Friday, March 16, 2018

Out Of The Mouths of Babes

16th March 2018

I have got myself into a tangle with this blog, because of making it about various subjects instead of just one: when I talk about writing, I lose followers on the political bench; when I go on about my poilitical beliefs, the writers press the snooze button; when I talk about feminism, it's the male majority clicking "Unfollow." Consequently, my "Followers" have been hovering around the same number for years. If you want numbers, you just have to step into one bubble or other and not try to dance between them. But, anyway, I'll keep doing just that, because lots of things interest me, and I have to talk across the spectrum, otherwise I am liable to drop off to sleep myself.
Yesterday, the youth of America, to the tune of 185,000, left their desks in high schools all over the country and protested against the National Rifle Association's control of American politics.  "The right for us to have lives," they said, "tops the right of lunatics to carry guns." In response, the trully evil NRA tweeted a picture of the exact kind of automatic weapon that killed seventeen high schoolers in Parkland, Florida, just a month ago. So, it gets you in the heart, this upswell of hope that voices can make a difference, especially the unbroken voices of twelve-year-olds and children who are yet to grow into full stature.

On the same day, some organisation positioned 7,000 pairs of shoes on the lawn of the Capitol in representation of the kids that have been killed by guns since the unspeakable tragedy of Sandyhook elementray school where  twenty six and seven-year-olds were massacred.
It ought to shame us all into deep deep levels of conscience that this is what the adults in the room have pushed our kids into taking up arms against.
And yet it brings hope, doesn't it? Young people are always under fire for having their noses in their phones, and yet here they are, the only voice of sanity anywhere to be heard.
Yesterday, too, a graphic appeared on my Twitter feed that shows a similar upswell of youth in my home country of Scotland.

The young people of Scotland are clearly for a country that governs itself and is not in servile gratitude to a master government that even as we speak is trying to reduce the power of its parliament. It's only a mater of time until the unfettered conscience of the young bubbles to the surface. It voiced its outcry in the Civil Rights Movement, in South Africa against apartheid, in the USA against Vietnam and now about the dark hole in which politics has come to reside.
In other cultures, we would be taking in the wisdom of the ancients, but the old ones in this culture have little of that. The old ones have given in to conditioning and the directive that they have nothing to contribute. At best they are apathetic, at worst sychophantic enablers.
So, it's to the young ones that we must turn our ears. Hopefully, time will let them tell. Tick tock. Tick tock.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Emotional Burkas

9th March 2018

The blog I wrote right after the Golden Globes ("Women In Black," January 12th) called out women celebrating freedom and then playing the male fantasy game in their attire. Frances McDormand gave a rousing speech for women at the Oscars this last weekend in her strange (knitted?) dress, but all this argument brings women like me, who push pens for a living, still trying to formulate what an evolved woman would actually look like; what a society led by a women-council might look like. Late in my Veil Of Time trilogy, I deal with just this question, but for now that trilogy is moving at glacial speed along the publishing highway....
I acknowledge with gratitude those pioneer women who back in the nineteen sixties started to shift the woman paradigm. We stand on the shoulders of giants, as the saying goes. It was a great first step, with many more steps on the horizon to go. But I think we have come far enough along it to ask this question: to what extent is the entire game rigged by the way the rules were set in the first place?
One of those rules draws a distinction between what I once overheard a fellow karate mate, a handsome muscular fellow, define as "woman versus babe."  Women are having a hard time getting out from under the "babe" paradigm.
The TV series Friends has had, and continues to have, enormous social impact, but some of its lessons have not aged well, especially around this issue: one of the most endearing men on the show, the funny one, gets cajoled into marrying a young woman who far outmatches him in terms of physical attractiveness, and yet he still keeps up, and is enabled in, his lifelong fascination with the "babes" of pornography.
Part of the conditioning through all the centuries since religions run by male hierarchies have given woman "their place" is to make her gauge her worth in terms of her appeal to men. If you have spent any time in the Middle East, that fact hits you right in the face (your attractive face, of course.) It is a profoundly offensive sight, the burka-covered woman. Everything in me cries out for the female person hidden within, the smacking down that has had to take place for woman to accept this.

But we in the West have our own cultural burkas, and they are equally hard to see out of. Here are no  religious police enforcing them, but the best police force is one that has moved from the outside and chatters away now on the inside.
As I worked on my last book in that trilogy, I realised that what I was up against was something akin to Stolkholm Syndrome, a psychological condition in which captives take on the identity and values of their captives. I think the first step towards a new paradigm of woman is to identify the actual structures that were put in place to keep woman in a role that benefitted men. These structures go much deeper than we imagine. We are way past realising that women actually do possess sexuality (thanks, DH Lawrence), but not way past seeing this in terms of adolescent male fantasy.

The first wave of feminism in the 1960's raised the spectre of women being equal to men. But this wave has yet to get us past seeing ourselves as versions of men. Our mantra is still, "We are equal and can do exactly what you do." We have to question very deeply here: I'm not even sure if the "Women in the Workplace" step isn't still playing the male-game, since this notion of "the work place" is written around the rules of hierarchy, a thing men favour much more than women if given half a chance.
Women and sexuality has always been at the crux of the matter because much power lies there (thank you Freud, but we knew this of old, and so did the religious hierarchy, which is why it has always sought to undermine it.) But women taking themselves back here does not mean staying in this arena of  perpetual emotional adolescence. We can do so much better than mimicking men in closets with their pornography.
What we have to move towards is a female sexuality that comes from a much more intuitive and integrated place, one that encompasses the whole spectrum of feeling, fertility and nurturing. What we lost at the behest of the Abrahamic religions and what we have to get back in our sights, is the power and evolution of the whole woman.

Disclaimer: I acknowledge the many evolved men in our midst and wait for them to become the majority.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Starting a Novel

2nd March 2018

When I was a philosophy undergraduate, we were assigned essays such as Discuss the use of irony in the Platonic Dialogues.  Topics so egg-headed, it had you reaching for the oxygen tank. So, what I would do was to chip away around the topic until I got a spark, something that would stir my blood a little. It didn't even really have to do with the topic in hand - it could be only slightly related. For instance I threaded the notion of Logus versus mythos from the book "Zen Buddhism and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance" into a discussion of Greek philosophy, earning my lecturer's ire, but making it possible for me to write it at all. I should have seen the writing on the wall then, and switched my major over to English Literature. My lecturer scrawled in red ink the judgement that I was determined to remain an amateur.

Anyway, amateur or not, I still use this method when I am thinking about starting a novel, though that is a much more exciting prospect from the outset. It's a moment when I am already motivated, but I'm still looking  for that little flame, the thing that transports me whenever I touch it. For this next novel, I was walking along the shores of a lake in the Middle East, trying to pick up a vibe, when unexpectedly the first line of Yeats' poem "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," (which I have cited multiple times in this blog) kept running through my head. I resisted at first, because it invokes an Irish setting, and far from what I was looking for. "I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree." It completely changed the feel of the character I was thinking of placing here, because I was seeing it through his very un-Irish filter.

Now that I am back in the USA and embarking on the writing of a new novel, that line is a glowing touchstone that transports me into the creative space. I have heard actors describe a little emotional spot in themselves that they rub raw before going on stage or in front of a camera. It's a sort of talisman to take them out of the ordinary and into the ineffable.
So, as I embark on a new novel, here I am at the water's edge with a lake before me and my character and WB Yeats beside me. A very good place to start!

Friday, February 23, 2018

My Apologies

24th February 2018

My blog disappeared for a month, because although I went to great lengths to ensure I could write it  abroad, when I got to the  Middle East, all the blog-writing instructions on the site I work from decided to switch to the local language. Good if you happen to speak that language, bad if you are trying to work out what "publish" might look like in Hebrew or Arabic, and press "Delete" instead. Which is what I did. So, for the first time in four years of weekly blogs, I threw in the towel and decided to ignore the call, just pushed another piece of pita into a plate of hummus instead.

And it tastes as good as it looks.
I was in the Middle East doing research for a book that has been floating around my brain for some time. I have put none of it into words, and I figured I couldn't start until I had actually gone scouting out the place. This is new for me: since I have written almost exclusively about Scotland, everything I need to know about the setting is embedded in me on all kinds of different levels.
But I was not made a millionaire by my first publication, Veil Of Time. Not even by half. So, I found a cleaning job for free rent and swallowed my pride (though I didn't stop muttering like Dastardly Dawg while doing it - well, it's not the nicest of jobs at the best of times, but in countries where the custom is not to flush toilet paper....well, you can imagine the rest for yourself.) So, even before putting pen to paper, I have paid dearly for this book. Should it ever come to light.

Anyone with romantic notions of choosing writing as a career, should meditate on this: sometimes the writing life is a bowl of Hummus, but other times it's a bowl of shite.

Friday, January 26, 2018

For Auld Lang Syne

26th January 2018

I flew into Edinburgh, city of my birth, today, in winds so wild, it felt like being in a child's plastic toy plane being swung on a piece of elastic. Whenever I touch down in my native country, my lungs involuntarily expand and then let out the air as though they had been waiting all this time to properly exhale. I am home. I have spent the last almost thirty years in the United States, but my body fits into this country, and no matter how I try to fit it elsewhere, the hand of who am I  just doesn't fit into any other glove. I took my first breath in Scotland's capital city. Some part of my body cannot forget that. Some part of my apparatus recorded its malt-smelling, castle swirling, first action. This is the wet garden for me, sprung in completeness, and no other garden with any other smells or sights will ever move into this sacred garden.

Though I had flown over five thousand miles, with only the barest of naps in the tight space allotted to those who were not among the high-flyers, my first instinct upon disembarking was to steer my trolley into the nearest tea vendor and sit in the window with the rain falling slow against the glass and sip. It is a British reflex, this comfort hole of tea drinking. It was wild and windy and rainy outside, and I had to get to where I was going, but instead I stopped and sat and felt as one does back in a lovers arms after a long absence.


Little wonder then that I have spent my last thirty years in exile, conjuring for myself what all this  means. My writing track is pretty well grooved at this point, an archaeologist not of shards but of blood and guts, of the Scottish sinew that pulls me taught and is tied to the land like the bones of a farmer buried in his own tilled field. That is who I am.

Friday, January 19, 2018


19th January 2018

My Christmas presents this year are dragging me kicking and screaming into the era of technology.  I have given up my flip phone for a smart phone, and I am writing this blog entry on the latest and greatest laptop that defies all my befuddled brains expectations of reality. The door flew open, and I was sent headlong into a new age, and I don't mean the sage-burning drum-beating Om-chanting new age. This is the cold steel era of data and gigabytes, terabytes even. This is the future, so I am told, and I'd better learn to love it.

But it's a living nightmare,  a swirling world of passwords and passcodes and Siri and mouseless mice. It's a trapdoor world where if I pick up my phone and hit by accident a few buttons on the side, before you know it, I'm back out in the cold and this little Hitler in my hand is demanding a password to let me back in. Even when you think you remember your password, you are sorely mistaken: the long stream of letters, numbers and capital letters, all of which you were careful to include (because the contraption told you that otherwise your password was "weak") no longer seems to work. Or the security question which there really is only one answer to: what was your first album? I know the answer. I give it. But the phone thinks it is a security breach and starts sending me emails (which I can only get to on my old and faithful almost-as-clueless-as-me IPad) that a terrorist has infiltrated my little castle of passwords and passcodes and thumb prints that never even work.

If you have read best selling author Yuval Harari, you'll know that he thinks we're heading into an era in which data and technology will take the place of religion and where the very gods shall be supplanted by this new iteration of ourselves, Homo Deus. But if Harari is right, I might as well off myself right now. I might as well put my pillow over my head and let myself escape back into the burning sage fog of gods and goddesses, of myth and story. It might be outdated, but it is a much warmer place to live.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Women in Black

12th January 2018

"Tell all the truth," says Emily Dickenson, "but tell it slant." Perhaps that's what the women at the Golden Globes this last Sunday were doing in their black dresses. They were there to speak truth to power, as witnesses to Oprah's "We're fed up with the whole male hierarchy" thing. But perhaps the protest was a little too slant from these women in their high heels, shuffling along like geishas, skirts and neck-lines split.

We women are so programmed to think our job is to titillate, that even when we take the moral high ground we do so in slinky revealing dresses.
I know I am sounding like the Moral Majority Fashion police here, but that's not where I'm coming from. They could show up naked for all I care. Showing up naked would actually be a very good and immediate dispeller of the titillation game, since naked unadorned bodies are just naked, as anyone who has spent any time in nudist zones can tell you. All too often, women speak truth to the power game and then out of the sides of their mouths endorse the very rules of that game.

What if men showed up to such events in Speedos with slits up the front and back? It would look very like someone had something to prove. And yet, this is what women accept as the norm for themselves. Even when we are defending ourselves, we play right out of the male fantasy book. Look at any female TV show host (except PBS!), made up to look like a magazine cover and the neckline plunging. (Except Rachel Maddow, of course, who for obvious reasons gets a pass on this.)

This is Rebecca Traister who wrote the best-selling book "All the Single Ladies." I don't agree with some of what she says in that book, but she seems to me to be a good example of women, attractive women, who are not playing the game, but are comfortably on an equal footing with their male counterparts.
So wear your black dresses in protest, women of Hollywood. You have all the truth inside you, but  speak it straight and give no quarter. The power of this movement is that we no longer have to tell it slant.