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 7

Angie's Journal, entry
I remember one time, when I was camping with my family. We were in one of our favorite campgrounds, on a little known mountain in New Mexico. After several years of seeing signs for a hiking trail to nearby Hermit's Peak, we decided to finally hike our way to the top. We set out in the morning, and hiked for hours. Most of the trail was pleasant, with crunching leaves, and trees on all sides. I was enchanted with the little orange columbines that grew wild, like little shooting stars poking up through the leaves.
As we got higher, the trail began a series of switchbacks, which left us exhausted. I've never been in particularly great shape, so by the time we got to a plateau near the summit, I was completely wiped out. I elected to stay there while the rest of the family went the last quarter mile to the peak.
The plateau was a huge surface of rock,. Overgrown with scrub brush and moss. A boulder rested a few yards from the edge of a drop-off, setting a few feet above the surrounding rock. To be sure I didn't slip and fall, I scooted up next to the boulder, and sat there, looking out over the tree covered ridges surrounding the peak.
As I sat there, two eagles slipped out from between the peaks, and began soaring over the hills; though they were higher than the hills, and far above the plain below, they were also far below the rock I was sitting on. Maybe they were hunting, but they never dipped down, or struggled to go higher; they just sailed in and out of the peaks, looking for all the world as if they were just reveling in the glory of resting on the wind.
Then they began to call to each other. I can't describe what that sound was like, echoing off the rocky peaks. It was wild, and sad, and unbearably joyful. It pierced the heart, and made you want to leap off the mountains and ride the wind with them.
How do you tell people about that? Your life was changed because you sat on a high rock, and listened to birds squawking to each other? What could that possibly mean? How could that possibly be eternally significant?
Part of me wants to explain it away; Oh, you know, Nature reflects God, the eagles are a reflection of His strength and wildness, of kingship, etc. And that would be true. But it wouldn't be the whole truth.
If those eagles had attacked a sparrow, He would have known, and sorrowed in the death of the sparrow as He rejoiced in the strength of the eagle. And it is all significant.
I found myself walking towards Stephan's studio one evening. I'm not sure why; maybe I just wanted company. I hadn't bothered to call ahead to see if he was there, so I was glad to hear Gregorian chant blasting from the open door of the painting barn. That likely meant that he was in there alone, since most of the other students weren't too fond of his taste in music.
I poked my head into the studio, and saw the curtains of Stephan's studio were drawn aside. I walked up, and knocked on the doorframe. "Anybody home?"
"Is that you, Jason? C'mon in!"
I stepped into the tiny room; Stephan was kneeling on the floor, rummaging through an old tackle box full of oil paints. "Hang on, just gotta grab a few of these, I'll be right there." A moment later, he sprung upwards, hands full of paint tubes and brushes. "I thought I had a few of these left. I don't have time to make a paint run tonight." He held up the paint tubes. "Alizarin crimson, Aquamarine, and Veridian green. Three of the best colors ever invented." He dragged a second metal stool into the cubicle, and gestured for me to have a seat. "So, what brings you here?"
"Um....either a search for meaning, or boredom and lack of anything better to do." I laughed, only half-joking.
"Well, I don't guarantee that an artist's studio us a good place to get any answers, but you're welcome to hang out. The rest of the department is on a retreat, but I had to work this weekend, so I decided to stay behind. I need the money."
"But you don't work tonight?"
"Oh, no, just in the mornings and afternoons, depending on the day. Hey, you able to be here for a while?"
"Um, sure, why?"
"I'm trying out a new way of capturing ideas. Quick painted impressions of a person's spirit, in acrylics. Have no idea if it works yet, but it's been fun, so I'm keeping it up. Care to sit for me?"
"Oh, just take a seat, and I'll paint you. Or, rather, I'll paint my preception of you, if you want to get really precise."
"Um....yeah, I guess I have time." I shrugged off my jacket; the barn was pretty warm. "Where should I sit?"
"Oh....Good question...I would say out in the main room, but it only has flourescents, and I refuse to paint anyone under those lights unless I absolutely have to. I've got halogen in here, and while it heats things up a bit, it casts a much nicer light all around."
I dragged the stool over into the corner, as Stephan shoved papers and book out of the way. I took my seat again, a little self-conssciously. Stephan pulled out a fresh canvas, and propped it up on his easel. "Ok, relax, I'm not doing a portrait. It's easier for me to paint if you talk to me while I work." He scooped up a handful of acrylic paints from a box, and spread them out on his work table.
"What about?"
"Well...emotional talk is best, it lets me see you more clearly. Do you mind..." He paused. "I hate to ask this, but can you talk about your losses this past year? I know that's pretty personal and if you don't want to..."
"No, that's ok, I can talk about that. I may ramble a little, though."
"Ramble all you like, as long as you talk."
"Ok." I settled back in the chair and thought about where to begin.
"I guess in some ways, losing Hannah was the hardest. It was such a horrible way to die, and she was so sweet. She couldn't see anything good about herself, even though we all could. She couldn't find a way out, but wouldn't tell anyone else that she was trapped. When I think that she did that to herself..." I paused, swallowing hard. "That's pretty hard to understand."
"Yeah...I can imagine. I think I met Hannah once or twice, but didn't really know her."
"She was really sweet. When she died...I guess I thought that everything I'd feared about life was true. What meaning is there in that? Why live in a world where people can do this to themselves? Death takes everything in the end. Angie and James worked really hard to bring me out of that." I stopped, a sudden realization hitting me.
"You know, I've never thought about it before, but...why did they try so hard? It wasn't that they couldn't handle something thinking differently...Angie and James were pretty different from each why did they spend so much time trying to convince me that the things I'd feared weren't true?"
Stephan was silent for a moment, brushing paint onto the canvas with a controlled frenzy. Then he looked out from around the canvas, and postulated "Maybe because they could see that you didn't want to believe that it was all pointless? You don't really seem like that type to me, not naturally, anyway." He scooped up another color from his palette and swabbed it onto the canvas.
"Maybe...." I was still unconvinced, but decided to leave it for another time. "Anyway, they both really took me in. And I guess it worked, for a while. I was beginning to think that Angie might be right, about being holy, and living in the city." I realized that I probably wasn't making sense to Stephan, but he didn't stop me, so I kept going, just saying what came to me. "I didn't agree with everything she said, but I was starting to think that there might be something to it. But then when she died...When she died, it all seemed so pointless again. I mean, does a holy person die on the freeway because they were driving when a maniac was on the road? What would the iconographers do, portray her holding the airbag from her car? The light pole she wrapped the car around? The little red Jeep that hit her? The symbolism's terrible, you don't make saints that way."
Stephan squeezed a blob of yellow paint from a tube onto her palette and swirled it into another color, bringing his coated brush up to the canvas again. "You don't hang a Messiah on a criminal's cross either, or put a saint in a pit to fight lions for the entertainment of the crowds either." He swished the brush through a jar of mineral oil, the color spiraling off the camel hair; he wiped it on a rag, and went back to the palette. "The saints have always been a little disreputable that way."
"But that's just patently rdiculous."
"Because..." I shifted around impatiently. "Why would anyone come to Los Angeles to be holy? It's a terrible place!"
"And therefore, most in need of holiness."
"But surely not conducive to it."
"Well, you'd pretty much have to leave the world to get somewhere conducive to it. We lost that a long time ago."
"But..." I settled back down, frustrated.
"Sorry, sorry, playing devil's advocate again, I tend to do that." Stephan flashed a quick smile before turning back to the canvas. "But it makes for a great painting. So, where are you now?"
"I don't know. I don't want to move into 'the world', it's horrible. People are mean, cruel, nasty, brutish, and fearful. I'm not overly fond of them. But...I don't think Angie and James have left me capable of being where I was, either. I don't think I know where I am."
Stephan nodded slightly, intent on his painting. Outside the little cave-like studio, the choir blared out chants at full-volume, shaking the floor with words of flame and light.
I leaned forward, and put my face in my hands. "I don't know, Stephan, I don't know. I can't be with people. We're capable of such awful things, even when we don't mean to do them. Even our efforts at goodness go so terribly wrong. But..." I took a deep breath, almost choking on my next words. "But I don't think I want to be alone anymore, either. If I really didn't want to be with people, to join the world, Angie's leaving wouldn't have ripped such a hole in me."
"Do you want to be hurt?"
"No-one wants to be hurt."
"No, people don't want to be hurt needlessly. To love is to hurt, and most people just have to figure out what's worth loving, what's worth hurting for."
"Is anything worth hurting for?"
"I don't know. I think so. But I haven't had the same hurts you have either, so I can't put myself in your place. But I will tell you this." He dropped the brush into the pot of paint thinner, and turned his full attention to me. "I only grow when I hurt. And if growing means burning up from the inside out, then I will light my own pyre myself."
I caught a glance of the brilliantly painted phoenix on the wall above his head. Its head was thrown back in a silent scream of agony. But as I looked closer, I saw the corners of its mouth turned up slightly, and the scream suddenly revealed itself as a cry of joy.
Stephan turned the canvas toward me carefully, avoiding the still-wet paint. I saw the hills outside the City, and myself standing in the middle of them. On my left was darkness, the wild desert outside the city limits. An angel with a flaming sword stood there, barring my way, and a single star shone brightly overhead. To my right, the City stood, the buildings lit up and shining through the darkness. Not all of the windows were bright, and there were shadows in the alleyways, but it still stood.
And I stood in the middle, turned towards the City, but looking back over my shoulder into the beckoning wilderness. Lines of text were painted into the scene: inside the darkness, fiery letters spelled out "Do not look back," and "pillar of salt". In the city, black letters appeared: "dressed like a bride" and "descending from Heaven."
I didn't like it. It was uncomfortable, and I wanted to look away. But my eyes were glued to the image, and I couldn't glance away until Stephan put it back on the easel.
"I take it you're not fond of it." He raised a hand to stop my protests. "No, that's ok, you don't have to." He grinned.
"But it is a good painting, it's interesting..."
"And you'd prefer not to see it again. And again, I say, that's fine. I got some great ideas from it."
"I should probably get going, I need to study."
"Oh, right! Studying, I forget about that. Yeah, sure, go right ahead, thanks for sitting for me!"
"Sure, no problem."
Stephan walked me to the door of the barn, and grabbed my sleeve as I turned to go. "Don't be offended by that painting. It's really just a sketch, a rough depiction of some ideas I got."
"No, really, man, it's ok. I'll have to think some more about it, it made me think."
I looked back over my shoulder as I walked away. Stephan stood framed in the doorway, the light from the room behind him sweeping out into the night like flaming wings.


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