For the first of our Wine & Lit
series of journal entries, Dillon has picked a Spanish wine, Cara Bassa 2012
. In thinking about a complementary literary work for it, I did a little Internet research. I found that Cara Bassa
is the name of a site in Sardina
(island region of Italy) where there are a number of neolithic era "standing stones." These stones were carved into megalithic monuments by ancient peoples and often inscribed with mysterious symbols. The larger, more complex sites (i.e., Stonehenge) are associated with the Celts.
But that's an Italian connection. The only Spanish connection I could find was on a website that offers horseback riding trips in Spain (interesting idea). The site
implies that there is a trail through the Pyrenees mountains called the Cara Bassa
So themes of New Age and journeys led me to a book that has spoken to me over the years. It's The Camino
by Shirley MacLaine, about her 500 mile trek over the ancient pilgrimage trail called the Santiago de Compostela Camino
that stretches across northern Spain. It was a journey of spiritual discovery for her, as it has been for seekers over the centuries.The Camino
has a very New Age flavor to it, which is not a taste for everyone, but its ambiance of mystery, travel and exploration and even facing fears make it very palatable to the open-minded reader. It's one of my favorite books and it always prompts my old urge to travel and explore, and at the end of the day, to kick back with a glass of Cara Bassa
and recount the day's journey with friends.
You can find my review of The Camino here
And here's Dillon's Pick for the wine we can enjoy as we contemplate the mystery of the Santiago de Compostela Camino
.Dillon's Pick – Cara Bassa 2012
Hello fellow wine lovers, I am Dillon. I have recently begun my exploration of the world's wines, and will be sharing with you my experiences. So far, I find I prefer wines that are boldly fruity, with a slightly dry finish, but I'm sure my tastes will evolve as I go.
My first pick for Wine & Lit
is a Spanish wine that was recommended by my boss (I work at a Wine and Spirits store). It was an amazing wine for the price. I believe it is about 8 dollars, but it tastes more expensive. It has a deep red color and an amazing bouquet. I detect blackberry and maybe some dark cherry in it. It was not aged in oak, though, and I usually prefer oak-aged, but this wine does well without it. The first taste is quite impressive. It's not sweet, and it starts with a slightly acidic mouth-feel with little fruit-forward. It finishes with some tannins so this isn't for someone who get headaches or prefers sweeter wines.
I'm impressed with Spanish wine, and Cara Bassa
is a good one to start us on our long journey of wine discovery.
There is a decided therapeutic value in savoring the good things of this life--love of family, fellowship of friends, a job well done, a meal well cooked, books, movies, plays, concerts, travel, coffee, and wine. This is just my partial list of things that make being here worthwhile. You have your own list, of course, and it's good to review it from time-to-time. Today, I want to concentrate on two items that I expect will appear on the personal lists of most followers of this journal: books and wine.
Books are great because they are an efficient way to use language and writing to convey information and inspiration widely. This conveyance is facilitated these days by electronic means--computers and the Internet--but it's still reading, and it's how Hemingway, and Dante, Arrian, and other voices, spread across time, speak to us. Their words are contained in books and we find those that speak best to us. We seek them out, and that makes us book-lovers.
I've written a lot of book reviews about books I've read that have especially touched me, both fiction and nonfiction. I've posted most of them on the Goodreads website (you can find them here
; I've just opened an account on the Book Likes website and imported my reviews to it; look here
). Writing a review is, for me, a way to savor what I've gotten from a book, especially fiction. It's how I appreciate its aroma, its texture and the nuances of its flavor. You know, it's a lot like appreciating wine.
I've long had a fondness for wine with an experiential appreciation for the differences among vintages, but nothing really deep. My sons, however, are much further along in attaining a connoisseur's appreciation. Having returned from the university, they are applying the knowledge gleaned from their biology studies to pursuing an education in the production, marketing, and appreciation of wine. Dillon has a job that is facilitating this education, and Thomas is helping him.
There are a lot of aspects to appreciating a wine. Subtle variations in aroma, texture, weight, mixture with other fruits, aging and storage, create a complexity of taste that is a challenge and joy to discover. It's like studying the themes and techniques of literature to the point that you can appreciate the works of Shakespeare, Laotze, Homer, and Cervantes. You hear the voices of these authors in a richness that you don't get from a surface reading, and they touch your soul at a deeper level. Similarly, an educational effort can take you from just tasting a wine, to experiencing it.
Considering the similarities between these two of our favorite things, I think it appropriate to give a greater voice to the wine side and pair it with the literary. From time-to-time, I'll do a journal entry inspired from a book (especially if I've written a review) and let Dillon add an accompanying entry on a wine that has a connection (Dillon's Picks). They synergy should be interesting and perhaps, enlightening.
Appreciating a really good wine is appreciating a moment. When enjoyed among friends or at an occasion, it can enhance the experience, enriching the memory of it. It should never be taken to excess; that's like reading to exhaustion. You want to read and reflect, sip and savor.
So as we continue our journey, seeking the inspiration and knowledge we need for navigation, let's indulge a bit in spirits for our spirit. It'll be fun.
Writing a book is just a neat thing to do. It's hard work, especially for a novel-length story, but having a completed piece that speaks your intent gives you the artisan's reward. Like a painter depicting emotion through a landscape, or a woodworker making a fine roll-topped desk, or just the desired accomplishment in doing whatever it is you have taken upon yourself to do, it is satisfaction in the act of creation. Your child is born and you send her out into the world to speak.
That's writing a book. And as with all art, I see it in two main components: what you're expressing (the art), and how you go about expressing it (the tools). The first is art and the second is craft. You learn to use the tools of the craft in order to release the art.
There are reasons I try to write, and I'll do a journal entry about that in the future. Today I want to talk about the tools, though in truth, the topics do overlap.
Yesterday, I attended a one-day class on self-publishing that is a part of the Milsaps College Community Enrichment
program. It was actually more of a 3-hour workshop in using CreateSpace
to self-publish your book. In my quest to produce a novel, publish and distribute it, I've studied the publishing process from the traditional to the electronic (reading on computers, Kindles, iPads, etc). I've had some success in both for short stories and novellas and, all the while, I've been working on making my post-apocalypse novel, Dentville
, a reality with one eye on how I would publish it.
Ten or so years ago, I would have gone the traditional publishing route without question, and that was indeed my thoughts then. But things have changed. Corporate publishing is in as much flux as everything else and the big houses work under the same "infinite growth" paradigm as the rest of the capitalist world. In publishing, that works out as "you gotta be Stephen King" to get their support, or even their attention. And then, you're still pretty much left to promote yourself.
So, as in so many other areas, the Internet and digital technology provide an alternative. Print On Demand (POD) publishing supported by the web and social media give a writer a means to produce quality books (materially anyway) made available through mass outlets (on the web) at a (potentially) reasonable cost. It has become more and more apparent to me that that is the way I should go (pretty much "forced" to go). Though self-publishing has its own trials, the traditional route is just too long and difficult if you're not already established. The odds are against you (as at a casino). In taking this class, I wanted to get a closer look at the process and hear from someone who has done it.
Most of the class was a demonstration of Createspace
by the teacher. With the website projected at the front of the room, she stepped us through the process of creating a sample book (A Day in the Life
) using the website. It was easily done and produced a book (though she didn't take it all the way to publication, of course) for no cost. There were points along the way where you could purchase professional services (like artwork and book design) and so would have incurred some costs comparable to the charges of other POD companies. Still, she demonstrated how it is possible to publish a book for free and have it distributed online through Amazon by making clever use of freely available tools on the Internet.
Actually, it's not completely free, Amazon will get their percentage when the book is published. There is a royalty schedule (I didn't note the specifics) and an author's discount (so you can order POD hard-copies for author sales). I saw that self-publishing can work, especially if your goals are well-defined. For instance, the class teacher is an English professor at a local university and she publishes her own textbook this way. Her students can purchase it online or she has placed it in the university's bookstore (I believe it sold out). So this works for her in her world.
Regarding quality, I have seen that Createspace
can produce a quality product. My story, Davis and the Goth
was published as part of the Createspace
-published anthology, While the Morning Stars Sing
and the book it produced is very nice.
But I have serious reservations about Amazon.com, the corp that is behind Createspace
. Being the
online publishing giant, they seem to want to rule the publishing world (infinite growth again--they can't just do well, they have to dominate the world). Their push for exclusive rights to e-books has earned them much enmity among bookstores to the point that many refuse to sell Amazon-published titles (see this article
in Publisher's Weekly). Even the self-publishing teacher pointed out that selecting one of the Kindle options in Createspace
will result in Amazon taking exclusive rights to your ebook edition and so prevent you from marketing it elsewhere. She recommended not doing that.
So I can pretty much guarantee that Dentville
will not be published with Createspace
. I do have other POD publishers in mind. But the class was very helpful in demonstrating the current mechanisms of online and POD publishing and how a person can do much with digital and Internet-based tools. And the teacher's love of her work and enthusiasm for books and writing was inspirational.
Speaking of tools, I think I mentioned that I'm using a software product called Writeway
to write (actually, "build") my first Dentville
novel. I've found it extremely helpful and it has enabled me to make much headway on the book. I'm working on it every day and the completion of it feels more real to me now than ever before. And then the self-publishing class gave me the feeling that the publishing of it is "doable."
I'll have much more to say in future entries about the development of Dentville
. I won't talk about writing mechanics but about the evolution of the story, its themes, and the current trends and events I'm drawing from. My journal entries should reflect the story's development and I hope for this website to develop along with it.
And I hope you'll follow me as I write this book, and can find sympathy for what I'm trying to say with it (more on that coming) and inspiration when you finally read it. I think that would be pretty neat.
The cost of a thing is the amount of what I call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.
I ran across this quote by Henry David Thoreau last year and it struck me as so "right-on" to the theme I was trying to express in a short story, that I used it in the story and even derived the title from it (What I Call Life
Thoreau was very much sympathetic to the life of common, working people and a lot of his writings concerned their quality of life. This theme was the impetus for his experiment of "living deliberately" at Walden Pond. And he was very critical of the idea of people working like slaves for the prospect of retirement at some point in the future when they can least enjoy it. I've been feeling that way for a long time and wanted to express it in fiction. I saw an opportunity to do that with the startup of MISSISSIPPI aesthetic
is a "quarterly journal of arts & culture" and their first issue featured several short stories. I was impressed with the magazine's quality and they seemed very open to publishing fiction so I decided to write my story with the aim of submitting it to them.
In What I Call Life
, I wanted to express my thoughts on "What's a high salary worth in terms of life cost?", "At what point does a job become life or death?", and "What does it mean to chose life?" My fictional vehicle would be a burned-out IT contract worker wrestling with serious problems for a client for the umpteenth time in his career. In the midst of it all, a voice from beyond his contained life would come to him and offer him the choice of staying with the familiar (security but a heavy life cost), or launching into the unknown (loss of security but a potential for payoff in life really lived).
This idea is certainly not original with me, but I felt the urge to express my take on it in the terms and symbols familiar to me. This urge found expression in several of my journal entries last year starting with Timbuktu!
and including Seeing Wonder in the Mundane
(though it was pretty much in every journal entry to some degree).
I felt the story should be a long treatment written as a series of short pieces. But I couldn't know if I would write the whole series so this initial one had to be complete in itself. I accomplished that by having it cover the time where my protagonist, Matt Bell, reaches the end of his rope on the job, receives his "bolt from the blue" offer, and makes his decision.
At the highest level, I wanted the story to be a contrast between what Matt's live was in-fact (shown in the working of his job) and what it could be (shown in Clarence's description of the uncle's offer). I would make this contrast sharp by showing Matt's life to be the minutiae of IT work, and the offer of new life to be basically, jungle adventure. With these goals in mind, I would write the the story as compellingly as I could, seeking to draw the reader into Matt's pain, burnout, disgust, wonder, and hope, and end with a sense of satisfaction but a desire to know "what happens next."
So I dropped everything for about two months and wrote What I Call Life
. I wanted it to be about 2000 words in length but it was a struggle to keep it to 3000. I finished the story and submitted it to MISSISSIPPI aesthetic
. I was delighted when Amile Wilson (Editor in Chief) saw fit to publish the first two-thirds of it in a very nice four-page spread in the printed magazine, and the whole of it on their website.
Did I accomplish my story goals? Well, you'll have to tell me, my friend. So far, I've gotten no feedback specific to the story, but I did have a significant bump in visits to my website corresponding to the time of the story's appearance. There was also an increase in the downloads of my other stories on Smashwords
. I'm grateful for all that and take it to mean that What I Call Life
prompted some interest in my work. So I'll keep it up and make my life payments to pursue a number of writing projects to share with you.
How much Life do you exchange for what you do? Day after day. Not just time, but Life. Is the exchange a satisfactory recompense? I expect it is not for most everyone, but that depends on your valuation of both. Saints and sinners will see it differently. The aware and the deluded will see it differently, as will all points of view within that scale. Your answer will depend on what you call life.
You can read What I Call Life on the MISSISSIPPI aesthetic
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Unrealized potential may be the hardest thing for a person to face in this life. If, as the Buddhists say, the root of life's sorrow is its impermanence, then reaching one's later years with no feeling of accomplishment can bring a profound sadness. It is an unstamped passport, an empty travel journal, or a backpack never used.
All of those images are in Ben Stiller's adaptation of James Thurber's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
. I saw the movie recently with my family and we all enjoyed it. In fact, we saw it in a full theatre and I picked up on a positive energy from the entire audience. There were a lot of communal laughs that I haven't heard at a movie in a long time. It was like everyone was really into the show and just expressing their enjoyment without being aware of everyone around them. I take that as a sign of a well-made movie and this one certainly was.
The character of Walter Mitty is so ingrained in popular thought that the name is a metaphor for someone who is a dreamer in the sense of a "wannabe." The common expression is "Walter Mitty type" when describing someone who fantasizes about being someone else, usually a more exciting persona. The dreamer's desire is motivated by a wish to escape dull or otherwise unpleasant circumstances that he or she feels are imprisoning. His ability to make his escape is all but nil, so there is an element of tragedy in that fantasies are all he has. Don Quixote, on the other hand, at least acted on his dream in a concrete way, though it often earned him a beating. He was not just dreaming the impossible dream, he was attempting to live it.
I think more of us identify with Walter Mitty than with Don Quixote. We dream because that's all we can do. We don't have the means or the freedom to truly live in earnest, so we keep quiet and leave our debt-financed Land Rover (or Lexus) in the parking garage while we spend the day in our cubicle.
Ben Stiller's movie starts with this more-tragic image, showing Mitty as a photo negative processor at Life
magazine. He's 42, works in the basement, is threatened with job loss when Life
is taken over by new management, and he can't even work up the courage to send a e-harmony
wink to a coworker he has the hots for (when he does, it doesn't go through). His e-harmony
profile is devoid of "things done." These negatives prompt Mitty's escapist imaginings (with much high-tech embellishment) as he "zones out" in stressful situations.
But Stiller doesn't leave us with a trapped, disillusioned Walter Mitty. For all his problems, Mitty has potential. He is smart, resourceful, imaginative, and even a skilled skateboarder. He just needs the courage and motivation to cross the line into a fulfilling life (don't we all believe that?).
This scenario is common in movies, where the bored and boring protagonist comes into his own by finding adventure, love, etc. This is the essence of "coming of age" stories (re: Star Wars
). It can make for a predictable and sappy story, but Stiller doesn't fall into that trap. He could have, had he made Mitty's "breakout" be a mission to save the world, or rescue the heroine from terrorists, or right some huge wrong. But Mitty doesn't need to save the world, just himself.
So Stiller doesn't send him chasing the Holy Grail. He goes looking for one of the magazine's photographers, Sean O'Connell (played by Sean Penn), as part of his search for a lost photo negative meant to be the cover for Life
's final print issue. His search takes him globetrotting and so he finally gets his passport stamped, fills his travel journal, and makes good use of his backpack. More important, he experiences life and stops zoning-out.
I've identified with Walter Mitty ever since I read Thurber's story in High School. I expect that's true of many people, just judging by the audience reaction in the movie theatre. But though Walter Mitty or Don Quixote characters are enjoyed in stories, they are often condemned in life as aimless dreamers. Yet the character persists in our entertainments. I think that's because some of us realize that it's better to dream of an ideal, than live a delusion and believe it's real.
I consider The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
to be Ben Stiller's best movie. I like that he made Mitty's redeeming activity to be travel, rather than fighting aliens or saving the president or some such. It makes Mitty's personal journey more relateable. This is underscored by the realistic feel of the travel scenes (even when dealing with sharks and volcanoes; and they're funny--I especially liked the scene with the drunken helicopter pilot).
In the movie, Mitty is prompted to step outside his "box" by his need to track down O'Connell. He is reluctant at first, because finding O'Connell will require some world travel, starting with his last known whereabouts, Greenland. Life opens up to him when Mitty takes the plunge. And I can relate, to a degree. When Donna and I were talking about a trip to Mexico back in 2012 (Puerto Vallarta
) I felt the inertia of fear and self-doubt about making such a trip. But I bit the bullet and did it, and got my passport stamped for the first time. When the trip was done and we were flying back, I was ready to keep going and see other places. I think our sons had a similar experience with their trip to China. So, like Mitty, I can find the courage to step out-of-doors, and even be taken by the wanderlust, if I can find the motivation and the material wherewithal.
I liked that Stiller cast Shirley MacLaine in the role of Walter Mitty's mother. That casting embraces the movie's "travel broadens the mind" theme because MacLaine is a restless world traveler, experiencer, and author. Those are things I would love to be as well, and I suppose many people feel the same. A few people realize these activities and compose their identities from their experience of the wider world. The rest of us just dream.
I've had a really tough time with Christmas since my kids have grown up and I've gotten significantly older. I mean tough in the sense of finding any joy in the season. Of course, that tends to happen as people mature. A large part of this season's magic comes from the innocence of youth. When we were children, it was easy to suspend our disbelief and anticipate gifts, and food, and music, with most everyone around us being in glad spirits. I remember happy associations from those earlier Christmases--cold days with snow flurries as we shopped, visiting family, decorating trees, partying; and pine smells from real trees in the house, the heat of candles and electric Christmas lights, baking pies, the indulgence of spice cakes and confections, the music of cantatas, light-hearted movies, reverent church services. All are fond memories of everyone's favorite holiday.
But the crassness of current society is overwhelming to me and evidenced by the end-of-year holidays running into each other and connected by measures of commerce--how well did Wal-Mart do? Are retail sales up from last year? This materialism is not new, of course, but it is accelerated to the point where it seems there is nothing promoted about Christmas beyond selling. That is, a lot of publicity is given to battles over plastic stuff on Black Friday, but I don't see anything comparable to The Homecoming: A Christmas Story
being produced that speaks to us at a higher level.
And beyond the materialism, there seems to be an evil that is bent on the destruction of humankind and the natural world. Corporations run governments and use them to drive populations to starvation. Open-ended wars are waged among elite powers using guns, bombs, robots, radiation, mass-communications, lies, and food, all for the sake of profit and the ability to decide who lives and who dies. This ponderous beast seems to be a hive creature--a collective of sociopathetic minds whose arrogance extends to attempts to engineer the very climate of the world to serve them, rather than abandoning the filthiest and most destructive practices for generating energy.
And so I despair because this is a dark and threatening world. It is a fallen world. How can anyone find "the Christmas spirit" in such a place, at such a time?
As the years have trudged on, it has become harder and harder to reclaim those early, happy associations. Even Charlie Brown had trouble with it. His problem was being so put off by the rampant commercialization of the holiday (even his dog entered a decorations contest) that he could not connect with the "reason for the season" until his friend, Linus, gave him a clue with a reading from the Gospel of Luke.
So I took my cue from Peanuts and considered the Christian origins of Christmas (while respecting that its nonChristian antecedents have their lessons too), hoping that, like Charlie Brown, I could find some inspiration.
Christianity appeared in the ancient world like a struck match flaring in a dark room. Jesus' message of unconditional love from God, loving even our enemies, faith in the spiritual over the material, hope for a redeemed future, and his example of nonviolent action, resonated with people living oppressed and hopeless beneath the boot of a highly material, self-centered, hierarchical tyranny. It was a spark
that, in the following centuries, triumphed over that tyranny from which it finally gained acceptance and even promotion, though seldom with sincerity.
The Christian hope is salvation. That is, salvation from evil and death through the mystery of God himself incarnating and offering his human life in sacrifice and propitiation of his own judgment. People find a faith in this that shows them how to live seeking the "kingdom of heaven" inside themselves, rather than living for the material and trying to "gain the whole world." This hope further promises eternal life in bliss beyond this one, removing death's sting.
The picture thus painted is of humanity beset by a lethal malevolence and in desperate need of escaping it. Christian theology calls that malevolence, "sin," "rebellion against God," "Satan," or many other such expressions and supported by much intertwining doctrine. I would call it "industrial civilization's collapse," "unrestrained capitalism," "geoengineering," "genetically modified food," "globalization," or even "peak oil." In all instances, the idea is of a dark place we need to leave.
Christmas says the exit door was opened by the intervention of almighty God into history in the form of an infant. It is a beautiful picture of infinite power incarnating into a finite vessel for the sake of saving entrapped humanity. It stands in contrast to the current perverse economic picture of "infinite growth" in a finite world for the sake of a privileged few and keeping everyone else oppressed. We are in desperate need of the beautiful depiction.
If we take the image of the Christ child's birth as a symbol of hope in our darkest hour, then perhaps we can find some inspiration in contemplating the nativity.
The scene centers on the baby Jesus, lying in soft hay in an animal's feeding trough made bright with Heaven's light. He is haloed with the divinity that empowers the potential of the newborn on a mission for us all. The benevolent power from beyond blesses this incarnation as a parent blesses a child, reaching down from the numinous through a brilliant star's pointed light, touching the infant and illuminating that sacred space. Heavenly beings fly through the cold night and warm it with songs of praise at the wondrous sight below. They are only seen by those with simple faith so they sing to shepherds who live close to the earth, and herald salvation's arrival. Though the simple have found the divine hope first, they are followed by those counted wise and wealthy who have followed the star others ignored, until they found the miraculous and offered gifts. And so hope arrived on the earth.
I will think on this picture of the nativity in my meditations over the holidays, drawing strength from its message of salvation and hope. And doing so without the constraints of doctrine; just pondering the very ideas of what we need most: salvation, hope. Perhaps you can do the same in your prayers, and as you attend mass. Maybe just finding the joy in being with family, communing with them and friends over meals and holiday gatherings, listening to music or watching classic movies, singing, or enjoying a time of peace, will open a conduit of loving kindness that could potentially connect to all humankind.
And looking within, find the Kingdom of Heaven and let it fill you, until you feel the joy that prompts angels to sing. It is a quiet joy that does not originate in physical conditions, but is the steady state of the universe that we can tap into, and is especially accessible at this time. Reach out to it.
I hope your Christmas is blessed and happy, and that you find hope and joy to take into the new year.
Peace be with you.
Our sons are in their last year at the University of Mississippi. Their time there has given Donna and I occasion to travel to Oxford to visit them and see football games and such. Ole Miss is an old university, founded before the Civil War, and one of the smallest campuses in the SEC. It is a modern campus, complete with the modern mess of confusing, criss-crossing paved roads, massive parking lots (that still fill up too fast), and utilitarian buildings with no artistic sense at all. And layered onto the physical trappings, are the depravities of the times that stem from a society that does not value education--cut funding leading to high tuition and living expenses, leading to usurious student loans, leading to a lifetime of debt slavery. And the grandest insult is an "education" that has become little more than job training for jobs that are few and low-paid, or nonexistent.
Yet, it is possible to see beyond the dross to the older campus of beautiful antebellum and Victorian era buildings and imagine an atmosphere of studious, intimate, contemplation. Deep in there, beyond the racist, checkered past, is something that inspired scientists and artists and earned Faulkner's devotion.
The Oxford town square evokes similar themes. It is a space of old, renovated buildings amid a neighborhood of the same. The central square is the hub of this small college town (that considers itself a "sister" to the Oxford college town in England) that trades on its notoriety with some expensive eating and dining places. But, as with the university, you can detect the older part where some better spirit lies.
I thought a bit of that better spirit might lie in the Square Books
bookstore on a corner off the town square. I had noticed it in many of our trips up there but never went inside. Then, recently, I ran across mention of it in some articles that indicated it was a well-known bookstore even outside of Mississippi, with Publishers Weekly
naming it "Bookstore of the Year" for 2013. So I decided I wanted to get a closer look at it on our next Oxford trip.
That trip happened last September on a glorious day of temperate weather with a rare blue sky free of chem-trails. After bouncing around the square a bit, we entered Square Books
. The store is larger inside than it appears from the street, encompassing three levels. It has the smell and feel of a regular, modern bookstore but it is an old, renovated building so you get that feel too. The place was busy with people meandering among the shelves, browsing the current bestsellers, local interests books, and all the usual categories. The clerks were working steadily at their big counter up front where the sun streamed through windows enlightening their activities. Customers climbed the wooden staircase leading to a balcony containing more books, entrances to offices, and a few nooks and crannies. This level provides an interesting view of the street-level expanse. The staircase continues from there to a complete upper floor that feels older with its wooden flooring and bookcases, and its own nooks and sections. It is a great place to wander.
All-in-all, Square Books
embodies that same blend of old-and-new as Ole Miss and Oxford. I can imagine it being a stimulating venue for "author events" as befitting a bookstore that is just down the street from William Faulkner's house. It has that "sense of place" that struck me about Oxford from the start. I think the same is true about the Oxford in England, though on a grander scale. It's neat that the Mississippi Oxford emanates a small reflection of its bigger, older sister's spirit.
So I think Oxford lends itself as a setting for some kind of story. No doubt, it has been the setting of a lot of local fiction, though none really outstanding that I'm aware of. My thought is of Oxford as a destination, specifically, Faulkner's house--Rowan Oak. I can imagine a compilation of short stories told by writer travelers on a literary pilgrimage to the Faulkner home. Modeled after Canterbury Tales
, perhaps it would be Rowan Oak Tales
. A neat idea, I think, should I ever get to a place where I could consider it as a project.
I've found Square Books
and Oxford to be inspirations for me in my literary musings. There are others, mentioned in this journal, that help keep me going as I work on my first Dentville
novel. I'm putting a lot of effort into that project, which is why my journal entries have slowed lately. I don't know when it will be done. The project has frustrated all my attempts at setting goal dates, so it will just have to set its own timing. But I'm anxious to share it with you, my readers.
Since Donna and I moved into our new house (see A Perfect House
) last year, we've been so busy we've not thought about new library cards until recent weeks. So we finally got them and have been making use of them (especially Donna). Public libraries are repositories of inspiration, knowledge, and potential, without the crassness of commercialism. They are places where scholars of the 99% can go to do their research. Their loss, would be a loss indeed--the modern equivalent of the Romans burning the library at Alexandria.Square Books
puts out a multipaged newsletter called, Dear Reader
. It provides extensive write-ups of the "author events" (book signings) that the bookstore hosts, including book and author overviews with pictures. Being the object of one and having such an event there would be beyond cool (so long as it was supported by sincere readers). Surely, on occasion, such an event draws the interest of spirits who were literarily inspired and inspiring in life, and so I can imagine that Mr. Faulkner, Ms Welty, Mr. Morris, and others, look on with approval.
When I was in high school, a book on Biblical prophecy came out that had gained some notoriety and was considered "scary" by my classmates. It was The Late Great Planet Earth
by Hal Lindsey. In this book, Lindsey interpreted prophetic sections of the Bible according to fundamentalist Christian dogma and in light of the (then) current times (the 1970's). It was a best seller, I believe, and launched Lindsey on a career in nonfiction Christian lit. Lindsey wrote in a tone that was accessible to young fundamentalist Christians of the time, of which I was one.
I read The Late Great Planet Earth
many times and adopted its view during that phase of my life when I was of that mindset. Of course, I lived in the deep (US) south where that mindset was predominant. The idea that Biblical prophecy was coming true in our time and that the Rapture was near, was in popular vogue, and I heard many sermons preached on it. I was sure that Jesus would return soon, and was glad that I would be on board that last Heavenly chariot out of the fallen Earth before Satan finally trashed everything.
Some years later, I changed my mind about all that. When I read The Late Great Planet Earth
now, I almost laugh out loud. That's a comment on Mr. Lindsey's writing, however, and not on Biblical prophecy. I still take the Bible seriously, just not literally.
I went through a period of agnostic materialism when I didn't consider any "supernatural" subjects as having validity and certainly not any prophecy or fortune-telling. That phase didn't last, though. It succumbed to further readings, research, introspection, and personal experiences. I returned to the idea of extrasensory insight and the paranormal through the work and writings of John Edward, Dannion Brinkley, George Anderson, Whitley Strieber, Shirley MacLaine, and many others. I was then able to seriously consider again the idea of prophecy, and not just the Biblical kind.
If you've watched any History Channel shows about Nostradamus, you've seen John Hogue offering commentary. He is a renowned authority on the life and works of that 16th century French seer, and has written volumes about him. He is a scholar of prophecy in general, even Biblical, and his commentary on it is intelligent and insightful. I especially like his ideas on what prophecy is, and on what "seeing the future" means.
A great introduction to Mr. Hogue's ideas about prophecy can be gleaned from reading his short story, Kamikaze Tomorrowland
. On the outward level, it is a very entertaining science fiction story, well crafted and satisfying. On a deeper level, it illustrates what prophecy is, or maybe how it works. It says that prophecy describes a likely future based on coalescing energies, whether good or ill. The future can be changed, if we take heed and take action within a certain time window. Expressing this view of prophecy in fiction, is what Mr. Hogue calls, ScryFy
I wrote a review of Kamikaze Tomorrowland
where I talk about what the story says specifically about how prophecy works. (See the links below).
Mr. Hogue also wrote a book containing predictions for 2013 and 2014 called simply, PREDICTIONS FOR 2013-2014
. It's a large e-book and I was going to review it, but it covers so much ground, I haven't been able to get enough of a "handle" on it to write a review. But the most interesting point in this book, to me, is the idea that the world has reached an 18 month window where the fate of humanity will be decided. What we do in this time will determine whether we proceed to apocalypse, or a restart to a bright future. In Mr. Hogue's words:May 2013 to the end of December 2014 is the LAST CALL of fate for human beings to set in motion fundamental reforms.
Now in addition to these prophecies from scrying and studying the works of ancient seers, there are the works of more conventional, scientific, prophets that I've also read over the years. These include James Kunstler, Richard Heinberg, Mike Ruppert, Dimitri Orlov, and many others. They base their opinions on the consequences of world events and trends (peak oil, climate change, overpopulation, financial collapse). They tend to agree with the numinous prophets--things don't look so good for humanity right now. There's a really good chance, that we're all f**ked.
One reason humans have been so successful in our time on earth is that we are able to look ahead, to visualize the future and so make plans. This, with our intelligence to "figure things out," gave us a huge advantage over animals that were simply big and strong. The price of that capability for outlook is melancholy when a dark future is discerned, or when we look ahead to contemplate our own deaths. Handling this is the wise person's dilemma.
The bleak future described in The Late Great Planet Earth
was tempered with a "pie in the sky" hope for the afterlife. When you reach the point where you can't take comfort in such a fanciful outcome, what do you do? How do you face a future that indicates no good ending for prevailing momentums?
I don't know. Perhaps you don't "face it" as such. Maybe you live in the eternal "Now," giving and receiving love to enrich your soul and those around you. If enough of us do that, maybe it can build the pressure to trip a switch and answer that last call for fundamental reforms. There's indications it has happened before. Humans have come close to extinction, and pulled through. So I wouldn't write us off for doing it again. There may yet be a faint hope that humanity will break through the ribbon that marks the limit of growth and, after much pain, live
in the future.
* * *
See my Kamikaze Tomorrowland review in Smashwords
and in Amazon.com
I recently finished Ann Patchett's novel, Run
. I enjoyed it, though I don't think it is as good as her earlier novel, Bel Canto
. Still, it appeals to me for its themes of family and following your passion.Run
is the story of an Irish-Catholic family that has suffered the death of their beloved mother. The husband and adopted black sons as well as the oldest, biological son mourn her loss. Their worship of her is exemplified by the Virgin Mary statue that bears such a strong resemblance to her and that the extended family argues over. Rebuilding the family, with the inclusion of the adopted children's birth mother and her daughter, make up the main of the story. Along the way, the passions of the children and the father are explored.
This story's themes spoke to me more than just its telling. Let me start with passion.
, I mean that which moves us to caring and to action. I mean those activities, situations, truths, that bind us to them so that we'll seek them and spend time on them. We'll try to live our lives around them. In Run
, such passions are expressed by each of the main characters and include a consuming scientific interest in fish--how they live, how they evolved, how they're structured, etc. Another is a passion for the Catholic faith. Another is a passion for politics, helping people and working government through holding public office. Yet another is running--the sheer love of physical running that leads the passionate towards a career in track.
I equate passion closely with inspiration. That which we are passionate about, inspires us. It makes us follow whatever path we must to engage with it. It is what excites us to the point we want to do nothing else. It makes our day-to-day bearable. In my opinion, based on my experience and observations, our passion is almost never our vocation. It happens, but it's rare. The need for food and shelter and health care is what generally prompts our vocational choices. Then debt keeps us from making changes. One character in Run
demonstrates this. He follows a way that promises great prestige and financial reward, but abandons it in a moment of clarity for a vocation lesser in pay but greater in fulfillment.
Another character is inspired by faith, specifically, the Roman Catholic faith. His inspiration is focused on an uncle priest whom he admires as being good and fancies has the gift of miraculous healing. His passion for religious faith intersects with the other theme of family, and is expressed in his devotion to the well-being of his uncle.
The character inspired by running is perhaps the most elemental of them all. Her love for running expresses a very fundamental passion for just being. So her love is for being human, and all the other characters share in this passion to some extent (they were runners in school and feel like they could still do it).
The primary passion for each character is obstructed for them at points in the story. They feel they cannot pursue their passions for reasons of perceived obligations, or because feelings of guilt lead them to follow another path that is a penance. If they are able to come back to being true to themselves, they abandon their penance and return to their true way.
I think most of my journal entries have dealt with this passion/inspiration theme to one extent or other. Especially recently, since Sun Sep-15-2013: Seeing Wonder in the Mundane (or, "Josh and Me")
. A lot of this is me examining my inspiration roots that wanted me to live as an adventurer, but that I couldn't resolve and so I'm left as a computer hack in an 8-to-5-same-as-everybody-else. Writing is my challenge to that. It allows me to pull from those early inspirations and express them in essays and fiction. I've always been more of an artist than a technician, anyway.
, when the running-inspired character finds her place in a new family, she expresses her love for them, and for being with them, in running. And in running, she finds she wants them to see her, to validate her in this activity that is her skill and her passion. She wants this because she has bonded with them as family, and she is running for them as much as for herself.
The big theme of Run
is, I think, this idea of building
family, or rather, allowing
it to build itself. I've long believed that families are created by bonds of love far more than by blood. Families of biology can be very dysfunctional. I suspect they often are and so people seek a replacement in mates, vocations, churches, various organizations, even cults. In any case, if it works out, they find the love and support of a genuine family.
When family is built on love, it holds no expectations for its members. All are accepted. Everybody has everybody's backs. When one is hurt, all are hurt. When one is exalted, all are exalted. Such family love can extend beyond the immediate family. It can extend to the clan and to the tribe. If it does, it probably produces the most stable of societies in the long run.
If you are part of such a family, you are blessed. I am. If you also are able to pursue your passion unhindered and with all the love in your being, you are doubly blessed.
I'm still working on that.
* * *
You can find my Goodreads review of Run here
I have posted a review of James Hilton's Lost Horizon
on Goodreads. This was my third reading of that book and I feel like it has taken me reaching a certain level of maturity to really appreciate it. What I appreciated from a literary standpoint, I've described in the review. What I took about life from the book is the subject of this journal entry.
Life is hard and brutal. The structure of industrial-technical civilization is hierarchical, greedy, violent, and increasingly oppressive. Reasonable people will have little argument with this assessment and would agree with it, I expect, since humans first began using plows. Yet, in the midst of all this darkness, there exists a light of beauty and a love of art and learning. It is the hope for something better that burns in the breast of the slave and the fast-food worker. It is extremely persistent. People of good will have striven for, died for, this better thing throughout history. It is the warmth they can't bear to see extinguished by the cold.
In my own life, I've experienced this hope and never lost it even as things got tough. I won't recite my adversities here; they have been on par with what the most of you have struggled through. It's just that I have not, so far, let go of hope, nor the appreciation of those good things in life that sustain me--love of family, home, friends, beauty in all its forms. It's why I'm writing.
This is what Lost Horizon
is about. it is a depiction of that collective of beauty and higher aspirations embodied in the lamasery of Shangri-La. This place is food for the soul for those rare travelers that can appreciate it and are fortunate enough to stumble upon it. Yet Shangri-La exists as a pinpoint of light in an immense darkness. In the book, that darkness is the inevitability of World War II. Hilton describes it in words that are equally descriptive of the even greater darkness gathering in our time:But the Dark Ages that are to come will cover the whole world in a single pall; there will be neither escape nor sanctuary, save such as are too secret to be found or too humble to be noticed.
Having established Shangri-La in a place that is among the world's most remote places, it is the overriding concern of the High Lama to preserve it in the face of a world that would only destroy it, if it were discovered. I believe this to be the classic concern of the wise person and of the artist--how to preserve wisdom and beauty from destruction by the world's opulent ignorance.
The High Lama's solution is simply a small hope of escaping the notice of those larger forces of evil:...we may pray to outlive the doom that gathers around on every side...There is a chance...We may expect no mercy, but we may faintly hope for neglect.
His hope is that when the outer world has exhausted its conflicts and struggles for supremacy, the goodness of Shangri-La will emerge in a new Renaissance that will spread again over the earth.
From my studies, it seems to me that the High Lama is right. I see no better hope than for good people to promote and preserve that which is good in the receptacle of their own lives, enduring until a time comes that appreciates what they have saved. No amount of activism can force such a change on a wide scale. The resistance is too strong and homicidal. It won't be defeated in combat, but rather, out-lived, as in the tiny mammals scurrying about the feet of the dinosaurs, too small to be a meal, waiting for their time.
Mr. Hilton says:...when the strong have devoured each other, the Christian ethic may at last be fulfilled, and the meek shall inherit the earth.
You may say, "But the world could be destroyed in that time, or become uninhabitable." This is true. That's why the High Lama says it is a faint
We strive to build our own Shangri-Las. These are places where we can function at our fullest, know love, encouragement, and excitement. They are not necessarily physical places, indeed, even if expressed in a physical abode, the foundation will always be intangible and laid inside of us.
Shangri-La to me is that place where I reside with my family from where I can study, contemplate, and launch our great enterprises. It is our base, our support, our shelter. It is any place we designate as such. Lately, it is a cottage-like renovation
in southern US suburbia.
Our perfect places are delicate things. There's a passage in Lost Horizon
where the speaker is describing the beauty of a young woman, but his words are as applicable to the beauty of Shangri-La itself:Her beauty, Mallison, like all other beauty in the world, lies at the mercy of those who do not know how to value it. It is a fragile thing that can only live where fragile things are loved. Take it away from this valley and you will see it fade like an echo.
Ugliness, greed, hatred are strong and easy to come by in this world. They comprise the way of force that brutalizes all in its way to achieve a deluded security and an unquestioning faith, all without beauty.
But we are not of that way. We build our Shangri-Las in defiance of that, and out of a hope that rests on the shoulders of fragile things.
Links:My review of Lost Horizons on Goodreads