Friday, January 30, 2015

Golden Apples of The Sun

January 30th 2015

I used to read a picture book to my children when they were little called "The Lupine Lady." It was about Miss Rumphius who searched her whole life for adventure and in the end, when she was too old to travel any more, settled into the kind of house over the ocean that one day I hope to occupy. And here Miss Rumphius pondered how she could leave the world a better place. She thought and thought, and here's what she settled upon: lupines. From that time until her death she scattered lupine seeds along every trail, on every hillside, through every town until in the spring of each year the land was ablaze with pink, purple and blue lupines.

I bring that up because in a similar way I would like my legacy to be poems. Not my poems, but the great poems our race has left along the way. And I would like to sow them in the hearts of the young, where they can do the most good. When my children were a bit older, I paid them to learn poems.
Poetry is important because it exists at the perfect point of balance between  wonder and the intellect;  it is the kernel around which all other fruits of art flourish. Even a painting has a silent poem at its heart.
Why is Shakespeare celebrated - for the stories? No. To modern ears the narratives are overwrought and often plain silly. For the characters? No. Even Hamlet on his battlements is close to caricature, the youth weighed down by existential angst. Ophelia is as alien and outdated as some Freudian notion of female hysteria.
It's the poetry, silly: Life's...but a walking shadow, a poor player that frets and struts his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing. 
Life's but a walking shadow. Pure nectar.
Top of my list of poems-for-pay is Yeats's "Song Of Wandering Aengus." I will pay anyone money to emblazon these words on their brain cells:

I went out to the Hazel wood
Because a fire was in my head,
Cut and peeled a hazel wand
And hooked a berry to a thread
And when white moths were on the wing
And moth-like stars were flickering out
I dropped the berry in a steam
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had lain it on the floor
And gone to blow the fire aflame
Something rustled on the floor
And someone called me by name
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossoms in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And vanished in the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands
I will find out where she has gone
And kiss her lips and take her hands
And walk among long dappled grass
And pluck till time and time are done
The silver apples of the moon
The golden apples of the sun.

This is why you have to have faith in humanity. Despite its depths of depravity sometimes, it is capable of moments such as this. Which is why poetry is the queen of the arts and why I'd like to be known one day, not as the lupine lady but as the poems-for-pay lady. I can think of no better gift than a shining poem to set like a diamond in the dark soul.  I don't care how disturbed your thoughts, how starved your heart, if you bury these words inside of yourself, a warm glow will take hold that wasn't there before.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Uber Alles

January 23rd 2015

I have a good friend who is one quarter Cherokee, whose name is Son of Little Horse, and with whom I talk about the dark things, the mind-bending things. He tells me that according to the Indian way of thinking, there are seven directions: north, south, west, east, up, down and inward. It's the "inward" things we talk about. He hasn't read my published book and doesn't think he needs to, because he knows my intent. He knows that ultimately the point of this series lies in the shadowlands. Every time I see him he says, "And how is the third book coming along?" He knows fine well I haven't even begun the third book, but he is trying to urge me to it.
I have been to the place in Scotland, way up north and east in the hinterland, a final stronghold of the ancient Picts, where I want to set the book, but the topic scares me. I don't know if it's not too big for me to tackle. You see, because it's asking the explosive question: How would our world look today if Christianity had not flown on the wings of Roman expansion and spread throughout Europe, but settled back into the Middle East as a cultish off-shoot of Judaism, as is how it began. The problem is, I can't think of any area of our life that would not be different. And so I am shying away from thinking about it at all.

I think it would all be very different, because once patriarchy takes over, it changes how we live, how we worship, how we go about meeting our fellow man, woman and animal. It beats its chest and says me uber alles! The ancient Japanese sage described Christianity thus: "Man against God, man against man; Man against nature, God against nature; God against man - funny religion."
I don't want to be idealistic and say that if matriarchies had been the norm, than all would be rosy. But I do want to say that it would be a hell of lot rosier! If you take male territorialism out of the equation, then how many wars would there have been? If you take male territorialism out of the equation, would we be on the brink of destroying our planet? If you take male territorialism out of the equation, then the native people of the Americas would be a much happier less ravaged people (which is why my Cherokee friend is pushing me here!)

So, if you shift the paradigm, how would things look? That is the enormous, maybe unanswerable, question for my third book in the Veil of Time series: if a parallel universe exists in which humanity had not gone the male supremacy route, the Roman-driven Priest-laden road, what would it look like? Think about it. (And if you come up with any really good answers, let me know.)

Friday, January 16, 2015

You're Rocking the Boat, Charlie

January 16th 2015

The first thing I want to say in this entry is that I understand the mess that western greed has created in the Middle East. I get it. I do.
And then I want to move on rather quickly to saluting the cartoonists who died in last week's terrorist attack in Paris. Apart from lacking a sense of humour, the people that perpetrated this evil have no understanding of the necessary role satire plays in any society. What a small and shrivelled icon they have in their prophet if they think he needs them to defend him against this. The killings weren't about the prophet anyway, they were about fundamentalism and totalitarianism, two modes of ideology that are about as far from religious sentiment as you can get. As far from art in its many incarnations.
But even if the prophet did need these bozos to defend him, here's why satire is good anyway:  it's one of those checks and balance scenerios that America prides itself on but which rarely in any governing body here gets to see light of day. In Arthur's Court you had the jester. In Shakespeare you have the fool. In modern day you have the comics and the cartoons. It should be separated from politics of any kind, and its a public service.
Comedy is one arm of the arts, and the arts are there to hold up a mirror to any culture. Totalitarian regimes are scared of mirrors, because they don't want people to see the wheels and cogs in the machine behind the facade that holds their ideology together. Enter the thugs.

I don't care whether they are wearing a keffiyeh, yamaka or mitre, if they are saying "Don't Speak, Don't Write, Don't Draw!" they are thugs, and that is not a religious position. Or any place in which humans can aspire to a higher self.  
Of course, if you allow every artist their freedom, you'll end up with, as well as some good art, a lot of trash. My local art museum thinks turtles walking around with Ipads on their backs and a stuffed cat cut in two amounts to an art exhibition. But it's a small price to pay. You don't have to go to these exhibits. The artist, the comic, the satirist, however, does have to speak.
Satire is there to be disrespectful. That's the point. It's a healthy thing. Society needs it. And as Salmon Rushdie said, "What would respectful satire even look like?"

Most importantly, the human being is nothing but a rigid post if you take away the ability to laugh, and, yes, even at ourselves. An aged man (says WB Yeats but lets say any man or woman) is but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick unless soul clap hands and sing and louder sing for every tatter in its mortal dress.

My guess is the prophet Mohammed was not a paltry thing. Religions don't grow up in an atmosphere of paltriness, at least not at the outset.  But these mirror-smashers are paltry. Thugs who see their job as maiming and killing have very little song going on in their souls.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Life as Art

January 9th 2015

Although my published book Veil Of Time is not formulaic, it is enough so (I guess) that it can be marketed as Time Travel Romance. I maintain that the characters are more interesting than that, especially the protagonist and that there are real issues in this book, especially the loss of the sacred feminine. Still, readers of time travel and readers of romance are buying it, and that has to say something.
But the current book I am writing (or rather re-writing, because it is such an overhaul, it feels like working it up from scratch) Hazel and the Chessmen is quite the opposite.  One of my two main characters is so damn complicated, it's like being in a relationship myself and not knowing how to gauge the guy, unsure if he is really sane at all while needing to believe he is. I don't even know if my lady protagonist should end up with him. The cost of living with a guy like that might be just too high. And then as a writer, when you get into a situation like this, you have to wonder if what's going on is a war between two parts of yourself - why does this character feel so out of control? Why do I feel like a detective with a flashlight instead of a creator of fiction?

Like much of the world I have become enthralled with the "This American Life" podcast, Serial: The case against Adnan Seyd. In 1999, the then eighteen year old was convicted of strangling his girlfriend, basically on the evidence of an acquaintance who shifted his story every time the police questioned him.  Investigative journalist Sarah Koenig has taken it upon herself to take another look at the case (by now Adnan Seyd has served fifteen years behind bars and still insists on his innocence.) The investigation goes on over twelve or so episodes, and it has you shaking your head: sometimes Adnan looks guilty, a clever sociopath trying to play you for a fool, other times his innocence is unquestionable.

But this feels like where I am right now in my book. I get up in the morning, having decided to tackle some particular turn of events in the story, and then that guy, my protagonist, won't let me. Just as in the murder case, I am left wondering who is playing whom.
So is Oscar Wilde right when he said, "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life." Or is it the other way around?  It's an odd parasitic relationship, but who is biting whom? Maybe Woody Allen has it right when he says, "Life doesn't imitate art. It imitates bad television."

Friday, January 2, 2015

A Brave New Heart

2nd January 2015

They may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom!! In the book I am currently writing about a robbery of the Lewis Chessmen from the British Museum, the radical poet who leads this enterprise sometimes loses touch with where he ends and Braveheart begins. Such are the lines we draw in the sand! This Christmas I watched a documentary called "Man On Wire," about Philippe Petit, an insane French man who had the vision in 1974 of crossing between the Twin Towers on a tight rope with no safety anything to catch him should he slip and fall. The shots of how the pavement on Manhattan looks from that far up resemble pictures of the continents from outer space. On top of the actual feat, Petit and his team of crazy people had to gain illegal access to the top of both buildings - the plan was to shoot an arrow across pulling a fishing line and then the steel cable that would stand between the man on wire and an enormous splat on the pavement below.

As you can imagine, all kinds of things went wrong - but all kinds of things went right. A night watchman? He hadn't thought of that. An easy-going lift operator? That lucky turn of events let them off the unenviable task of walking a quarter of a ton of steel cable up many flights of stairs. Then there was another guard, one who clearly saw them but must have been on something because he didn't see them enough to act on it. And then there was the mist in the early hours of that day that threatened to gum up the works and make everything much more dangerous.
And, good God, he did it! He spent forty-five minutes on his wire fourteen hundred feet above Manhattan, eight crosses, helicopters coming in for a newspaper shot, policemen at either end waiting to arrest him. Is our empathy with him? You bet your lives.
You see the line is very thin. So thin that the protagonist of my book hardly sees it. My name is William Wallace, here in defiance of tyranny.  When I was back in Scotland for the Independence Referendum, the line was looking pretty hazy to me, too. The powers that be were looking awfully like tyrants. Civil disobedience was looking quite justifiable. Going to jail for it looked like a page from Braveheart. A friend of mine was hammering "Yes" into coins of the realm. I was forming a plan to take down a large high flying Union flag belonging to the aristocracy.

Lines in the sand. That's why the gods decided to give us hubris. A dangerous little arrow, that. As Philippe Petit puts it, "There something much more supreme than life." It's the ability to laugh in the face of life and everything it throws at us.
Here are some words at the beginning of 2015 from our very own Scottish wordsmith:

                             Ye see yon berkie called a Lord, 
                             Who struts and stares and all that. 
                             Though hundreds worship at his word, 
                              He's but a fool for all that. 
                              For a' that and a' that. 
                              His ribband star and all that. 
                              The man o' independent mind.
                              He looks and laughs at all that. 
                              (Robert Burns)

As we move across the line from one year to the next, may you and yours keep this in mind: The ability to keep laughing at a' that is a gift to us from the gods.