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John Umland, Aladren
You tell me.
Mon Mar 27, 2017 20:45

For one moment – one single, blessed moment – John forgot everything that had happened and silently grumbled in his head at Professor Skies’ announcement that they were going to spend two days a week drilling on Vanishing. Then, though, he remembered, and took to using a few choice expletives in his head instead.

His old wand, Mr. Chenar had told him when he was eleven, had been temperamental. As a result of this temperamentality, it had taken John most of two years to get his abilities properly under his control. His new wand was, apparently, not so temperamental, which helped, but the fact remained: John still was not as adept with it as he had been with his old one before the accident. Mr. Chenar had tried to cheer him up – maybe, the wandmaker had seemed slightly disturbed for some reason, though John had chalked that up at least in part to his own haggard appearance at the time – by noting that the new one was quite an inherently powerful wand, which probably helped more, but fact remained: John didn’t have two more years to learn. He didn’t have all of one. Plus, something that did not help at all was how frustrating it was. John had struggled those first two years, but by his fourth year, he had begun to largely regard going to class as a formality. His real learning, finding out where the limits of his abilities were and then over-extending himself by inches until he increased where those limits stood, had mostly taken place in isolated parts of the Labyrinth Gardens. Now he, who had built most of his confidence around the assumption that social skills were not really necessary when simply out-magicking the vast majority of his classmates if they decided to antagonize him was an option, was, at best, on a level with his classmates. At worst, he might actually currently stand a little below some of his classmates, if not in magical power – that was innate, he’d gathered, and – at least in magical dexterity. This meant he actually probably needed these long, boring days of drills, needed to walk sedately where he was used to running and spinning about as he pleased, impiously proud and confident in his own strength, never thinking that it might all just abandon him while he was still alive….

It’s Joanie’s fault – she should have left it alone and neither of us would have any problems now. It’s Julian’s fault – if not for her, none of it would have ever happened. It’s…Oh, God, I’m Napoleon in Hell.

He tried to concentrate on what Skies was still saying to the class, but tuned back in just as she mentioned rival theories of Vanishment. He could no longer think about that without thinking about Lenore, which was a problem. He had confessed (he had started demanding a priest as soon as he’d been able to demand much of anything, answering all inquiries about whether he wanted or needed anything with that until Mom had given in and persuaded theirs to come see him at home, John having at the time still been virtually confined to the sofa), he had been forgiven, he had done penance. It was as if it had never happened. He had no reason to ever think about it or feel guilty about it again. His neurons, however, refused to see reason in this, just as they had refused to see reason that time he’d gotten a stomach virus the same day he’d eaten lemon sorbet and had afterwards not been able to touch anything lemon-flavored for six months –

No – he couldn’t blame his brain. It was probably his own fault. If he had gone to church more often when he’d had the chance, he wouldn’t remember it anymore, but he hadn’t set foot in one since he’d left home. He had stood outside one for a while on several occasions, but had not been able to bring himself to go in. Nor had he prayed the Rosary, or done the daily readings, or the Angelus…pretty much the only thing still standing between him and total dissolution was breaking the Friday fasts. He still hadn’t done that. It was like a joke: maybe he was suddenly, uncontrollably questioning everything he had ever believed, but there was a difference between that and suddenly beginning to act like a Protestant….

Jokes didn’t take away the question, though: what did it all mean?

Since he was very young, Mom had told him he was special, that his brains and skills were gifts given to him by God because he was destined for something greater than most people, and this had seemed entirely reasonable to him. Now, though, everything that had made sense no longer did. In trying to do what he’d thought he was supposed to, he had lied to his sister and driven her away, straight into the arms of Wrong people he'd then helped as they'd worked to drag her down to their level. He had then driven away his brother and his mother when it had all fallen apart and with it how they thought of him. Now here he was, alone in a foreign country, half as powerful as he was used to being, and he didn’t see any clear way out of that situation.

He was forced to accept one of two things: either he had been Wrong about everything and he was actually in serious trouble with the Almighty and needed to do serious penance, or…or he had been Wrong about everything not on ethical grounds, but because there was no system. Things just happened for no reason. There was no Good, no Right, no Wrong, no Rules – just animals with a complex communication system which made them think they were little demigods when they were really no better than anything else. And that made sense, in a way. Young crows would steal things simply because they were shiny, but grew away from that behavior as adults. In some species, older siblings looked after younger ones along with the parents, and brothers continued to visit each other even after leaving the nest. They hunted cooperatively, had vocal tones that meant certain things – it was a simpler language than that of humans, to be sure, but it was fairly sophisticated communication nevertheless. And chimpanzees apparently formed cliques. Humans liked to think theirs were purely social and those of chimpanzees were purely sexual, but most human social dynamics seemed to be based on the same things. That was why he maintained the medievals had been right to classify the love between friends as a higher and better love than that between spouses or lovers; it was closer to that of the angels, who did not have bodies and thus did not suffer physical cravings. It was not about survival. It gave the illusion that one could ignore the obvious second part to man may not live by bread alone, which was that maybe not, but he may not live without any at all, either, in general circumstances.

So we worked and waited for the light, and went without meat and cursed the bread, and Richard Cory, one calm summer night, went home and put a bullet through his head.

That was the great argument against living by bread alone, of course – one had to have something to live for to muster the will to continue living. Better, John had been taught, to die for lack of bread, either for just a lack or for having overpowered one’s own will with the aid of the Almighty, than to live thinking oneself virtuous when one had faced no troubles. That was what asceticism was about – proving oneself above mere appetites. But if they were all made of the same stuff, what was the point of making such a point of being human?

He needed to read Catherine of Siena again, he knew, and the Lady Julian, and the Desert Fathers, and pray to them for help. He wanted to, even – right now, that was. Every time he tried to pray, though, he was seized with a combination of dread and horrible lethargy and could not bring himself to do it, and he couldn’t read the works of the saints right now anyway - he had left them all in Calgary and doubted there were copies buried in the library here. Right now, though, he did have work to do, and so, for a moment, could let himself believe he would find the courage to try to fix himself later.

And indeed there will be time, time for you and time for me, time for a hundred visions and revisions before the taking of toast and tea….

As a seventh year, he had a toad before him. Last year, he was sure, he could have vanished it with little trouble. Now, he had no idea. He turned the new wand – hard still to think of it as ‘his’ – between his fingers. He and Mr. Chenar had had tea and a pleasant conversation, and had begun with what the wandmaker called the ‘usual suspects’ for someone of whatever it was he perceived John’s character to be – walnut, chestnut, fir, hornbeam, red oak, pine, ebony, more sycamores like his old one – but in the end, the one Mr. Chenar had declared the best fit had been made of yew. John had been something less than amused – a long-lived tree, of which every bit was poisonous and which was best-known for growing in cemeteries? How lovely – but it and its dragon heartstring core were supposed to be fairly independently powerful, which would hopefully help him make up for the skill gap he was at least temporarily saddled with. He looked over the toad, then at someone, hoping to both put off being visibly less skilled than last year for a bit and to cheer himself up a bit by starting a good argument.

“She made a good pointabout…ourdoubt…any of us could construct a – functional - life-form,” he remarked. “But I don’t think Vanishing Space adequately accounts for – conservation of mass, energy, what conjured objects – are, how they don’t last…or where Conjured objects come from. It – it assumes a one-to-one ratio of Vanishing and Conjuring!” For about three seconds, John felt a genuine smile flicker across his face. I’d – it makes more sense that – specifics, the photograph, maybe – it’s a variant on Banishing, don’t you think?”

OOC: John’s comment about being “Napoleon in Hell” is derived from “The Great Divorce,” where one of the damned tells the narrator, an avatar for Lewis, about Napoleon’s palace: it is brightly lit, but empty except for the rain (roofs in Hell are not ‘real’ enough to keep out the perpetual rain there in TGD) and Napoleon himself, a “tired little man” who cannot not stop pacing and blaming this or that other person for everything going wrong in his life. His comments about love are also Lewisian, drawing from The Four Loves and The Discarded Image. I also somehow combined Ivan Karamazov with Queen Elsa in John’s long digression on his crisis of faith; that was not where I thought I was going, but it seems to be where we’ve ended up. The wand woods named are based on notes on the Harry Potter wiki. Lines, slightly misquoted (I did them from memory since John is supposed to be remembering them off the top of his head), are taken from the poems “Richard Corey” by Edward Arlington Robinson and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot.

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    • You tell me. — John Umland, Aladren, Mon Mar 27 20:45
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