Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The feeling of being rained upon

Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader. Not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon. 
~E. L. Doctorow

Fina is not the protagonist of The Color of the Sky.  She is only the younger sister of the protagonist, and at first glance might not seem of great import.  Blinded from a fever two years before the story begins, Fina can see nothing for herself, but instead relies on her sister Margot to see things for her.  Fina's deep appreciation for beauty leads her to constantly ask Margot to describe their surroundings, to tell her exactly how the sunset looks tonight and what kind of birds are wheeling in the sky above them.

Margot struggles with describing these things to Fina, exactly mirroring the way I constantly struggle to give an accurate picture of the beauty (or ugliness, or somewhere-in-between) in which my characters find themselves.  Because people.  Description is hard.

I've read so many wonderful books that seem to perfectly nail the tricky task of telling it like it is... The Yearling comes to mind, as do A Tale of Two Cities and The Bronze Bow.  These stories were all blessed with authors who knew how to marry the right words, to use just enough adjectives for coloring and just enough adverbs for seasoning.  And yet there's still another Book that has even greater word-pictures within it, one that wouldn't have immediately sprung to mind if you had asked me to name a piece of writing that evoked a beautiful sensation.

See, I was always a little scared of the latter books in the Old Testament.  Hosea, Joel, Amos and ObadiahJonahMicah were lumped together like HIJKelemenoP in the alphabet song.  And Ezekiel and Daniel?  Well, Daniel was good reading in the first half, but after that when the prophecies began... it was over my head.  I'd understand it all when I got older.

That was the excuse I hid behind for many a day.  In truth the excuse was roughly shaped like a very slender and spiky tree, and I resembled a child about twice the width of the trunk who blissfully believed that she was perfectly concealed behind the spindly branches.   Then came January 2012 and my resolution to read the entire Bible in one year.  Which meant the minor prophets.  And Ezekiel and Daniel.  (Also Song of Solomon which I'd always steered clear of because it embarrassed me in places, and Leviticus with all the laws... my goodness, I'm being quite candid tonight, aren't I?)

When I began Ezekiel in July, I was in for a surprise.  Sure, there were plenty of passages I didn't understand.   Yes, the Dry Bones song started running through my head as soon as I began chapter 37.  But it was chapter 27 that really arrested me, that stopped me in my dutiful plowing, that made me sit up and take notice (and a pen to underline) and truly love the words for the beautiful things that they were.  Pictures soared through my head like never before.

It was amazing.

See, I'm a pastor's daughter.  I'm a good girl, I am; I know my Bible.  My parents raised me to study the Word of God from a very young age, and I'm incredibly grateful for their patient teaching.  But there are times when human instruction doesn't cut it, when a book or chapter or verse can't be comprehended unless God speaks in a special way.  This was one of the special times.

I mean, look at these verses.  It's not poetry.  (I'm not too keen on poetry.)  It's prose--lovely, picture-filled, emotive, vibrant prose breathed by the Creator himself.  It's awe-inspiring.

Thus saith the Lord God; O Tyrus, thou hast said, I am of perfect beauty.
Thy borders are in the midst of the seas, thy builders have perfected thy beauty.
They have made all thy ship boards of fir trees of Senir: they have taken cedars from Lebanon to make masts for thee.

There, a sweeping picture of the wealth of nations.

Of the oaks of Bashan have they made thine oars; the company of the Ashurites have made thy benches of ivory, brought out of the isles of Chittim.
Fine linen with broidered work from Egypt was that which thou spreadest forth to be thy sail; blue and purple from the isles of Elishah was that which covered thee.

Colors dazzling in the sun... 

The men of Arvad with thine army were upon thy walls round about, and the Gammadims were in thy towers: they hanged their shields upon thy walls round about; they have made thy beauty perfect.

There, an image of soldiers from far away glorifying this city.

Syria was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of the wares of thy making: they occupied in thy fairs with emeralds, purple, and broidered work, and fine linen, and coral, and agate.
Judah, and the land of Israel, they were thy merchants: they traded in thy market wheat of Minnith, and Pannag, and honey, and oil, and balm.
Damascus was thy merchant in the multitude of the wares of thy making, for the multitude of all riches; in the wine of Helbon, and white wool.
Dan also and Javan going to and fro occupied in thy fairs: bright iron, cassia, and calamus, were in thy market.
Dedan was thy merchant in precious clothes for chariots...
These were thy merchants in all sorts of things, in blue clothes, and broidered work, and in chests of rich apparel, bound with cords, and made of cedar, among thy merchandise.

A marketplace of rich color.  Can't you just see it?  But now, of a sudden, the downfall of this great bustling metropolis...

All thy company which is in the midst of thee, shall fall into the midst of the seas in the day of thy ruin.
The suburbs shall shake at the sound of the cry of thy pilots.
And all that handle the oar, the mariners, and all the pilots of the sea, shall come down from their ships, they shall stand upon the land; and shall cause their voice to be heard against thee, and shall cry bitterly, and shall cast up dust upon their heads, they shall wallow themselves in the ashes: and they shall make themselves utterly bald for thee, and gird them with sackcloth, and they shall weep for thee with bitterness of heart and bitter wailing.

Suddenly the mood has changed, has turned into fear and lamentation and a chill starts to spread.

 And in their wailing they shall take up a lamentation for thee, and lament over thee, saying, What city is like Tyrus, like the destroyed in the midst of the sea? ... The merchants among the people shall hiss at thee; thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt be any more.

And the end.  Tragedy.  A city that would not give glory to the One who created it was reduced to a pile of rubble: a terror that never would be any more.

Are you shivering yet?
I am.

I have portions of that chapter copied in my notebook now.  Doomed Tyrus has nothing to do with fourteenth-century Provence.  I'm not writing about a city that rejected God; I'm not writing about a city at all.  There are few, if any, bustling marketplaces in Color of the Sky, and the people concerned in my story don't trade in fine broidered linen or elephant tusks.

Yet the images, the sense, the mood, the overall whoosh (to use a cop-out onomatopoeia) that I get from reading Ezekiel 27 is just what I--and Margot--struggle to convey to the reader--and Fina--in Sky.  I can see, and so can Margot.  I can write, and Margot can speak.  But to put into articulate speech the glory that can only be seen with the eyes--to give the feeling of being rained upon and not merely state that it is raining--that is the hard part.

They might awaken to dazzling sunrise on snow, for instance, and as soon as Margot would joyfully open her mouth to describe it, the snow would turn to pale water and the sun to pitiful candlelight on her tongue.  Capturing brilliance with words was, she often thought, like cutting through iron with a silk ribbon.
~The Color of the Sky


Beth March said...

Amy? You. Are amazing.

Miss Dashwood said...

Awww, Beth, you're sweet. :D Thanks for stopping by and commenting!