Friday, December 8, 2017

Writing Advice

8th December 2017

Life today is like gripping the sides of a roller coaster as it careens around bend after bend and then races down the vertical drop and chugs up the other side before falling off to zero gravity again. So, I'm holding on and screaming out and getting up at 4am because my mind is racing and the walls seem to be falling like Jericho around us.  A reader of my novel wrote to me last week, asking me for advice for anyone embarking on "the writing life," and I am reminded amidst the chaos that this blog started out life as a commentary on my own writing life. So, back to basics:

When people ask me about becoming a writer, I feel my first obligation is to disabuse them of the idea that the writing life is glorious and romantic. True, there are a lot of writers who have never disabused themselves of this idea, and so they see their life as a grand gesture (in some cases like Hemmingway and Hunter Thomas, Virginia Woolf, only to be appropriately finished off in a final grand gesture.)
Who was it that said, if you can even conceive of doing anything else than becoming a writer, do it?
I have been at this lark for decades. And decades. I have written solidly for decades and decades, and have a substantial oevre - nine books at last counting and moving into the writing of the tenth. Call it a disease. Call it compulsive behaviour. I won't contradict you.


Novice writers often ask: where do you get good ideas to write about? Stephen King in his outstanding book On Writing, says "Out of the clear blue sky."  Tradition has had it that they come from the muse, which I suppose is the same thing. Jung would say, "Out of the collective unconscious," and I would most likely go along with him. (And this is why the writer/artist is so important to culture and why totalitarian regimes go after them.)

But it is a tough sisyphean climb, and I suppose you don't know if you're cut out for it, until you put on your climbing shoes and head up the slope. 



But know that the task is not romantic. It's full of doubt and self-reproach. If you can imagine tearing out your heart and watching it be assailed and smashed, then by all means go ahead.  Though it is hard to imagine it with your entrails hanging from your fingers, writers and artists in general hold out the hope that one day the universe will give it all back to them. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Shaking of the Foundations

November 3rd 2017

I was born a hothead. Ich kann nicht anders. It was in me from my earliest steps to raise my freak flag and wave it in the face of injustice. It's one of the defining characteristics of Scorpios, and perhaps we should come with a warning label for those unfortunates who seek to live peaceably besides us. Friedrich Nietzsche used to say that he had good psychological antennae, and Lord knows he got himself into hot water by proclaiming the flag of the anti-Christ (when in fact he was only holding up a mirror.) Overly sensitive antennae might be a requisite of hotheads.


If you look down the lens of history, you don't see too many female hotheads. But look under the leaves, and there have been plenty.
A quick foray into 1st Century England, or into British coinage, will turn up Celtic warrior queen Boudica. She took up what she called her "woman's resolve" and rallied the greatest attack on Roman occupation ever mounted.


A Roman historian tells us that such was her ferocity, Governor Nero was almost compelled to abandon Britain altogether.
More recently, mother of five, Mrs Pankhurst spent a lifetime battling the British Establishment for a woman's right to vote. She was imprisoned, force-fed when on hunger strike and finally turned history's tables in 1920.
In the USA, it was trouble-maker Harriet Tubman filtering slaves trough the underground railway, and hothead Rosa Parks who couldn't just do what everyone else did and sit at the back of the bus.  Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, saith the playwright. Now is history's time to unleash that woman fury, because enough is enough. All ye Boudica hotheads who took to the streets in November of last year and mounted the greatest protest ever recorded against the hell that is the pinacle of male fury in the White House, your time is come.




Friday, November 24, 2017

Stepping Out Of the Box

24th November 2017

These are Neanderthals, according to the most recent study on what that species might have looked like.




But wait a minute! Neanderthals are the hairy dense knuckle-draggers we were taught about in school, the ones that became extinct because they couldn't keep up with the superior brain of our Homo Sapiens ancestors!
Such is the history that is taught, but this should never have been the conclusion, because any comparison of a human brain with these ancestors of ours (yes, we did interbreed) reveals that they had larger craniums to hold larger brains. Recent DNA sequencing has shown that Neanderthals were likely fair of skin and red of hair. In fact, the percentage of Neanderthal DNA you possess is roughly proportionate to how northern European you look. Put that in your superior pipe and smoke it! In fact, perhaps the only reason Neanderthals ever went extinct had to do with the superior violence of this new upstart race called Sapiens. The trickster.
Because Homo Sapiens had another trick up its sleeve, something called denial.  It's a psychological flaw really, a need by the human mind to bend reality to its own cause.
Here's another trick: The Dark Ages.


Historian Frances Pryor says "Poppycock!" There was never anything of the sort! Archeology shows continuous human development thoughout the ages, with stagnation nowhere in sight. But then, if you want to praise the "Enlightenment," you have to concoct something dark from which it emerged, don't you? If you want to have a renaissance, something had to have died on the limb in order for it to be reborn. As if pagans weren't capable  of  a flourishing of the arts. Dark Ages, dark pagans, dark neanderthal versions of Homo with heavy eyebrow ridges and only half a clue.


It's hard for a species that regards itself with such superiority to watch its paradigms teeter and topple. I am far from guiltless in this: I am sticking with my paleolithic flip phone, my computer that still accepts floppy discs, and I will have nothing to do with Facebook. Paradigm shifts just run against the grain. Gallileo, Copernicus and Einstein were all persecuted for thinking outside the box of scientific status quo. Modern man isn't about to welcome the blood of his Neanderthal ancestors in his veins. He may be inventive, but he doesn't like any rocking of the boat he's trying to sail in. For this he might himself go extinct. Homo Ignoramus.






Friday, November 17, 2017

LIGHT SPEED

17th November 2017

The Mayan calendar says that once this era runs into its end times, things are going to start moving much, much faster. When I got my first computer back in 1984, it was a portable (ha!) Kaypro, basically a word processor with some games, like "the psychiatrist game," where you actually had a conversation with a machine! No you didn't - the computer just stored some of your answers for a minute or two and then looped them back to remind you that this is what you believed. Astounding!


Back in 1997 or so when I first saw moving pictures on a computer screen, I couldn't wrap my mind around it. Zoom forward to 2017, and we have computers with a terabyte memory, smart phones, smart houses, smart grocery stores.  My Kaypro days belong in a cave in the dark ages.


And yet, in terms of world politics, you might be persuaded that the Mayans had it all wrong, and rather than moving forward, we're actually slipping backwards. It seems like we have left democracy behind and are going the well worn route of dictatorial governments. Rather than moving forwards, we seem to be in the midst of an explosion of male hierarchical power with Donald Trump on the top of this dung heap.
But perhaps through all the gyres of history we are actually now at a tipping point. On a global timeline, things look much more hopeful: since the year 1820, extreme poverty has dropped from 95% to 10%, child mortality from 45% to 4%, fewer people are dying from war than ever before and life expectancy has doubled. Even 9% of diehard Trump voters are already leaning away, are rubbing their eyes and wondering what kind of a nightmare they have woken up from.


So perhaps the Mayans were right, and the age in which we live is going into warp speed. Donald Trump, Duterte, Erdogan, Vladimir Putin, all the dictators and middle men of the world, are quickly moving into history like stations from a fast-moving train. Computers and the internet have changed everything. There is no way of fooling even some of the people all of the time. With any luck, and I won't quote Churchill here because he was as much part of the problem as anyone, but we are full speed ahead into the end of the beginning.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Ties That Bind Us

10th November 2017

As Neil Tyson astutely observed, we spend the first two years of a child's life teaching it how to walk and talk and the rest of its life telling it to shut up and sit down. That's the culture I grew up in, the one that most of us call home. We have come to think of the small inner voice of doubt we harbour as just something inherently human, and something we have to live with. Surveys have shown that most people think of public speaking as (literally) a fate worse than death. Because if you have been put in your place in the chair as a child, you're not going to be able to stand up and speak so easily.  You're not going to be able to think of yourself as worthy of attention. Children, especially babies in our culture, are thought of as being in a constant grab for attention. Babies are left to cry because they are "just trying to get attention."


We may have published a book, we may have become the highest-grossing star in Hollywood, we may be president of a super power, and no matter how much hot air we blow out in the cause of our self-worth, we are still in our own mind's eye, bound up, tied to a chair. This is especially true of women. In the above picture, the castle that is rightfully ours lies off in the distance, blocked from our vision by a puny fence of our own making.


To escape, the first step is to acknowledge that the ties that bind us are not chains, but only ribbons, something we could actually wriggle free of. The fence we have constructed around ourselves, or has been constructed for us, is made up of our own courage turned in against itself. It's a barrier made up of swords barely planted in the ground.  Like all fear, it exists in our own circle of solitude and won't withstand the action of simply standing up and walking away. So grab your sword, your own courage,  and make a run for it!

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Dead

3rd November 2017

When I walk through my stable of dead heroes, feeding to them their allotment of ghost hay, what strikes me is how fleeting is the whole farm and stable thing, those plowed fields of names and numbers, our own personal historical landscape. We preserve it because some of these phantoms have laid their stamp on yonder hill, on this hollow and dip,  on that line of trees punctuated across the horizon. Most of us are chaff and get tilled back in, and it is this prospect of anonymity that keeps us moving through our stables of the dead.


I suppose different stalls in that stable have different functions: there's the one of dead ancestors and family, the ones that have to stay with us because they were too known, too much a part of the measure of ourselves. We go into that stall and pull out the ossuaries, the clean white bones of the dead father, those other bones that go back further and are almost turned to stone by now: the great-grandmother after whom you were named, the great-grandfather who took a bullet in the neck at Flanders.
But the place I spend the most time is in the stall of those people we never knew but whose lines of thought and speech still make the world for us a warmer place. These bones came to us like collectors pieces, across the counter of ideology; we have taken them out often and polished them. Some we don't even look at anymore, because they belong back in the days of being young and easy. But we still like to know they are still there.


This is where we come in the lonely hours of night with our swinging lanterns. As we grow older, the hay in this stable doesn't smell so fresh anymore, but if we stay very still, we can still make out the faint aroma of movement, of horses flashing into the dark, of the turning pages of our numberless dreams.



Friday, October 27, 2017

1984

27th October 2017

Large countries made up of smaller countries are loathe to heed the voices of those annoying little sub-states squeaking from within their boxes that it's time to let them go now. America, which was once in such a box, and about which it currently has collective amnesia, is reporting very little about the situation in Spain with regard to Catalonia.  UK media, which is largely owned and operated out of London even when it pretends to be Scottish, is giving it short shrift. It wouldn't like to give those Scots north of Hadrian's wall any grist for their mill. History, of course, always sees these "uprisings" with the advantage of 20/20 vision. History is quite sure the fledgling USA was entirely within its rights to demand separation from the English Crown; no one suggests these days that India would have been better to stay under the British Raj.


Same goes for Ireland, with its economy now the fastest growing in the Eurozone. And so it goes with all the 6o countries that were once subsumed into the British Empire or the 33 into the Spanish Empire. They took back their nationhood, and not one of them has asked to get back in. History knows and recognises that the call of self-determination was and is a worthy cause, and so, too, does the UN Charter:
All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. 

So why is the United Nations and the European Union turning a blind eye to the travesty happening in Spain right now.
Catalonia is a wealthy region/ex-country that was taken into the kingdom of Spain in 1716 - nine years after Scotland fell under the British. In 1938, during the dictatorship of Franco, Spain overran Catalonia and dismantled its autonomy, trying to quash its culture and language. Sounds familiar.
So now the sins of the fathers are being visited upon the sons, and Spain is faced with Catalonia's democratic vote to go its own way.


George Orwell fought in the Catalonian resistance against Franco. Art is often the best voice of dissent when politics-as-usual threatens to undermine the voice of a people. On 1st October, when Catalans went to the polls to vote on this issue, Spain sent in its troops to disrupt the election. Now, today, after a declaration of independence, Spain is about to act thug and impose its own martial law. And the European bodies set up to settle such acts of brutality sit on their hands. From this small artist's corner, I lift up my voice in support of Catalonia and raise up my hands against Spain in dissent.

Friday, October 20, 2017

What Happened

20th October 2017

Not to keep harping on about women's issues, though why shouldn't I? A few days ago, I watched an interview with Hillary Clinton by BBC's  Matt Frei who suggested that Clinton lost the presidential election because she had overstepped herself. She had been "too ambitious," and should have been satisfied with her good job as Secretary of State and not gone for the presidency. Then Joe Biden would have won the presidency and the world wouldn't have a psychological mess of a human being issuing orders from the Oval Office.

To which just allow me to let out a sigh. I shouldn't be surprised - It is the BBC, after all, an entity that operates something like a Hollywood hierarchy with a boss that just happens in this case to be the British government.  I wasn't surprised, but how often can you hear the same ridiculous argument hashed up and rehashed before a whole lot of spittal and air and groans come shooting out of you? To Hillary's great credit, she did call Frei out on it, replying that men never get called out for being too ambitious. To which I say, "Duh!"


When I googled "too ambitious," Hillary Clinton's picture actually popped up.
Political satirist, Bill Maher, not the greatest friend to women, often repeats that though Hillary Clinton was not arguably the best candidate for the times, he cannot begin to make sense of the extent of the hatred currently levelled at this woman.
Hillary Clinton left her job as secretary of state with a 69% approval rating. So, what happened? Here's what happened: the woman persisted.
The level of misogyny at the bottom of this dark pit is unfathomable. Glancing through the comments below the video of the Frei interview, the term "bitch" comes up repeatedly, as does Killary, Shit, Rapist, and, tellingly, "evil witch."
She's not a young woman, but then if she had been, she might not have been a threat. She would have been a hot young woman, like brain-dead Palin, that men could fit neatly into the grab-bag of things they feel above. No, she was a woman of about their mother's age with the audacity to think she could rule arguably (I suppose) the most powerful country on earth. The audacity of it!

Most of all, we women should be ashamed. We swallowed the bad press hook line and sinker and thought there was something to the argument that Clinton was just as bad as Trump. It was we white women who sunk her presidency. It has to do with the phenomenon that makes women like Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May actually worse than the men they replace in the hierarchical structure. For all intents and purposes, we took on the male mantel and voted with the perceived victors. Hillary's great flaws were being old and not being a knuckle head.
I wasn't even a great Hillary supporter. I could have gone for Bernie any day. But now that the dust has settled and we have a petulant child at the top of the male hierarchy that is politics in Washington, let's call a spade a spade: Women, we let down our kind bigly. White women, who have been trying to be heard in this culture since its inception,  let themselves down in the 2016 presidential election. Let's start with that.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Timed Out

13th October 2017

There's a line in the musical, Falsettos, sung by a woman whose life has been completely upended by an unexpected announcement from her husband: "I'm tired of all the happy men who rule the world." That's the first line of the song, uttered while she still has some composure. By the end of the song, "men" changes to the "silly childish jerks" who rule the world.


I love men, don't get me wrong.  Without them, life would be a colourless rainbow. But they shouldn't be in charge. It's as simple as that. They've had over five thousand years, have made an unqualified mess, and it's time for a regime change.
Women make up over fifty percent of the world's population, so why do we have to be just tired of all the childish jerks that rule the world? Nine out of ten murders are committed by men (though women are more likely to kill themselves - ha!); 92% of sexual abusers of children are men; Albert Einstein's quote that "Older men start wars but younger men fight them," still implies that war is, well, a male thing.
Women need to stand up. Wake up. It's like this Gary Larson cartoon.

We don't have to eat grass. We don't have to put up with the minority party of happy childish jerks who rule the world. We need to change it.


Friday, October 6, 2017

Outlander

29th September 2017

In a blurb on the cover of my book, a bestselling author says, "Anyone who enjoys the work of Diana Gabaldon will adore this book." While any author is grateful for the endorsement of a more established writer, I actually think the opposite of this comment is true: chances are if you enjoy the Outlander series, you have a different taste in literature than my book is going to satisfy.  That is not to denigrate Gabaldon, and who could argue with the kind of worldwide sales she has seen? I don't think she would mind belonging to the "bodice ripper"genre (as her TV series based on the books and which she provides consultation for, goes to town on), but that is not where my book belongs.
What Gabaladon and I do have in common is that we are highlighting an era (any era) in Scottish history that until very, very recently, children, such as myself, sitting in Scottish schools were purposely denied knowledge of.
The British government which has up until now regulated what is taught in Scottish schools, didn't want us to know about uprisings in case we got ideas. Authoritarian rulers are always against the natives thinking for themselves.

                                         

Outlander's era of the Jacobite Uprisings in Scotland is getting an airing at last! The Scottish public may have heard of Bonnie Prince Charlie, but they probably will know little if anything about the Battle of Culloden when the English Red Coats slaughtered the clans and in the aftermath all but eliminated the clan system, the wearing of the kilt, the singing of Scottish songs, the speaking of Gaelic. In short, they sought to eradicate Scottish identity.


And if you think I'm blowing this all out of proportion, consider that in 2014 the Good Ship Britannia with David Cameron at its helm would allow Outlander to be shown in Scotland only after the Scottish referendum for in, while in England it was aired before.
So, again we are forced back to art for the truth. History won't tell us. The ruling governments will certainly not - in fact, they will go out of their way to conceal it. Out, out, damn spot  - you can sit on the truth for a while, even a long while, but eventually that blood stain is going to come through. I am grateful to Diana Gabaldon's book series for bringing it to light. Whether she thought this was on her agenda or not, it is certainly on mine.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Turning the Tables

29th September 2017

On my first visit to this country, I naively asked a young African American at dinner if race was still a problem in the United States. I was clueless and only twenty-one, so I could not have anticipated his reaction when he got up from the table and walked away. I was, after all, in the north east of the country, in Ivy League Land. Later, when I came to live in Aspen, I hardly ever saw a black person.
But if there's one thing this era of Trump has brought to the fore is that I was right to ask the question in the first place. And the answer is a resounding Yes.
This week, Alabama elected a known racial bigot, who has been kicked off the judicial courts in Alabama twice for being too racist. Last month, Trump pardoned a convicted racist, Sheriff Arpaio, and, in Charlottesville, Virginia, the KKK and Neo Nazis came out with their stupid torches and white supremacist chants. It makes you wonder if  all that happened at the behest of Martin Luther King was that white prejudice went underground. At least, it is now showing its face in all of its ignorant glory.


Despite Aspen being almost entirely white, it does in its whiteness support a vibrant Latin American community (who else would clean the toilets?) Spend any time among these people and you realise that they have much to teach us. While we knot our handkerchiefs and wait in line to see our shrinks, they are blasting their Latin music and embracing families, their own and those of others. They  have something we long ago lost and which the French encapsulated in the term Joie De Vivre. We have forgotten how to live and our colourful neighbours are our only chance to get back.




You look at Trump's party of old bigotted white guys, and you long for a regime change, one of race. Speed the day when the supreme court is mostly ethnic, when when right-wing republicans have no one left in America to appeal to. Speed the day when black folks do an African dance on the grave of white supremacy, and men like Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are defined in history's black and white pages for what they were: smudges among the lines. That's all.


Friday, September 22, 2017

Catalunya and Caledonia

22nd September 2017

I know I harp on a lot about the inner workings of Empire, but it is really hard to ignore it as we watch Spain seize Catalonia's finances and roll tanks in to take over operations so that the Independence Referendum it is planning to hold on October 1st will never take place. It appears to have slipped Spain's mind that the right to self-determination is written into the United Nations charter itself.


The BBC (and the British government - there may be no difference) is giving the situation next to no air-time, and when it does, it refers to the Catalans as "separatists," which is a ploy it also used during Scotland's campaign for independence. Even though Westminster is in the process of separating itself from the European Union, it still paints Scottish "separatists" as selfish trouble-makers. Like Catalonia, Scotland must stay in and be ever grateful for a union that dismisses its culture and sense of worth with the wave of one hand while grabbing its resources with the other.    


The truth is that Madrid wouldn't be interested in Catalonia and neither would Westminster be interested in Scotland were it not for the "embarrassment of riches" (McCrone Report) there for the draining. If, like the independent Isle of Man sitting off England's west coast, neither place had rich natural resources, they too would be left alone to self-govern, to be their own country and not part of another of history's self-aggrandising kingdoms.  

Friday, September 15, 2017

Dusty Death

15th September 2017

Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me... I always say that Americans "do" death much better than the Brits, but not that American.  In the enviroment where I grew up the Scots word Dreich most aptly describes the rite that is supposed to walk mourners through loss to acceptance. Dreich is an adjective I would use to describe a lot of what goes on in dusty churches throughout my native land, but it gets amplified when it comes to death: miserable dirges, rain, solemn graveside pronouncements about ashes and how death has no victory despite all evidence to the contrary. All very glum.


Maybe things have changed since my childhood in Scotland, but if they have, it's probably because America took the lead. Americans in general have taken the art of denial to new and surprising destinations, but in the case of the Grim Reaper, it serves them well. Who needs Dreich  at a time like that?


In America you are more likely to be invited to a Celebration of Life than to a funeral, and maybe that's a better way of letting the dead go. We've all seen pictures of mother chimps grooming a dead baby, carrying it around for days on end. Eventually, however, the mother chimp puts her dead baby down and moves on. For too many of us, we never put the dead down, and after a while they turn into ghouls and begin to stink.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Trickle Down Effect

8th September 2017

From my window, I can see a Rocky Mountain called Capitol Peak. The top is over fourteen thousand feet high, but that doesn't stop, instead encourages, people to climb it. This last season five climbers have already died up there. At least three of those deaths happened despite warnings that the descent they would choose was going to lead off a cliff that isn't visible from the top.
No matter where you live in the United States, it has got to feeling like we are all at the top of Capitol Peak right now, trying to figure out a safe way down.


When chaos like this ensues in a country, it quickly effects the psychological health of the people at large.  Right after 911, a bio technician mailed out envelopes containing spores of the deadly anthrax virus which killed five people. The perpetrator had nothing to do with Islamic terrorism and acted alone, but sometimes when people live on the edge of sanity, all they need is general chaos to push them over into the abyss.
You might think of this as the trickle down effect, not in economics (which isn't a real thing) but in levels of national sanity. With a mentally unstable president in power, all kinds of minimal paranoia that hitherto has remained in check, suddenly grows a gorgan's head. and precipitates destruction like the violence we have seen in the last months from the extreme right.


I don't like living on a knife edge. I suspect most other people don't either. I hope we're on the verge of cutting off the Gorgan's head and returning to sanity. I hope history will relegate this period in American history, and by extension world history, to its graveyard of temporary insanities. It is my hope that in the not too distant future, we will come down from this airless peak to the valleys of green again. That we will get back to what was happening before chaos overtook us, which was the gentle (if not linear) evolution of humankind.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Last Stand

September 1st 2017

In the wake of the British Empire, no fewer than fifty-eight countries re-gained their independence. As the saying goes, Empires Rise and Empires Fall. Spain's empire, second only to Britian's, also in the end had to let go of its colonies. In the link below, some genius put together a graphic for how these territorial expansions on the world stage have looked throughout history:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwOA8AfeHM4

It's the wide-angled view of empire, the less savoury side of a phenomenon like Downton Abbey. I grew up on a defunct estate like that. We lived in the head gardeners house on land that had boasted sixty-three gardeners. Untold wealth was made for the empire on the backs of slaves working on sugar, tobacco, coffee, chocolate and cotton plantations. Some of our friends in the American south would like a return to this life of white privilege. Some of the British would, too.
But what these empires leave in their aftermath is not a pretty picture. Colonies are taken up, drained, and then discarded.

And the last colonies to scramble back to the beat of their own drum are the ones in close proximity to the "mother country," because the removal of local identity has been most successful there. The language is eradicated, the music and customs almost all gone the same way. This is how the engine of colonisation proceeds.


Despite being forbidden by their "mother," the people of Catalonia are next month going to the polls to vote for independence. Catalonia was colonised in the fifteenth century, since when Spain has attempted to stamp out its language and the autonomy of its culture as a whole. Meanwhile, Catalonia, like Scotland, contributes far more to its coloniser's coffers than it gets back in per capita spending. This is empire we're speaking of, and the bottom line is always money.
So, let's keep our eyes on Catalonia, and see if truth can be taken to power and win. Of course, Catalonia has set up its own central bank and owns its own media, which makes independence an easier sell there than it (apparently) is in Scotland.
But perhaps we'll all get there in the end. Because, no matter where you live, the after-taste of empire is bitter and sooner or later it needs to be expunged.



Friday, August 25, 2017

Nationalism 1&2

25th August 2017

An old American woman once berated me for being a Scottish nationalist, because, she said, all nationalism is evil. I want to address this because not all nationalisms are equal, and because recently British unionists have taken on this argument whenever Scottish independence is mentioned.
The Collins dictionary defines nationalism thus: Nationalism is the desire for political independence of people who feel they are historically or culturally a separate group within a country. The urge towards revolution in America came from this feeling that the American people were not anymore a part of the British Empire, but were in fact their own entity with a separate political and cultural identity.


This is the nationalism that rises up against empires. Mahatma Gandhi said, "Personally I crave not for "independence," which I do not understand, but I long for freedom from the English yoke."


Mahatma Gandhi has become the universal icon of peace, so when we look at his nationalism, we have to see something very different from the racist violence we saw on display in Charlottesville Virginia a week ago, the parading of the alt right nationalists and the neo-nazis. Gandhi's nationalism was one thing, and Steve Bannon's quite another.


So, too, Scottish nationalism. On the day in 1707 that Scotland was subsumed into the United Kingdom, there were riots throughout Scottish cities against the nobles that had agreed to such a thing. And then the British Empire ruling out of Westminster did what it did to every other conquered territory: it banned the language, the customs, the right of representation. If this were not so, then why did it execute independence fighters on a count of treason all the way up to 20th Century.
Scotland is still a country in its own right with its own educational and judicial systems, its own mentality, its own ethical stance. Were it not for the fact that it is an inherently wealthy little country, Westminster would not put up a fight.
So there's an inherent feeling of injustice in the kind of nationalism to which I subscribe. Just as there was in Gandhi's. The paranoid psychopathology of white supremacy and white nationalism or even nationalist isolationism is quite something else, and has nothing to do with a country like Scotland or Catalonia or Basque Country striving to get out from under the yoke of its oppressors.



Friday, August 18, 2017

America the Beautiful

18th August 2017

Like everyone else, I am reeling in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville last weekend. And not to kick a thing when it is down, but just saying that the white supremacy march didn't come out of nowhere. This country has a healthy contingent of reptiles, and when given the opportunity they scurry out from under their rocks. American rocks. This country, despite its renound friendly citizens with whiter than white grins, hides a  lot of dirty laundry. Last weekend, in Charlottesville, some of it was hung out on the washing line to dry.

                                 

Perhaps the problem is that when you hold yourself up as a shining city upon a hill, you are inevitably going to fall over yourself.
When my daughter was small, her teacher would have the kids stand up, place their seven-year-old hands on their sweet hearts and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.


I tried to reason with the teacher that this was mindless twaddle, but she argued that it was wholly appropriate because America was in fact the greatest country on the face of the earth. And this was at a ritzy private school in Aspen (we were on a scholarship!)  I lost the argument, because you can't use reason against an emotional position. I am slowly learning this. It's too engrained, and for reasons that have little to do with rational argument.
So, every morning in her classroom, my little daughter had to sit while the rest of the class stood to say the Pledge of Allegiance. I hope it didn't scar her too much. These days she's out in the world making movies about the things she believes in, so perhaps it was a valuable lesson in taking stock.
Now might be a good time for America to take a seat and do the same. On the verge of an authoritarian coup, the  destruction of the middle class, and unbound racism, it's time to get real about what America really holds to be self evident.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Great Escape

11th August 2017

If you ask me in person, I'd be loathe to admit this, but I have spent the summer catching up on four seasons of the Great British Bake-Off. It's the most watched show in Britain and its recent season final was watched on half of all TV's, more than the Oscars and the Olympics. The show is also hugely popular in America. So, what gives?
I am not a great baker. I have yet to make a successful Great British scone. I don't watch cookery shows in general, and if you gave me vouchers to eat out for every meal remaining to me on this planet, I would snap them up. I suspect I am not alone in this. So why this show is so popular remains something of a mystery. After all, there's no prize - an SNL parody had two competitors walking off the set cursing, when they found out there would be no cash for their troubles. The prize is just the  honour of winning (and the satisfaction of being British.)
The answer must lie in our current state of mayhem: political, cultural, moral. It's the day-to-dayness of the relentless injury and erosion of our souls (for want of a better term.) It's just all so wearing: the collusions and the corruption and the idiot blind chief-in-office leading the blind. It's enough to make you bolt your doors, go off the grid and commit to home-schooling.
Or you can just tune it all out by switching on the telly and watching a group of nice polite Brits crumble butter into flour and drink tea on the sly.
So, forgive me my superficiality, my need to engage in The Great British Zone-Out. (Even though I have to swallow the fact that the few token Scots in the show don't really stand a chance: Good God, Man! This is the British Bake-Off: Victoria sponges and cucumber sandwiches, what?)
Nane o' your bannocks and haggis pies here.
What's a Scottish girl to do? Could we please have The Great Scottish Bake-Off? Scots can be polite, too. Sometimes.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Escaped Cock

4th August 2017

D H Lawrence's novella The Man Who Died (originally titled The Escaped Cock) opens with a feisty rooster in the yard of a peasant, crowing as he tries to free himself from his tether. Lawrence describes the cock so minutely, his red and bronze feathers and his special fiery crow that you know he is onto much more than a random rooster. For this is the cock that has crowed three times on the day of Christ's execution. Only we don't quite know how Lawrence is going to weave that in, so we are intrigued.
And we keep on reading, because Lawrence has a way of plumbing depths with his words. Any writing instructor trying to teach the difference between merely telling and showing in writing should use Lawrence as an example. He takes you with him:
...The queer, beaky motion of the creature as it gobbled into itself the scraps of food: its glancing of the eye of life, ever alert and watchful, overweening and cautious, and the voice of its life, crowing triumph and assertion, yet strangled by a cord of circumstance. 
And you want to go with him. That is the genius of the poet.


Lawrence was never one to shy away from weighty topics, and in The Escaped Cock he is having a go at the ascetic ideals of Christianity. He takes the crucified Christ who became the icon of monasticism and has him wake up in the tomb, not quite dead.  He wanders out and eventually comes to a pagan temple overseen by a young druidess. She is yearning for the mythical lover, and he is waiting to live again. He asks his Heavenly Father, "Why did you keep this from me?" Because for Lawrence, all else falls at the alter of sex, not in a trivial way, certainly not in a pornographic way, but in so far as it is a sacred link for humanity to the spirit. That was his message.


His paintings were decried an outrage upon decency by critics "holding up hands of pious horror." The Escaped Cock created quite a ruckus when it was published in 1928, not long before he died. I imagine he was pleased. "Anything that makes 'em wriggle," he wrote, "becomes at last indispensable."
But where are the Lawrences of today? Modern literature has no message. The best lacks all conviction and the worst is filled with sentimental intensity.  There's no soul. No compass. Art these days does no deep sea diving, just sort of sits on the surface with its fishing hooks, entertaining.


Friday, July 28, 2017

Seasons of the Heart

28th July 2017

My astrological chart tells me that Jupiter, ruler of luck and abundance, is set to move into my scorpio sign, a once in a twelve year appearance that will last just over a year. I don't read a daily horoscope or anything, but I do believe our lives are effected by the pushes and pulls of the cosmos.
Perhaps this is a good time to take a backwards glance at the road behind, examining each twelve-year rotation when Jupiter stepped over the threshold of my chart.
The first time, of course, was the year I was born. Edinburgh, Scotland, was a beautiful and historic place to make my first appearance. Can't argue with that. Twelve years on, I was on the cusp between childhood and adulthood. Puberty was hovering and therewith a brewing conflict with my evangelical upbringing. There was Jesus on the one hand, and Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky) on the other.


These two icons of manhood were not really reconcilable, at least not with the way Glaser looked in his worn jeans. In the twelfth year of my existence, things were not looking good for Jesus.
At twenty-four years of age, I was more or less on the other side of that split, writing a thesis on Nietzsche and Christianity at Oxford and getting married, not to Paul Michael Glaser, but to another Paul.
By the time I reached thirty-six, I had lived in Aspen for eight years. I had given birth to two kids and a plethora of manuscripts. I was sending out samples to agents and publishers and collecting in return a mound of thin white envelopes: Dear Claire, thank you for sending us your novel, but I think we are going to pass.
Another twelve years and many more manuscripts, I finally got my agent. Jupiter was back in my sign and beating his drum. Perhaps this is the distant drummer they say you hear if you are out of step with your friends.
So, Jupiter is set to make another appearance. It may be an arbitrary division of time, but it's as good a way as any for making sense of the kaleidoscope of life. And now would be a good time for a whole new cycle. I have a hankering at this juncture to get back to the place that was my origin.


Maybe after another twelve years when Jupiter comes round to Scorpio, I will be looking back on this time in my life as a circling back. Maybe the young woman who wrote poems about kneeling in daffodils will come again to a field of Scottish bluebells and know the place for the first time.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Perspective

21st July 2017

Earlier in my writing career, I had this stolid notion that writing from a third person perspective was the only true literary mode, and that all else was cheating. So, I stuck to it. Every book I wrote was from a she/he perspective. Writing from an "I" perspective seemed little more than journal writing, I would say, and was a trick to draw the reader in without having to do any real writing. It's tougher, was my argument, so it must be better. I have about five unpublished novels written this way. I wrote my first novel in the third person, but it wasn't until I changed it to two first person voices, that it really seemed to gel, and I got my agent shortly after.
I think the reason first person perspective works (for me, anyway) is not so much how it reads as how it stops the author (me) from standing back emotionally from the writing. It's more uncomfortable, but more accessible, too.


My published book Veil Of Time is written in the first person. My protagonist, Maggie Livingston, gets to tell her own story. But there still lurks a sneaking suspicion, a voice that comes in the night and whispers that I was right in the first place, that real writing is done from out there and not up close in the squeaky personal voice. Writing the second book in the series, Druid Hill,  I opted for third person narrative. It allowed me to get into more than one head. But for the final book, I climbed one more time into the skin of Maggie Livingston and told her story from the inside out. It is Maggie's Swan Song, after all, so it seemed she ought to get to sing it herself.


Still, the doubts persist: my literary heroes, for the most part, never stooped to this. Steinbeck, Emily Bronte, Lewis Grassic Gibbon. But, then, I am not without good company either: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Alice Walker, Ken Kesey, Irvine Welsh, and not forgetting Emily's sister, Charlotte.
It's just that when I write my Opus Magnum, I will probably write it in the third person.