Saturday, August 30, 2014

Three Topics with No Conclusion

I have three topics on my mind, but can't figure out what to say about them.  
First off...
I woke up very late today, the first day of my three day Labor Day weekend.  That's because I got to bed late after coming home very, very tired.  I worked fourteen and a half hours on Friday, by my best reckoning, in order to preserve that long holiday. 
You see, I was on vacation for most of August and things didn't go so well while I was out.  It was a disappointment month.  My boss has already told me, only half-jokingly, or more like five percent jokingly, that I'm not going to be allowed to take that much time off all at once again.  
Anyway, my bosses wanted me to put together a positive ending for this disappointment and sent me an email around lunchtime asking me if I was planning on bringing my staff in over the weekend to see if we improve the numbers.  
I could go over my first through tenth internal responses to this query, but I want to keep my job and I'll refrain from doing so.  What I did instead was approach my staff, and that of the invoicing department, who needed to be there to bill out whatever we finished for those numbers to be added to, in order to see who could come AND, more importantly, who would be willing to come.  
As expected, the idea of cutting a portion of their three-day holiday was not greeted joyously.  The most common reaction I got was something along the lines of a disbelieving stare, a guttural wheeze and, in a cautiously tuned voice, "I...  Could, but..." ending with a clearly visible plea in their eyes.  
I knew what that silent plea was asking me.  "Do I have to?"  If they had shouted it out loud, it would not have been clearer.  
One of my employees, gave me the alternative when she asked, "Can't I just stay late?  I'll stay until Midnight if I have to If I don't have to come in tomorrow."  
When I posed that question to my crew, it was met with unanimous approval.  Even when I added the caveat that we'd have to get out Every Single Doable order in the department, they were all onboard.  They'd stay until they achieved that goal.  
So we stayed.  All of us.  And everyone worked.  Hard.  They were focused.  They helped each other.  They took on other jobs they didn't normally do to ensure that everything got done.  
One employee, who had told me previously that he had to leave on time because of a trip he was making with his family for the weekend, came back to say he'd made arrangements to leave Saturday morning so he could stay and help everyone out.  Another employee who'd left for the day returned to continuing working into the night.  Friends of hers that texted her expressed their disbelief that she had done that.  
I thanked them.  I bought them dinner.  I felt grateful.  
We worked so late that some of the work was invoiced on Saturday (because of a two hour time difference between my office and our corporate office).  And we got out just about every single order that could possibly get done.  
"This was a good day," the invoicing supervisor said after she posted her final report and walked past me out the door.  It was, too.  It was much better than if we'd come in the next day.  It was an accomplishment.  I had been thinking to myself that it might be better just to write August off as a bad month and start fresh on Tuesday in September.  But doing it this way was a much better, fresher way to start the new month.  
There's a lesson in this that I'm not yet able to articulate, but it's a lesson learned, nonetheless.  
And so it goes...
I've been writing much more vividly recently.  Or so I believe.  
Part of it comes from having toured all those castles and manors and old parts of old English towns while on vacation.  If you're writing a fantasy novel, especially one set in a pseudo-European setting, I highly recommend going to the old part of some European city.  
One of the things that impressed me, for instance, was how narrow and tightly packed people lived back then.  If they made a door, it was made just big enough for someone to go through (which as noticeably smaller than the size people are now).  I think writers sometimes rely too much on what they see in movies and TV when describing their imaginary environments.  Oh, the houses and buildings looked like what I thought they would look like.  But their attitudes were different.  They leaned over you to see what you were doing there, and crowded close around you as if to say, "Hey, mate...  What're you doin' in my part of the world?"  Just looking, I promise.  
It also comes just from having all that time thinking about my writing.  And the time with writing colleagues talking about writing.  I can't remember where I picked it up from, but when I'm writing a scene now I'm more aware of the point of view character's "hidden senses," those other than seeing or hearing.  
Right now I'm looking at the letters appear on my computer screen, and I'm hearing the bluegrass music piping over the speakers of the Starbucks I'm sitting in.  But I'm also feeling the warmth of my laptop's metallic surface against my wrists and the firm, pleasant resistance of the keys as I tap on them.  There's the lingering taste of passionfruit, and the faint ascorbic sting at the back of my throat from the passionfruit lemonade I finished.  And the warmth in this corner, facing outside, away from the air conditioning outlet.  It's good.  
The hardness of the stool I'm siting on against my butt I could do without, but you can't have everything.  
I like going places and how they stir up your mind like this.  I need to keep doing it.  
And so THAT goes...
I'm thinking about dreams.  Having a dream.  Pursuing a dream.  It is something one should do.  
In the past, I've believe that dreams are what we all live for.  It is our dreams that give a person's life meaning.  No one lives to go to work everyday.  But they may very well live for the means to do something important to them that working allows them to do.  
In the past few months, for the first time I can recall, I've heard people express opinions AGAINST having or pursuing a dream.  
Tim Minchin, the Australian satirist and musician, has a viral video of a commencement speech where he tells the graduates that it isn't important to have a dream.  "If you focus too far out in front of you, you might not see the shiny thing out of the corner of your eye."  And I listened to another writer on the radio (name forgotten) who said pursuing dreams could take you too far out of yourself.  Better, he said, to find out what you're good at and do that, as it will give you more opportunities for happiness.  
There's a Japanese TV show I watch on the weekends that goes by the name "Global Messenger" in English.  The show is about Japanese people who live all over the world, pursuing their dreams, and the friends, family and loved ones back home wondering how they are doing and when they might come home.  The family sends some gift which the people on the show take to the expatriate expression their feelings and often their support toward the dream pursuer.  This often leads to a teary expression on the part of the person living overseas to put more effort into reaching their goals.  
I pursue a dream.  I've been doing it for years now.  I made choices about how to live my life and schedule my day, but I've not run off to Paris or gone to live in the Canadian Northwest wilderness in a yurt to achieve it.  I'm wondering how I would express my belief on dreams to someone.  Live for your dreams, but still find a way to put food on the table?  Hmm?  
And so that goes as well...
I think what these three topics have in common is they are all about doing something now.  By not putting off the "fresh start" I wanted and trying to achieve something last night, I got to a place where I feel I've accomplished something and can take my rest accordingly.  By being more in the moment when I write, I finding the sensations that make it more real for me and my future readers.  With my dreams, I keep them alive by doing what I need to do now, enjoying them now and not postponing gratification until achievement.  
There.  That's what I meant to say.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

My Mind's Still on Vacation

I think I’m having writer’s block.  
I’m trying to write today’s blog entry.  I’ve been at it for a couple of hours now.  I can’t seem to get anything done.  
Part of it is that I don’t know what I should write about right now.  
It should be easy, right?  I’ve just come back from a month long vacation.  Two conventions, 11,000+ miles of travel, over sixteen hundred photos snapped.  I should have a ton of material to write about. 
And there’s the transition back to real life.  A month away, going back to work yesterday felt a bit like starting a new job.  One where my first assignment was to get the desk of the person I was taking over from organized.  This was a moment I was trying to prepare for while at the convention; how to return to real life while maintaining the change of attitude being at the convention always brings.  
I could even write an essay like we used to do back in school.  “What did I do on my Summer Vacation.”  The timing is right, since school kids are starting to go back to their new terms as well.  
But nothing seems to gel this morning.  Nothing is coming together to become a topic to write about.  
It’s like I’m floating on the ocean, with water everywhere, and I’m dying of thirst.  Well...  That’s a bit dramatic.  
I’ve told myself that the point of this blog is to give myself a deadline, every week.  To come up and finish one piece and print it here.  
I’ve told myself that the purpose of this blog is to practice fictionalizing my life, to come up with the things that are important to me, find the seeds I can turn into stories, to rake over the compost heap of ideas and see what grows. 
But, even now, I’m feeling the strain of getting these words out on the screen.  This is the hardest I can remember it being after all this time.  
Why is that?  
It’s because I’m trying too hard.  I don’t know if that is the real reason or not, but for the purpose of this blog I’ve decided that it is.  I’m trying too hard.  Yeah.  That’s it.  It’s his fault, not mine.  
I want something important to come out of this trip.  It was the longest vacation of my adult life.  One month from the last day I worked in July to my first day back in August.  There was a paranoid part of me that worried “THEY,” the powers that be, my boss, the Universe, God, Fate, Karma, would align themselves and force me to cancel.  
But they didn’t.  I went.  I traveled.  I saw.  I experienced.  I enjoyed.  
What did I enjoy?  Just being away from work?  That’s always good, especially if you’ve worked hard, as I believe I’ve done.  Everyone said, when I returned to the office, that I looked very relaxed.  That is not something people usually say about me.  “He’s relaxed.”  Typically it’s more like, “Give him space in case he explodes.”  
I’m not THAT bad.  Honest.  
But just being away from work is kind of a passive enjoyment.  It’s negative in the sense that it’s NOT being over there, rather than BEING here.  
So, what did I enjoy about my vacation?  
I enjoyed feeling like a creative person.  A writer.  Being with my writer friends and talking about stories, what we’re working on, what we want to do.  
I enjoyed the fact that every pub I visited in England and Wales, except one, had hard apple cider on tap.  I tried more varieties than I can remember.  Golds.  Strongbow.  Stowford.  Aspall.  Many others.  And I enjoyed sitting with friends and acquaintances in those pubs and talking about all sorts of things while drinking those ciders.  
I enjoyed the English rain in the summer.  A very polite rain it is, I have to tell you.  Just about everyplace we went, it would rain on the bus but then stop when we got to our destination.  Once inside the castle, manor, exhibit or museum we’d come to visit, the rain would start again.  Then, as we were heading toward the bus, it would ease off until we were on our way again, when it would start to fall.  A very polite rain, indeed.  
I enjoyed learning that there is a person buried at Stonehenge.  He’s called the Stonehenge Archer.  He has a wrist guard on his forearm, the type to protect the arm when the bow is released.  He was killed by arrows as well and was buried in a ditch rather than a barrow.  What did he do to have someone want to kill him and bury him there?  I’ve no idea.  
It was letting my thoughts go that I think I enjoyed the most.  In my real life, there is a lot of thinking about what I need to do next.  What is the next project I need to work on?  How do I deal with this employee?  How far are we from making the goal for today?  For this week?  For this month?  When can I find time to create that training schedule I need to set up?  
But on vacation, one like this, my thoughts moved differently.  Sitting in the bus, looking at the country side roll past, I could think...  “Hey!  That hill looks like Bilbo’s home in the Shire.  Bag End.”  And then let myself stroll through my favorite passages from Fellowship, or recall my favorite scenes from the movie, or point it out to the person sitting next to me and start a discussion about the movies and how, the first one especially, made me feel like I was reading the trilogy again for the first time all over again.  
I think I just had an insight.  
While I’ve been struggling to write this blog entry today, I’ve not felt the frustration I would normally feel.  A little bit, maybe.  But it’s mostly been just sitting here and...  Be-ing, to a degree.  
It’s warm outside, but the apartment isn’t hot.  It’s like sitting in the shade.  Through the open front window, I can hear the cars and trucks dopplering back and forth.  Downstairs, a neighbor was practicing scales on his keyboard all morning.  Back and forth, fast then slow.  I’ve been sipping a bottle of sparkling water, feeling the bubbles dance on my tongue, washing the thirst away much more efficiently than plain water.  “Still water” they call it in England, to differentiate it from sparkling.    
Despite my one day back at work, my mind is still in vacation mode.  It wants to keep going at its own pace, taking it what it will, putting together the things it wants to think like a collections of sea shells after a stroll along the beach.  It let me do what I needed to do yesterday.  But this is the weekend.  A mini-vacation.  It wants to take things as it wants.  
OK.  Fine.  Have it your way, mind.  You let me get this much out, so I’ll thank you for that.  
Hey...  I noticed when I went to the store the other day, to refill the empty refrigerator we left a month ago, they now have Strongbow cider on sale.  In bottles, it’s true, but maybe we can get a bottle or two and listen to the day slide past for a bit.  

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Time-slip in Westminster Abbey

There was a moment this week when I could hear the people of the world whisper their thoughts to me.  
Either that, or I've been on vacation in England too long and I'm going a big goofy.  Goofier than is my wont.  
Using "wont" in a sentence may be another indication I've been in England too long.  
It was at Westminster Abbey.  I actually had a couple of moments of emotional rush there.  The second one was in the Poets' Corner.  
There are around thirty-five hundred people buried at the Abbey.  They tend to cluster people of the same profession together.  Chaucer, the writer of Canterbury Tales and the father of the English language, was entombed there.  After that, ever writer of note given permission to be buried there was placed as close to him as possible.  That's Poets' Corner.  It was a who's who of the master storytellers and poets.  Dylan Thomas, Henry James, T.S. Eliot, Ben Jonson.  It was while I was stepping from Rudyard Kipling's grave to Charles Dicken's that I got gooseflesh running up and down my body.  It was a profound tickle that went from my core to the tip of my head, down to the ends of my toes and back again.  I looked around at the other members of my tour group with this big, stupid smile on my face.  
Fortunately they'd gotten use to stupid expression from me, so no additional embarrassment was accrued.  
I encountered other masters of their craft earlier on the tour, still very much living.  It was at the Making of Harry Potter at the WB studios in London.  I'm not a big Harry Potter fan.  I've seen the movies but I've not read any of the books, except for one abortive effort to read a Japanese translation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in for language practice.  
Going to the Potter exhibit made me wish I had been more of a fan and had read the books, if only to be able to recognize the inspiration for the work down by the costume designers, prop-masters and conceptual artists whose work I saw there.  There was a prop-master there demonstrating how they constructed the flying brooms that appeared in the movies.  For the Nimbus 2001, used by Draco Malfoy, they were told to make the broom part look like a porcupine's tail.  If they glued the quills into place, the glue would be visible on screen.  So, for each individual quill, they drilled a hole and inserted a tiny pin into the base to hold it in place, another in the middle and a third near the tip.  There were three hundred quills to make that broom, for a total of 900 pins.  
It reminded me of what I'd heard about the Shakers, the religious sect similar to Quakers known for the quality of the furniture they made, now extremely valuable antiques.  If they were making a chair, for example, they would make it good enough that it would be worthy for Christ to sit upon it when he returned in the second coming.  
If He wants a broom to fly around on when he returns I know where He can find one.
I think it's important to make the utmost effort when doing something.  I believe that we should all try to set a personal standard of performance that is higher than what anyone else expects of you.  My Mom used to tell me that if I were going to be a ditch-digger, I should strive to dig the very best ditches that could be dug.  This is why Poets' Corner affect me so.  It is why I was so impressed by the work I saw of the Art Department that created the Harry Potter films.  These were people that did their very best and set such a standard.  
I came looking for something like this when I came to England for WorldCon.  I was in an agitated, frustrated state when I left on vacation.  I wanted to find...  Something.  A way to be a better writer.  A new focus to my craft.  A way to balance my efforts at my job, which is important and at which I try my best to achieve and exceed the goals set for me, and at my writing, which is also very important to me, but which sometimes suffers due to the time I give to my job.  My life as well, staying healthy, making friends, socializing, has suffered because of the need to do my best in one aspect of my life.  
It's become clearer to me that I need to put my life in better balance by facing what I think of as weaknesses in how I handle things.  As I heard someone say today, I've got to put my brave trousers on and do it.  
It was the going back in time part that helped me to see this.  
It was the first emotional rush moment at Westminster Abbey.  I had just finished walking through the section where the tomb of Elizabeth the First is kept, turning toward the Pilots' Corner.  This is the section of the church dedicated to the pilots that died during the Battle of Britain.  The passage gets very narrow, and there were dozens and dozens of tourists squeezed in there.  
As I tried squeezing my way through the crowd, I started to hear voices.  Voices in many different languages.  It was the audio guides most of the people there were wearing.  I could hear the voices of the narrators, in a dozen different languages or more, seeping from the earphones of the visitors around me.  
I stopped for a moment and let the sound wash over me.  Dozens of voices to match the dozens of faces of so many different races and cultures I could see around me.  As I stood there, it felt as if I were eavesdropping on the thoughts of everyone in the entire world all at the same time.  Every voice saying the same thing, just saying it differently.  It felt like a holy moment in a very holy place.  
And it sent me back to a few days before, when I saw the work of those marvelous creators who made those movies.  It said to me, "This is why we created these things, to get people to see moments like this."  
"Yeah," I replied.  "I get it.  It's the reason I want to do the best I can."  
Something very much like that. 
For those interested, her are photos of the Making of Harry Potter Experience AND The Hatter Potter Art Department.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Oxford University of Inspiration

England is a place that oozes history.  Our tour guide on our walking tour of Oxford was pointing out a building we were near and said, "It's not that old.  Only about five hundred years or so."  
When his tour group filled with Americans reacted, pointing out that the building he was pointing at was over twice as old as our country, he smiled and agreed that the English have a different standard of age.  "When something gets to around a thousand, then you're talking old."  
And with that seepage of history, there is a lot of things one can find inspiring.  That was one of the reasons I joined the tour group of WorldCon convention goers tooling around England and Wales, to be inspired.  
Oxford, for example, is a place that inspired other writers  Lewis Carroll, for example, used to watch one of the deans run through the tiny door pictured below, every day, running late to lessons.  "I'm late," he'd heard the dean say to himself as he ducked through the door.  "I'm late, I'm late."  

It's not hard to figure out what character that dean turned into when he wrote about Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  

Or C.S. Lewis.  The photo below is a door seen from the exit of the church he attended while studying in Oxford.  If you look close at the carving in the center, you'll see that the face is that of a lion.  

And on the lintel, is a carving of a faun.

Look to your right from the same spot, and you see this...

Just like the lamppost that marked the entrance to the wardrobe in Narnia.  So, for these writers, there was inspiration to be found in Oxford.  It wouldn't be too farfetched to imagine me finding a bit of inspiration of my own.  
Unfortunately no thunderbolts or epiphanies struck while I was there.  Not even at the Eagle & Child, the pub where J.R.R. Tolkien would meet with his writing group, The Inklings, which included the aforementioned C.S. Lewis, and where he first read from the manuscript that would become The Hobbit to them.  I bought a pint and went to the back room where they would meet, which is now something of a shrine to Lewis and Tolkien, with portraits of the authors on the wall, and drawings of scenes from their books and maps of Middle Earth and Narnia on the walls.  No one else in the back room paid much attention to the stuff on the walls.  I sat there, trying to soak it all in.  Trying to feel something of the magic that surely filled the place when they were reading their words to each other.  Maybe to hear the rustle of a page turning, or even a tiny echo of some criticism one of them gave the other.  

It was a neat thing to do.  But I didn't get any flash of something I just had to write.  
While in Oxford I went to the Ashmolean Museum.  It is considered to be one of the finest history museums in the world.  It currently has a special exhibit on the discovery of King Tut's tomb.  I went to see the exhibit, hoping to see in person some of those iconic artifacts that are associated with the ancient pharaoh, like his gold sarcophagus mask.  I was disappointed to discover that the most famous pieces from the tomb, such as that golden mask, are properties of the Egyptian government and are held in that country.  With the current turmoils there is no telling when they might be let out.  While the exhibit is interesting and educational, it did make me feel like something was missing.  
And that is when I think I gained a bit of insight.  
The Chronicles of Narnia weren't just about a lion, a faun and a lamppost.  These three items figure prominently in the first book, the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but there is a whole lot more than just those things.  C.S. Lewis  went to that church for years, and exited from that doorway dozens upon dozens of times.  They didn't impress him to any degree the first, twentieth or even the hundredth time he saw them, I'd wager.  
But then something happened.  Or rather, something ELSE happened.  Some other thought, something else he had noticed one day, maybe the fact the wardrobe in the flat he was living in needed the back panel repaired, rubbed up against that door he'd seen numerous times, or the lamppost down the way, and that something else idea struck the sight of them like flint against steel and...  THEN, something was there.  The germ of the seed of the idea of the story was there.  
I've read numerous books on writing and a common piece of advice is to not wait for inspiration.  That one should treat writing like a job or any other craft.  Every day you should write something, putting in your time, finishing what you started and submitting what you finished.  I believe this to be sound advice.  
But those inspirational moments are not the voice of angels singing to you all at once out of no where.  They are, I think I see this now, the missing piece of a puzzle that writers, or musicians or sculptors or painters, etc., have been keeping in their heads, made of all the other pieces of things they've seen or done or felt or remembered.  
Inspiration is finding that last missing piece of that puzzle and seeing what you've been carrying around in your head all that time.  
Yeah.  And now, I feel inspired to get me another pint before the local pub closes.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

A Damn Good Limerick

One of the places I've stayed in during my England tour is a place called Ruthin Castle.  It is a castle that was built in the 13th century that's been converted into a hotel.  
During our stay, the staff put on a "Medieval Banquet" for us.  They dressed in period costume, sang songs, played music and feed us what they said were traditional welsh recipes.  You can see some pictures I took here.
Part of the evening was a limerick contest amongst the guests, the other members of the pre-WorldCon tour.  We were handed a sheet of paper with the first line of the limerick, "A Knight whose wife was a witch..."  We were expected to supply the rest.  
Well, I took the competition pretty seriously.  I wrote a slew of words that rhymed with "witch," plus a list of other words that rhymed with each other that I might use.  Hex, sex, rex...  Spell, quell, dell..  Then I concentrated on working out a limerick.  
I concentrated so much, I missed the instruction to turn them in for review.  I still had my piece of paper when they read off some samples of what had been turned in and then read the one they, the staff that performed for us, chose as the winner.  
I was pretty bummed out.  I wanted the chance of having my limerick win the evening.  They awarded the one they did pick a peacock quill.  Very poetic.  
But I still have the limerick and I've decided to share it with you.  It is, I think, a damn good limerick.  I hope you enjoy it.
And, trust me, had it been in the competition, it would have won.
A Knight whose wife was a witch
Did dally with a maid from Ipswich.
The wife cast a spell
And on the stroke of a bell
He was struck with perpetual crotch itch.  
The End.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

The Mark of the Cat

"I've often about wondered that."  The woman behind the department store counter paused in folding up returns that looked like they were heading back to the store shelves.  "Why don't you Americans sign the back of your credit cards?"  

The woman next to her, taking my purchase of socks and underwear, paused to listen.  It had been pointed to me before since arriving in England that my fellow Americans had the reputation of being negligent in this aspect of handling our personal finances.  This was the first time I had the opportunity to give an explanation.  

I told her, at least as far as myself and my circle of friends were concerned, I left the back of my credit cards blank in order to induce whomever was taking the purchase being made with the card to ask for identification.  At least one acquaintance of mine, I told them, writes, "Ask for ID," in that little box instead of his signature.  It is done in the hope that, in case my card ends up on some nefarious stranger's hands, the clerk will do what is necessary to verify the buyer's identity.  

It is a way of saying, "Hey!  Look at his identification!  It's important!"  

Side note: The use of the word "nefarious" in the previous paragraph was, I suspect, done so under the influence drinking my morning tea in the lounge of the quaint English hotel I'm staying in while typing out this blog entry, just as the usage of the word quaint was employed under the same influence.  I promise to keep these influences in check throughout the remainder of this entry.  

I think it was a similar motivation that prompted the builders of the Avebury stone circle to create this work.  Not that this sprawling, incomplete monument, larger yet less well known that Stonehenge, which is near by, is a giant Neolithic attempt to purchase sheep on credit.  But I did get the sense as I was walking around the standing stones of an effort on someone's part to point something out.  After centuries of construction, the circle is interrupted by streets, restaurants homes and other buildings, erasing most of the monument.  But there are moments, walking along the ridge, when you get a glimpse of the former structure.  The thing being pointed out is gone.  But you can see a shadowy outline, like a hand pointing into the fog, and hear a whispered voice insist "See?  There!  Look!  This important!"  

I've told some people on the tour with me that coming to England and seeing this stone circles and medieval cathedrals and castles is something like going to Grandma's house when I was a little boy.  It is a place filled with old things that I have a historical connection to, but which I'm not supposed to touch lest I break them and loose some small part of history.  Photos, mementos, trinkets, my grandmother's little glass figurines, the original copy of the Magna Carta, are preserved and kept in special places so that they can be shown to the people that come after and used to illustrate the stories of what happened before.  To tell little boys about the parts of the family they never met, and why their stories are important.  

It is easy for Kings and ancient priests to be remembered.  These important people order the construction of these massive structures, these piles of history, which the descendants of their great-great-great grandchildren tend and care for.  I've heard it said that people face three moments of extinction related to their existence.  Their death, or personal extinction.  The time when everyone who knew them personal dies, or the extinction of their direct relationships.  And finally, the moment after the last time they are last mentioned by another human, their historical extinction.  If they reach this level, which I'm afraid most of will achieve, they will have vanished.  It will be as if they never existed.  

I believe that this is something we should work against.  The odd are stacked against each of us.  What is it that any one of us can do that will cause our existence to be remembered from amongst the stream of billions upon billions of souls that will wink in and out of being?  It is unfortunate that the easiest ways are those which cause the greatest harm to the evolution of our species, by assassinating a peace-maker or starting some war.  Far harder to gain remembrance for creating something of enduring beauty, or by sculpting a turn of phrase, a meme, that people will quote and being guided by as time stretches on.  

But the attempt is important.  And my visit to this country has reminded me that it doesn't necessarily have to be something historically grand to keep you in the collective mind of humanity.  A bit of whimsey can do the trick.  (Apologizes.  "Whimsey" is definitely a "morning tea" influenced term).  

At Salisbury Cathedral, where the original copy of the Magna Carta is kept on display, there is a stone set in a low partition that separates the walkway surrounding the central grassy court from the rest of the building.  This stone can be found directly across the entrance from the café added to the front of the building.  On this stone is a crude drawing of a cat.  

This drawing is over 800 years old.  It was cut into the stone by one of the workmen that helped build this impressive building.  The workmen were paid a penny and a pint of day for each day of labor.  

When this carving was pointed out to me, I imagined some young fellow sitting on the ground by the low wall he'd been instructed to build.  It was the end of the day.  He's taking a sip of his pay and surveys the scaffolding surrounding the impressive structure he's helping to erect.  Though incomplete, it is already impressive.  Already larger than any other building made by man that he has ever seen.  And he's a part of it.  He's helped to make it happen.  He may be one ant amongst thousands scurrying over this hive of history, but he has worked hard and he's proud of what he's done.  

On impulse, he takes his trowel and uses its tip to cut into the stone he's just finished setting.  People call him "the cat" because of how nimble he is carrying stones up the scaffolding to his brother workers.  It takes a few strokes.  In the space of a couple dozen heartbeats, it's done.  

This fellow is gone.  All all those people that knew him are long gone as well.  But we remember him.  He may be a vague silhouette in the fog of history, but we still remember him.  

Let's all strive to make our mark in some way.