So, I wrote a first draft of a novel for NaNoWriMo this year. It's a metaphysical farce, which I know is not as popular these days as bodice-ripping supernatural teen romance-- but, what the hell, it's what I got.
The plot has a few dozen holes and logical inconsistencies-- but there's stuff in it that's really amusing and compelling, in my humble estimation.
I realized that with my ever-mounting to-do list related to making a living, I might never get around to revising this novel into something that fits neatly together and makes sense. Then I remembered that some of my favorite 19th century novels appeared first as serials in magazines. So, in the hopes that having a bit of an audience might prompt me to do the nitty-gritty fictional work of cleaning this thing up, I've decided to start publishing it in bits here on this blog.
You'll find the work deals with themes I'm generally obsessed with: addiction, romance, mystery. If you feel so moved, please comment on it-- I need all the encouragement I can get.
The Arcana - Chapter 1 - Laney Mitchell's Life Sucks
The Arcana are the mysteries of sex and death, masculine and feminine, transmutation and evolution. They’re movements in the dance of love and power that pervades all space and time. They’re the major figures of the Tarot. No one on the deep journey escapes the Arcana. They visit you, they change you, and they either call forth from you your deepest gifts or they rush you into complete despair. The outcome depends on you, but the visits themselves are fated. They commence the moment you step out of your coded, familiar world and into the vast unknown. Each mystery has its own initiation and crisis; its own secret and trial. You are always The Fool. - John Dee, blog post March 2011
Laney Mitchell’s life sucked. Not sucked a little, as in, “Oh, some things haven’t happened that I would have liked to have happened” but sucked a lot, as in “Nothing about my life is going well at all.”
Growing up, Laney passionately fell in love all the time. Falling in love, excessively and madly was her major forte. Her first romantic relationship was with a young man ostensibly named Draco, who lived in Vermont, whom she met in an AOL horror movie fans chat room. Laney did not at all like horror movies. Except for A Clockwork Orange, which the world in general did not count as a horror movie, but which Laney did because the violence in it terrified her. She liked Alex in A Clockwork Orange. She loved his one eye, with false eyelashes on the bottom and upper lid, the way it made his one eye seem so lurid and alert and menacing while his other eye looked so normal and fresh. While she hated the violent scenes, she loved the threat of violence in Alex’s eye, the mad look in it.
The young man in Vermont whom she met in the horror fans chatroom called himself Draco and identified with dragons. By regular mail he sent her pictures of himself, and a lock of his chestnut-flat brown hair which he sprayed with his cologne. When Laney opened, alone in her bedroom, the envelope that he had sent with his hair in it she swooned with joy. Other things that made Laney swoon with joy were bees and hunger. Laney loved bees not only because they threatened to sting her, but because they made honey, which seemed like an excessively generous thing for them to do. She knew that theoretically the bees made honey for themselves, but she never saw pictures of them eating the honey, only making it, so it seemed to her that the honey-making enterprise of bees was exclusively altruistic. Laney loved hunger because she liked the gnawing, empty pain in her stomach to match the gnawing, empty pain that she carried with her in her heart most of the time, when not presented with cologne-doused locks or bees.
At twenty, Laney had no advantages. She wasn’t pretty. In the least. In fact, she was the kind of awkward-chubby-and-pimply that you’re supposed to out grow at age thirteen. On top of this, she was intensely, acutely, insanely sensitive. The kind of sensitive that you’re supposed to out grow at age four.
She lived with her alcoholic mother in a small rent-subsidized apartment in the Highland Park neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Laney’s mother, Joan, wasn’t just alcoholic— she was a mean alcoholic, and obese. Her meanness focussed mostly on Laney, who was the only one around to take it. Joan had never married Laney’s father, Mickey, a day laborer and glam rocker who now lived in New York City. Joan hated herself and she hated her daughter and she didn’t care much who knew it. Joan got a tiny disability check each month (bad back) and used it to buy cheap gin, rolling tobacco, and frozen Hungry Man Sports Bar dinners.
Laney’s meals came from the neighborhood Thai restaurant, the Happy Turtle, where she worked as a waitress. That part of her life wasn’t so bad. The owner of the store, Mai, was a good-natured middle-aged lady who felt compassion for Laney and didn’t get upset with her even when she was discombobulated and slow. Which she often was. She wasn’t a very good waitress. Waitressing is a far more demanding profession than most people like to acknowledge, a job which makes all sorts of demands on one’s social skills, short-term memory and co-ordination, none of which Laney had in ample abundance. She spilled soup while trying to serve it, forgot to refill people’s waters, and out of shyness sometimes waited so long to approach a newly-seated group at a table that the group would just get up and leave. Still, Mai was kind about it and when Laney cried as she went home at the end of every shift, part of what made her cry was how touched she was by Mai’s patience.
Very vivid dreams
Though Laney had little to offer by way of physical charms (well, maybe we’re being too quick about this— she did have some notable features that could be potentially engaging to a very singular type of taste, namely: large, watery blue eyes, a snub nose, plump knees, and wealth of red hair that went all the way to her waist), she did have a great deal to offer in terms of soaring, throbbing, obsessive adulation.
Also, she suffered from very intense dreams.
Some people have boring dreams. They dream that they go to the grocery store and buy furry kiwis, or that they forget to send an important email, or that they’re having sex with a porn star. These kinds of dreams are just the ordinary human mind coping with its routine pleasures, anxieties, desires. They’re mild kind of dreams, at just the surface of the unconscious. They happen at a kind of low volume, and they’re pastel-colored. Nothing smells too strongly in these kinds of dreams, not the kiwis or the porn stars. Everything at this level of the mind is a little plastic and a little lame.
Laney never dreamt at a low volume. She often awoke to her alarm in a sweat, feeling fatigued as if she’d been physically carrying out the work of her night’s journey. Her dreams were overwhelming, loud, tidal. They ensnared her in epic expeditions, bullied her into tremendous sagas, and rode her through scenes of pulsing, riveting emotional intensity. In the morning she’d often sob and moan with grief, still suffering the pain of seeing one of her dream comrades die.
The most brilliant and shocking dream Laney ever had concerned a geode.
Laney dreamt that she was the pageant director for religious plays inside a giant cathedral. She lived in the attic of this giant cathedral— she had a small moppet of a dog and a rusty red tea kettle there on a little wood stove — but it wasn’t a normal Christian cathedral. It was something else, something pagan. The stain glass windows depicted Dionysus instead of Christ— lots and lots of grapes, barrels of wine. Her mission, as pageant director, was to put on plays that would inspire the audience and remind them of their faith, of the miracles in everyday life. Accordingly, Laney designed a little presentation in which a geode stood on a tall pedestal.
A young boy would throw a rock at the geode, thus knocking it off its pedestal and onto the floor. In its fall to the floor from its pedestal, Laney estimated, the geode would break open and the ordinary-appearing stone would reveal its magical wealth of crystals inside. Laney reasoned that this breaking-open of the geode would be a thrilling sight for the crowd, and a reminder of divinity’s sometimes-hidden but ever-present splendor. Yet when the time came to present the pageant and all the congregation assembled in the cathedral attic to see Laney’s show, the little boy threw the rock at the geode and the geode fell and broke open, but when it broke open, it didn’t just reveal its internal amethyst.
No, instead, a very fat and tender green shoot, about the width of an arm, unfurled rather lewdly from the center of the broken geode. The shoot swelled into a bud. The bud plumped and gradually, luxuriously, opened up into a light-blue lotus flower the size of a kiddie pool, which proceeded to revolve very slowly in the air. Then, adding perplexity to perplexion, another tender green shoot emerged from the center of the lotus. This shoot turned into a long, tall stem and then eventually bloomed into the cup-like form of a lily. Out of the open mouth of the lilly spouted a fine mist of glitter and it also began to revolve. The glitter hung motionless in the air surrounding the revolving flowers.
The cathedral audience in Laney’s dream stood up and gawked. They pointed at the spinning floral shimmering affair and began to shout at her: “Mirablis! Mirablis!” until Laney’s guts shook with fear. She realized that they were accusing her of being a miracle-worker. “I didn’t do it!” she cried back at them, “I didn’t plan for those flowers to pop out! They weren’t supposed to!” but the crowd rushed at her and lifted her up on their shoulders, carrying her downstairs to the cathedral altar in order to annoint her. Laney woke from that dream in a cold sweat. She had a sense that the dream meant something deeply significant, but she wouldn’t allow her conscious self to know just what that significance might be. Something inside her heart, though, said that the dazzling appearance of the flowers signaled a tremendous birth of magic in her own soul, and that the dream meant that she could complete the great work of self-realization in this lifetime, that she could succeed in becoming unconditionally loving.
Laney secretly longed to heal the whole world but didn’t dare believe that she could be someone capable of achieving that healing. She hated the greed and injury she saw everywhere, but she felt too weak and too small to combat it. The only way she could understand all the hard-heartedness she saw around her was to imagine that people who behaved cruelly had themselves somehow been treated very badly somewhere along the way. She suspected that the world could be a shining and delightful place to live if only this cycle of cruelty could be broken, if only no one ever had to have her heart stomped upon.
The stomped-on heart
Laney’s own heart had been stomped upon when she was seven years old. That was when Mickey, her father, left the small apartment that he shared with Laney and Joan. When Laney was a very little girl, Mickey had seemed to her the most loveable and thrilling creature in existence. He took her for long walks in the woods and taught her how to tell regular grass apart from onion grass, which was greener and taller and tasted like garlic when you chewed on it. He showed her how to find daddy long legs in piles of rocks, and told her that she was a princess. That’s ordinary stuff that fathers do, but Laney wasn’t an ordinary girl. She was a girl extraordinarily capable of imagination and love, and she fully believed Mickey when he said she was really a princess and he was a king, even though no one else knew it. This secret knowledge that Mickey and Laney shared of their underground nobility colored all of Laney’s childhood world and made the nonsensical pain of living make sense. When the other kids in the neighborhood teased her for not liking to play rough games or for being bad at sports, Laney just had to remember that she was a princess, therefore different from the rabble, and didn’t have to feel bad that she was so different from the others. She could go home and have her father sing to her before bed and feel magnificent and adored in his eyes.
When Mickey left because the screaming fights he was having with Joan got to be too bad, he made efforts to stay connected with Laney. He tried to get custody of her, but Joan prevented him, showing the court photos she had of Mickey cross-dressing in eyeliner and high-heels for glam rock shows and doing cocaine with his buddies. Every time Mickey showed up to pick up Laney for a weekend visit to the zoo or an ice cream shop, Joan would make sure than she and Laney weren’t at home. Mickey would sit outside waiting on the stoop of the apartment building until the landlord would make him leave. The sad thing about Mickey was that he didn’t have much perseverance. He could have fought harder for Laney, but he didn’t. After months of struggling with a resentful and drunk Joan to get a chance to see his daughter, he gave up. He got more into drugs and more into music. He moved to New York City. He sent letters to Laney which Joan burned. Whenever Laney asked Joan about her father, Joan just told her that her father was a creep and didn’t care about her.
Laney’s very large, very sensitive, and very delicate heart was dealt a near-fatal blow by her father’s departure. Without Mickey in her life, Laney couldn’t maintain the make-believe that she was a princess. She succumbed to thinking she must really be what all the other kids said she was: a loser, a weirdo, a freak.
The magical power
Laney’s dreams were right, though.
She had magical power and potential.
Laney’s power wasn’t anything flashy or dramatic. It was something that all of us have, but which very few of us are aware of.
Laney could heal things and people and situations with the love inside her. And this kind of healing wasn’t just the kind that fixes something that’s broken— it was the kind that could actually evolve beings into higher versions of themselves.
Stay tuned for our next installment...