Sunday, December 29, 2019

Standing On The Edge Of Tomorrow

29th December 2019

History seems poised on the brink. I hope it will come through unscathed. America just impeached the most corrupt president backed by the most corrupt government in its short history. England just voted its own Trump, Boris Johnson, in as its Prime Minister. Scotland said, "Thanks, all the same," and is standing up for its Claim of Right that sets sovereignty with the Scottish people, not with any government, English or Scottish, monarch or otherwise.
Scotland was way ahead of the democracy game, even in the fourteenth century.
When Sir William Wallace was asked in the midst of a protracted execution to swear allegiance to his king, he answered that this King Edward, was in fact no king in Scotland. Twenty years later, after continuing efforts by the English to subsume Scotland under its aegis, a group of Scottish lords sent the Declaration of Arbroath to the Pope, as a reminder that the country of Scotland was indeed sovereign and not ever to be regarded as part of the Kingdom of England.

If you take all the arguments proffered by Westminster before Scotland's 2014 Referendum as to why Scotland should not regain its independence, there you have a profile of the pressure that was exerted back at the beginning of the 18th C for Scotland to give up its independence in the first place.

Three hundred years later, Scotland is now in the odd position of having to "ask" Westminster for "permission" to hold another referendum, and the same old arguments are being wheeled out. Last time, they targeted the old folk, those who have been especially well-trained in the doffing of caps. Breaking  the traditional norm of Purdah, prime minister David Cameron rode post haste to Edinburgh and offered all manner of baubles if only Scotland would not take itself to itself, as any country, of course, has a perfect right to do.

This time, history is not on the side of the usurpers. In this case, the young people are wiser than the old. Some of them have even been educated in Scottish history. We have to thank the Hollywood machine for helping us out there. But increasingly it is so in Scotland that while you can fool some of the people some of the time, we're not going to fall for these lies any longer.
On the brink of 2020, seven hundred years to the year after that ancient and stamped Declaration of Independence was sent to the Pope, my country stands to become truly, though not for the first time, the land of the people, the land of the free.

Friday, November 8, 2019

High Time

November 8th 2019

When I left academia after my post graduate degree, I had read so many academic papers that my brain would just shut down every time I launched into a new one. I would pick up the manuscript, and my eyes just wouldn't track it. It was an overdose of intellectual argument; it was the point of no return for my career of teaching more of those intellectual arguments. I was in the process of applying to colleges for jobs, but something behind my eyes was slamming on the brakes.

I moved countries and had a baby, and then slowly I came back to the written word.  Not C because A and B, not All Men Are Mortal, no syllogisms, but something my eyes could embrace: a dance. I started out writing poetry, because it was as far in the play of words from logic as I could get. And then, after a few years, a friend made the observation that all my poems, though different in form, were essentially saying the same thing, something to do with heart over thought, and since I no longer lived in my own country, longing. He suggested I try weaving those emotions into a longer piece, and I have been writing novels ever since.
So, my first novel was about a girl from a rural Scottish town who won a place at Oxford University, leaving behind her a boy whom she loved but considered beneath her. In my own life I hadn't done  that exactly, though I did trade in my lovely country for the stone walls of a British institution I could never in a million years fit into.

All of this was years ago, of course. In the meantime I have written something like nine novels, always reaching for the one that would run my story forward to the part where I was showered with accolades and enough money to pathe my way back home. I never thought it would take this long. Yesterday it was my birthday. I hung one more year on the line. I am one of those pesky, passionate but annoying Scorpios, but these traits have given me the grit to hang on over the years. Nowadays, I don't think about the accolades so much, but that longing to go home grows stronger.

Time, as Stevie Nicks wrote, makes you bolder, and it also distills things down. The things that matter to me now have to do with fighting for my country to get out from under the colonial hold of Britain. More importantly, it centers around my three children, all purveyors of the heart, dancers all.
Yesterday was the first day of the rest of my life. Perhaps I have learned a thing or two along the way:  the life of the mind is all very well, but not without the counterweight of the heart. Belonging somewhere counts for a whole lot. Any writer has ambition, but it is a mistake to let it direct your story. I am a better person for the twists and turns along the road, because life, as is so often said, is not about the destination. Life, like the dance that imitates it, is about steps, one foot in front of the other. As the French say, "C'est tout."

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Hazel And The Chessmen

3rd October 2019


It's enormously gratifying to take the option of publishing (via my agency Aevitas Creative) straight to Amazon. You have all the say in matters of presentation, cover picture etc. And most of all, you don't have to worry about being given a publishing date in the misty future, one in this case which would be way out of range for such a time-sensitive story.

HAZEL AND THE CHESSEMEN is set between the last Scottish independence referendum and the next. I was in Scotland for the first referendum which took place on a foggy day five years ago on 18 September. The interim has only shorn up support for a free and independent Scotland, while the catastrophe of Brexit has helped things along. Here's me five years ago doing my bit in Edinburgh's Royal Mile.

In the last few years, marches like this have been taking place all over Scotland. At the end of this week, there will be another in Edinburgh that promises to be twice as big as the last. Being an ex-pat (for now) it can feel frustrating to be so far from the action, but while I am away, I can do what I do best and spin a story about it.

In HAZEL AND THE CHESSMEN, Boston artist, Hazel Crichton, is left a croft on the west coast of Scotland by her colourful Scottish grandmother. Hazel has fond memories of a summer she spent in the croft as a teenager, but her life and career are now elsewhere, and so with five year-old son Aengus in tow, she goes off to sell the rural property. What she finds instead of an empty cottage, is Andrew Logan, a radical Scottish poet with a lease and a crazy scheme to steal back Scotland's Lewis Chessmen from the British Museum in London.

I went through the process of putting HAZEL up on Amazon so that it could hit the shelves as soon as possible. I had to laugh when I saw the projected publication date was 18 Sept 2019, the five year anniversary of the first independence referendum. As Hazel in my book discovers, some things are simply out of our control.

Friday, August 16, 2019

This Little Light

15th August 2019

The German  philosopher Immanuel Kant famously wrote, "Two things fill me with wonder: the starry skies above me and the moral law within me."  The combustion engine in Kant's time was still a century off, and reliable telescopes were still being developed by clergymen, so his reaction to the night sky was visceral, unsubstantiated by the kind of knowledge we have today.

I live in Colorado at such a high altitude that every inch of the night sky is shiny with points of light.  It fills me with wonder. So if you take me away to New York City for a month, as recently happened, where street lights fog up the lens of the night skies and the din of human habitation obscures our best impulses towards wonder, I begin to lose perspective. In our times, life is lived at such a  rate, it is hard under any circumstances to keep a sense that each life, each individual scuttling across the floors of Eliot's ancient seas, belongs to anything but the grit and grind of one damn second plastered onto the next.

So, I remind myself and those on the brink of a life-changing moments, those whose life has untangled into meaninglessness, those who cannot take the next step: This little blue globe we live on spins on its own axis at one thousand miles an hour; The solar system in which it spins is itself spinning at sixty-seven thousand miles per hour. And as if that wasn't enough to get your head in a whirl, the Milky Way galaxy as a whole is moving through the universe at 1.3 million miles an hour.  (If you live in the Windy City, all I can say is, you have no idea!) This galaxy, not even a very large galaxy, measures one hundred thousand light years across, which means that any photon that has just reached us here on earth, actually entered our galaxy at a time when Homo Sapiens was just migrating out of Africa.

You would think that all of this daunting perspective might make you want to expunge yourself, that any iota of self simply vanishes in a puff of insignificance, but strangely it doesn't. Oddly enough, and perhaps because this is the truth of our lives on this little blue planet, we only lose a sense of meaning and purpose when we focus on our own little corner. That's when we lose our sense of wonder. Cynicism is the absence of wonder, and we live in cynical times. But go out and look at the starry heavens. Or if you live in a city, stop a moment and ponder the flower pushing up through a crack in the concrete. Shakespeare had it right that life is but a passing shadow, but he had it wrong to infer therefore that it was a poor player on a stage. Life's not a box of chocolates either, but it is a unique opportunity to live for the brief span of a candle as a microcosm of something infinitely greater than this one life and these seemingly unsurmountable problems. It's short. Let it shine.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Publishing: The Road Less Travelled

June 14th 2019

Publishing News!!

It took about two years from the time Simon and Schuster signed me up to get to the point of Veil Of Time showing up on the book shelves, physical and virtual. I am happy to report that Veil Of Time is still selling, but for the next two books in the series, I decided to go a different route from traditional publishing and use the arrangement my agency, Aevitas Creative Management,  has with Amazon. It's called White Glove Publishing, and the really great thing about it is that from start to finish it took about two months! It's not a vanity press - I paid nothing, though Amazon put the book together and worked with me on a (admittedly rather limited) choice of book covers (I actually love the cover for "Iona," and think it very apt, those monks hovering above the standing stones.)
Aevitas put me in touch with an editor (Elizabeth Heijkoop, owner of ARC Editing - check her out!) and then furnished me with a liaison, Maggie Cooper (my protagonist's name is Maggie, a neat serendipity), and we were off to the races.

Now, I did this kind of on impulse, and it is very satisfying to have the books in hand. Of course, I am missing the publicity arm that a major publisher like Simon and Schuster provided, but I figured that since the series was already established, if the link function on Amazon Books works, I will at least get repeat buyers.
The publishing world is changing these days by leaps and bounds.  I hope my own leap will be rewarded. I hope I make it to the finish line.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Scotch and Wry

31st May 2019

Last week Europe held its elections for the European parliament.  Here's what the United Kingdom map looks like after the people voted and the chips were counted.

The yellow indicates the Scottish Nationalist Party stronghold wth its pro-Europe platform. The green represents the Brexit Party led by Trump wannabe Nigel Farage. The next day, the newspapers in Scotland were not ablaze with this SNP victory, but then these are not really Scottish papers. BBC Scotland, again not really Scottish, did not cover the SNP party conference speech by its leader Nicola Sturgeon.  Instead it covered the leader of the not-really-Scottish Conservatives, who command a whopping 12% of the Scottish vote.

England went for ultra right wing Bexit party in a big way and is poised to install either Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson as its next prime minster, or if not them, then some other Eton boy who will look after the interests of the old boy's club.

Here is a delightful little ditty penned by Trump look- alike, Johnson (Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, to be precise - methinks there is a foreigner in our midst!) :

The Scotch - what a verminous race!
Canny, pushy, chippy, they're all over the place
Battening off us with false bonhomie;
Polluting our stock, undermining our economy.
Down with sandy hair and knobbly knees!
Surpress the tartan dwarves and the wee Frees!
Ban the kilt, the Skian Dhu and the Sporran
As provocatively, offensively foreign!
It's time Hadrian's Wall was refortified
To pen them in a ghetto on the other side. 
I would go further. The nation
Deserves not merely isolation
But comprehensive extermination. 

So, no wonder that yellow country of the north prefers to stay within Europe than go the isolationalist route of the great British Empire-that-was. Yes, the ditty is supposed to be a joke, but it wouldn't hit any Scot (Scot, not Scotch, ye dunderheid!) hard, except that this is in essence what we have been taught all our lives. "The noblest prospect which a Scotchman ever sees is the high road to England!"  goes back to another fatuous upper class  Johnson, Samuel this time  circa 1750.   This British narrative persists, trying to convince the "Scotch" that  they owe their existence to the beneficence of the English (despite top economists now declaring that England will not survive its debts without Scottish revenues.)

Scotland, it's time to get off your knees and lift your head. As our ancestors wrote in the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320:   For as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches nor honours that we are fighting but for freedom - for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

Any Scot still swallowing the empire line and recognising in their race a mere shadow of a people, is but a coof. It's all tinsel show, ribband and star. Ladies and gentlemen of Scotland, you have to believe that you are higher rank than a'that. Because you are. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

Do Not Go Gentle

International Dylan Thomas' Day fell on the 14th of this month. To my mind, he is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, poets of all time. By his own definition, his poems rank as some of history's best: "A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to extend everyone's knowledge of himself and the world around him."

Like most great artists, however, Thomas was an enigma: Depressive. Alcoholic. Self destructive.

But  words flowed out of him trailing clouds of glory, to quote another poet. If you have lost the joie de vivre, if life hangs limply on a bough, then drink of this golden cup handed to you by the poet Dylan Thomas and be born anew.

"Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means, Time held me green and dying, Though I sang in my chains like the sea."

"In my craft or sullen art, Exercised in the still night When only the moon rages, And the lovers lie abed, With all their griefs in their arms. "

"Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

And yet the bard himself failed his own test. He did go gently into that good night; he went stupidly, wastefully. He did not put up a fight when death kindly stopped for him at the age of thirty-nine. He kept pouring himself another, kept poisoning his liver until it could take no more. It's the Salieri Paradox that Peter Schaeffer points to in Amadeus: There is the imparted wisdom and then there is the imperfect vessel.
Salieri rages against God who has overlooked his piety and given the gift of genius instead to " a boastful, smutty, infantile boy...and give(n) me for reward only the ability to recognise the incarnation."

The heavenly chorus of words sang through Dylan Thomas; he was not the progenitor. He recognised the incarnation that was in him, an imperfect vessel, and that in the end was a fate too difficult to live with. 

Friday, May 3, 2019

One More Shot

3rd May 2019

Over the next week I will be in Israel finishing off some research before I take a final stab at the novel I have been writing this last year. After thinking of first century Israel for so long, it's an odd time-warp to be walking the streets of Jerusalem, or setting my pink toes in the sand along the shores of Galilee.

You need X-ray goggles to see past the the New Israel, the Muslim Israel, the Christian Israel. Never has such a small plot of land been overtaken by so many religious plots. I don't have X-ray vision, though. I have to just join the throngs of mostly scholarly writers trying to peal back  the super structure and delve into what could possibly have been there before.

It seems like it was never very far from conflict. The Israelites under the leadership King David threw out the Jebusites, and then after exile in Egypt and under Joshua, took it from the Canaanites. The Romans moved into Israel in 63 BCE, and set up a puppet government which is what empires always do. And then after about 140 years, we enter into another period of exile for the Jewish people while the Christian era took off. Once Christianity expanded out of the Middle East, the vacuum was filled by the new religion of Islam. And then came the Crusaders, who took it upon themselves to giddy off to the Holy Land and defend it against the Infidels. Israel, past and present, is an unholy mess, made messier by the clumsy tromping around of US president Trump. The last thing Israel needed was the rise of the religious nutcase evangelical right in America.

So it is a lot of noise, a lot of voices from the past, all clamouring for their bully pulpit. All you can do is put your head down,  eat your hummus, ignore the fearful patriarchy that finds a seat there, peal off the layers of lamb on your shwarma. and hope your ear plugs will hold out.

I'm taking another shot at telling the history of this place through the lens of a man who was supposed to be a Messiah, but who got himself crucified instead. In the Jewish mind, dying naked in the most humiliating of Roman executions disqualified the man from being "Mashiach," and the next two thousand years of human history has been Christianity's attempt to prove them wrong. The church that grew up in Europe under the aegis of the Apostle Paul came at it from one angle; the church in Jerusalem, led by this man's brother, had a quite different interpretation. Relatively recently modern scholars have been trying to push back the undergrowth to get a glimpse at what this all could have meant.

Me, I'm a novelist. The swirl of my thoughts falls into patterns like a spider filling in the corner of a doorway. I'm not interested in icons and certainly not in the spread of any religion based on fear and shame.
The historical thread is pretty thin: there was a man once who started a movement around the Sea of Galilee, and he was executed by the Roman authorities for sedition. Historically, that's it. But let me fit this Yeshua Ben Yosef into the web I am weaving. Let's take another shot at this.
My book is called The Second Coming.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Pow Wow

19th April 2019

I must have caught something in the air when I was composing my last blog entry about Native America, because unbeknownst to me the first local Pow Wow was being planned in Aspen for the following weekend.  This is the photograph that appeared the  day after the event on the front page of our local newspaper, and it is so telling, I just want to hover for a moment longer on this topic of America and its first peoples. 

I have been to Pow Wows before, and I sit there watching in my all-whiteness, trying to be less conspicuous, but most of all nursing a great pain. I'm not entirely sure where this comes from, though my brain tells me it has to do with the great injustices perpetrated against these peoples. I come from a country that has also suffered under colonial rule, so, I reason, this pain must have to do with a feeling of empathy.

But I sense it is something more. 

Hollywood has provided some visuals here of native Americans and Native dress. At this Pow Wow, too, there was an older man in full regalia: head dress, fringed leg wraps, chest plate of threaded bone. And to some extent we have been shown the audio that goes along with it, the kind of screech/singing and drum beating heard from that band of savages over in the hollow.  

But to witness it is something else: men and women around a large vellum drum, some creating a small rhythmic background while another crashes down with a strident booming beat. And all the time, the high screeching singing that reminded me this time of the cry of coyotes. 
This is where my  pain comes in, I think, from this primal cry. These days of course it incorporates all the devastation that that culture has met with in the last few hundred years.  But I suspect the sound was always the same - it's something that is birthed in the face of a rising moon, of the cycle of the seasons, of the sheer act of survival. It is something we have lost, this connection point of ourselves to raw, unadorned being.  Our religion has separated us from it until we recognise only the safe and sanctified icons, like the one that burned in Paris this week. 
But it's in us, albeit a pale shadow. And it hurts when we watch the Indians in their dance and in their song. This primal urge wants us to know it has not been silenced. It is still there.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Native Peoples And The Right To The Moral High Ground

5th April 2019

Every year the Ute Indians travel to Aspen, formerly known as Ute City, from their place of exile, a reservation in Utah, to perform dances for tourists in Aspen's Gondola Plaza. It would please me no end if what they were actually doing in their native language is placing a curse on these white invaders, but that spirit of revenge is not their modus operandi. The Utes say they are here to offer a blessing, and I believe them.

As with all native peoples in America, Ute history is peppered with broken treaties, land-grabs, relocations and outright massacres. If you google The Utes, you first have to plough through entry after entry from the government approved sites, most of which are put out by the local Indian museums, a decoy to make the invaders feel better about themselves.  I've been to the Ute museum run by little old white ladies, displaying affadavits from natives who want you to know that being wrenched from their families as children and forced into government boarding schools to be guided in the ways of the west was the best thing that could have happened to them.
To this day, Native Americans  may not own land, are marginalised and regarded with scorn when they are regarded with anything at all. As I write, the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, one of the poorest, is under flood water while we opine instead about the elocution of a demented president.

The Europeans that invaded this country, known to the natives as Turtle Island, have a lot to answer for, but they set up institutions such as the Bureau of Indian Affairs to make sure they never have to.

That's why this is my favourite picture: During the Lakota/Sioux stand off at Standing Rock in 2016, veterans from the US army came before the Lakotah leadership to ask forgiveness for the centuries of oppression of native peoples. You know what, Chief Leonard Crow Dog granted forgiveness?

I have to admit that when I think of the Indian in his top hat and his desperate attempt to be accepted by those who did not have his best interest at heart, it pains me to see this generation of his people turning the other cheek. But wait a minute, isn't that what the icon of the religion of these invaders stood for? The great irony of course is that the native peoples always saw the world like that. The irony is that the white invaders with their crosses and moral law did nothing but try to undermine it.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Writing For The Eyes

22nd March 2019

This blog has to do with writing a screenplay, because I am currently writing one. But, first off, I have to mention the fact that when I went looking for examples of recent Oscar winners in this category, to a man they were, well, men. In fact, statistics reveal a mere 11% of screenplays that make it to movie are written by women. Seems odd, considering women make up 51% of the population.  We're not talking first responder firemen here. It appears that when it comes to the version of reality projected on the big screen, especially how women themselves are portrayed, then it is, to use a new but apt adjective, "blokey."

I have written screenplays before, but this time, as I try to piece together a screenplay adaptation of my new book, it lays heavy on me that this art is quite, quite different from other forms of writing. I have been in the practice of writing the screenplay version of my books, but I have tended just to transpose the action right off the book page onto the script of the film. I suspect now that that just won't do.
Female writer Darci Picoult said that when she writes for stage, she writes with her ears and when she writes for screen she is writing with her eyes. The craft of the novelist is wordy by nature, and I'm beginning to think that film is much more closely related to the visual arts. Film is a visual medium. Which is why you have to let the visuals speak.
As an example of film not doing this, there's a scene in the Bridges of Madison County, where Meryl Streep is in the bath, noticing that the shower head is still dripping from when the man she illicitly fancies recently took a shower.

It's a poignant moment, but just in case you didn't get it the writer brings in a voice-over telling you that this is what she is noticing. It is for this reason that voice-overs barely ever work in film. If the image doesn't clue you in, you actually undo the emotional impact by explaining it. The worst kind of movie dialogue is where the writer is explaining plot or motive to the audience through the mouths of her characters.

That well-used  dictum about how writers should show and not tell goes a thousand-fold for screen writing. The way I am trying to combat my "word" impulse for this screenplay is to think of the action in terms of music. Music probably does best what poet ee cummings said good art should do: almost entirely misses the intellect. Good poetry does this too.  Not that the audience should be dumb...well, perhaps that is what they should be. Struck dumb.  Speechless.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Evil Genius

March 1st 2019

I have just sent off to my agent the two edited sequels in my Veil Of Time series. Druid Hill is the first and Iona the second.  Some last minute computer glitches took me into a panic known only to the computer illiterate.  Liz, my editor, came to my rescue, and after much sweat and tears, I was able to send off two clean copies. (Too late, I realised later that in my acknowledgements I had mis-spelled my agent's name, but what can you expect from a right-brain dominant person, a person who definitely sees the forest, but the trees not so much.)

At times like this, with both American and British politics swirling in a vortex down a sink hole, it's hard to step out of the chaos and bring anything into focus.  I have always been one to decry myths about a cosmic battle between the forces of good and evil. In this unprecedented moment in history, however, I find myself rooting for the Good.

In Scotland, the ONLY newspaper that is not run by British forces, the National, just published The McCrone Report which was commissioned by the English government in the 1970's in order for them to get an idea as to just how wealthy an independent Scotland would be. This, I have to point out, before anyone struck oil! The conclusion of the economist, by name of McCrone, was that Scotland would have an "embarrassment of riches."  So, for forty years, Westminster labelled the report top Secret, and no one got to see it, especially not the Scots with their upstart notions of making a break for it.
That's corruption. In my cosmic model, that is a whole lot of negative karma awaiting the Good to overturn it. Deep down, I suppose, I do believe that Good should win out. Good should pay back a British colonialism that massacred women and children in Tranent, Scotland, because they wrote a letter of protest. And the Good should oust an American president who was put in place by an American adversary. It just should.
So, I guess I believe in cosmic forces, after all. I just hope they are forceful enough to squeeze that evil genie back into the bottle.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Love and Roses

14th February 2019

In Scotland, as in the rest of Great Britain, Valentine's Day is the celebration of romantic love.  In USA, in true American homogenizing fashion, everyone is supposed to be included. Grandmas and mothers receive Valentine's cards alike. Every Valentine's Day of my youth was spent in expectant desperation, checking the mail, checking my desk at school, just in case some boy had slipped in a card when I wasn't looking. It was all quite depressing, because my notion of what my life would be was not characterised by chastity or loneliness of any kind. To those boys who actually did fancy me (and there were some, I later learned), I spit on your timidity. I would have rejected you, of course, but you should have given me the chance!

But then that lack of substance is one of the many problems with the notion of romantic love we have fostered in our culture. "Love is not love that alters where alteration finds," saith the Bard. But what is love? One thing I am fairly sure it is not is anything connected to red roses and heart bleeds. I spent much of my youth swooning (for years at a time in some instances) over one male person or another. Often, I had very little contact with that person, so I have to think whatever I was feeling (to point of death, it seemed  - I was a very dramatic girl!) it had more to do with me than them.

Because romantic love is something of a fabrication, it is by nature insecure and requires constant reminders that it exists. It's all a bit neurotic and needy, and yet this is what the film and music industry,  together with the industry of Romance books, perpetuates.

I think love is a conundrum and may have almost nothing to do with how we feel. As the modern bard Paul Simon sings, "Love is not a game, love is not a toy, love's no romance." There's an old saying that love is not two people staring into one another's eyes, but two people staring in the same direction. So, maybe that's why I don't celebrate this day, Valentine's Day. I wish I had realised earlier in my life that love might just be the equilibrium between two egos, not an Egoism a Deux (Fromm)

Friday, February 1, 2019

For Writers

February 1st 2019

I am nearing the end of the re-write of my current book set in Israel. I sent out the first draft to a few friends and got very mixed results back. What became clear, though, was that I had committed my usual sin of starting off a novel trying to pack in pages and pages of backstory.  In this particular case, I thought I was justified. But it should be clear to me by now that, as a teacher once told me, you have  to "stay in the room," not just once the story gets going, but from the very first sentence.  You have asked that reader to step into your office and you need to keep him or her there by showing them a few pictures.  "Let me show you my etchings," used to be an old funny pick-up line, but it really is how you keep a reader engaged.  I know that. But I always forget it.

So, I got depressed. There were about fifty or so pages I would have to completely redo. Throw the old ones out the window and start from scratch.
I kept procrastinating. I'd written the damn book, and I didn't want to re-write a whole new section. You'd think I would have picked up along the way (I did, but I forgot) that, as the adage goes, "Writing is Re-writing."  Don't you just hate that?
Eventually I pulled myself back into my desk chair. I opened my computer, and lo and behold, it wasn't that hard. I knew it wouldn't be. I just forgot. Instead of simply "telling" my story, as another old adage goes, I began "showing" the reader who these characters were.
The great thing is, if you do that, you begin to draw yourself in, too. By the time I had reached a crucial plot point in my story, I was in tears - which hadn't happened before when I was telling and not showing.

I guess what I am trying to tell you writers, is not to be discouraged.  Okay, be discouraged. There is nothing that stings as much as a rejected manuscript. You want to cry out, "But I wrote every word in my own blood."  Okay, but that has to show on every page, and if the reader ain't smelling it, you need to go back and bleed a bit more.

Lovely thing, this writing life....

Saturday, January 19, 2019

The Ghost In The Machine

18th January 2019

Recently, I got into an argument about the nature of reality, one of those small topics. It keeps coming up, because I am given books and articles by talking heads who wax lyrical on this, and every so often I get proper ticked off. There was also the exchange I had on Twitter with some guy who obviously thought he was talking to an evangelical Christian and was making the tired argument that belief in God is as patently stupid as belief in green goblins.
Well, I'm not an evangelical Christian, but I do like to take the bait when someone is pushing "the scientific" view that "verifiable" truths are the only kind of reality to be taken seriously.  I pointed out to my Twitter friend that only 4% of the known universe is in fact knowable, the rest of it being either what we have deemed to be "dark energy" or "dark matter." (We have deemed it "dark" because it won't let us in, but it may in fact be brilliant.) I noted to him that the science that has set up this bar of "verifiability" has to date no account of what gravity might be, although it can record its effect on things we are allowed to say are "real."

The problem with materialism is that it isn't really science at all, unless by science we mean Newtonian physics. But we have been in the realm of Quantum physics now since Einstein (and even he didn't like all the implications of his theories.) The most you can say about reality is that there is Energy.  Energy and fluxuations of energy.
The problem with using the little ruler and methodology of the 4% and trying to make broad judgements about the nature of reality is that, well, it leaves 96% of reality unaccounted for.  Religion leaves a whole lot unaccounted for, too. So does atheism. So does any "ism."
We tell stories. That's what we do as humans. From the very beginning of sentences we have been making these stabs in the dark. Science continues to look down its nose at this, even though theoretical physics is spilling out into this nebulous territory itself.

It's that ghost in the machine they need to prove isn't there. We live in a mechanistic universe, they say, and maybe they are right. But, who knows, maybe the ghost is really there. Maybe it's part of that 96% that cannot be known. Personally, I lean on Pascal's wager and propse that we might as well think of this energy as intelligent. No God, no Jesus, No Buddha, No Mohammad. Just energy fluctuating around an organising principle.
Perhaps this era in human thinking is what it means, as Eliot wrote, to arrive at the place we first began and see that place for the first time.

Friday, January 4, 2019

A Good Year

5th January 2019

We're only in a year for a year, but every year around this time, we are struggling to get our minds around a new one. This year does seem different - to use a Biblical metaphor, we seem at the outset of 2019 to be straining on tiptoe to see what promises to be the unfolding of a whole new era in this global hemisphere. I have to admit that I am something of an optimist - I always think the best is yet to come and can never get my mind around people who look backwards to the best times of their lives. I hear Margaret Atwood, and I take seriously dystopias projected both in the political arena and in literature. The female sex turned into Handmaids or any other sector of society subjugated at the hands of the greedy few, is of course not unimaginable. In part, we are already living through such a scenario.

But there is something in me that does not love a wall. There is always the belief that the wall can be peered through or climbed over.  I don't have a whole lot of faith in mankind, and only because look where it has brought us! I have more faith in womankind, because this 51% of the population is less likely to miss the forest for the trees. Laying waste to the environment and widening the gap between the haves and have-nots is a particularly short-sighted male perspective (NB. Not all males!) It compartmentalises the vast plight of humanity and refuses to to see beyond the wall of its own construction.  Trump and his administration are a startling manifestation of this. I venture they are the last hoorah of this thrashing dragon.

So 2019. A good year, I think. I note a small chain around the foot of said dragon.  I see the heart going out of his thrashing. We don't need to kill the monster, but we do need to contain it, and perhaps this year, such a strategy will begin to feel like a realistic possibility. In the words of a Christian saint, and far from anything I normally would appeal to, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."