Friday, May 19, 2017

Fighting the Wind

19th May 2017

Once there was a way to get back homeward, sings Paul McCartney about the mother Mary he lost when he was just fourteen. For all of us who lost a parent before we had the chance to take our own leave, his song is an anthem to that ever-receding horizon.  Gaelic has a word for this feeling: Cianalas. Literally, it means far-looking. Pining, I suppose.
Today May 19th was my father's birthday. He was a complicated man: once violinist, eternal lover of music. Once electrician, body builder, boxer, and then orator before hundreds; once a disciple of John Wesley, in later years a student of liberal theologian Paul Tillich. He it was who loved the word Charisma, and had it in spades. A man in motion, married too young, too often moving in silent desperation, in his own far-looking sadness. Cianalas



And then he was gone, wizened by chemo-therapy, a tattered coat, a stick. Such a young man to be stretched out on a hospital bed and adminstered his last rights.  For the rest of us, the door back home was shut forever.  Off he went into his secret garden.
And then the year after he died, Naomi my first-born came, on this day, May 19th, her grandfather's birthday. Death ran the cycle and came round again into light. Naomi herself a forward-thinker and orator before thousands.


Do not go gently into that good night, says the poet, and perhaps no one ever does.  But for those of us left behind, the good night is not so good.


And yet, and yet, as in all things creative, there's another edge to this sword. Waiting at doors is fertile ground, the kind of place perhaps art needs in order to move itself forward. Perhaps this is the twilight zone writers rely upon: Cianalas. Rage, rage against the dark, and then, perhaps if life is kind, it will allow us to unearth the key to the garden and look in.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Epiphany in Brooklyn

12th May 2017

When it comes to New York City, pictures speak louder than words. Which doesn't stop me from trying to throw a few words together as I stand waiting for the Q train. About the sparrow chirping from the inside the plastic O on a McDonald's sign; about the tiny sapling sprouting from a decomposing log beside the train tracks. My instinct is to cobble these visions into lines of poetry.


Here I am scrawling lines across a pad as the Q train careens and lurches within its subterranean tunnels. And then when I glance up, I am fixed by the gaze of an hispanic baby. Suddenly all my literary efforts lack all conviction. It is the truth of that baby's unblinking black eyes that slays me.

On the way to a meeting in a tea room, I pass a church that was once surrounded by fields and lines of horse-drawn carriages, a hard-won temple to the Christian god. But time has moved on, and the once impossibly high steeple is now dwarfed by odes instead to the god of finance.


All sentiment gets deflected in these moments of urban epiphany: a tree grows in Brooklyn; a caged bird sings. A baby appears trailing clouds of glory. A church, vexed now to nightmare, slouches towards its final stoney sleep.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Intimations Of Humanity

5th May 2017

My kids are always on at me for giving money to folks sitting on the sidewalks of New York City because what if those folks just use the money to buy booze or drugs?  But here I am in New York City, and I'm at it again. A legless black man pulls himself through my subway carriage, an armless Hispanic holds up a sign with his stubs, and I am reaching for my wallet. I suppose, if I am honest, what I am doing is easing my own conscience. It weighs heavy on me that I get to come to this city and see the show Hamilton while there are people curled in fetal balls in the subway. My generosity does me more good than it probably does the poor beggar with his dissolving styrofoam cup. I suppose I can't get away from the feeling that there but for the grace of God go I.




The story goes that the author James Joyce was once walking through the university town of Oxford England with some high-minded professor, when they were accosted by a destitute man asking for money.      
"What are you going to do with it if I give you some?" Joyce asked.
The homeless man replied that he was going to buy whisky, whereupon Joyce reached into his pocket and handed him a few shillings.
As they walked away, the professor turned to the author and asked what on earth he was thinking to have helped the man towards his next drink.
Joyce answered, "He was an honest man. If he had told me he needed the money for his wife and children, I would have punched him in the nose."


Friday, April 28, 2017

Nothing To Fear But Fear

28th April 2017

How could "progressive" ever be a derogatory term? Life is progressive. Psychology has been around long enough for us to grasp the implications of being anal and regressive, to prefer stagnation over forward movement. Conservatism by this definition should be regarded as a pathology. And that's how it behaves. Look at Trump's inaugural speech: project fear on steroids; the sky is falling and only the wall of all walls will stop it.
In Scotland we know all too much about such walls. This kind of block in the way of reflective thinking convinced older Scots during the last referendum to deny their country the chance to govern itself. It took to heart the colonial imperative for natives to stay down in their lowly box. Scotland, so the wall-grafitti reads, was "too wee, too poor, too stupid."


Fear as a state tool is effective because it has a swift conduit into inner fear. In this civilisation, still heavy in the aftermath of a religion that ruled by fear, it is all too easy for the masters to pull that trigger. It's what Theresa May is up to with her snap election. It's the path religious conservatives now ruling America have taken against all reason. It is anti-fact, and therein lies its regression and grand cynicism.
But we should be wise by now to the fearmongers. Fear gave us Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, Brexit England, Trump - you get the fear going and then you offer a solution. You can't govern yourselves, it says, so let me do it for you.
The challenge is to break through that wall. Resist. Pull out a brick or two and discover that, far from doom, there's sun and fresh air on the other side.


A wise American president once told us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Why? Because fear cripples, erodes your ability to move and eventually turns you to stone. Fear makes of us easy ornaments to store in a box. Trump, Theresa May, the conservatives, all the fearmongers of history, are counting on you staying down.
Empires rise, but it is because of the fearless that empires fall.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Daffodils

21st April 2017

With bombs dropping in the Middle East, a crazy man in the Oval Office, and a Tory government trying to run England into the ground while it hangs on to its cash flow from Scotland, you have to do something to save your sanity. Here's what I do, and what writers across the millenia have done: I turn to nature.  Wordsworth found this holding centre in a host of golden daffodils fluttering and dancing in the breeze. A poet could not but be gay in such a jocund company.


I am reading a book on cosmology, specifically theories of what came before the Big Bang. Apparently before there was something, there was the Planck Era, in which there was no light, no atoms, not time, nothing that we might think of as this world in which we live. Apparently there was just Max Planck, and chaos. So when everything in your life seems to be dissolving into chaos, it helps to go to the most fine-tuned our cosmos has to offer: fluttering daffodils and fields of gold. We'll forget the sun in his jealous sky as we lie in fields of gold. 


The turning earth spins on, and once more we are in Spring. Life is erupting. Even though the Theory of Evolution goes a long way in explaining how our world has evolved, one thing it doesn't answer is why it does. What is this rabid urge? Why the flower breaking through concrete, why the birds on their vast migrations, why life at all? Perhaps we'll never know, but it surely relects itself in the human drive to create order out of chaos, in the poet's need to reach beyond the ordinary and create something out of nothing.
At our human best we follow the poet out of our causes, our tragedies, the inevitable catastrophes, and give ourselves over to an evening full of the linnets' wings. It's the life-urge. Cosmos out of chaos, and some writers just know how to make it sing.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
                     – W.B. Yeats




Friday, April 14, 2017

Veil Of Time Update

14th April 2017

My original intent in creating this blog was to keep readers up to speed on current and subsequent developments in the publishing of my book Veil Of Time. It has been three years since that book was published by Simon and Schuster in 2014 (the same year Scotland failed to vote for independence!) In the meantime, the world has fallen into mayhem, and so this blog has often veered into the state not only of this union but the one over the pond in the British Isles. Brexit has come to Britain, and Trump is running crazy in the halls of The White House.
The publishing industry, as we all know, creeps along at snail's pace. Since the time I first started sending my writing out to agents and publishers, I have gone from being a relatively young woman to middle age and then some. I have raised three children and seen them all take off into careers of their own. Here I am, still turning up at my desk in the mornings, still casting fleeting glances out the window as the seasons take me from snowscape to spring to sweltering summer and back again.


While I have been waiting, I have written a sequel to Veil Of Time, and then a sequel to the sequel, and now I have a trilogy. This venture started out as a simple tale of an iron age fort in Scotland called Dunadd, and became a kind of utopia about how this land would look if Christianity had never made the inroads it did, and had instead stayed local to Rome. Last autumn, after my agent had read the third part of the trilogy, Iona,  he sent me a page of notes, and I spent a good few months revising it. He gave that new version to a group of readers, and then sent me a smaller page of notes, "some tweaks."
So, I've tweaked it. Yesterday, I went through full blown panic when it looked as though my computer had saved none of the changes, but then I recovered (because it had), and now I'm ready to send the final version back to him. He has plans for the trilogy, which I am not at liberty to divulge here, but if his strategy works, then my star will be on the rise again.


Hopefully before I take to a wheel chair, my backlog of about eight other novels will also be published, and then I wonder if I will dust myself off and retreat from this soul-crushing dance of the artist. Probably not. I am already lying awake at night mulling over something new, such a great notion! But just that one, and then I'll retire my tap shoes for good. Ha!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Art and The Beast

7th April 2017

One of the areas of American culture that Donald The Chimp is frog marching to his guillotine is the arts. No surprise there. He would take the media there, too, if he could do it in the dark.  Thankfully, the Fourth Estate is somewhat protected by the tradition of free speech in this country. Okay, then, he says, watch this, and draws his scrawl of a signature across a bill defunding the arts.
But the arts are part of the Fourth Estate, part of the check and balance that a democracy is supposed to rest upon. Taking away Sesame Street is one thing, but squeezing artistic expression amounts to an impingement on free speech.  Unless, that is, it used as propaganda like we saw in fascist Italy or Hitler's Germany.


Hermann Hesse saw art as the "universalising mirror." It is for this reason that totalitarian leaders are scared of the arts. They notoriously lock up writers, send them off to freeze in Siberia like Solzhenitsyn. They ban them and burn them, because they see themselves reflected in their art and they don't like the unflattering image.

In America, you can't lock up artists, and thank God for it. But apparently you can starve them out. And that's what Trump is trying to do by defunding four central arts programs, including the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He wouldn't mind funding state news like Fox, but he doesn't want anyone pointing their finger at the emperor's clothes in which he struts.
You can't ultimately suppress art, though. You can't stop story-tellers telling it like it is. The truth will out, and that's the job of art in all its branches. Art speaks, is classless, and allows for the gates to the third estate, We the people, to open, as they did during the French Revolution, as they have done in every revolution.


It's what we're seeing in America now with the women's marches, airport protests, town hall meetings - the failure of the HealthCare Bill. And that's the threat to leaders like Trump or Putin who are pushing their own narrative.  You can't hold us back, though, Mr. President. The artists will hold up the mirror, and like Belle in the fairytale will show us the beast.