Friday, April 29, 2016

You Gotta Love it!

29th April 2016

No, you don't gotta love it. American politics is not loveable at all. It is a mess, as much of American life is a mess, because of Mister Greenback, the bottom line, the stinking dollar. Hail the capitalists - here's the natural outcome. Greed. Money corrupts politics, and if you want a prime example of this, just take a look at what is going on in the grand old USA during primary season - a circus.


The first thing American politics teaches us is that once money gets involved, democracy slides down into a muddy pool called Oligarchy. That's what America is today. Demos, the people, do not govern this country. For the people by the people is just an ancient hymn pumped out on a sentimental old organ grinder. According to polls, 80% of the population wants stricter gun controls - but the NRA doesn't, so nothing happens. 73% of Americans favour more rigorous Wall street regulation, but the banks don't, so the financial industry is still underregulated.  63% of Americans think Obama has the right to elect the next supreme justice - but the Koch brothers and their Judicial Crisis Network don't, so now there's an unconstitutional gridlock.  Even the electoral system is rigged: it was only a couple of weeks ago, a Republican convention rules member said, "The media has created the perception that the voters choose the nomination." As an 18th Century American politician famously said "I don't care who does the electing as long as I get to do the nominating." Feudal Britain used to operate like this (and in truth still does.)


The second thing to notice about American politics is the involvement of religion. In which other advanced western civilisation is it mandatory for the president to go to church and pay lip service to Christian doctrine? It furthers the disingenuousness of American politics and like all religious zealotry is merely a cover for a far deeper dysfunction: in the Catholic church you have holy priests and abused children; in American politics, you have the workings of big money under the guise of establishment. It's all about sleight of hand, just exactly what a circus is by nature.

The third thing to notice about American politics is the sophistication of the electorate, or the lack thereof.  Anti-intellectualism is de rigueur in America: half the population of America is still at some level of Climate Change denial. Only Turkey matches the US in terms of those who deny evolution. American students rank 17th in reading and 33th in Maths. Again, it was in the interest of feudalism to keep the education level of the masses low. That way you can stick a Donald Trump or a Ted Cruz on the stage and you'll get applause no matter what they say. It is simply fact that Trump supporters come overwhelmingly from the less educated classes.


America's founding fathers understood the need to separate religion and state and wrote it into the Constitution. Too bad they didn't insert a clause in there about money and state. Not that the Constitution plays much part in American politics today. It's all about personality and greed. And if the two of these meet in one particular candidate, then so much the better.  Thank you, Jesus.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Makeover

My blog needs a makeover.  I have done two hundred and twenty-two of these babies, and if I keep going on about writing and publishing, with a few side trips to Scottish nationalism, I'm going to run out of topics eventually. Every so often I get the creeping feeling that I have already written the same blog before, so time for a change. Those shows where they take some fifty-year old woman and turn her into a twenty-year old are kind of compulsive because who doesn't love a makeover? As long as it doesn't turn out like this:


The goal in the beginning was to track my progress through the publishing world, and I have been doing that, but things in this world are either moving at glacial speed or they are turning angel pirouettes on a dime, and I haven't seen any of those lately.
Some people's idea of a makeover is to change their name from say Walden Schleimberg III to Sequoia Sea-Breeze. Plenty of those in Aspen. But I am hoping for more than a cosmetic change by switching the name of my blog to SLOGAN.
Slogan: A war cry from the Scottish Highlands.


That's me. A slogan crying in the wilderness. Not that this blog is going to shift to the Scottish Highlands (although I wish I could.) I will still be going on about writing, especially if I have any publishing news. 
But I am more than the sum total of my writing efforts, and this blog is going to widen its net of topics. For one, being a Scot in a high-profile community like Aspen, Colorado. Next week I'm going to rant and rave about the American political process, because it drives me bananas! If no one is interested in what I think about other topics, then in the words of Donald Trump, I don't care. Maybe posterity will.  'Cos I got the eye of the tiger, and you're going to hear me roar! Yeah, just like Katy Perry. I believe she is the daughter of a minister, too. In the end, we have to scream our way out. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Give a Dog a Bone

15th April 2016

We have all gone through the thoroughly humiliating process of opening that thin envelope containing a rejection letter. If you're lucky, it starts with a few words of kindness, and then comes the inevitable "but." And the reasons for rejection always have to do with their "list." Not right for our list. Doesn't fit our list. There is no space on our list. It leaves you wondering why you want to be reduced to anyone's "list" in the first place. But take heart - I was knocking off dust on books the other day in search of some forgotten tome, when I came across a book entitled, "Pushcart's Rotten Reviews and Rejections." a funny (in retrospect) collection of the brutal rejections received by some of our most eminent literary figures and their most famous books.


Cyril Connolly once said, "As repressed sadists are supposed to become policemen or butchers, so those with irrational fear of life become publishers." Well, that's a little harsh, but some of our greatest literary works have met with the equivalent of a pitchfork to the eye. What is most surprising is the determination a lot of authors display in the face of said pitchfork. In my karate studio, there used to hang a plaque that read, "A black belt is just a white belt who didn't give up." Many of the books that made literary history did so because the author despite the odds simply wouldn't give up. I always picture the twelve publishers that turned down Harry Potter - somewhere, some furniture must bear the teeth marks of these haughty rejecters. And well they deserve their pain.
James Joyce's "Dubliners" was rejected twenty-eight times. "Gone With the Wind" received thirty-eight rejections. Of course, the prime example is "Zen Buddhism and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" which was rejected a mind-boggling one hundred and twenty-one times.
I decided to look up in this book a couple of my favourite authors: Dylan Thomas, about whom Kingsley Amis wrote: "A pernicious figure, one who has helped to give Wales and welsh poetry a bad name...and done lasting harm to both." Me thinks not, Mr. Amis who wrote...mmm, I can't remember. And dear Emily received this from The Examiner over "Wuthering Heights": "Here all the faults of Jane Eyre are magnified a thousand fold, and the only consolation..is that it will never be generally read." To which history says, "Ha!"



Dear Emily went to her grave with this judgement on her and never knew the reach her lovely novel would have down the ages. So, you have to hang on, and you have to believe in your vision, like a dog believes in the bone. Sink your teeth in and don't let go.


Friday, April 8, 2016

In The Toilet

8th February 2016

In my world of writing, my image is that the agents live at the top of the mountain, the publishers live in the clouds hovering but not touching the mountain, and I live at base camp, at the level of the public toilets. But, having just arrived back from Mexico, I have a renewed appreciation for the lowly toilet. The bad thing about toilets is that you have to clean them. The good thing about my particular toilet is that it isn't in Mexico. I feel that if you're going to ask your patrons to refrain from putting any toilet paper into the toilet, the bin provided right next to the toilet should not be a pedal bin. And for uptight gringos like myself, the lid should open more than a squinty inch. There should be a liner in there, too, and it should not be rusty.
But even for the uptight gringo, or especially for that abherration of humanity, sooner or later you're going to have to deal with poop. Shite, if you're a Scot. There's a lot of shite in life. As the car bumper happily reminds us: Shit happens. "Are you human," asks DH Lawrence, "and do you want me to sympathise with you for that? Let me hand you a roll of toilet paper."



I am sitting in my office writing my blog of the week under the overwhelming odor of cat pee. I tried to clean it up the moment I discovered that my male cat had emptied his, apparently oversized, bladder all over the base of my computer, but the odor lingers. Nothing says cat pee, like, well, cat pee. It has its own distinct aroma - like Channel Number 5 (personally, to my tastes, not unrelated.) I suppose I should be grateful, he didn't decide to back up, as he did the last time this urge took him, and spray the computer screen too.



No delusions of grandeur for this writer! Sitting down to pen another of my opus magni, it is not uncommon for my feet to find themselves in dog poop. My aged miniature poodle leaves me this reminder from time to time, as all shite does, that I am all too human and should get no grandiose ideas. I am not at the top of the mountain, not yet. I am down here among mortals,  unceremoniously reaching for Lawrence and his toilet paper.


Friday, April 1, 2016

Island of Women

April 1st 2016

I am in Mexico this week on Isla Mujeres. I can't deny that apart from the aqua-coloured sea, it was the name of this island, Island of Women, that attracted me.
Iona in Scotland means island of the Yews, already a potent pagan invocation, but it used to be called Eilen nam Druidnach, island of the druids. When Western history looks back on any kind of priestly role, it automatically assumes the role was filled by a male person. However, the evidence is that druidesses were the keepers of the ancient wisdom: the earth itself was a symbol of fertility, as was the goddess - her supplicants were female. We are so far removed from any veneration of the female in the West (except the Virgin Mary - but, note, she is only venerable if she has been circumcised. She is not allowed her sexuality, to the point that the Catholic Church is willing to contradict scripture to assert that Mary had no other children apart from Jesus.)



I posted a tweet last week referencing the Picts' matrilineal line and the wall of male scholarship moved in - no hard evidence, they say. Except there is as much evidence for that as for many other "assumptions" made in the history books: we have surviving lists of Pictish kings that clearly do not follow the paternal line. The infamous Bede also noted in the 8th C that the Picts were matrilineal.
So I am ging to sweep away the male historians and the patriarchal glasses they look through, and assert that in no uncertain terms, it was druidesses living on the Scottish island of Iona, just as it was women living on Isla Mujeres. This latter is better documented, because the island was so named by Spanish "discoverers" (good thing these explorers discovered the "new" world, otherwise the indiginent people would never have known they were already living there(another instance of history and its patriarchal lenses.)



Isla Mujeres was given over to the worship of the goddess Ixchel. When the Spaniards walked onto its shores, they saw the monuments to this goddess and they noted the female devotees and named it Isla Mujeres. Iona in my book is the island of the druidesses until the Monks came ashore and declared it for the male population. Their Saint Columba, and I do not deviate here from the historical record, forbade any female flesh on the island, whether human or otherwise. In the third book in my series, the island is restored to the goddess and her female priests - Jung might call this a restoration to sanity. I hope this foreshadows a redress of balance for the human race as a whole. We may not have any future if it is not.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Weather

25th March 2016

My father was a minister, and at every Sunday service he would give a children's address. One of his favourite pictures to paint on young minds was the image of the thermostat. He meant it in purely Christian terms, of course, but his point was that while the thermometer registers the change in temperature, the thermostat actually controls it. So, being a thermostat was an ideal I grew up with. I abandoned Christian ideology long ago, but the image applies just as well to the arts.
My brother-in-law, sculptor Malcolm Robertson, has just been commissioned to create a monument to one of Scotland's more successful attempts to wriggle out from under British rule: the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Fans of the film Braveheart will remember this as when William Wallace and his outnumbered rabble army forced the well equipped English into a corner and won the day.   Things are starting to change in Scotland, and, whether the politicians realise it or not, the artists should be at the forefront. The large metal sculpture depicts Wallace and his ally Andrew De Moray holding the Scottish flag up high. It's a mark of defiance - art can do that, even when it doesn't mean to - and no wonder the ruling class has discouraged it up until now.

                             

Pictures are powerful tools because they almost bypass the intellect and work directly on emotion. If you watch the BBC news and hang on until they show the British weather forecast, you might be surprised to see a map that reduces the size of Scotland by close to a half. If you have been watching that all your life, it's no wonder you might be rather timid when it comes to proposing monument's to your country's history.


This week I read a few Yeats' poems at a St. Patrick Day's gathering. Yeats was not a radical politician but he was an artist at a time when the tide in Ireland was turning. History thrust him into the path of that struggle by simply being true to his craft. This is the joy and the gravitas of working the arts. They are in any case a thermometer. But in times like these, they can turn the tide and re-set the weather map.



Friday, March 18, 2016

Revisiting History

18th March 2016

I am drawing close to finishing my third book in The Veil Of Time series.  I hope it will be the last book -  some series keep on going long after they should. I never dreamed I would have followed the first book with a second, and now a third - but then I found I had more to say. Because there is far more to this series than a simple love story between modern day Maggie and 8th Century Fergus. Much more than I had even envisioned when I set out on this quest. My initial impulse was simply to set a story at Dunadd in Argyll, Scotland. Why not, I had stories in every other corner of that gorgeous countryside where I grew up roaming the hills like some heroin in a Bronte novel.



But the more I pondered the time-setting of this novel, the more I realised that I was dealing with a watershed moment in the history of Scotland: the crucial advance of a religion that bore its creed within the structure of the Roman empire. The "Christians Soldiers Marching out to War" were out to conquer those "others." And once you have divided the world into "Us" and "Them," sanctified and heathen, no holds are barred, especially if you have papal bulls sanctioning your "Doctrine of Discovery."


(And if you think this dirty side of the American experiment is consigned to the past, just listen to the rhetoric of Donald Trump.)

So, I began to ask myself what would have happened if the "heathen" in Scotland had not been "reformed" but had pushed the invading religion out? What if Scotland's native pagan religion had not been expunged but had evolved and advanced into the future? For one, that scandalous heathen practice of honouring the earth would not have been overridden; that tendency for the males of the species to form hierarchies and subjugate everything beneath them, including the entire female population, would have been held in check. The bloody Crusades in the Middle East, the Highland Clearances in Scotland and the American genocide portrayed in the picture above would have existed only in the worst nightmare, and only if that dreamer was particularly sick.

What I have left to write in the final chapters of this third book (aptly titled "Dark Matter," if I do say so myself!) is the final battle scene. Spoiler Alert: the pagans are going to win. And if they had, what would our present look like? This is the question I am toying with in this final book.  Keep your eyes on the shelves: I hope you'll get to read it.