On Tuesday afternoon, during a brief break in the clouds (sun! I saw it!), I sat outside on the deck to contemplate my Perbs. I’d been working on Hild, but couldn’t quite get into it. I was trying to imagine York in the early seventh century, the dark stubbled fields and migrating birds of early November. But it’s June here (no matter how wet and cold), very green and lush, and in my office I’m surrounded by blinking technology–white shiny Apple-ness–and polished wooden floors. Bright lights. Comfortable ambient temperature. Utterly removed from a world of pigs, disease, fear of war and childbirth and famine. (This kind of weather wouuld have spelled death for communities back then.)
I’m a working novelist. If I relied upon, y’know, feelng it before I wrote it, I’d never get anywhere. But this day, unusually, I felt as though there was a pane of glass between me and the time/place/people I wanted to be with. Everything I wrote was facile and superficial.
So when the sun popped out, so did I. I turned my mind off and just absorbed the day. After I pinched the flowers off the dill, a bird came and sang at me. A junco, I decided. Two jays in the ravine started a screaming match. Then a honeybee landed onto the table right by my hand and went through the most extraordinary routine. I’d never seen anything like it.
For someone born in the late 20th C the analogy was obvious: it behaved just like one of those pimped-out cars with hydraulic suspension that pump up at the front, then the back, then jack down one side, then the other, then light up all over, then shake and jump.
The bee stuck its abdomen in the air, jammed its head down so it was at about a 60° angle to the table, and smoothed itself with its two hind legs. Then it tilted the other way, waggling its front legs. Then, pop, it tucked in its wings and zizzed its middle legs up and down its thorax. Then it vibrated all over like the water in a glass next to a subwoofer. Then it skipped. Then it flew off.
The whole thing happened so fast–fast-forward speed–that it wasn’t until it had disappeared that I understood it had simply been cleaning itself.
How would I describe what I’d just seen in 7th C terms? That’s part of my dilemma. How do I forget my modern experience? What do I replace it with? I’ve never relied on a visceral connection to the land for survival. For my daily bread, my clean water, my fuel, I don’t rely on experience/expertise so ingrained that it could be mistaken for instinct. I rely on money–one of those systems that, in Hild’s childhood culture, didn’t exist.
But, eh, figuring out how to sidestep one’s own cultural (and individual) programming is part of the job. Today I’ll get there–though I’m thinking I might allow myself a snippet of dialogue: Hild, observing a passing cart, shouts, “Yo, sharp wheels!” I can fix it later…