Friday, December 29, 2017

Seeing Through The Veil

29th December 2017

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

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

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

Friday, December 22, 2017

God Bless Us Everyone.

22nd December 2017

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

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

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

Friday, December 15, 2017

Me Too

15th December 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

Friday, December 8, 2017

Writing Advice

8th December 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Shaking of the Foundations

November 3rd 2017

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

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

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