There are times when crazy sits close to the surface. Scratches on the page shift in a blink from beautifully formed to ridiculous. All the lessons of the past two years have led to Robert le Fou writing a book in a language spoken by no one, high on smoke of the world smoldering around his sprawl-bounded lair.
Work on the oracle carried across days the United States proved itself a land where hundreds of people can burn to death while life and its entertainments go on for the rest of us. I finished writing out the Dvarsh text of Nod’s Way in long hand, feeling the language add substance under my touch. The labor was a journey of discovery as much as an act of composition. Sunk into the thick of making, this feels like work I was born to. Whenever I break, however, there are headlines, and the question of what the hell I am doing erupts like a geyser.
While digesting news of the fire dead, I read a post from a friend describing the difficulty of explaining to his four-year-old that the child’s pre-school teacher had died of a heart attack. The dad shared several of his kid’s comments and questions. The one that went through me was the child’s sudden realization, “You’re not kidding!”
“You’re not kidding!”
Hundreds dead in fires.
I work on a book half of which consists of squiggles. Typing the text from handwritten copy only took a few days. More and more, the characters make sense on sight as I begin to retain vocabulary. Transcribing, it was interesting to realize that I have developed a recognizably personal Dvarsh handwriting. This is not the same as faithfully reproducing ideal character forms. That was early stage familiarity. By handwriting I mean unfaithfully reproducing characters in consistent ways. There are idiosyncrasies that I avoid when taking care but spread like seed when reach for meaning drives out thought of form.
About the same time my friend posted about the conversation with his child, another friend posted a link to an article about a young woman murdered in Florida during one of the latest freelance freikorps assaults. Time constraints usually discourage much link-clicking, but this young woman was an undergraduate English major, and the article was a remembrance from the head of her department. My B.A. is in English. Reading about this murder I flashed forty-odd years ago to faces in classes. This was a political murder. The young woman was assassinated because of her gender. Every day I shed tears, and that day some were for this victim in the ongoing U.S. civil war.
Grief for a stranger hit hard, staying the work and sapping emotional batteries. I was shaken and sad until late afternoon, when I realized I was hungry. After supper, I went back to transcribing squiggles.
Creating a language is a project that happens in phases. Beginning with rules, one manufactures grammar and vocabulary. Syntax doesn’t come fully into play until there is some set of grammar and vocabulary adequate to say something. Dvarsh started off with something to say. A collection of proverbs, mostly short, declarative expressions of Dvarsh values, provided an initial set of linguistic problems to solve. This language has had a literature from its inception, small though the body was.
Given the part the proverbs served in the creative process, there is close to a word-for-word relationship between their vocabularies in source English and target Dvarsh. That correspondence has mostly held until now.
In the actual labor of writing a book in the constructed idiom, there has often been need for an adjective, noun, verb or whatever not in the lexicon. Without actually counting, the core text of Nod’s Way totals around 260 sentences in Dvarsh, a slightly different number in English. Several demands of translation allowed no alternative to new word coinage. When that was so, I coined with glee. However, in every instance where there was no pre-existing word, I considered first whether mixing terms already in the canon might convey the desired idea. It was one of those, “Oh, yeah,” moments, leaping from knapping flint for individual words to carving totems of idiomatic expression. This feels like the project’s arrival at a new level of maturity.
When idiomatic flashbulbs started going off, I squiggled pencil across page after page. Every session, time went away, replaced by the lift that creating always brings, the “yes, yes, yes” imperative that infuses the work. What hurt were the breaks. For the past few days I’ve turned away from most of the world outside. Yesterday, instead of reading headlines, I set fires in my terra cotta pots of grass to see how it will affect growth in 2019. The pot of sideoats grama and the pot of purple three-awn had thick thatch that burned readily until all the thatch was consumed, leaving a thin stand of green shoots with black tips. The smoke from those pots smelled like incense. A withered welter beneath the green in the pot of inland sea oats formed no thatch. Dead grass burned wherever I touched fire, but never ignited generally. It made dank smoke.
With principle typing of Nod’s Way done and proofreading the order of business, getting lost in the world of Dvarsh is easy. I begin to read it—a little—without having to look up every single thing. The text itself feels solid. Pulling the book together, there are minutes and minutes when I feel happy. As part of each day’s productivity shifts in fits to illustration, those minutes multiply. Everything about the what and why of this undertaking is clear, except the matter of who it is for and the question of how to sustain it. Flawed assumptions in the past have shaped some bad decisions on those counts. Details of change are sketchy as yet, but the coming year will be guided by new assumptions. Most like burning thatch, the burden of expecting Habdvarsha to pay any part of its cost goes away. Life’s horizons are adjusting to continue making art independently of a market. One world grows smaller so that another may grow large. In another few days, after the first proof pass is complete, I’ll look again at the headlines. Peace on earth.