The bleakness of Douglas Adams’ novel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, is its critique of our willingness to treat the gods like vending machines, here to serve our needs. The god who can’t serve us is as useless and incomprehensible to us as a Coke machine with an “Out of Order” sign taped to it. It’s no coincidence that Adams portrays the gods as vagabonds who have to sleep in an abandoned train station, while the villains of the book are comfortably middle-class characters who use money to buy the luxury of ignoring “all the mess.” Does mortality offer the gods a way out?
They say he did it out of boredom, but boredom is catching and soon the entire village had grown bored of his mischievous tricks. Each time he cried out that the wolf had come, and the villagers rushed to his aid only to discover no wolf in sight, they grew more annoyed, more disdainful — and more complacent…
It is from the east, now, that something new approaches the Byrnecock estate. Along the thin road bordered by hedgerows that cut across the hillsides come a pair of gaslit headlamps, illuminating with their amber light the slanting rain that dashes down through a plume of rising steam. The hedgerows have been thinned by the season to a tangle of bare limbs and would cast long, haunting shadows of grasping phantasms across the dampened earth if not for the low, dense clouds that so thoroughly blot out the moon. The thin, wide wheels of the carriage spin steadily despite the rain, hardly slipping across the slick track of mud and fallen leaves. There is no sad, sodden beast trotting along mournfully before this carriage, no sound of hoofbeats muffled by the wet autumn litter. Instead, a kind of wide, flat cart and on it, a large cylinder of dark metal that sizzles slightly in the downpour. The hiss and sigh of small pistons pumping a series of nested gears on either side quite drown out the low conversation of the occupants who sit, rigid and poised, casting slim silhouettes on the fogged window panes from the dry interior of the cab.
We’re nearly a week into National Novel Writing Month, and I’m taking a break from writing The Fantastical Adventures of the Working Title to share a little bit about my process. Until a few weeks ago, when it came to fiction writing, I didn’t have one. Enter: the Steampunk Tarot.
Now my whole process takes about an hour, and I repeat it whenever my writing begins to slow down to a snail’s pace and I find myself taking twenty minutes to describe the minute details of the brocade pillows on the chaise lounge where the heroine has been reclining awkwardly waiting for her narrator to realize nobody gives a shit about brocade pillows.
Here’s how it works.
Now it is the end of autumn, I lay my body down.
A hush. The hill is still humming with the day’s warmth, the sun sinking into the far shore of the lake. For a moment, I can see it, as though with other eyes, submerged, rippling beneath the waters in arcing liquid wings of flame and dusk, flexing, alternating, a thousand of them, wings sprouting from the round, warm body settling into the depths. Then the vision is gone.
I creep silently along the shore, my bare feet numb and rustling through the long, dried grasses of autumn. The mud is moist and rough on my soles, each step sending echoes of energy sliding up my calves.
In my latest post over on No Unsacred Place, I share the story from Welsh mythology of Mabon, son of Modron, in honor of the coming autumnal equinox. This story was originally published on the former site of Meadowsweet & Myrrh back in 2009. In the comment section of the original post, a reader asked, “I’ve never understood the connection between this tale and the Equinox. Can you help with that connection?” This was my reply:
“In Druidry, the autumnal equinox is not actually called Mabon, but instead goes by the name Alban Elfed/Elued (Welsh, meaning ‘Light of the Water/Sea’). …”
We know he can’t stay in his current state of denial — we know he has the potential for greatness that demands he rise to the occasion, to become better than he was before. But that doesn’t make that transformative moment any less painful, nor the grief at the loss of humble John Smith, the old, limited self, any less poignant. The truth is that we grieve the old self because we love the old self, deeply, and the old self was a self of love. It had to be. Otherwise, we could never have been able to transform in the first place.