Audiobook Drops This Month!

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Great news – production is complete on the audiobook version of Time Crime! Within 10-20 days, according to Findaway Voices, it will be live at retailers! Available, as they used to say, wherever books are sold – in this case wherever audiobooks are sold – hooray!

For those who prefer to purchase a copy directly from me, that is to say, here on the website, that’s great – I’ll have a link on here to the audiobook storefront that now exists within Findaway’s Authors Direct program https://authors-direct.com/. Don’t worry, this is not to add complexity. Rather, it’s a convenient, technologically reliable and customer service friendly way for me to better control pricing and marketing promotions according to my whims while at the same time ensuring a pleasant purchasing and download experience for listeners.

What does it sound like? You’ll have to wait for the audio sample which will appear here and elsewhere when the audiobook drops this month. Meanwhile, rest assured that David Stifel, an award-winning narrator with at least 180 audiobooks to his credit – see http://www.dstifel.com/ – did a fantastic job bringing it to life. I’m not kidding, he’s got a great voice and a flair for accents, languages and all things science fiction, including the hard science. He even spent a year in Cairo himself, of all places, and has an interest in Egyptology! How much more apt a voice could there be for Time Crime?

Truly Bizarre & Lovely

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Truly bizarre and lovely. If only TC1 could really be that. Otherwise, it’s a compelling little phrase – thank you, S. of Canada, for this chestnut – that is sticking with me.  Stickiness being a strange and lovely thing in its own right, after all. Let alone when it has to do with the tiny, reddish tentacles of the Sundew, a carnivorous plant I came across on a hillside during our Scotland hike last year. The lime green moss beside it? Dunno.

In publishing news, I sold an eBook sale in the U.S. yesterday! And this with my Amazon ad not delivering, so somebody found their way to it somehow, yay! Even with a review still pending, the thrill of a sale bestows the sense of edging away, a little, for now at least, from the cliff edge of obscurity. Which is to say I can’t complain, I’ve sold three copies – two in the U.K. and this one in the USA this month which smashes, humbly, my goal of at least a sale per month. Three is a long way from zero, as pathetic as that may sound to anyone who isn’t in my shoes as an indie author. And forgive me, dear readers, for me obsessing on sales. It’s simply that it matters so much, every little step forward.

Meanwhile, I set up a new Amazon ad in the U.S., a so-called standard advertisement that allows me to utilize the new feature of including both eBook and print formats in the same ad – why I’m not allowed to do this within the “custom” ad function, where one is allowed to include a little blurb beneath the cover image, who knows? – KDP has its mysterious ways, so be it. My daily budget of $7.00 was tapped out already at four clicks early this morning and I’ve got the campaign budgeted at $75 per month, we’ll see if I can work quality clicks – I’ve the thing set to boost spend for first page impressions, for example – versus just curiosity clicks (I’m still convinced most clicks I’m getting are just impulsive, based on the “Oh, is that a Covid mask?” response, though I’ll likely never have any data to support that intuition). Anyway, I’m doing what I can to focus my advertising, to increase my chances of a click-thru and not just watch my money swirl down the cost-of-advertising drain.

The audiobook production is cruising along – D.S. posted chapters seven and eight last night. He explained that his posts lag behind his recording; that the two tasks take place at different times in his workday and in different studios. I knew nothing of audiobook production prior to this but it makes sense that the narrator takes notes on any client comments but otherwise leaves corrections, other than his own personal tweaks as he prepares the posts, until after the recording is complete. These limits upon editing requests by way of the customer are entirely reasonable – hell, the cost per hour has to be controlled somehow.

That said, I was anxious as hell regarding how D.S. would handle “Masters of Reality,” the chapter introducing the Molemen. D.S.’s version of the General and Cog were fine – in my head I’d envisioned and en-listened, as it were, a sturdier, somehow chunkier version of each “man” but this has been the case generally. That is, several of the voices are higher pitched or otherwise thinner, somehow, than I’d imagined. But D.S. has to voice all these characters as distinctly as he can and I understand that entails inevitable limits – raising the pitch/tone here for this character, lowering it there, adding this or that accent, etc. Regarding accents, it seems they come and  go a little but, again, this is understandable and entirely reasonable: it would require multiple rehearsals – who knows how many? – and interminable back-and-forth between D.S. and me to fully tweak everything, every damn sentence, and to what end? So that each line, after having spent a zillion hours and a zillion dollars on the project would presumably be perfect? I don’t want perfection even if I could afford it.

Rather, for the audiobook, which is obviously, inevitably, a very different experience of the novel than the text, I want a vibe that pulls from the inspiration of the narrator. Akin to my experience with my editor, I seek the energy and authentic zeal that comes, at best, from wholehearted, collaborative inspiration. The story must find its own way at this point and that requires a deft hand and ear on my part to know when to step in and when to just allow things to play out. It’s all about what works.

As such, I see (or more accurately, hear) all the hard work that is involved in performing – for that’s what it is, a performance – an audiobook. That is, D.S. isn’t merely reading the thing through in his own voice – what fun would that be? I’m good, then, with the voice acting and by that I mean to say I’m good with D.S. improvising and interpreting his own voices for the characters. My pre-production notes within Findaway notwithstanding (they were merely my intuitions anyway), I’m relying upon the narrator to make it work based on his own intuitions, his own feeling for the it all and for that matter, his limitations. D.S. can’t do every goddamn voice there is in the world, after all, let alone somehow divine how I’ve been hearing the characters all these years in my own head.

Frankly, I don’t really know how I’ve been hearing the characters in my head. My interior dialogue – the inner voice that rambles on when I’m writing and reading is, apparently, impossible to pin down. Hence, the character’s voices within TC are a weirdly amorphous and ineffable thing so that my expectations are essentially baseless. Despite nevertheless bringing them to the listening experience. It’s all very odd, but I’m keen to roll with it, to not nitpick and bog things down with my influence. In a word I am relying upon the cooperation of the cosmos, holding on loosely and occasionally letting go entirely.

That said, I was glad or relieved or both to hear Five rendered in a straightforward and unadorned manner. “Nice work on the Molemen, D.,” I said; “I was compelled to allow you to wing it and see what you came up with, all good; Five, such a big player, is unforced – you managed, somehow, a perfectly subtle oddness or alien-ness that may or may not be there which is exactly the ticket! Very fun, thanks!

Listening to my writing is another thing entirely, of course. Sometimes I’m good with it, often I wonder whether I’m making a fool of myself and every now and then I think, yes, that’s not hackneyed dross in need of overhaul. I supposed it will be an endless critique on my part – I hear things that ought to have been edited out, little clunky phrases here and there and I think, goddammit, I’m an idiot! How can I be such a hack! People don’t talk like that! Or maybe they do but I didn’t intend Z or Neutic or whomever to come across so, I don’t know, this or that. Argh! – it sucks to not be a genius artist-craftsperson, to rather be this guy, this wannabe merely trying his best and inevitably coming up short

Alternatively, I think the story has legs, that I’ve rendered it well enough to legitimize keeping at it, to take my lumps and try to not make the same mistakes in TC2, for what it’s worth; to keep chiseling away at mastery, to keep showing up, come what may. I’m selling at least a book per month. Which isn’t anything but then again it’s everything. Because it means my vision-of-greatness has yet to become a train wreck. Things are moving forward, step by step; I’m building the brand, such as it is, brick by brick and I haven’t compromised my integrity at all along the way. I’m doing all this wholeheartedly. I’m all in. I’m one-hundred percent invested in the success of Time Crime and I’m putting my money where my mouth is, too. I believe in the book. I don’t love it for its flaws but I’m willing to support it, to maintain my faith in it, despite them.

One never gets anywhere, meanwhile, by way of hinging everything upon one’s version of perfection. Only attempting something when you feel prepared to do it perfectly and you’ll die having done nothing at all. Mastery is an aspiration not a prerequisite. If you’re out there waiting, perhaps feeling as if you’re getting ready to get ready, I say go ahead: begin. If nothing else. And as soon as you do, you’re authentic, legitimized – you’re on the playing field and in the game – and things will happen.

Unguarded Moments

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Monday, July 27, 2020. I’ve spent too many hours at the home improvement this past week, topped off by a ten-hour shift yesterday. I’ve today off but I have to be in at 5:30am tomorrow, dammit. That’s just too damn early even if it is merely a 5.5 hour shift. It’s too damn disorienting, these crazy hours. This so-called part-time job, the demand of it, has become far too much like a full time commitment and it’s up to me to make a change: I need to dial down the hours so I can get back to my true work.

Speaking of which I’m liking the audiobook performance of D.S. Sure, some of my writing could be better – where in hell did all the adverbs come from, for example? – didn’t I get those purged in the zillion edits? But he’s doing well with all the characters, getting his legs under him, as it were, I think with the accents and personalities. I told him Captain Chase was a little revelation, that I loved the mild southern drawl. Here I thought I’d written the character as a bit utilitarian, perhaps a cliché foil for Z.’s extrapolations, but D.S. really brought out the man’s gruff leadership, his idiosyncratic appeal. Z and Vixy? Well, what an impossible task, what with my expectations and preconceptions for these two lodestone characters – besides Five they are the backbone of the entire series – all of them having lived so long within my own imagination. Hearing them being given voice, literally, can’t help but be a sticky, fraught experience. How could I ever be completely comfortable with anyone else’s reading of them? Nevertheless, the professionalism of D.S. is coming through, he’s forging ahead with how it has to be, making it work, getting me past my notions of how Z and Vixy and even Neutic ought to sound, how this or that line was read, the intended tone and all that. Hell, it’s not as if there are any rehearsals and I can say, well, I’d like a little more of this and less of that or what have you. From what I can tell it’s pretty much a first take kind of thing, barring any slips of the tongue and technical glitches, any redos that D.S. takes care of prior to posting his progress. The schedule is tight, I get it.

Meanwhile, D.S. is phrasing things, the foreign words, the sci-fi technical jargon and the block quotes from texts (which may in particular have bogged things down if he didn’t seem to really be invested in getting them across) just fine – goddamn more than just fine, he’s bringing it all to life in a manner that I couldn’t have foreseen – and frankly some of the stuff, the pronunciation of “I Ching” for example, I’ve never encountered myself nor bothered to look up. He says, “ee-ching” whereas, in my ignorance, I’ve been imagining “ī-ching,” that kind of thing. And I’m not going to start trying to verify accuracy or interpretations now, things are rolling, I’ve bestowing the benefit of the doubt, I want the thing finished a.s.a.p. and, likewise, I want to maintain an air of spontaneity, of freshness and pulpiness, perhaps, that might get ground out of it with nitpicking this or that. The writing it what it is, the style and the story has to stand up to somebody else’s hermeneutic (!), it’s all part of the art-craft of it. So that I rely on D.S. to bring his version of the world to it.

And in all honesty, as I laid in bed at midnight last night, listening to chapters two, three and four, I was engaged, even galvanized and thrilled, swept away by the action at the T.E. and the burgeoning drama of the story. It surprised the hell out of me that I didn’t want it to stop. Christ, how many times have i read it, and discussed it and thought the hell out of it, after all? But there I was, the earbud in my ear, hanging upon the silence at the conclusion of chapter four, wanting to keep going, to hear more, as if somehow I didn’t know everything about the goddamn thing backwards and forwards.

I suppose it’s one of the gifts – oftentimes it seems there are so very few – of authorship, of having put my whole life into this thing – the story, the editing, the production, marketing, money and the mythology. Sure, it’s got its weaknesses but for an indie outsider first novel I have to admit that, at least so far, despite my trepidation as to its value or my abilities, the story has life whenever I encounter it and a vibe and I want to know happens next, not just how what I wrote will sound coming out of somebody else’s mouth.

The book probably could be criticized for starting slowly but world building, I can tell you, isn’t to be rushed, I think – the mythology has to be functional – awe, cosmos, sociology, supporting psychology – and the characters just require a bit of time to come to life, for the reader to feel like they know these folks and ultimately that they care about them. I sat there at the end of my listening session, the images of the story in my head, the voices too, and I thought, Yes, I managed to get it right. I’m scared for Vixy. And I identify with the anxiety and physical suffering of Z. I fretted over the Professor and Miss Morrison and was glad to have the Captain and the Lieutenant doing their best. And when Neutic, at the end of chapter four, sits in his passenger seat on the jet to Eranos, pondering what in hell he’s gotten himself into and invokes Hettie, his murdered twin sister, vowing, despite his self-doubts, to avenge her and that sentiment seems to effectively evoke his perhaps newfound personal investment in Vixy’s well-being I can tell you that I believed it – that is, I believed in these people and how they’d become so quickly tied together, bound to each other. Who would give a damn about Vixy being kidnapped, after all, or Z being injured or what Neutic or anyone else had to do with any of it if we didn’t like or feel emotionally invested in the characters? We’ve all read books and watched films where none of the characters are likeable and it sucks. It’s not pandering to folks to give them likeable characters, rather, it’s essential. Essential to grounded, oriented, fully functional mythology, to an adventure that rings true. Like true fiction.

And, of all things during this hectic week of working so much and taking care of Ruby and the heat making it tough to sleep, of being worn out and even ignoring my book sales for a handful of days, I discovered that I’d sold another book in the U.K.! – hooray, a paperback, sold on the 21st and shipped 25th – I’ve been too burned out to even check my Amazon charts otherwise I could have enjoyed the psychological boost earlier. Otherwise, it’s good to know the U.K. POD system is cranking – four days or so from order to ship, that’s great. Moreover, they’ve got a promotion going over there, a “no rush reward” and the price of the paperback and hardcover are reduced – the hardcover is 51% off and the paperback discounted four pounds or so. So that this sale comes not from my ad campaign – it doesn’t show on that report as a click-thru purchase.

Anyway, perhaps the sale prompted somebody to pull the trigger on a copy that may have been languishing in one of their lists? I’ll never know. Unless I hear from them someday. I’d like to hear from somebody, I’m still pining for my first review, come what may.

It’s nice, then, to get a boost in confidence while the audiobook is being produced – I was losing heart in it, in the book and in my own abilities, working the hours at the home improvement, wondering if the cosmos was telling me that I really only belonged there, earning a wage; that I didn’t have any legitimate business being an authorpreneur; that I was just another wannabe. Well, maybe I’ll always be just another wannabe, perhaps it’s not something to even want to get past because maybe that’s where the art-craft juice, the inspiration comes from? I don’t know. But I do know that it’s fun and good and life-affirming to enjoy the connection of having sold a book and perhaps – perhaps! – make a reader happy, too. I can endure employment with ease, then (or at least much more gracefully inside my own head) when I know my other life is real.

One thing about the light or lights, which I encountered again at the home improvement last night, at the tail end of my ten-hour shift: besides being associated with trauma (which includes fatigue) there is always a sense of surrender and humility. The light is both humbling and humble in its own way, somehow. Perhaps because it’s just a window, a glimpse into and an awareness of how things are, how we all are, how things have always been and always will be, I don’t know for certain. That’s it, too, I must say: the light is abiding, steadfast and conversely, paradoxically, transient to be sure, and compassionate. Yet it does not bestow certainty. It does not say anything or reveal answers. If it’s revelatory then there’s a mildness to it. It has nothing to do with transcendence, with encountering something so-called bigger than this life. Rather, it seems to have everything to do with an impossibly simple, straightforward here-ness. It’s not about more than this but, somehow, more this-ness, period.

Words fail but not completely. The light, as I’ve said before, is information. Practical in the sense that it says, You are what you are and there is nothing else for you to be doing. In a heartfelt sense rather than a practical, pragmatic, cognitive sense. Thinking about the light, for instance, doesn’t affect it, doesn’t influence or change it, doesn’t reveal anything more and it’s the thinking, the reasoning, the internalizing, perhaps, that tarnishes the humility, the humbleness of the experience. You belong here, it says. You’ve never not belonged here unless you have walked away of your own accord. Surrender. Or not, so be it.

The information, then, such as it is, is occult, yes, which is to say hidden in the day-to-day sense of things but then again entirely open and available. No adjudications. Likewise no rewards. No pats on the back, no “good job.” No sense of special-ness. Neither is it egalitarian. It’s simply not about ideas at all. Cognition? Only in regard to the self-awareness I feel during the experience. Neither can it be described as an out-of-body experience. No. I’m always there, which is to say, here. The lights are there, or here, or everywhere to be seen for a few restorative, compassionate moments. And then it’s gone and things are back to normal. But with a lingering pleasantness; an assuaging, restorative unguardedness.

Why write about it? To what end? Why not keep it secret? Why risk sounding like a tripped out weirdo? Well, again, why not write about it? Because it’s otherwise occult or hidden doesn’t imply that it’s intended to be, that it’s intentionally so. We just don’t often see it, the light. The lights. Or I don’t, at least. We’re mostly guarded. I’m mostly guarded. And how is writing about the light any different than writing about the novel? Or the puppy? Or dinner? It’s all just me being here in my way, being who I am, which mostly resembles a version of everyone else being who they are, too, on a good day. It’s all personal mythology within the context of a cultural version, within the context of cultural mythological circumstance. And sometimes, unpredictably, humbly, temporarily if it must be, we find a way, our way, home. That’s all.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that I’ve a reader, too, on Goodreads, someone that that has Time Crime on their “currently-reading” shelf. “Won this book in a giveaway,” declares S., “and it sounds truly bizarre and lovely! Looking forward to getting into it next.”

S. is one of the two Canadians winners that I shipped a copy to – I placed the Amazon author copy order immediately upon receiving the addresses of the winners but the delays getting the packages to the Great White North were apparently unavoidable. Otherwise, here’s hoping S. doesn’t find my posting her comment at all appropriating or offensive – it’s not intended to be anything but a bit of news for the blog and, on behalf of the novel, some good energy. Thank you, S. – I so very much hope that you find the story worthwhile!

Heaven & Earth

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The problem – the predicament – invoked by any contemplative tradition that pivots upon the idea of unattachment, upon freeing oneself from the suffering induced by desire is that seeking freedom from desire is itself a desire. Be it within Hinduism or Buddhism, what have you, the sought after release binds you to this world or that, to samsara or Heaven. In seeking freedom, seeking anything, you are bound to the thing being sought; one inevitably grasps at the freedom from grasping. Suffering, then, within this life, seems inevitable. To address this psycho-spiritual quandary, this philosophical and ultimately personal mythological dilemma, the wisdom traditions must broaden or even double back upon the narrow interpretation of nirvana or heaven or selflessness in the spiritual sense and acknowledge that life, as we know it day to day, is a duality: our hearts may be in heaven but our bodies remain here, bound to the vicissitudes, struggles, predicaments and challenges – the play of opposites – that comprise life and death. Analogies, allegories, symbols – myths – at their best do well to glean practical wisdom from the otherwise impenetrable, impossible ideal.

Yudhisthira, for example, the king of Hastinapur within the Mahabharata, by way of supposedly having released himself from attachment to all things, even the well-being of his family, is granted entry by the gods, the Devas, into the ultimate Heaven, as a mortal, an incomparable achievement. He arrived, having endured an arduous journey through the Himalayas, even losing his wife and brothers along the way, never swaying from his unattachment. The interpretation of the dialogue is, and any misinterpretations are mine:

“You shall not enter with that dog, Yudhisthira,” declares Indra, king of the Devas.[1]

“Dog?” Yudhisthira turns. “Oh. Yes. Well, this animal has accompanied me of its own accord. And has likewise endured all the trials of the journey. I will not enter Heaven without him. It would be unjust.”

“Unjust?” Indra scowled and consulted with the Devas. Then he addressed Yushisthira. “You have passed the final test. Your devotion to dharma coupled with your courageous compassion for the dog, who as it happens is itself a god, the god of Dharma, has earned you both access to this Heavenly realm as a mortal.”

Audiobook production has begun! I received a fifteen minute trial reading for approval through Findaway Voices and also comments from the narrator, D.S. – he had a question about my preferred pronunciation of Neutic, a strategy for footnotes that made sense (ignore them unless they add to the story, which some of them may) and translations (allow the listener to glean meaning from the context). I agreed with it all – I’m keen to rely upon the professional experience of D.S. and I understand, if anything, that audiobook production, akin to theater, say, is a performance and the integrity of the performance ought to take precedence over the text.

All this comes, like a gift, just when my zeal and convictions have been perilously flagging. With the book not selling and the job consuming too much time and energy my wannabe authorpreneur adventure has lately seemed impossibly daunting. But, having let it go, this came back. It’s a refresh. A beginning. Time Crime yet lives. And I’m thrilled and inspired, again, to engage the story and the characters – I’ve missed them! I’d frankly almost forgotten what I was working for at the home improvement. But indeed it has been for this, the audiobook. All the crazy shifts, lousy pay, aching joints and exhaustion has been for the book.

That said, I was goddamn anxious as hell about listening to the sample – I had to work myself up before I hit “play,” reading the advice from Findaway regarding how to review the sample, what to do if you don’t like it and all that. They do a good job of projecting sensitivity and straightforwardness – a sense that they understand the challenges but also possess the experience to get you through them. Anyway, I swallowed my anxiety and took the plunge, afraid that my writing would sound unbearably hackneyed but otherwise game to get on with things. If I can’t write, then listening to someone read the damn book will put the nail in the coffin of my aspirations like nothing else.

So, I listened. And, whew, it wasn’t terrible. D.S. did a fine job. I’d perhaps edit a handful of things in the writing – what seems glaring now makes me wonder why I didn’t catch it earlier, but then I know that I’ll always want to edit a handful of things and I’ve got to let it go and just keep some faith in the story and my talents, such as they are. Hey, this is what it is to be on the playing field, this is what it is to be on the adventure: I may end up an incompetent moron for all to see and hear. I may fail. But it sounded okay. That is to say, D.S. seems to get it and my only job is to let him do his thing – he’s very experienced and while I thought, gee, I might prefer that Vixy sound a little tougher and bitchier, less diminutive, less girly, and Mr. Z., he ought to sound more sonorous and wizened or… I told myself to shut the hell up because I know nothing about voicing a novel and when I discard my preconceptions I grasp that D.S. has done well to differentiate the characters, he’s got the pace, the vibe, the magic, and he’s got to be provided the freedom to interpret things without me nitpicking every detail. In short, the novel has a voice and for better or worse it’s mine. If the reading makes me cringe (and for the most part it doesn’t, not yet, anyway) it’s nobody’s fault but mine. So that, inevitably, D.S. reading the Conrad passage, well, I thought I’d like to be able to write like that. It was nice, then, when D.S. graciously included a little encouragement at the end of his comments: “Thanks for the opportunity and for a really unique and fun story – sci-fi is always nice, but what I might call really literate sci-fi is a treat!”

Funny, I’m not exactly sure what kind of monster I’ve created with TC – Angie’s mother finally commented, “I read your book – you’re very intelligent, I’m not sure I can understand all of it.” Okay, hmm, well, perhaps a better writer would have made it more readable, I don’t know, I wasn’t trying to be intelligent; rather I was trying to be engaging, but I’m doing my best. Who knows? – I may not be a novelist, we’ll see, perhaps I should stick to non-fiction? “Thanks for reading,” I told her. As far as D.S., I can only assume he’s being sincere. I mean, he’s working, he’s not reading for pleasure, it’s his job to plow through the good, the bad and the ugly and move on to the next one. He’s busy and in demand. And I’m frankly not.

Meanwhile, let me tell you, it’s more than a little nerve wracking, this business of listening to somebody read your work, knowing they’ve read better books and probably worse, I suppose, too. Otherwise, the experience of bringing Time Crime to life in this new way is as invigorating and thrilling and goddamn terrifying as a proper adventure ought to be. And it’s nice, after all these exhausting, seemingly directionless months trying to hold down the job and somehow hold to the idea of being a sci-fi novelist, one that isn’t an embarrassment to the genre, paying for advertising, picking away at editing TC2 when I get the energy, trying to read and keep up my scholarship…, well, in all humility, it’s nice to do something I’m good at. It all clicks when I’m engaged with the writing, even when it has to do with the production of an audiobook version – the work is real work, invigorating instead of merely exhausting. Which only speaks to the authenticity and necessity of engaging one’s personal mythology. Or in more plain spoken terms, it was Jack Canfield who said spend more time doing what you want to do and less time doing what you don’t want to do.

It sounds simple enough yet somehow many of us screw this up. How? Why? Most of my ten years of journaling have at least something to do with this self-induced schism. Since April when I took the home improvement job, for example, I’ve felt as if I’ve done very little other than scramble to keep up, to learn enough, fast enough, to get the job done, endure the shifting schedule, endure the hours, keep the faith, as it were, in myself and at the same time let it all go. And now help take care of the puppy. All the while being drained by a life that seems too heavy on obligation and too light on inspiration. And aspiration. Seamus Heaney, the well-known Irish poet who died in 2013 said of George Mackay Brown, “George strikes me as one who followed his true course… he didn’t fail himself.”[2]

I can only aspire to do the same.

Last year at this time I still had my big environmental manager job at Blasco (name changed to protect the tyrants) and we’d come back from our adventure travel trip to Scotland, hitting Inverness and the surrounding Cairngorm high plateau (the highlands), taking a ferry to the Outer Hebrides, hiking the Isles of Skye, Harris and Lewis, all very hustle and bustle and planes and automobiles and buses – too rushed but still worth it (and looking back gloriously free of sham-demic silliness). It was Angie’s dream to visit Scotland and the job I had, another career type job and it paid more than I’d ever made in my life (the story is in the DOP, of course) made it almost immediately financially feasible to do so. So we did. Follow your bliss and support those who are following theirs and all that. We added a tour bus day trip to Orkney, visiting Kirkwall and on the whole, considering the blur of everywhere we went, I’m keen to remember the Callanish Standing Stones, Skara Brae on the blustery shore of Orkney, the Ring of Brodgar, the ferries, the water, the mythological resonance in all of it. That, and the rockiness – the huge broken hunks of black stone that seem to comprise the very backbone of Scotland, as if the gods hauled up the crust of the Earth and flopped it upside down to create the land. That the standing stones themselves are more ancient than the pyramids is mind blowing – such evocative mythos!

“In Orkney lore, the stones are darkness-loving giants who came down one night to the lochs to drink and dance, lingered too long, and were petrified by the rising sun.”[3]

I love it. That, and I’ll remember the sheep, which seemed to be everywhere, so that we enjoyed fantastic lamb dishes. And, of course, given my predilection for offal, we couldn’t pass up a delectable plate of haggis.

Of note, Ruby is just past ten weeks old, currently at 4.5 pounds or so but putting on ounces quickly, getting her legs under her and otherwise being her own adventure. Dogs are nothing if not completely present, are they not? And the smaller the dog, it seems, the bigger the personality.

[1] Dogs have a peculiar status in Hindu culture. In the Rig Veda, the dog is seen as a protector… but dogs are also considered ominous as they are associated with Yama, the god to death. They are associated not with civilization but the wilderness, which is why they are linked to mendicants…. Adding to their reputation for bringing misfortune, dogs are also regarded as the mount of Bhairava, the fearsome form of Shiva. Their reputation is such that they are kept away from wedding altars and holy sites, and a howling dog is a harbinger of bad luck. In fact, even the sight of a dog is considered to bring bad luck. Because of their territorial nature, dogs  represent devotedness and bondage, with a need for constant attention and validation. They, therefore, become symbols of neediness, insecurity, attachment and ego. Citation: Ahmed, Bushra; Rajrupa Das, Medha Gupta, Hina Jain, Seetha Natesh, Rupa Rao, eds., The Illustrated Mahabharata: The Definitive Guide to India’s Greatest Epic, (New York: DK Publishing, 2017), 413.

[2] Maggie Fergusson, George Mackay Brown: The Life, (London: John Murray, 2007 [2006]), x.

[3] Ibid., 13.

Moth to the Flame

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As a novelist I’m an entertainer. As a scholar I’m, well, a scholar; which is to say a learner. Not a teacher, per se, because, after all, most scholars eschew teaching unless it’s the only thing that will pay the bills. Ought I, then, with propriety in mind, keep my mouth shut regarding current events? Reflecting upon my own attitude towards authors or actors or musicians who find it necessary to spout their views on things, I struggle with the idea of espousing mine. One risks, otherwise, attracting all the wrong kinds of attention, namely, unhindered zealotry on behalf of those with opposing, let’s say alternative interpretations. Meanwhile, what is my point, my goal, my intention? To persuade? To influence? To change things? Or merely to rant and rave, to divide, aggravate and pester? To win. Win what? I don’t know, exactly. I do know that I feel fraught and impatient (my personal curse) and while I can tolerate conflict as an expression of conviction I can’t seem to very well tolerate conflict when it mutates into battles between opposing forces of, say, tyranny. Why can’t we all get along? Well, it’s part of human nature not to – read your history and your mythology – but there’s something called the Golden Rule that in my interpretation transcends any particular mythology: do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

I study mythology, of course, and within it, the idea of mythologization. I’ve mentioned my outline for The World as Personal & Cultural Mythology (an oblique nod to Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation) within the DOP. There will be at least a chapter devoted to what it means for something (including someone) to become mythologized. Briefly, it has to do with anything that transforms from pedestrian everyday-ness, practical utility, intimate familiarity and unassuming psychological and physical proximity to that of something invoking, evoking, expressing and otherwise symbolizing something divine, or other. A person, place or thing becomes more than a noun; rather it is transformed into metaphor, into an unforeseen third thing which emerges with a potential greater, more affecting, more potent than the disparate imagery of the parts – the whole or gestalt is greater than the sum of a metaphor’s parts.

How so? Well, recall the four functions of mythology:

  • Awe
  • Cosmology
  • Sociology
  • Pedagogical psychology

Any religion, being a subset of mythology, will possess these functions more or less successfully and, most importantly, more or less functionally. That is, a mythology is fully functional – it works, firing on all cylinders within cultural and personal contexts – it is dysfunctional (broken and ineffective or at best historicized), or it operates somewhere within the shabby middle, neither fully functional, vital and engaging nor entirely forgotten, exiled, or relegated to the intellectual purgatory of embellishment and falsehood.

Likewise, the idea of a pandemic can become mythologized, evolving into an unforeseen third thing, or Third Thing, empowered by the passions, mysterious intuitions, aspirations, ignorance, misunderstandings, ambitions and, at worst, the fears of its creators. (The Third Thing, by the way, is a vital, authentic, essential aspect of mythology and it deserves its own chapter within The World as Personal & Cultural Mythology, you heard it here first!).

Mythologization is a coalescing of all these energies, within us and outside of us. Hence, mythologization becomes a recipe for divinity in the best sense – namely, an otherwise sublime expression of humanity – or, conversely, one of disaster. Remember that all things are encompassed by and expressed within myth or it isn’t one – the good, the bad and the ugly reside within it, the play-of-opposites that we experience as the predicament of living is exactly part of it and this is the authenticity of mythology, its grounding, centering, sustaining power in our lives.

The virus, then? Once again, address the functions. Does the idea of the virus now possess versions of all four?

  • Awe: Certainly. The idea of the virus strikes fear, deathly fear, within the hearts of many. Fear that transcends, as it must when an idea becomes myth, the biological, otherwise scientific facts. (For my purpose here, I will set aside discussion upon the philosophy of science, namely, what constitutes science and the so-called scientific method, etcetera). The perceived risk of the virus has transcended, over these six months or so, any reasonable, factual or for that matter historical evaluation of statistical risk.
  • Cosmology: Yes, a cosmology surrounds this idea of the virus that supports the sense of awe that it invokes and evokes. That is, ask a person living in fear of the virus to describe their interpretation of the events and conditions of this world, of the universe for that matter, and they will proceed to regal you with any number of falsities, misinformed theories, fake news, beliefs, interpretations, stories (usually by way of the media). Things, they may say, will never be the same….
  • Sociology: Certainly, and we only need to, once again, address the ceaseless dialogue that has engendered the legislative adjudications – the exalting of this or that voice and the repression of others. The establishment of the new right and wrong – thou shalt and thou shalt not – the wealth bestowed and the poverty inflicted, the power, corruption and lies, the sanctions and the terror wielded against all who seek balance or openness or merely a different opinion, a contrary point of view. No, it is said, thou shalt wear a mask, thou shalt close thy business, thou shalt not stand closer to thy brethren than six feet… and so on. Read your history and none of this can be seen as new, let alone “unprecedented,” scare quotes intended.
  • Pedagogical psychology: More accurately, as Campbell implies, a pedagogical supporting psychology – that overt epistemology (knowledge), acquired learnedness, sense of available wisdom and sustaining internal (personal and individual) resonance with the imagery surrounding the virus, say, that allows for a reliable personal perspective, an intuitive support in the form of one’s day-to-day hermeneutical resources, the psychological tools one has access to in their struggle or success in influencing the world of action or merely coping with its vicissitudes, with our sense of predicament, or not.

The power of myth, then, is to be regarded as the power of the sublime, of Mystery intentionally capitalized, implying its divine aspect, in all its aspects, including, besides that of divine grace, the energies of the shadow; of the dark, the contrary and the negative. Compelling myth is a compelling mash-up of beauty and horror, love and hate, gain and loss, joy and tears, humor and menace, veracity and falsity, compassion and heartlessness, humanity and inhumanity, pleasantness and loathsomeness, creation and annihilation, atonement and exile. Life and death. The list of opposites is limited only by our imagination. I often point to the image of the Hindu Kali as a preternaturally effective and affecting expression of this idea and of course we can have fun with it too (recall that humor and fun are always present within classic, fully functional myth), so that Kali makes her appearance within Time Crime!

An aspect of myth or mythologization that I have been pondering more so lately has to be its virulence. Myth somehow mimics a virus in the sense that it creeps it and takes up residence, very often permanent residence. It can become so entrenched within us, in a weird psycho-biological manner, as it were, that nothing short of one’s death can end the occupation. And even then…. Entrenched myth, in other words, has a power, among its other impressive powers, to resist assault of any type. In fact it tends to effectively muster its own army, large or small, personal or cultural in defense of what a particular mythology symbolizes. Holy war, in the worst examples. In less global contexts it can be merely sub-cultural or personal. When the mythological libertarians, so to say, match up against the mythological ideologues all hell breaks loose. Metaphorical lynching takes place. Ask any number of academics, for example, when one of them with a bright new idea tries to take on the establishment. To say nothing of reinterpreting the historical facts, should there be any, associated with either a rock star or a saint. I have lectured about the mythologization of The Beatles. So-called Beatlemania and all that. Hordes of screaming, out of their minds youngsters willing to do just about anything to connect with their symbols of… what? Well, that’s another book.

As another example, consider that of Jeff Kripal’s experience after having written his excellent Kali’s Child some decades ago now.

https://smile.amazon.com/Kalis-Child-Mystical-Teachings-Ramakrishna/dp/0226453774/ref=sr_1_1?crid=19MU2KIT69YGT&dchild=1&keywords=kali%27s+child&qid=1594749202&s=books&sprefix=kali%27s+child%2Cstripbooks%2C179&sr=1-1

Kripal, whom I’ve mentioned often in the DOP and with whom I’ve corresponded, is a professor of comparative religion, let’s just keep it simply described, at Rice University and an author of all things super natural (the space between the words is intended). Anyway, his dissertation at the University of Chicago which became this, his first book, happened to focus on the homoeroticism present within Ramakrishna’s spiritual life – the compelling Tantric qualities which is to say the spiritual eroticism expressed within some of Ramakrishna’s experiences. Hey, recall my post “A Whole Lotta Rosie” as a lighthearted discussion of the power of sex, to put it bluntly, within mysticism. Sexuality is powerful energy and whenever you have powerful energy flowing, you’ve got mythology, oftentimes Hindu mythology.

But to my point: Kripal was and is to this day is excoriated (though now perhaps with less heedless vitriol) by Indian scholars after his book was published, so viciously (including death threats) that, after years of trying to defend his scholarship at risk to his own physical and psychological health he essentially surrendered and chose to focus on his other, related interests in the field. Here, then, is a man who wholeheartedly studied a mythologized being (Ramakrishna is, after all, regarded as a saint and there he is at the beginning of this post, residing in marble at the headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission in Belur Math) rendered his interpretation of the facts of the man’s life and the nature of his spirituality, for indeed he was a real person who lived and died in Bengal in the nineteenth century, and instead of receiving scholarly engagement, which would naturally include scholarly criticism, he was himself interpreted as something of an anti-Christ (Ramakrishna, essentially a Hindu, in fact endorsed many tenants of not only Christianity but other religions – he was keen to pursue what he experienced as spiritual truth wherever he found it, let’s put it that way). Kripal was interpreted by some Indians as having sought to de-canonize, as it were, the revered mystic.

Why such a violent, some may say virulently viral reaction to a legitimate study? And in what sense is Ramakrishna revered as a saint or otherwise? Well, consider the interpretation, the hermeneutical rendering of the legacy of Ramakrishna by the renown Rabindranath Tagore, who wrote a poem about him:

Diverse courses of worship from varied springs of fulfillment have mingled in your meditation.

The manifold revelation of the joy of the Infinite has given form to a shrine of unity in your life

where from far and near arrive salutations to which I join my own.

Furthermore, “during the 1937 Parliament of Religions, which was held at the Ramakrishna Mission in Calcutta, Tagore acknowledged Ramakrishna as a great saint because”:

[T]he largeness of his spirit could comprehend seemingly antagonistic modes of sadhana, and because the simplicity of his soul shames for all time the pomp and pedantry of pontiffs and pundits.[1]

Myth, then, as I’ve said (and Mr. Z. says), will start a war. A schizoid mythology (any disoriented, uncentered, ungrounded hence dysfunctional mythology) is an ideology. And what is this virus nonsense at this point besides a war, always of ideologies. So that the power of myth and mythology disintegrates into ideology, into mandate and adjudication and the polarization – the us versus them – of righteousness. Mythology isn’t free of this darkness, however, a fully functional mythology, one that is oriented and grounding, both personally and culturally will, I believe, tip towards the good, the positive and the freedom within and without all of us.

Ah, to post or not post, that is the question. On the one hand I’ve tried to hold to my ideal of speaking my mind, otherwise why speak, or write at all? Who needs sugar-coated rhetoric? Passion begets passion, zeal begets zeal. I’m a big fan of zeal because mythology is made of it. But when zeal becomes zealotry all the energy bleeds away, all the power dissipates into the news of the day and the eternal quality, the quality of eternity, the eternal wisdom of myth is poisoned with opinion and temporality hinged to ethics and morality, all of which is in flux. Zealotry amounts, if we’re being as honest and mindful as possible, to fear. Fear aggression. Versus valor. Which is always a defense of truth. Myth expresses it all but the lasting imagery must communicate poise, the affecting image must be one of equanimity, of stillness within storm, of order within chaos – we must be made privy by way of the image to what matters most: the tincture of humanity that pervades all things, the good in truth that tips the balance of our influence, on a good day, for the betterment of all.

Mythology means too much to me, then, to risk tarnishing it by way of grasping at posting a saucy blog, one that blogs, spews rhetoric and otherwise seeks attention. I want to succeed in my writing, I want to be read, I want to engage with my tribe but not at all costs. My opinion on the virus and masks and such, then, will remain in the DOP, tucked away in the journal as my way of writing through it, as it always has been. Intrepid readers will know that I’ve been posting DOP1 excerpts but now, having tapped out the first volume from 2011-12, I’m loath to move on to posting DOP2 for it contains probably far too much rant, too much polemic, too much me.

Good luck, then, bucko, getting anybody to read your higher minded discursiveness. Who cares? What are you trying to prove? There is pedagogy and then there is pedantry; there is revealing narrative and mere confession. I don’t know for sure what I’m doing except my best to communicate what’s in my heart and mind together, as I “see” it, in so many words. So many words, exactly, that’s all it is. In a hundred years who would find my thoughts on current affairs at all compelling? Nobody. No one ever finds anyone’s thoughts or jokes or editorials on current events compelling. But when the writing (or any form of art-craft) throws a window open to myth, to the mythic, well then one is onto something; something lasting and special and disturbing and moving and transforming. Or at least interesting to folks like me. The mysterium tremendum, as it’s called, is there. And that’s where I want to be, like a moth to the flame, come what may.

[1] Wikipedia.org, “Ramakrishna,” retrieved 7.14.2020. The quotation is further cited by wiki as from Kathleen M O’Connell, Utsav-Celebration: Tagore’s Approach to Cultivating the Human Spirit and the Study of Religion

https://www.parabaas.com/rabindranath/articles/pKathleen_Utsav.html