So, I’m working on my novel. I know who’s going to be in it. I have lengthy files documenting their life stories and psychological profiles, their wants and needs and hates. They are as real to me as any of my neighbors I might wave at when going out to check my mail.
Unfortunately for my characters, it’s taking a little longer than expected to put them in place. I could set them down in the streets of my story town and they would be right at home. What I forgot, though, was how these characters would interact.
Two characters in particular hate each other, loathe one another, despise the very idea of the other. But, that does my novel no good unless I can get these two fellows into a fight. I’m good at getting them into conversations, or contemplations, or even a lively contretemps. I’m having a hard time doing a fight.
My son, a martial artist, studied stage fighting, in which two or more actors appear to be having a real swashbuckler while in reality it’s all a choreographed dance. Maybe if I see my characters’ fight as a dance, I can infuse my story with the dramatic tension it needs. Look at the success of the movie The Black Swan. Dance can be quite dramatic. Ooh, I think I’m on to something!
Over the summer I bought a couple dozen wooden tic-tac-toe games gathered small items, icons and images that seemed to go together around a theme.
I called them “shrines”. When the pieces went up on Etsy, someone messaged me to ask why I called them shrines.
Uh-oh. I’m in the Bible-belt. I recognize a challenge when I see it. What right do I have to use a religious-ish word any old way I choose? Or, maybe the word “shrine” has some evil or graven-image-like pall to it so that I was perhaps advocating Harry Potter worship of some kind. It was a question, I thought, designed to flush me out into sacrilege territory, where I’d be an easy victim of religious certainty.
I hit the dictionary to determine if I could back up my shrines as shrines in a literal sense. Various dictionaries defined “shrine” as:
- A place of religious devotion or commemoration; a place where devotion is paid to a deity, or where the bones of a venerated person are interred; a container for sacred relics; a site hallowed by association with a revered person or object. Under this last meaning, Independence Hall qualifies as a shrine to American Liberty. (American Heritage Dictionary)
- A place that is connected with a holy event or a holy person; a place that people like to visit and respect because it is associated with a venerated person or event. This definition means that it’s okay to call Graceland a shrine to Elvis. (Longman Dictionary)
- A place or object hallowed by its associations. (Merriam Webster)
So, at this point, I was satisfied that the word “shrine” could be used to describe something other than religion. If it’s a good enough word for Independence Hall and Graceland, its good enough for me. But, the definitions raised other questions about the appropriateness of my nomenclature. What does it mean to “venerate” someone or something? Is that the same as worshipping someone? That would spit me right back out into sacrilege territory again.
And, what does it take for a place or person to be “commemorated” or “hallowed”? Is this a decision to be made unilaterally by, say an artist, or does it require some sort of group action? My head was spinning. Had I misnamed my artwork?
Then, in an I-could-have-had-a-V8 moment, I realized it was my artwork. And here is the rule for naming my artwork: I get to call my pieces any damn thing I want. Problem solved.