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.

Friday, January 5, 2018


5th January 2018

Along with everyone's new year shaky resolutions come the inevitable predictions. Everyone wants to know what 2018 holds for them personally. On Hogmanay's eve, I achieved an unprecedented  perfect score in a certain card game, not a small feat, and I'm taking that as a good omen. No one likes the unknown, especially if that unknown threatens to plunge us into more of the same, thank you ma'am. We want waves of abundance and love and good fortune - the kind you don't have to break your neck to get, the kind that trickles down without any effort at all. Whether we are materialists or not, we like to be in the good graces of the gods and goddesses,  We want life pressed down, shaken together and overflowing.

We cast a glance at the astrologers, hoping that the patterns of the stars can say something about what is to come, and maybe they can. We flip through the yellowed pages of ancient prophecies, ones like Nostradamus who seemed to be seeing quite clearly when he predicted all those centuries ago the rise of a "great, shameless, audacious brawler," to a seat of power round about now in history.

My prediction: the great shameless, audacious brawler is going down in 2018. I made a bet with a friend that this would happen before June of this year. Without any appeal whatsoever to science and its numbers, my feeling is 2018 is going to be a notable year. Let the gods and goddesses perne in a gyre. Let the good times roll!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Seeing Through The Veil

29th December 2017

Years turn over like so many dust motes floating about a shaft of sun. And yet as we approach the beginning of a new year everything seems to take on a specific weight. I wrote a zany novel (as yet to be published) set in a small seacoast town on the day of what Scots call Hogmanay, New Year's Eve. In times gone by in Scotland, Christmas wasn't celebrated, but this day of Hogmanay was. It was one of those days in the Celtic calendar when the veil of perception is drawn thin enough to see through to the different levels and spirals we live in.

In my book, three middle-aged sisters gathering after the death of their parents, succumb to the strange goings-on of that "thin" time of year. Those of us who believe in these meta-physical realities need to speak louder, and not be shouted down by the clatter of the materialists and their  old Newtonian world of just one damn thing after another. If you can see it, smell it, hear it, touch it, it's real for the materialists, and everything else should be dismissed as human invention. I am tired of this almost religious arrogance, making its absolute claim about something that can't be proven.

All there is, says quantum physics, is energy and fields of energy, and that's the 4% of reality we can actually see, hear, smell and touch. The other 96% is dark and unknowable.  Most of the time we go about our business pretending that our experience is something more than little blips in an unknowable container of quantum soup. So, let's move into Hogmanay humbly, peer into the thin zone, into the 96% of all there is.  You can take your materialism and stuff it. My Celtic ancestors  knew about dark energy long before the scientists began to suspect it was there.

Friday, December 22, 2017

God Bless Us Everyone.

22nd December 2017

The season is upon us now...we have perhaps never needed this season so much before, and I for one am plunging headlong into it. Trump really did bring back Christmas - not because he mandated it, but because in the face of the nightmare that he and his minions are, a little escapism right now is maybe all that will save our sanity. I don't care whether it's angels or Santa or Rudolph, someone please help because, "We need a little Christmas right this very minute..."

I am sure that someone from a different tradition must look at this image and laugh at the sentimentality. I have done plenty of this myself. But desperate times, as Dickens knew, require desperate measures. Whether 33% of American will admit it or not, the American constitution happens to be on trial right now, and more than that, democracy in the West. We don't yet know if it is going to hold up, and if it doesn't, we're in for a coup from the ideology of the Vlad Putins of the world. America the Great is going to turn into another autocracy, and it was already well on the way to being one, at least a plutocracy, even before the idea of running for president ever wormed its way into the addled brain of Donald Trump.
So, we are depending on our sleigh bells this year, our Frosty the Snowman, and chestnuts roasting by an open fire. We need to know that when Scrooge wakes up, there really is still time to set everything right.

Merry Christmas everyone! Whatever Christmas means, it has to do with an open heart, a setting aside of our mechanistic view of the universe that chases off all magic; it is the time for a little shared humanity right now, for gifts and giving. I don't even care about the commerciality of it all. We just need to sustain some measure of hope. Yesterday I gave money to a homeless guy and his dog sitting twenty feet away from a Salvation Army person ringing their bell and asking for donations to help the needy. This Christmas we are all the needy, and what we need is the intangible gift of cheer. Got any of that in your red collection kettle? 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Me Too

15th December 2017

When all of the ruckus broke out over sexual misconduct by men, and without really thinking it through, I felt lucky that such a thing had never happened to me.  And I went on for quite a while declaring this to myself. I watched the women coming forward over such and such a TV executive who had made them watch him shower, this or that politician who had made women watch him masturbate or had sent them pictures of his genitals. Not me, I thought. None of this had happened to me.

And then fairly recently, three or so months into this scandal, it began to dawn on me that yes it had happened to me, and in a sector that has surely been under-reported in this regard, but which probably sees more of this than most: academia.


My experience, after all,  didn't really fit the profile of other reports from women, because these weren't flamboyant men in the film industry or TV stars of the daytime news cycle or politicians waving their guns or waving their knowledge of law and constitution. These icons of academia were respectable men in the way that stars of the screen are not. They had Ph.d's for God's sake. The paradigm of respectability.

I spent eight years in academia, four undergraduate at Edinburgh University and four as a post-graduate at Oxford. The head of the department at Edinburgh was a married, father of three, very quietly spoken and self-effacing man, published and liked by everyone. He "took me under his wing," especially when my father died and I was looking for a father figure to hold me up. Only it emerged that his idea was more one of laying me down. On two different occasions he made what as teenagers we used to call "a major pass." In modern parlance, he sexually assaulted me. I felt betrayed, disgusted, and very anxious to move on, which I did, apparently quite efficiently.

At the end of my post-graduate years in Oxford, I came before two male examiners in the Viva Voce spoken defence of my Ph.D. Thesis. One of those men was livid the moment I walked into the room, because I had dared to criticise a friend of his in my thesis. The other one, a married man (and father of three again), wanted afterwards to take me to tea. Well, I blame myself for going to tea, but then I was pretty devastated when those two examiners failed my thesis. What I didn't know then was what was really on the mind of Mr. Examiner 2, an American as it happened, and who now teaches in Texas, was taking me to bed.  Or perhaps I misread that explicit request, and the kissing and the fondling. Again, the disgust, the betrayal, the need to flee.

So, I have kept this to myself for the last thirty years, and part of me still wants to stay mum and let bygones be bygones. I would lay a hefty bet that I am not alone in this. As a woman, it was part of my training to pass this off as my own fault or even as a compliment. But it wasn't either of these things. It was a man in a position of power taking advantage of a young woman. Period. It feels better to open the door and let these academic ghosts wander out of the closet. Lately, they have been making way too much noise in there.