Friday, September 23, 2016

Consider The Lilies

23rd September 2016

Ah, the highlands of Scotland! The place where time stands still. The place where there are more sheep than people, and after while, so the joke goes, it shows.

Life is slow here, and so it should be. What has the human race achieved by its wealth and its mile-a-minute lifestyle but high rates of suicide and a general sense of malaise? This is happiness: nothing to do. As the Buddhist sage said, "If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner,  then you have learned how to live."  

But there were no boats out to the island of St. Kilda this week. The wind was strong and the swell too high. St Kilda will have to wait. I'll be back in sunnier weather.
 In the meantime there is Harris, where the boat would have sailed from.

Lovely, Gaelic-speaking Harris where sheep fall asleep on the main road and you have to go very slow. Your brain has to hit a different rythym altogether. Go to the north of this floating land mass and you come to Callanish, a spectacular set of standing stones, second only to Stonehenge, where the ancestors danced and cavorted to the moon. Another short jaunt, and you're at the beach where in the eighteenth century a farmer chasing his cow fell into a stone cavern filed with three-inch high twelfth century chessmen. There were eighty-two of them, and now they reside where they absolutely shouldn't be, in the British Museum London.
I went out there because a fire was in my head. It was raining; close dark clouds were sweeping over the sands. Here as everywhere on the islands, seagulls, guillemots, oyster catchers, and gannets fill the air with the beat of their wings.

Here they live in their hundreds of thousands, silent witnesses to it all since the dawn of time: the coming and going of species, the paltry dance of human kind. Long after the final fall of the last stone on the last human dwelling, the birds will take flight as usual over the seething sea, skimming their bellies on the surface of the water, and then spotting a fish, climb high above the waves and like a thunderbolt fall.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Listen to the Wind

16th September 2016

A week of little sleep has had me bog-eyed in front of the computer many mornings, still trying to work my way through the final edit of book three in my Veil Of Time series before I leave for Scotland tomorrow. I am so close - a mere forty pages away - but this morning my computer of many years decided it had had enough and wouldn't save anymore. So, all I can do is let go and hope that Deepak Chopra is right when he proposes that everything in this moment is exactly as it should be. My edit will have to wait. Perhaps when I get back I will even have new clarity.
I haven't ever been able to decide whether being in those sleepy twilight zones makes for better writing or worse. Some celebrated authors of past and present who spend much of their creative life in a drunken stupor obviously think that the muse needs a little help from the bottle. That the genie will not emerge unless there is a bottle. But this seems a little cynical to me. Alcoholic authors, whether or not they possess genius, are still alcoholics.
I suppose the thinking is that a writer does what she must do to side-line the intellect. Being so tired you can barely see straight will do this too.  In one such stupor the other morning, I had to move a piece of text from one place in one copy of my MS into another place in a new copy and then remember what the old and new contexts for the passage were so I didn't repeat myself.

It didn't go well.
No, I would rather be alert and awake, even if then I have to manually turn off the mind. You can do that by listening to music or reading poetry, which as Wallace Stevens put it, should almost successfully miss the intellect. Prose is a little further along the creative spectrum towards maths and science, but still the mind needs to be silenced, because like an American in a room of other ethnicities, it will if at all possible make noise.

If only that were his worst fault!
Inner silence is what we writers are after. Perhaps it's what everyone should strive for, and what I hope to attain as I sail a hundred miles out to sea next week to an island where the chatter is outdone by bird cry and the ever present wind. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

Lords Of The Dance

9th September 2016

Obviously a lot of my writing finds its source in the contrast between Christian and pagan. I suppose growing up in a valley that boasts one of Scotland's largest collections of pre-historic stone circles and cairns,  the call of a distant drummer never seemed too far off. By contrast, I lived in a Christian community that had broken away from the traditional church, but which was still rather evangelical in respect to other traditions.  It's kind of odd that they chose to put roots down in this "heathen" land, then, and I think at some level of my childish heart, this was not lost on me. Though I was singing with the best of them that "For me to live is Christ to die is gain," a deeper drone was playing itself in and out of the soundtrack.

(Well, that is a rather romantised version of my Pictish ancestors -  for one thing, they would have frozen to death going about the Scottish highlands in this get-up. A more accurate picture would have them huddled inside goat or deer skins.)
But the nature of that drone from oh so long ago is hard any more to decipher. It's like trying to find Jesus amidst the Christian religion that usurped him. How do we uncover the ancient ones? That's what I've been trying to do in my book series, of course. But just as in the Christian tradition, it's best to look where you'd least expect it. For instance, it's on record that the early church didn't like pagans coming to their services because they tended to dance. Ha!

One of the most restrictive denominations of Scottish Christianity goes by the ironic name of The Free Church. No singing, no dancing there. This is the species of church that took over the people of the far flung island of St. Kilda, a place that had had a history of its own out there from before Yeshua Ben Yosef ever set foot in Galilee. I like to think of the St. Kildeans way out in the ocean dancing around their sacred fires, lifting their faces to the stars and dancing with abandon. The fantasy is even better if in the middle of the fire you put the effigy of a grim-faced minister of the Free Church.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Sailing to Byzantium

2nd September 2016

Back from New York City, I have a mere three weeks before my next trip (this one, to Scotland!)  The sole purpose of this excursion will be to visit St. Kilda, the far flung island off the north west coast of Scotland. 100 miles out, to be precise. In earlier blogs, I have written about St. Kilda (or let's give it its real Gaelic name of Hirta), but I have never made the twelve hour round trip.  In 1930, the island was evacuated of its curiously old fashioned and isolated population.

Since then, the British government has incorporated the island into a missile tracking range, so same old, same imperialistic old.
I just feel there are stories out there waiting for me.  The sailing has a two-day window and it is the last one of the year, so fingers crossed! A calm sea day in mid-September might be somewhat implausible for the outer Hebrides, but this is what we are asking for.

In the meantime, I have pledged to finish my re-write of Iona, the third and final book in my Veil Of Time series. Put the final dot on the final sentence and send it through the ether to my agent. I want to sell this book before the year is out - perhaps an even greater implausibility than the clear Scottish day in September I'm looking for. In my woe-begotten childhood, the adults used to say, "If you ask, you don't get." How's that for a piece of misled Christian upbringing?
But I am asking God or god or Goddess or my ancestors, any higher power that is listening that can kick in and take me into my Ubermensch self. Ubermenschlich, all things shall be well and all things shall be well. That's the very best of the Christian litany on. And if it's on offer,  I'll take it.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Big Apple

26th August 2016

The last time I was in New York City, a blanketing snowstorm stopped all incoming traffic, including snow plows, and you could walk right up the middle of the street with no fear of being run over. New York City for one day fell silent. But it is the height of summer now and about 100 degrees (200 degrees if you venture down into New York's bowels to take the subway.)

I am staying in someone else's apartment with only the brick walls of other apartment buildings out every window. Across the fire-escape and down to my left, a fat half-naked man sits at a table, through the window of an apartment higher up, kitchen utensils, wooden spoons and spatulas, stand up in a pot. No birds in this land of brick walls, nothing living in this apartment, but an ant that wanders around the bathroom, and in the middle of one night on my leg. Tiny Ant cheers me up, though clearly his days must be numbered. A sign down in the lobby tells me to expect the exterminator, and my midnight friend will not escape that.

I find it hard not gawk in New York City. Being a writer, I naturally create worlds around the characters I encounter: the sleeping black giant on the subway who takes up two seats, the affectionate Asian couple as skinny as rails, the woman who all day folds other people's clothes in the heat of the laundromat.
People here seem so strange next to their Aspen counterparts. They have no back yards, no views, no money; they live on the brink. Hardly anyone speaks English, and I wonder if they, like me, left their hearts in their homeland. I step gingerly along the pavement to avoid old gum pressed into black splats and gobs coughed up by old men sitting on chairs outside their hole-in-the-wall businesses. Men in hard hats spread tar on the road from a truck that reads "God Answers Prayer" on the side, even though it seems He hasn't answered any of their's. Water spurts out of fiberglass flowers onto filthy playgrounds. An old guy sits outside on a chair in a T-shirt that reads Wink If You Want Me, scratching away at a lotto ticket. If only the Lotto answered prayers.
And then the sirens, the sirens, the sirens. Every minute a person gets rushed to hospital in New York CIty; every minute a flashing police car elbows its way up a choked intersection.

I think too often Thoreau prattled on pretentiously about the healing qualities of nature, but after even one day in New York it is into flights of his kind of fantasy that I fly. I think of woods and colourful birds as I sway around the next subterranean bend on the Q train or the 1,2,3, train, snaking in the devilish dark to places I don't want to visit and will try in my dreams to forget.

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Long And Winding Road

19th August 2016

Because my local school in Scotland stopped short of the final two years of high school, I had to live and study thirty miles from home in the largest town in the area, Oban. The bus that took us country bumpkins into the metropolis had a tape player but a very few tapes. One of these was by Paul McCartney, and often the song, "The Long and Winding Road," would be playing as we went home on a Friday evening along a long and very winding road. (McCartney actually owned a farm not that far away, so it may indeed have been this very road he was thinking of!)

I am on a road trip to New York City right now along a different winding road. If you Google, "Things to see along Interstate 80" the general consensus is Nothing.

If I were on another highway,  I could be enticed by signs for retail ventures such as Wall Drug, or  South Of The Border, one sign just about every mile for hundreds of miles, bewitching you into thinking you really ought to get off this long road and pay the place a visit. Of course, feeling somewhat cheapened, that's exactly what you do.

I would stop at Indian remains, but they have been co-opted into memorials to the glory of the pioneers. I went to one in Utah run by little old white ladies in which were posted glowing testimonials from Native Americans who had been removed as children to government boarding schools and there given Christian names like Earl in place of their lovely Running-Water type names. Reading these endorsements was like watching a promotional video for Isis with a Western hostage at knife-point calling out Allahu Akba!
Along the mid-section of this road, there's plenty of shrines to white Americans and the forts that kept them safe and sanctified. I stopped at one to Buffalo Bill whose claim to fame was having slaughtered almost five thousand buffalo in eight months (hence the name.) Thanks, Bill.
So, pedal to the metal, eyes to the front, mile after mile, state after state, as in life, so on the road, the trick is to keep on trucking.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Breaking the Hoop

12th August 2016

I got into some really interesting research this week for the last in my Veil Of Time series, because I have been imagining what the USA would look like if the pale invaders had never come and instead stayed in Spain and England or any of those empire builders.

According to the few Native Americans that are left (a staggering 1% of the original population) the effect of the pale invasion was to break the Sacred Hoop, a metaphor for the life of man, beasts, nature, all in balance. A circle happens when outer and inner forces are held in perfect balance. When you look at the world the white man has forged, you have to conclude it is wildly out of balance. You have all the outer force pushing down and nothing inward to resist, which is why we live in the days of the imminent implosion.

Here's a fact: until the Romans came, native British houses were round. In my book series, dealing with both an historical Scottish past and a projected alternate future, all the houses are round. Think, Tipi.

In Scotland, the church is called the Kirk, which means circle, because the Christians would chase out the pagans and build their own churches within old pagan circles. It was a mark of a psychological shift that the monks brought in rectangular meeting houses. The circle that you see in Celtic Crosses: actually a pagan symbol of wholeness trying to break back in. The circle is one of those archetypes in thought that Jung liked to paint on the inner walls of his circular tower. Native Americans used to say that everything is trying to become round (and they didn't even know that those tiny sparks of light in the night sky were actually spherical planets and stars.) Nature is round and man is square, so goes the idiom.  It is worth noting that woman, the curvy one, is less so.
May the circle be unbroken...because it is in the round that we are at our most whole.