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!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Fighting the Wind

19th May 2017

Once there was a way to get back homeward, sings Paul McCartney about the mother Mary he lost when he was just fourteen. For all of us who lost a parent before we had the chance to take our own leave, his song is an anthem to that ever-receding horizon.  Gaelic has a word for this feeling: Cianalas. Literally, it means far-looking. Pining, I suppose.
Today May 19th was my father's birthday. He was a complicated man: once violinist, eternal lover of music. Once electrician, body builder, boxer, and then orator before hundreds; once a disciple of John Wesley, in later years a student of liberal theologian Paul Tillich. He it was who loved the word Charisma, and had it in spades. A man in motion, married too young, too often moving in silent desperation, in his own far-looking sadness. Cianalas



And then he was gone, wizened by chemo-therapy, a tattered coat, a stick. Such a young man to be stretched out on a hospital bed and adminstered his last rights.  For the rest of us, the door back home was shut forever.  Off he went into his secret garden.
And then the year after he died, Naomi my first-born came, on this day, May 19th, her grandfather's birthday. Death ran the cycle and came round again into light. Naomi herself a forward-thinker and orator before thousands.


Do not go gently into that good night, says the poet, and perhaps no one ever does.  But for those of us left behind, the good night is not so good.


And yet, and yet, as in all things creative, there's another edge to this sword. Waiting at doors is fertile ground, the kind of place perhaps art needs in order to move itself forward. Perhaps this is the twilight zone writers rely upon: Cianalas. Rage, rage against the dark, and then, perhaps if life is kind, it will allow us to unearth the key to the garden and look in.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Epiphany in Brooklyn

12th May 2017

When it comes to New York City, pictures speak louder than words. Which doesn't stop me from trying to throw a few words together as I stand waiting for the Q train. About the sparrow chirping from the inside the plastic O on a McDonald's sign; about the tiny sapling sprouting from a decomposing log beside the train tracks. My instinct is to cobble these visions into lines of poetry.


Here I am scrawling lines across a pad as the Q train careens and lurches within its subterranean tunnels. And then when I glance up, I am fixed by the gaze of an hispanic baby. Suddenly all my literary efforts lack all conviction. It is the truth of that baby's unblinking black eyes that slays me.

On the way to a meeting in a tea room, I pass a church that was once surrounded by fields and lines of horse-drawn carriages, a hard-won temple to the Christian god. But time has moved on, and the once impossibly high steeple is now dwarfed by odes instead to the god of finance.


All sentiment gets deflected in these moments of urban epiphany: a tree grows in Brooklyn; a caged bird sings. A baby appears trailing clouds of glory. A church, vexed now to nightmare, slouches towards its final stoney sleep.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Intimations Of Humanity

5th May 2017

My kids are always on at me for giving money to folks sitting on the sidewalks of New York City because what if those folks just use the money to buy booze or drugs?  But here I am in New York City, and I'm at it again. A legless black man pulls himself through my subway carriage, an armless Hispanic holds up a sign with his stubs, and I am reaching for my wallet. I suppose, if I am honest, what I am doing is easing my own conscience. It weighs heavy on me that I get to come to this city and see the show Hamilton while there are people curled in fetal balls in the subway. My generosity does me more good than it probably does the poor beggar with his dissolving styrofoam cup. I suppose I can't get away from the feeling that there but for the grace of God go I.




The story goes that the author James Joyce was once walking through the university town of Oxford England with some high-minded professor, when they were accosted by a destitute man asking for money.      
"What are you going to do with it if I give you some?" Joyce asked.
The homeless man replied that he was going to buy whisky, whereupon Joyce reached into his pocket and handed him a few shillings.
As they walked away, the professor turned to the author and asked what on earth he was thinking to have helped the man towards his next drink.
Joyce answered, "He was an honest man. If he had told me he needed the money for his wife and children, I would have punched him in the nose."


Friday, April 28, 2017

Nothing To Fear But Fear

28th April 2017

How could "progressive" ever be a derogatory term? Life is progressive. Psychology has been around long enough for us to grasp the implications of being anal and regressive, to prefer stagnation over forward movement. Conservatism by this definition should be regarded as a pathology. And that's how it behaves. Look at Trump's inaugural speech: project fear on steroids; the sky is falling and only the wall of all walls will stop it.
In Scotland we know all too much about such walls. This kind of block in the way of reflective thinking convinced older Scots during the last referendum to deny their country the chance to govern itself. It took to heart the colonial imperative for natives to stay down in their lowly box. Scotland, so the wall-grafitti reads, was "too wee, too poor, too stupid."


Fear as a state tool is effective because it has a swift conduit into inner fear. In this civilisation, still heavy in the aftermath of a religion that ruled by fear, it is all too easy for the masters to pull that trigger. It's what Theresa May is up to with her snap election. It's the path religious conservatives now ruling America have taken against all reason. It is anti-fact, and therein lies its regression and grand cynicism.
But we should be wise by now to the fearmongers. Fear gave us Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, Brexit England, Trump - you get the fear going and then you offer a solution. You can't govern yourselves, it says, so let me do it for you.
The challenge is to break through that wall. Resist. Pull out a brick or two and discover that, far from doom, there's sun and fresh air on the other side.


A wise American president once told us that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Why? Because fear cripples, erodes your ability to move and eventually turns you to stone. Fear makes of us easy ornaments to store in a box. Trump, Theresa May, the conservatives, all the fearmongers of history, are counting on you staying down.
Empires rise, but it is because of the fearless that empires fall.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Daffodils

21st April 2017

With bombs dropping in the Middle East, a crazy man in the Oval Office, and a Tory government trying to run England into the ground while it hangs on to its cash flow from Scotland, you have to do something to save your sanity. Here's what I do, and what writers across the millenia have done: I turn to nature.  Wordsworth found this holding centre in a host of golden daffodils fluttering and dancing in the breeze. A poet could not but be gay in such a jocund company.


I am reading a book on cosmology, specifically theories of what came before the Big Bang. Apparently before there was something, there was the Planck Era, in which there was no light, no atoms, not time, nothing that we might think of as this world in which we live. Apparently there was just Max Planck, and chaos. So when everything in your life seems to be dissolving into chaos, it helps to go to the most fine-tuned our cosmos has to offer: fluttering daffodils and fields of gold. We'll forget the sun in his jealous sky as we lie in fields of gold. 


The turning earth spins on, and once more we are in Spring. Life is erupting. Even though the Theory of Evolution goes a long way in explaining how our world has evolved, one thing it doesn't answer is why it does. What is this rabid urge? Why the flower breaking through concrete, why the birds on their vast migrations, why life at all? Perhaps we'll never know, but it surely relects itself in the human drive to create order out of chaos, in the poet's need to reach beyond the ordinary and create something out of nothing.
At our human best we follow the poet out of our causes, our tragedies, the inevitable catastrophes, and give ourselves over to an evening full of the linnets' wings. It's the life-urge. Cosmos out of chaos, and some writers just know how to make it sing.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
                     – W.B. Yeats




Friday, April 14, 2017

Veil Of Time Update

14th April 2017

My original intent in creating this blog was to keep readers up to speed on current and subsequent developments in the publishing of my book Veil Of Time. It has been three years since that book was published by Simon and Schuster in 2014 (the same year Scotland failed to vote for independence!) In the meantime, the world has fallen into mayhem, and so this blog has often veered into the state not only of this union but the one over the pond in the British Isles. Brexit has come to Britain, and Trump is running crazy in the halls of The White House.
The publishing industry, as we all know, creeps along at snail's pace. Since the time I first started sending my writing out to agents and publishers, I have gone from being a relatively young woman to middle age and then some. I have raised three children and seen them all take off into careers of their own. Here I am, still turning up at my desk in the mornings, still casting fleeting glances out the window as the seasons take me from snowscape to spring to sweltering summer and back again.


While I have been waiting, I have written a sequel to Veil Of Time, and then a sequel to the sequel, and now I have a trilogy. This venture started out as a simple tale of an iron age fort in Scotland called Dunadd, and became a kind of utopia about how this land would look if Christianity had never made the inroads it did, and had instead stayed local to Rome. Last autumn, after my agent had read the third part of the trilogy, Iona,  he sent me a page of notes, and I spent a good few months revising it. He gave that new version to a group of readers, and then sent me a smaller page of notes, "some tweaks."
So, I've tweaked it. Yesterday, I went through full blown panic when it looked as though my computer had saved none of the changes, but then I recovered (because it had), and now I'm ready to send the final version back to him. He has plans for the trilogy, which I am not at liberty to divulge here, but if his strategy works, then my star will be on the rise again.


Hopefully before I take to a wheel chair, my backlog of about eight other novels will also be published, and then I wonder if I will dust myself off and retreat from this soul-crushing dance of the artist. Probably not. I am already lying awake at night mulling over something new, such a great notion! But just that one, and then I'll retire my tap shoes for good. Ha!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Art and The Beast

7th April 2017

One of the areas of American culture that Donald The Chimp is frog marching to his guillotine is the arts. No surprise there. He would take the media there, too, if he could do it in the dark.  Thankfully, the Fourth Estate is somewhat protected by the tradition of free speech in this country. Okay, then, he says, watch this, and draws his scrawl of a signature across a bill defunding the arts.
But the arts are part of the Fourth Estate, part of the check and balance that a democracy is supposed to rest upon. Taking away Sesame Street is one thing, but squeezing artistic expression amounts to an impingement on free speech.  Unless, that is, it used as propaganda like we saw in fascist Italy or Hitler's Germany.


Hermann Hesse saw art as the "universalising mirror." It is for this reason that totalitarian leaders are scared of the arts. They notoriously lock up writers, send them off to freeze in Siberia like Solzhenitsyn. They ban them and burn them, because they see themselves reflected in their art and they don't like the unflattering image.

In America, you can't lock up artists, and thank God for it. But apparently you can starve them out. And that's what Trump is trying to do by defunding four central arts programs, including the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. He wouldn't mind funding state news like Fox, but he doesn't want anyone pointing their finger at the emperor's clothes in which he struts.
You can't ultimately suppress art, though. You can't stop story-tellers telling it like it is. The truth will out, and that's the job of art in all its branches. Art speaks, is classless, and allows for the gates to the third estate, We the people, to open, as they did during the French Revolution, as they have done in every revolution.


It's what we're seeing in America now with the women's marches, airport protests, town hall meetings - the failure of the HealthCare Bill. And that's the threat to leaders like Trump or Putin who are pushing their own narrative.  You can't hold us back, though, Mr. President. The artists will hold up the mirror, and like Belle in the fairytale will show us the beast.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Another Year of the Tattoo

31st March 2017

While American politics implode, let's talk about Scottish politics, which is infinitely more enlightening. This week, Scotland has resumed its march towards independence and vowed to hold another referendum. This little corner of the world, this little David with its sling is marching out once more to conquer Goliath. This time the odds are better. It has Europe on its side, and this time the Goliath dragon is not even trying to hide the foam drooling from its mouth. The language of Brexit is mean and nasty, if not delusional. Empires rise and empires fall, but when they go down, it's an ugly spectacle. Theresa May struts around naked, her hand in the hand of the Donald, trying to make out her robes, like his, are of the finest manufacture.

Well, looks like another year of the tattoo is coming for me - where will I put this one? In the run-up to the last referendum I had a Pictish V-Rod and Crescent tattooed on my forearm. Perhaps this time I'll put a Celtic knot on my ankle.

Scotland, land of my birth, you had better go for it this time, before I start looking like a circus act.
But Scotland, above all, stay dignified. I know it's hard not to fling shite back at those who are determined to cover you in it, but hold fast. History is on our side. Barack Obama, America's number one class act, had the good sense to sit back while his opposition self-combusted (I think, on a beach somewhere, he's doing just that. "Donald who?")


I know Scots love to hate Braveheart, but there's a handy image in that film.


Whether you love or despise Mel Gibson's portrayal of your history, take this much from it: don't sink in the face of the force that is being unleashed against you in ProjectFear2.
Scotland, "Hold! Hold!"

Friday, March 24, 2017

Trumped Out

24th March 2017

I am weary of Donald Trump's face, aren't you? Every time you go to any social media forum, there he is, and the thought is never far away from my mind that Scotland spawned this face and the monstrous human being behind it. The McLeod cousins on the remote Isle of Lewis from which his mother hailed are surely weeping and wailing. I'm weeping and wailing and I have no genetic connection to the man. I hope. Mrs Trump, you surely did a bad job with this son of yours.


Mmm. Stornaway? Really?
I hope in the future, psychologists interested in the phenomenon that has come to  be the 45th president of the United States will take a closer look at Mary and Fred Trump, just as they study the environment that gave rise to a Mussolini or a Hitler. How did any individual get so far from basic human values?
I am also weary of the sound of Trump's voice. I am compelled to hit "Mute," not out of principal, but just because I literally can't take listening to him. But then I am stuck watching his hand gestures in silence, and I can't stand that even more.


I am well and trully trumped out.
Hopefully the citizens of this country are, too. Hopefully this federal investigation will uncover the source of the mess and they will realise that mere impeachment is not the answer. Handing the presidency to Hilary Clinton who was robbed of it in the first place, will be the only thing to serve justice here. Not only Trump should pay, but the Republican establishment so anxious to push their agenda and bury their collective head in the sand. You don't get to slither Mike Pence in, just as you don't get to instate Neil Gorsuch. This alone is basic and human and self-evident, and I still have this optimistic if not unrealistic belief that maybe it will carry the day.


As a foreigner on these shores, I am waiting to see if the American constitution is really as rigorous and wise as everyone has always told me it is. If it is, then maybe in good biblical fashion it will have to pluck out the eye that hath offended thee.



Friday, March 17, 2017

Scotland the Brave

17th March 2017

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


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


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


I think somehow Scotland shall.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Handprints In The Sand

10th March 2017

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


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


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

Friday, March 3, 2017

A Little Magic

3rd March 2017

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


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


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

Friday, February 24, 2017

Watching The World Go By

24th February 2017

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


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




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



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

Friday, February 17, 2017

Dismantling the Pulpit

17th February 2017

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


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


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

Friday, February 10, 2017

Taking It Easy

10th February 2017


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


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


I have earned it. So there.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Veu do Tempo

3rd February 2017

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

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


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