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Sunday, April 11, 2010

PROGRESS REPORT # 63 : CONQUORING RESISTANCE AND OVERCOMING FEARS





I've encountered a bit of resistance lately, and that is one point I neglected to emphasis in my blog about "Writing is Work". One thing that becomes a problem for me is when I am disrupted from my work on Shadow of the Lion because of other work (in this case, it was all the classes I was instructing as well as the great amount of work I did over the Olympics for Planet Eye Traveler (The Vancouver Guide). I became too distanced from the novel, and when I tried to return and pick up the threads, it was a little struggled getting back into the story, the cadence of the prose, and the time-frame. The disruptions also get me a bit muddled up with the sequences of events and then I have to take extra time reviewing research notes in order to get back on track. But, I persevered, and with a few days 'free' time in order to renew myself with the story and characters, I finally managed to finish another new chapter segment. One step closer to THE END.

In this segment, Iskander (Alexander's son and only heir) is challenged to attend his first boar hunt. This is a dangerous sport and because he and his friend Orion are in the company of their unsympathetic tutor, Timon, an Athenian friend of Kassandros' who has been keeping Iskander and his mother under house arrest at the fortress of Amphipolis. With them are some guards and a group of new companions who have been chosen by Kassandros. There are many reasons why this could turn out tragically because boar hunting is an extremely dangerous sport. But Iskander is a courageous boy, and confronts the danger bravely. In those days, boys were expected to have killed a boar by the time they were fourteen, and a man by sixteen. As he is the titular king, he must rise to the occasion and show his opponents that he is just a brave as his father was.

Here's just a small segment of this chapter. (Yes, I did a lot of research about boar hunts, even watched a lot of U-tube videos about it -- modern boar hunts are dangerous enough, but can you imagine how much more dangerous they were in the ancient times?)

The hunting party, twenty of them, riding light with javelins and bows, followed the mule track that threaded along by the river. Beside them, on the other side of the river, towered Mount Pangaion, its white marble outcrops gleaming above the thick dark forest. Some goats and shaggy sheep grazed on the hillside; a herd boy's piping, like the call of a wild bird, sounded from above. Timon and two of the guards rode ahead on tall horses. The boys, riding stocky thick-maned muntain ponies followed, flanked by the guards, while the hounds ran alongside yelping with excitement.

Iskander was in high spirits astride his new chestnut pony. Orion rode beside him on his shaggy sorrel. The trackway was dank and mossy with the smell of the river and the bay and myrtle that grew along the path. Ahead of them, the river poured into a shimmering lake that gleamed darkly, ruffled with frothy wavelets. A breeze had blown up sending fluffy clouds skimming across the summit of the mountain.

The boys spurred their horses and wheeled off at a gallop, hair streaming, the horse's hooves splashing along the lake shore, calling gaily to each other until Timon and the soldiers drew them to a halt and restrained the baying hounds.

"Stop your rowdy caterwauling, or you'll scare away the boars," Timon warned. "We must be wary at all times. The boars will hide out of sight if they hear you. " He pointed through the thicket a little farther along the shore where a pair of the long-tusked hairy beasts were feeding on the marsh grass.

The burliest of the guards who was well-versed in boar hunting instructed the boys to approach stealthily. " Be careful. Remember what I have taught you. Have your knives handy to protect yourselves. If one of them is speared, keep away in case it revives. Boars have razor sharp tusks and a wounded boar will turn and charge."

He urged the boys forward in order of rank, ordering Iskander to take the lead. "Your father, Alexander, always took the first boar," he explained."It is your right."

Iskander crept through the brush toward the feeding animals, crouching low with his javelin poised. He could smell their stench and was close enough to see their coarse black bristles. The dogs began to bark frantically and raced past him, cornering one of the beasts as the other dashed into the thicket its loud squeals sending a pricking down his spine. He heard the cornered boar squeal and saw it lunge at the dogs. Behind him he heard Orion yell, "Watch out, Iskander! Aim for his shoulder!"

There was a chaos of loud yelps and shrieks as the boar tossed one of the hounds into the air and charged towards him. Iskander poised with his throwing spear, leveling it as he peered about waiting for the boar to rush out of the thicket. He remembered everything he had been shown about boar hunting, so when it lunged from the underbrush, he ran towards the charging animal, aiming the javelin at the vulnerable spot on its shoulder. He threw the spear with all his might and yelled, a shrill high ptiched yell like a battle cry. He could see its little red eyes, blazing with anger as the javelin blade struck. The boar grunted and charged straight toward him. He didn't know in that moment what he would do next, or if he expected to die. He heard Lakis shout, felt the thud as he was jostled and tripped into the boar's path.

Suddenly Orion was beside him, shoving him aside. He felt a sharp, burning pain scorch his thigh and fell backwards. Everything dazzled in his vision. When he opened his eyes again he was lying on the ground, dazed, his stomach heaving with nausea. The boar lay nearby, its legs still kicking in the death throes as the dogs circled cautiously, sniffing and wimpering.

A gabble of voices surrounded him: shouts of praise and others concerned for his well-being.
"What pluck!" "Such a swift kill!" "Are you alright, Iskander?"

He stumbled to his feet, still shaking. Blood gushed from a gash on his thigh where the boar's deadly tusk had grazed him. One of the guards knelt beside him and bound the wound with a rag. "That'll be your first battle scar, boy! Wear it proudly. It was a good, clean kill."

Iskander swayed unsteadily, feeling the blood drain from his face. He was aware of Orion yelling at Lakis who was bent over the boar tugging at the javelin.

"You pushed him! He might have been gored to death!"

Lakis looked around and retorted:" The boar charged at him. I was only trying to get him out of the way."

"You almost had him killed!" Orion shouted. He turned to Iskander, his cheeks flushed with anger. "Are you alright, Iskander? You had the kill, but Lakis interfered. He pushed you straight into the boar's path. You might have been killed."

Timon strode over, glaring under his thick brows. "What's this?" When he saw the blood on Iskander's leg he yelled, "Foolish whelp! What did I tell you? You could have got yourself killed!" When Orion protested Timon pushed him aside and put his arm around Lakis' shoulder. "Never mind, Lakis. Good boy! You did what was right -- saved him from a goring."

The other boys and some of the guards crowded around. "How lucky, he only grazed you leg! He killed one of the hounds."

"Did you see the length of those ivories? A mean beast, and a big one too!"

"You should be proud. A boar on your first hunt!"

One of the soldier's patted his shoulder. "It was a good, clean killing, boy! It would have made your father proud!"

Iskander accepted their compliments with good grace, but he heard the tallset boy, a fair-haired Illyrian, whisper to his companion: "The way he took that boar...his first one...do you suppose it was...?"

The other boy, whose father was a rich landowner from Thessaly, cocked an eyebrow. "He's the titular king. Of course it was set up for him! It wouldn't do for one of us to kill our first boar before Alexander's son got his!"

Orion, had overheard them, and dared to speak up. "Of course it was set up! It was meant to kill him!"

"Who can prove it? He tripped and fell, that is all!" the Thessalian boy retorted.

Iskander studied the faces of his companions. He saw Orion give him a secretive glance and heard the confused whispers of the other boys. Orion's accusation to Lakis resounded in his head: 'You almost had him killed!' He had counted too much on the protection of the guards who had always befriended him. He had even trusted these new companions. But now he wondered if any of them were true-hearted or were they, like Lakis, placed in his company by Kassandros for a more sinister intent?

He collected his wits and started to walk away. Timon went after him and grasped him by the arm. "You...stay here!"

Iskander jerked his arm away and stared hard at the man. Deliberatly, in fastidious Greek, he said "Take your hand off of me or you will regret it!"

He limped back toward the copse where the ponies were tethered. Orion ran after him. "Are you alright, Iskander? You should have been better protected. I should have been there..."

"You were there," Iskander said. He glanced back toward the group of his companions and saw Lakis helping the guards truss up the dead boar. "You saved my life," he said, and put his arm around Orion's shoulders. They smiled at each other.

"Iskander and Orion. We are brothers," Orion said.

"Forever, I swear it," Iskander replied. "I know i can counton you."

They spoke together in their Macedonian tongue, something Timon did not allow. Orion laughed. "You should have seen Timon's face after you walked awy. He puffed up like an adder and fairly exploded."

"I hate him!" Iskander said.

Orion frowned. "Then we must find a way to get rid of him and that filghy toad, Lakis, who tried to kill you."

Sunday, April 04, 2010

I AM A BOOK



Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a book? Well, this past week I had an opportunity to be one: a "book" in a "living library". When I was first invited to participate in this unusual all-day event, to be held at a local high-school, I was not only pleased to be asked but very curious as to what this would mean and what the exact concept was of the "living library". You know that saying "You don't always know a book by it's cover"? Well, this is kind of like that. It's a unique group participation developed in Denmark to break down prejudices and misconceptions about people. The 'books' in this 'library' have many different titles, just as people have many different roles in their lives. You might look at a book and say "I don't want to read about that. That's a boring/unpleasant subject". On the other hand, once you open the book and start to read it, you might find it is very interesting and intriguing and not at all what you'd first thought just by glancing at it's cover.

Every 'book' in this 'living library' had several titles, just as there are many various titles for books that might cover similar or the same subjects. Or some books might have several different stories within it's covers. It's the same with people. You never know the whole story until you have heard/read it. You'll be surprised at what's inside some of those 'books'.

The idea of the 'Living Library" began in Copenhagen, Denmark initiated by five young people after a mutual friend was stabbed in a brutal attack. These five kids wanted to do something to raise awareness and to use their peer group to educate them against violence. So a youth organization called "Stop the Violence" was formed. You can read more about it and the history of the ''human library" at http://www.humanlibrary.org

Moscropt Secondary School in Burnaby, BC. is the only high school in North America to offer the concept although a few colleges have tried it. You can read a blog about our experiences as 'books' in the "Living Library' at www.beyondthebeadedcurtains.blogspot.com

After participating, I would say that ALL high schools should think about offering this 'living library' opportunity to their students. It might break down a lot of barriers, open up possibilities and help to eliminate prejudices and misconceptions about people. It might
help stop bullying!

The people invited to be in the Living Library were asked to come to the Moscropt School a week before the event would take place so we could be briefed on what was going to happen and what was expected of us 'books'. We chose titles (there could be more than one) and later on, wrote those titles on a paper. Then we all went around and wrote our idea of what those books were about (what kind of people those books were.) It was quite surprising to see the results, some of them rather harsh. Those comments would be later put into paragraphs for 'bios' of the 'books' and circulated to the students who would be visiting the Living Library the following week.

My titles were: "Elder" "Travel and Historical Fiction Writer" and (here's the one that caught the kids' attention! "Wanna--be Crime and Investigative Journalist."
Other titles were: "Anti Capitalist Activist" ,"Adopted as a Child", "Young Adult Gay Male Survivor of a Brain Tumour" , Costume Designer/Former Figure Skater" "Omni Sexual/Drag Queen/Photographer: "Ex Gang Member/Ex prisoner/ Ex addict
/son of a KKK father" Big and Beautiful/ Formerly size 5 and bulimic", "Politician/MLA" "Person with a Disability" Gay Lawyer/Farmer/Figure Skater" "Plumber" (this was a single parent woman!) and many others. We were given tips about"what makes a good book" and "how to be a bestseller", how to initiate discussions with the 'readers' and the general protocol of being a 'book'.

On the day that the Living Library program took place, we met at 8.30 in the school Library and were given cardboard signs with our book titles and sat at tables where the kids would come to 'read' us,. The school classes took turns coming into the library and were escorted by volunteer students to whichever 'book' they wanted to 'read'. Usually there were two or three kids at a time, although occasionally only one student came and, in the case of the ex-gangster/addict/prisoner/son of a KKK father, he had swarms of kids around him all day long. And so did the gay books. You would never know to look at the 'books' who they were or had been so it was very interesting to hear the questions the kids asked and see their reactions. I think this is an excellent way of educating people about others who live very different life-styles and in this way it breaks down those prejudices and misconceptions.

My 'readers' were mainly interested in travel, where I'd been and good ideas for budget travel for students. A few were really interested in the writing aspect of my life and were kids who aspired to be writers too. I answered questions about 'voice' and 'setting details" One special coincidence happened when a young fellow said "I don't write but my grandfather does. He used to be a writer for the Vancouver Sun". It turned out that his grandfather was a reporter/BC history writer who I had great respect and admiration for when I was a copy runner at the Vancouver Sun newsroom back in the 1950's. Another young man, who is from Bangladesh, expressed an interest in visiting surfing beaches. I told him my grandson was a surfer who lived in California. This boy has never surfed but that is his dream, and part of the dream is to return to Bangladesh where there are some good surfing beaches. One of the volunteer students sat down with me at the end of the day and it turned out he was a Macedonian Greek from Thessaloniki. We had a vibrant chat about places both he and I love to visit such as Thassos Island. I thought that he was much like my Iskander in Shadow of the Lion -- not only with his intelligence and curiosity but his looks were what I visualize Iskander to have been like.

The entire day was an amazing experience and although I came home at the end of it feeling exhausted, I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I not only learned a lot about my 'readers' but I hope they learned something from 'reading' me as well.

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