Time Paradox: NaPoWriMo

 

The portal door opens, and I am here. Before. I look out at this beautiful sun-splashed world. What did they do to it, this planet they called Earth? There is magic here in this moment. I feel it in the sun-steamed breeze. I taste it in the flower-blossomed air. I close my eyes and make a wish. Hoping it works better this time, I spread my wings, pause for one more second to watch the iridescent feathers gleam in the sunlight. Then, I take flight to make first contact—again.

paradox of time,

space bending, moments flowing,

slip-rippling along

ends become beginning points

with magic, wishes, and hope

 

Today is Day 19 of NaPoWriMo. The prompt was to write a creation myth. I suppose this haibun is a sort of re-creation myth, based on some microfiction I wrote a while ago. It’s also possible that I had time paradoxes on my mind from watching an episode of Star Trek: Voyager a few nights ago.

This haibun is also for Colleen Chesebro’s weekly poetry challenge. The prompt words for her birthday week are wish and magic, and I wish her heaps of birthday magic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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O Brave New World: The Phoenix and Survival

Monday Morning Musings:

“There was a silly damn bird called a phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up. He must have been the first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we’re doing the same thing, over and over, but . . .we know all the damn silly things we’ve done. . .someday we’ll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them.

–Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

In mythology, the phoenix is a bird that is constantly reborn. It is associated with the sun—sometimes pictured with a nimbus around its head—and it is said to rise from the ashes of its predecessor. Time and again, civilizations also fall, and others rise from their ashes. Humans seem to have an infinite capacity for destruction. We also seem to have an infinite capacity for expressing our feelings, emotions, and desires through various forms of artistic expression, whether it is painting on a cave wall, secretly writing in a journal, or performing theatrical works in varied and sometimes bizarre locales. We find friendship and love in times of destruction and strife, the need to connect with others often overpowering thoughts of surviving without them.

You know those “what if” games? What books would you want if you were stuck on a deserted island? What belongings would you rush to gather in a disaster? How would you survive a zombie apocalypse? I don’t know. How can anyone know?

The book, Station Eleven, explores survival in the aftermath of a worldwide plague, and along the way it discusses theater, comic books, love, and loss. The story moves back and forth through time and the characters’ lives. One horse-drawn wagon of the Traveling Symphony caravan carries the slogan, “survival is insufficient.” The author of the novel, Emily St. John Mandel, has said she “stole it [the line] shamelessly from Star Trek: Voyager.”

The novel is about how people survive after present day civilization and conveniences no longer exist. What would we value in this brave new world? The Traveling Symphony performs Shakespeare and classical music; one of the actresses collects editions of an obscure comic book and treasures a snow globe. The book makes the argument that art and music of all types are necessary—simply surviving is not enough. Human connection—friendship, love, family bonds—all of these are necessary, too. And sometimes strangers connect us in ways we can never imagine–and perhaps will never know. In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, obtaining food and shelter are crucial, but Mandel argues they are not enough. Humans want more. We want stories and art, too.

After finishing the book, I watched the Star Trek Voyager episode that inspired Mandel. (“C’mon,” I said to my husband, “don’t you want to watch Voyager again after all these years?” He did not seem overjoyed, but he watched it with me, demonstrating that indeed in marriage, too, “Survival is insufficient.”) In the episode, Seven of Nine, formerly of the Borg collective, realizes that living in freedom, even for a brief time, is more valuable that living in bondage or in a life you did not choose.

The German movie, Phoenix, explores the idea of survival in a different way. In this 2014 film by director Christian Petzold (that just opened in Philadelphia), Nelly, a concentration camp survivor (the wonderful actress Nina Hoss) returns to Berlin after undergoing reconstructive facial surgery because of injuries inflicted upon her during the war. She has endured unimaginable horrors, and now she wants to find her pianist husband, Johnny. She finds him working as a bus boy in a jazz club, the Phoenix, in the American zone. How did he survive? Did he betray her to the Nazis? How can he not know his own wife? The movie makes viewers reflect upon what we might do in order to survive, and what lies might we then tell ourselves to ease our guilt? We are shown photographs—that person is now dead; that person was a Nazi. “Who him?” asks Nelly. Secrets and lies. What is the truth? There are echoes of Hitchcock here. But in postwar Berlin, many people assumed new identities. Her friend Lene, who knows Nelly’s story, believes she and Nelly should immigrate to Palestine and build a new life. Nelly, however, wants to rebuild her old life—and herself—from the ruins that literally surround her. The song “Speak Low” by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash is repeated throughout the movie, the lyrics speaking words that the characters themselves cannot voice to one another.

“The curtain descends,

Everything ends

Too soon, too soon.”

Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash, “Speak Low”

Station Eleven seems to offer more hope in its belief that love and art will triumph. It is set mainly in a post-apocalyptic world, but almost two decades removed from the plague that nearly wiped out humanity. Phoenix is set immediately after the end of WWII. Perhaps a re-born Nelly will, in time, rise in the post-war world. Perhaps she will find joy in song again. Phoenix may not be a great movie, but I can’t seem to stop thinking about it.

In Station Eleven, there is Shakespeare, comic books, art, music, and story telling. Those who remember the past, tell stories of air conditioning and the Internet to those who were born later. In Fahrenheit 451, a passage from which is quoted above, there is a future world where books and reading are banned. Rebel survivors memorize and tell stories so they will not be forgotten. In Phoenix, perhaps it is too soon. Yet Lene plays a record, saying that listening to it helped her survive the war in London. Nelly says she no longer can enjoy German songs. The survivors have survived, but at what cost? Can we be reborn in the aftermath of tragedy?

These are fictional works that share a common theme—they emphasize the importance of literature and art. Sometimes we need fiction to find the truth about our world and ourselves.

         “Some stories are true that never happened.”

-Elie Wiesel

On Books, Harper Lee, and Coincidence

By now most readers have probably heard that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, will be publishing a sequel to the beloved novel. This sequel will be out this coming July. The new book is set in the 1950s, twenty years later than To Kill a Mockingbird, and it focuses on a now-grown Scout and her father, Atticus Finch. Lee, however, wrote this sequel before she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, which she wrote at the suggestion of her editor who wanted to see a novel told in the voice of a young Scout.

A few days ago, I was thinking about favorite books and what I read as a child and young adult. My younger daughter and I were discussing how much we both love the novel Jane Eyre. My niece mentioned that if she sees a movie version of a book, then she never reads the book, and if she reads a book, then she doesn’t want to see the movie version. I think movies and books are different forms of media and storytelling, and should be enjoyed on their own terms. (We were discussing The Hunger Games trilogy.) While we were talking, I thought of To Kill a Mockingbird, and how much I love both the book and the movie. I’m fairly certain I saw the movie first on network TV when I was a child, and then at some point, I found the book in my house, and recognizing the title, I decided to read it. Perhaps I was about 11? I’m certain I did not understand it all that first time, but I understood I was reading something wonderful. I’ve re-read the book several times (and I do picture Atticus looking exactly like Gregory Peck, not a bad thing). I don’t think I ever read the book as a school assignment, but I did re-read it when it was assigned to one of my daughters.

I’m sure I would have read To Kill a Mockingbird at some point in my life. After all, I did borrow it from the library when I was older, but I would not have read it that first time, if it hadn’t been in my house. I thought of all the books I read when I was young—simply because they were there. My mom took me to the library, I borrowed books from the school library, and I also bought Scholastic Books (including the copy of Wuthering Heights that I’ve mentioned in previous posts), but our house was always filled with books. I think that having so many books in the house–including the books of older siblings that I “borrowed”– influenced what and when I read. I wonder if mainly having books on e-readers and tablets limits that broader type of browsing? This is not a Luddite rant. I love my Kindle, but if I had a young child at home, he or she would probably not be reading the books on it. The fact that my girls grew up seeing my books on sex in history lying about the house is an entirely different conversation!

Education and reading are important themes in To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout would have been a very different character if Atticus had not read to her and taught her to read at an early age. How does coincidence and what we read affect what we do and what we think? There must be some connection. Things to ponder.

A friend said to me recently that she had read several novels set during WWII, but that it was a coincidence. I’ve had the same thing happen. Once many years ago, I read a novel set during WWII, then another one that had an important WWII back story that I didn’t know about until I started reading the book. While I was reading one of these books, my family and I watched an episode of Star Trek Voyager in which the some crew members were caught in WWII holodeck program. Isn’t coincidence strange?

My husband and I watched the second episode of the British TV show Grantchester last night, now airing on PBS. (And now that I think about it, the story is set in post-WWII England and the main character, the young Anglican vicar, has flashbacks to WWII battles. Hmmmm.) Coincidentally, as I was thinking about coincidence, the vicar and his inspector friend discussed coincidence. “I don’t believe in coincidences,” says our vicar, as he looks at the body of a woman who had been murdered. “That’s funny, I don’t believe in God,” says the inspector. They return to the idea of coincidence and belief later in the episode.

So did you think you’d read one of my posts that does not mention food? Let me reassure you that the To Kill a Mockingbird scene in which Walter Cunningham pours molasses all over his food is one that made a big impression on me, and that there are many food references in the book. In watching the episode of Grantchester last night, I noticed that a dinner party and fruitcake are important plot elements. Coincidence that I would remember these things? I think not.

“People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”

-Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird