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.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Throbbing Members

29th July 2016

Years and years ago, when I was new to the United States, an unhinged American politician assembled a news conference, took out a gun and threatened to shoot himself. I am sure I'm not the only one who remembers the chaotic scene on TV as he tried to warn others to stay back and then did himself in.  Some remarkably insensitive cameraman followed him all the way down to the floor and kept filming as blood poured out of his nose.
It is the same kind of derangement I see every time Trump the Drumpf takes to the podium. Eminent journalists are beginning to question his sanity. I think, any more republicans opting to vote for Hillary, and he might just out of spite jump off the very deep end like the politician in the nightmare TV clip.
But this blog isn't going to be about the monstrosity that is Donald Trump's bid for public office. I can barely stand to listen to another word he utters, because I think those journalists are actually right.
The Brits have an apt, if not too benign, word to describe what he is: Doolally.

So I'll talk about sex in literature instead. Bury my head in the sand. Why not, it's what the Republican establishment is doing.

I was once told by some ill-advised editor of my first book (yet to be published) that there wasn't enough sex in it. And, fool that I was, I went through and added about fifty percent more. Why did I do that? I deeply regret it, and it is on my to-do list to go back through and take fifty percent out.
Sex is a bit like chocolate - you can get too much, and after a while it definitely loses something.  I feel this when I read Gabaldon's Outlander. Yeah, we get that Claire and Jamie are wildly attracted to each other, but their little disappearances to have it off behind a vase of dried flowers quickly starts making me want to castrate somebody. It happens with such repetitive boredom that it can't possibly do what good sex in a novel should do, what every component of a novel should do, which is deepen the story.

The question in literature as in life is always balance: how far you should go. I get less and less comfortable with detailed sex scenes. They so quickly fall into clichee.

All these examples are from celebrated authors:

1) "...and she lifted herself from his face and whipped the pillow away and he gasped and glugged at the air...she scratched his back deeply with the nails of both hands and he shot three more times in thick stripes on her chest. Like Zorro."

2) "She turned head to foot, and put her most unmentionable part down on his hard-breathing nose and mouth, and took his old battering ram into her lips."

3) They rolled together into one giggling snowball of full-figured copulation, screaming and shouting as they playfully bit and pulled at each other in a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation...Ezra's howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it smacked its way into every muscle of her body."

Glug, glug! The thing is, imagination produces much more erotic and personalised detail than endless references to howling breasts and throbbing members. Suggestion is usually more powerful than description.  So these days I am tending to leave it alone. The more my Veil Of Time series goes on, the fewer the sex scenes. Sorry. If that's what you're after, Zorro might have something bulbous and unmentionable for you.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Art of the Re-write

29th July 2016

A lot of my time these days is spent talking and thinking about American politics, and so I suppose my post today ought to be on that topic. But I am actually more than fed-up with this circus. I'll watch again when the clown jumps off the platform into a kiddie pool.

The Republican convention was like a really second rate act in a cheesy night club; the Democrats look positively adult in comparison. During the last election, a political journalist on TV described the American electorate as "sophisticated." Well, eat your hat. The American electorate these days looks anything but. I am with Bill Maher on this one. American voters on the whole are about as gullible as the German and Italian populace were before they elected Hitler and Mussolini respectively. If you can't see through a narcissistic nut when he is acting like a narcissistic nut, then you deserve what you get.

I keep waiting for half the population to wake up.

But I have top resign myself to the fact that it may not happen. Even Michael Moore has decided that Trump is going to win.

So, moving right along: I am a third of the way through the re-write of the last book in my time travel series.  Apart from taking out the preaching I was mentioning a couple of posts ago (well, most of it. I am a preacher's kid, after all!)  I have been moving things around a lot. It's a bit like lining up a photo shoot, going around and putting people in different places, only it isn't people or characters I'm moving so much as scenes. Thank God Almighty for cut-and-paste! I usually have an inkling when scenes are out of place as I am writing the first draft, but I am very good at denial.

But inevitably one of my readers will say, "Mmmm. That scene really intrudes here." Then I have to take my head out of the sand and do something about it.
I'm thinking that this version of the story is way better than the first. But then I also think that without any doubt, old orange-comb-over is going to lose the general election. Not being an American citizen, I don't get to vote, but everyone else had better not get complacent. Get out and vote, people, or you're going to go down on the wrong side of this historical moment! The tide will come in and your head will still be below sea-level.

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.