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.



Friday, July 14, 2017

Beam Me Up!

21st July 2017

I have pointed out before the strange correlation between Gene Roddenberry's creations in Star Trek during the 1960's and 70's and real technology as it has unfolded in the interim: flip phones, medical hand-held devices, video conferencing, Blue Tooth ear pieces, to name a few.
This week in the news, we found that the Chinese have just successfully teleported photons to a satellite using a phenomenon known in physics as entanglement.


Physics, especially its theoretical branch, is slowly turning the solid world we have come to know and love on its head. Just as Gene Roddenberry foresaw.
I know people, friends even, who won't touch a book involving any such zany notions. They prefer literature that sticks with the nuts and bolts of human experience. But what if it turns out in the not-too-distant future that reality isn't what we thought it was at all, and that time isn't something moving along a solid line, but is something infinitely more flexible. What if we ourselves, as a mass of particles, could actually move backwards along that line?
Stephen Hawking doesn't like this idea. A few years ago he gathered a team to show that movement along that line was one-directional: forward, ever forward. But this meeting of the greatest minds in physics failed to prove anything of the sort. All the rules of physics, it turns out, work equally well in a backward motion as they do forwards.


We are already on the threshold of objects being beamed up to space stations through a process of what Einstein called "spooky action at a distance." As a novelist, I'll go with "spooky" physics. As a Scot, I will go with the idea that the character of Scottie can facilitate such a process. Perhaps in the end we'll discover that "spooky" is all there is. Perhaps in the end, real live Scots will discover that Scotland, and not the United Kingdom, is all there is. Perhaps then, a trilogy about a Scottish woman who manages to teleport herself through time won't seem fantastical at all.
After all, they already did it on Star Trek!


Friday, July 7, 2017

All Shall Be Well

7th July 2017

Evening wafted a cool breeze over the Colorado Rockies, as I sat outside at a picnic table with some friends discussing the debacle that is our present and what it could possibly lead to for our future. It was getting dark, the remaining light a paint brush stroke of yellow brilliance across the upper hills, a certain permutation of light you see only in Colorado. Even after so many years here, it still melts me. Its as though the day had just one more thought before it left, one more dash of wisdom. Like a rainbow in a dark sky, it says, All Shall Be well.


The English 14th C mystic Julian of Norwich is credited with this little catch-all of a chant: All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

This is what we were discussing at a table on a Colorado evening. Would all be well? Is humanity on a crash course with the worst in its nature or is the arc of our history bending ultimately upward and beyond.

One thing is for sure, human history is not progressing like a car along a straight flat road. Desperation and its twin, populism, run rife in our world. In this country we had Obama. Record numbers showed up for his inauguration, because, who could have guessed? A black president in America? A classy, educated, black man with no skeletons in the closet? And now we have a clown, a tacky, ignorant showman with the mind of a criminal. So, no, there is no straight line from the black man to the buffoon. But progress doesn't seem to walk that line anyway. Because it is a spiral, every so often it feels as though it is going backwards, and seems that we have been here before. We have Trump. We had Nixon. Surely there can be no progress there.


But ultimately, history will step in and assess this little segment on the great wheel of time. My sense is that it will not shine favourably upon these poor players who operate by fear. There is a quality to the universe which veers more towards love than fear, and the fear-mongers will ultimately be judged in terms of that quality. In the meantime, our hope hangs on a certain cast of light that bids us: fear not. All shall be well.


Friday, June 30, 2017

Dunadd And A 'That

30th June 2017

Time passes. It seems the older you get, the more life quickens its pace. My life is fast becoming one of those calendars you used to see in films with the pages peeling back and flying off into space. My life has become a flying calendar.


And as time passes, things change that you have no control over. I just heard that my beloved Dunadd Farm, the location for the Veil Of Time trilogy, is up for sale. Two hundred and twenty acres for six hundred and twenty five pounds. An absolute steal, but not one I am in a position to take advantage of. So, it will go from the hands of my childhood friend to some unknown entity who may or may not let me still go there, and and I will have to watch it fly off like I do all the pages of my life.


Here's Comgall Cottage (attached to Dunadd Farm) where my story takes place: its view of the river, the blue couch by the windows, herbs in a trough by the door. Along the way, people, things and places move in and take root in you. You hold on tightly, all the while knowing that at the same time you have to let go lightly. It's perhaps the most basic but nevertheless the hardest lesson for someone of my temperament. My instinct is to hold on, whether to homes or things or friends that have outgrown their usefulness, to memories that grind away like old machinery. Holding fast is a good characteristic for things like keeping to your path in life, but not so good when it comes to waving goodbye and turning the corner.



Friday, June 23, 2017

Good and Evil

23rd June 2017

For a long time, I took karate classes and even earned my black belt. The prevailing thought at the studio I attended was that there were simply evil elements in the world and we were arming ourselves to combat them. (I should insert here that this is how the Asian art gets filtered down in America and was not the original notion behind what is in essence a speeded-up version of Tai Chi.)
Yesterday I attended a talk given by Christian historian Elaine Pagels, who was demonstrating how the New Testament book of Revelation permeates political thinking in the West. As an example, she offered George Bush's Shock and Awe, a war cry lifted right out of those sacred pages. Other cultures don't seem to see the world in terms of this hard division between good and evil. In fact, the notion of  "satan" is a concept fairly unique to Christianity. This master of evil doesn't really appear in Judaism. But from early on, Christian soldiers were out marching in the war against him.


Millions of "heretics" died at the hands of The Inquisitors of the Holy Roman Church, and hundreds of thousands of women were burned at the stake, hung or drowned for being "satan's whores." 


Not so long ago, teachers were training students to hide under their desks in case of an attack from The Evil Empire. George Bush nominated three enemy countries the Axis of Evil. The paranoia that Satan Is Alive And Well On Planet Earth (a book making the rounds in the 1970's when I was a naive and young evangelical) persists today. Mike Pence is now railing against radical Islam as evil. 
We ought by now to understand the psychology of this trick: if our enemies are evil, then that makes us good. It is a dangerous and dishonest equation, and less than we can be. Our future and only hope lie jenseits von Gut und Boese.  Beyond concepts of Good and Evil.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Curtain Fall

16th June 2017

Given that this blog was supposed to be about tracking my progress on the publishing trail, so many of the entries deal with topics other than writing. But it's all really fodder for writing, because in the end everything gets filtered down to art. It is very hard to keep yourself focused in this chaos we are living through right now. I spend way too much time on my newsfeed. It has a sort of hypnotic effect, but not one that induces sleep. To all intents and purposes, it looks as though the western world is on a hayride to hell. The major powers of the USA and the UK swing from side to side, one minute to the right and then back to the left, as the recent general election in UK demonstrates: we'll take UKIP-driven right wing paranoia, but at this next turn, we'll take communism instead. All it reflects is a kind of desperation, the cradle, as it has been so many times in the past, for the rise of dangerous authoritarian figureheads.
Well, Donald Trump doesn't fit that bill, because he is a fool. The Russians bet badly on him. He doesn't have the smarts not to shoot himself in the foot. Theresa May is a woman at sea, trying to play the game like a man, just as Thatcher did before her.  It really makes you wonder if democracy is possible at all, when half the demos are sheep looking out for the loudest bleat.


In the meantime, in writers' limbo, I am waiting. Waiting. My agent is on the move, trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat for me and get the publishing of a certain trilogy up and running. I do have a new book in mind, but it is going to involve me going to Israel for a while, and I can't do that this year. I have tentative plans for February at Galilee next year. Part of me just wants to start writing, but then I criticised Gabaldon for writing Outlander without having gone to Scotland. The problem is, then you risk creating a caricature, and I would hate to fall into that trap. If I didn't actually go and see for myself, Galilee would in my mind turn very quickly into some version of a loch, with mist and brooding skies. So I must go.


For now, I will keep lying awake at night thinking about plot. Stories do have their own momentum. Like the story of western culture right now, the tale does keep speeding towards a conclusion. Let's just hope it's a satisfying finale.

Friday, June 9, 2017

America, The Teenager

9th June 2017

Last Saturday I attended the local high school graduation and failed, as I always make a point of doing, to stand for the national anthem. I am not an American and there are aspects of America that make me want to reach for the ipecac. Land of the free? Don't make me laugh. What about the native folks and the slave folks upon whom this "free" country was built? The greatest country in the world? You hear it from both left and right of the political spectrum, because it is ingrained at an early age when on any school day maliable little minds are taught to salute the flag.



By any measure this is not the best country in the world, and it is time for this childish delusion to be let go of.
Here are some facts.
America lies 17th in the happiness index, well surpassed by "socialist" countries.
In USA, 6 babies out of every 1,000 live births die before they reach the age of one, more than double the rate in Finland,  Japan, Portugal, Norway, Sweden, Czech Republic
America ranks number 17 on worldwide economic growth, behind Ireland, Chile and Estonia.
USA stands alone as being the only developed country that does not provide universal health coverage for its citizens, and the only damn country apart from theocracies that requires a sitting president to be a practicing Christian.


There is a lot to be said for this country of America, and I wouldn't have stuck around here for long if that had not been the case. The American can-do spirit makes of it a good place to raise children and to get ahead yourself if you are motivated. But, America is a very, very young country.
It's a damn teenager, trying to find its identity, and, like any teenager it can be easily led astray. Such is the era, we are now living through. We bought into the bully-in-chief, because no people can turn their backs on reality like Americans. Denial is what we are living through, even though half of us are jumping up and down and trying to point out that the orange king has no clothes on at all.


Perhaps the first and best thing for America to do in order to grow up a little now is to admit, left and right, that America is a country among other countries, with some good, some bad, a country that is still taking baby steps, still at the beginning of the long process of trying to get it right. For the rest of the world, it is a problem, not a glory, that The United States  is "the great experiment," that this country, more than most, is still in the experimental phase.

Friday, June 2, 2017

If Music Be the Food

June 2nd 2017

This time of year in Aspen, music comes to town. The huge music tent is spiffed up, and students pour in from every corner of the earth dragging their unwieldy instruments behind them. Strings and horns fall into the disarray of a tune up, conductors tap tap their batons on podiums, and  then all comes together in a surge of harmony (or in the case of Benjamin Briton, cacophony.)


Since the dawn of human history, men and women have slipped out of speech into song. It varies, of course, from culture to culture, but the urge to music is universal. Cats meow, Dogs bark and humans sing.


There is no reason for music. It doesn't make the species fitter, but it does make the human heart bigger. The happy person hums or whistles. It is the universal language of emotion that bypasses the intellect and  drops us into the realm of "religion," I would say, if religion hadn't slipped off into...

...something else entirely.  

In 2009, Andrew Schulman, a professional musician, was in a coma in a hospital bed, and close to flat-lining.  Given little hope by the medics, his wife plugged his ears with a recording of his favourite music, St. Matthew's Passion. Within hours, his vital signs had stabilised, and within four days he was out of the hospital.
I recently sat on a weekday in the completely empty sanctuary of Riverside Church, New York, in a vast verticle shaft of light enclosed by a vaulted ceiling and stained glass. Luckily for me, the organist was aloft practicing Sunday offerings, and the entire space, both outside and inside me, seemed to pulse and swell. Sitting in churches usually brings on in me a gag reflex, but I had to give in to this, for what is such music other than the spectacle of our race straining on tiptoe?


Friday, May 26, 2017

All the President's Men

26th May 2017

I was out and about for the first of this month, and so I didn't stop to give a nod to my ancestors' pagan festival of Beltaine. But I don't want the month to evaporate without drawing attention to this time of year, because now more than ever we need to take our focus from that "piece of work" called man and reconnect instead with the female paradigm that is celebrated in this spring festival.

In my books I make a lot of these earth-centered festivals, because my goal in this series (and beyond) is to ask what we lost when we as a civilisation went the route of the male god and his incitement to go forth and conquer, particularly lands, other religions and women.

Here's a passage from our Holy Book: A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.

Two thousand years of this has brought us to this moment, the rise once more of populist leaders like Trump, and the re-establishment everywhere of hard-line shrines to the god of greed. Divide and conquer is once again the name of the game; the men are in charge bigtime, and with the Stockholm of all Stockholm Syndromes, there are women who make this possible. No surprise there, when you consider that even the women's suffrage movement had to contend with opposition from within its own ranks, women who had been taught their role of full submission. These women: 




It's a little known fact that when Lewis and Clarke first encountered Native American tribes, what they found were matriarchies. But coming from Christian Europe, they reconfigured all this in terms of what they knew and would have no truck with women leaders. And so the myth of the Indian Chief was born.  In actuality it was the Indian Women's council that held sway in these tribes. This "Chief" could be removed at their say if he didn't perform to their satisfaction.(CF. Iroquois Women, by Spittal.)
So at this important time of the year when we marvel at the rebirth of mother nature, let's not forget that this:



And this...


...was never the natural order of things. Now more than ever it's time to reverse the rule of male hierarchies and save both ourselves and our lovely green planet. They've had thousands of years as chiefs,  have messed things up royally, and now it's time for the council of women to move back in and fire them.


Hanta yo!