Friday, March 17, 2017

Scotland the Brave

17th March 2017

There's so much more to government and the powers-that-be than any of us scurrying around on the surface realise. Who is really operating and pulling the strings is something that is purposely hidden from our sight. Reading about the Deep State in America, and probably something equivalent in the UK, makes me in a cynical moment click "Delete" on all those citizen organisations that send messages asking for help. Donald Trump isn't the real problem in America, though he is certainly an annoying little gadfly. Theresa May likewise in Britain belongs only to the surface noise. The "establishment," that old boys' club fed into by England's system of boarding schools, that British Empire still living under the delusion that such an empire exists, is the iron hand behind the doings of the United Kingdom.


It is therefore with a little trepidation that I do my dance for the newly announced Scottish Independence referendum, Mark 2.  The iron hand has always put down such rebellions of the natives. After the Easter Rising in Ireland, it took the perpetrators out against the wall (even the ones too sick to stand) and shot them. It did the same thing to the Tartan Army in our own city of Paisley in 1820. More recently, during the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum, it spread misinformation so fast and efficiently, that by the time of the vote, it had half the population of Scotland cowering. It has the added weapon of a Scottish media only Scottish in name and largely published out of London. So, the irony is, that even with all other European Union members behind us, even with independent economists everywhere stating that, without the Westminster drain, Scotland could be a wealthy little nation on a par with Norway, we will still have an uphill battle. Fear is a very powerful weapon, and if you have enough Grannies scared for their next week's pension, enough farmers worried for their subsidies, enough people downtrodden over the centuries by the colonialists, and you get a vote like last time: 55% of Scots against Scotland governing itself, the only colony to actually turn down an offer of independence.
I was on the island of St. Kitts recently and was talking to our native tour guide about how the island managed to ease itself out from under British rule. It took many tries, he said. The English government way out there in the Caribbean sea, two thousand miles from its own shores, wanted to hang on. And this is an island with very few resources, one of those West Indies that the British Empire built itself upon, on the sugar plantations and slave trade.  The slave trade was long gone, of course, but still the greedy fingers held on.


So, take Scotland with its vast oil fields (62% of EU reserves) and its wind power (now supplying  26% of its renewable energy to England), its wave and tidal power, its 5 billion pound whisky trade, its tourism and its very small population. The old boys club is not going to let go of that without a fight, for which lowly natives are really not equipped. They play dirty, those Empire boys and the proxies they put up in their pulpits. As was always the case, they have regard for the common people only insofar as they serve the club. Theresa May is nothing more than a barmaid, plying the old boys with (Scottish) whisky.
So, it's a bleak prospect, this quest for freedom, made even more so by the Downing Street dictate the other day that it will not permit Scotland to hold another referendum. And yet here I am again at the altar of the just and the good, with the almost ridiculous belief that Scotland shall persist and overcome.


I think somehow Scotland shall.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Handprints In The Sand

10th March 2017

In the Oscar nominated film "Lion," a little boy accidentally falls asleep on a parked train in the Hindi-speaking part of India and wakes up fourteen hours later in Bengali-speaking Calcutta. No one understands what he is saying, and so he ends up a street urchin with no way home. I have tried to stay off the Trump train, but against my better judgement, I keep climbing back on, only to find myself later in territory where I don't speak the language. It's not just Trump, either. A whole conglomerate put this bozo in the driver's cab, and that's who is doing the steering.


In the end the train will crash, because it was another power altogether that built the engine, just as, I suspect, it built the vehicle for Brexit.  I say that with some reservation, because Brexit can only help the Scottish Independence cause. If Brexit has to be walked back, Scotland will have less of a case for removing itself from all the craziness that has lately become the persistent drone of Britannia Rules the Waves. Or as someone wittily quipped last week, Britannia waves the Rules. Empire, whether Russian or British, is a law unto itself, an ugly beast with a barely veiled grimace.


Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. The man's name is Empire, a dragon that our survival depends upon defeating. Though Margaret Thatcher was not a man, and neither is Theresa May, they are still doing the bidding of the drivers of this engine, denying their female heart and throwing on the masses as fuel.
My most hopeful self expects one day to feel the train slowing down and the drivers of the engine jumping off to the sides of the tracks. And then We the people, the plebs, those who stand to lose in every scenario in this man-made train race, will one by one lift the tracks and smooth over the ruts in the soil with our palms. It will be our handprints, not the train, that will be written into history. Into Herstory.

Friday, March 3, 2017

A Little Magic

3rd March 2017

Every author has their little hobby horse, and I am no exception. In fact, some may argue that I like rocking on my ideological pony more than most. But what moves me more than any other is the question of humankind and religion. If you live in the USA, then you are in the majority if you claim allegiance to Christianity and close to the majority if you believe that God created humans in their present form a few thousand years ago. Statistics change a little when you look at Europe, where eighty percent of adults believe Darwin was on to something. In Great Britain, where only six percent of the population goes to church, Darwin's face is even on the money.


The church is trying to stop the slide by recasting itself as a social service, which admittedly has been its best face throughout history. Christians will even suggest that without Christianity we might never have had high art or advanced thinking or developed a social conscience. And some Christians trying to stem the hemorrhage play the all-inclusive card. There is a cloister not too far from where I sit whose adherents sound veritably Buddhist.
But it is all just a finger in the dam. The history of Christianity is just too damning; its central tenet of  Original Sin is just too damaging.
America will catch up. Christianity has already seen a ten percent decline here in the last ten years, roughly equivalent to the dying off of the old folks. And when its young people join the rest of the young people in the developed world, we will all be living in a post-Christian world.
So, the question I am concerned about is this: after religion, what then? I am reading a book right now called "Waking Up" by Sam Harris, an atheist and neuroscientist who is addressing this issue. His stance is Buddhist which requires no leap of faith, and yet he has this annoying scientific parrot on his shoulder that keeps insisting on the sanctity of reason. I appreciate that Harris is trying to explore a spirituality after religion, but what he's offering is rather dry, at least his parrot's version of it is. He pulls on his scientific chops and won't admit that what he's offering relies upon a whole gamut of unproven and unprovable assumptions about reality and value.
The problem with this humanistic approach to spirituality is that it doesn't give us what humans have always hankered after, and what is by nature irrational: magic.


We don't need religion for this. In fact, history suggests that organised religion is actually antithetical to it. But humankind hankers after it nonetheless - how else can you explain a culture's wholesale plunge into the world of Harry Potter? We want the suggestion that this world of the five senses is not all there is. We are in our inception Homo Religiosus, and we will always look up at the stars and see things that aren't there. This is what the spirituality of the future is going to have to take into account  I don't know what the answer is, myself. I know we can't go back to being druids dancing around fires. And I know that at all costs the spectre of dogma must be guarded against. In terms of our evolving spirituality it is much easier to see what it should not be than what it could be. But part of the answer has to be an honest look at where the religious spark came from in the first place.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Watching The World Go By

24th February 2017

By now, while you are stuck to this screen, reading a blog by some obscure Scottish writer, I am off enjoying the best obscurity life has to offer in the form of a holiday at sea. Out here, emails cannot reach you, neither can phone calls. It is a little insular world floating over the davy deep, a little law unto itself. And the main law seems to be to eat as much as is humanly possible, a piece of decadence for which I have no satisfactory excuse. In fact, due to the fact that I had the flu the week before I boarded, I don't even have any guilt. Bring it on!


I have heard of old people who rather than go into a nursing home decide to cruise away the rest of their lives. But then what would be the point of heaven? I could certainly be persuaded to go that route.  There's a lyric by Christopher Cross: Sailing takes me a way to where I've always heard it could be. Just a dream and the wind to carry me.




Some of my friends think it is just downright tacky this love of cruise ships, and some can even make me feel guilty because it's not the wind that's carrying me but tons of steel and a whole lot of fossil fuel. If my book Iona takes off, I'm going to have some explaining to do, because in that ideal world I paint, all vehicles run on solar and wind. There are no airplanes, just an underground hyper loop charged by magnets.



But let me be. Let me blame Trump and his minions. Like our so-called president, I'll do whatever the hell I like right now and think about the consequences later.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Dismantling the Pulpit

17th February 2017

Before I hit "Send" and my re-write went swirling into the upper atmosphere, I had to describe to my agent all the changes I made. This is the longest time I have ever spent on a re-write. Because I want this to be right. I had two tasks: take out the preaching and "up the ante." My birthday happens to fall on the same day as Billy Graham's, so the stars were so aligned that I couldn't help but become a preacher of some kind. In addition, my dad was a minister, so I grew up listening to my father in the bully pulpit Sunday after Sunday. But novels aren't pulpits, and this is partly why my agent sent me back to the drawing board. If people want preachers they go to church or read a political treatise. The job of a novelist is to tell stories. So I had to go back and take out a lot of material that was dear to me. I had to recite the writer's Pledge of Allegiance to kill my darlings. Darlings are those things a writer feels compelled to put down on paper because she is attached to them. But they get in the way. You have to take your dearies out into the woods and sever their heads.


There are probably way too many darlings, even this version, but I did my best.
And then came the task of upping the ante: I kind of resist this. I mutter to myself about a book like Middlesex, which was in many regards an astonishing story about gender, and was going along fine until (and I could just hear the editor saying, "Up the ante, Eugenides!") the author plunges us into a high-speed car chase. This completely wrecks the integrity and register of the book, sort of like ketchup in a french restaurant.


So, I resent upping the ante and mutter about it. But I did it, had people getting caught doing things they shouldn't and a new chase (on foot!) and a new sex scene. Mutter, mutter. I tried not to reduce it to ketchup and I think I didn't, and I think the book is better for it.
I don't like to be pushed. I'm a Scorpio, for crying out loud. I do the pushing. But I am very bad at having any perspective on my writing. Like my children, I think they're all wonderful. And if it weren't for the small question of marketing, that would be all dandy. But any writer writes to be heard, and so we have to listen to the publicum. All well and fine. But it doesn't stop me muttering about it.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Taking It Easy

10th February 2017


The view outside my window is a tapestry of snow and ice interwoven with skeletal trees. Narnia has taken hold. A large mountain lion was seen on my street early one morning this week. Coyotes howl out of the dark of the frigid hillside. I sit at my desk and spin words, getting close to the end of my final read-through before sending my book off to my agent for his perusal. The Ute Indians used to come to this corner of Colorado, but only in the warmer months. We Pale Skins are here only because of fossil fuels and electricity driven by fossil fuels. If all that failed, we would be dead in a matter of weeks, even after we had burned all our furniture and used our manuscripts for fire-lighters. We would die, because nothing grows in Narnia, at least not until it rejoins the living in May.
A quote on my calendar tells me that beneath the apparition of the surface, all living beings are one thing. And here we all are, one human thing, buzzing around in our heated vehicles, eking out our lives from one centrally heated house to another and to the cinema, and restaurants if we are lucky. All uniformally and stupidly forgetting how tenuous all of this is, how temporary this sliver of life we have parked our one human backside on.


And I was going to be good this winter and not get bogged down in the cold and ice like the shrivelled carcasses my dogs dig up from the snow banks, sticks with fur and frozen eyes. But I lost the battle, I guess, because next week I'm off cruising.  The lifeless landscape has finally got to me, and I need out. People were never meant to live here anyway alongside the starving coyotes and elk and the mice curled in  their grass nests beneath feet of snow. Once I dot the last "i" and hit "send" and my lovely words go sailing through the ether to the east coast, I am boarding a ship, donning the plush bathrobe in my cabin and settling back on my veranda with a glass of champagne.


I have earned it. So there.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Veu do Tempo

3rd February 2017

Around the time my book Veil Of Time was published by Simon & Schuster, a publisher in Brazil bought the rights for a translation into Portuguese. That was only for Brazilian Portuguese, though. If Portugal wants the book, they will have to negotiate the rights separately. At the time, my editor told me that eventually a book with my name on it and a Portuguese title would arrive on her desk and when it did, she would pass it on to me. Forward to a few days ago, when a Tweet in Portuguese appeared in my email box, and since so much time had passed since the original purchase, I thought this must be a Portuguese comment on one of the many Tweets I put out in the name of Scotland and her interests. I didn't understand the Tweet itself, of course, but good thing I thought to click on the link, because it was about the launch of Veu do Tempo in Brazil.  What do you know!

I actually like this book cover a lot. Rather than trying to sell with sex, it is fairly faithful in representing what the book is about: a woman with her cup of tea dreaming wistfully of bygone times in Scotland. The castle in the picture is from a much later time in Scottish history than my book is set, but still, it is on a rocky mound overlooking the sea, and I appreciate that they took the time to convey the sense of the book. What lies between the covers is anybody's guess, since no Brazilian translator ever contacted me to ask, "What is this: when someone is asked a question, they just look away to the hills?" Goodness knows what they made of the Gaelic lines or of the dour Scottish temperament in general, quite different I imagine from anything you might come across in Brazil.


Anyway, perhaps Veu do Tempo might sell well down there. Perhaps the book-count may go up on my "Recent Activity" page on the author portal at Simon and Schuster that I try so hard not to click on. It's life, and, whether American politics or your opus magnum, pretty much everything is just a feather weight away from tipping the balance.