Monday, September 17, 2007

Life, The Internet, and Everything

AS everyone knows, you can find information about anything on the Internet. All you have to do is Google it. It says a lot for the prevalence of search engines that we have made them into a verb.

I can remember being without the Internet. All those frustrating trips to libraries whenever I wanted to look something up. Endless unanswered questions crammed my brain. Now, whenever I have a question there's Wickipedia.

Not that I believe everything I read on Wicki. Sometimes the entries are sketchy or biased, but I have to admire it for the sheer volume of entries. Everything is cataloged, from Anime to Zebras. People seem to have time on their hands, enough time to write obsessively on their favorite subjects.

Of course, Wicki just scratches the surface of the knowledge that's presented on the web. There are pages of information on anything. Ancient witch signs, cars of the 1930's, the Battle of Leyte Gulf. You name it, and someone has written something about it.

As a social experiment the Internet fascinates me. It connects people across the world, people that have never travelled beyond their home towns can discuss anything with someone across the world. The web has constricted the Earth, bound it up with endless packets of information. The world has uploaded its collective brain, and the power and scope of the knowledge is amazing.

I love the Internet, and I can't wait for the time when we'll all be connected, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. I dream of direct neural net access, as quick as thought and twice as broad. We will all have two minds, our own consciousness and the infinite net. I'm sure it will lead to many problems, yet I also think it will broaden the human experience and help us to evolve. Until that day, Google will remain my steadfast friend.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Sharkey, Extra Large

I was going through old family photographs the other day, and I came across one of me standing outside the Aquarium when I was two years old. On the back, my father had written the date, and a note that I had been fascinated by the sharks. It seem I wondered how they kept all of those teeth clean.

I had no idea that my love affair with sharks had started so young. As a child of about ten, I remember reading endlessly about sharks, and taking trips to the Aquarium when we were on vacation. Those days, I lived in South Africa, and the Aquarium I would visit was in Durban. It was a poorly lit place, with bubble windows, and I used to feel that I was deep underwater with the fish. There were two ways to observe the sharks. One could watch through the windows, peering into the murky water, or one could climb up to the roof and stare down into the open tank. I would spend hours there.

I'm spoiled now. I live a few hours from Baltimore Aquarium, and I've been to Sea World. Last time I was in South Africa I went back to that old Aquarium, and it was depressing. The displays were old and cramped, and the only thrill that remained was the roof and the tantalising closeness of the sharks as they knifed through the water.

Don't get me wrong. I have no desire to be in the water with the sharks. I have a health respect for those teeth. Yet to be so close was an exhilarating thing.

I collect stuffed sharks. The first, Sharkey one, I bought at the Aquarium in New Orleans. He was a Great White, and I kept him in my handbag for years, until one day he mysteriously disappeared. I like to think that he returned to the ocean. The second, Hammurabi the Hammerhead, was given to me by a friend. As was Sharkey Too, another Great White. He lives in my handbag now. Sharkey Three is a three foot long behemoth, he swims eternally on top of a curio cabinet in my lounge.

Shark Week on the Discovery Channel is a joy to me. So many sharks, all crammed into seven days. I tape shows to watch and re-watch.

I'm not sure where my fascination came from, but I'm glad I have it. Sharks are wonderful living fossils, an essential part of the ecosystem and graceful predatory creatures. Still, I have to wonder as I did so many years ago, how DO they keep those teeth clean?

Labor Day Blues

I have the Labor Day blues. I've often said I'm solar powered, I need a certain level of sunlight to feel energized. When the sunlight levels drop in the winter, and it's too cold to go outside, I find myself turning into a grouchy, hibernating bear. Nothing gets accomplished, the months just pass in a grey blur. Depression sets in, and it becomes a chore to get simple things accomplished. My writing suffers most of all.

So, I'm not happy that Labor Day has arrived so quickly. It seems that just yesterday it was spring. It doesn't help that this summer was wonderful, not too hot and humid, with gentle breezes and gloriously sunny days.

Still, my garden will be happy about the change in weather. All the plants are sunburned and stressed, and probably will be happy to go to sleep. Every year I swear that I'm going to pay more attention to the garden, but every year I just end up doing the bare minimum to keep it tidy and weed free. This summer I certainly could have watered it more.

Today I watched the birds outside, and wondered how many of them would be flying south for the winter. I feel jealous. If I could fly to warmer, sunnier climes then I wouldn't have to suffer through the dull days and cold nights. I could winter on a beach in the tropics.

Yet there are things about the colder seasons that I love. I love the show of leaves in autumn, the crisp days, and walking through piles of leaves. I love the earthy scent of the air, Halloween and cider. In winter, I love the silence after a fall of snow, the way the white crystals cling to branches and blanket the ground. I love snuggling up with a hot cup of tea and a blanket. I love snow days that force my family to remain home with me, drinking hot chocolate and eating ginger cookies.

That's why I'm still happy to live in the North, instead of relocating South. The seasons are an ever changing calendar that I can relate to, no matter how the seasons affect me. Maybe this year I'll just buy a sunlamp.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

This Monkey has Gone to Heaven

I'm a fan of the Pixies. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find my copy of Doolittle, and I have Monkey Gone to Heaven stuck in my head. I could just buy it again on iTunes, but I have the feeling that if I ordered this one song then I'd just get another stuck in my brain. I need to find the whole CD.

So I did the next best thing: I Googled it, and came up with a Wicki entry and the lyrics. I had no idea that the song was about environmentalism, I really thought it was a comment on how man loses the divine by being too materialistic. No, it seems that man loses the divine by burying Him in "ten million pounds of sludge from New York and New Jersey".

Actually, I believe that may be the case. I've always believed that one can see the divine in nature, and all we're doing is burying nature in a pile of trash.

Although I guess I can see the connection between materialism and trash. The more stuff we buy, the more we need to trow out. Plastic wrappings, boxes and eventually broken items that we go out to replace, beginning the cycle once again.

So I'm making a small commitment to buy less. Ultimately it may do little to improve our planet, or our relationship with the divine, yet it may at least show some positive effects in me, and in my bank balance.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Cuckoos in Foreign Nests

When people talk about their home towns, I feel left out. I don't have a home town. I don't even really have a home country. I consider myself American, but I was raised completely overseas, so I have very little cultural connection to the USA. I have an odd accent, one that doesn't quite fit anywhere. I'm a cuckoo in a foreign nest.

In my travels, I've met other cuckoos. Army brats, the children of diplomats or engineers. Well traveled and cosmopolitan, we are adept at fitting into our borrowed nests. Yet we are never quite comfortable in them. There is something in the blood that calls us to the road, so we tend to be travelers. We flit about the globe restlessly, looking for something or some place that will satisfy our needs. Nothing seems to fit.

We raise our children to be independent, and they too are well traveled. Even though we may stick to one spot long enough in a bid to give them a sense of permanency, somehow we always manage to fail. They pick up our restlessness, and as soon as they are of age they wing off to distant places. Now we will meet up with them on separate continents.

Living this life is not restful. The dreams a cuckoo dreams are always of the next horizon, and the nest never satisfies. Yet I wouldn't trade it for anything, not even a home town.


I'm not sure what separates the possible from the impossible. The line of possibility is infinitely slim, and it moves constantly. It is the line that separates sanity from insanity, joy from sorrow, or life from death.

What is impossible today, may be possible tomorrow. Humans are amazingly adaptable and inventive, and given a task they will push forward through innumerable challenges and suffer great hardships to reach their goal. In the face of a dream, the impossible crumbles like a sand castle before a wave. Or the dreamer crumbles.

This is the only wisdom that I have: each day, one must wake up and accomplish the tasks of that day. Each task may be small, or large, but one must try to push through to a conclusion. Then one can sleep, and dream again.

This seems to me the only way to live. To make each day a microcosm of life, to live it completely and then rest. Any other way, and suddenly life becomes too overwhelming. Dreams become impossible to attain.

I believe that anyone can climb a mountain, one step at a time.

Thursday, August 9, 2007


I have a novel in my mind. It's almost perfect, fully formed except for the tiniest details. I don't concern myself about the details, as they seem to fly from me as I write. Perhaps they already exist, somewhere deep in my subconscious, waiting for the right moment to burst into being. They are the furled flowers of my imagination.

The only thing this novel lacks is a Beginning. In the past two months, I've written countless scenarios in my mind, and on paper, yet none of them seem to work. I have felt like Prince Charming, trying to fit the Glass Slipper onto endless feet, desperate to find that perfect fit.

I write by hand, in black ink, on lined paper. It's old fashioned, and it suits me very well. My handwriting is very bad, and in some ways it's like a top-secret code that only I can decipher. I've written pages and pages of Beginnings, scribbled in tiny cursive characters, crossed out, redone, notated and finally shredded. I don't consider any of it wasted effort. For me, it's like cutting and polishing a priceless gem. Such things take time, and effort.

In my mind, my characters have become quiet. Usually, they are a rowdy bunch, demanding that I write about them, or develop their individual stories. Now they are silent, because in the Beginning they they were not there. There was only one person, and the endless reaches of the sky.

Perhaps that's true for every Beginning.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

We Must Take Our Tablets Every Day

Sometimes, I think my life revolves around pills. I even have a tea mug with a pill theme. I got it in England. It's part of the "Interesting thoughts of Edward Monkton" line. I don't know who Monkton is, but I suspect he and I would get on very well.

"We must take our tablets every day," the mug tells me, "or else we will GO MAD."

That's pretty much what I've been told, by endless doctors. "Take your meds." They don't actually say I'll go mad, but they pause and give me a significant look. Having reassured themselves that I understand the importance of their statement, they then write me a nice prescription and push me out the door.

Being not quite sane, I don't want to take my pills. In fact, I hate them. Still, I recognise their supposed usefulness, and dutifully count them out, morning and night, and pop them into my mouth.

"This one helps me not to scare the Postman." - The Mug.

I have one of those. One that stops the world from scraping against my soul. It's round, and mustard yellow. I take two a day, one in the morning, and one at night. I quite like this one, because it has the lovely dual effect of stopping the horrible migraines I've suffered from since I had encephalitis 20 years ago. Also, I can fell it working, it gives me odd pins-and-needles sensations in my fingers and toes. It's an interactive pill.

"This one is evil and must DIE." - The Mug.

Mine is red-brown, the color of drying blood. A capsule full of tiny white beads. Sometimes, I open it up and pour some of the beads down the sink, imagining that I'm killing it a little. Weakening it. I imagine that I can weaken it more, day by day, until it is empty, and dead. Then I'll be free, and I'll never have to see it's evil color again.
The next day, I don't open it. I swallow it whole. I'm defeated by the Logic of the Pills.
I hate it. I plot again. Tomorrow, it will die.

"I love this one so much it hurts. One day it will understand my Special Powers and Love me too." - The Mug.

The one I love is pure white, a small rectangle, and I have never seen a pill so perfectly formed. This is my anti-allergy pill. I take THIS one with great joy. This wonder has freed me from the horrors of seasonal allergies, and endless sinus infections! How I love it! I will never give it up. NEVER.

"Please don't eat me!"
"Be quiet, tablet, and suffer your FATE!" - The Mug.

I have to be severe with this one. It's small, round and a dingy off-white color. It lacks self-confidence. It cringes in the corner. It's the type of pill that you have to abuse. It's just so very pathetic. Not only that, but it forces me to go for quarterly blood-tests. I feel the urge to crush it before I swallow.

"Sometimes, I hear this one singing in voices so HAUNTING and LYRICAL that a single note can make me WEEP." - The Mug.

I don't have any pills like that, yet. Maybe one day I will. I hope I do, because I'd like to hear the song of the pills. After all this time, and all those pills, I think I deserve it.

Monday, February 26, 2007


"Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum." - Rene Descartes

"I doubt, therefore I think, therefore I am."

It's interesting to me, that most people know the latter part of the quote. "I think, therefore I am." Yet very few know the first part, the part about doubting. Doubt, after all, seems like such a negative thing. It doesn't look good on all those motivational posters, or quote-a-day calendars. To me, however, it's the most essential part of the entire sentence. Descartes began to doubt, and therefore began to question his own existence. Without doubt, the Cogito would never have crystallised in his mind.

In doubting the existence of a deceiving god, Descartes came to the conclusion that he existed. Of course, it wasn't quite as simple as that. First, he had to convince himself that everything did not exist, the trees, the sky, an entire world of noise and light - then, he could believe in himself.

"Archimedes used to demand just one firm and immovable point in order to shift the entire earth; so I too can hope for great things if I manage to find just one thing, however slight, that is certain and unshakable." - Descartes

Archimedes did not shift the earth physically, yet it could be said that he did scientifically. His works have inspired countless mathematicians, scientists and engineers. He has gained a measure of immortality that is granted to very few, in having his name passed down as a man of advanced intellect and knowledge.

Yet for a moment Descartes convinced himself that Archimedes had never walked the earth. For a while, Descartes was alone, perhaps without even a body to sense the world around him. A being a pure thought, pure intellect, stripped of all the shibboleths and fears that society had imprinted upon him. For a while, Descartes was free.

I wonder: when he returned, how was he changed? Did he understand then how little he had to fear of the world, and how much he could accomplish? I think he did, or at least, I think he began to understand the possibilities his life had to offer.

There is little to fear in the world, except the inability to think. When we surrender our freedom of thought to anyone, or to any institution, we surrender ourselves, and we become shadows. Mere possibilities, instead of true human beings. When we do not allow ourselves to doubt, and question the world, we fail to search for meaning in our existence. Without that search, we fail the test of life.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Sleepy Hollow Country

I live in Sleepy Hollow Country. Horse country. Lush, green, rolling farmlands interspersed with great groves of trees. As you drive along the roads at night, mist rises and fills the hollows and valleys, creeping along the lines of the old stone farm walls. There are no other cars, and the houses are huddled and silent under the blanket of fog. Sometimes, I'll stop, roll down my window and stare into the night. The moonlight floods the air with silver, reflecting off the droplets of haze suspended in the air. All is silent, eerie and breathtakingly beautiful. On nights like this, the Headless Horseman becomes more than just a tale to frighten children. He becomes one with the atavistic fear and awe that comes bubbling up from the pit of the stomach. He comes riding out of the night, his horse as black as sin and his hand held out in greeting.

We have lived here for over fifteen years. Lately, the old wanderlust has descended upon me like a storm. It tears at my complacency, makes me nervous and I become frustrated with this place. I see the shortcomings of this semi-rural life. I grow annoyed at the invasion of Yuppies, searching for a more peaceful life, bringing with them a level of faux gentrification. The slow, unchanging routine of life that I once found so soothing now annoys me. I miss the ever changing palette of the city.

Then, all at once, I glimpse the mystery again. Under it all, the mushrooming McMansions and shining new stores, I see the true nature of this place. The wild nature. The dangerous, eldrich nature.

I stop my car, roll down my window, and stare into the night. I'm glad I don't have to walk home. There are things out there, just beyond my sight, things that have no respect for the tidiness of the modern world. It makes me glad.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


I got Sharkey One at the New Orleans Aquarium. A miniature Great White shark, the perfect size to fit in my hand bag. I never thought that I would actually find a plushie shark that was an actual representation of a real shark. I had always seen plenty of caricatures, facsimiles of the watered-down cartoon shark from the latest kids movie. Or bean-bag sharks, with overly bright neon colored skins and impossibly gaping mouths. Sharkey was perfect. No-one could mistake his silhouette as anything but a Great White, and although his skin was soft to the touch it was the proper shades of grey and white.

I have been fascinated by sharks from my earliest childhood. There's a photograph of me at age two, taken outside of an aquarium. On the back, my father had written that I had wondered how the sharks brushed their teeth, as they had so very many. Later on I found out that dental hygiene is easy for sharks: they just constantly replace old teeth with newer ones. Their teeth are a part of their efficient whole, cruising the oceans silently, the perfect predators.

I've visited sharks all over the world. They are both beautiful, and terrifying. As they swim past the glass, with their cold eyes and powerful bodies, they awaken atavistic fears deep within me. That primitive part of me worms up among all the knowledge I have gathered, around the careful classification of teeth, jaws, gills, fins and behaviour and chokes me by the throat. All that separates me from being prey is some concrete and glass.

I have been in the water with a shark, which is why I no longer swim in the ocean. It was in the warm waters of Africa, and for what seemed like an eternity I was suspended in the ocean with a large shark. I thought I was a good swimmer, yet I felt that I wasn't moving at all. I was at the mercy of the tide, yet this creature was not. It was powerful enough to swim against the tide.

I made it to the beach, quite safe yet very shaken. The life guards cleared the water. I left, went to work, and life continued. Yet my faith in my swimming never returned. I've never been back in the ocean. I stick to swimming pools now.

Sharkey One, that I got in New Orleans, disappeared one day shortly after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. I like to think he returned to the wild. A friend bought me Sharkey Too, who lives in my handbag. Another friend bought me Hammurabi, a Hammerhead shark
who guards my back door. Finally, I have Sharkey Three, who is a full 3 foot long Great White, who lives on my bed.

Perhaps the primitive within me is trying to lay the fear of the great sharks by collecting totems. I'm not sure. All I know is that there is something about these Sharkeys that makes me happy, and I am never one to turn my back on happiness.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Secret Pathways

When I look at my "List of Things To Do Before I Die", I'm struck by how all of the things involve travel. It's not quite a list of places I want to see before I die, it's more a list of things I want to do in foreign places.

I couldn't imagine a life spent in one place. I want to see the world, and experience all of the wonders and cultures I have read of since childhood. I want to hike the Great Wall of China, walk in the Forbidden City and sail along the great Yangtze river. Explore the Minoan ruins of Knossos, home of the Minotaur. Walk the pathways of Angkor Wat. Visit the temples of Kyoto, and sleep afterwards in some traditional Japanese Inn.

I've found the experience of being in a place infinitely purer than the experience of reading of it. No matter how many times I read the dimensions of the Great Pyramid, or how many photographs or diagrams I studied, nothing compared to the reality of standing on the plain of Giza. Nothing prepared me of the truth of the Pyramids, their great bulk, the way they overwhelm the senses. No-one wrote that the interior of the Great Pyramid is hot, and that when you climb up within the great gallery the humidity lays upon you like a great wet shroud. The burial chamber is by contrast cool. What a frightening and wonderful achievements, those great monuments.

It was the same with the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, African Elephants in the wild. No media compares to the reality of a thing. The human brain is the greatest processor on the planet, and the human eye is infinitely superior to the best camera lens. After all, the camera is a mere imitation of the eye, a two-dimensional substitute for the brain.

Perhaps one day, humans would have invented virtual reality so real that people will be able to "plug in" and be immediately transported to the location of their choice. They'll be able to experience all the tastes, smells, temperatures and dimensions of the places they "visit". I'm in favor of the technology, for many reasons. It will allow many bed-ridden people to experience things they normally couldn't. It will allow us to record and preserve monuments that are fragile, or threatened by natural disasters, pollution or war. It will allow us to teach children by allowing them virtual access to sites all over the world.

No, I'm not at all a Luddite. Yet I think I'd still be visiting those places in person. I'd always want to explore my own secret pathways, even if I was really only following the footsteps of thousands of people before me.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Snow Queen

Suddenly, winter had arrived. After such a long, warm spell it felt like Narnia's snow witch had descended and thrust her nails deep into my body, penetrating down into my bones. I couldn't get warm, even hunched next to the heater, and after many cups of hot chocolate and tea.

There is something to be said for the Norse version of Hell. Eternal, biting cold, damned never to be warm again. The Norse could not comprehend a Hell of flames. Fire, to them, was a welcome and life-giving necessity, not a means of damnation. I can understand their attitude. I hate the cold. I can endure heat, and the discomfort it brings, but cold is just painful. It wracks the body with chills and muscles spasms, makes the extremities go white with pain.

So, I fought it the only way I could. I made blankies. One for everyone in the family. Mine has Penguins on one side, and blue curlicue designs that remind me of the ocean on the other. I used blue baby blanket ribbon to edge it, so it's a like an over sized baby blankie.

I may be reverting to childhood. I don't even remember having a blankie like that, but I always remember wanting one. Something warm, soft, and with that wonderful satin edge that was so smooth to the touch. I made blankies for us all, to keep us warm, and I was happy.

Let the Snow Queen come. Now I have something better than any weapon on earth to fight her: A blankie, to melt her icy, witchy heart.

Friday, February 2, 2007

The Great God Pan

I have seen the Great God Pan. Not the harmless diluted modern Pan. The true God. He ran across the road in front of me, in broad daylight, and it froze my blood. I had once discussed the nature of the divinity, and how I felt that any human that was drawn to touch a God was a fool. I always felt that such things were better left alone. I knew, when I saw Pan, that I had been right in my belief. No human would ever be able to stand before that and survive intact.

He came from a field to the left of the road, moving with incredible swiftness. He ran in the light, yet shadows clung to him like a long, trailing cloak. He was of this world, yet beyond it. He was neither human nor animal, a creature that stopped my heart and twisted my stomach. He ran across the road, fluid, graceful and wild. When he appeared, the world seemed to slow and the sunlight paled, while everything around him leapt into sharp contrast. He was the Original, and the world was just a worn, tired imitation of his life.

Just as suddenly as he came, he disappeared into the trees on the right. I continued on my way, stunned and frightened. The sun wasn't as bright as it had been minutes before, and for days afterwards the air had a washed-out quality to it. I knew I would never see Pan again, and I was immeasurably glad.

Writers like M.R. James and E.F. Benson wove frightening stories about the supernatural. Benson specifically wrote about Pan, in his story "The Man Who Went Too Far." Both writers understood the fearsomeness of the Other, and I believe that their stories stand as classics of horror. Although I've read all of James' stories dozens of times, the titles are enough to send shivers of memory up my spine. I don't scare easily, yet these stories plugged into the atavistic fear within me that all humans possess. The fear of the dark, and the cold, unmoving and predatory creatures that live within the dark. The fear of human frailty and helplessness. The fear of a horrible, lonely death.

Benson's stories lack James' malicious, wicked edge. I find them less frightening, and more philosophical in nature. Yet they can be just as disturbing. He imbues his characters with an almost gleeful evil. To him, the wickedness that exists in the world is an active force that fully acknowledges and enjoys its depravity. His stories are a study in contrasts. He writes of comfortable villages, of cheery middle aged men living in comfortable circumstances. When the supernatural occurs, it provides a horrifying contrast: A vampire preys on young boys, Pan gleefully tramples a man to death or a ghost takes horrible revenge on a man. Disturbing events that tear at the fabric of the characters lives, and leave them forever tainted.

In order to frighten the reader, the writer must first frighten himself. Fear refines life and sharpens the wits. That's a lesson that I learn every day.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Contract of the Heart

One of the great American journalists of World War 2 was Ernie Pyle. He was a down to earth kind of guy, who was more at home living with the troops than with the officers. He was a great fan of the Infantry, and wasn't ashamed to admit his prejudice. He felt that the Infantry had the hardest, dirtiest and most thankless job in all the armed forces. He spent a lot of time in foxholes, in dangerous conditions, hungry, cold and filthy. He took the time to get to know the soldiers, and they loved him for it.

His column mentioned the soldiers he met by name, and gave little snippets of personal information about each man. During the war, mail often was lost or delayed for weeks, and so Ernie's columns were a lifeline for families back home. If they read about their soldier in his column, that meant he was alive and safe, even if they hadn't had a letter for months. His columns didn't white wash the dangers of war, but they somehow managed to reassure people. They made everyone feel that this war, although difficult and dangerous, could be won. It was finite.

Ernie lent an even touch of humor and humanity to all that he wrote about. He was a shrewd observer, and wrote clear and accessible prose. He was a humble man, perhaps to a fault. He wrote constantly about his own fears and lack of courage in the face of danger, while admiring others around him for their bravery. He was always on the lookout for the amusing, strange or humanising story that would bring understanding to the reader. In 1944 he won a Pulitzer for his work, yet I think he probably got more of a thrill from the recognition of the troops.

By 1945, Ernie was worn out. He had been covering the war since the Blitz, with few trips home. Four long years overseas. He wanted to go home. Yet he was persuaded to take a final trip to the Pacific Theatre, to cover the American landings in Okinawa. He didn't feel right about the trip, but he went. It seems quite ironic that his last column, printed posthumously, should have been a tribute to fellow journalist Fred Painton, who had died on Guam. On April 18th 1945, Ernie was killed by a Japanese machine gunner on the island of Ie Shima.

Reading Ernie's columns, and the columns of other wartime journalists, is like reading someones diary. It's a true reflection of the time, written then and there, as it happened. The only frustration is that the columns were censored to remove any sensitive material. Still, if I wanted access to any relevant army column maneuverings, or amphibious assaults, all I have to do is cross reference the date, place and a few other facts and voila! A complete picture. I read the columns for a more intimate glimpse of the time, an idea of what was in the minds of the people who lived through the war. Sometimes, it's a humbling experience. The people who bore the brunt of the war did so with uncommon courage and determination, no matter what side they were on. Sometimes, it's an uncomfortable experience, as I gain knowledge of the prejudices that ran through all societies in the 1940's.

Of all the journalists, I like Ernie the best. He isn't afraid to put his soul down on paper, and to expose his feelings for all to see. In doing this, he reached out and touched the souls of his readers. He had established the truest contract a writer can establish with a reader, the contract of the heart. He deserves to be remembered and read for a very long time. I know I will constantly read and re-read his columns as I work, both as a writer and a historian.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Cats in the Space-Time Continiuum

Anyone that knows a cat knows that they can warp space and time. You pass the cat, fast asleep in the sun downstairs. Three seconds later, you pass it again. Upstairs.

It didn't walk up the stairs with you. You didn't pass it on the way. Yet, here it is, staring at you, from the top step. How the hell did it manage to get upstairs so fast, past you, and manage to look like it's been sitting there for hours?

The answer is obvious. Cats are experts at trans-dimensional physics, and can create mini-wormholes to transport themselves anywhere they wish. The cat that was relaxing in the sun opened a wormhole to the top step upstairs, and was instantaneously transported to that step without having to move a muscle.

Why? I have no idea. The motives of cats are beyond me.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Imaginary Readers

I knew a guy in University, who wanted to be an author. His path to this goal was interesting. He would sit down at this typewriter, and produce pages of "flow of consciousness" writing every night. He had piles of it, which he showed me, and I read a few pages. Flow of consciousness writing consisted of him just typing out whatever odd thought popped into his mind. There was no plot, sentence structure or grammar. It was a rambling mish-mash of words, and after a half-page I was bored to tears.

He told me he was developing his art, as Hemingway had. He wanted to set down his thoughts and eventually refine the process enough that he would produce a work that would set the literary world abuzz. It was Art, with a capital A.

I view writing as a discipline. The writer has to convey his meaning to the reader in the most spare of mediums, black and white print. The only tools at the writers disposal are the tools of language. Good grammar, in order to convey meaning without ambiguity. Excellent punctuation, and understanding of sentence and paragraph structure, in order to avoid fatiguing and confusing the reader. A well thought out plot, in order to entertain. A writer will draft a piece, write it, and re-write it several times before it is finished. That requires a great deal of discipline.

My acquaintance wasn't refining his Art. He was being self indulgent, and avoiding reality. If he had sat down, and analysed Hemingway's works, he would have realised something. Hemingway is a master of grammar and punctuation. His sentences are perfect, his paragraphs well formed. That's why he is considered a master of American literature. I don't like reading Hemingway, but I have to give him credit. The man knew his craft.

I'm not sure why I thought of my acquaintance. I think perhaps this Blog might be the reason. I write these pieces very quickly, without any drafting and little editing apart from a spell check, and a quick run-through for obvious grammar errors. I suppose this is my form of stream of consciousness writing. Even so, I have to apply a theme to each entry.

In the end, a writer is nothing without a reader. So a writer must always write with the reader in mind, even if that reader is an imaginary person. It's a whimsical notion, and one I quite like. Some people have imaginary friends, I have always had imaginary readers.

Friday, January 26, 2007

On Love

In 1923, Khalil Gibran wrote his most famous book, The Prophet. It's difficult to tell whether the work is poetry or prose, and some have even called it a collection of "poetic essays".

The book is divided into 28 chapters. The first and last chapter talk about the Prophet of the story, a man called Almustafa, who is about to leave the city of Orphalese after living there for 12 years. In each of the other 26 chapters, a person of the city asks him to speak of a certain topic before he leaves. As requested, he speaks of Love, Marriage, Children, Religion, Good and Evil, and finally, just before he boards his ship to leave, of Death.

I've read The Prophet many times since I was a child. It's a beautiful work, almost heartbreakingly poetic. It flows like a great river: words into sentences, sentences into chapters, chapters into one another. In it, you can find a reflection of your soul. This, to me, is the mark of a master writer. One who can cease the mind, soul and heart of the reader, and allow them to see themselves in the work.

I have always held the first chapter close to my heart. Gibran's words On Love mesmerised me from the moment I read them. His Love was a strong and uncompromising thing, based on faith and sacrifice. There was no room for selfishness or fear. His love was a frightening thing, yet so very worth the risk.

When I was a child, I read it to try to discover what Love was. I didn't understand what it was, yet I wanted it. It seemed a desirable thing, this love, that would make you "wake at dawn with a winged heart", and "return home at eventide with gratitude". I wanted that.

As an adolescent, new to the pangs and uncertainties of love, I read it to gain fortitude. "When love beckons to you follow him, Though his ways are hard and steep."
I read it to understand that others had felt the pain of love, and that pain was a necessary part of love. "But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure, Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears."

Now, as an adult, I read it because I truly understand it, and am fortunate enough to have a long and lasting love. I stepped out into the world, and found the man that I love. Together, we have weathered the storms of life, and also known great happiness. I do wake every morning with a winged heart. I do return home with gratitude.

"All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life's heart."

Sometimes People are Jerks

"Sometimes, people are just jerks."
One of the people I trust most said that to me, just yesterday. To a lot of people, that may seem like common sense. Yet if you really look at the phrase carefully, it's not common sense at all.

Common sense, to me, would be this: "Sometimes, people can behave like jerks."

I'm a pretty logical person. I don't just decide, one day, on a whim, to go out and be mean to someone. I'm no saint. I can be mean, downright malicious, given the right provocation. However, I do have to be provoked.

Therefore, if someone wrongs me, or is mean or malicious to me, I always look for a reason for their actions. Did I provoke them? Has there been a misunderstanding? What's going on, to cause them to act a jerk?

In certain cases, I couldn't come to any answer. There wasn't any logic to their actions. There was no reason why. I stuggled for a long time with this. Years. Most of my life, in fact.
I developed a lot of resentment towards these people. Why the hell wouldn't they give me a valid reason for their actions? What the hell was their problem? Tell me!

"Sometimes, people are just jerks."

There is no reason for their behaviour, because they ARE jerks. It's not a behaviour. It's a state of being.

I've read about epiphanies. Moments in time when people suddenly experience a radical, 180 degree turn in their thought processes. I always thought it might be like the heavens opening, light bursting out of dark banks of cloud, sudden illumination.
It's not at all like that. It's like a car chase, when you grab the hand brake without easing up on the gas, and the car goes into a spin. Suddenly, you're somehow facing in the opposite direction, and BAM! Off you race. Wow. What a rush!

Everything suddenly made sense. Sometimes, people are jerks. They're just jerks! Amazing! I spent a day or so marvelling over my discovery.

Then, I felt really stupid. Not because I had never realised that people are jerks. I just chalk that up to my own essential oddness.
I felt stupid because I had wasted so much time caring and worrying about WHY jerks were behaving badly. That was a real downer.

Feeling stupid didn't last too long. I had to smile. I had thought I was pretty cynical. Yet I suppose if I could reach my forth decade without realising the essential truth that some people are jerks, I'm pretty innocent after all.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Clouds and Squirrels

I like watching clouds. They are fluid, and graceful things. Higher in the sky, they stretch out as thin membranes, pure white. Lower, they are cotton balls, scuffing along. They change shapes, and become whatever the watcher sees. A mountain falls into a molehill, and becomes a whale. A dog becomes a rabbit, then races away.

Clouds are beyond our influence. We can watch them, and force images on them, yet in the end they are beyond our reach. Constantly moving, changing, and disappearing. By watching clouds, I am reminded that I should not try to control life. Life, like the clouds, constantly moves and shifts around us. It flows and changes, often beyond our control. We try to force our will upon it, and imagine that we live life. The truth is, life goes on with or without us. Life is not ours to control. We are just here for an instant in time, put on the earth to merge with the stream of life, then die.

The squirrels in my garden understand this. They're an eccentric bunch, full of attitude. They scamper around, doing what they need to do to prepare themselves for the lean months of winter. They have their stashes of food, and they make nuisances of themselves by shredding cardboard to line their nests. They throw nut shells and twigs at the neighbor's cats, dogs and people. They're vociferous in their anger. when they play, they throw their entire beings into it. They chase each other around, stand on window ledges to tease house-bound cats and dogs, and generally have a grand time.

Squirrels don't control their lives. They move with the seasons, play when they want, work when they must. They don't devote themselves to the accumulation of unnecessary gadgets.
All they do is live. As I watch them, I often wonder if they pity humans.

You might argue that they have a shorter life span, but as we humans push the envelope farther with medical science, I'm not sure a short lifespan is that bad a thing. I don't want to end my days bedridden, while everyone else decides if I'm allowed to die a peaceful, natural death. Just because we can extend life doesn't mean we should.

It all comes back to control. Humans want to control life. They want to control the quantity and content of life. They want to control emotions, events and thought. They want to cram life into boxes, label it, and time it.

Perhaps we should all take time to watch some clouds, and talk to some squirrels.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

TheTruth Will Set You Free

"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." - John 8:32

I am not a Christian, but that doesn't mean I don't see the wisdom of these words. The truth, whatever it is, does set you free.

To follow truth is often to follow a sorrowful and difficult path. Finding the truth can be difficult. It's not easy declaring the truth, or sticking to the truth. Truth is hard, uncompromising. It opens one's eyes to all the faults of the world, and to the faults of the ones that you love. It opens one's heart to betrayal, and hurt.

Lies, on the other hand, are seductive and easy. They smooth the path, tuck away inconvenient problems from the light of day. When someone has betrayed and hurt you, it's often easier to believe their lies than to listen to the cold, hard truth. It's easier to believe that they didn't lie at all, that everyone else lied instead.

People build elaborate lives around lies. They lie to their friends, family, acquaintances. They even lie to themselves.
Yet, deep down, in the recesses of their hearts, the truth eats at them. It eats at their souls, and devours all the trust they have in other people. How can one trust another, when one lies? It carves away their self esteem. It destroys relationships.

I'm not the greatest person on the planet. I am just human. I have many problems, and I often wonder why my friends and family put up with me. I can be erratic and unstable, temperamental and annoying.
Still, I don't lie. I try to live in truth, as hard as that is, every day.

Having to live with a compulsive truth-teller is a difficult thing. Think about it. Try to live with someone who is compelled to tell the truth, no matter how hurtful or difficult that may be at the time. I'm always getting myself into situations which could have been avoided, if I would have just decided to take the easy way out, and tell a lie.

I wasn't always like this. When I was younger, I was prepared to hide myself away. I was prepared to tell convenient lies, to allow myself to be untrue to myself. I told everyone what they wanted to hear, smiled because they wanted me to. When people lied about me, I stayed politely quiet, trusting that others would see the truth in me and judge me by my actions, and not by their lies.

What did I gain? A feeling of alienation. I distrusted those around me. Instead of preserving the relationships that were important to me, I ended up damaging them. All for the sake of protecting other people. For the sake of playing nicely, by the rules of society.

Now, I tell the truth. I am compelled to tell the truth. Even if that means confrontation. Stand up, screaming fights with strangers. Appearing rude, impolite, or downright weird. Always saying the inconvenient, unhappy thing to everyone who asks an inconvenient question. Truth doesn't often compromise.

By telling the truth, I am free to experience life without fear. I can look in the eyes of the people I know, and I am free to develop strong and lasting bonds with them. Relationships based on trust, because they are based on honesty.

By telling the truth, I have freed myself from the chains of my past. I am free to speak, and I will not allow anyone to take that freedom from me.

We shouldn't live our lives in order to please others. If we do, we please no-one. We shouldn't change the truth in order to please them, either.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Fire Horse

In the Chinese Zodiac, I am a Horse. I used to be pretty unhappy with that, thinking that horses as mundane and unattractive animals. That was until I saw a chinese ink painting of a horse. The lines were bold and strong, the animal was proud, energtic. It had places to go, things to accomplish. This was no mundane creature, shackled to the whim of a master. This horse was in command. It would carry you if it wished to carry you.
I could identify with the Horse then. Even more so, when I found out that I was a Fire Horse. In fact, according to everything I had read I WAS fire. It was my element. Perhaps that was why I often felt the heat of life coursing in my veins, the flowing fire allowing me to create.

That is what creativity is, for me. It is my life's blood, rushing through me. The endless thoughts that play in my head, then appear on the paper. Sometimes, it's a mad and fiery clamour and rush. Sometimes it's a gentle and contemplative song. Rarely, it's a struggle with the soul, a wrestling match between me and my grudging pysche.

I would be lying if I said my life was easy. I have a dehibilitating illness, and I am more fragile than I appear. Yet wouldn't change myself. Having had this fire within me all my life, I don't know what life would be without it. I merely accept, and write. Then, if the fire gets too hot, I burn. It's better than the alternative, which is no fire at all.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Evil that Men Do

I'm a historian, of World War Two. It's an immense, mind boggling field of study. A conflict that spanned only seven years, yet encompassed the globe. The mobilisation of nations, land, sea and air forces, plus all of the covert operations of the Allies, Axis and Neutral countries was an incredibly complex affair.
There's no way that one can become a true expert in all areas of the war, so one becomes a specialist. I am a battlefield historian. Infantry, tanks, amphibious landings, small arms, ammunition supplies, artillery: these are the things that interest me most. Covert operations interest me as well, as they support (or work against) the troops.
Of course, any historian of the era must know the larger political situation. It's incredibly important, from my point of view, to understanding exactly how the Axis managed to storm across Europe and Asia, then foot by bitter foot lose the territory to the Allied advance. Politics and economics drove their advance, and also their defeat.

Yet I couldn't also be a historian of that era without being aware of the incredible evil that men do to other men. I believe that's why I don't believe in Hell. I've seen a lot of footage from the Nazi Death Camps, and read too many survivor accounts. Hell isn't an abstract term. Hell exists on earth. Hell is made real wherever man inflicts pain upon another man.

What disturbs me most about the Nazis is not that the Death Camps existed. Mankind has always been incredibly inhumane, cruelty is nothing new. What disturbs me is the absolute, clinical and methodical neatness of it all. The planning that went into it. The Nazis took genocide, and refined it. They made their Zyklon B gas chambers like a production line, humans in, corpses out. They extracted gold teeth, cut hair, stripped clothing, shoes, whatever they could scavenge from the victims. They recorded everything in neat columns, like accountants, and forwarded the numbers up to the Fuhrer and his staff. A clockwork bureaucracy, fueled by gas fumes and death.

What chance would Satan have against this kind of organisation? According to theory, all he could do is torment you if you were a bad person, or maybe sold him your soul.
The Nazi machinery tormented whomever they chose. Jews, Communists, the disabled, political opponents, Gypsies, mentally ill, racially "impure", blacks, children, old people, saints, sinners. No-one was immune.

That's why, to me, the true evil in this world is the evil that exists in Mankind. It's the evil of powerful men, backed by military or police, who do unspeakable things to average people. The evil of "ethnic cleansing", the evil of mob rule. It's the evil of anyone who wishes to impose their world view, or beliefs, upon another person by violent means.

Satan, and Demons, don't frighten me. People do.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Cradle of Love

Nothing really evokes the past as much as music. At least, that's how it is for me. Watching Billy Idol sing "Cradle of Love" on TV this evening reminded me of the wildest years of my life. The time when I really didn't give a damn about anything, except the next party. Having a good time was the best reason for existing.
In those years, the mid-80's, we listened to Bauhaus, Souxsie, Love and Rockets, Morrisey, the Smiths, Julian Cope, Billy Idol, The Cure, The Clash, Sex Pistols. We were part of an underground culture. My friend and I were "scarey girls". Which is pretty odd, considering that I thought we were pretty nice.

One New Years eve, we went into Hillbrow. It was traditional, back then. These days I wouldn't even go into Hillbrow during the day, let alone New Years eve. In the mid-80's, Hillbrow was the place to go to have fun. Not neccessarily safe, but always guarenteed to be exciting.
The police had closed a huge area off to traffic. About eight city blocks, maybe more. People flooded the streets, mostly young people, of all races. This was Africa, and it was a warm summer's night. We wandered around, taking everything in. The heat, the crowd, the smell of food, alcohol, the blast of music and the building excitement.
Yet it still seemed to lack something. An edge of danger, or daring. We always had to push those boundaries. So, we decided to have a kissing competition. Whoever kissed the most guys before we left, won.
I don't remember the exact score. I just remember having the time of my life. It was pure insanity, giddy and loud. We were neck-in-neck when we finally left.
I drove home through the deserted streets, and stopped at a light right next to an armoury. There were two unhappy soldiers on guard outside. We glanced over, but before I could even think to make a comment my friend had leaped out of my car and run over to them like a crazed woman. A second of arm-flapping and explanations, and she kissed them both.
I was outraged. She had beaten me! Sneaky! Unbelievable!
She laughed all the way home.

I may not remember all the details, but I remember her laughing. She is still my friend, and I still listen to Billy Idol.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Immortal

Once, in San Francisco, I met an Immortal.
At least, that's how it seemed.
We were in Chinatown, in a little park. It was a warm, sunny day, and as I waited there for my family to return I felt content with life. The city was moving around me, the air was mellow and filled with sound. The quality of the light was almost golden. It warmed everything it touched. I felt at home here, in Chinatown, in an America that was not American.

I was just standing there, smiling at the world, when an old man came up to me. His face was lined with life, and creased with joy. He shone with happiness, radiated contentment. His eyes were black, and knowing. He recognised me.
"Good day." he said. He grabbed my upper arm with a warm, strong hand, and shook it to emphasise his words. "Good day."
I couldn't tell if he was instructing me to have a good day, or telling me that this was a good day, or wishing me a good day. It didn't really seem to matter. Whichever way, he was right. It was a Good Day.

So I just stared right back into his eyes, and smiled.
"Yes. Good day!" I said, all positive.
It seemed to be the correct response, because the old man laughed, and let me go. he nodded, smiled, then he was gone. He walked so quickly, he seemed like a very young man.

I watched him until he disappeared from sight. For the time that he had been with me, it had seemed that the world had stopped around us, that all noise and activity had faded away. As he left, the world began to move again. Children shrieked and laughed, cars honked, the city breathed. My arm still felt warm, where his hand had touched me.
Nothing had changed, yet I felt somehow that this was a good omen. I had met an Immortal, and he had said "Good day."

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Walk in Shade

"If I don't write to empty my mind, I go mad." - Lord Byron
I have those words in all of my writing folders. When I first read them, I felt a connection to Byron. He was cynical, clever, amoral, and completely insane. I felt that he would have been a fascinating man to have known, as long as you didn't get too close. He burned like a human flame, and he knew the fires and agonies of creation.
He was also Bipolar. Just as I am. I knew this instinctively, long before I bothered to look for any confirmation of the fact. I recognised my own kind.

"No ear can hear nor tongue can tell the tortures of the inward hell!" - Lord Byron

When I think of him, living in the early 1800's, without the benefit of modern medicines and our understanding of mental illness, I feel immeasurably sad. How must it have been for him, to suffer through the periodic splintering of his mind? Without the drugs we have now to calm the demons, the understanding we have begun to develop about how our behaviour can effect our illness. Without any help at all.
His only release was his writing. Perhaps that was how he managed to survive until he was 36.

"My turn of mind is so given to taking things in the absurd point of view, that it breaks out in spite of me every now and then." - Lord Byron

I have an absurd view of the world. Everything is off-center, slightly odd. People look at me, with their heads tilted, and frown slightly. They don't quite get it. There's nothing in this world more glorious than the absurd. Humor, light, love and happiness all come from absurdity.

Shelley wrote that Byron was "an exceedingly interesting person, but as mad as the wind."

In the end, the wind is free. That is all we can hope to accomplish, I suppose, those of us that are touched by madness.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Lion Cubs

For some reason or other, I was reminded of a time in Africa when we were in an enclosure with a lot of lion cubs. They were pretty small, no longer than two foot from nose to the base of their tails. Like all small mammals, they were curious, playful, and cute.
My husband, being forever the soccer fan, found a beat up old ball and started to kick it around. In a few minutes, he was mobbed by about five cubs, who knew a good game when they saw it. They chased the ball back and forth, grabbed it from eachother, tried to guess which way my husband was going to dribble it. The rest of the Pride looked on, not interested enough to move. Just another lazy day in Lionville.
Then it was time for dinner, and bed. A keeper came down, and called the cubs up from the enclosure to the house they stayed in at night. They streamed up the slope, making the oddest, sqeaking, un-lion like sounds. We followed. Our car was in the same direction, and we also wanted to spend as much time as possible with the cubs.
They were solid and their fur was rough. Warm. Their claws were sharp, and their teeth white and long. They were wild animals, to be treated with respect. Soon, they would be large enough to kill any one of us with ease.
Yet, for an hour or so we played in the dust and heat.

I'll always be grateful for the things I learned in Africa.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Enlightenment and Multiverse Theory

Quantum theory can be difficult, yet it's fascinating. I see the essential truth contained within it all, and it makes perfect sense to me.
For instance, take Quantum Theory, and the nature of a Creator.
It is theorised that one can, in fact, create a Universe in a lab. Yet, after one has created that Universe, the Universe essentially "splits off" from the Creator's Universe. It becomes something that the Creator can observe, but not influence.

Which is pretty much the conclusion I had come to about "God", speaking purely in a omniscient diety way. Even if there WAS an omniscient creator, he/she sure as hell wasn't interested in interfering in the World. Quantum theory just took it a step further. Perhaps the Creator wasn't only not interested, but not able to interfere? Perhaps the Creator was off on his/her lunch break?

I had always felt that prayers were just "answered" by pure chance, or the hard work of the people involved. Faith is, after all, a purely subjective thing.

So, the conclusion that I have come to is that if there IS a Creator, he/she is not involved in our Universe. There is no Heaven, or Hell, in the traditional sense. No Satan to tempt us from our paths of righteousness. Sin stems from the minds of people, and is thus also subjective.

Good and Evil, on the other hand, DO exist. But that's the subject for another post.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

A Single Page

Today I wrote a single page. That's all I managed to get done. I stared into space for half an hour, listening to some Spanish guitar music, then I wrote.
It's not that the words didn't flow. They did, the scene came from me smoothly and without any kind of pain. It was beautiful, considering how I've been struggling it for about three months. No, it was so perfect that I felt it was needless to continue.
Three damn months of twisting, struggling, trying to get those two damn characters to meet halfway in my head. Today, in ten minutes they were on the paper. Smug little gits. I hate them.

Of course, now that's done, the rest of the story will just flood out of me. It's been ready, waiting for those two to get their prima-donna act together.

It's not easy, being me. I'm not a creator, I'm just a conduit for the characters that spring into my head. They're the ones that run the show. I'm an innocent bystander. Let other writers talk about plot developments, story outlines and so on. If my characters don't like my outlines, they just stage a coup d'etat. They live as they will, love whomever they choose, and die before their time. It's exhausting.

Still, for a single page, like the one I wrote today, I suppose it's worth it. For the way the words flow from me onto the page, for the scenes that play in my mind, for the joy of flying without wings, it's all worth it.

Or maybe it was just the coffee.