Friday, July 22, 2016

Fanning Yourself

22nd July 2016

They say that being famous gets old really quickly. I can't say I wouldn't like to try it for a day or two, but it does seem to be one of those butterfly illusions you can never quite catch and make work for you. Those multi-million-dollar stars of film want you for them, but not really near them. It's just the way it goes - take a line from young Justin Bieber: stop throwing shit on the stage for me.

I was once at a John Denver concert (yes, John Denver - I admit it! Much maligned singer/songer writer that he was - forget "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," and think  "On the Road" or "The Game is Over." He wrote as many good songs as James Taylor (whom I also admire) but didn't have the requisite edge...hadn't actually been in a mental hospital or lost grey matter to LSD.)
So, anyway, off track - I was at this concert, and there he was up on stage doing what he did best,  when a woman who was rather advanced in age and should have known better, arose from her seat on the aisle and headed towards the stage (where are those security guards when you need them?) She walked up in a rather embarrassed lope, and tossed him some cheerfully wrapped present with nice paper and ribbon. I imagine she had probably knit him a hat or something she could weave a bit of herself into. It was a cringe-worthy moment. John stooped down to pick it up and said, "Thank ye, Darlin'," with as much disgust as is humanly possible without actually wretching.

Just for the record, I don't live in Aspen because of John Denver, but it was a nice perk for as long as he lived here, too, before he went off flying and someone blew up his plane with sugar in the gas tank (This is a personal conspiracy theory of mine.) But I did run into him once outside the liquor store (well, everyone has their vice.)
"OMG," I thought. "There's John Denver!"
It was him, too, wearing a blue down waistcoat with a big sunburst on the shoulder. And, because I figured it was probably the only time I was ever going to get within five feet of the man (which turned out actually not to be true), I decided to look him right in the eye. I stared, and he realised I was staring and the look he gave me back conveyed something like, "Say anything, and I'll kill you."
So fandom comes crashing down. It's the nature of the beast. What it says is we all need to get a life and stop thinking that being in the proximity of stars makes us burn a little brighter. Actually, it extinguishes what little light we have.
JD used to open his shows with the line: "You can join in with the chorus, but let me do the verses. It's my show." Step away, little fan!  Justin Bieber is right: keep your little knitted hats and your sense of self to yourself!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Show don't Tell and Go Tell It on the Mountain

15th July 2016

I have started my re-write of the third and last book in my Veil Of Time series. I am ready to be done with this project and get the book out to my agent and then onto the shelves. Because of a tendency I have towards preachiness, much of this rewrite has to do with making sure I get off the bully pulpit and stick to the story. Showing, not telling, is the first law of fiction and should be the mantra of every writer. Why is it then so easy to forget? It's easy in this book because I have so much I want to drive home, and allowing the reader to make the jumps themselves is an act of faith.  Rewriting this time means taking myself into the corner where I am at my best as a poet in the craft of spinning words.

I keep imagining I will stop this art of spinning at some point - once all my backlog of books is out, I say. But then I have been coddling this new idea for a novel lately, actually quite an obvious next step after my forays into the moment in history when the church exterminated paganism. It  would be about Yeshua Ben Yosef (aka Jesus) before he became a holy icon. Coincidently, there's a brand new film about him starring Ewan MacGregor.

I know I ought to be glad for my countryman, but, good god, do we really need another European Jesus? With blue eyes and a Scottish accent to boot!  Ewan MacGregor, away you go and do a film about the glens and the heather, dig up some of that good Scottish history we were never taught at School.  Then you'll look the part.
But let's stop this endless rehashing of New Testament stories. They are after all just stories  cherry-picked from a collection that is very often downright contradictory.
The impetus for my new novel would not be the Bible, then, but something Oscar Wilde said to WB Yeats: what if Yeshua Ben Yosef were to zoom forward into our time, what would he think of how the Christian religion came to use him: as an excuse for hate and guns and persecution. The lake-preacher turned into a world religion of war.
So if there's any way to write this in the poet's corner, I'd like to do a Kazantzakis here and put the whole Christian thing on its ear.  The appeal in it for me is that somehow I think Yeshua might approve.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Bombs Bursting In Air

8th July 2016

Independence Day. The fourth of July. Parades and barbeques and fireworks! Americans know how to throw a celebration. All very splendid and enjoyable. And the celebration of a nation freeing itself from colonial suppression is, of course, close to my heart. But let's bear in mind that not all nationalisms are created equal. Pride in a nascent country is not the same as the will to go out, as Britain did, and make colonies of other peoples. I stand behind countries getting themselves back on their feet, but I do not approve of rabid nationalism.
I never, for instance, stand for any national anthem, because I think it is just so much beating of the chest and calling "Cock-a-doodle-do!"

In the British anthem, we have God Save The Queen/King: O Lord our God arise, Scatter her/his enemies. (Especially if her/his enemies are trying to undo her/his empire!)  Britain has another national song called Jerusalem with a whole lot of nonsense about Jesus Christ, a peasant from the middle east, walking about England's green and pleasant land. (Methinks he would have looked less holy under an umbrella!)
When it comes to nationalistic hogwash, America, of course, has its fair share. O say, does that star spangled banner yet wave oe'r the land of the free and the home of the brave. To swallow that, you have to engage in some serious redefining of terms. By "free" is meant white European male, and by "brave" is certainly not intended the real braves, those few natives who managed to escape extermination.

This kind of nationalism will always try to conflate its expansionism with religion. It's been doing it from the moment the Roman Empire took on Christianity as its standard bearer. If you're going to go out into the world and claim other lands, you'd better have god on your side. The much later Christian Doctrine of Discovery issued by some Roman pope in the fifteenth century carried the tradition on.  It's how the west was won. How the Middle East is still being won. Or so thought Tony Blair and George Bush when they were brewing their felonious little plans. Eventually, but not in our lifetime, the Middle Eastern countries will celebrate their own independence from colonialism, with fireworks instead of bombs. Now, that's a thought! I wish I could be around to see it.

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Centre Cannot Hold

July 1st, 2016

Americans have this wonderful expression: Life turns on a dime. Every so often, life certainly seems to. You're going on with business as usual, getting up in the morning, reaching for the teabags, going to your desk.....same old, same many more cliches can I use before the sentence is up...and then everything changes. Two planes hit the twin towers and nothing is ever the same again. You fall asleep at the wheel and end up in a wheelchair. Or, on a lighter note, your agent calls you and tells you he has just had a six figure offer for one of your books from a major publisher. In fact, since I'm enjoying this, let's take the fantasy one step further - all the major publishers are in a bidding war for your latest book and the offers are making publishing history.

So, in every writer's dream you go from slurping tea in the early morning light to walking down the red carpet of literary history with cameras flashing and money dropping down from heaven. Why not? History is made of moments like this. Britain is right in the middle of one of those fairy pirouettes. London Bridge, as the nursery rhyme goes, is falling down. Pulled down by the people, no less, and the Oxbridge toffs are jumping off like fleas.

Who'd a thunk it?' - another apt American expression. This green and pleasant land, this bastion of decorum, is heading down the toilet. Scotland is trying to succede and Ireland is trying to be one country again. Just like the old days. Perhaps all that is happening, all that ever happens, is that history is spiralling back on itself. Just as my man Yeats said it would do. And doing it on the tiny circumference of a small silver coin.

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


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.