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Sunday, November 27, 2005

MY LITTLE WRITING BUDDY

"The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises...
A gold feathered bird
sings in the palm." Wallace Stevesn 1879-1955 "Of Mere Being." 1957 st 1, 2

The last few days have been rather productive and now we're at the beginning of a new week I am ready to launch into more of the novel. I finished revisions on a Literary Travel piece, sent it off as requested. And wrote two travel bits for www.pothos.org travelling to Alexander sites.
Then I went over part of the new chapter for Shadow where I'd done some revision as suggested by my writer's workshop last week. Tomorrow I should finish that and get on with a new chapter segment.

I have a lot of friends who are writers, and this weekend spent quite a bit of time with various people, starting on Thursday when I had lunch downtown with M. one of the women from my Memoirs and critiquing group. I stayed in all day Friday writing, invited G. for dinner and had a pleasant evening talking (mostly he wanted to know the story of A.) Saturday I had a nice surprise when a Peruvian writer I know invited me for lunch. Over a bottle of Chilean wine, home-made ministrone, accompanied by excellent classical music, we talked the afternoon away, mostly discussing writing and life. And again today, I was invited to my friend M.J.'s for a little wine & sandwich soiree to meet her folks from the U.S. and mostly all the women there were from my writer's groups. An inspiring lot to hang out with!

In addition to the real live writers I know, I seem to have acquired a new writing buddy at home. His name is Cheeky. He's a grey and white cockateil with a yellow crested head and rosy cheeks. He can say a couple of words, but mostly he loves hanging out with me, follows me everywhere I go or perches on my shoulder. I adopted this feathered scamp a couple of weeks ago from the Grayhaven Exotic Bird Sanctuary. I'd had a cockateil for a couple of years but he unfortunately died last year. He was the same colour and exactly the same name "Cheeky", but he wasn't hand-tamed and we communcated mostly with whistles. This little guy, Cheeky #2 actually seems to think he's a person. Friday night when G and I were having dinner, he dived right into my wine glass and had a few gulps, then waddled around the table pecking samples of the dinner (he loves potoates and even tried the chicken livers --- tsk! what a cannibal!)
He can be a pest, and that particular night got very hyper, like a naughty three-year old on a sugar high. I had quite a time getting him into his cage and boy, was he mad! He puts on his fierce eagle scowl, spreads his winds and hisses at me. Tough little guy!

Mostly, he loves sitting on my shoulder, nesting in my hair or observing me from the top of my computer when I'm working. I think he want's to be a writer. At best, I'm trying to teach him a bit more vocabulary. We once had a budgie who's favorite expression was "Wanna beer, Bert?"
I expect Cheeky to take up the refrain 'Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!" (Especially with the Christmas season coming up.)

He is a kind of small parrot, indiginous to Australia, and a very adept flier even though his flight feathers are clipped. He zoofs around my apartment and finds me no matter where I am.
At least I know what costume to wear next Hallowe'en. I always did like pirates and now I have my very own little parrot to perch on my shoulder!

"Keep a green bough in your heart
and a singing bird will come." Chinese proverb.



Thursday, November 24, 2005

OVER THE RAINBOW (and other Happy Endings)

"Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high,
There's a land that I dreamed of
Once in a Lullaby.

Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow -
Why then, oh why can't I?"
Edgar Y. Harburg 1898-1981 "The Wizard of Oz (1939) "Over the Rainbow"

As I was recently writing about Luck, Fate and Fortune, it seems appropriate that today something very significant happened -- an omen of 'luck' appeared out of the fog and rain and gloomy skies.

Actually the good fortune started yesterday although there have been a number of things happening since last week that for me were very fortunate. But yesterday was special. I was invited to lunch with A's wife and daughter and for me this was a significant occasion. C. is returning to Chile this weekend. We exchanged addresses and I promised to write to her -- in Spanish --(I really must make an effort to review what I learned last year and gave up on, much to A's chagrin!) And...C. has invited me to come to Chile to visit her. This would not only be a sentimental journey of great importance, but an excellent opportunity for me, the travel journalist to see Chile through A's eyes (guided by C.) This is a beautiful 'gift' I have had bestowed on me -- that I have come to know his family -- and somewhere up there, I can just see him smiling that bright smile of his. Who could have imagined that all this would have happened? I certainly never did!

Today, I was invited for lunch with my friend M. and we went for Persian food, then coffee and dessert. It had been foggy all morning, then raining, but M. and I decided to go for a walk in the park anyway. We had lots to talk about and as she's been away in Europe, and we were enjoying our time together. The rain didn't dampen our good spirits, and by the time we came out of the Park, the sun was trying to shine though the rain was still falling. I remarked that perhaps there would be a rainbow, though in November this might be unusual.

Well, by the time we reached the bus stop there was a magnificent rainbow arcing overhead. And a few minutes later, second rainbow appeared, arcing faintly above it. Double rainbows!
Double Luck! I took it as a good omen. There are things to look forward to : Christmas time; my trip to Malaysia in March. Meanwhile, I'm writing again. And I have been so fortunate to have such a team of loving, generous friends around me through these difficult weeks. Truly, I feel blessed!

"My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky..."
William Wordsworth 1770- 1850 "My Heart Leaps Up." 1807

I used to wear a rainbow-colour cap from Guatemala. My friends called me
"Ruthie Rainbow" ( Remember that, *Sparkle*? )







Saturday, November 19, 2005

WRITING THROUGH THE STORM

"Fortunately psychoanalysis is not the only way to resolve inner conflicts. Life itself still remains a very effective therapist." Karen Horney 1883-1952 "Our Inner Conflicts" 1945

It has not been so easy for me to write these past weeks, at least not the serious new chapter segments of my novel which required psyching myself into Alexander's world and focusing on the characters and plot. Yet writing really is my therapy, so I concentrated instead on revisions and did editing for my writing class students. Mostly, I wrote in my blogs or journals (on-line and written.) I've kept a written journal for at least 25 years though I don't necessarily write in it every day. However for the past few months I've tried to record everything that happened, snippets of conversations and events that took place between A. and me at the hospital or his home, before he died. And since he died, I've tried to write some of my thoughts on my on-line journal and blogs as well. Writing things down definitely seems to have a therapeutic effect. I know for my hand written journals which contain mainly private thoughts, when I look back over the months or years and read about the events in my life, I see how I weathered storms and how various experiences had their affects on my life, or in changing my life.

I had not realized how much grief I would feel over A's death. Ours was a rather unusual relationship, based mainly on the fact we were both writers. I found him fascinating and mentally stimulating and now that he's no longer here, I realize what a profound experience it was knowing him. I also know that life must go on...

So I have been trying the weather the storm (which has included things like smashed windows resulting in a draughty bedroom, resulting in an ear infection and assorted other ills. Not to speak of my usual state of pennilessness.)

I have skirted around the serious writing lately, but now it's time to buckle down again. And one thing I know is that when I immerse myself in Alexander's world, I am far, far away from this one and so it's a good distraction from those thoughts of sadness and regret. In preparation for a new week to begin, one in which I hope I will be able to get more writing done (not only on my novel but I must start preparing some articles to market), I have tried to keep myself occupied with pleasant events which has included spending time with good friends. Lucky me to have such a wonderful network of guardian angels!! It began Thursday, when care-packages of groceries started to arrive, and friends dropped by to spend time with me, to provide hugs and consolling conversations. I went last night to listen to the Latin music, still so aware of that vacant spot in the band. I got feeling very tearful when they played his favorite songs, and others there did too. But I knew I had to stick it out, stop dwelling on the sad stuff.

Today again there was music when I went with a girlfriend to hear my son's Blues band. Sunday I've been invited to the Santa Claus breakfast with another friend's family, then to watch the Santa parade along with their two little boys. Time to be a kid again and get into the festive spirit.

My hope is that by Monday I'll be feeling better both in body and spirit and can return to work on my novel. As my night school classes are all finished this week I'll have plenty more time to spend on my own writing. I know it's going to take awhile to get over the tragedy. There's still a lot of tears left to shed and many things to think about. Already I have learned some valuable things about myself. In the meantime I know I have to keep on writing!

"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


Monday, November 14, 2005

LUCK, FORTUNE AND FATE

"This is the third time; I hope good luck lies in odd numbers...
There is divinity in odd numbers, either in nativity, chance or death."
William Shakespeare 1564 - 1616 "The Merry Wives of Windsor" Viii,10

Last week at my Memoirs group, we had an interesting discussion on habits and 'old wives tales'. One of the members who is of Greek descent, brought in a list of the beliefs the Greeks have, many of them going right back to ancient times. One was the discussion about how things happen in threes. For instance, the Greeks with 'spit' (Ptoo, ptoo, ptoo) three times to ward off evil.

"Our concern be peace of mind: some old crone let us seek,
To spit on us for luck and keep unlovely things afar." Theocritus 310-250 BC "Idylls" VII

The "mati", or "eye" is a charm worn to ward of the Evil Eye. I have several of these charms and wear them often.

The 'things come in threes' theory was proven once again on the weekend when I got a phone call early Saturday morning from the Greek Man on the Bus who is an aquaintance I knew when I lived in Athens, and happens to be a friend of the taverna owners where I hang out there. I hadn't heard from Dimitris for awhile and suddenly he called, inviting me to join him one day for coffee. This call was followed by one from my favorite nephew who I also had not heard from for several months. He also invited me for coffee. Then, a third call from a cousin back East who almost never phones except perhaps at Christmas. Was this simply a coincidence or is it true: Things happen in threes?

As far as luck is concerned, I feel fairly lucky, and fortunate too. Because just when I feel at my wits end about things, someone or something happens to help out or change things. I was lucky the other week when a brick came through my window in the middle of the night as I sat at my computer chair. If I'd been in my bed I'd have been showered with shards of glass. And when I found the brick right behind my computer chair I realize how lucky I was not to have been conked on the head! (I actually thought the 'explosion' I heard was a gunshot. Lucky me!)

The ancient Greeks were great believers in Fate and Fortune. It was called "Moira" . The Persians called it "Qismet". So the characters in my novel often talk about fate and fortune, piously appealing to the gods for 'signs' and guidance, just as we do in our modern lives.

In this scene from Part II of "Shadow of the Lion" Alexander the Great's little son questions his Uncle Ptolemy:

The child looked intently at Ptolemy. "What is moira?"
"That is your destiny," Ptolemy explained. "The path the god has chosen for you. It is why your father took his army to Persia. He was following his moira. While he lived, he always walked with the gods and went where they led him. His death was ordained by the gods. The seers foretold his coming to Babylon. They also foretold his death. Alexander was like the fire that falls from heaven. He burned so brightly he lit the sky more brilliantly than the sun. All the world marveled at his deeds and will speak of them fo years to come."

"Leave all else to the gods - "
"Cease to ask what the morrow will bring forth,
and set down as gain each day that Fortune grants."
Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus) 65-8 BC "Odes" 1:13
Sometimes the characters in Shadow seized opportunities to improve their good fortune, as did Alexander's half-sister Thessaloniki. (You'll recognize her name. She had a city named after her. But how did that come about?) Kassandros, son of the recently deceased Regent Antiipater, and a long-time rival and enemy of Alexander, plots to seize the Regency by engaging himself to a daughter of the Royal House.

"Let me help you," insisted Kassandros. "Marry me and I will not only put you on the throne, but name a city after you!"

Thessaloniki's eyes narrowed. "Is this a brbie, Sir?"

"I beseech you,Madam," he said in a tone of conciliation. "Do not entrust your kinsman's throne to a foreign child of dubious birthright, who is under the control of a has-been soldier of fortune who cares nothing for your well-being. Give consideration to what I have offered you."

She looked at him silently. "Leave now!" she commanded. Then her voice softened. "I am not prepared to give you my answer now, but I will consider it."

Kassandros bowed with exaggerated deference. "As you desire, Princess. May you prosper."

Thessaloniki turned quickly back to her loom. She knew Kassandros had gone only by the sound of the door closing. She realized her head was aching and her hands trembled so her fingers snagged the threads. Had she insulted him by refusing to answer immediately?

For a long time she sat, until the lamps had burned so low the wicks spluttered in the oil. Kassandros' proposal both startled and confused her and bred in her mind curious thoughts. She needed wise counsel, but who was there to turn to? She was alone and friendless in the palace. Kassandros had offered her protection and a name. A city named in her honour! What other Macedonian princess could claim that? The Regent's son and the King's daughter. Such a combination might well suit both their purposes. How could she turn him down?

She allowed herself to smile. "To prosperity!" she thought.

"Do you wish to roam farther and farther?
See! The Good lies so near.
Only learn to seize good fortune,
For fortune's always here."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1749 - 1832 "Remembrance"

But will the new Regent, Polyperchon, be so fortunate when he appeals to the god for counsel in bringing peace to the Greek city states and appeasing the Athenians?

The shrine was in a grove of sacred oaks. The clearing trilled with birdsong. Polyperchon was alone in the grove yet, even in the stillness, he could feel a Presence and his nape prickled. In the midst of the wood was the most sacred spot, a small-roofed colonnaded temple adorned with paintings and statues of bronze and marble. Here the holy altar stood, guarded by Zeus' eagle, its wings spread wide. A curl of smoke rose from the alter stones and the semll of burnt offering hung in the air.

He stpped forward. Last year's oak leaves rustled under his feet. He bowed and made the proskynesis, bringing his right hand to his lips to kiss the tips of his fingers. He burned an offering of frankincense on the altar and spread his hands to invoke the god with the proper praises and epithets.

"Oh Zeus, much honoured, Zeus supremely great, to Thee these holy rites I consecrate, my prayers and expectations. King Divine, be favourable to me, Father Zeus, and what I shall undertake, according to my prayers."

He prayed that he would receive the God's guidance in all that must be done to save the peace. He knew he was holding the destiny of Athens in his hands. What if the Athenians rejected his edict? He recalled the battle at Chaironeia after Thebes and Athens had refused Philip's treaty. General Phokion had urged them to heed the oracles at Delphi and accept it, but he had been laughed down by Demosthenes who derided Philip and said that everyone knew Philip had bribed the Pythia. The resulting slaughter and defeat had been a complete victory for Macedon, acknowledging Philip as Grand Hegamon, supreme war-leader of Greece. But could he, Polyperhcon, lead his country to victory again if the city states rebelled?

He was not a pious man, but he calle ddown Zeus' power, invoking the god for wisdom in his actions and success in his conquest.

"Father Zeus, Send me a sign now, and I will follow your command."

He felt the great carved eyes of Zeus' eagle bore into him. A chill draught brushed by him and the breeze ruffled the leaves of the sacred oaks. He thought of the fleet he must raise, and the army he must deploy to bring order to Athens. He wondered what Antipater would have done and what he should do in Antipater's place. And Alexander? And Philip? Their legacy was too great for him, but he must do his best for Macedon.

And so we too face our "Fortunes" and our "Fate". And are we the masters of the way things turn out? Why is it that someone who is passionate with life is suddenly snatched away by accident or terminal illness? Is it fate? Why do things happen, good or bad? Is it just a matter of 'luck' like winning the lottery? (Or me, winning a trip to Malaysia?) How much is simply coincidence like the three phone calls I got on Saturday morning, or escaping injury from a flying brick and exploding window?

"Lead me, Zeus, and you, Fate, wherever you have assigned me.
I shall follow without hesitation; but even if I am disobedient and do not wish to,
I shall follow no less surely."
Cleanthes 3300-232 BC from "EPICTETUS, Enchiridion." sec. 53









Tuesday, November 08, 2005

PSYCHIC CONNECTIONS

DEJA VU: (F. deja vu - ad.) literal: 'already seen"
PARANMESIA: something overly or unpleasantly familiar. The illusion of remembering scenes and events experienced for the first time = deja vu
EXTRASENSORY PERCEPTION: residing beyond or outside the ordinary senses.

"The fancy is indeed no other than a mode of memory emancipated from the order of time and space." Sameul Taylor Coleridge 1772 - 1834

I've always experienced a sense of feeling connections with something or someone outside the ordinary, as in ESP. It goes back to my childhood, when I was convinced there were spirits (ghosts). Perhaps it was just part of the early development of my writer's imagination. But I do know these feelings have carried over into my adult life, and I have many examples of this. Most recently, there were the dreams, the psychic connections I had related to very close friends who have passed. One distinct event happened five years ago when my close friend and soul-brother Roberto was dying in a hospice in Athens.

I was in the bathroom getting ready to go out for the evening but my thoughts were focused entirely on Roberto, and I stopped what I was doing to project myself to his bedside, praying that he would know I was 'with' him. At that moment something squeezed my hand so tightly that my ring was crushed onto my finger and bent out of shape with the force. It startled me, of course. I had to pry the ring off my finger and was amazed at how it had bent that way. But I knew somehow that Roberto had transfered psychic thoughts to me at that moment and had squeezed my hand tightly. What I didn't know was that was around the time he died.

Late last July, when I had lost track of my friend Anibal but knew something was wrong as people had reported seeing him and said he looked unwell, I had a dream that I was in a community centre where there had been entertainment and people were sitting around at tables eating. I spotted him and his friend H. and went to speak to them. Anibal looked thin and gray and was sitting staring down at his plate, unsmiling. I spoke to them and H. grinned at me in his boyish way. When I greeted Anibal he looked up and held out his hand. When I took his hand in mine it was ice cold. This startled me as he always had a warm touch. A few days later I found out he was in the hospital with terminal cancer. When I went to see him, he held out his hand to take mine, and his hand was ice cold, and he looked thin and gray just like in the dream.

Last week, I woke suddenly at 8.15, looked at the clock and went back to sleep. I had a troubling dream about being in a house in a place called White Rock. There was a lot of noice, tv blaring, music and people talking and I was distressed because I couldn't concentrate to do my writing. I woke, relieved to be in my own apartment. An hour later I got the call from his daughter to say Anibal had died at 8.15. And later, when I told her about the dream, she said her Dad and Mother had once had a house in White Rock.

How can we explain these eerie psychic connections? I knew from the start there was some kind of mental connection between A. and myself. That was what drew us together as friends, and in the same way my friend Roberto and I were very connected, almost like brother and sister - Gemini twins.

There are been many other incidents in my life, and in particular some vividly connected with deja vu or "Paramnesia" in which I have been somewhere that seemed uncannily familiar, as if I have been there before. A lot of these incidents have been connected to my historical fiction writing and travel experiences.

I first began to write about Alexander the Great's world when I was seventeen. At that time I had never been to Greece and only read about it in library books but the characters and places became familiar to me. People used to ask if I thought perhaps I'd 'been there' -- lived in that time in a past life. Perhaps. Because the first time I went to Greece, many years later, then referred back to that original manuscript, the descriptions of the land and other details were uncannily as they were. In fact, the first time I walked into the ancient Agora in Athens, I stopped dead in my tracks and burst into tears, because the whole scene unfolded as if I was back in time and could see it all exactly as it had been. I've had that happen a few places in Greece.

When I began my second novel (a w.i.p.) "Dragons in the Sky: A Celtic Tale" in which I narrate the story in the voice of "Olwen" a girl who has been raised by the Druids, there is also an Alexander connection. Olwen is very much like my alter-ego. She speaks through me to tell her amazing story. When I first went to visit Stonehenge which is part of the setting, I was waiting in the bus depot at Salisbury and learned of an Iron Age hillfort nearby. I walked out to the site, and as I approached the grassy, tree-covered mound, I could suddenly visualize it exactly as it had been. I turned down a path through the fields to explore. But something held me back. I tried a couple of times to pass by, but couldn't, and realized that something foreboding had happened there. Later, Olwen would reveal this incident to me. She had witnessed a murder there!

Another interesting psychic connection with this story was my inclusion of some details about a Druid holy place, Senghenydd, in Wales. When I showed my father the early draft of the MSS to get his opinion on the cadence of the Welsh speakers, he remarked that my great grandfather had been killed in a mining explosion in Senghendd. A couple of years ago, I actually visited there.

While I was researching on site for my current novel "Shadow of the Lion" I was hiking up the road toward Amphipolis, the hill fort where Alexander's son was murdered. As I approached, the sky grew dark, and a bolt of lightening struck right above the place where the citadel was located. I took this as a very eerie omen, and that day I didn't reach the site. But on a second visit a year or so later, I went all the way up to where the fortress ruins were, then climbed down the embankment under the remains of the walls, on a quest to retrace the path the boy (Alexander's son) and his friend might have taken in their attempt to escape. When you put yourself right into the scene, and let your imagination loose, it's surprising what psychic connections you can conjur!

How much of this is imagination and how much is 'real'? I suppose it depends on what you believe in and how you react to incidents -- if you are open and sensitive to accept these paranormal and psychic experiences. I do believe that we are sent signs and messages from the loved ones who have departed, and I have had enough deja vu experiences (especially in Greece) to firmly believe I might have lived there in another time. What do you think?

"And those who have insight will shine brightly like the brighteness of the expanse of Heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever." Daniel 12:3

"The earth's about five m illion years old, at least,
Who can afford to live in the past?" Harold Ppinter 1930 - "The Homecoming" 1965 act iii

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

REQUIEM FOR A HERO

Please don't mourn as I depart, for that is when my life will start.
No longer will I be facing death, I'll be breathing Heaven's breath.
Please don't weep, don't weep for me,
I'll be home in Eternity." Bob Gotti 1957 from "Don't Weep for Me."

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote "Show me a hero, and I'll write you a tragedy."
Somehow, for me, a writer, I always seem to be writing tragedies. My play "The Street: A Modern Tragedy" was partly autobiographical, based on the unfortunate demise of my first love who had become a heroin addict. My second play House of the Muses (work in progress) is about the poet Sappho who committed suicide because of unrequited love. The protagonist, Olwen, of my first-person w.i.p. novel Dragons in the Sky: A Celtic Tale is a somewhat tragic heroine too. And my current w.i.p. Shadow of the Lion about the fall of Alexander the Great's dynasty, is a classic Greek tragedy.

And once again, today, I am writing a tragedy -- one that is true. That is, the unfortunate death of my friend Anibal who passed away last Friday.

He was a man who loved life, who was a champion for social justice, working for the poor and oppressed, a hero in his own country, Chile, who was forced to flee Pinochet's military junta and lived here in exile. He was a scholar, a philosopher, a writer, a poet, a musician -- a man who lived passionately in everything he did. He was my mentor, in a way, as well as my friend. He encouraged me to read more, learn more about philosophy and educated me about the politics of his country. He spoke often of "nostalgia" and "melancholy". He longed for his homeland. He read voraciously -- almost always had a book with him -- and it was he who introduced me to his favorite poet, Pablo Neruda.

You are taken in the net of my music, my love,
and my nets of music are wide as the sky.
My soul is born on the shore of your eyes of mourning,
In your eyes of mourning the land of dreams begin.
Pablo Neruda "In My Sky at Twilight."

It was truly a tragedy that Anibal had to die. He said to me several times during his weeks of intense suffering "What have I done that was bad?" Of course, he had done nothing. His illness, cancer, was one of the great misfortunes that can happen to any of us. He had lived his life well, taken care of himself, so who can say why these things happen? Truly, his death is a tragedy, a great loss for everyone -- his family, his many friends. He said to me once, "We will be friends til the end of time." And yes, we will be, Anibal, because I will never forget you. Nor will I forget all the wonderful things you taught me in our long talks and discussions. Especially, when I hear the music, I will remember you and your brilliant smile. But now you are going home, where you always wanted to be. And we who loved you will never forget you.

The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways -
I to die, and you to live. Which is better, God only knows.
Plato 428-348 BC Apology (ibid 42)

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince,
And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!
William Shakespeare 1564-1616 Hamlet Vii, 373