Among the works cited to be studied by anyone with novelist ambitions, The Great Gatsby is most always near the top of the list. It is considered the paragon of modern novel-writing in terms of construction--plot, characterizations, theme, symbolic imagery, etc. I have to confess, I've never read the book but I've read a lot about it and recently saw the new movie version starring Leonardo DeCaprio and Tobey Maguire.
The movie production struck me as excellent and my son (who did read the book) thought it followed Fitzgerald's story very well. It was my first introduction to the story and I can see why it's a classic. It certainly has relevance being set in the 1920s when income inequality was at levels comparable to today and fueled by stock market speculations (bubbles). At the level of the elites, that speculation was gambling just as it is today. A large source of the money they used seemed to come from alcohol bootlegging (prohibition of liquor sales being the law of the land) and the story implies that. It was a time of tremendous fun for "the rich" that only lasted about a decade before the mother of all economic corrections cut the party short.
The obscene display of wealth by the wealthy at that time is a central image in the story. The movie really brings this out. Gatsby's house is a castle and the exterior scenes around it are shot from the ground looking up. Even the interior shots are filled with architectural height and immensity. This says the rich are giants among us and is further emphasized with scenes of Nick Carroway's little gatekeeper's cottage next door to Gatsby's castle (literally in its shadow). These scenes are always looking up from Carroway's cottage or looking down from Gatsby's castle. The distance between them is apparent so we have a visual representation of the gulf that Carroway and Gatsby's friendship must span. This gulf is what was most interesting to me in watching the movie.
Life at the great homes depicted was supported by an army of servants. Dressed immaculately (in keeping with house decor), they opened doors, waited tables, ferried champagne and snacks to guests, fetched and carried and generally did anything their masters didn't want to be bothered with. There were often servants just standing at attention, stiff backed, holding a tray and waiting for orders to do something. I wonder how much these servants were paid. Was their typical day to get dressed up, go take their station in Mr. Gatsby's house, and wait for him to tell them to get him a glass of water? Or stand by a door until Mr. Gatsby or a guest looked to be wanting to go through it, so they could open it? (There's a great scene where servants are tripping over each other to open doors for a group of the rich who were arguing and storming in and out of rooms).
This is an image of mice scurrying about and making their living among the feet of dinosaurs. They survive by just doing their jobs. They may believe they are working for their "betters," or maybe just doing what they must to make a living. Some even take pride in what they do. There was one scene where a worker tells Gatsby the pool needs cleaning and he'd like to do it today. The man is not concerned with Gatsby's affairs or impressed with his huge parties. He just knows how to take care of a pool and wants to do his job. Gatsby tells him to do it tomorrow.
I think this scenelet of the pool man on Mr. Gatsby's estate is an image of American workers. Our living is facilitated by environments and situations created by the affairs of the elite who don't need jobs. We are only useful widgets to them and they give no thought to us beyond the little things they need for us to do. Perhaps we understand that perspective and just do our little jobs to make our livings. Perhaps we do our jobs with pride and take satisfaction from working them for our own sakes, irrespective of what our employers think. Perhaps we inflate our jobs and positions in our minds to levels of importance that make it more bearable for us. This would be the pool man imagining that Mr. Gatsby's main concern is his pool and that he couldn't conduct all his important business or maintain his wealth without a properly functioning pool, as provided by the pool man's work.
Perhaps most of us are like the deluded pool man. Perhaps a very few of us find a moment of clarity and walk off the job.
I'm juggling a number of literary projects, all with the eventual goal of publishing my novel, Dentville: The Ancients' Legacy
. I mentioned, a few journal entries ago, that I would begin writing a "prequel" to the Dentville
novel to give away for free as an ebook in order to promote the later, printed novel. This will be like a big prologue, or Part I, that will be of novella in length. I've drafted about the first third of this and hope to get it out sometime this summer. Yes, it delays the publication of the main work, but I believe it's essential to do it this way. And it'll be more fun for my readers.
I've also started working on a new short story. This one is not Dentville
-related but is from an idea I've mulled over for a long time. There are a number of things I want to accomplish with it, among which is the expression of my view of life as it is lived by workers in the US, especially technology workers. If you've followed my work and this website for very long, you probably have an idea of what that view is. In this story, though, I want to speak of where hope lies in that life. My classical inspiration for this tale is Voltaire's Candide
. More on this later as the story comes together.
What prompted me to begin work on the short story was my discovery of a new magazine being published in Jackson: MISSISSIPPI aesthetic
. It is a magazine about and promoting the arts in Mississippi. What caught my attention was that they publish short stories. There are five good ones in their debut issue (Spring 2013). The magazine is free, supported by advertising, so look for it in shops around town and pick up the first issue. It impressed me as a quality magazine with quality CONTENT. So I want to submit a story to them, whether the one I've described above or another.
I'm also thinking about reworking my website and my newsletter. All of this is a work-in-progress with the ultimate aim of a novel, so I adjust as I figure out what I'm trying to do. The newsletter as it is takes to much time from my other writing, so I want to make it a more "general" repository for special commentaries from me (and maybe, eventually, "guests") with links to interesting websites and articles. Something like that. I'm open to any suggestions so please feel free to comment on what you would like to see in the newsletter and/or my website.
One change I made in the last month was sending an email version of these journal entries to my newsletter subscribers. It has prompted a few more comments than I get just from the website and if you follow a blog (Lemuria Bookstore, for example) it is convenient to get entries in your Inbox as they come out. So I'll keep doing that.
Otherwise, I'll keep juggling until I get the act down pat.
You can find the MISSISSIPPI aesthetic
magazine's website here
Bookstores and public libraries have always been inviting places to me. Great stacks and shelves of books are to me like piles of Christmas gifts are to a child--mysterious heaps of stimulating potential. Even a library of books I've mostly read is like a gathering of old friends I've shared fascinating conversations with in the past. The smell of new-bindings along side worn pages in a contemplative atmosphere of beguiling artwork, taglines, and back page copy excites my sense of intrigue and possibility. It makes me notice where the bookstores and libraries are wherever I'm living.
This last Wednesday evening, Donna and I visited one of my favorite bookstores, Lemuria, to attend a booksigning for the prominent local author, John M. Floyd. He was signing his just-published book of short stories he calls, Deception
. I know John from having taken his classes on short story writing that he teaches at Milsaps College (as part of their Community Enrichment
program). That was about three years ago and those classes gave me the nudge to try to publish what I was writing. It led to, well, this. So I'm always glad to support John's work.
Donna and I arrived at Lemuria on a rainy evening and found a line from the signing table out the front door. I looked around for the stack of John's book. One of the booksellers directed us to the counter in the center of the store where three clerks were selling the book from stacks behind them. So I bought one and we took our place in line.
Lemuria is a locally-owned bookstore and seems to hold its own against the big boxes. The energy in it feels definitely less corporate to me. Shelves of books reach the ceiling in several rooms, nooks, and crannies, and other books are just stacked on the floor. The feeling is of being in a friend's house who has a tremendous library.
Lemuria also has a website and publishes a blog that I've been subscribed to for a few weeks. The booksellers make entries every week that are emailed to subscribers (I picked up on that idea and started emailing my journal to my newsletter subscribers). The blog entries are usually about books and I've found them a good source for recommendations (along with the Writer's Voice
So we browsed the stocked shelves as the line advanced. Our goal was a raised area in the back where John sat at a stuffed couch behind a table and beneath a wall full of famous author photos. Lemuria hosts booksignings and readings nearly every week and are especially supportive of local writers. I need to follow these more than I do because there are some really good local writers putting out stuff, judging by the weekly podcasts of the Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC).
When we reached the signing table, John greeted me and we had a quick "catch up" talk as he signed my copy of Deception
(I'll post a review when I finish it) and Donna snapped a few pictures (see above; that's me with John signing his book). I had not seen him since his booksigning for Clockwork
which I think was in 2010. He's always been a prolific writer so I expect he'll be publishing collections of short stories pretty regularly. That along with his Milsaps classes and other writerly activities that tend to make him mentioned in any discussion of Mississippi writers (like in a recent MAC podcast).
It was great seeing John again and browsing through Lemuria. It made me consider the art of creative writing that I try to do and how it relates to booksignings. You see, fiction writing is an art that doesn't much lend itself to observation. Watching an artist paint, or a sculptor carve on marble, or even a composer notate riffs strummed on a guitar, can be very interesting. Watching an author write, no matter how gifted the author, is kind of hard to do. I can't imagine an American Idol
type of competition for writers where the contestants sit at a desk and write while judges judge. No, the process can't be judged or even be enjoyed in observation, only in the results. Booksignings and readings are as close as authors can get to performing their art. John's got the process down pat for an "audience" of loyal followers.
Of course, reading is not a spectator sport either, though it is (or should be) tremendous fun, enlightening, and inspiring for the reader. A booksigning is, for the bibliophile, the active side to "experiencing" a book by interacting with the author. It's all the more fun in a setting that honors the literary craft and evokes that wonderful spirit of intellectual expression through the written word. And then coming away with a signed copy of a favorite book is icing.Deception page at Lemuria BooksJohn M. Floyd's Dogwood Press page and signing schedule for Deception
They attack with little or no warning and leave me in a crippled state for hours. They come at times of great distress or of vacation-level rest. Both are times when I need to function but the demon leaves me unable.
I'm talking, of course, about migraine headaches.
I've suffered with migraines all of my adult life. The first I recall was in my first years in college and seemed to be triggered by the stresses of my studies. At least that's what the doctor I saw thought. He said it was just a headache, said to not let the stress get to me, and gave me nothing to help. When the malady persisted, I went to another doctor. This one asked that I describe my complaint in writing and I did. He read it and said I was describing the classic migraine. So now I had a name for my pain but still nothing to help. So I carried on with these things hitting me from time-to-time, and living in dread of them.
If you've never had one, the "classic migraine" is frightening. When they started, I thought I was having a heart attack (at 20 years old!) or some kind of brain seizure. Here's the typical progression of an attack:
Often, the onset is heralded by a feeling of light-headedness, though that description is inadequate. It's more like a vague feeling inside my head that alters my perceptions in a very subtle way. It's just enough to feel that "something's wrong." Now I recognize that condition as a migraine start.
Sometimes the process skips right to the visual step where, as happened last Friday, my field of vision is suddenly distorted. It's like it's split and one part overlaps the other. After 30-plus years it's still hard to describe. I can look at something, like a person's face, and see them but not see their shoulders, or the cap they're wearing. If I look at a television or computer screen, I'll only be able to focus on small areas. Scanning a scene or page in small parts can help me get by during this phase of an attack, but that usually isn't sufficient because of the next phase.
Mental disorientation often follows the visual distortion. You don't get this with a normal headache and, actually, at this point I don't have a "headache." I have a light-headedness that has grown to a general confusion. It's hard to think. It's only with exhausting effort that I can form a succession of logical thoughts. Then there's some sort of breakdown to my perceptual inputs. For instance, I won't recognize words or phrases. I have been hit at times when I was trying to read something on a computer screen. It was important, so I perservered by brute force. I came to a word--a common word like "clock" or "camera"--and didn't recognize it. I stared at it, trying to figure out what word it was until I just gave up. The same has happened for phrases. I came to some phrase like, "power off the workstation" and could not understand what it meant. I stared at it and ran through all the mental processes I could muster, but I could not understand what that sequence of words wasy saying.
This mental confusion happens similtaneous to the visual distortion and is 9-times-out-of-10 accompanied by a visual effect--the aura. In fact, the onset of this aura is often my first sign of the impending migraine and may even precede the distortion. It is a segment of sparkleing points overlaying the center of my visual field. It obscures my vision along with the distortion and is there even when I close my eyes. Usually, this aura just sits in the middle of my vision until it goes away, but sometimes, it will expand in an arc that spreads to the very edges of my visual field and then disappears. In either case, when the aura goes away, the distortion goes away as well.
There have been times when, during this visual/mental distortion phase, that a side of my face and one arm will go numb (I can't remember which side, though I think it's usually the left). I mean a shot-of-novacaine type of numb. It's what made me think "heart attack" or "stroke" when it first happened. That was mostly when I was young. Since around age 30 it's been either absent or greatly reduced.
This visual/mental disorientation and any numbness typically lasts about an hour after onset.
The next phase is the actual headache. This can range from a normal, tension throbbing to a drill-through-the-forehead intense pain with a sensitivity to light and even nausea. This is the part where I start popping ibprofens (though they don't help) and get off my feet if I can. I just want to sit with my head in my hands, though my head will be sensitive to the touch (in some strange way--it's not "pain") so I usually just sit with my eyes closed until it passes. This phase is usually 1-to-2 hours long, though the after-effects can remain for many hours, even days.
This is what I lived with for years. Then one day, when the twins were small, I was thumbing through an alternative medicines book that Donna had picked up somewhere. I found a passage on migraines in it which were described as stemming from a vitamin deficiency. The recommended treatment was a supplement of vitamin C. I wanted to try this but found that pharmacies and health food stores seldom had pure vitamin C, though they usually did have "super B complex with C." So I began taking this supplement daily.
Amazingly, this vitamin treatment did it for me. Over the next ten years or so, my migraines stopped. In that time, I had maybe two that came on at moments of great stress, but they were many magnitudes less severe and didn't last long. It was a liberation. Whatever other problems arose in my life, migraine headaches were no longer among them.
So let me sing the praises of "super B complex with C" and recommend it to any fellow seekers burdened with migraines.
Now Donna had put us on a plethora of other vitamin and mineral supplements that we took for many years. When we moved to the new house at the beginning of this year, we packed our stash of supplements away and forgot about them in all the activity of moving and setting up house again. For some four months I was off my vitamin C.
Then last Friday, while on the day job, my demon struck again. A combination of trivial annoyances and anticipation of a weekend where I would be concentrating on drafting my Dentville "prequel" novella, opened a door for the fiend. He entered with all his tricks--aura, distortion, disorientation, nausea, and a drilling pain to make up for the years he missed. I sat in my office with my eyes closed, only rousing when I had to deal with the trickle of "problems" that is pretty much what my day job is. Four hours latter, I was functional again, though at a minimal level.
The next day, I dug out my vitamin C and started taking it again along with a multivitamin. I felt better, and Donna was away visiting family, so I forsook most chores and dived into drafting my story and made some solid progress on it.
The migraine hit me Friday morning. I'm writing this the following Sunday morning, and still feel some aftereffects--enough to make this journal entry a challenge. These are a low-grade headache, a very subtle light-headedness, and a feeling of a swollen sinus (though I don't have a cold). Still, it's getting better by the hour and I should be back to normal tomorrow.
Why does this matter enough to blog about?
Well, if you have a friend that complains of migraines or "sick headaches," please be sympathetic. It's for real and brings great misery to the sufferer even beyond the obvious pain. If all you can relate to is a normal headache, you are not really relating to this monster.
If you yourself suffer from migraines, then I encourage you to try daily supplements of "super B complex with C" if you haven't already. Your body needs this and will thank you.
Finally, this is about living with a very personal and physical pain. Though physical, it impacts the mental by radiating into areas that distort cognition in subtle ways that words fail to describe. You just feel it. But even when I'm hit with a strong attack and the demon is doing his worse, there's a part of me that is observing what's happening. Some other "meness" is seeing my physical pain from an objective point. It's seeing my diorientation and knows that neural pathways have been shorted and so are preventing my brain from interpreting the reality of things such as common words. My pain is pointing out that "degree of separation" that is the self-observation that so many have written about and that I have come to see as vital to personal development. It is showing me that it's there.
I've found that every event in life has its lesson, even my pain. I don't enjoy my pain. I greatly desire not to have it. But when it comes, if it must come, I pray to know the joy of getting beyond it to a higher level where I can withstand, with greater and greater strength, future onslaughts.
And to know I can say to my demon, "Thank you for your gift. Please just leave it and don't come again."
When I was a young man, long before there was an Internet, I liked to order things by catalog. Anything--clothes, books, Christmas presents--I liked the convenience of picking out something from a catalog and having it delivered to my house. The same idea drives Internet shopping today.
Somehow, I got hold of a Banana Republic catalog and I ordered a lot from it over the space of a few years. Now this was not same Banana Republic chic clothing company of today. Then, it was an expedition outfitter. At least that was their image. They sold clothes and paraphernalia that the traveller would need in the wilds of the world--khaki shirts, chino pants, boots, leather jackets, boonie hats, canvas water bags, travel journals, and so on. It was the kind of mail-order catalog that Indiana Jones would have bought his stuff from (though I don't recall any whips).
Now I wasn't a traveller, I only wanted to be. I was in fact a geeky young computer operator working the night shift for the state and going to school during the day. But the inspiration was always there to be something else.
This was probably a holdover from my childhood. In the 1960s, television was becoming more common and more commonly broadcasted old movies. On Sunday afternoons my family would gather at my aunt and uncle's farm and my brother and I would watch Tarzan and Jungle Jim movies (both starring Johnny Weissmuller) on their television. These movies were actually made in the 1930s and 40s and were inspired by novels that came out of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when colonial expeditions swept the world. While there was a dark side to that, there also arose the image of the explorer-hero.
Writers have used this image of the square-jawed, barrel-chested explorer to make popular fiction at least since Edgar Rice Burroughs, Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, James Hilton, Ernest Hemingway, H. G. Wells, and many lesser writers. When movies came along, Hollywood quickly seized on these stories and made silent features and serials on "jungle adventures" such as The Sheik, King Solomon's Mines, and Tarzan that remained popular through the advent of sound, and on to this day (judging by the success of the Indiana Jones movies).
This is the genre of storytelling that evolved through the centuries to reach me at a time when technology allowed them to be performed in visual media. As I grew older, I gravitated more towards genres of science fiction and sword-and-sorcery fantasy, but the explorer-hero protagonist lay at the root of these and remained the driving inspiration for me. I'm seeing this, and embracing it, as I reach a more mature level of life and seek to spin tales of my own.
But the appeal of the explorer-hero is not just one of action--fighting crocodiles, monsters and Nazis to find the diamond mines or lost tribe--there is a wistful side to him (yes, the image is almost always expressed as male). He is an explorer in the sense of Stanly-seeking-Livingston, wandering the globe with purpose, seeking his prize while enduring the journey's hardships and wondering at the mysteries he encounters. This aspect of the image is seen in the past popularity of travelogues and in today's Travel Channel.
So this, I think, is the basis of why I dress for a life I don't lead. I doubt I'm in any way special in this. How many of us sit in our cubicles staring at spreadsheets when a blind over a distant window is adjusted and a glint of sunlight from an azure sky hits us like an unearthed jewel. Something within, nearly forgotten, stirs and our imagination puts us on camelback, riding into Timbuktu with the salt caravan. Maybe we feel this, but we dare not speak it. It is suppressed as foolish, childish, and at odds with our contract of employment and responsibility to the clock. Dreams are for after-hours.
The old Banana Republic catalog was filled with cartoons and commentary, sometimes by a celebrity, and often on some theme. I remember one cartoon that struck me. It was of a middle-aged, overweight man, dressed in pith helmet, camp shirt, chinos and boots, looking into a mirror. The reflection he saw was of a young man, tall and muscular, ready to explore the world.
Yeah. I can relate to that.
My friend, if you can relate to this journal entry, if you feel a desire to stand on a precipice overlooking Machu Piccu or on the pitching deck of a sailboat navigating the Galapagos Islands, then you are my fellow traveller and seeker of insight into life's mysteries. I encourage you to wear your khakis this week in defiance of the corporate constraints you toil under (or whatever else sucks the life from you). And if you pass me on the street or in a hallway, then raise your hand in recognition and greet me with the password of our common vision: "Timbuktu!"
I just finished reading A Mission from God: A Memoir and Challenge for America by James Meredith. Mr. Meredith is best known for being the first black American to enroll at and graduate from the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). There is a statue of him on the campus that many students find inspirational, though he has asked the university to destroy it because he sees it as being a violation of the second commandment (from the Old Testament), "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image." Thus, the contradictions of James Meredith.
But you'll see in my review that I really liked Mr. Meredith's book. I believe it is instructional as a ground-level account of the struggle against oppression. The struggle recounted in the book is specifically against institutionalized white supremacy in Mississippi in the 1960s. Mr. Meredith's description of the attitudes of white people at the time are familiar to me, having grown up in Mississippi during that period, but his descriptions of the black people's attitudes on the flip side are especially interesting. It took me a long time to get to the point of considering the viewpoints of black people in my home-state during that time of intense racial segregation and prejudice, but Mr. Meredith's book added a lot to my education and I found much there that is familiar.
Much of the value of the book lies in comparing the civil rights struggle to the current one, which I see as going beyond civil rights and into the class struggle that is at the root of all social strife around the globe. There is a relentless pressure being exerted by our rulers to undo the advances in civil rights for minorities gained in the 1960s, as well as those for American workers in general gained after the Great Depression. I believe this is coming from a desperate attempt by the world's elite to suck up the remaining wealth and resources, and retain their positions of privilege in the face of civilization's collapse. The white supremacy that Mr. Meredith fought (and is fighting) is a facet of the oppression long held over the working masses and one of many implemented to keep those masses divided.
This current oppression is the revealed parent to that which Mr. Meredith opposed. It is rooted in financial manipulations (see my journal entry, From the Ashes) targeted by the Occupy movement and encompasses the huge income disparity, unending war, destruction of the social safety net, and destruction of the biosphere in the pursuit of fossil fuel profits. It is not discriminating in targeting victims.
The oppressive beast the Mr. Meredith fought was local to him and he found an ally in the federal government and the US Constitution. The armed might of the US government was used to force the implementation of federal law on the state of Mississippi and allow Mr. Meredith to attend the public university of his choice. It was a battle, indeed, but it was won in his (and ultimately in all of our) favor. Because of this experience, Mr. Meredith advocates the use of federal force (especially military), and the force of the law, to gain justice for all and to transform America into the world moral leader that it should be.
I agree with his sentiments, but I fear his tactics are fighting the last war. We're in a new war now (or a new phase of it) that require new tactics.
If the federal government is corrupted by global elites that control the majority of the world's wealth, then the law means only what they want it to mean and so corporations become persons and money becomes free speech, and civil rights laws and the Constitution become unenforced. In such a situation, how do you resist? The Occupy Wall Street movement was clearly a threat to the establishment and faithfully followed the nonviolent tactics of Ghandi and Martin Luther King. They captured the popular imagination and profoundly altered the public discourse of the time (2010-2011), seizing it from the elites' arguments over the federal deficit and turning it to the predatory practices and corruption of Wall Street. But they were brutally ejected from their "occupations" in the end and now exist mostly as an idea (though I'm glad even that idea is alive).
Mr. Meredith concludes his book with a call for people of good will to support the public education of children, especially disadvantaged children. But education is being destroyed as public schools are privatized and teacher's unions are broken. Public universities, like the University of Mississippi, are being starved of funds to diminish them in favor of private "technical" colleges that do no more than minimally train a minimal workforce into neoslavery.
So the great physical force that backed the Constitution in Mr. Meredith's favor in 1962, is now corrupted into the pursuit of a global war on people of color. We the people have the numbers, but they the rulers have the guns. Right is on our side, might is on theirs.
In such a situation, where is hope? For many of the civil rights leaders their hope was in faith. Faith in God, mostly, and the ultimate triumph of His justice. I think Mr. Meredith has the same faith, but he advocates that it be put into action, laying yourself on the line to get justice. He offers the criticism of nonviolence that it does no good to offer yourself to be beaten and imprisoned by your oppressors. You have to oppose them with a force that can defeat them and effect change. But what if you don't possess adequate force?
I've offered questions without answers here, mostly because Mr. Meredith's book has prompted them and I believe that's the main value of his book. I hope it prompts a lot of discussion. The book was given to me in anticipation of a talk by Mr. Meredith that the giver was trying to organize. That talk didn't materialize apparently due to the erratic schedule and mercurial tendencies of Mr. Meredith (tendencies that he himself attests to in his book). That may be just as well. Though I would have liked to have him sign my copy of his book, I suspect he wants to encourage activists ("address the troops") rather than give a talk.
You can see that Mr. Meredith's book has prompted a good deal from me. But the part of it that touched me the most was the one near the end where he talks about his time of spiritual renewal in Japan. He was there as an old man trying to make sense of his life and find a renewed inspiration and mission even as he faces his final years. His words moved me as I face mine, so let me quote him at length from page 241:
"It is very easy to lose your perspective in life. Many people throughout my life have reminded me of my good fortune to have been privileged to live "the Good Life," and the Japanese people I met during this trip made the point to me most clearly. I have never had to really work a day in my life in order to make a living. I've never had a "real job." Yet God somehow always takes care of me. Many times I would not know where it was going to come from but every time it would just be there.
"The only time I ever experienced any difficulty was when I lost faith and failed to believe in my divine responsibility. During these brief periods I felt stress and discomfort, sometimes even a little depression. But something would always happen to reinstill the fire in my heart."
There's something in his words here that I envy. Having never worked "a real job," he has lived a life unmitigated by a delusion of worth that only benefited unsympathetic "superiors." He found his own worth in living actively, with supreme self-confidence for the good of others, even when those "others" reviled him.
There's hope in that.
Oscar Wilde described a cynic as "A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."
That sentiment strikes me as being so uber descriptive of the current culture of western civilization, or at least of its elite class. It nails the attitude promoted by captialism gone rampant and expressed by the swindles of hedge-fund managers and transnational corporate CEOs. These trade in commoditized human life with no less sociopathy than the biggest slave-owners of the 19th century. Their relentless push for profit at the expense of the very life-supporting capacity of the earth puts them in a realm of evil of Biblical proportions. The end of this system is a phoenix-like self-consumption by fire, but with no prospect of rising from the ashes.
This week I listened to a podcast interview on Writer's Voice
of Les Leopold who wrote How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour
. Mr. Leopold gave one of the clearest explanations I've heard of just what the Wall Street elites did to create and deflate the housing bubble so as to make billions for themselves, their billionaire clients, and their sponsoring banks. He also makes it clear why this was indeed a swindle.
In a nutshell it's this: These hedge fund managers (hedge funds are investment instruments only for the very wealthy, where they bet on the failure of other investments) created financial instruments that were the accumulation of very bad (subprime) mortgages (and other "junk" loans) that were then sold as good investments to whoever would buy them (retirement funds, banks, companies, even a school district). By any reasonable assessment of the root loans of these instruments, they were guaranteed to fail. That is, they would never be paid back. So the managers then created their hedge funds that would pay billions if the subprime mortgage-based investments failed. They certainly did, and the managers and their investors, banks, etc, raked in billions in fees and fund payoffs. This was a deliberate scheme that worked so well that the European banks wanted in and they waylaid the EU after the same fashion.
Now all this has long been written about in the alternate news and activist circles. Knowledge of the swindle is what led the Occupy movement to correctly identify Wall Street as the source of the oppression being visited on the 99% of the world's citizenry. Mr. Leopold just does a good job of expressing it. In doing so, he reveals the lie in the Fox "News" line of the housing bubble burst being the result of people foolishly taking on loans they could not afford. The truth is that in order to create mortgages guaranteed to default, banks made loans to anyone who was breathing and wanted a place to live.
The answer to the question of Mr. Leopold's book title is that you make a million dollars an hour by becoming a hedge fund manager. Some make around 2 million an hour. He makes the point that this work requires a lessening of any moral scrupples the aspirant manager may bring to the job. The basic operating principal of the hedge funds is at best immoral and certainly illegal. But it was done, is being done, and is why many commentators say the world's economic system is based on fraud. It is a fraud that bankrupts countries and sends millions of families into poverty and suicidal desparation (re: Greece, Spain, Ireland), but it enriches the 1% very nicely.
I also read an interview
this week of John Perkins, who wrote Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
. In his book, Mr. Perkins describes the life he lived as an agent of the elite to facilitate the kind of swindles and economic maneuverings described in Mr. Leopold's book. The two books are probably essential to an understanding of the dysfunctional way the world works now.
That working is the operation of supranational entities--associations of corporations, banks, economic organizations--that literally seek to run the world in a way that enriches themselves and serves only their interests. They slay whole populations with sanctions, policies of austerity, and, as a last but enjoyable resort, with outright military conquest. Even now they are laying seige to their competitors, Russia and China, and fighting proxy wars with them in Africa and the Middle East, and provoking war with North Korea--a country held in a choke-hold of economic sanctions for 60 years--to eliminate a buffer to both.
This is what I gleaned from my week's readings and listenings. The implication for those of us at the street level is increasing difficulty to live as well as we're used to, and the loss of common-right essentials--health care, education, and retirement.
But the Achilles Heel of the global elites is the very predatory economics they worship. Their eastern competitors are attacking the global reserve status of the dollar, which will eventually crash the finances of the west. The debt component of the total money supply will also collapse as populations come to understand it is based on nothing and bank runs will result. And driving it all, is the depletion of fossil fuel inputs that ultimately create the wealth of our industrial/technical civilization.
On further thought, I believe something will arise from the ashes, but it won't be another phoenix. It will be a smaller, more localized life in a much bigger, less hospitable, world.
There are myriad things I could journal about, and some weeks it's hard to focus on just one. This is one of those weeks. I've been working around the demands of the day job, managing this web site, and trying to get Dentville: The Ancients' Legacy
written. Plus, I'm still dealing with the financial aftermath of our house purchase and we're still settling in. I feel a bit scattered. Whenever I'm feeling like this, it often helps to just work my To-Do list to get back my focus.
So let me just look over my list and pick out a few items you might find amusing.
One thing I watch pretty closely is the statistics for this website and I see that visits to it have significantly increased--this last month especially. March will end with the highest number of site visits, in total and per day, that I've recorded so far. It's also been a pretty strong month for downloads of my stories (from my Smashwords site). I take these two statistics together as an indication of new visitors and I'm grateful for that. I think it's a result of my "networking" efforts and, I hope, some favorable comments from regular followers. So this might be a good time to talk about what you'll be seeing from me in the coming months.
Of course, my biggest project is the Dentville
novel and that's my primary emphasis. I work on it every day and am currently trying to nail down the storyboard. Supporting that effort, along with the rest of my work, is what this website is about. In doing so, I would like to add some life to my Dentville
page in some way. One way I've considered is to offer "Dentville Character Cards
," where every so often I place a downloadable PDF (Acrobat file format) of a character from the story with an illustration, basic facts about him/her, and strengths and weaknesses. It would print as a 4x6 index card with a front and back. The format would be like a video game character sheet, with numeric values for abilities, armor, weapons, gear, etc. (You can let me know what you think of this idea on the "Leave a Message" form at the bottom of the Home page, or just leave a comment on this journal entry).
This week I was hit with an inspiration for Dentville
promotion that came out of a discussion with Donna. I was thinking about writing a Dentville
prequel story and publish it as an ebook on Smashwords. It would be a similar thing to what I'm doing for the newsletters but much more expansive. In fact, I sketched out 90 percent of the story one day and it looks like it should come out to novella length. The story will be set about 2 years before the events of Dentville: The Ancients' Legacy
, and feature many of the same characters. I'm very enthused about this little project and will be talking more about it in the coming weeks.
The next issue of The Dentville Stories Newsletter
should be out in May. The featured Dentville
character will be an antagonist this time (not a "bad guy" as such--I hope to make such distinctions more nuanced than that). I've already asked Debra for a sketch and begun to think about the flash fiction and supporting articles. If you're not a subscriber to the newsletter, then please sign up on the Newsletter page
. It's FREE and will provide the background and lore that will add to your enjoyment of the Dentville
I've mentioned before that the first part of this year was dominated for Donna and I by the purchase of a new house. I wrote about that in a journal entry, A Perfect House
. We've come a long way in getting settled in the place and it looks like it will work out very well indeed. It's about time for another "house" journal entry where I talk about the concepts of home, the homestead, the current buying process, etc. I've been holding off on it, though, waiting for the video to be shot. It seems our mortgage lender likes to make and post videos of successful, representative transactions and they want to do one about our house (or that includes our house). That's supposed to happen in a couple of weeks. I thought I could do my journal entry then and include a link to the video.
The other side of writing is reading and I try to keep a book on the bedstand all the time. Some books I linger over and really try to digest. This was the case with Daniel Quinn's Ishmael
books of which I recently finished the sequel, My Ishmael
, and posted a review of it on GoodReads (see last week's journal entry).
Right now I'm reading A Mission from God
by James Meredith (with William Doyle). The book is Mr. Meredith's account of the turmoil he (and the country) went through as he became the first black person to enroll at the University of Mississippi. The extent of that turmoil is amazing in the recounting, and Meredith's account is verified in Robert Dallek's An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963
, which I reviewed here
. This occurred in 1962 when I was like 6 years old. Even so, I can attest to the general attitudes Meredith describes. I started reading the book in anticipation of attending a talk to be given by Mr. Meredith in my area. It looks like that's not going to happen, though. Even so, I'll complete the book and post a review of it.
The next book on my "To Read" list is Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell. I didn't see the movie, which I understand doesn't do justice to the book, but the book has gotten rave reviews and I'm very interested to see how Mr. Mitchell handles the interweaving of 6 complex plotlines covering 500 years time.
So there's a little glimpse into my world. I'm busy and there's much more to do. I'll keep working my list and pushing ahead until there's a first Dentville
novel. I hope you'll find value in my work and come along for the ride.
I've posted a review of Daniel Quinn's, My Ishmael
, on GoodReads (see the links at the bottom of this journal entry). I found this book, and its prequel Ishmael
, so enlightening that I reread both several times (since our Mexico trip) just trying to totally grasp and internalize what they're saying. So I've been pouring over both books for about a year.
Some fans of the Ishmael
books call them "life changing." I won't go that far but I did find them brilliantly enlightening. What I got from them was an insight into the origins of humanity's deadly, soul-crushing culture of this current age. They helped me understand what it is about modern life that I find so odious. Even so, it was hard to write a review. There is so much there, and so much to consider that springs from these books, that it was difficult to confine it all to a book review. But I have managed to do so, and I think I did it a bit better in my review for My Ishmael
than for Ishmael
. I tried to write both without spoilers, hoping to prompt my readers' curiousities and allow them to discover the books' insights for themselves.
I believe these books can lay a great foundation for someone who is looking to see through our culture's delusions and become a seeker after truth. They are excellent places to start, and then there are many helps to guide you further. I found that Jared Diamond's book, Guns, Germs, and Steel
, made more sense to me after reading Ishmael,
and, though I was critical of it, I believe it is a good followup to Mr. Quinn.
In seeking further, I would recommend checking out the websites and writings of the people on my blogroll. Mr. Kunstler will provide insight into the state of our civilization and help you see why it can't go on as it is. Infinite growth within a finite system just isn't possible. His World Made by Hand
novels are an entertaining examination of what our near future will likely be.
Whitley Strieber is an accomplished writer and something of a controversial figure. His work centers on considerations of the paranormal and attracts a "New Age" audience, but don't write him off for that. He's an intellectual with an open mind that is not afraid to keep a question open.
Richard Heinberg is a leading authority on climate change and peak oil. He wrote the seminal work on peak oil, The Party's Over
, that provides an excellent base for understanding what peak oil is, and what diminishing fossil resources means for humanity.
This is just the barest smattering of ideas, writers, and books that I think could be assembled into a collection that I would call, "Help for the Seeker." Hmmm, this could be a seed for a future journal entry.
books posit that we live in a "Taker" culture that is oppressive. Dealing with that oppressive culture and its hierarchy that demands obeisance is at the root of class struggle. This week I discovered an author, James W Douglass, who wrestles with this issue in several books about historical figures who withstood the hierarchy and were killed by it (JFK, Martin Luther King, Ghandi). I listened to Mr. Douglass talk about his books and ideas in an interview posted as a podcast on a great website: Writer's Voice
. He speaks eloquently on a matter that I think is essential for today's seekers to understand.
And speaking of podcasts, I recently posted a "quick survey" on my Facebook site that I'll repeat here. In the last few weeks I have discovered podcasts. I've been downloading some from Mr. Strieber, Mr. Kunstler, Writer's Voice
, Uprising Radio
, and even the Mississippi Arts Commission. I've especially liked the ones that are interviews with writers and found them inspiring.
I like the idea of podcasts--they're basically radio programs--and I understand from my sons that they are quite popular among young people. I expect that's because they use their smartphones for everything and for those that want more than just music, podcasts are a natural.
So I'm considering making podcast versions of my weekly journal entries and of my short stories. Here's my survey:QUICK SURVEY:
Would you be interested in podcast (audio) versions of my journal entries and my short stories?
If so, would you more likely listen to them on a computer or a mobile device (iPad, iPhone, etc)?
You can reply with the contact form on my website (bottom of the home page on the regular site, or the "Leave a Message" page on the mobile site). Any "Likes" for this journal entry I'll take as an endorsement for the podcasts.
So God bless you, my fellow seeker. Please stay in touch.
LINKS:My review of My Ishmael
My review of Ishmael
JFK and the Unspeakable by James W Douglass
Writer's Voice website (podcasts)
My review of James Kunstler's The Witch of Hebron
My review of Whitley Strieber's Solving the Communion Enigma
My Facebook site
Uprising--subverting the airwaves
"The name Foy
in Ireland is derived from the native Gaelic O'Fiaich that has a number of variants including Fay, Fee, Fey and even Hunt. Descendants bearing the name today can be found mostly in Counties Fermanagh, Armagh, Cavan and Mayo."
Being descended from the Foys on the paternal side and the Hunts on the maternal side makes it a pretty good bet that I could trace my family line back to old Eire. I first realized my name had Irish origins many years ago when my mother received a promotional packet by mail from a travel company that was sponsoring a "family reunion" of the Foys in Ireland. She didn't go, but I thought it strange that a name that sounds more Chinese than European was Irish.
I've confirmed this a few time since by asking at a local fair "coat of arms" both and by doing some Internet research. The latter produced the quote at the beginning of this journal entry.
My awareness of my Irish origins grew over the years as well as an appreciation of the Celtic culture behind it. The Celts were a people that first inhabited Ireland and eventually spread through the far northlands and even down into Europe. The Gauls that Caesar conquered in Spain were Celts, as were the Picts of Scotland that the Romans never conquered.
The culture of the pagan Celts is very interesting and inspires stories and art to this day. The idea of a European culture that lived short, brutal lives, so close to the rhythms of nature that they worshiped it, is compelling. They had great oral traditions of storytelling that were eventually written down. They were fierce warriors that the Romans took note of as they fought them, and even passed down accounts of them (like the Iceni warrior-queen, Boudica
). And, being farmers and close to the land, they watched the seasons and marked the solstices with aligned stones filtering sunlight, such as at Newgrange
Of course, they also practiced slavery and human sacrifice, which is not cool.
That was pagan Ireland. When Christianity reached them, principally through the work of Saint Patrick, they converted. It seems that the Celts found in Christianity a better way, and they converted as a nation just by changing their beliefs (for the most part) rather than being forced. This is a pretty rare instance of a national conversion that Thomas Cahill describes beautifully in his book, How the Irish Saved Civilization
(which inspired the old TV series, Roar
I also found Celtic inspiration in writing Dentville: The Ancients' Legacy
. I drew from the idea that people compelled to live off the land, up-close and intimate, will once again attune themselves to the cycles of nature and appreciate the spiritual dimensions that permeate all things, because there is less that distracts them from this fundamental. And there will be those wholly wrapped up in the physical who will want only to control others, so they can work less and exploit more.
Living a harsh life close to nature and appreciating the spiritual was never a life mode exclusive to the Celts. Every preindustrial, agricultural culture had their version of it. It's just that the Irish Celts are the ones I relate to.
Today, the Irish are completely (as a people) Catholic and completely dominated by the great Western Empire. Unfortunately, they are on the disintegrating edge of the empire and suffering under the Neoliberal austerity that is spreading as a blight on humanity. But they will persevere because they are Irish.
So I encourage you to visit an Irish pub, raise a few mugs of Guinness beer, have a shot or two of Tullamore Dew, and watch Riverdance
We're all Irish today.
* * *
Keep up with the progress of my Celtic-inspired novel-in-the-works, Dentville: The Ancients' Legacy
, and read flash-fictions about the major characters by subscribing to my FREE Newsletter: The Dentville Stories Newsletter. Either fill in the short form on the Newsletter page or text RAYSWRITES to 22828 from your cell phone.