Friday, September 4, 2020

Mucking Around In The Ashes

 September 4th 2020

To all intents and purposes, this era of COVID is something to be endured, an historical event that has upturned the apple cart. People (myself included) have become sick, some have died; schools have closed, businesses have had to close up shop, events have been cancelled. My trip to NYC in March got postponed until May and then to November, but now that isn't going to happen either. My performing arts children are all out of work. My husband's small business took a hit. We spend half of our waking lives behind masks; we can't hug (and I don't even like hugging - strangers that is); we are not permitted to sing in public; we're all acting like sociopaths, crossing the street to avoid each other.

But if you put your ear to the ground, something else is happening beneath all these privations. People are re-assessing their lives, their locations, their priorities. As trauma tends to do, it is forcing us into the rarified atmosphere of fine-tuning the things that matter most in life. And they are hardly ever "things."   

In my small community of Aspen in the mountains, there's a sudden influx of people who initially came to kill the time during quarantine but now don't think they can go back to their regular lives. A hundred new students have registered at the local school. Ketchum, Idaho, a similar mountain resort, is seeing a similar increase. The same thing is happening to small towns in Vermont. Real estate sales in the New York suburbs are going through the roof. Who wants to live in Manhattan when you don't have to? 

With time on our hands, we are thinking outside of the box. People are beginning to wonder if an economy based on mass production supported by workers who studiously clock into their 9-5 jobs might not be the only way to go. What if a gig economy might even make people happier? What if this division between caring for our children and earning money doesn't need to be so stark? What if money is not the be all, after all? 

As Carl Jung famously wrote, "In all chaos there is cosmos." Perhaps cosmos is even engineered to cyclically fall into chaos. As much as human beings like to think they order their little universes, from time to time we are thrown into a chaos that underlines the fact that we do not. Perhaps it is good, though uncomfortable, that the structures we thought of as solid are now showing signs of erosion. We are being freed to consider why we buit those structures in the first place.   

Friday, July 10, 2020

Creative Ebb and Flow

10th July 2020

The best experience for a writer is sitting down at your desk, glancing at the clock and then not noticing the time again until several hours have passed. What is that? All day long you glance at your phone for the time, or if you grew up with watches, then you glance at your wrist. And then there are certain timeless zones you step into. Sex is one. Religious ecstasy is another. Where is this timeless country, and why when we have been there do we feel as though we have been home?


People who have experienced Near Death experiences recount how the moment they come back into their physical bodies, they feel an overwhelming sense of regret: they resist the heaviness of the body; the restriction, the struggle. Emerging from the creative zone is a bit like this. The shackles are back on; we are forced again into the surly bonds of earth.

Eckhart Tolle describes the creative life as mirroring the ebb and flow of the universe itself. We go out of ourselves in the creative act: literally the meaning of ec-stasy. That's why those missing hours of the creative moment have a religious quality to them. Perhaps this is why it can often feel like things are being created through us, sometimes in spite of us.

James Taylor says: I don't know much about God. But if everything does originate with God, then certainly songs do.

Paul mcCartney's song "Yesterday" is the most covered song in music history. The act of writing it, he says, "was fairly mystical when I think about it. It was the only song I ever dreamed."

Neither of these musicians is unique in feeling at times like they are merely the vessel, and the creative product a gift.

Albert Einstein wrote, "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant." In our predominantly cerebral culture, we often get that equation the other way way around.

The writer sits down at the desk to write, and, having glanced at the clock, the mind goes into surrender. Trying to control what comes out is anathema to the artist's way. It's the difference between Mozart and Schoenberg, between cosmos and chaos.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Writing for LIfe

29th May 2020

I always cringe watching instructors encourage people to write: "Come on, you know you have a story somewhere in there. Dig deep. Pull it out. Fill the page."  I want to scream "No! Leave it in. If there is anything in there worth coming out, it will do so on its own." Likewise, I have no tolerance for the romance of writer's block. If you have something to say, then say it, and if not, find something that inspires you more.

Writers' block! Give me a break.

This lockdown business in the face of a global pandemic, has you staring at your reflection. Not the one in the mirror, which these days is doing me no favours. I mean, the one you have to look inward for. The one that has you in tangles in the middle of the night, wondering if all the years of type and sweat have been worth it. Seven people bought my book this week - not bad for a book that was published six years ago (by Simon and Schuster, I have to add, because the literati look down their bespectacled noses at any book that doesn't have a "name" on its spine.)  Seven books, drip drip drip. Six years of drip, and I still haven't paid off the damn advance. That's because publishers operate according to the law of diminishing returns, and the joke is on the author, because they keep splicing the money you owe down to the nearest farthing. Up the hill we go, and up the hill we go.

Writers' block!

If I had a penny for everyone who said to me, "I know I have this book in me, but I just don't seem to be able to find the time," I would have paid off the damn advance by now.

A wise woman, perhaps Eudora Welty,  once said, "If you can do anything else other than writing, do it."

J.K. Rowling probably doesn't feel this way, and I am sure I wouldn't either if I had made enough money to buy a small country. If I had, I wouldn't, like JK Rowling, be lodging in my homeland of Scotland, I would buy it. Those capitalists in London have their price - it's the nature of capitalism.

But my drip drip isn't going to amount to any kind of real estate, whether countries or a wee cottage in the old country.  The chief difference between me now and me in my twenties when I was launching myself into the writing world, is that back then I thought writing was the answer, and now it's just a very large question.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Bending Towards Justice

May 8th 2020

Martin Luther King famously said, "The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice."

2020 has so far been a downright disappointment. I had such high hopes. As a Scot, it seemed that the 700th anniversary of Scotland's charter of independence should be the year for ushering in a new and independent Scotland.  And then, as a "resident alien" in another country teetering on authoritarianism, I had hoped for a Trump day of reckoning. 2020 seemed like such an auspicious year. The British State and the American government have been getting away with too much for far too long. And where is Martin Luther King's curve of justice, I want to know.

In the UK and the USA, we have two corrupt governments that are built on greed and cronyism. The rich are pulling out all the stops to ensure they get richer and installing sycophants in key positions to make sure the dynasties stay in power. Conservatives of the old school in America, though thin on the ground, will have nothing to do with the current GOP, just as there must be some Tories who refuse to follow Boris Johnson off a cliff.

In England, that cliff is called Brexit.

In America, the cliff is Trumpism. 

But they are both the logical progression of unfettered capitalism. They both have hard cold cash at their core. It's hard to see how, so far into this souless territory, we back off the critical edge. I guess it depends on whether or not the universe we live in is moral, or at least fair. As we are in a holding pattern with the coronavirus, so we wait on the brink to see if a curve, whose name is justice, is waiting to catch our fall. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Rebooting the Grinch

April 1st 2020

It doesn't take long living in America to conclude that it is a very cultish place. It's no accident that, from Jonestown to Waco, cults rise and fall with regularity in this country. Nowhere else in the developed world would a white supremacy cult like the KKK be considered part of the culture's fabric. Fraternities in colleges abound, and for the older man, there is the well engrained but exclusive Mason societies.
A good argument could be made that it is the misplaced fervor of a cult that has currently taken America by storm. It is almost indistinguishable from the right wing evangelical Christianity that props it up. The governing body of the USA right now under the authoritarian leader Donald Trump, is quite rightly referred to as Trumpism. Because it isn't government as usual; it is an "ism." A cult, by definition: an emotionally whipped up following around a populist leader. America has been going in this direction for quite some time, probably as far back as Ronald Reagan. Nietzsche said that when actors start becoming political leaders, watch out. But America didn't watch out, and now it has a TV personality, a mega-star wannabe, calling the shots, somewhat more dangerous than a mere actor. Jafar has come to the palace, and he is close to getting his most ardent wish, which is to become the all-powerful cosmic leader.

In the Disney movie, Aladdin, the hero was always going to save the day.  That's why he is in the story. For a long time in America, it has looked like no one was going to save the day. Mitt Romney kind of faded in and out of that role, but he's no hero. Now we are in a global crisis, a pandemic, and the movie looks even grimmer. All the evil little trolls, evil little Mitch McConnell and his minions, are running around behind the curtain, installing their judges and their supreme court candidates, disenfranchising voters, syphoning off money to the corporations that support them. All is lost. For a long time, that's the way it has seemed.

And yet. The optimist in me keeps looking for some silver lining. The world has gone into lockdown because of an insidious little virus, smaller than a human cell that is floating around and replicating itself in a kind of minute megalomania, an almost perfect allegory for the American political landscape. Everyone is losing money, people are locked away in their houses, people are dying.
And yet, and yet, our air is now far less polluted; the canals in Venice are running so clear, dolphins are venturing there; families are together; children too young for boarding school are back at home with their parents. Babies in daycare are in the arms of their mothers. People are helping each other, singing to each other. It's almost like the morning after the Grinch stole Christmas.

Perhaps the world needed a reboot, like when you unplug the computer entirely to try to fix a problem.  Perhaps that organizing Gia principle made us stop and look around at what our lives have become, the better values we have lost. Perhaps what we have to learn here again is a little humility. A little humanity. Not an "ism" of any kind, just whatever o'ertook the Whos down in Whoville and had them singing whatever inexplicable nonsense Seuss had his Who's sing on their Christmas morning without any gifts at all.

So, there might be a hero in our story after all. Not another overweight, overblown, authoritarian male leader. Not another "ism." What we need and perhaps what we are getting, if we turn the prism just right, is something with heart, a new light.  That's what is going to save the day. And maybe, just maybe, that something is us.

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Writing Patient

January 17th 2020

The art of Writing means resigning yourself to being a vox clamantis in deserto. When the writer picks up her pen, she steps out of the throng and into the desert. Lines from the English Patient, when Almasey has left his beloved Catherine in a cave in the middle of the desert and gone running for days to reach help, flit through my head often. Katherine is injured and has nothing in that cold cave but a flashlight, a pen and the journal she keeps. After the batteries in the torch run out, she says, "I am writing in the darkness."

In a sense the writer is always writing in the darkness, with her creative life hanging in the balance. It is a conundrum that the writer wants his or her creation out in the sunlight,  but to get it there, there have to be hours in the dark place, a staring off into the middle distance, the desk in the closet (as mine once was) or up against the wall so that there are no distractions. It is the dark night of the soul that works itself out in words on the page. Dark doesn't have to mean depressing, but you can expect an eruption of something that was buried, a projection of the artist heart splat into the artistic product. We are creatures of the dark, little luminscent beasts scurrying around the bottom of the ocean of consciousness.

We take our flashlights and poke with them into the dark forest, trying to map out a trail, able only to see as much as the flashlight will illumine. We are writing in the darkness, and the risk always hangs over us that at the end of the day we may get through that forest or out of the dark cave, but the flashlight is dead, and no one even knows we were missing.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Standing On The Edge Of Tomorrow

29th December 2019

History seems poised on the brink. I hope it will come through unscathed. America just impeached the most corrupt president backed by the most corrupt government in its short history. England just voted its own Trump, Boris Johnson, in as its Prime Minister. Scotland said, "Thanks, all the same," and is standing up for its Claim of Right that sets sovereignty with the Scottish people, not with any government, English or Scottish, monarch or otherwise.
Scotland was way ahead of the democracy game, even in the fourteenth century.
When Sir William Wallace was asked in the midst of a protracted execution to swear allegiance to his king, he answered that this King Edward, was in fact no king in Scotland. Twenty years later, after continuing efforts by the English to subsume Scotland under its aegis, a group of Scottish lords sent the Declaration of Arbroath to the Pope, as a reminder that the country of Scotland was indeed sovereign and not ever to be regarded as part of the Kingdom of England.

If you take all the arguments proffered by Westminster before Scotland's 2014 Referendum as to why Scotland should not regain its independence, there you have a profile of the pressure that was exerted back at the beginning of the 18th C for Scotland to give up its independence in the first place.

Three hundred years later, Scotland is now in the odd position of having to "ask" Westminster for "permission" to hold another referendum, and the same old arguments are being wheeled out. Last time, they targeted the old folk, those who have been especially well-trained in the doffing of caps. Breaking  the traditional norm of Purdah, prime minister David Cameron rode post haste to Edinburgh and offered all manner of baubles if only Scotland would not take itself to itself, as any country, of course, has a perfect right to do.

This time, history is not on the side of the usurpers. In this case, the young people are wiser than the old. Some of them have even been educated in Scottish history. We have to thank the Hollywood machine for helping us out there. But increasingly it is so in Scotland that while you can fool some of the people some of the time, we're not going to fall for these lies any longer.
On the brink of 2020, seven hundred years to the year after that ancient and stamped Declaration of Independence was sent to the Pope, my country stands to become truly, though not for the first time, the land of the people, the land of the free.