Well...wouldn't it be holiness? I mean, it seems like that has awesomeness, and righteousness, know, everything in it." She looked around the class a little as she sat down, folding her hands in her lap.
"Holiness. An excellent choice of words, Miss Ward. But now, what does it mean?" Dr. Kendall paused in front of the blackboard, taking a moment to write the word "holiness" in large letters on the board. Rapidly underlining it, he turned back to the class. "Anyone?"
"Well, doesn't it mean 'set apart,' or something like that?" Isaac Johnson leaned forward, speaking intensely. "You know, like something that can be only used for special things, or for holy things."
"So..a holy thing is something that can only be used for holy purposes? I think that's a circular argument, Mr. Johnson. Nevertheless, keep going."
"Ok, but it's still 'set apart' right?"
"Maybe. Class?"
"Set apart for what?" That would be Luke Tyson, wearing his ubiquitous board shorts and flip-flops, even in the chill of January. "And how do you set aside God, anyway?"
"Maybe 'set aside' is the wrong term, Isaac, at least, it has the wrong connotations." I finally spoke up, shifting in my seat to be a little more comfortable. "What is it that sets a holy thing apart? Is it something inherent in the thing or person, or is it something that it acheives, or is it just like a random gift?"
"I don't think we can earn holiness, though." Katie again, leaning over the back of her seat to look at us.
"I'm not so sure about that, Ka---Miss Ward. Think about it: look at the saints, or the apostles. Here are completely ordinary people, who encounter God, or even go searching for him, and usually after a life of struggle and pain, they become holy." I paused for a moment, trying to decide whether or not to bring up my next argument. I decided to go ahead and plunge in. "I mean, that's the whole point behind shrines and relics, right? The person became holy, possibly enough to to even modify their environemnt. So you want a piece of that, right?"
"Follow the holy gourd of Antioch, man!" Luke again, of course. He cracked up laughing, as did a few of my classmates. I smiled a bit, catching his reference, but pursued the train of thought. "Seriously though, it's said that even bits of cloth that were blessed by St. Peter could heal, as could his shadow passing over a sick person. That sounds like how we're talking about holiness."
"Oh come on, that's just superstition and tradition. Where'd that come from anyway, the Apocrypha?" That would be Mandy Thompson, sitting off to the side, and occasionally tossing caustic comments into the classroom discussions.
My first impulse was to mock her ignorance; I could even give her chapter and verse if I took a moment to look it up. "No, Mandy, it's from Acts. Look it up if you want."
"Ok, class, I think we need to reign this in a little." Dr. Kendall turned back to the blackboard and began scribbling. What is holiness? How does something become holy? What does it mean that God is holy?
Glancing at the clock, he sighed. "Ok, not enough to get into this discussion. We'll resume next week. However, I do want you all to write down these questions. Think about them, write about them, and for your own sake, research them. Ok? Good. Take the last few minutes to write the questions down somewhere. Next week, you have your regular homework, plus-" a loud groan erupted from the class. "Hey, you're here to learn, don't blame me. Plus, a one page response to these questions. Just so that I know you've been thinking about them. Class dismissed."
I walked out of the small chapel building where we had class, and headed across the green lawn to the library. It was only 2 pm, and I still had plenty of time to do some research before my next class. I looked up Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa in the library catalog, and came up with a few book records that looked promising.
I went upstairs to the section that held the books I was looking for, but one of the books was missing, even though the catlog had listed it as being recently returned. I gathered up the other books I needed, and turned to go; I heard a slight squeak from a few rows away. As I peered between the books, I saw the beige cart the librarians used for reshelving the books. Angie was there as well, scanning the shelves for the correct placement for a small hardbound book she held.
"Hey Anj."
"Oh, hey Jason. What's up?" She finally found the spot she'd been looking for, and shoved the book into place on the overfull shelf. "I hate Library of Congress system. It may be great for storing things, but it's really terrible for finding things. Give me Dewey Decimal any day."
I chuckled quietly. "What's funny," she asked. "Oh, you, actually. I never met anyone before who had strong feelings for the Dewey Decimal system."
"Yeah, well, ask any librarian. Most of them have strong feelings one way or the other."
"I never knew that. Although, I don't guess there's any reason why I should have." I remembered why I'd come up to the library in the first place. "Hey, I'm trying to find this copy of Augustine, the catalogue said it'd been recently returned, but it wasn't on the shelf yet." I showed her the scrap of paper with the book number and location on it.
"Hmmm...which title is it?"
"Um...Bonum Vita."
"Oh! Yes, that one just came back in. I'd love to know who checked it out, it rarely gets read. Everybody wants to do Confessions, or Civitas Dei; one or two want Christian Teaching." She pulled out a battered, aged red volume from her cart and handed it to me. "There you go. Let me know what you think of it. It's really good; plus, it rocks, because Monica gets all the best lines."
"Ha! Well, that sounds like Augustine."
"Humph, like Augustine indeed. It sounds like Monica."
"Why do you do that?" I rested my books on a nearby shelf.
"Do what?"
"Talk like you know what Monica was like. What she would have sounded like. All you know is what we know from Augustine."
"True enough. But why would he lie about what she was like? After all, much of what is best in Augustine would have come from his mother. I odn't really think you want to keep carrying those around all day, and I'm about to get off work. Want to head down to the cafŽ with me?"
"Sure, that'd be great! Provided I get to have an answer."
"Ha, you think you can keep me from a good argument? Good luck! Ok, I gotta finish up here really quick and put the cart back. Go get your books checked out, and I'll meet you in front of the library, ok?"
Ten minutes later, we walked down the steps of the library, and along the thouroughfare through the drizzling rain. Angie carried an pink frilly umbrella in her right hand, and a bookbag slung over the other shoulder.
"I'm a little sad, I missed the best time of the rain." Angie glanced up at the falling drops.
"What's the best time?"
"Right before it rains, and you catch a scent on the wind that lets you know it's coming. That's the best part. The actual rain never quite lives up to the promise of the wind. Though I do love the smell of rain on wet pavement, too."
I sniffed tentatively. It did seem like the rain had a scent of its own. Must have had something to do with the increase of water vapour in the air.
Shaking off our umbrellas in the lobby of the cafŽ, we headed into the dinner lines, leaving faint wet shoeprints across the tile floor. I went straight to the salad bar, and filled a bowl with steaming hot clam chowder. I don't care how often I eat it, it's hard to get tired of a really good chowder, especially when there is hot sourdough bread to dunk in it. After a quick trip to the soda machines, I picked a small seat by the southern wall of the cafeteria, away from all the doors which opened constantly to allow several cubic yards of cold air into the building, but right up against the wall of windows, so we could watch the rain fall.
"Good choice of tables." Angie set her tray down, and dropped her bag at her feet. "Ooh, my feet hurt. The casualties of a job that requires an hour or so of standing at a time." We ate in silence for a moment, then Angie leaned back in her chair. "Ok, so I promised you an answer. Why do I talk about Monica, and for that matter, most of the saints, as if I know them the way I know you? Well, it's because I feel like I do. Not that I actually know many of them that well, but there's one or two that I feel really close to. Therese, Joan, Monica, sometimes Claire. And of course, our Lady, but I don't feel that I'm that close to her. I want to be, but not yet." She paused to take a bit of a sandwich, and I took that moment to interject.
"But they're dead, Angie, most of them for hundreds of years. You couldn't have known them, and most of the ones you mentioned didn't leave any writings."
"Nope, but do I have to read your diary to know you? I talk to them, Jason. In fact, I think Therese sent me a flower once." She laughed a little bit. "That's a story for another time. But Therese did love flowers, and it seemed like the sort of thing she would have done."
"Do they ever talk back?"
"No....not what you'd call talking...but sometimes I feel like I can feel them with me. They keep me company, bring me comfort, and keep me on the right path."
"You realize this sounds wacko, right? I mean, you're talking about talking to the dead."
"Which would be a problem, but they're not dead. The are alive on the other side of death, and live in the love of God. He's the connection between everything. Without Easter and Pentecost, there's no hope beyond death, nor any comfort, nor any friendship beyond death. With Easter and Pentecost, anything is possible."
I chewed on my chowder-soaked bread, stared out the window at the falling rain and thought for a moment. There didn't seem to be a logical problem with her arguments. Plenty of common-sense problems, but no real logical difficulty. I made a mental note to ask Father Timothy about it.
"Ok, well, I'm gonna have to think about that for a while. In my experience, only crazy people hear voices from Heaven."
"Oh really. Your experience?"
"Yeah, well...ok, drat, no, not my experience. But in all the experience I've heard about."
"You have a severly limited experience. I prescribe two doses of Augustine and one of Bonaventure, and call me in the morning."
"Ha! Yes, Doctor Parr, I certainly shall. But how will I work it in around the acupuncture and armatherapy treaments?"
"You laugh, but just wait and see. I predict that most of the sanest people you will meet will be so precisely because they believe in things you think ridiculous now. Even you yourself. After all, what would you have thought as a senior in high school if you'd seen yourself at the Music Box staircase?"
Ouch. She had a point. The me of a year ago would have scoffed at educated college students stadning in front of a forgotten staircase from a comedy routine and feeling comforted.
"Ok, ok, I give up. I'll think about it, and read these." I tapped the stack of books in my bag. "But that's all I'll promise. Just to consider it. Ok?"
"Fair enough." She wiped her mouth, leaving a swirl of tomato seeds on her napkin. "I gotta go; I have class at 1:30 that I haven't even studied for." Scooping up her bag, she walked away form the table, long skirt swishing slightly. I wondered if she'd noticed that the bottom four inches of her skirt were soaked with the rain, then decided that she probably didn't care. "Oh, by the way, I can't take you out to the next place I want to show you this weekend; I've got a meeting. I'll email when I know more, ok?"
"Sure, works for me. See ya." I jumped up to grab a bowl from a shelf, and headed off to the dessert line.


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