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Archive for November 7th, 2008

I write often about my friends … they are, after all, a huge part of my life, and island life in general for most expats … and lately Magnar has been showing up a lot in this blog because he’s huge in my life.

He is adorable, so of course I do adore him, and he takes very good care of me. Sometimes that means showing up at my house with some huge piece of construction equipment and a guy with a jackhammer. Other times he’s teaching the kids to ride horses or not to forget their manners.

Over the past months, there were times when I simply could not face my empty bed and he graciously provided his warm body as cuddly company, allowing me to actually sleep through nights without waking every few minutes in total panic and abject loneliness. (He, too, had been unceremoniously dumped by his spouse at almost the same time Mark left me, so I like to think that I helped him, as well, and being a man who needs to be needed, my neediness was actually a bonus.)

He allows me to dote on him and never complains when the meal I put in front of him once more consists of beans on toast. He fixes what’s broken … including to a great extent my heart … and prevents meltdowns when my computer dies.

He has also been my muse.

I hadn’t written a word in months … a condition that concerned him rightly and revealed the depths of my despair … so he took to prodding — not gentle at all, but more like the sort used on cattle when needing encouragement to advance willingly toward imminent death. He’d feed me a line, then demand that I crank out a story for him based upon that and only that.

Here’s a result:

The Rise of The Broken Man (This is the line he gave me.)

The statue of Magnar the Mild had been erected to guard the small alcove dedicated to a minor deity, a Horse Goddess, who was worshipped only occasionally by a handful who found favor in infidelity and hoped her power would shield them from consequences arising from faithlessness and betrayal.

It was surprising, then, that the only work of art destroyed in the break-in … one that appeared to be conducted by professionals, but had so little point to it that authorities were stumped as to motive … was this particular marble representation of the human figure, lovely in its form and maleness, but created by mortals whose fame never followed, and imperfect — cracked in some places, chipped in others — and so lacking in offensiveness that the thought of taking the time to do such damage to such an undemanding piece of art would have been shocking, had any of the investigators been thinking further than the direct collection of evidence.

The crime, itself, had taken hours and made such a mess of the citadel that a week’s scrubbing was required before all the chips had been found and the dust removed from the many nooks, crannies, folds, and embellishments that made up the more elaborate monuments and effigies.

The image had been not only hammered, chiseled, decapitated and had his marble manhood chipped away, the perpetrators had then collected the pieces and dropped a 170 kilo weight from a great height, not an easy feat considering the lack of block and tackle, upon the pile of his rubble that reduced the entire mass to little more than widely scattered and unrecognizable fragments.

The inscription, “Magnar the Mild”, on the base, being cemented to the floor and therefore possibly not considered vital to the destruction or just too much bloody work, had been filed down to nothing and the only bits in reasonable tact were the feet attached to it he had been standing on for at least a thousand years.

Curators, at a loss as to what to do with the remnants once the investigation was complete … that took all of about an hour with the evidence so obvious … were reticent to simply chuck the dust and clumps in a bin. He was, after all, still and occasionally an admired ancient work even if now a pulverized ancient work, so they swept up what could be swept and gathered what could be gathered into a velvet sack and placed it, along with the nameless base on which the almost perfect feet remained, in a cedar-lined cupboard near the niche honoring the power of tears shed in love.

The years passed, the curators died, replaced regularly by new devotees, and the story of the irrational destruction of Magnar the Mild passed with them. The cupboard and contents went unexamined for decades.

************

Seeking solace and a hint of peace to assuage the pain of dying love far too slow in the healing, a sculptor of medium skill but great heart found both in the shallow recess the citadel had so long set aside for those in search of some source of strength in daily bouts of crying and other physical manifestations of deep pain. The space itself was comforting as a loving hug, and although sad compensation for the muscle, bone, blood and flesh that no longer reached for her, the laments she allowed herself to release in that tiny grotto replenished her stores and allowed her to make her way home day after day, and to face new ones as they came.

Setting aside an hour or so out of every twenty-four for a visit to the citadel and its welcoming nook for the tearful, it was weeks before she spent even a minute there clear-eyed. As time went on, however, those minutes increased and she took to examining more closely the minutia that made up this small corner of this huge building.

There were no gods nor goddesses provided, as it was clear that any force to be found there was to come from within, not without, and that dedications or supplications made to others had no chance to accomplish anything other than vague hopes of retribution or distractions from regrets. Regrets, however, as it was written in the single pew through someone’s efforts with a pen knife, had to be addressed to keep future regrets from being instigated through the following of old patterns. Floor-to-ceiling panels of warm, flesh-colored marble were adorned with images difficult to ascertain, but emitting a palpable benevolence that encouraged restorative energy to resound somewhere near the heart and spread, eventually to the point that small amounts of excess flowed from fingertips, toes and even the ends of her hair, all of which she hoped to trap and keep for use later.

It was in a search for an appropriate container for the magnificent light she was beginning to produce that she found the velvet sack containing the remnants of Magnar the Mild. The deepest, smoothest and most vibrant of blues, the ages had taken no toll on the fabric, and as it had seen neither sunlight nor moonlight in its ages of waiting, the pouch was as pristine as the day the curators had stored it away.

Days passed in admiration of the cloth before she thought to open the parcel, and then did so slowly, leading with the sense she trusted more than any at the time … her sense of smell. Pulling back one tiny section of a corner, she pressed her face against the opening and drew one heady breath after another. Stone and ancient and hard and male on one hand; damaged, ravaged, despairing on the other, the contents were evocative, and soon she found herself boldly working the opening larger and larger.

It was the feet she first laid eyes upon amongst the dust and debris of abused marble, and in the sight she knew the foundation upon which the ruins had once stood.

“This man must be raised,” she announced softly to the particles around her as she felt, for the first time in months, a motivation for movement beyond the tiny centimeters forward her bleeding heart had allowed until now.

A consultation with the citadel’s antiquarian eventually revealed the name and nature of the original form, and with a blessing of hope for renewal of “Magnar the Mild” resonating within, she was allowed to carry the velvet sack and its contents to the small studio in which she lived, ate and cried, and had once worked.

The state of her tools needed tending before she could even think of beginning the process she’d chosen to bring the man back to a solid form … marble being too much of his past, she had decided this version would be in bronze … and she used the time needed to arrange and rearrange the implements and materials she would need to allow an image to form. It grew as she slept, as well, and within a few weeks she knew him from toe to head.

The feet she cast exactly, as they were not only the only remaining true representation but also her first sense of the beauty and strength of the figure. From there, the rest of the form fashioned himself, her hands being no more than the implements needed to remake the man in wax. Into the hollow space she created where a heart would beat in a man of flesh, she placed the velvet sack, creating the only imperfection the final sculpture would exhibit … a slight bulge at the chest as though the god of Adam had refused the request for the rib needed for the Eve who would bring him to grief.

In wax, she studied him, making small adjustments, adding bits here, tapering others there, and indulging in one self-indulgence by building a bit more manhood than seemed in scale and making herself smile in the process.

“After all he’s been through, he deserves the extra to impress observers through the ages, and there’s no doubt it will make him an even more popular image for women to worship and through which to find consolation.”

She, herself, was so moved by the man who formed under her hands that it almost broke her heart to begin the necessary process of turning this beauty in wax into the shapeless clay pot he must become before emerging in tact in bronze.

Week after week, she coated him in liquid silicone sand, patiently waiting for each layer to dry, then applying the next until there was nothing left to admire but more than a six foot bulk of what for all intents and purposes looked like something you would stick a plant into. Nothing, that is, but the very top of the head left bare.

The fact that she could no longer see his face made it much easier for her to place him in the kiln and watch as he was consumed by fire hotter than melted glass. The burying of the figure in sand felt right at that point, as well, and as the workers she had hired to help with the heavy and dangerous process of casting lifted the crucible and began pouring the molten metal carefully into the hole left for the purpose in his head, she had almost forgotten the man inside the pot, so passed the cooling time in peace.

Much can go wrong in the process of working in bronze, so it was with no little trepidation that she grabbed a hammer and began smashing away at the ceramic casing that held what she hoped would be Magnar. Pieces flew in all directions, and she cared nothing for the mess that would result as she whacked away. Exhaustion took her by the arm and wrestled the tools of destruction of the carapace from her grip more than once, but so anxious was she to see the product of her work and his inspiration that she rested only occasionally, searching for signs of what lay below as she did.

Finally, the form began to present itself, although so coated in residue that he looked rough and dirty, covered in grit and the detritus of the remaking, nowhere smooth as the marble he had once been or inspiring any soft strokes.

Scraping followed, and the digging out of all that wasn’t meant to remain, with eyes and the male member taking the most time and attention. The chasing took more than a week, and she barely slept for that time, so anxious was she to free him from all fragments of his rising and see him stand tall and whole again.

Polishing was tedious, but rewarding, as he gleamed a bright yellow gold like an Egyptian God newly discovered after three thousand years in an airless tomb.

It took a full six months for his patina to bloom, and during that time she spent many hours in conversation with her still companion. Although seeming to some one-sided, his company was healing.

Soon after the final polishing, she presented him to the citadel where he stands today at the gate, a a challenge to those who doubt, a comfort to those who fear, a presence for those who suffer loss; not hers in any way, but simply himself in all his glory for the ages.

The base he stand on reads “Magnar the Magnificent”, and although the story of his rise from broken man to everlasting monument to hope is rarely told in its entirety, everyone who beholds him knows a touch of optimism in their hearts.

Sandra Hanks Benoiton
1 September 2008
Inspired by her muse

That was the first fiction I’d written in I don’t know how long, and it kick-started me in directions I’d not seen illuminated before. So much so, that the National Novel Writing Month challenge sounded like a bloody good idea … especially after my former editor and friend, Lisa, wrote me declaring I was the only other writer she knew that wasn’t too big a pussy to give it a shot.

So, now I’m writing a novel again, but with my life in such a state of business, catching up, kid raising, dog training … all between the brackets of two 2-hour drives M-F … I’ve not been cranking out what I should be.

Magnar has noticed … he doesn’t miss one single thing, EVER! … and has taken up the cattle prod again and is using it with relish and abandon.

I had 3 hours sleep last night, and shortly after I arrived home from my trek to town getting the kids to school this morning, I got this SMS from him:

no sleep until 2000 words, right?
no party until 2000 words, right?
No wine or fags until 2000 words, right? Nahhhh that wouldn’t work … but hammer them words!
Time is after 2000! (20:00) (That’s party time.)

My Norwegian nag! And sometimes even in Norwegian … which I completely ignore, so he tends to stick with harping on in English. (He also steals every cigarette and lighter he can lay his hands on, then laughs and does a victory dance. Very funny … ummmmmm.)

Friendship and love are wonderful, and even more so when they come cutting no slack … although don’t tell him I admitted that, please. The thought of him ramping up the carping is a wee bit scary. I might be forced to take on more challenges than I can stand.

Nahhhhhh. I can take it … from Magnar.

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