Friday, June 24, 2016

Divorcing London

24th June 2016

Yesterday, this United Kingdom of reluctant countries voted to leave the European Union. Well, empires rise and this is how they fall - in a flurry of confusion. England voted to be an island, figurative as well as physical, and an island it will now be, little England without Scotland, and eventually without Northern Ireland and without Wales, too.


That line between the blue and the red is the Scottish border. Two different countries, two sets of law, two very different sensibilities. Within the two years it takes for England to pull out of the European Union, I predict a second Scottish independence referendum will join Scotland to Europe and away from the British Empire. With it will go Scotland's oil, its renewable energy industry, its whisky and tourist industries. All of these will cut severely into English revenues, for although Scots represent only 8.4% of the UK's population, it generates 9.4% of its annual revenues. This figure, long suppressed by the English government, has now been released and puts paid to the myth promulgated  by said government that England subsidises Scotland and keeps it from sinking into financial chaos. Now it's clear the reality is the other way around. Only, myths die hard, and voters in England weren't thinking about that when they voted yesterday to cut themselves off from Europe.

Empires never exist honestly. They rely on the spread of misinformation. In fact, they take an active role in keeping a lid on the truth.
An astute journalist in the New York Times earlier this week suggested that it is not Brussels Britain needs to free itself from but London.  It's the controlling megabuck moguls like Rupert Murdoch that we need to free ourselves from and the English old boys' club to which Boris Johnson and David Cameron belong.  This is a fight, at last, for the freedom of the ordinary people. The Demos in democracy. 
So now that the people are up and running, certain things need to be put in place to keep them going:
A free press - when was there last one of those?  Free broadcasting - that used to mean the BBC, but now - don't make me laugh! Everything has been sliding for a long time into oligarchy, just as it has in America.  It's the oligarchs, enemies of democracy, that need to go. David Cameron's is the first head to roll. If the English elect Boris Johnson to fill his shoes, his head will be the next.
And in a democracy, you need free publishing houses. I was talking to a publisher in Scotland who told me that it is hard to get any Scottish book into Scottish bookstores, whether published in Scotland or elsewhere.  I know I have had that difficulty. Most of the respected publishing in Britain goes on in where? Why, London, of course.


It was in just such a vacuum in Ireland right before that country became independent that Yeats formed the Irish Literary Society. Because empires control, just like the father of a dysfunctional family who is himself sick, but wants to make sure no one knows . So the empire takes charge and brings the literary presses under its control. London control.
The people of England need to wise up and recognise that it's these conservative governments they keep electing that are at fault for their dire straits. Not the immigrants, not even the European Union. The sickness is in their own house, and it is time to pull out the divorce papers.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Marx

17th June 2016

According to Bill Maher, America sees Socialism as Communism's gay cousin.

If you google Communism you will find it described thus: "A political theory advocating class war."
But, while Maher's joke might be spot on, google's definition is not. Karl Marx's political theories were not advocating anything. They were descriptive not normative. For class war, history needed Lenin and Stalin.

And yet in 2016, America still reacts out of fear whenever Communism or its cousin Socialism gets mentioned.  After all, it has a long history with this knee-jerk reaction. Take Macarthyism, one of history's greatest ironies, which led to just as restrictive a government as the regime it feared.  Not so long ago int his country, school children were hiding under their desks for fear of the "Red Scare."


All of which makes the rise of Bernie Sanders even more fantastical. He isn't even a Democrat, but more of a dreaded socialist. If this had not been America, I would have put my effort behind this man's campaign. But this is America, and although it did elect a black man for president, it really didn't like it - only now that he is on his way out are his favourability ratings reflecting the admirable job he has done.  America is further away from voting for an out-and-out socialist than it is from voting for a person of ethnicity or a woman. The fact that a mogul like Donald Trump could rise to prominence is powerful proof of that fact. It is also proof that Americans are motivated, not by the cool light of reason, but by fear.
I have friends who are toying with voting for Trump in order to speed on the inevitable collapse of the old boys' political paradigm. But that would be to make the same mistake the post-Marx communists made. Lets's just watch this unfold in its own time. It will happen. But voting for a patent idiot like Trump will only cause more bloodshed as the ship sinks.


That smoke you see is Donald Trump's rhetoric. The last cry of the dinosaur, as Michael Moore puts it.
If Marx was right, then one day the president of this country will be a socialist. History seems to have picked up speed, and who knows it might happen in my lifetime. But effectivelyAmerican Zeitgeist is about a hundred years behind the rest of the developed world. It is running around trying to police the world as though empires were still up for grabs. It is an adolescent country trying to grow up on a world stage. Rather like Justin Bieber.


Friday, June 10, 2016

White Men and Black Kettles

10th June 2016

What on earth are some democrats thinking when they say Hillary Clinton wouldn't be any better than Donald Trump? This vitriol is so extreme, I can't help feeling that if I dug around a little in the dark place from which this is coming, I would find some other prejudice lurking, and it might just have to do with the fact that she is a middle-aged woman. There is a bandwagon passing here that I think more than a few Democrats and liberals are jumping onto.  But the truth is, there isn't any considerable difference between Hillary's policies and Obama's. So what is going on here? Could it be that the American people don't want, as Rush Limbaugh said, "to observe the aging of this woman?" Would she be more endearing if she looked like Sarah Palin? Because in this land of the free, aren't women supposed to be attractive all the time? It's clear that the film industry thinks so.


She has wrinkles; she is old, off the sexual radar. How dare she? I have to say I like Bernie Sanders, but imagine if his hunched, white-haired, female counterpart were running. It's no accident Hillary has to dye her hair and look as young as she possibly can. I can't wait to see her and Trump go toe-to- toe in a debate. She will be able to show that she is a very competent candidate, aged womanhood notwithstanding. And I am glad she looks nothing like Palin.

As for the Conservative side. Here's your bed. You made it. Now lie down with those prickly right wing Christians, and let me tell you, they won't serve you between the sheets the way Hollywood says they should. But it was you that let them tuck in the corners; you let them seduce you into the bedroom. You let them help you forget the inconvenient truth, many inconvenient truths, but particularly the one that was written into your very constitution, that religion and politics should stay on their own sides of the house, and never, never, share a bed.



It's not just that religion has become the Conservative bedfellow, but the kind of religious zealotry that operates within its own little bubble. What Jon Stewart calls "Bullshit Mountain." Conservatism in America has a dysfunctional relationship to the truth. And now it's beginning to show.
The Grand Old Party needs to get out of bed and put on a whole new face, one that doesn't look like Mitch McConnell, and especially not like Donald Trump.  "Crooked Hillary," he says? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! The world has moved on, and the old boy network isn't going to work anymore. I think this is what this election is about as much as anything.
Hillary Clinton is not going to make any radical changes, and realistically neither would Bernie when up against obstructionist politics on the Hill. But at least she acts like a grown-up and engages her intellect. At least she isn't in the midst of a perpetual, shit-flinging, hissy fit.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Burning Bridges

3rd June 2016

John Steinbeck was an arsonist. At least, he shouldn't have set fire to what was supposed to be his Nachlass (German for what was left behind - or should have been.) To the lament of his future fans, like myself, he was always taking old work, early drafts and abandoned projects to a fire outside his house and destroying the evidence. We are so much the poorer for this insecurity of his. So much was lost.
And yet with this same goal in mind, I was recently going through twenty-five years of yellowed papers on my shelf to see what I could jettison. Some of this fusty material, I couldn't even remember having written - what was laid down in blood at the time has now discoloured and turned itself to dusty death. Much of it was read to a writer's group I attended for about a decade, and other people's comments still ring harsh, with much more force than the compliments. I want to build that fire up and throw all of this detritus  on its funeral pyre.


It is with some sense of repulsion that a writer (or maybe not all writers, just this one) flips through old sentences, old sentiments, old sermons. The impulse is to toss all of it. After all, I am so much more refined these days, my craft so much better honed, the things that move me so much more urgent. True? I hope so, true. I cringe at my former self. I cringe at my former commentators.
The impulse to wipe the board clean, to erase our footprints in the snow, is probably not a noble one. What future reader wouldn't take the opportunity to compare a very first draft of Of Mice and Men with the published version. Maybe it was better. Sometimes good raw material gets lost through the demands of the publishing process.


So, my dusty drafts and abandoned notions get a stay in their execution. I will simply pile more papers on top of them.  There they are and there they'll stay, says the witch. Until the next bend in the Yellow Brick Road. Until next time.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Happy Valley

27th May 2016

Still in limbo here, waiting to hear back from my preliminary readers, still the prisoner in the dock waiting for a verdict. I guess at this point anything north of "not guilty" will do. You try not to think about it too much. But you do. One reader already told me the first chapter was captivating - made for a cheery sort of morning, a little skip in the step. Another said he was a third of the way through, but then went on to talk about something else. And so the hemlock: wouldn't he have said he was enthralled, if he had been?



I lie awake and wonder what these readers are going to make of a novel that is not Sci-fi and yet is partly set in an alternate future? I hate being this needy, but it seems to go with the territory. A writer spends a good chunk of her life mapping out a story in blood, that doesn't flow so easily, let me say, from the creative vein, and then she has to go around waving it in front of people to see if they approve. Because the written word teeters on a tight-rope walk between dross and brilliance.
So, I retreat back into limbo, which actually feels pretty good at this stage - you've finished your opus, and this lazy time-out is sanctioned. I watch those murder series that give me something to think about, another drama than my own. I am on the second of two of these, both British, one from the BBC called "Happy Valley," and one from ITV, called "Broadchurch."
Time passes. It's an oft repeated line from Dylan Thomas's "Under Milkwood." Time passes. The spinning world spins on. The clock ticks. The pendulum swings. Another morning watching the frost retreat off my lawn, another day of walks with my dogs, hoping to catch sight of a heron, an omen for how this saga I call my life will turn out.



Friday, May 20, 2016

Letter From America

20th May 2016

When I was growing up, my father would have Alistair Cooke's Letter From America on the radio on Sunday mornings before church. Cooke had such a distinct voice - mostly English with a hint of American. He had, after all, lived in America for decades (like myself), was an American citizen (unlike myself), and was trying to give his British listeners a taste of what it was like to live in the Good Ole USA, sometimes a bit of a tongue-in-cheek taste. Cooke's Letter From America started in the 1930's and went on until a few months before he died in 2004. He could be a bit of an old moral fuddy-duddy, but much of his assessment of Western civilisation was right on. Clearly people wanted to hear what he had to say.


Brits have a kind of curiosity for America anyway. Loud obnoxious Americans, culturally insensitive Americans, gun-wielding maniac Americans, they bemoan, but there is always there, too, something of a fascination. Perhaps it started in the war, when American servicemen stationed in Britain would frequent local hops and expose the locals to a kind of easy-going laissez-faire that most Brits weren't used to. Many was the young GI bride-to-be who fell for American charm and swagger and ended up in some American backwater for the rest of her life, drinking tea and dreaming of digestives biscuits.


My father had a fascination for Americans. When he was a boy during WWII, he would encounter them on trains and be offered a piece of gum, which to a youngster from a staid British home must have felt like a scene from one of those movies. America spelled glamour and luxury and esprit de corps. So, perhaps that's why as I grew up, he listened to Alistair Cooke who was living that dream.
Thing is, once you've lived in America for decades, or any other country that once seemed dream-like, the bubble sort of pops and you're left with a sticky kind of goo, which isn't glamorous at all. Right now in presidential primary season, that goo seems particularly offensive.


Friday, May 13, 2016

Sheela-na-Gig

13th May 2016

My latest book Dark Matter is now out with readers. That is my process: very little research ahead of time, then more research as I write, but no one sees anything until I am finished, and finally I test the waters by sending it out to a few people whose opinion I trust.
Veil Of Time, the first in the series, was published two years ago and is still selling steadily - every so often I take a deep breath and go through Simon and Schuster's author portal (for which I have a key!) to find out how many print books and how many e-books have sold in any given week. I try not to do this too often, though, or I would make myself crazy. Crazier.
This week I have been visiting another blog, that of Bart Ehrman, well-published professor of early Christianity at Chapel Hill.  In an upcoming book (title: The Triumph of Christianity) Ehrman is asking the question of what civilisation lost when it took on Christianity, which is exciting for me, because this is the very question my series of books is asking, too.
Bart Ehrman wrote an entire book refuting Dan Brown's claims in The Da Vinci Code about early Christianity.  But, really, he and Brown occupy the same no-man's land between the scholar and the ordinary reader. Both are opening church windows and allowing a little oxygen in. For this we must put our agnosticism aside and thank god. Any god.
I am hoping he is going to do the pagans justice.
Historians tend to give paganism short shrift and see it as a kind of embarrassment that the Enlightenment eventually took care of. Hip historians take the notion of the pagan more seriously, but they still look at it through an  Enlightenment lens, before sticking it back in its dark box.
But paganism isn't something to be passed over. It wasn't dark and didn't belong to the Dark Ages. It may turn out those backward pagans had a better way of looking at things.
So, what happened when Christianity took over?
This moved in: Mother Mary meek and mild.




And this is what moved out.



The sacred feminine. And if the above image (in Gaelic known as Sheela-na-gig) offends thee, then take your Victorian spectacles off. It was the Victorians that promoted the notion of the corrupt Dark Ages to start with. To appreciate why the above image represents a female archetype and the Virgin Mary does not, you have to come at this from an entirely different place. The Christian one won't do.