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Saturday, June 17, 2006

WOUNDED BY EROS

"Love distills desire upon the eyes,
love brings bewitching grace into the heart
of those he would destroy.
I pray that love may never come to me
with murderous intent,
in rhythms, measureless and wild.
Not fire nor stars have stronger bolts
than those of Aphrodite sent
by the hand of Eros, Zeus's child."
Euripides 485-406 BC Hippolytus (428 BC) l. 525

Last night I attended an amazing performance titled "When Eros Wounded Me" a compilation of five monolgues from three plays written by Euripides Alcestes, Hippolytus, Medea and one of Sophocles' plays The Trachiniae Women.

Four talented local actresses performed the monologues beginning with the prologue by Aphrodite from Hippolytus. The performance included Alcestes' monologue from Alcestes in which she reminds her husband that she is dying in his place so that he will live and care for their children; Phaedra's monologue from Hippolytus when she reveals her desire to be near the forbidden subject of her love, her stepson Hippolytus; Deianera's monologue from The Trachiniae Women when she reveals her discovery that the potion given to her as a gift from the Centaur for her to rub on her husband Hercules' cloak in order to make him faithful to her, was actually a poison to kill him. And Medea's monologue from the play Medea when she exposes her murderous plan to kill her husband Jason's second wife-to-be, and the girl's father, and the murder of her children by Jason to avenge her husband's betrayal.

Following this brilliant performance which was accompanied by appropriately exotic music and lovely period costumes, the renown Greek actress Iliana Panagiotouni appeared to perform all five monologues in modern Greek, beginning with Aphrodite which was recited in Classical Greek and finally the monologue segement by Medea ,which was also performed in Classical Greek. It was one of the most amazing performances I have ever seen (and I have attended many plays in the ancient theatres of Greece.)

The most awesome part of the night was when Panagiotouni appeared on stage. For years I've been looking for a living face to put on my character of Olympias, especially now when I am about to write a crucial part of my novel which 'stars' Alexander's mother, a woman of 60 who has been living in exile from Macedonia and is about to return to care for her grandson and oversee his claim to the throne that had been inherited by him from her husband and son. When Panagiotouni stepped onto the stage I couldn't believe it. There she was, Olympias! The exact person I had imagined, even to the red hair! I sat there all the rest of the show, mouth agape, rivetted by her performance. (Thinking about it, how coincidental that I should relate this actress to Olympias, a woman who was truly 'wounded by Eros' in so many ways. Imagine the monologue she might have delivered, so like those spoken by the dramatists' tragic women.

I came away feeling totally inspired and awe-struck. It was an evening I won't soon forget.
Today I made some calls to friends urging them to attend. (I'd go again myself if I could!) And by some other strange coincidence right afterwards I got a phone call from a Greek man I'd never met, phoning from the Hellenic Society to remind me of the play and other events being held this week during Hellenic Cultural Week. I spoke at length with him. He seemed to already know about me and my work-in-progress about Alexander's dynasty, and I told him that most of the travel stories I've had published were about Greek travel. We had an excellent chat and I'm only sorry I will be away during next week so I won't be able to attend more of the events they have planned.

I've been so homesick for Greece lately, and seeing the performance, talking to this man about Greece, has only heightened this longing to be there, immersed in the culture and language again. It was truly a gift last night, sitting in the audience listening to this fine, talented actress recite in that beautiful language. It makes me want to study again, to improve my vocabulary, to speak it more often and more fluently. And most of all, to return to Alexander's world.
Soon...very soon, I hope!

"They are not wise, then, who stand forth to buffet against Love:
for Love rules the gods as he will, and me."
Sophocles 495-406 BC "Trachiniae" l 441

"Would that I were under the cliffs, in the secret hiding-places of the rocks,
that Zeus might change me to a winged bird."
Euripides 485-406 BC "Hippolytus" l 732



Wednesday, June 14, 2006

WRITING FOR THERAPY

"The excursion is the same when you go looking for your sorrow as when you go looking for your joy." Eudora Welty, 1909- "The Wide Net" 1973

The Memoirs group that I instruct each Thursday morning is called Write from the Heart. From prompts we write our memories. Sometimes these are happy memories, often they dig deep into the depths of our hearts and sad memories emerge. It isn't unusual for tears to flow along with the words. But somehow, once those sad memories are purged from our hearts, it is soothing, and a kind of closure to the troubled thoughts that have been buried deep for so long.

I often find the same thing in my "Prompting the Muse" class which I teach at night school. More often these days I have people joining the class who want to write about their life's experiences and often this is a kind of therapy. In my last session I had a person who is a tsunami survivor. She is undertaking the painful task of writing about this experience as a memorial to those who did not survive. Her own survival was a miracle. So she has become the 'voice' of those who were not so lucky. Others write about unhappy childhood memories, being bullied. shunned by peers, broken families, lost loves. For myself, I've found this very therapeutic too. Putting those dark thoughts down on paper releases them from your subconcious mind. So, in a way, my writing classes are often like 'therapy sessions'.

I think every writer uses some of his/her own experiences in telling their stories, whether fiction or non-fiction. My play The Street, was partly autobiographical. Although it was mostly fictionalized, there were many parts of the story and dialogue that were true. I originally wrote it when I was eighteen and had seen my boyfriend and his pals become addicted to heroin (a drug that none of us knew anything about at that time in the '50's) I wrote it as a cautionary tale for my peers. A few years ago, when I reworked the play for production, I was able to add lots more to it, about the way things were back then including what happened to these young men when they were placed in the prison system. It was a heartwrenching experience, rewriting that play, reliving those by-gone days of my youth. And because of that experience I understand how it feels for people in my classes who are writing about their lives.

Even in my fiction writing I rely on some of my own emotional experiences to express the way characters are feeling in certain situations. I think it's important to get in touch with your characters, understand them to the depths of their souls, what makes them think, feel, act the way the do.

Lately I've been too distracted, too busy to revisit Alexander's world. My classes have finished for the season although I'm going to have private workshops at home during the months of July and August. At the moment I have a house guest from Germany and we're planning a few small trips to visit relatives and friends. After that it's down to business again. I'm feeling anxious about my writing, champing at the bit, eager to return to work on my novel. But for now I must content myself with editing, marketing travel stories and other small tasks that need to be completed and taken care of before I progress. My aim is to spend the entire summer working on my novel...and finishing it! To me, immersing myself in my historical-fiction world is the best 'therapy'. I'm happy when I'm writing. The present world passes by with all it's traumas and dramas and I am there, in the ancient world, riding with the Macedonian army or playing in the courtyard with Alexander's son. I long to return there and I will, soon. To me, it's as good as a holiday away.


"Writing fiction has developed in me an abiding respect for the unknown in a human lifetime and a sense of where to look for the threads, how to follow, how to connect, find in the thick of the tangle what clear line persists. The strands are all there, to the memory nothing is ever really lost." Eurdor Welty, 1909- "One Writer's Beginnings" 1984 "Finding a Voice."

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

WHERE ARE YOU GOING?

"If you don't know where you're going, you will probably end up somewhere else."
Laurence Johnston Peter 1919-1990 "The Peter Principle" 1969

I'm on the threshold of my new year now, having just celebrated another birthday (a big one!).
This weekend I was away with my writer's group, the Scribblers, to one of the enchanting Gulf Islands off the coast of B.C. We've been going to Mayne for about 10 years or more and I always look forward to these bi-annual retreats.

This time there were only six of us. None of the new members came, which is a pity because the retreats are what make our group unique. We pass the time doing writing exercises, hiking eating good meals prepared by various members, and enjoying the cameraderie.

Usually we have a 'theme' for these retreats, and this time it was 'Alter-egos' in literature and history to go along with the Gemini party (the Twins) which I organized to celebrate my birthday and other Geminis as well. These Gemini birthday parties have become a tradition since the began back in the late '70's. I've celebrated Gemini at home, on the beach, in Greece on Filoppapou and the Pynx Hill, in the Latin Quarter, in various tavernas in Athens, and this year it was special because I was celebrating with my writer friends on Mayne Island.

We had a weiner and marshmallow roast and had party hats and treats, played kid's games like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, drop the clothes pegs into a bottle (prizes for all!). The birthday cake was strawberry short-cake (my favorite). Then we did the intros to our alter-egos. Queen Elizabeth was there with a little talk about the royalty (that would be Dora);
Lord Byron (Dee) gave a little talk about his life; Ariel read her poem from "The Tempest" (Susan); and Snow White (Beverly) sang "Some Day My Prince Will Come". We expected an appearance of either Capt. Hook or Tom Sawyer but Allan didn't think of it.
Jack Kerouac was there (he's my writer-hero of the '50's. I used to wish I could write like him.) 'Jack' read a passage from 'Lonesome Road" and some of his poetry. It was another birthday to remember!

So here I am at the beginning of my new year and I must ask myself "Where are you going?"
I know I have several journeys planned including some short jaunts I'll be making in the next few weeks with my friend Patrick who is coming from Germany. Then there's NYC in Sept. and Chile in November.

But where am I going with my writing? I haven't been able to work on the novel for the last two weeks due to one thing or another but I am on the verge of starting again. First, though, I have to find my direction. Let's see...Polyperchon, the Regent of Macedon has been travelling down the coast of Greece to a meeting place where he will confront Phokion, the military governor of Athens who has been charged with treason by his fellow Athenians. The events due to take place are part of the critical political intrigue that propels the plot of my story to it's end.
Following this will be a dog-poisoning (the poison intended for the young son of Alexander), which results in a quick exit of the royal family to the safety of Dodoni where they will meet the formidable Olympias, Alexander's mother.

Everything is carefully plotted from here to the end and it's only a matter of staying with it and not having to stop too many times to do additional research. I have set my goal to finish before the end of summer. The next few weeks I may not get much writing time because of my guest arriving and the short trips around we will take. But July and August ought to allow me lots of writing time. I really have to dedicate myself to this and stay disciplined.

I've still got other travel stories to finish too. But those don't take me so much time. And then there's the marketing...(a writer's work is never done!)

At least I think I have a clear view of the direction in which I am going. I just hope I can stick to the path and don't stray off course. Where are you going?

"If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."
Henry David Thoreau 1817-1862 "Conclusions"