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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

FINDING SOLACE WITH FRIENDS

"Without friends no one could choose to live, though he had all other goods."
Aristotle 384-322 BC "Nicomachean Ethics" VIII - 1

I consider myself a very lucky person to have so many excellent friends. These past few weeks, when things have been tough, I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of these friends. From care-packages of food, to loans of cash, to hugs when I needed them and kind words of support, I have been surrounded by these 'guardian angels'. For this I will be forever grateful.

It's been a rough couple of weeks. I've been so sad, but trying to occupy myself with pleasant activities and keep a positive outlook. My friends have been there for me all this time. Sometimes I still feel that big wave surging over me, and I struggle to keep it from sweeping me away. It won't do to flounder now. I have to keep from sinking into despair.
And the circle of loving friends around me has helped me. So now I'm feeling better, clinging on to hope and keeping a smile on my face.

I spent a relaxing weekend and have had two good visits with my friend. Sunday I saw a lovely movie: Ladies in Lavender and had a lady friend for dinner. Last night was my writer's critique group. Today I had lunch with my grad class ladies. Tomorrow I'm getting my hair done and will meet friends to listen to jazz in the evening. Thursday friends are coming for lunch and in the evening my son's band is playing downtown so I'm going to listen. There's a lot of interesting and good things happening.

I haven't done much 'serious' writing in the last two weeks since returning from the little vacation at the Lake. But I think I'm ready to begin again. I have been writing every day -- mostly journal entries of one kind or another, therapy. Now I feel that it's time to return to those other lands -- Alexander's world. So tonight, I hope I can get motivated enough get my notes out and start writing. I also have to start preparing my handouts and lessons for the Fall season of writing classes. There's lots to do!

"Oh I get by with a little help from my friends
Mmm get high with a little help from my friends."
John Lennon 1940-1980 and Paul McCartney 1942-
"With a Little Help From My Friends." 1967

Saturday, August 27, 2005

RIDING OUT THE STORM

"No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heaven's glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear."
Emily Bronte 1818-1848 "Last Lines (1846) st. 1

How do you write with a broken heart? Things have come crashing down on me this week. By Thursday night I really lost it, and consequently it's been impossible to write anything but journal entries. My friend, who I love with all my heart, is now in Pallative Care. Not an encouraging sign. Ominous, in fact. But it's important, no matter what, to keep the Faith, put on a good face, transmit positive thoughts and count on answered prayers. I can't do this if I'm a basket-case, so yesterday I went to meet people from the Pandora's Poetry Collective who were writing and reciting poetry in the Van Duesen Gardens, one of the exceptional beauty spots in my city. I didn't think I would write anything. I don't often write poetry. But how could you resist the Muse in such lovely surroundings? (I had to ask myself why I have never made a habit of visiting those Gardens. What a brilliant idea to invite a group of poets there!)

We met under a tree where chairs and a mike were set up, decorated with blue balloons that advertised "Love Poetry". To begin with we were each given a prompt. Mine was
"Seabreezes and Iris". From that, I wrote two poems (amazing how quickly they came to me!)

'Seabreezes and Iris'

Iris petals unfurl
purple as the wine dark sea.
Foam crested waves roll shoreward
wafting the fragrance of flowers
on the sea breeze.

'At Dion' ("Sanctuary")

I remember yellow irises
tall as swords
standing in the reeds
by a silent pool
in Isis Tyche's sanctuary
far from the Aegean sea breezes,
in Dion's sacred grove.
Under the shadow
of holy Olympus
A shepherd boy came
whistling to his flock,
touched my arm,
said: "I'll show you how to cross the stream.
Stay away from the dogs, though.
They'll bite you here and here and here."
His nimble hands brush my breasts and backside.
Impertinent young Pan!
Thought he'd tricked me,
But I know those Makedoni rogues.
I've walked that way before.

Next, we went to watch some artists at work and were told to write something that was inspired by their paintings. I wrote this, (for you, my friend.)
'The Garden'

In the arbour
under a tangle of vines
the artist wields his brush.
Strokes the canvas lightly
spreading colours: pink and lavender and yellow.
Flower petals take shape.
A garden is revealed.
I remember the touch of your fingers
on my arm,
soft as a brush stroke
awakening a garden in my heart.

Then we went on our own to explore the Garden and write whatever we wished. I chose another prompt, Wild and Bewildered.
I came upon a magical spot by a lily pond and sat awhile, mesmerized by the reflections.

'The Lily Pond '

two ducks, bottoms up
create a helix of ripples
shattering reflections
on the lily pond.

'Wild and Bewildered'

It bewilders me sometimes
this wild feeling that overcomes me.
I want to be that butterfly
darting over the coralbells and irises,
free as the summer breeze.
I want to be a bee
gathering nectar from the dahlias
to store in a secret hive.
Instead, I seem to flit aimlessly
like a dragonfly
darting over the lily pond
bewildered by its own reflection.

What a beautiful healing experience this was, writing in the Garden. I came away feeling renewed and able to focus again on more positive thoughts. I'm taking the poems to share with my friend. They aren't brilliant (I don't consider myself a 'poet') but they were written from my heart, inspired by the Muse.

"God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform:
He plants his footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm."
William Cowper 1731-1800 "Shining out of Darkness" 1779


Monday, August 22, 2005

SLAYING DRAGONS

"It is the writer's privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honour and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The writer's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."
William Faulkner (1897- 1962) Speech upon receiving the Nobel Prize, Dec 10, 1950.

There comes a time in everyone's life (even our fictional characters') when we must face danger and confront the 'dragons' that threaten us. I'm heading for a place in my novel, a huge crisis which will ultimately threaten to destroy Alexander the Great's empire. How will my characters react when faced with this peril? Will they turn and run? Or will they ride out bravely and slay the 'dragon'?

In the last chapter segment, Polyperchon, the Regent of Macedon, has called upon his friend Commander Kronos, and confided in him about the dilemma he must face. Will there be a war or can a peaceful solution be found?

While they dined, their conversation did not stray far from the interests of all military men. Kronos questioned Polyperchon regarding the Greeks.
"I thought I could win the whole of Greece to my side by proclaiming liberty and offering to support them to overthrow the oligarchies," Polyperchon admitted ruefully. "I should have dealt with those accursed Athenians straight away but I believed truly that they would accept my peace-offering. Instead it seems they are showing their backsides in defiance."
Kronos asked which city states were included in the uprisings. How had he learned of Kassandros' conspiracy?
Polyperchon looked regretfully at his dinner plate and confessed that he had put too much trust in Kassandros. "I thought him a braggart, something of a madman, but never a traitor. I should have had him removed immediately after Antipater died, but what scandal would there have been if I'd done this during his father's mourning period?"
"Gods!" Kronos muttered. "What has besotted your mind? We all knew not to trust him! My opinion, since you asked it, is to seek a compromise, otherwise it's too late for anything except all-out war."

The conversation continues. Polyperchon outlines his plans to Kronos.

"I must preserve the peace in Philip and Alexander's names," Polyperchon said. He stood, and began to stride the room. "I will have to deal with the traitors straight away."
"Kassandros' brother, Nikanor?"
"Nikanor is away at the northern border inspecting garrisons. Now he's under the protection of Kassandros' faction I won't be able to touch him without creating more conflict. Because the Antipides are the most powerful clan in Macedon, if any of Kassandros' clansmen are harmed it will surely cast us into a civil war."
"Who will you deploy to Greece in command of the advance force?" Kronos asked.
"My son Alexandros. He's the one I can trust more than any other," Polyperchon said. "And I will go myself to meet with Phokion."
Their conversation was interrupted when the youth, Drakon, came with a plate of figs and walnuts. He saw the boy pause furtively as he set it down on the table, his ear obviously turned to listen in on their discussion. Polyperchon waved him away. The squire glanced back at him with an insolent look. Polyperchon frowned. He must take the boy aside later, admonish him for eavesdropping, remind him that anything said in the confines of the Regent's quarters was not to be repeated outside. This was a royal squire's sacred trust.
He sat on his chair, his arms folded, and said confidently. "The traitors will be dealt with swiftly. Kassandros must be punished for his hubris."
Kronos put down his knife and leaned across the table. "Polyperchon, take care!" he said.
"Cut off the serpent's head and the body will die," Polyperchon replied bluntly.

Because I am writing from a historical plot, I already know the outcome, although the way each character reacts to the situation is my own interpretation. I know that I am taking them step-by-step into a situation that will eventually lead to tragedy. What would have happened, though, if Polyperchon had reacted differently, if he had been the powerful Regent that his predecessor Antipater had been? Would that period of history be changed?

While I ponder the next moves my characters must make, I am feeling somewhat distracted. A week ago I found out that my dear friend (someone I am so very fond of) is in the hospital fighting a dragon of his own...Cancer. He's putting up a brave fight, and we, his friends, are there to support him with prayers and positive thoughts. We had a long, beautiful talk on my last visit, just like we used to. He asked me if I thought he was going to make it.
"Yes," I said. " Of course you will! This man is a survivor. He must believe, live in hope, that soon he will be well again. We must all believe that, and never give up the fight. Prayer and faith and hope are the best ways to slay this dragon.

"Offering dragons quarter is no good,
they regrow all their parts & come on again,
they have to be killed."
John Berryman 1914 -1972 "Henry's Program for God" (ibid 316)




Thursday, August 18, 2005

WRITING AT THE LAKE

"Wind over lake: the image of inner truth."
I Ching (The Book of Changes) Hex. 61 Chung Fu ("Inner Truth")

I've just returned from four lovely days at the Lake, a reunion with my grandson and daughter and, it turned out, other friends of my daughter and her partner including one of the girls who used to live with us some years ago. A merry gang, 14 the first night and 18 for dinner the last night, ranging from the age of 5 and up. Kids sleeping everywhere. A real camp-out, though the 'cabin' was really a large house, lake-front. Lots of fun was had by all, especially the kids in the lake, tubing and swimming. And best of all, for me, seeing my grandson after such a long time! (He's visiting from California.)

I took along the newest part of the novel that I had roughed in last week and hoped the Muse might visit me while I was there. Sure enough, as usual I get brain-waves while swimming -- have to rush to shore and quickly jot lines of narrative, dialogue and description down. Then, one afternoon as I sat alone in the sun lazing in the 'director's chair' by the lake-side, great ideas began to formulate in my sun-drenched brain.

I'd been stymied by where this last chapter was leading, thought I'd written myself into a blank wall, complicated things. Wondered if I'd have to take it all apart and go a different direction with it. But no, there was the solution: a few paragraphs of narrative showing me the way. ( How to get my characters from Pella to the old palace of Aigai without having to go into lengthy details which I'd rather save for the next part of the novel.) Tada! And I got them there, no fuss, no side-tracks. Well, at any rate, I jotted it all down in my notebook (didn't have to rush up out of the lake water to do it either). Such a satisfying feeling!

So now I'm home again and will resume my work on the novel tomorrow with a fresh outlook, renewed vitality and great ideas provided by my Muse! (And thanks to the Lake, too!)

"I took the lake between my legs." Maxine Kumin (1925 - ) "Morning Swim"

"All good writing is swimming underwater and holding your breath."
Francis Scott Fitzgerald 1896-1940 (undated letter)

Thursday, August 11, 2005

SABOTAGE!

"The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector. This is the writer's radar and all great writers have had it."
Ernest Hemingway 1899-1961 Interview in Paris Review (Spring 1958)

Just so you can see what I've been writing these past weeks, the kind of political intrigues and treasonous shenanigans I've been trying to unravel, I'll include a couple of exerpts of my novel "Shadow of the Lion". Here are the the three characters I am working with these days: Phokion, the military governor of Athens; Kassandros, Chiliarch of the Macedonian army; Polyperchon, the new Regent of Macedon. It will give you an idea of how a series of events and treachery snow-ball into an irrevocable political dilemma that will eventually sabotage Alexander the Great's dynasty.

From Chapter 39, Athens: September 319 BC. Polyperchon has sent an edict to the Athenians declaring that their democratic government will be restored and exiles reinstalled as citizens in return for the Greeks passing a resolution not to wage war and be loyal to the (Macedonian) kings. This has created a storm in the Council dividing the democrats who demand that the Macedonians remove their military garrison and the wealthy aristocrats who have become rich off the exiles and support the oligarchies. Phokion is coming from the Council house and has been jeered by the throng of citizens in the Agora.

He looked up from his reverie and found himself walking beside General Dercyllus. Neither man spoke, both were grim-faced. They were passing along the town walls beside the State Prison where Socrates had met his fate. Phokion recalled how once Demosthenes had warned him, "Phokion, the Athenians will kill you one day when they are in a rage." and he had retorted, "And you, Demosthenes, if they are for once in their senses."

His footsteps faltered, and he stopped to catch his breath. "I expect, if they have their way, I'll be served the same bitter cup as Socrates," he muttered to himself.

Dercyllus touched his arm reassuringly. Out of respect for you, Sir, I will stand by you whatever decision you make."

In the next scene, Kassandros wants the new garrison commander, Nikanor of Stageira, to try and bribe Phokion.

"Go to Phokion. I know you get on well with him. Win him over any way you can. Offer him gold, land anything he wants. Warn him not to deal with Polyperchon."

Nikanor shrugged and smiled. "You know Phokion always refuses bribes," he said. "He turned down a thousand talents from Alexander and gold from Menyllus too. And when that crippled rogue Harpalus absconded from Babylon with Alexander's royal treasury, Phokion refused him sanctuary in the city and wouldn't even accept his offer to help rebuild the Athenian fleet."

"If Alexander offered him a thousand talents, I will offer him more! Any man can be bought if the price suits him. We'll win over Phokion and convince the Athenians that Polyperchon means to rule the city himself. Then they'll declare him their enemy."

In Chapter Forty, at Pella the royal city of Macedon, Polyperchon the Regent has received the news that Phokion has refused to honour the demands of the edict, insisting he would find a peaceful solution. The Athenians are enraged, accusing their esteemed governor of siding with Kassandros. Riots have broken out in Athens and the city states are threatening to revolt.

"Those Athenians would sell their mothers if the price was right," Polyperchon exclaimed. "Look how they defamed Phiip and Alexander. Without the League of Corinth their country would have floundered long ago and the city states would still be at each other's throats."

He felt sick with the conviction that he had stirred up a tempest that could not be contained. How could he have deluded himself that peace would endure in Athens? He had issued them the edict with the goodwill of the kings, offered to restore the Athenians their democratic constitutions, defend their citizen's rights, giving them a chance to expel the oligarchs (he didn't care if they exectued them). He had done exactly what Alexander did when he had ordered the exiles to be re-established on their land (though that edict too, had resulted in civil unrest.) All that he asked was they they remain loyal to the Macedonian kings. He had not promised to remove the garrison, and now with Kassandros clearly taking command of it, how could he? The powerful aristocracy of Athens was rallying against him. He must intervene, somehow convince them to accept his policy.

More stabotage on the home-front: I had just finished my day's work today, saved everything on my document file, and went to resave on my back-up disc when suddenly, in the process of dragging the file over to copy into the floppy, it vanished into cyberspace. Shit! All that work would have to be retyped (fortunately I had printed out hard-copy, still it was a few hours work and perhaps the work from the last two days as well which I hadn't put on the floppy.)
I couldn't find the damn file anywhere. Lucky for me, I have a techie contact. I phoned him and he talked me through the process of searching for the lost file. It took quite awhile and I still couldn't locate it. But after I hung up the phone I was determined to try again. And voila! There is was hiding in My Computer "Web Files". Whew! I managed to transfer it back into its home in my Document file and all is well.

I'm down to the last part of Chapter Forty, which is the final chapter of Part IV of the novel. The "Interlude" chapter which I put at the end of each part is already written though it will likely need some revisions. But if I stay on target and keep at it, I should have Part IV finished by the weekend. Then I'm going away to the lake to celebrate!

"You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again."
Ernest Hemingway, Interview in "Paris Review" 1958


Friday, August 05, 2005

NO TURNING BACK!

"Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on
your forehead." (attributed) Gene Fowler 1890- 1960

"No turning back" was the theme of this year's Gay Pride Parade. When I thought about it, that could also be my writer's theme. I've gone so far, spent so many years, working on my novel that, in spite of days when I could just give up, I'm at the point of no return.
No turning back!

The quote above about the drops of blood forming on your forehead is true. There are some days when you sit at the computer and stare at a blank screen. No words are produced. Thoughts drift to other things, anything to distract from the task at hand. Yes folks, writing is hard work!

Of course, there's the days when things just flow as easy and sparkling as a mountain cascade.
In between though, it's like slogging through mud. But you just have to keep going, and hope that the Muse will shower you with a cascade of brilliant words.

This week I've dedicated most of my time (in spite of the sunshine and lure of the beach) to work on my novel. (I also finished editing a travel article.) For the first couple of days I did revisions on my last chapter. It seems that no matter how many times you go over a piece you'll find ways to improve it. By yesterday, red pen in hand, I'd improved it as much as I can for now, so it's time to move on. I've assembled all the bits and pieces necessary for the next chapter. Several paragraphs are already written and, like a jig-saw puzzle must be hooked together. It's another one of those tricky chapters but if I put my mind to it, suffer through, it will eventually come together.

I've had a random way of working on this novel. The beginning and end were written long ago and so were many of the internal pieces. Now, so close to the end, there are several passages that have been pre-written so I'm simply filling in the missing pieces.
But this is a crucial part of the story and deals with some tricky political issues which have required a lot of extra research and time to ponder the best way to convey the many intrigues which eventually bring the story (the eventual end of Alexander's dynasty) to its close. I just wish I had a mentor who was an expert on ancient Greek politics to coach me.
But I'll do the best I can and hope that it all turns out.

My goal is to finish this part (Part IV) by the weekend. Wish me luck!

"Between my finger and my thumb-
The squat pen rests
I'll dig with it."
Seamus Justin Heaney (1939 - ) "Death of a Naturalist" (1966) "Digging"