New Zealand went into their second Level 4 lock-down last Wednesday 18th August on only my second day at my new job as assistant gardener at a retirement village. 'What an opportunity' I thought to myself. Here I was in an isolated cabin halfway down the property tenant's jungle of a backyard garden, a writing desk, a kitchenette (double hotplate, fridge, basin, jug), and time on my hands to continue writing Dim Day.
One of the tenants visits the beach every morning here in Paekākāriki which was great non-verbal encouragement for me to do the same - most mornings I have. Once lock-down arrived I chose to be a lot more discreet about it, running approx. 3km up the coastal trail, checking out how deserted the beach is before finding an unoccupied spot to wade in and feel the rush of winter salt water washing over me before jogging back to keep up my warmth. Occasionally the debris lapping in on the morning waves has left me less clean than when I went in, so on my arrival back I pop around the corner of the cabin out of sight and have a hose-down. A minimum of 21 press-ups, 21 "leg-ups" (lying on my back and lifting the legs up and down) accompany the morning rising from my bed, or the return from the sea, occasionally I do straight-leg sit-ups with my back as straight as possible. The abs aren't quite showing yet, but that's probably the fault of that packet of Toffee Pops and Whitaker's Artisan Chocolate I bought last week (...and the yoghurts, and the salamis, and the cheeses I bought many times before that as well!). But still, as I said to our new flatmate ("resimate" as I refer to the house dwellers on the property (i.e: Residential Mates)) when she expressed the fact that at her current mid-50s age this is the healthiest, both mentally and physically, that she has ever been, I concurred and was able to relate - in my 44 years this is also the healthiest, mentally and physically, that I have ever been. There is a photo of me from 2010 with quite a puffy face - years of Burger King, Burgerfuel, and heavy protein and carb dinners that weren't being worked off. Since moving into my car and living on the side of the river from 2018, all that unnecessary fat has been shed; with a much more consistent approach to physical body toning without any obsessive desire to build muscle, a massive reduction in food focusing on one good meal each day and only snacking (at most) (mostly nuts) beforehand (and coffee with honey replacing sugar) adding up to an average of 1.5 meals a day, I have consistently weighed-in at less than 67kgs for the past four years. There is no guilt should I choose to eat some Toffee Pops, some licorice (unless I eat them all at once, which I have done *shakes head sadly*), because I know that their energy source will get used rather than be stored (I mean, mostly - like I said, my abs still aren't showing *grumpy face*).
Anyway, enough about me. Dinners are coming along just fine. As you can see, tonight I made a crushed Pumpkin and Sunflower Seed curry with mixed beans on pulse pasta instead of rice. A very tasty meal for this lone red cabin dweller. But this is not a lone lock-down bubble (though I would have no problem if it was). Every day of the week, the five of us take turns cooking for one another in the house (back of photo, extra sleep-out to left), and have ranging conversations from gardening (everyone's a gardener, except me - total newbie!), to books, to music, to covid, to "can we trust the authorities???" - it's all up for discussion, and makes the evening over a glass of wine that much more enjoyable.
But what about Dim Day? Yes, what about the novel I've been trying to write since 2009? I have reached 48,000 words with only 5-6 scenes left to either write or finish off, which I expect the total word-count to be around 60,000. This is a good amount, as there has been a bit extra world-building going on, which I am cautious about. Why? Is not solid world-building the goal? Yes, but this book was never meant to describe a 'world' as such; it was only ever meant to describe a place. Imagine walking into a theatre to watch a play, seeing the curtains rise you know that the props in the background are not real, but you suspend your disbelief and invest in what the actors portray. This was always my intention, and I have tried to keep that world-building to a minimum so that the reader doesn't get distracted, so that the reader only knows what supports the story directly related to the characters. This is not science fiction, this is not mainstream 'genre' fantasy, I wouldn't even call it magic realism; there is no magic, there are no monsters and strange creatures, no technology advancing and changing society other than what characters may project with limited knowledge; what there is instead are animal and plant variations that inhabit their own ecological niche, there are people who act and feel like us living in a similar past, but there is only this place, similar, but very different, and the story that unfolds from one dim day to the next...
Clouds simmered in the hidden hillsides, lazily hugging rugged slopes, while pointy peaks peeked over top. Wisps of wind would catch their rising momentum and sweep the clouds upwards in twirls, or just allow them to meander over and past the ridges towards the mireline.
Over on the far horizon, out where the upper wall of mist shore itself thin in the mid-sun heat, hints of the unknown rolled in grey shapes beyond, curves that could be clouds settling over untouched lands.
Or touched lands. Trampled and lived on.
Like this field before him, pitchfork piercing the surface, breaking apart the dirt, potatoes dug up and placed in sacks to be returned to the community; other workers working rows in the sun day heat all playing their part, contributing their share as though there was nothing else to strive for, nothing else to wonder and dream about. Work from one sun day to the next, to propagate crops, to share the resources, but never to wonder what was beyond.
Did my parents find out? They must have.
He continued to prod and poke at the dirt, pulling and breaking, revealing what lay hidden below, the potatoes fully grown and ready to be bagged and carried away.
This job – like any other job – just a job. A ceiling repaired, a fence installed, a garden tended, trees planted, vines trimmed and thinned. What did any of it mean? Subsistence towards a dim day of rest, games, stages set for children to play on; while the adults watched and were entertained, only to return to their work the next day.
But what was that on the horizon, out there beyond the mist? Was it just more mist, heavier and denser? Was it only clouds settling down into the cold recesses of the waelfog?
Or was it something else? A shape. Like hills. Grey and distant. Too far away to see clearly, but nevertheless there.
Something. Something was there.
He turned around. Meridule was behind him, staring down at his pitchfork. The prongs had pierced through three separate potatoes.
“Not everybody likes holes in their potatoes.”
“Sorry Meridule. I was a bit distracted. Had other things on my mind.”
“Yes, well, you might as well put those three aside for yourself. Better eat them quickly though – with holes like that in them, rot will get in quick if they’re left out.”
“Sure. They’ll be perfectly fine for a potato salad during late quarter before Dark arrives.”
“That’s my boy. Try to be a bit more attentive. We have a lot more work to get through now as a community. Duties have to be moved to take up J’nifer and Sauel’s farming work. Your friend, Sere’aen, is one of those doing extra work over there in fact. She’s a hard worker. You could do well to follow her example.”
He patted Jansuell on the shoulder and began walking away as attention was returned to pulling the potatoes off the prongs and inspecting their holes.
“Jansuell?” Meridule had stopped and turned around, nodding towards the mireline. “It’s just waelfog.” He shrugged. “There’s only death out there. Great bowels of mist too cold for our sun drenched bones.”
“But how do you know?”
“Because if there was anything else, other people – not just your parents, but people before them – would have come back alive to tell about it.”
“Did some of them come back dead?”
Meridule laughed. But it was a condescending laugh and the old adult frame seemed to mock him in the stance it took.
“Jansuell, no one comes back at all.”
I have had writer's block for over a month. What started prior to beginning work at the Retirement Village when I couldn't get past Chapter 11 of Dim Day, exasperated as I found my sleep cycles pushing me out of daylight hours and into disrupted sleep. What a fine inspiration this would have been for my main character if I had been able to harness that enthusiasm or detail of thought, but instead, I found myself thinking about Welcome Home as dementia and patient behaviour began to inform aspects of that novel (had also started listening to songs associated with that novel).
While I have kept up intermittent exercise, some intermittent notes for Dim Day were written as well, but nothing substantial that moved the novel forward. I resolved to simply take a break and let myself accept that perhaps I needed a break since I am so unused to spending large amounts of time writing. I have a tendency to pick up the guitar, listen to music, organise my music files on the computer, play Fallout Shelter - do anything that isn't writing focused! So, when I decided to actually let go and take a break, my mind went back to Dim Day and I wrote a passage for the final scene last week/end (my weekends are four days as I work three night shifts). The five or six days prior to today were overly saturated in music and yesterday I remembered how it was when I moved into this home and got myself writing - music wasn't the focus, music was in the background: it was still there, but it was only a break from the writing like it is meant to be in my life now; not the distraction, not the overwhelming and intense obsession.
I also began reading Longitude by Dava Sobel last weekend and that helps create peace and quiet. I've had this book on my bookshelf for a few years now, but along with so many other books, had found it difficult to continue on with. Last week I found that moment that made me stay with the words and engage my thoughts with interest.
Last night I decided that since I couldn't get past Chapter 11, I would simply go to the chapters that I knew scenes existed for and begin writing those. And since the final chapter has been in my head for as long as Dim Day has been in existence, I went there this morning and started writing it.
Now I shall work my way backwards through each scene knowing what it leads into and where it leads from, and although they may be preliminary, at times skeletal and drafty, they at least set a sketch that I can build on top of. Part of the problem with Chapter 11, I think, is that I had a heap of bullet points preceding on from where I was writing, and those bullet points felt intrusive. I was also somewhat unsure about that scene's events in general.
She’s so young, so early out of childhood, yet so soon to become her own adult.
Sometimes J’nata wished she could trade the long arduous quarters of day for more time in her own life to experience and watch children become the same adults they were. Better adults. But it was never to be. Death came to parents within moments of children being born to their own children.
Had any adults ever lived to see children of children grow to fruition?
J’nata took the garden knife and started chipping away at the hardened dew-sap that had formed between the top of the apple and it’s stem.
Ch’rie watched her curiously. “Why doesn’t it fall off like all the other fruit?”
“All the excess sap from the previous dim day has hardened around the top of the fruit. It’s too hard to pull straight off so I’m cutting it down instead. The fruit’s fine, but it’s just a consequence of there being too much light during one of the dark days – all that excess sap caused by extra light has to leave the plants. Most of the time it simply drips into the ground from the plant leaves. In fruit-bearing trees is has a tendency to gather at the stems of the fruits themselves.”
Ch’rie was eating into one of the fruit.
“Those are supposed to be for the stalls," J'nata said.
She stopped, teeth buried deep in fruit flesh, voice spluttering juice everywhere: “Still tastes pretty good!”
A wry smile passed across J’nata’s face. “Hurry up and get that basket away to the stalls, otherwise people will be wondering what’s happened to you!”
Dimlight bathed the clouds in a bright silver glow that reflected rays on everything below, intensifying and radiating the silver blue of ordinary dim days into every crevice and knoll.
“We are children of the mist, our ancestors used to say. But I think they were wrong. We are of the earth, like the animals; for us to return we must end up burnt; so we commit ourselves, to this death inherent in life, to let our bodies die when our children have only just reached maturity ready to take our place and repeat the cycle.” Meridule paused, looking forlornly into the fire that burned and cremated the house that had been destroyed as the sinkhole beneath it had given way. "But we come here this evening to remember the lives of Sauel, J'nifer and their newborn lost far too early to this tragic event. Their hard work lost to the community, but the memories we have of them live on and set the example of what we ourselves must live up to - working for the community, helping raise children when called on, and friendships that never faulted. They go with the winds to settle in the lands somewhere else and be a part of the world again from where we all once came."
Jansuell glanced upwards as fire rose and shone orange against everything. This Dim Day made light again. But upwards with the flames would go the bodies that lay in the pit below, the wood floors, walls, beams and window frames, charring up and rising too with each spark that flung out, each wraith of smoke that billowed; all of it rising and dissipating outwards eventually to be a part of the clouds above and then depart outwards, away from land.
...away from the land. Like clouds drifting across the skies to coalesce into the mist.
Maybe the ancestors were right. We are of the mist. And my parents just wanted to know where we came from, or at least, just what was beyond. The same worlds as ours? The same neighbours growing the same fruit, farming the same crops? Why is everyone else so happy to just shrug their shoulders and say “It’s just mist. There’s nothing in it, there’s nothing beyond it.”? There are other people beyond the hills in the opposite direction, there must be other people beyond the mist. Surely. Why can’t we get to them?
Why can't we be like my parents and just try?
Some updates to keep me updated.