Why this Blog?

I hope that this blog will become a place to look after my writing ideas and that, over time, I can use it to archive all my favourite creative sites on the web. Maybe others will enjoy it too.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Fire, wisdom and Bechdel

I confess that this entry was a hard one. It has been quite a while since I wrote anything at all, so it was always going to be odd coming back to it. Nevertheless, I return to my prehistoric story and find that I am writing something that I never planned. I wanted to write about music in the mountains and communities of itinerant men on journeys sharing skills and ideas but, instead, I found myself writing about tribes and women in nests.

Before anyone gets going, it's not about women being home-makers. At least, I hope not. It is centred on a meal though, because in my experience anything worth anything is centred on food. If I write about anything without food then that is when I am at my least realistic. It was partly inspired by reading some posts and blogs about women in history and how they tend to get ignored. How our perceptions of the modern era seem to inform what we consider to be realistic and authentic in SF and Fantasy novels.

I was also struck by Bechdel and that thing about women who talk together and don't talk about men. I have failed in that regard because the child of the piece makes reference to the male of the story in her petulance. This vaguely upsets me. However, I have, apparently, found a way around the female nomenclature - we have Falcon and Leaf on the Breeze as names. I dunno, they kinda work but I'm still not completely satisfied, they don't break the mould as much as I would like given my Moon Dancer and Shadow of the Stag names that came out of nowhere and instantly seemed to fit.

So, to the analysis provided by 750words.com as usual:


Rating: PG (violence[?])

Feeling mostlyself-expressive, and concerned mostly about food and drink - figures, given the setting

Mindset: Extrovert - Positive - Uncertain - Thinking

Time: The Past; Primary Sense: Touch; Us and Them: Them

34 minutes at 43 words per minute


Chanting to the spirits, she raised the wood and blessed them before setting to work on the small pile before her. Her daughter watched with wide eyes and a serious set to her jaw. First came the small puffs of smoke, and the blowing on the embers, then came the glow of myriad tendrils of root and pine needle before the flame blossomed and billowed upwards, then she added the twigs and dried leaves collected and kept in the leather pouch and allowed her daughter to add the larger wood. Carefully, together, they built the cradle to give birth to the flame.

"It is always this way?" asked Leaf of the Breeze, "Can we always make fire?"

"No, child," responded Falcon, "Not always. Sometimes the wood is too wet or the ground damp or the spirits not in attendance. Today was a good day. Most days are good days. But it is not always this way."

A shared silence, in the near distance they could hear the Elders talking in soft tones as they sat in their nests. Rain pattered on the forest canopy and over the shelter they had constructed from branches and long leaves. Smoke rose, white and full, from the fire they had created and battled with the wind that came from the south for dominance in the boughs above.

"Is the fire what makes us warm?"

It was a natural question. "No, child, the fire does not provide our warmth, it merely makes us warm in the cold of the night. It can make our food warm, make meat worth eating and warm our broth, but it cannot make us warm as people." Falcon smiled and turned to preparing their meal for the night. It had been a good day, the tribe had found eggs from ground dwelling fowl and had managed to return to an old camping site high above the forest floor, away from the ants and the small biting insects. Summer had been long in coming from the depths of winter and so the ground was still thick with leaves from the last autumn, this meant a profusion of insects.

"So what makes us warm?"

Leaf was persistent, and inquisitive, moreso than other children her age. In many ways she was like her elder friends who were close to becoming full women, so full of life and vitality. Falcon found herself smiling again, but in a different and more knowing way than before. Perhaps now was the time to impart the secrets of the tribe to the next generation. "Child," she began softly, "We must first eat before that question can be answered."

"When Moon Dancer asks you do not say this."

Perceptive too. "When Moon Dancer asks he asks with the need of a male," explained Falcon slowly, "He is impatient and lacks wisdom. When he asks he asks with the mind of one unprepared and we cannot give the full answer to his questions. Only enough that he can see his way to the next task or the next meal. I cannot impart full understanding to him of the ways of females or the ways of the spirits of the tribe, I can but give him small amounts of wisdom and hope that he takes the offering."

"Well, I want to have some small amounts of wisdom." And she folded her arms and stuck out her bottom lip.

"Leaf on the Breeze, you are already a joy," laughed Falcon, "And I wish to share with you the meal of the day. See, I prepare the paste that will anoint our fruit and make it wholesome." The eggs had been broken open into the hollowed out wooden bowl, a vigorous mixing had created a beaten mixture into which she would add the berries and dried nuts. This paste would then be cooked over a hot stone before being draped over the apples collected from further north and carefully dried for eating. "Without food in our bellies there can be no acceptance of wisdom."

Leaf did not move, and was not mollified, "I do not care for wisdom on a full stomach. I wish to be as Moon Dancer and have my food after I have found new things. Offer me some wisdom and see if I can take it as a gift."

"Child," soothed Falcon, "I would do as you ask, but see that the flames have reached the right point. I am making paste, you must add the stone we have chosen to heat or we shall have no food for the evening. Wisdom or not. I shall ask someone wiser than I to take over the task of teaching you, for I fear I am not able to discuss with you matters of import to the depth that you will demand."

Leaf on the Breeze took the flat stone from her pack and placed it carefully atop the now free-burning fire. Flames crackled around the edge and the smoke ceased to rise, embers sparked and the nature of it all changed from light-giving to heat-creating. In the soft glow of the setting sun through the verdant trees the change was noticeable, it was late and the hooting of doves could now be heard above the noise of the tribe at peace. Below them came the sounds of children playing, chasing through the lower branches and across the ground. Looking down, Leaf on the Breeze was at the point of joining them, but set herself against the impulse - she was older now - and tried to focus on the tasks at hand. Beside her, Falcon continued to beat the mixture of egg and berries and nuts in the small bowl with her antler. Beyond the end of the shelter she watched the medicine man with his straggly hair settling down in the spray of water from the rainstorm with his eyes closed and his hands open.

"Does Medicine Man know the wisdom of which you speak?"

Falcon seemed to catch herself a moment but did not respond immediately. Instead, she finished her preparation, laid the bowl carefully to one side and spat on the stone in the fire. Her spittle remained and dribbled to the edge, where the heat of the flames caught it and began to fizz and dissipate. It meant that it was not yet time to cook their meal. Carefully, she reached down and laid out the dried apples on the floor of the nest, testing each one for firmness and scrutinising the skins for any signs of them going off or of them being infested with insects.

For a moment it seemed as though she would ignore the question, move on with another instruction or else that she had not heard what had been said at all. Then she looked across with eyes that danced with amusement. "Child," and there was no malice in her tone, "Medicine Man is but a male. He understands the spirit world in ways that are different to those of the women and he can follow the trail that men must follow in ways that are different to those of mothers or sisters or daughters. He can trace lines between generations that are unknown to the Bringers of Life but he cannot understand that wisdom that unites us any more than any other man."

"Why not?"

"For men... Child, can we understand that which men must do?"

"I do not understand."

"When boys become men and leave to their places what happens?"

"When it is time they are removed from the tribe and then they must go on their journey. We do not see them again. And, if we do, it is many cycles of seasons later." Leaf on the Breeze felt that she was being tested or else the simplicity of the questions would have made her more frustrated. "They have their own journey where we cannot follow because they cannot grant life but they can destroy it."

Falcon nodded understandingly. "That is most of the truth." She spat on the stone again, but nothing much had changed. "Man can grant some of the life. For women have the power of new life within them and can do many things. But women alone cannot grant life, we can but create it. To grant life, to have a new soul, we require man. But men do not know this any more than we can know what it is that men do on their journey. When Moon Dancer comes to me, to us, he comes from his own journey. He shares what he can and I learn from him and he from me. However, my wisdom cannot be passed to him and his cannot be passed to me. We can but share in our lack of knowledge. In the same way my wisdom cannot be shared with you until after we have eaten and until after I have spoken with the elders."

Remaining on the floor of the nest, Leaf on the Breeze watched her Life Bringer stand and stretch her legs carefully, taking the bough that propped up their shelter in both hands to take the strain and the weight of her body to do so. It seemed an unsatisfying answer, but it was obvious that nothing more would be forthcoming.