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My thoughts after reading Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee


The Barbarians are us—how many times do the people with power go out to the wilderness and feel compelled to conquer and dominate—and then dare to torture and humiliate innocent people—and then—only then—when it happens to them (justly deserved, what goes around comes around, baby), they are appalled by the cruelty that humans are capable of when unchecked—the rule of law and justice ignored.
Waiting for the Barbarians is a simple story—yet with incredible depth that will shake you to your core—you’d have to be heartless not to be moved. I flinched a great deal—immersed in sadness—the writing is gorgeous—there is beauty in ugliness when it’s done right.  The Magistrate of an outpost of an unnamed land that is part of the simply named Empire, the world is obviously described by its landscape—the oasis, the desert, the lake, the reeds, the mountains—the people mostly unnamed, the girl, the child, the grandson of the cook—of course the cook, only Colonel Joll, an official from the Third Bureau of the Civil Guard from the Capital, is named. He’s the bad guy you see—made bad ass because his main feature happens to be the sunglasses he wears—the obstructed view into his eyes makes him unnerving and the reference to how these new inventions prevent wrinkles around the eyes. He’s arrogant and vain, never a good sign. The main character, referred to only as the Magistrate, is an elder, he knows the people, the town, this land, he has an interest in culture and artifacts found in the ruins, and he has an understanding of the aboriginals and the nomad “barbarians” that no one from the Capital could possibly comprehend as they do not share in the experience. The Magistrate soon finds himself a victim of his knowledge, of his experience, of his interests, and of his serenity. He is accused of disloyalty—treason. The human spirit can be broken and the body abused beyond recognition, yet life goes on in spite of pain, in spite of horrors that no human should have to ever endure.
It seemed troubling to me to be reading this book while the world we live in is currently so full of unrest, Ukraine, Syria, Palestine, Israel, Iraq, our border with Mexico is a landscape of human struggle, and within our own United States—an Empire in its own right with far reaching influence all over the world—there is unrest in a Missouri community called Ferguson in which a white police officer shot and killed a black teenager one summer night—initially because he was walking in the middle of the street, drawing attention to himself—a senseless death. No matter what he had allegedly done before or during the incident that wound up taking his life, Michael Brown did not deserve to die like that—not like that. No one does.
The Barbarians are us—humans consciously do harm to another human being if they feel it is just—justice. Justice is blind—and sometimes, she looks the other way when she catches a glimpse from under the blindfold—the rule of law manipulated by those in power. It’s terrifying because the power can shift and suddenly the good guys are bad guys and the ones formerly known as bad guys are the good guys, and suddenly, life is not so simple. The Barbarians are at the gate—it depends on who you are, who the “barbarians” are in your eyes—in your mind.
First I get lies, you see—this is what happens—first lies, then pressure, then more lies, then more pressure, then the break, then more pressure, then the truth…Pain is truth; all else is subject to doubt…The Empire does not require that its servants love each other, merely that they perform their duty. P. 6
I am a country magistrate, a responsible official in the service of the Empire, serving out my days on this lazy frontier, waiting to retire…When I pass away I hope to merit three lines of small print in the Imperial gazette. I have not asked for more than a quiet life in quiet times. P. 9
The space about us here is merely space, no meaner or grander than the space above the shacks and tenements and temples and offices of the capital. Space is space, life is life, everywhere the same. P. 18
I know somewhat too much; and from this knowledge, once one has been infected, there seems to be no recovering. I ought never to have taken my lantern to see what was going on in the hut by the granary. On the other hand, there was no way, once I had picked up the lantern, for me to put it down again. The knot loops in upon itself; I cannot find the end. P. 23

My thoughts after reading Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee

The Barbarians are us—how many times do the people with power go out to the wilderness and feel compelled to conquer and dominate—and then dare to torture and humiliate innocent people—and then—only then—when it happens to them (justly deserved, what goes around comes around, baby), they are appalled by the cruelty that humans are capable of when unchecked—the rule of law and justice ignored.

Waiting for the Barbarians is a simple story—yet with incredible depth that will shake you to your core—you’d have to be heartless not to be moved. I flinched a great deal—immersed in sadness—the writing is gorgeous—there is beauty in ugliness when it’s done right.  The Magistrate of an outpost of an unnamed land that is part of the simply named Empire, the world is obviously described by its landscape—the oasis, the desert, the lake, the reeds, the mountains—the people mostly unnamed, the girl, the child, the grandson of the cook—of course the cook, only Colonel Joll, an official from the Third Bureau of the Civil Guard from the Capital, is named. He’s the bad guy you see—made bad ass because his main feature happens to be the sunglasses he wears—the obstructed view into his eyes makes him unnerving and the reference to how these new inventions prevent wrinkles around the eyes. He’s arrogant and vain, never a good sign. The main character, referred to only as the Magistrate, is an elder, he knows the people, the town, this land, he has an interest in culture and artifacts found in the ruins, and he has an understanding of the aboriginals and the nomad “barbarians” that no one from the Capital could possibly comprehend as they do not share in the experience. The Magistrate soon finds himself a victim of his knowledge, of his experience, of his interests, and of his serenity. He is accused of disloyalty—treason. The human spirit can be broken and the body abused beyond recognition, yet life goes on in spite of pain, in spite of horrors that no human should have to ever endure.

It seemed troubling to me to be reading this book while the world we live in is currently so full of unrest, Ukraine, Syria, Palestine, Israel, Iraq, our border with Mexico is a landscape of human struggle, and within our own United States—an Empire in its own right with far reaching influence all over the world—there is unrest in a Missouri community called Ferguson in which a white police officer shot and killed a black teenager one summer night—initially because he was walking in the middle of the street, drawing attention to himself—a senseless death. No matter what he had allegedly done before or during the incident that wound up taking his life, Michael Brown did not deserve to die like that—not like that. No one does.

The Barbarians are us—humans consciously do harm to another human being if they feel it is just—justice. Justice is blind—and sometimes, she looks the other way when she catches a glimpse from under the blindfold—the rule of law manipulated by those in power. It’s terrifying because the power can shift and suddenly the good guys are bad guys and the ones formerly known as bad guys are the good guys, and suddenly, life is not so simple. The Barbarians are at the gate—it depends on who you are, who the “barbarians” are in your eyes—in your mind.

First I get lies, you see—this is what happens—first lies, then pressure, then more lies, then more pressure, then the break, then more pressure, then the truthPain is truth; all else is subject to doubt…The Empire does not require that its servants love each other, merely that they perform their duty. P. 6

I am a country magistrate, a responsible official in the service of the Empire, serving out my days on this lazy frontier, waiting to retire…When I pass away I hope to merit three lines of small print in the Imperial gazette. I have not asked for more than a quiet life in quiet times. P. 9

The space about us here is merely space, no meaner or grander than the space above the shacks and tenements and temples and offices of the capital. Space is space, life is life, everywhere the same. P. 18

I know somewhat too much; and from this knowledge, once one has been infected, there seems to be no recovering. I ought never to have taken my lantern to see what was going on in the hut by the granary. On the other hand, there was no way, once I had picked up the lantern, for me to put it down again. The knot loops in upon itself; I cannot find the end. P. 23

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My thoughts about Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Invisible Cities is full of a poetic sense of place—presented as Marco Polo’s detailed accounts about cities in Kublai Kahn’s crumbling empire—I see them as I read them, each chapter contains truths gleaned from the observations of the human experience. It is a book of layers—intricate, sedimentary points of view—cities constructed of the ephemeral and ethereal –cities and memory, cities and desire, and signs, and names—thin cities, trading cities, continuous cities, hidden cities—cities and eyes, cities and the sky, cities and the dead—lyrical and imaginative. Each peopled with the living and dead, rich and poor, happy or sad, and each person experiences life based on what they have going on within their own skin. The details are extraordinary and lovely—even the ugly is tenderly described, there can be beauty in ugliness if you tell it right.
John Gardner called Calvino a Fabulist—one of the best—I have to agree, he knew how to tell a good story or depending on the way you look at it—a darn good lie. Kublai Kahn called out Marco Polo at one point none too happy about being fed bullshit—Marco Polo calmly and ever so politely told him to shut the fuck up and listen—or not. He didn’t have to tell him anything, he could go anywhere to tell his stories, so the Great Khan let him continue as they mused together about their own existence and perused maps of the world as they knew it—or not. (Yes, it can make your head hurt thinking about it.)
Goodness knows many stories are truths fed through veins full of the blood of lies. Calvino trespasses beyond the conventional telling of a story, running headlong into meadows and streets of metaphysical experiences—the uncertainty of existence, the limitations of reality do make it seem pointless at times, yet the whimsy of exploring outside the usual parameters and delving into the imagination is a beautiful thing if you can grasp it—hold on tight—you are now a mental traveler, step off the sidewalk, walk in the grass—enjoy the view, it is profound standing on the cliff edge of the things you never seen before—or thought. The intensity of Calvino’s writing is for dreamers who are awake—more awake than others—sometimes too much knowledge paralyzes our natural innocence—even as I read, I heard voices of naysayers squawking , “No, that’s not how it is—where it is—what it is—where are you going with this? Come on, man, knock me over the head with the truth of what was…” Sometimes reading a good book is about trust. I have learned to step into a Calvino book as if ignorant of everything, and simply believed—there is more joy this way.  A good writer is a master of telling yarns. A yarn—I always loved that term—imagining that a story is a big ball of yarn, twisted and pulled, some layers tight, some loose, overlapping every which way, burying the beginning, but the end is loose and likely to come unraveled if not tucked in neatly or already attached to the knitting needle—taking shape. A ball of yarn—a novel in the making.
…Isidora, therefore, is the city of his dreams: with one difference. The dreamed-of city contained him as a young man; he arrives at Isidora in his old age. In the square there is a wall where the old men sit and watch the young go by; he is seated in a row with them. Desires are already memories.—Page 8
It is the mood of the beholder which gives the city of Zemrude its form. If you go by whistling, your nose a-tilt behind the whistle, you will know it from below: window sills, flapping curtains, fountains. If you walk along hanging your head, your nails dug into the palms of your hands, your gaze will be held on the ground, in the gutters, the manhole covers, the fish scales, wastepaper. You cannot say that one aspect of the city is truer than the other…—Page 66
In Raissa, life is not happy. People wring their hands as they walk in the streets, curse the crying children, lean on the railings over the river and press their fists to their temples…Inside the houses it is worse, and you do not have to enter to learn this: in the summer the windows resound with quarrels and broken dishes…And yet, in Raissa, at every moment there is a child in a window who laughs seeing a dog that has jumped on a shed to bite into a piece of polenta dropped by a stonemason who has shouted from the top of the scaffolding, “Darling, let me dip into it,” to a young serving maid…Also in Raissa, city of sadness, there runs an invisible thread that binds one living being to another for a moment, then unravels, then is stretched again between moving points as it draws new and rapid patterns so that at every second the unhappy city contains a happy city unaware of its own existence. –these four pieces are smatterings from pages 148-149.
In Beersheba’s beliefs there is an element of truth and one of error. It is true that the city is accompanied by two projections of itself, one celestial and one infernal; but the citizens are mistaken about their consistency…This is the celestial city, and in its heavens long-tailed comets fly past, released to rotate in space from the only free and happy action of the citizens of Beersheba, a city which, only when it shits, is not miserly, calculating, greedy.—these two pieces are from pages 112-113
From my words you will have reached the conclusion that the real Berenice is a temporal succession of different cities, alternately just and unjust. But what I wanted to warn you about is something else: all the future Berenices are already present in this instant, wrapped one within the other, confined, crammed, inextricable.—Page 163
I could fiddle around with more quotes from dog-eared pages, but I will stop here—I highly recommend this book and Calvino’s other works just because they are good for you—for us to read and enjoy them for what they are—he has left this world behind, but he left us with these beautiful treasures. What a gift he was given, and what a gift he gave to us.

My thoughts about Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Invisible Cities is full of a poetic sense of place—presented as Marco Polo’s detailed accounts about cities in Kublai Kahn’s crumbling empire—I see them as I read them, each chapter contains truths gleaned from the observations of the human experience. It is a book of layers—intricate, sedimentary points of view—cities constructed of the ephemeral and ethereal –cities and memory, cities and desire, and signs, and names—thin cities, trading cities, continuous cities, hidden cities—cities and eyes, cities and the sky, cities and the dead—lyrical and imaginative. Each peopled with the living and dead, rich and poor, happy or sad, and each person experiences life based on what they have going on within their own skin. The details are extraordinary and lovely—even the ugly is tenderly described, there can be beauty in ugliness if you tell it right.

John Gardner called Calvino a Fabulist—one of the best—I have to agree, he knew how to tell a good story or depending on the way you look at it—a darn good lie. Kublai Kahn called out Marco Polo at one point none too happy about being fed bullshit—Marco Polo calmly and ever so politely told him to shut the fuck up and listen—or not. He didn’t have to tell him anything, he could go anywhere to tell his stories, so the Great Khan let him continue as they mused together about their own existence and perused maps of the world as they knew it—or not. (Yes, it can make your head hurt thinking about it.)

Goodness knows many stories are truths fed through veins full of the blood of lies. Calvino trespasses beyond the conventional telling of a story, running headlong into meadows and streets of metaphysical experiences—the uncertainty of existence, the limitations of reality do make it seem pointless at times, yet the whimsy of exploring outside the usual parameters and delving into the imagination is a beautiful thing if you can grasp it—hold on tight—you are now a mental traveler, step off the sidewalk, walk in the grass—enjoy the view, it is profound standing on the cliff edge of the things you never seen before—or thought. The intensity of Calvino’s writing is for dreamers who are awake—more awake than others—sometimes too much knowledge paralyzes our natural innocence—even as I read, I heard voices of naysayers squawking , “No, that’s not how it is—where it is—what it is—where are you going with this? Come on, man, knock me over the head with the truth of what was…” Sometimes reading a good book is about trust. I have learned to step into a Calvino book as if ignorant of everything, and simply believed—there is more joy this way.  A good writer is a master of telling yarns. A yarn—I always loved that term—imagining that a story is a big ball of yarn, twisted and pulled, some layers tight, some loose, overlapping every which way, burying the beginning, but the end is loose and likely to come unraveled if not tucked in neatly or already attached to the knitting needle—taking shape. A ball of yarn—a novel in the making.

…Isidora, therefore, is the city of his dreams: with one difference. The dreamed-of city contained him as a young man; he arrives at Isidora in his old age. In the square there is a wall where the old men sit and watch the young go by; he is seated in a row with them. Desires are already memories.—Page 8

It is the mood of the beholder which gives the city of Zemrude its form. If you go by whistling, your nose a-tilt behind the whistle, you will know it from below: window sills, flapping curtains, fountains. If you walk along hanging your head, your nails dug into the palms of your hands, your gaze will be held on the ground, in the gutters, the manhole covers, the fish scales, wastepaper. You cannot say that one aspect of the city is truer than the other…—Page 66

In Raissa, life is not happy. People wring their hands as they walk in the streets, curse the crying children, lean on the railings over the river and press their fists to their temples…Inside the houses it is worse, and you do not have to enter to learn this: in the summer the windows resound with quarrels and broken dishes…And yet, in Raissa, at every moment there is a child in a window who laughs seeing a dog that has jumped on a shed to bite into a piece of polenta dropped by a stonemason who has shouted from the top of the scaffolding, “Darling, let me dip into it,” to a young serving maid…Also in Raissa, city of sadness, there runs an invisible thread that binds one living being to another for a moment, then unravels, then is stretched again between moving points as it draws new and rapid patterns so that at every second the unhappy city contains a happy city unaware of its own existence. –these four pieces are smatterings from pages 148-149.

In Beersheba’s beliefs there is an element of truth and one of error. It is true that the city is accompanied by two projections of itself, one celestial and one infernal; but the citizens are mistaken about their consistency…This is the celestial city, and in its heavens long-tailed comets fly past, released to rotate in space from the only free and happy action of the citizens of Beersheba, a city which, only when it shits, is not miserly, calculating, greedy.—these two pieces are from pages 112-113

From my words you will have reached the conclusion that the real Berenice is a temporal succession of different cities, alternately just and unjust. But what I wanted to warn you about is something else: all the future Berenices are already present in this instant, wrapped one within the other, confined, crammed, inextricable.—Page 163

I could fiddle around with more quotes from dog-eared pages, but I will stop here—I highly recommend this book and Calvino’s other works just because they are good for you—for us to read and enjoy them for what they are—he has left this world behind, but he left us with these beautiful treasures. What a gift he was given, and what a gift he gave to us.

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My thoughts about Bone by Fae Myenne Ng
We were a family of three girls. By Chinese standards, that wasn’t lucky. In Chinatown, everyone knew our story. Outsiders jerked their chins, looked at us, shook their heads. We heard things. (p. 1)
Ona, the middle daughter, jumped off the Nam. Leila, her older sister, journeys backwards in her memory about what happened in Salmon Alley, trying to grasp the why—how come? The story is told in a manner that is like a non-linear slide through time, reading the past through Lei’s recollections—or perhaps, the book is in order if it is read starting with the last chapter, I only think of this because Chinese is read back to front/ right to left, if this was intentional, it is an provocative element for telling the story. Either way—it is unsettling to arrive at the beginning of the next chapter and realize it isn’t the continuation of the one previous (which some readers have complained that it’s annoying—I’m flexible as a reader so I’m not likely to get too ruffled over such things, I caught on quick that it is meant to be so.) This is how I experienced the book—life is befuddling—we muddle through, some of us do a little better than others, but not everyone leaves this world unscathed—not everyone has the coping skills to handle most of the shit that life slings at us, much of our time is spent dwelling on what happened to get us to HERE, the present. The past is our bones, our foundation—for good or bad. Our minds wander and trip through memories of a bunch of shit we cannot change—we live with it and move on to the new version of normal.
To have a sister (or daughter) commit suicide is an unthinkable loss—that has to be one of the harshest losses for a family to endure. For the loved ones, there is no answer why, not really. For Ona to suddenly make the choice to end her life—there was no time to think about how taking her life will affect those left behind—chances are, if she did think of it, she wouldn’t have jumped. Who knows how many times she was on the edge before she finally stepped off. No one knew, no one had a clue, no one expected it. She’s gone and all that’s left are questions. The whole family struggles with explanation and understanding—they are two distinct constructs of comprehension—one is a revelation, the other a perception—the explanation would be painful if Ona herself documented her reasons in a note—something concrete that could be pointed to THERE, the reason, but there is no explanation. The understanding—this is a sympathetic discovery that each of them must face on their own terms as individuals. The family is left with tatters of old world superstitions such as the bones of Leon’s “paper father” that have not been put to rest in China as promised or it is a punishment for Mah’s infidelity. Family strife/ family love—families travel on journeys both pleasant and unpleasant—it is part of the human experience.
Here’s another bone for the gossipmongers…(p. 1)
I must note here, the symbolic meaning of bones—mortality (of course) and then there are our skeletons in the closet—but it is truth as in the truest part of ourselves that are lasting, our bones will last long after our flesh is gone. Our bones are the memories that we leave behind.
“To bones.”
“Bones,” I repeated. This was a funny that got sad, and knowing it, I kept laughing… (page 30)

“Bones are sweeter than you know,” she [Mah] always said…”Clean bones…no waste.” (page 31)

Bone is spare—concise language, it is sad and sweet, it’s beautiful.

My thoughts about Bone by Fae Myenne Ng

We were a family of three girls. By Chinese standards, that wasn’t lucky. In Chinatown, everyone knew our story. Outsiders jerked their chins, looked at us, shook their heads. We heard things. (p. 1)

Ona, the middle daughter, jumped off the Nam. Leila, her older sister, journeys backwards in her memory about what happened in Salmon Alley, trying to grasp the why—how come? The story is told in a manner that is like a non-linear slide through time, reading the past through Lei’s recollections—or perhaps, the book is in order if it is read starting with the last chapter, I only think of this because Chinese is read back to front/ right to left, if this was intentional, it is an provocative element for telling the story. Either way—it is unsettling to arrive at the beginning of the next chapter and realize it isn’t the continuation of the one previous (which some readers have complained that it’s annoying—I’m flexible as a reader so I’m not likely to get too ruffled over such things, I caught on quick that it is meant to be so.) This is how I experienced the book—life is befuddling—we muddle through, some of us do a little better than others, but not everyone leaves this world unscathed—not everyone has the coping skills to handle most of the shit that life slings at us, much of our time is spent dwelling on what happened to get us to HERE, the present. The past is our bones, our foundation—for good or bad. Our minds wander and trip through memories of a bunch of shit we cannot change—we live with it and move on to the new version of normal.

To have a sister (or daughter) commit suicide is an unthinkable loss—that has to be one of the harshest losses for a family to endure. For the loved ones, there is no answer why, not really. For Ona to suddenly make the choice to end her life—there was no time to think about how taking her life will affect those left behind—chances are, if she did think of it, she wouldn’t have jumped. Who knows how many times she was on the edge before she finally stepped off. No one knew, no one had a clue, no one expected it. She’s gone and all that’s left are questions. The whole family struggles with explanation and understanding—they are two distinct constructs of comprehension—one is a revelation, the other a perception—the explanation would be painful if Ona herself documented her reasons in a note—something concrete that could be pointed to THERE, the reason, but there is no explanation. The understanding—this is a sympathetic discovery that each of them must face on their own terms as individuals. The family is left with tatters of old world superstitions such as the bones of Leon’s “paper father” that have not been put to rest in China as promised or it is a punishment for Mah’s infidelity. Family strife/ family love—families travel on journeys both pleasant and unpleasant—it is part of the human experience.

Here’s another bone for the gossipmongers…(p. 1)

I must note here, the symbolic meaning of bones—mortality (of course) and then there are our skeletons in the closet—but it is truth as in the truest part of ourselves that are lasting, our bones will last long after our flesh is gone. Our bones are the memories that we leave behind.

“To bones.”

“Bones,” I repeated. This was a funny that got sad, and knowing it, I kept laughing… (page 30)

“Bones are sweeter than you know,” she [Mah] always said…”Clean bones…no waste.” (page 31)

Bone is spare—concise language, it is sad and sweet, it’s beautiful.

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Yup, this is my little book…independently published in 2009, Dusty Waters, A Ghost Story is an interesting girl… Occasionally I will “channel” my character, Dusty Waters, the guitar slinging folksinger born in the  bookend years of the Boomer Generation…so last night, I wrote a poe-em in the vein of her righteous indignation…I call it The F-Bomb and it goes like this:


Bitch—and I call you “Bitch” with affection, ya dig?
Let me tell you this—this bit of wisdom—
when you reach fifty-two years old
you will have seen, heard, and experienced enough
things to make you drop an F-bomb before 9AM,
maybe earlier than that, depending on what it is. I swear,
ever since Watergate, I can spit nails, and I was just
a youngin’ then—so imagine what I must spit now since
9/11, right? Don’t get me started on that noise—I swear
my head can just about pop off my body sometimes—I’m
sorry to say, it hasn’t gotten better. I’m sorry for you cuz
shit is fucked up and stuff, so by the time you’re
fifty-two years old, I can’t imagine—I’ll be long gone by then,
moved on to my next thing—while you are stuck here with the
mess of life, such as it is. Let me warn you, you are more vulnerable
as you get older—it isn’t just age or illness that takes you out,
it’s the young who unwittingly come in and take from you
everything you’ve worked so hard for all your adult life—
twenty-five or thirty years of experience—service—
easily undermined by someone so new they squeak when
you run your finger down ‘em—not that I’m complaining or anything,
Bitch—I’ll tell you now, I’d rather die with my boots on than sitting
behind a desk being a ‘point n’ click’ despot with nothing
better to do than shrug their shoulders, roll their eyes,
crinkle up their nose, make excuses, and become argumentative
when they can’t answer a fucking question. My question. 
Fuck it anyway—it’s not important. I’ve worked hard all my life—
I have kicked ass as a one-woman army—and I have lived a good one
in spite of the downs that can outnumber the ups on any given day.
Life is precarious enough, so, fuck people like that—they are negligible
debris in the grand scheme of things. Seriously. It doesn’t matter.
Don’t dwell on the negative—grab onto the positive and hold on tight.
In my fifty-two years, I’ve known that what matters is
my corner of the world, my family, and my home are my wealth.
Bitch, I do hope you can have a place to call home—
a patch of the world of your own—your own mind.
Know thyself—as they say—ya dig?
From one bitch to another, be good to yourself.
Be strong. Be yourself. Love and love hard—yourself,
your family, your home. Be at peace.
Drop an F-bomb as needed so your head
doesn’t pop off your body—trust me on this—no one will
show up to wash your mouth out with soap.

LJWR-8/1/2014

Yup, this is my little book…independently published in 2009, Dusty Waters, A Ghost Story is an interesting girl… Occasionally I will “channel” my character, Dusty Waters, the guitar slinging folksinger born in the  bookend years of the Boomer Generation…so last night, I wrote a poe-em in the vein of her righteous indignation…I call it The F-Bomb and it goes like this:

Bitch—and I call you “Bitch” with affection, ya dig?

Let me tell you this—this bit of wisdom—

when you reach fifty-two years old

you will have seen, heard, and experienced enough

things to make you drop an F-bomb before 9AM,

maybe earlier than that, depending on what it is. I swear,

ever since Watergate, I can spit nails, and I was just

a youngin’ then—so imagine what I must spit now since

9/11, right? Don’t get me started on that noise—I swear

my head can just about pop off my body sometimes—I’m

sorry to say, it hasn’t gotten better. I’m sorry for you cuz

shit is fucked up and stuff, so by the time you’re

fifty-two years old, I can’t imagine—I’ll be long gone by then,

moved on to my next thing—while you are stuck here with the

mess of life, such as it is. Let me warn you, you are more vulnerable

as you get older—it isn’t just age or illness that takes you out,

it’s the young who unwittingly come in and take from you

everything you’ve worked so hard for all your adult life—

twenty-five or thirty years of experience—service—

easily undermined by someone so new they squeak when

you run your finger down ‘em—not that I’m complaining or anything,

Bitch—I’ll tell you now, I’d rather die with my boots on than sitting

behind a desk being a ‘point n’ click’ despot with nothing

better to do than shrug their shoulders, roll their eyes,

crinkle up their nose, make excuses, and become argumentative

when they can’t answer a fucking question. My question.

Fuck it anyway—it’s not important. I’ve worked hard all my life—

I have kicked ass as a one-woman army—and I have lived a good one

in spite of the downs that can outnumber the ups on any given day.

Life is precarious enough, so, fuck people like that—they are negligible

debris in the grand scheme of things. Seriously. It doesn’t matter.

Don’t dwell on the negative—grab onto the positive and hold on tight.

In my fifty-two years, I’ve known that what matters is

my corner of the world, my family, and my home are my wealth.

Bitch, I do hope you can have a place to call home—

a patch of the world of your own—your own mind.

Know thyself—as they say—ya dig?

From one bitch to another, be good to yourself.

Be strong. Be yourself. Love and love hard—yourself,

your family, your home. Be at peace.

Drop an F-bomb as needed so your head

doesn’t pop off your body—trust me on this—no one will

show up to wash your mouth out with soap.

LJWR-8/1/2014

Photo
The Grandmother Tree, 7/27/2014 
She stands in our front yard like a greeter…grand old lady tree, I dug out this old poem that I wrote many years ago, and polished it up a little, it’s still a work in progress…I’m sure it will continue to change in the next few days…
The Yggdrasil
 See it—silhouetted against the cloudless sky—
its posture resembles the mythical
Yggdrasil. The old tree stands alone,
forever green, its mammoth girth a pillar of
the universe—a warden—a sentinel of time.
Its sheltering branches and nurturing roots
take hold of insatiable imaginations on a
summer afternoon. Shade on a hot day—
hours spent playing beneath dew drenched leaves.
Imagine! The curvature of this low branch, becomes
a dragon’s long sinewy body—that one
forked above are the crowning antlers of
a proud stag—and there, this other one
soars wide to become an eagle’s wingspan, the
leaves are feathers ruffled by the wind; its
fierce eye the remaining knot of a lost limb.
Volumes of stories invented—plots founded on
countless summer afternoons spent there. Its
lichen-dressed bark scraped clean
by restless sneakers clambering upward—
nooks and crannies, the hand and foot holds,
and small places to hide and dream.
The ground is matted with twigs and leaves,
gnarled roots exposed, the soil worn to a
fine powder from seasons of feet running
round and round, the perfect chairs for
weary bottoms, a rest stop
along the way home, a good place for reading
a book picked out from the library. Look here,
the keloid scars formed by the timeless
names of lovers—hearts with arrows—
fleeting memories carved into resilient flesh—
the trunk twisted with the stretchmarks of life.
We grow—the tree grows. Time to go home—
see you tomorrow—maybe. Years of
tomorrows, seasons pass, storms do their damage—
the tree compensates—slow deliberation, determination.
Shimmering light and shadows, dapples—
a constant reminder of time.
Summer must have a tree such as this
to remember—a home base for poetry later.
 LJWR-8/1/2014

The Grandmother Tree, 7/27/2014

She stands in our front yard like a greeter…grand old lady tree, I dug out this old poem that I wrote many years ago, and polished it up a little, it’s still a work in progress…I’m sure it will continue to change in the next few days…

The Yggdrasil

 See it—silhouetted against the cloudless sky—

its posture resembles the mythical

Yggdrasil. The old tree stands alone,

forever green, its mammoth girth a pillar of

the universe—a warden—a sentinel of time.

Its sheltering branches and nurturing roots

take hold of insatiable imaginations on a

summer afternoon. Shade on a hot day—

hours spent playing beneath dew drenched leaves.

Imagine! The curvature of this low branch, becomes

a dragon’s long sinewy body—that one

forked above are the crowning antlers of

a proud stag—and there, this other one

soars wide to become an eagle’s wingspan, the

leaves are feathers ruffled by the wind; its

fierce eye the remaining knot of a lost limb.

Volumes of stories invented—plots founded on

countless summer afternoons spent there. Its

lichen-dressed bark scraped clean

by restless sneakers clambering upward—

nooks and crannies, the hand and foot holds,

and small places to hide and dream.

The ground is matted with twigs and leaves,

gnarled roots exposed, the soil worn to a

fine powder from seasons of feet running

round and round, the perfect chairs for

weary bottoms, a rest stop

along the way home, a good place for reading

a book picked out from the library. Look here,

the keloid scars formed by the timeless

names of lovers—hearts with arrows—

fleeting memories carved into resilient flesh—

the trunk twisted with the stretchmarks of life.

We grow—the tree grows. Time to go home—

see you tomorrow—maybe. Years of

tomorrows, seasons pass, storms do their damage—

the tree compensates—slow deliberation, determination.

Shimmering light and shadows, dapples—

a constant reminder of time.

Summer must have a tree such as this

to remember—a home base for poetry later.

 LJWR-8/1/2014

Photoset

My thoughts about Wolf Solent by John Cowper Powys

Powys is one of the greatest novelists that not everybody knows about—I always make an effort to press him upon receptive readers—I’m a believer, a bookish zealot—I’m always more than happy to spread the word of literary awesomeness, I do realize that not every reader is going to dig Powys. Books by Powys have a knack to haunt a reader long after they’re done. His writing is magical, beautiful, rhapsodic, breathtaking, meandering, timeless—very dense classic prose. He’s in the company of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Proust, Hardy, D. H. Lawrence—Powys (dubbed by some as the Anti-Hemingway—which I find funny, I love “Papa” too—he is his own writing beast, Powys is another unique species of writer.) He’s a writer’s writer. With the generous spirit of Shakespearean shrewdness, he evokes an aged skepticism of everything, and yet a youthful gullibility about everything—it’s all very enchanting and lovely, and far too good to miss. In this contemporary world of instant gratification, it would be far too easy to neglect this master storyteller, and it would be a shame to forget him just because his writing is out of fashion.

One of the things that makes a Powys novel like Wolf Solent special is how he lays down a historical foundation that is based on legends. In all legends, there’s a grain of truth—the old hills and dells, moors and coastlines of Wales and England (in particular) have a history and mythology that have deep roots in the lives of the people who live within the covers of his books. The people—they are many and varied, the beautiful and ugly of humanity are all well represented. Pagans and Christians—philosophy and superstition overlap and separate—mingling and repelling—they co-exist with a feigned ignorance or have the willingness to overlook “the matter” out of politeness, and more times than not, they are blatant with their venom—gossiping the next chance meeting with an ear waiting to listen—creating their own legends from the bits of truth of what was muddied by their own perceptions. There’s an intensity of life that is palatable; life is complicated, yet it’s simple. The density of the writing is so absorbing, that’s what makes it so dang fascinating—he creates a sense of place and time, textured and sensual—decadent (in the best sense of the term.) The thing I love so much about his writing is that I have to be on my toes through all of it—my brain is slowly dining on every word, savoring every last bit to the end. I found it hard to put the book down some nights—and I was haunted by it until I picked it up again.

Wolf walks a lot (like the character Porius in another Powys novel of that name)—here, there, and everywhere—if I were his wife, Gerda, I would’ve slapped him silly for his random acts of disappearing—“Where the Hell have you been Mr. Solent? I gave you up as dead in a ditch somewhere along the road—get in here, sit, and have your tea.” (As it is long before the convenience of cell phones, give the nearest lad a ha’penny and have him run a message home at least! Ah, but he doesn’t think of doing that until near the end of the book.) I can’t blame Gerda at all for feeling as she did, a young wife finding herself married to this peculiar, distracted, but mostly harmless fool. He mentally wandered in a self-absorbed state, what he called “sinking into his soul”, also known as his “mythology” a secret name for his secret habit of daydreaming—it is a carryover from childhood that appalled his mother, but his father encouraged. Daydreams are a beautiful thing to have access to—they feed the creative mind all sorts of goodies, but it can be detrimental for an adult to go about in a fantasy world. Absentmindedness is quaint to a point, after a while, people can become pretty annoyed when your distracted manner is no longer entertaining as you are causing inconvenience—one day you have your head in the clouds, the next day it changes to having your head firmly stuck up your ass (there’s a time and place for everything, you see.) Wolf’s walking seems directionless, yet he follows his nose like a canine; examining his internal world and then becoming suddenly enamored by the world outside of himself— the verdant curve of a hill, the muddy stillness of a pond, the blue of the sky, and the golden meadow brimming with buttercups; body and soul, dreams and realities, within and without, life and death, good and evil—his thoughts often veering over the edge into the supernatural. The dead and buried (in particular, his father and the young Redfern) live on in memories and imaginings—laughing at the arrogance of the living.

Truth be told, the fool needed to grow up and get ahold of himself. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Wolf and his ‘mythology’, he cracked me up quite often—from the beginning, he got sacked from his teaching job in London for his “malice-dance” in which he just went off on an inappropriate verbal jaunt that had nothing to do with teaching History to the boys in his charge…

“He was telling his pupils quietly about Dean Swift; and all of a sudden some mental screen or lid or dam in his own mind completely collapsed and he found himself pouring forth a torrent of wild, indecent invectives upon every aspect of modern civilization.”p.2

This is the prevailing attitude throughout the book—he has something eating at him.

“He felt as though, with aeroplanes spying down upon every retreat like ubiquitous vultures, with the lanes invaded by iron-clad motors like colossal beetles, with no sea, no lake, no river, free from throbbing, thudding engines, the one thing most precious of all in the world was being steadily assassinated.” P.3

I agreed with him on most things, yet there were times I found his obsessive waffling over the flirtatious and sexy Gerda and the solemn and thoughtful Christie to be comical, bordering on absurd—he wanted his cake and eat it until it made him sick. The reality of Wolf’s life is invading and destroying his ‘mythology’—the being in a rut, teaching history to boys at the school for thirty years just irks him to no end—he longs to have financial independence to allow him to live comfortably and to have freedom. I certainly didn’t want to see him lose that lovely imaginativeness that was natural—instinctive, nigh innocent (yet not entirely), but it was clear that his behavior was becoming a concern by those who knew him. It isn’t every day that your father-in-law (a monument maker) indicates his concern by saying:

“Tis no comfort,” he remarked, “though I be the man I be for cossetting they jealous dead, to think that ‘in a time and half a time,’ as Scripture says, I’ll be chipping “Rest in the Lord” on me wone son-in-law’s moniment. But since us be talking snug and quiet, mister, on this sorrowful theme”—Mr. Torp’s voice assumed his undertaker’s tone, which long usage had rendered totally different from his normal one—“’twould be a mighty help, mister, to I, for a day to come, if ye’d gie us a tip as to what word—out of Book or out of plain speech—ye’d like best for I to put above ‘ee?” p. 466

As he moped around on his many walks, at times considering that maybe he should go drown himself in Lenty Pond as alluded by those who believed it to be his destiny, (I seriously felt concerned that he would!) I wished I could’ve advised him—“You should write a book of your own—you really need to.” If anything could possibly reset and settle his mind, it would be that—writing clears the decks of a busy mind that wanders. Writing is one of our most intimate acts of creativity, it can center one and it can unravel one—one can be rattled to the core by the act of writing, sometimes there’s nothing more startling than to write down the thoughts that haunt you to the point of something comparable to madness. Eventually, it does work out those bothersome bugs and gives focus. Then it’s nigh terrifying to share one’s own words on paper with anyone else because they are so personal—private. For example, when Wolf reads Christie’s writing that she had hidden away, she was pissed when she found out—his reading it ruined it for her, she wasn’t ready to have anyone read her thoughts. The eccentric poet, Jason Otter, shared his poetry with Wolf on many occasions, but when Wolf suggests that he should send them to London to be published, Jason became angry—feeling certain that the Londoners would laugh at his poetry. Anyway, I can only hope that Wolf came to writing later in life beyond the last page—that’s another thing that I love about this book, there is a sense that life goes on after the book ends. His walk through the meadow of buttercups was the most sublime event—he had changed, “grown up” in a manner of speaking—he may have lost his “mythology”, but he gained a new sight and insight. Once again, he reveled in taking notice of the smallest things such as the beauty of a snail as it went creeping along from a dock-leaf to the boards of the pigsty shed. Accepting the reality—“I am I”—“Forget and enjoy”—“ Endure or escape”—it was his body that saved him—for this, his spirit is grateful.

I simply adored this book and could easily read it again—I have a few bits here from some of the many dog-eared pages, and then I’m done with my wordy testimony…

 “Millions of miles of blue sky; and beyond that, millions of miles of sky that could scarcely be called blue or any other colour—pure  unalloyed emptiness, stretching outwards from where he sat—with his stick and coat opposite him—to no conceivable boundary or end!” p. 10

“Every time the hedge grew low, as they jogged along, every time a gate or a gap interrupted its green undulating rampart, he caught a glimpse of that great valley, gathering the twilight about it as a dying god might gather to his heart the cold, wet ashes of his last holocaust.” P. 25

“Nature was always prolific of signs and omens to his mind; and it had become a custom with him to keep a region of his intelligence alert and passive for a thousand whispers, hints, obscure intimations that came to him in this way. Why was it that a deep, obstinate resistance somewhere in his consciousness opposed itself to such a solution?” p 274

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My thoughts about The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon—it’s a very popular book, so there isn’t much more that I can add to it that hasn’t already been said, but I came away from it feeling good about its epic quality, it has just enough of a Gothic creepy edge to it to make it special—it’s a lovely book, read it, get lost in it, find and absorb all the good from it—and it’s got the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, what more can I ask for as a book lover?
"This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down the pages, its spirit grows and strengthens. This place was already ancient when my father brought me here for the first time, many years ago. Perhaps as old as the city itself. Nobody knows for certain how long it has existed, or who created it. I will tell you what my father told me, though. When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here. In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader’s hands."  From page 5-6
This is the quote that caught me firmly into the teeth of this book—only because of my own life experience and emotional connection to books put me there. When I walk into antique shops, I go find their corners where there are old books and I search for ones that I must adopt—it always makes me sad to see them languishing, unread—being the imaginative person that I am, I feel these inanimate objects have an essence about them that is in a sense alive—a soul—it is the spirit of the person who wrote them, the person who bought them, the person who read them (loved them.)
I often look at all of the books in our personal library and wonder—“Will I ever get around to reading them again or reading the ones I haven’t read yet?” And then I sometimes go the extra step further to make it worse and wonder, “Who will take care of my books after I’m gone?” (Painful isn’t it?)
 



My thoughts about The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon—it’s a very popular book, so there isn’t much more that I can add to it that hasn’t already been said, but I came away from it feeling good about its epic quality, it has just enough of a Gothic creepy edge to it to make it special—it’s a lovely book, read it, get lost in it, find and absorb all the good from it—and it’s got the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, what more can I ask for as a book lover?

"This is a place of mystery, Daniel, a sanctuary. Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down the pages, its spirit grows and strengthens. This place was already ancient when my father brought me here for the first time, many years ago. Perhaps as old as the city itself. Nobody knows for certain how long it has existed, or who created it. I will tell you what my father told me, though. When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here. In this place, books no longer remembered by anyone, books that are lost in time, live forever, waiting for the day when they will reach a new reader’s hands."  From page 5-6

This is the quote that caught me firmly into the teeth of this book—only because of my own life experience and emotional connection to books put me there. When I walk into antique shops, I go find their corners where there are old books and I search for ones that I must adopt—it always makes me sad to see them languishing, unread—being the imaginative person that I am, I feel these inanimate objects have an essence about them that is in a sense alive—a soul—it is the spirit of the person who wrote them, the person who bought them, the person who read them (loved them.)

I often look at all of the books in our personal library and wonder—“Will I ever get around to reading them again or reading the ones I haven’t read yet?” And then I sometimes go the extra step further to make it worse and wonder, “Who will take care of my books after I’m gone?” (Painful isn’t it?)

 

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I’m continuing my journey discovering Janet Frame; The Edge of the Alphabet is yet another magical book of prose, experimental and challenging, a timeless narrative about the beauty and ugliness of the human condition. She plunges right in, starting on the first page:

Man is the only species for whom the disposal of waste is a burden, a task often ill judged, costly, criminal—especially when he learns to include himself, living and dead, in the list of waste products. 

The creator of the world did not employ a dustman to collect the peelings of his creation.

Now I, Thora Pattern (who live at the edge of the alphabet where words like plants either grow poisonous tall and hollow about the rusted knives and empty drums of meaning, or, like people exposed to a deathly weather, shed their fleshy confusion and show luminous, knitted with force and permanence), now I walk day and night among the leavings of people, places and moments. Here the dead (my goldsmiths) keep cropping up like daisies with their floral blackmail. It is nearly impossible to bribe them or buy their silence. Page 3

…and it is non-stop to the last page:

The edge of the alphabet where words crumble and all forms of communication between the living are useless. One day we who live at the edge of the alphabet will find our speech. 

Meanwhile our lives are solitary; we are captives of the captive dead. We are like those yellow birds which are kept apart from their kind—you see their cages hanging in windows, in the sun—because otherwise they would never learn the language of their captors. 

But like the yellow birds have we not our pleasures? We look long in mirrors. We have tiny ladders to climb up and down, little wheels to set our feet and our heart racing nowhere; toys to play with.

Should we not be happy?  Page 303

It can leave one breathless…

Janet Frame’s books never cease to fascinate me—I have dog-eared several pages of this one (like others) marking where I want to return someday to explore a word-scape of unique beauty. The entire book is loaded with the most exquisite language—precious, priceless. She created geographical territory in which the borders of social inclusion and exclusion are investigated with an emphasis on language (communication or the lack of communication). The ghosts of the past are haunting, memories of lost relatives or events linger with a zealous desire to be remembered. There are surreal essences of despair, fear, failure— fragile dreams and disquieting realities—the human condition of those existing on the margins, marginalized—to be blunt, reality sucks. Sadly, this is a generous portion of our world’s population—life is not glamor, romance, and drama—to look away and deny it is negligent. Life is gritty with filth—our manmade rubbish, self-made madness, and life-long sickness. Some people are incapable of coping with life—some just do not have the tools to cope as they are flawed by disabilities (Toby’s epilepsy) or disabled by life (Zoe’s ignorance.) They are people easily discarded and ignored—yet Janet Frame writes in a way that makes the ugliness of life beautiful—and in all the trauma, there are comic pleasures that wink with a sweet wit that isn’t frivolous, if anything, the absurdity is very grounding.
 
A first kiss leading to the private research of identity, which leads to the creation of a sculpture from the silver paper of a cigarette pack, and then a life ended. A novel, The Lost Tribe, left unwritten because the writer is illiterate. Paintings destroyed, talent unrealized by an artist overcome by despair. And a life spent just getting by, going through the motions of life’s expectations to the point of not truly living.

“Just how much blank paper do you need, sir, to match your blank life?” Page 278
~
“He’s getting above himself, going overseas.”…there is an affliction of dream called ‘overseas’, a suffering of sleep endured by the prophetic, the bored, the retired, and the living who will not admit that it is easier and cheaper to die, die once and forever and travel as dust. But being dust how can you return and have your name in the paper and yourself pointed out in the street as having been “overseas” and your conversation filled with the names of places you have visited, your words received with wonder, as prophecies…How, if you are not Marco Polo or Herodotus? Page 49-50
~
Shall I write a book? Everybody is going to write a book. Memoirs on writing paper, toilet paper, café wall, pavement, or stone column in a city cemetery where borders of trees provide a trip-wire into silence. Shall I write? Shall I engage in private research of identity? Page 99
~
And then she laughed out loud to think that she had never known, that she had always believed that people were separate with boundaries and fences and scrolled iron gates, Private Road, Trespassers Will be Prosecuted; that people lived and died in shapes and identities with labels easily recognizable, with names which they clutched, like empty suitcases, on a journey to nowhere. Page 106
~
The day is patched with long silences between the communication of people, give rise to dread; as if the time itself held a reserve of opinion too terrible to express. In the cracks of the silence the people’s voices grow like bright feverish weeds whose stalks are hollow and whose shallow roots are separated from the earth (or water) with one tug of a hand or breeze; now and again people’s voices disappear in the gaps that open with the continual shock of Time. Page 215
~
“Did you make it?” he asked Zoe. “How did you think of it?”

Everyone admired the shape once again. Zoe was not used to being the center of attention; not for something she had made—when in her life had she ever made anything? It’s only a bit of paper, she said to herself, but she throbbed with warmth. How strange that it had so affected the others, had evoked in them feelings which they could only consider and explore by sitting there, as all three were doing now, silent, staring at the silver sculpture…How extraordinary, Zoe thought, that such feeling should be roused by seeing a conventional paper shape twisted at random, in idleness, among strangers whom I shall never meet again. Page 272

Janet Frame writes with this special vision about social identity, a textual borderland—a wonderland— an Is-land—the post-colonial experience, New Zealand and England—being an alien within one’s homeland and within one’s own skin, living in the margins—at the edge of the alphabet…

And sometimes it seemed too much like being excluded from the mystical long-division sum, like being the odd number at the bottom or at the side of the column, the mental afterthought, the carrying number put there for mere convenience and erased when the answer to the sum is worked out. Page 297

Honestly, who hasn’t spent time living on the edge of the alphabet…

I’m continuing my journey discovering Janet Frame; The Edge of the Alphabet is yet another magical book of prose, experimental and challenging, a timeless narrative about the beauty and ugliness of the human condition. She plunges right in, starting on the first page:

Man is the only species for whom the disposal of waste is a burden, a task often ill judged, costly, criminal—especially when he learns to include himself, living and dead, in the list of waste products.

The creator of the world did not employ a dustman to collect the peelings of his creation.

Now I, Thora Pattern (who live at the edge of the alphabet where words like plants either grow poisonous tall and hollow about the rusted knives and empty drums of meaning, or, like people exposed to a deathly weather, shed their fleshy confusion and show luminous, knitted with force and permanence), now I walk day and night among the leavings of people, places and moments. Here the dead (my goldsmiths) keep cropping up like daisies with their floral blackmail. It is nearly impossible to bribe them or buy their silence. Page 3

…and it is non-stop to the last page:

The edge of the alphabet where words crumble and all forms of communication between the living are useless. One day we who live at the edge of the alphabet will find our speech.

Meanwhile our lives are solitary; we are captives of the captive dead. We are like those yellow birds which are kept apart from their kind—you see their cages hanging in windows, in the sun—because otherwise they would never learn the language of their captors.

But like the yellow birds have we not our pleasures? We look long in mirrors. We have tiny ladders to climb up and down, little wheels to set our feet and our heart racing nowhere; toys to play with.

Should we not be happy?  Page 303

It can leave one breathless…

Janet Frame’s books never cease to fascinate me—I have dog-eared several pages of this one (like others) marking where I want to return someday to explore a word-scape of unique beauty. The entire book is loaded with the most exquisite language—precious, priceless. She created geographical territory in which the borders of social inclusion and exclusion are investigated with an emphasis on language (communication or the lack of communication). The ghosts of the past are haunting, memories of lost relatives or events linger with a zealous desire to be remembered. There are surreal essences of despair, fear, failure— fragile dreams and disquieting realities—the human condition of those existing on the margins, marginalized—to be blunt, reality sucks. Sadly, this is a generous portion of our world’s population—life is not glamor, romance, and drama—to look away and deny it is negligent. Life is gritty with filth—our manmade rubbish, self-made madness, and life-long sickness. Some people are incapable of coping with life—some just do not have the tools to cope as they are flawed by disabilities (Toby’s epilepsy) or disabled by life (Zoe’s ignorance.) They are people easily discarded and ignored—yet Janet Frame writes in a way that makes the ugliness of life beautiful—and in all the trauma, there are comic pleasures that wink with a sweet wit that isn’t frivolous, if anything, the absurdity is very grounding.

 

A first kiss leading to the private research of identity, which leads to the creation of a sculpture from the silver paper of a cigarette pack, and then a life ended. A novel, The Lost Tribe, left unwritten because the writer is illiterate. Paintings destroyed, talent unrealized by an artist overcome by despair. And a life spent just getting by, going through the motions of life’s expectations to the point of not truly living.

“Just how much blank paper do you need, sir, to match your blank life?” Page 278

~

“He’s getting above himself, going overseas.”…there is an affliction of dream called ‘overseas’, a suffering of sleep endured by the prophetic, the bored, the retired, and the living who will not admit that it is easier and cheaper to die, die once and forever and travel as dust. But being dust how can you return and have your name in the paper and yourself pointed out in the street as having been “overseas” and your conversation filled with the names of places you have visited, your words received with wonder, as prophecies…How, if you are not Marco Polo or Herodotus? Page 49-50

~

Shall I write a book? Everybody is going to write a book. Memoirs on writing paper, toilet paper, café wall, pavement, or stone column in a city cemetery where borders of trees provide a trip-wire into silence. Shall I write? Shall I engage in private research of identity? Page 99

~

And then she laughed out loud to think that she had never known, that she had always believed that people were separate with boundaries and fences and scrolled iron gates, Private Road, Trespassers Will be Prosecuted; that people lived and died in shapes and identities with labels easily recognizable, with names which they clutched, like empty suitcases, on a journey to nowhere. Page 106

~

The day is patched with long silences between the communication of people, give rise to dread; as if the time itself held a reserve of opinion too terrible to express. In the cracks of the silence the people’s voices grow like bright feverish weeds whose stalks are hollow and whose shallow roots are separated from the earth (or water) with one tug of a hand or breeze; now and again people’s voices disappear in the gaps that open with the continual shock of Time. Page 215

~

“Did you make it?” he asked Zoe. “How did you think of it?”

Everyone admired the shape once again. Zoe was not used to being the center of attention; not for something she had made—when in her life had she ever made anything? It’s only a bit of paper, she said to herself, but she throbbed with warmth. How strange that it had so affected the others, had evoked in them feelings which they could only consider and explore by sitting there, as all three were doing now, silent, staring at the silver sculpture…How extraordinary, Zoe thought, that such feeling should be roused by seeing a conventional paper shape twisted at random, in idleness, among strangers whom I shall never meet again. Page 272

Janet Frame writes with this special vision about social identity, a textual borderland—a wonderland— an Is-land—the post-colonial experience, New Zealand and England—being an alien within one’s homeland and within one’s own skin, living in the margins—at the edge of the alphabet…

And sometimes it seemed too much like being excluded from the mystical long-division sum, like being the odd number at the bottom or at the side of the column, the mental afterthought, the carrying number put there for mere convenience and erased when the answer to the sum is worked out. Page 297

Honestly, who hasn’t spent time living on the edge of the alphabet…

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Yup, that’s me with my novel Dusty Waters, A Ghost Story…May, 2009


I’ve always wanted to be a writer, since I could scribble, I wanted to write something that mattered—it took a long time to get there, I had a good deal of false starts. It’s been 15 years since I wrote the manuscript Washed Glass and saw it through to the finish. (Oh, I thought I knew what I was doing, but I totally had no idea.) This effort is still unpublished and certainly nowhere near ready to have a cover designed for it. It’s a densely written monster that has everything and the kitchen sink in it, and it’s rife with first-novel-itis, but I know the story is good enough to take the time to make it right—not every first manuscript is good enough. Even tho’ I do cringe a little when I think about going back to it, but now that I know more about what I’m doing, I know what I must do, so I will revisit where I started all those years ago—someday. I will always have a soft spot for it—it was my first, from there, the rest of my work with words followed, and they nod with reverence to what happened before them because without Washed Glass, Dusty Waters and The Fractured Hues of White Light wouldn’t have happened.  
For what it’s worth, here’s my advice for aspiring writers (young and old):
 It’s never too late to start. Just do it. 
 Write. Even if it’s pure nonsense, if it’s there in your head, write it. Unfortunately, we learn from our mistakes, and you’re not going to learn by being afraid of fucking up.  
Read—read a lot—especially read outside your comfort zone, if you have resisted reading the classics, read them—experience them and learn from them. Keep your mind wide open to receive knowledge, grow your mind, grow your vocabulary—read the dictionary (you know, one of those old-fashioned cloth bound books illustrated with line art, get one.) Familiarize yourself with the basic rules of grammar and punctuation too. Keep a Thesaurus handy.  Honestly, you’ll need something to do during those dead zones when you’re not staring out the window thinking.
 Be humble.  Write and write some more.  No, you’re not crazy, you’re writing a book. Keep writing—just let it flow.  Be brave. 
Write.
 Here are the Don’ts:  
Don’t listen to those dissenting voices within you or from the others who are on the outside looking in—for goodness sakes, don’t let anyone tell you “you can’t do that” because it’s hard. Damn right it’s hard and don’t you forget it.  
Don’t rely on spell check and grammar check on your computer to catch your errors because words like dairies and diaries are both spelled correctly and if you’re a little bit dyslexic at all it’s easy enough to screw them up. The brain has this amazing self-correction thing it does when you’re too close to your writing and you know what you want to say, so beware when dealing with words, especially when writing tens of thousands of them.   
Don’t be a hermit.  Don’t forget to live.  Don’t forget to breathe.
 Write.  
So you finished writing your manuscript—your first book. Do a happy dance, scream, laugh, and cry. Tell all your friends and family—celebrate. It’s a wonderful thing, it’s an accomplishment, and an achievement worthy of a pat on the back.   
Don’t be surprised if you feel sad—because you will. You will “miss” being there, being in your head with your characters—it can be a little scary to feel depressed like that, but don’t worry, you’re all right.  
Do you think you’re done with it?   
“Done” means it has a beginning and an end with a bunch of shit happening in the middle. I know it will be hard to do it, but walk away from it—leave it for months—start something new or just write nonsense. Keep reading more books to pass the time. No matter how tempting it is to fool around with it, leave it alone. Forget it long enough to “forget it” in a sense that will allow you to be objective when you read it again.   
It’s nice if you can find a first reader who can honestly tell you what they think of it—it’s nice if the first reader doesn’t sit on it for months and not read it. A book, especially a raw first draft isn’t easy to hand off to someone and expect them to read it—it’s not like showing someone a drawing you made—reading is an investment of time—and first drafts can be SO ROUGH it’s not fun to read them.  When you do go back to it, be honest with yourself—is it how you envisioned it? Aim high, raise the bar for yourself, take pride in your work, OWN IT. Edit the darn thing—make it bleed red ink—be prepared, this process can go on for several drafts. If you can find an editor that you can afford—one you can trust to work within your vision, go for it. But not everyone can afford one, not everyone has access to such creatures, so it’s good for a writer to learn how to self-edit.   
I do my own editing partly because I’m a control freak, and partly because I love doing it—I love the whole process of revising and editing. I will read a chapter backwards, sentence by sentence just to take it out of the flow to make sure it’s what I want it to say. Then I will read the chapter forwards again to see if I catch anything wonky. I go through it until I make no more changes. Then I leave it alone to forget it, then read it again. If I make no changes, that’s a good thing. I’ve been known to take the scissors to a chapter that I had thought was perfect two weeks ago and reorganize the paragraphs, tape it back together, make the revision, and then start over reading it in the new configuration. I read it and revise it until I make it right.   
Reading hard copy is always a good idea.  
It does get better—trust me on this.
 Final thoughts: Keep writing.   Don’t settle.  Make it right. Make it perfect. Practice, Patience, Persistence.
(For the record…I do not edit other writer’s work…you cannot pay me enough.)

Yup, that’s me with my novel Dusty Waters, A Ghost Story…May, 2009

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, since I could scribble, I wanted to write something that mattered—it took a long time to get there, I had a good deal of false starts. It’s been 15 years since I wrote the manuscript Washed Glass and saw it through to the finish. (Oh, I thought I knew what I was doing, but I totally had no idea.) This effort is still unpublished and certainly nowhere near ready to have a cover designed for it. It’s a densely written monster that has everything and the kitchen sink in it, and it’s rife with first-novel-itis, but I know the story is good enough to take the time to make it right—not every first manuscript is good enough. Even tho’ I do cringe a little when I think about going back to it, but now that I know more about what I’m doing, I know what I must do, so I will revisit where I started all those years ago—someday. I will always have a soft spot for it—it was my first, from there, the rest of my work with words followed, and they nod with reverence to what happened before them because without Washed Glass, Dusty Waters and The Fractured Hues of White Light wouldn’t have happened.
 

For what it’s worth, here’s my advice for aspiring writers (young and old):


It’s never too late to start. Just do it. 


Write. Even if it’s pure nonsense, if it’s there in your head, write it. Unfortunately, we learn from our mistakes, and you’re not going to learn by being afraid of fucking up.
 

Read—read a lot—especially read outside your comfort zone, if you have resisted reading the classics, read them—experience them and learn from them. Keep your mind wide open to receive knowledge, grow your mind, grow your vocabulary—read the dictionary (you know, one of those old-fashioned cloth bound books illustrated with line art, get one.) Familiarize yourself with the basic rules of grammar and punctuation too. Keep a Thesaurus handy.  Honestly, you’ll need something to do during those dead zones when you’re not staring out the window thinking.


Be humble.
Write and write some more.
No, you’re not crazy, you’re writing a book. Keep writingjust let it flow.
Be brave.

Write.


Here are the Don’ts:
 

Don’t listen to those dissenting voices within you or from the others who are on the outside looking in—for goodness sakes, don’t let anyone tell you “you can’t do that” because it’s hard. Damn right it’s hard and don’t you forget it.
 

Don’t rely on spell check and grammar check on your computer to catch your errors because words like dairies and diaries are both spelled correctly and if you’re a little bit dyslexic at all it’s easy enough to screw them up. The brain has this amazing self-correction thing it does when you’re too close to your writing and you know what you want to say, so beware when dealing with words, especially when writing tens of thousands of them.
 

Don’t be a hermit.
Don’t forget to live.
Don’t forget to breathe.


Write.
 

So you finished writing your manuscript—your first book. Do a happy dance, scream, laugh, and cry. Tell all your friends and family—celebrate. It’s a wonderful thing, it’s an accomplishment, and an achievement worthy of a pat on the back.
 

Don’t be surprised if you feel sad—because you will. You will “miss” being there, being in your head with your characters—it can be a little scary to feel depressed like that, but don’t worry, you’re all right.
 

Do you think you’re done with it?
 

“Done” means it has a beginning and an end with a bunch of shit happening in the middle. I know it will be hard to do it, but walk away from it—leave it for months—start something new or just write nonsense. Keep reading more books to pass the time. No matter how tempting it is to fool around with it, leave it alone. Forget it long enough to “forget it” in a sense that will allow you to be objective when you read it again.
 

It’s nice if you can find a first reader who can honestly tell you what they think of it—it’s nice if the first reader doesn’t sit on it for months and not read it. A book, especially a raw first draft isn’t easy to hand off to someone and expect them to read it—it’s not like showing someone a drawing you made—reading is an investment of time—and first drafts can be SO ROUGH it’s not fun to read them.  When you do go back to it, be honest with yourself—is it how you envisioned it? Aim high, raise the bar for yourself, take pride in your work, OWN IT. Edit the darn thing—make it bleed red ink—be prepared, this process can go on for several drafts. If you can find an editor that you can afford—one you can trust to work within your vision, go for it. But not everyone can afford one, not everyone has access to such creatures, so it’s good for a writer to learn how to self-edit.
 

I do my own editing partly because I’m a control freak, and partly because I love doing it—I love the whole process of revising and editing. I will read a chapter backwards, sentence by sentence just to take it out of the flow to make sure it’s what I want it to say. Then I will read the chapter forwards again to see if I catch anything wonky. I go through it until I make no more changes. Then I leave it alone to forget it, then read it again. If I make no changes, that’s a good thing. I’ve been known to take the scissors to a chapter that I had thought was perfect two weeks ago and reorganize the paragraphs, tape it back together, make the revision, and then start over reading it in the new configuration. I read it and revise it until I make it right.
 

Reading hard copy is always a good idea.
 

It does get better—trust me on this.


Final thoughts:
Keep writing. 
Don’t settle.
Make it right. Make it perfect.
Practice, Patience, Persistence.

(For the record…I do not edit other writer’s work…you cannot pay me enough.)

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One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014)


“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time, Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.” (the first paragraph of One Hundred Years of Solitude)
 I adore this book. It is beautiful and it became an old friend within the first few pages—sometimes books are that way, they tell their story with a voice that is familiar, yet remarkable because of its unique qualities. There is so much grace in this book—very profound. It has a playful spirit that is hungry and happily full of love, a spirit that accepts death and sorrow as unavoidable facets of life. It made me laugh out loud and at times I would tear up—it is deeply emotional—compassionate. It is still speaking to me in an enchanting way that good books do—it keeps tugging on me to come back for one more look, so it is not too far out of reach, even now. One of the beauties of such a book is suspension of all belief and going with the natural flow—it is told in a voice that is wise and older than time. It is a book about being human—humans are messy, passionate fools who tumble into wisdom after several rounds of stupidity. Sometimes there is no dignity in our existence as we scratch about making a life out of what comes to us along the way—
“Ursula wondered if it was not preferable to lie down once and for all in her grave and let them throw the earth over her, and she asked God, without fear, if He really believes that people were made of iron in order to bear so many troubles and mortifications.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said that everything he had written, he knew or heard before he was 8 years old. These formative years were spent with his maternal grandparents, listening and absorbing their folk tales and superstitions—stories of which he could not tell what was true and what was invention. His novels were filled with unforgettable characters existing in a fantastical landscape; books filled to the last page with dreams and realities; life and death; war, politics, madness, truth, enchantments, and lots of love—so much love. 
 “Madly in love after so many years of sterile complicity, they enjoyed the miracle of loving each other as much at the table as in bed, and they grew to be so happy that even when they were two worn-out old people, they kept on blooming like little children and playing like dogs.”
My most favorite part is when Remedios the Beauty ascended and she took Fernanda’s sheets with her, and of course, Fernanda was quite bent out of shape about that! 
“Ursula, almost blind at the time, was the only person who was sufficiently calm to identify the nature of that determined wind and she left the sheets to the mercy of the light as she watched Remedios the Beauty waving good-bye in the midst of the flapping sheets that rose up with her, abandoning with her the environment of beetles and dahlias and passing through the air with her as four o’clock in the afternoon came to an end, and they were lost forever with her in the upper atmosphere where not even the highest-flying birds of memory could reach her.”
It is these moments of fantastical glory contrasted with human truths that make this book so special. No belief required—let it all go into the wind of light like Fernanda’s sheets and Remedios the Beauty, open your mind, read it and love it.
“Tell him,’ the colonel said, smiling, ‘that a person doesn’t die when he should but when he can.”
RIP Gabo

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014)

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time, Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.” (the first paragraph of One Hundred Years of Solitude)

 I adore this book. It is beautiful and it became an old friend within the first few pages—sometimes books are that way, they tell their story with a voice that is familiar, yet remarkable because of its unique qualities. There is so much grace in this book—very profound. It has a playful spirit that is hungry and happily full of love, a spirit that accepts death and sorrow as unavoidable facets of life. It made me laugh out loud and at times I would tear up—it is deeply emotional—compassionate. It is still speaking to me in an enchanting way that good books do—it keeps tugging on me to come back for one more look, so it is not too far out of reach, even now. One of the beauties of such a book is suspension of all belief and going with the natural flow—it is told in a voice that is wise and older than time. It is a book about being human—humans are messy, passionate fools who tumble into wisdom after several rounds of stupidity. Sometimes there is no dignity in our existence as we scratch about making a life out of what comes to us along the way—

“Ursula wondered if it was not preferable to lie down once and for all in her grave and let them throw the earth over her, and she asked God, without fear, if He really believes that people were made of iron in order to bear so many troubles and mortifications.”

Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said that everything he had written, he knew or heard before he was 8 years old. These formative years were spent with his maternal grandparents, listening and absorbing their folk tales and superstitions—stories of which he could not tell what was true and what was invention. His novels were filled with unforgettable characters existing in a fantastical landscape; books filled to the last page with dreams and realities; life and death; war, politics, madness, truth, enchantments, and lots of love—so much love.

 “Madly in love after so many years of sterile complicity, they enjoyed the miracle of loving each other as much at the table as in bed, and they grew to be so happy that even when they were two worn-out old people, they kept on blooming like little children and playing like dogs.”

My most favorite part is when Remedios the Beauty ascended and she took Fernanda’s sheets with her, and of course, Fernanda was quite bent out of shape about that!

“Ursula, almost blind at the time, was the only person who was sufficiently calm to identify the nature of that determined wind and she left the sheets to the mercy of the light as she watched Remedios the Beauty waving good-bye in the midst of the flapping sheets that rose up with her, abandoning with her the environment of beetles and dahlias and passing through the air with her as four o’clock in the afternoon came to an end, and they were lost forever with her in the upper atmosphere where not even the highest-flying birds of memory could reach her.”

It is these moments of fantastical glory contrasted with human truths that make this book so special. No belief required—let it all go into the wind of light like Fernanda’s sheets and Remedios the Beauty, open your mind, read it and love it.

“Tell him,’ the colonel said, smiling, ‘that a person doesn’t die when he should but when he can.”

RIP Gabo