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.


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