Sunday, February 24, 2008

An excerpt from A Secret of The Plains. In this scene, Cheng falls into a dark cavern and under the spell of a beautiful woman.

A sticky heat crawled over his skin as Cheng slithered into an enormous steaming cavern that funneled up to the sky. He stood. Steam snaked around him, choking him. Yet, even that was preferable to his chest being pressed between two slabs of rock. He tilted his head up to the yawning opening and gasped for breath. The sky looked so open, so blue.

“You’ve come,” said a soft feminine voice through the steam. He felt no surprise. He expected her.

“I’ve come,” he responded, echoing the local greeting. Before him, a woman with dark cavernous eyes and wildly fanned hair the color of water floated across the sweltering steam. She approached as a wingless dragonfly, her dark skin illuminating the water. The steam twisted up her and encircled her naked body like a misty gown. Unlike White Tara’s noble stature, this goddess assaulted his senses with her blunt, fiercely feminine form. All thought and fear left Cheng, and his groin pulsated. Had he learned to accept these many faced goddesses? He felt giddiness in his acceptance.

Cheng licked his lips. “Where am I?” he tried to ask, but only a breathy muttering emerged. She stood before him, her full breasts moistened with clear drops of misty water, her ruby nipples erect. Her rounded belly rose and fell as she flowed closer. She stopped a hand width from his own burning skin. Her long, lotus petal eyes fluttered. Cheng waiting, feeling her closeness, smelling the mossy, burnt scent of her, like a pit fire.

She placed her arms across her breasts and kicked the water. “You’ve come,” she said again a warm smile spreading across her sensual face. This voice was softer, more feminine than the other Tara’s. She lowered her head to his neck and giggled again. “I’ve been waiting for you,” she said, her soft voice whispered into his neck, prickling him. Her hair smelled like ash and a strange dust filled his nose. He felt so lightheaded that he reached out and squeezed her hand to keep from falling back. This feeling was nothing like the sweet shiver of anticipation he had felt with the Karaoke woman in Fuzhou. This was the Yangse River coursing through him, flooding him.

“Tara?” he whispered, tipping his chin back, willing her to wrap herself around his pliant body.

“You have come! My tse-das,” she said a feather from his neck. Tse-das. The one who cannot be named.

“Tara,” Cheng whispered, naming her, closing his eyes and leaning into her so that her lips touched his skin. “Tara.” He lifted his neck into her lips. His body shook. To fall to the earth and melt into her. He didn’t know why Tara had picked him, but felt a sureness he’d never felt at any other time in his life. This spirit filled him, empowered him. He almost laughed at the pleasure. She moved her lips across his Adam’s apple to his shoulder.

Cheng licked his lips, leaned into her. This was what it felt to touch the divine.

--Copyright C. Tkaczyk

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fire Lamb

I've been thinking about Lili and Fire Horses. I didn't realize until recently that I was also a fire sign. I was born in the year of the Fire Ram, or Fire Lamb as this site calls me. I like this description I found on the web. "Nary a cantankerous bone in the Fire Lamb's body. Their lives are filled with laughter, giggles, and fun surprises. The Fire Lamb possesses an unusual combination of traits of the introvert and extrovert. Thoroughly enjoying their own company, they relish solitude but also thoroughly enjoy the companionship of others. They exude such warmth and energy, people naturally gravitate to them, while respecting their needs for privacy. Straightforward in all their dealings with people, Fire Lambs show sublime kindness because they know every person they meet is facing a difficult battle. Courageous under fire, Fire Lambs realize they need to make big changes to banish the many obstacles that stand in their way. For instance, they do not experience a smooth-sailing career. When something turns bad, Fire Lambs have to persevere to make turnarounds, and they do just that. Financial fortune peaks in middle age, but the Fire Lamb has to be careful to make that fortune last way into the autumn and winter of life, or else! But, oh my, do Fire Lambs ever experience good fortune when it comes to Love! Mama mia! Affectionate, loving, and passionate, they never part from their loved ones without loving words because they realize they might be their last. Every day is living poetry!"

Monday, February 18, 2008

Culture Fair

For six years my ESL students have presented their cultures to the school. This Culture Fair has stretched and grown to enormous proportions. For most of the day, students bring their "passports" around the world and then at the end of the day, a diverse group of students perform at our diversity assembly. I stood in the auditorium before the assembly watching them practice: Mexican, Japanese, Irish and Chinese folk dancers as well as the more modern Salsa and Hip Hop. I grabbed my MCs, Inna and Winnie, and as we stood in the middle of their rehearsing we soaked it all up. It was amazing.

Between my students and my novel, I get to travel quite a bit.

Chinese editor resigns over fake Tibet photos

"I have no reason to continue my sacred career as a newsman. I am not qualified for the job," Xinhua quoted Liu, the photographer, as saying in a statement.

This article is interesting on several levels.

First, look at the quotation above by the photographer who spliced together a photo of endangered Tibetan antelope near the very controversial Tibetan railway. The photographer's word choice for his resignation is just not something you would hear in this country. We do not call our careers "sacred". Even more importantly, we deflect blame. In the U.S. the journalist would probably say something like "I was under pressure" or "I was trying to improve my career" whereas Liu stated "I am not qualified for the job."

Secondly, this is a very touchy subject. The Chinese have been under great pressure to demonstrate that their railroad has not harmed the fragile ecology on the Tibetan plateau. Damage to the permafrost and decline of animals such as the antelope have been the two most contentious issues. In fact, just recently I read an article by a scientist studying decline of the antelope in Tibet. The Chinese government had used the photo of antelope grazing by the railroad to bolster their case, but now they haven't an antelope leg or antler to stand on. Click on link to see the Chinese government's web page asserting that the antelope has adapted to the railroad. Liu's photo is at the center of this page. This scandal has only furthered discussion of an issue on which Beijing would prefer to stay silent.

Finally, this issue flames the world-wide sentiment that the Chinese should not be occupying Tibetan lands. China's superfast trains carry more Chinese tourists, immigrants, and industry which chip away not only at the ecology but the culture of Tibet.

It will be interesting to follow this trail to see where it lands. The speedy and comfortable train will not be derailed, but neither will the opposition.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Kirtan with Benjy and Heather Wertheimer

I am a kirtan addict. I stumbled into it. After I separated from my husband, I went to Breigtenbush with a friend during a kirtan weekend. We attended the free kirtan and I was hooked. Singing is the most ancient aspect of my personality, the only innate talent I have, and one of my greatest pleasures. Kirtan--sacred Hindu chanting--combines singing, Hindi (oh, so close to my dear Nepalese), and spirituality. When I returned to Portland I immediately trolled the net for more. The problem was that the first kirtan I found fell on a Wednesday night. Now those who know me understand immediately the dilemma. I think of Wednesday night the way an evangelical looks at Sunday morning. Wednesdays are my don't ever pen me in for anything days, my schedule my vacations to wrap around this day. I don't like to miss Leora, my writing group. But, it was early enough into my joining Leora that I could make a deal with myself: I decided to attend the kirtan and then go late to my writing group. So in late winter of '07, I went to David Newman, my first kirtan. It blew me away. I had not felt so satiated since a good night of sex. I went to Gita Sala, Benjy and Heather Wertheimer, and others. Each time I came away at peace, centered, and a little more whole.

Tonight I took my mom to a kirtan with Benjy and Heather Wertheimer. They are the best musical group I've seen perform kirtan so I thought it would be a good introduction. I got a little nervous after the great "om" at the beginning about whether it would all be too overwhelming for my mom, but then I lost myself in the night and trusted that she would find something to hook into. My mom's acceptance of things new always surprises me. She comes from a very small town and from a family fearful of change, but she can just dive in when she feels safe. She loved the night and is considering going to another with me. She even started singing along at the end. And, she was very excited to tell me that the beginning "om" was so powerful it shook the floor. I guess you never stop learning new things about those you love. Jai, jai, jai kirtan.

Monday, February 11, 2008


**A little addendum on Oscar Night. This song won an Oscar.

On Saturday night, Coranna and I had a girls' night at her friend, Abigail's, house. Cathy, Abigail's mom, had seen the film Once and decided to invite people over to sing, to bring creativity and music into her community. Cathy and her friend played guitars and I followed along in the song book, and while the little girls played dress up and BINGO in Abigail's room, we sang songs and then watched the film Once. It was a nice night. Singing folk songs in a circle of new and old friends is relaxing, creative, and satisfying in a deep, down primal way. We don't do things like that enough in our culture--or at least, I don't. When I lived in other countries, communities gathered around making and sharing music, in England, Nepal, and Turkey. After the video here of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova singing the signature song from the film, Glen Hansard talks of how music eeks from Ireland's dark soil, falls from her rains, and howls in her windstorms--music is Ireland and Ireland is music.

We lost that. America is a fast-music nation, laying on his back like Shiva listening to an i-pod while the world Kali-dances over him. This year I organized the small stage and assembly performances for the Culture Fair/Diversity Day at our school. ESL students came forward with their music, their expressions of culture: Cambodian, African, Mexican, Peruvian, Chinese, Irish and Japanese. In the rest of the world, the making of music and culture are interchangeable. I wish America could get that back.

In Tibet and Nepal--music and music making is like breathing. I tried to show this in the novel, by threading Cheng's signature rock song with the lama's love for Madonna, Punchok's constant declarations that it is time to dance and sing, and the folk songs reverberating from every stopping place. As Cheng moves closer to Tibetan culture, he also moves closer to the folk music, so that by the last scene he is no prone Shiva, but a powerful Kali dancing and singing with the village.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Culture Shock

In the start of the novel, Cheng Lin, a young Chinese road engineer is clearly out of his element in Tibet. The reader may question Cheng's perception, or believe him and begin to change their own perceptions as the novel progresses. Either way, this scene is pieced together from feelings I've felt when deep in the paranoia of culture shock. Cheng has much to learn in his journey to the Fire Horses.


“Fire Horses,” the woman whispered into Cheng's ear, her braid falling against his shoulder again as it had in the tent. He looked at the shiny strands of hair, incandescent like a dark sea shell.

“Fire Horse?” Cheng swallowed, his interest in the sword man gone. He remembered her earlier words about a journey to the Fire Horse. “I don’t believe in Astrology. Fire Horses mean nothing to me.”

“You do not believe in the destructive power of Fire Horse women?” the woman replied lifting her head.

Cheng felt his throat closing from the incense. This woman was bating him, trying to get him to talk about Lili. She must be a spy. “I need to get back.” He turned, but the woman caught him with her words.

“I am only asking for your compassion.” Something in her voice compelled him to turn. She placed her hand on Cheng’s arm and the warmth of her skin cauterized him, filled his heart. “I know you can feel compassion.”

Before he could reply, someone grasped him from behind. Cheng’s heart still pulsated with the warmth of the Tibetan woman’s touch as he felt himself being tossed over a man’s shoulder. Hanging upside down he watched the man in the dress charging at him, jumping around bodies and bowls. The masked actor with the wooden rod attached to his pants had caught him up. Cheng tightened his grip. He didn’t want to be the next human shield, felt embarrassed by the explosion of laughter erupting from the crowd. If he thought he had not been noticed before, now he realized his error as the crowd's cheers rose at his humiliation. The round, grinning faces pressed against him the fervor of their screams increasing, as if someone had thrown gasoline on a fire. They could attack him, who would tell.

Cheng stiffened, squirmed and tried to get off the actor’s shoulders but the man only tightened his grip. Cheng pinched the actor’s forearm until the man released him, and he grasped for his balance before landing onto the unyielding stage. Silver pain coursed through him as he slammed his rigid elbow on the floor. The crowd silenced.

The actor dressed as a man whipped off his mask, revealing the pockmarked face of one of his road workers. A worker Cheng had told Dorje to fire for his slow work. The shadowy craters gave the worker’s face a sinister look. The villagers pressed into him. The worker rotated Cheng’s arm, and then patted him on the back. The crush of drunken faces cheered. The pulsating activity returned. Cheng took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He needed fresh air.

“It is not broken.” The woman stifled a grin. Cheng followed her eyes to his hands. He’d been wringing the worker's wooden rod. He tossed it from him, his head beginning to pound. “You hit a nerve.”

Squatting next to Cheng, the worker nodded, his eyes piercingly intelligent. Cunning. Cheng would need to watch this man. The worker donned his mask and the two actors slapped Cheng on the back, motioning their good intentions. The worker picked up the rod and rubbed it into Cheng’s hair as the villagers cheered and crushed against him. The villagers' earlier hostility still prickling against the back of his neck, Cheng resisted any reaction of anger, moving only when the worker tied the rod around his waist again.

“You must return to your camp. The sun is rising,” The woman urged her words like the icy plateau slick with reality. She placed her long fingers on his shoulder and he wondered how a hand so soft could be found in this inhospitable climate.
As he followed her through the crowded tent, he didn’t look at his watch. He didn’t want to know the lateness of the hour.

Outside, the surreal events dissipated as the night’s air filled his lungs and cleared the heavy incense from his nose. An orange slit lit the Kunlun Shan peaks. Night lay like a mountain shadow at his feet, deceptively dark below the awakening sun. The shadows rolled back quickly once the sun crested the peaks.

“I still need your help.” Cheng kept his eyes on the rising orange glow.

The woman's words prodded him. “Run toward the rising sun. You will find your camp. If you hurry no one will know you were gone.”

-- Copyright C. Tkaczyk 2008