In Memoriam: Douglass Parker

One year ago today, Dr Douglass S. Parker passed away. Today I lay my personal headstone.

“Doc Parker,” as we called him, was a simply amazing individual. I was an undergraduate student of his at the University of Texas, and he was what every [American] kid pictures when thinking of a Classicist: the jackets, the ties, the cane, the pipe, the white hair and beard. He had two separate offices, one at the Harry Ransom Center and one in Waggener, and both were so full one could never wedge themselves inside. I myself never made it past the door; Doc Parker would instead say to me, “Amanda, wear your suit tomorrow, and I’ll sneak you into the faculty lounge for lunch.” So that’s what we would do, eat lunch and then stroll across the campus, me feeling so very important in my suit and such esteemed company.

During those lunches and walks, Doc Parker would tell me about playing jazz in Memphis, his service during the war . . . All manners of wonderfully interesting stories. He once paid me the great compliment of lamenting that I had not learned Greek and so could not help him with his translations . . . He also said, oddly enough (and so something I’ll always remember), that I reminded him of his ex-daughter-in-law. Evidently they’d been close, and he was sorry to have lost her in what I assumed was a divorce.

It was Doc Parker’s letter of recommendation that won my way into Emerson College. I never got to read it, but I know he said good things about me. Better than I deserved.

He would e-mail periodically to see how my writing was coming along. He had a few examples of it in his personal library, and now and then he’d say, “I came across this, thought of you . . .”

And I still have all the teaching materials from his courses. In fact, I appropriated some of them when I taught parageography (a phrase coined by Parker) at a summer camp. But I could never hope to do as well as Doc in guiding students through the labyrinth of world building. I was a pale imitation.

But I digress . . .

Doc Parker was one of my chief encouragers when it came to writing, and I might have given up if not for him. For whatever reason, he saw a spark in me, something I can only hope to live up to. I’ll never have his experience, or even a fraction of his wit, but I’m lucky—as all his students were and have been—he was willing to share those things with me. We lost something rare when we lost him.

AElit

AElit is the result of a semester of Parageography as an undergrad. For those without etymological leanings, “parageography” is the study of imaginary places. But as part of the course we were also required to create our own worlds. AElit is mine.

It might be easiest to start with the religion, since AElitian culture is based around it. Tithendion is the chief god, “He who sets things in their places.” Tithendion carved Argyros, the ninatat, and the world. However, none of these things were animate, and so He carved out a piece of Himself and named it Durandios, “The Enduring.” Durandios breathed life into all of creation. And while Tithendion is the greatest god and the most feared, Durandios is the most beloved.

Of course, with life comes the potential for death, and so when Durandios was created, his twin sister Telamenos was the byproduct. But because Tithendion did not wish for any of his creations to die, he imprisoned Telamenos in the center of a labyrinth that was guarded by a very large serpent. Alas, as is the way of these things, Andrasthenes, the first man of the world, had pity on her and released her.

The holy book of AElit is known as the Teuchos. I’ve included a sample of it below, first in transliterated AElitian, then in English.

d’Durandios, Teuchtia d’Teuchos
1. Tia, tramen Tithendion, bran senitpette bela
2. bak no stamen palva bak no sta’ayn palva
3. bak no divosmen noe tiya barmbos d’kan’nadadinal adno tana senitana ninana
4. bak noe divosmen d’atant, tae ayris ninatat d’barmbos d’kan’nadadinal
5. wrain ninatat kanayva wro no kansenidivosmen
6. bak no divosmen taebarna d’barna’aena d’nint no framen bak divodgamen AElit
7. bak no divosmen palsenit: starnt bak schlart bak ristat bak tynos bak tynara bak palsenitva
8. wrain senit kanayva wro no kansenidivosmen
9. bak Tithendion litaenoe kanadramen bak sl’menseni Durandios
10. bak Durandios va wro nostava
11. bak Tithendion nocrenmen, “divos palserit va, nie ninatat bak nie paltiya”
12. Durandios senidivosmen bak Tithendion nocrenmen, “adrava d’palbarna bak senit nidivosmen d’barna d’nint”
13. Durandios deptmen Argyros bak pardapettemen d’barna sl’menseni Amarantos wro onova kansenitriktmen
14. bak agda no pardapettemen verdana, senistamen verd’va bak agda no miknost’triktmen aymensenitgran
15. bak Durandios kanadramen palstarnt bak senitadramenva, bak palsenit va, bak tynos Andrasthenes bak tynara Kalothrixede

From Durandios, First Book of the Teuchos
1. In the beginning there was Tithendion, who sets all things in their places
2. And He always was and he always will be
3. And He created for himself a city of silver where he sits on his throne
4. And He created servants, great winged angels of silver
5. But the angels did not have life for He had not created it
6. And He made a great world from the dust of the universe that He caught and shaped into AElit
7. And He created all things: animals and plants and birds and man and woman and all things living
8. But these things did not have life because He had not created it
9. And Tithendion a piece of himself took and called it Durandios
10. and Durandios lives for he is Life
11. And Tithendion told him, “Make all things living, my angels and my city.”
12. Durandios did this and Tithendion told him, “Give life to all the land and the things I’ve made from the dust of the universe.”
13. Durandios left Argyros and set foot in the land that was called Amarantos because death had not touched it
14. And when he set foot on the grass, it became green with life and when he touched the trees they had fruit
15. And Durandios took the animals and gave them life, and all things life, and the man Andrasthenes and the woman Kalothrixede

And here is a common prayer to Durandios:

Lalem d’Durandios

Aiae, Durandios! bran adrava bak netka palva noye edma bran kanadrava bak d’senit ninoyt farna, seni’adra, kardi. Adra Tithendion, bran senitpette bela, ninoyte kavet bak lalemt marna ninoyt ba’adra marn’noy. Adrava ninoyt bak ninoyte mahtit bak venakht mar ninoyt kanal bak ninoyt noyadra ninoyte lalemt bak laba’adrat.

Prayer to Durandios

O, Durandios! who brings life and battles endlessly your sister who takes life and the things we work for, grant us this, another day. Take before Tithendion, who sets all things in their places, our thanks and supplications that He might bless us through you. Give us life and also to our flocks and crops that we may not want and will in turn give you our prayers and offerings.

As a rule, you see, Durandios is considered far more sympathetic than Tithendion because Durandios walks among the people of the world and Tithendion never comes down from Argyros.

The ninatat, meanwhile, are angelic sorts of creatures. Arista is Durandios’ personal servant and the only ninatat with a female aspect. She is known to be severe but fair, a sort of figure of justice. The two other best-known ninatat are Seladion and Amaurodios. Seladion, who is associated with brilliance and the full moon, was cast out of Argyros for being vain and lacking respect for humanity. Durandios punished Seladion by sending him to live with the very creatures for whom he had such contempt. Amaurodios, meanwhile, is associated with twilight and, in later texts, the new moon. He has great compassion for the people of the world and was considered Durandios’ favorite. But Amaurodios loved Seladion, even though Seladion spurned him, and when Durandios cast Seladion out, Amaurodios begged to be sent with him. Though it broke Durandios’ heart, he granted Amaurodios’ wish.

There are a lot of tales and legends about Seladion and Amaurodios, their adventures in AElit and the world, too many to include here.

AElit itself is a small island, the eastern side of which is pastoral, though there is a forested northeastern peninsula which is traditionally the home of Moka’Durand, Durandios’ worldly home. Shrines line the edge of the forest and pilgrimages are frequent. The center of the island has a sort of grassy plain leading to a mountain range known as the Taemaenat D’robe. This range cuts the western third of the island more or less completely off from the rest, and that part of the island is known as D’robe (meaning, literally, “of rock”) because it is harsh terrain, very little of which is suitable for farming or livestock. The majority of D’robeans get by on fishing.

There is not much contact between AElit (which is what the eastern side of the island is called, as well as the island as a whole; this can be somewhat confusing) and D’robe. This is because D’robe was primarily settled by dissidents who began a civil war against the rule of the AElitian priests. They lost and were driven by the AElitian forces over the mountains where they resettled. Some of the differences in their lives and ways of thinking can be illustrated by the various proverbs common in each society:

AElitian Proverbs

belaver kantra mahtongat
“In green places there are no goats.”
This seems to be similar to the saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” That is, AElitians prize their goats quite highly, so to say that a place is green (pleasant) is also to say it is not necessarily better because there are no goats.

palva kandi parsk dinal
“It is always dark until the sun.”
This might parallel the saying, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

taeleinos marl batorl
“Distance makes it worth the walk.”
In other words, the journey is just as important a lesson as the actual getting there. Then again this might mean, “It’s worth having to go if it means getting away from you or this place.”

kanag belaleinos par kan’nadadinalaenat
“Do not hope to get there by starlight.”
This seems to mean that a person might be deluded about something, hoping for something not likely to happen. Used as a warning against impracticality.

tae’taenokt, kardivodilet
“To reach far is to touch more.”
Used to encourage achievement or excuse ambition.

D’robean Proverbs

noy kanfra begga barna d’roba
“You can’t catch fish on rocky soil.”
This seems to be akin to, “You’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

palva kandi parsk dinal
“It is always dark until the sun.”
Evidence of the D’robean link to the AElitians.

kan taemaena ad, noy marl karleino
“If not this mountain, you’ll have to cross another.”
This may be a clear reference to the exile and exodus of the D’robean people from AElit proper, but it has come to mean that there will always be obstacles in life.

kantynos kartynos
“No man is more than a man.”
In other words, “He’s not so great.” (Commonly used when referring to Durandios or the High Priests of AElit.)

What D’robe does seem to have that AElit does not is literature. Or, more specifically, they have plays, fragments of which have been found and translated (note the original author did not include any kind of stage direction):

from The Tragedy of Tantos, First Prince of Tiyafarg

Fragment 1

[TANTOS?]
Oh, that the rain should fall on this
face that until late was so gifted by the sun!
Fate and sister Fortune: what, have you
conspired against me?
No, away sirs, would you keep hold
that winning hand! I am not a one
to pick the pockets of Dame Fortune.
I make my own deck and play
only from that!

GYPSA
Oh, if there be a Heaven as so the AElitians claim,
or indeed any hope of a compassionate god,
let him show himself now! Surely a one
so wholesome as this my prince is fated
for better things?

NID
Hold back your tears, I will myself
restore him.

TANTOS
No, sir! There is no hope of aid
from Heaven, and I will not of you!
Aback! Else I’ll have your soul on my spear!

NID
I will not touch blood with you, my lord.

TANTOS
Then I’ll touch yours and leave mine to its run!

Fragment 2

GYPSA
Oh, my brother! Who will weep for you
if I do not?

TANTOS
Oh most horrible day that sees
slaughter between such friends!
I will exact a price for this
in blood!

GYPSA
What, would you darken this day
of my brother’s death even more?

TANTOS
I will mask the very sun in blood!

Fragment 3

GYPSA
Oh, I would that my eyes had been
plucked from their place e’er I saw this day!

PORPHYS
All of Tiyafarg is in wonderment
of what happened at the fair today.

GYPSA
Then tell them Porphys that this
is no fair day but a black day indeed,
wherein their prince has died
at his own hand, unable to bear the grieved loss
of his most dear friend who did fall
to the prince’s own blade. And I myself
[breaks off]

from The Tragedy of Myteon, Second Prince of Tiyafarg

Fragment 1

MYTEON
My people are starving and you
would have me leave them?

TARTON
My lord, their upset may
prompt them to revolt against you.

MYTEON
My leaving would be
a revolt against myself. Of the two,
it is harder to live with one heart that hates itself
than one hundred directed from elsewhere.
If I were a devout, I might pray.

TARTON
If you were a devout, my lord, you
would not be here but on the other side
of the mountains where food is plenty.

MYTEON
Ah, but then I would not be a prince. And
better a prince to unrest than slave
to an uncompassionate god.

TARTON
Is their god so uncompassionate? See
how they
[breaks off]

from The Tragedy of Stelerokon, Third Prince of Tiyafarg

Fragment 1

GIBA
Why if birds did bloom, we could
pluck them for our supper.

JONNA
Do we not already?

GIBA
It would be easier to pluck a cluck
from the ground than the air.
Is it not so?

JONNA
I would say this foul play
doubtless heralds a dooming day.

GIBA
And I should say you say right,
for look, here comes the prince.
Soho, Prince Stelerokon! Are you here
to fetch a foul?

STELEROKON
Of a sort, sir, I am here to
catch a thief. I would not
put the two of you behind me.

JONNA
It might be just as well you didn’t, sir,
for I fear we would not both fit.

STELEROKON
Enough of you, joker! Be gone and put
your wits to better use. But you, come listen,
for I would have news of my brother’s doings.

GIBA
Aye, my lord. And so I trade
one fowl for another!
I will pluck him til he has
no feathers to hide behind!

STELEROKON
You do me a service, sir, that I will heartily repay.
Now go! And speak this to no one!

GIBA
Aye, my lord!

STELEROKON
Could it be that this day my brother Salarimus
plans to steal my birthright? But how?
Oh, I would
[breaks off]

Fragment 2

[STELEROKON?]
that you would take from me crown
and kin?

SALARIMUS
Oh, but your rash wrath has killed me, brother,
for I never intended you harm!

LADANIA
Oh, my son! But Stelerokon, what thing
has happened here that washes the court
red with blood?

STELEROKON
There are not enough tears in Tiyafarg
to cleanse my soul! For today
I have slain my brother without cause!

AElit, on the other hand, seems only to produce hymns, prayers, and other theological texts, though they do also have a rich mythology, based also on their extensive belief system.

Being a pastoral society, animals have key significance to the AElitians. The kornyx is a fine example. This is a large blackbird (sometimes found in flocks) said to bring on night, sleep, or oblivion in general. The kornyx is considered a sort of familiar to Telamenos and therefore looked upon with a measure of fear, or at the very least suspicion. In some stories the kornyx is itself Telamenos in disguise. It probably doesn’t help its reputation that the kornyx is a carrion scavenger.

Finally, there is Teladion. He is the son of Telamenos, and in some stories also the son of Durandios, having been tricked by his sister into producing him. Teladion haunts the higher realms, waiting to be born. He will have the power to destroy the world or save it, though no one can say what he might do.

How I Learned to Drive

Although I had a driver’s license, I didn’t really know how to drive . . . until some Teamsters took pity on me.

Here’s the whole story. I went to driver’s ed like most other high school students, dragging myself to school very early in the morning in order to watch gruesome VHS tapes of “bad things teenagers do in cars that get them killed.” Then, after many weeks of these videos, we were split into groups, put in cars, and forced to run the gauntlet. By which I mean, we tried not to do any of the “bad things teenagers do in cars that get them killed.” Because besides getting us killed, it would get us yelled at by the high school’s Eastern European basketball coach who was doubling as our driving instructor.

After a few weeks of that, and once we’d passed the written exam at the DMV, the Eastern European basketball coach took us out individually for a driving test. I remember him telling me that if he had to use his special emergency break, I would fail. I actually yelled at him at that point. I said something like, “I am FOUR SECONDS BEHIND THAT CAR! I am NOT going to hit anything!” After that, he didn’t talk to me any more. But I passed.

Okay, so if I passed the driving test and had a license, why did the Teamsters need to teach me to drive? Well . . .

I was an adequate driver. Really, I was. But a nervous one as well. I didn’t drive if I could avoid it. In fact, I was relieved in college not to have a car, and therefore not to have to drive. The campus buses were fine for getting around the area. The city buses weren’t terribly reliable, but I made do.

So then I was working on a film set. And I didn’t have a car of my own, but I was also too young and too expensive to insure for a rental, so the production office gave me a driver. Score! His name was Charlie, and he was awesome. He had lots of great stories about famous people he’d driven for, and told me that the set we were on was “one of the worst” he’d ever been on (it was a pretty difficult shoot). He said to me, “If you can get through this, you can do anything.”

And then one day the producer had me drive her Dodge Ram truck, and that made me all nervous. So Charlie and some of the other Teamsters took it upon themselves to buck me up. And they basically re-taught me to drive.

I imagine it was something like a defensive driving course, though I’ve never taken one, so I don’t really know. But I learned to maneuver and such, learned how to watch for other drivers in ways that were effective . . . Not so long ago, my husband said something about how, when I’m driving, I “worry about other people a lot.” But being aware of the other cars is part of driving well–especially since these days a lot of other drivers aren’t watching for you.

What Charlie and his fellow Teamsters really gave me, though, was confidence and a sort of freedom. It was years before I had a car to drive, but when my boss gave me his for a week at one point, I was able to go forth with few reservations. I had survived working on that awful movie set, after all, and as Charlie had said: if I could do that, I could do anything. Even drive.