How Poetry Broke Me Open

DSC02431Mis küsib elulahkmel heitlik maru!
Kuid sina enesele annad endast aru.

What will the errant storm ask at life’s crossroads!
It is you who must answer for yourself.

           — Betti Alver, From Tähetund

Note: This was originally posted to The Sarcastic Muse a few months ago. This was sort of a brave post for me. Enjoy.

-:-

Three and a half years ago, I was sitting shyly in Avignon, France around an unknown family’s table while laughter and curiosity and, yes, words darted around me with strange syllables and foreign footsteps. I understood maybe half of it, and in my social awkwardness, even as they asked me questions, my face flushed with the gracelessness that comes from trying to barge my way through a language when the words don’t want to come freely.

However, during my three-week stay with that family, my host-mother did say something to me once that I easily understood:

You are a flower who has not yet bloomed, Michelle.

In what way? I wondered. I didn’t ask her to clarify. Continue reading

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The Place Where Gods Were Born

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“I see it now. This was the place where gods were born.”

Those were my boyfriend’s first words after several minutes of stunned silence. In truth, his words reflected my own feelings: we were traversing a place not meant for mortals. We were looking upon a landscape built for characters far more ancient and far more eternal. A place that had hammered them from stone and ice, forged them from the frozen sea into legend. The birthplace of old gods — of Loki and Thor and Odin.

We were driving through the mountainous region of northern Norway on our way to the city of Tromsø. Slushy rain fell lightly upon the roadside and the gray sky hung low with clouds. Mountains loomed next to us as we continued our climb — ancient mountains standing surreal in the mist, pale peaks plastered with snow and rock, blue-gray shadows hovering around them in the stormy afternoon light.

After a while, the road dipped and curved, swinging around ledges dripping with thick, blue icicles that reached like teeth for the ground. Beyond us was a panorama of arctic water spreading out serenely into the horizon of snowy, cold sky. Below us, it stretched like a mirror beneath the mountains, calm and glassy and still.

Even now, writing this in retrospect, it is hard to imagine that I was truly there, looking upon this with my own eyes. Add the Aurora Borealis into the equation — skylights of green and red and white — and then imagine the creative inspiration in the hands of the people of old. Imagine a place so marvelous, so beautiful, so powerful that only the characterization of gods manage to do it justice.

I often say that place is an important concept in the creation of one’s characters. Characters, after all, must represent the heart of it. Characters tend to carry the places they’ve been with them, just as we do in our own lives. No matter where they go, the places define them, complete them, give them their identities. But it’s worth mentioning that places become characters in their own right — carriers of their own personalities, identities, successes, failures, and legends. One could say, then, that places embody their characters or their people rather than the people embodying the place. An interesting dichotomy, to say the least.

While we made our way through the area, stopping every now and then to stare at the scenery, I pondered these questions. And even after we had left, the mountains still weighed heavily on my mind. I wondered what makes a place memorable. What makes a place worth writing about? What is it about a place that burdens its people with carrying the majesty of it? Why do we write stories specifically for the place?

I don’t know that I found answers to those questions. In reality, I can only speculate. But when I look back at all the places I’ve been or even the places I’ve read about in novels, there is always something about them that makes them special. They have seen a lifetime of transition — many lifetimes of transition — and they hold, at the very least, a fragment of every person who has passed within their limits.

So I wonder, beyond the birth of gods and dwarves, what other stories linger in the aftermath of those arctic waters and glacial mountain remnants? What stories, if I had the ability to listen, could that place tell me? Even now, I struggle to find the correct words, the correct sentences of explanation. Even now, that world of this particular history is too powerful for me to describe in accurate detail. But I try. I try just as the creators of Norse mythology tried. I try the way all writers try: to harness and immortalize the strength of places and their effects upon us. To evoke imagery and to draw inspiration and, ultimately, to tell a story worth remembering.

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What places have inspired you? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.