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Sunday, July 23, 2006

DREAMS AND JOURNEYS

"The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens into that primeval cosmic night which was soul long before there was a conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach."
Carl Gustav Jung 1875-1961
Ibid p 45; vol 10 "The Meaning of Psychology for Modern Man." 1934


A few days ago, a friend of mine sent me a web site that has information about a trek in Turkey along the old Lycian Way, which was the route taken by Alexander the Great's army on it's journey to and from Persia. The Lycian Way is a 509 way-marked footpath around the coast of Lycia in southern Turkey, from Fethiye to Antalya.

The modern trail is mainly over footpaths and mule trails with many ascents and descents as it approaches and veers away from the sea. It's suggested to start the trek at Fethiye which is the easiest part of the trail. There are camping places and pensions in village houses along the way.

Lycia is the historical name of the Tekke Peninsula, which juts into the Mediterranean on Turkey's southern Coast. The mountains rise steeply from the wooded shore and tiny bays, giving beautiful views and varied walking. The Lycians were a democratic but independent people who absorbed Greek culture. All along the route are many historical sites.

The mention of this famous route to and from the East in ancient times, reminded me of a dream I had a few years go, a dream that has stayed distinctly in my memory.
In the dream I was travelling with the Macedonian army on a mountain trail, going north up the Asia Minor seacoast (the Lycian Way) toward distant mountains. I can still clearly recall the soldiers who I was with, what they wore, the activity with outriders going up and down the long ranks of cavalry and footsoldiers encouraging them along. The commander pointed out to me the five snow-capped peaks in the distance. He said they were "The Five Sisters" and we were going to ride beyond them to Macedonia.

In August 2003 I had a chance to relive that dream. I was travelling by bus down the coast of Turkey toward Fethiye with my friend Patrick . When I glanced out the bus window, as we passed through the mountains, I immediately felt a sense of dejas-vu. I remembered that dream, and recognized the scenery, the mountain terrain, pine forests, occasional glimpses of the distant sea.

Fethiye was called Telmassos in antiquity and is located on a lovely bay strewn with islands. The town is built up the hillside, just below the famous Lycian rock tombs, but there are many sarcophogi in the town itself. The ruins of a crusader's castle crowns the hill, built by the Knights of Rhodes. The rock tombs dominate the town, representing the facades of Doric-style temples cut into the cliff face. For years I had been looking at pictures of those tombs and longed to see them. On that visit, I climbed the steep hill and the two hundred steps up and stood right in front of the most predominant of these marvels, the Tomb of Amyntas, which dates to the 4th Century B.C.

(To find out more about the trekking route on the Lycian Way go to www.trekkingturkey.com )

It happened that we were having a discussion at my writer's workshop last week about using dreams in or as stories. I have several times used my own dreams as dreams of my characters if they seemed appropriate. One is a dream that Roxana, Alexander's widow, has about a snake. I had that dream myself but knew it was really her reoccuring dream, a kind of omen which foreshadowed the future.

Another time, back in the '70's, I had a vivid dream with an exotic technicolour setting in which I seemed to be a 'captive' in a small stone-built room. I remember the little room clearly, especially the large turquoise urn that stood by the window and the narrow bed covered by a jaguar pelt. The man who I was with seemed to be a royal person. He was brown-skinned, dressed in a kilt and plumed head-dress. His name stayed in my memory, something that sounded like "Cho'oc". I recall his urgent warning. "You must go. I will help you escape."

There was a commotion outside, and I recall looking out over a green jungle-like area with other stone-built buildings. My companion (or captor) was urging me to leave by the back entrance.

The dream stayed with me becuse it seemed to have a special significance, almost as though it were a memory flash-back, very real and yet quite fantastical. A year after that, I was in Mexico, travelling for several months with my boyfriend. We went to Palenque to see the Mayan pyramids. As I climbed the steep steps of Temple XII, I noticed at the base of the pillars, the stucco relief of the Mayan death god. As I entered the small stone room and looked out over Palenque, I immediately had that dejas-vu feeling again as if I had been there before. I instantly recalled the dream that had haunted me before I came to Mexico. And I knew that this was the place. The room was much smaller than I remembered from the dream and yet it was the same room, empty now, but the windows did have a view over the tangled jungle where once there had been lovely gardens. The spirit still remained there. I had an overwhelming feeling of peace at being back there, but it puzzled me, and I wanted to find out more. Who was the young 'prince'? Where did he go? And why was he, in the dream, urging me to leave? I learned that the excavators found the bodies of a prince-priest and a girl near Temple XVIII but the jungle was overgrown too much to locate the path. Palenque has also been called "Na-chan" City of Snakes, so I decided to turn back. Just then somethiing caught my eye: a brilliant irridescent green feather. I remembered then, that "Cho'oc" had worn a fabuloud head-dress of emeral-coloured plumes. Was this an omen? An answer to my questions? Later, when I developed my photos, every picture that I took of the entrance to the room, with the skulls on the base of the pillars, there were strange streaks of purple light reflecting in the corner. Eerie!

Later, I did some research and found that there had been uprisings in Palenque and young men, especially priests, were commonly sacrificed to appease the gods. I found a name "Cho'oc Bahlum" which meant "The Young Jaguar". What had happened that long-ago day in Palenque? For now, the jungle keeps its secrets.

I've had a great many dejas-vu experiences, epecially in Greece, but these were especially profound because they were connected to dreams. So, pay attention when you dream. Write down the details of the significant ones. Who knows? They may be telliing you something about your own past life. Or, perhaps they are telling you something about your character's.

"Of all peoples the Greeks have dreamt the dream of life's best."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe 1749-1832 "Proverbs in Prose"

Thursday, July 13, 2006

STRENGTH IN THE FACE OF GRAVE DANGER

"That fear of Acheron be sent packing which troubles the life of man from its deepest depths, suffuses all with the blackness of death, and leaves no delight clean and pure."
Lucretius (Titus Lucretius Carus) 99-55 BC De Rerum Nalura "On the Nature of Things"

It's been difficult, these past few weeks, staying focused on my writing although so far somehow I've managed to keep a decent schedule and make a wee bit of progress. In addition I started the two writer's workshops at my home twice a week and had preparations to do for them as well as the new set of Memoirs that I teach every Thursday morning downtown.

Three weeks ago my son was rushed to emergency in what turned out to be a serious infection in his colon which required emergency surgery. The facts are all being disclosed now, how close to dying he was, how very serious the infection was (almost flesh-eating disease) and that without the alertness of the doctors he would not be with us now. Yes, it was shocking, so sudden and unexpected, and now he's facing at least 8 months to a year of dealing with a colostomy.

In addition to this crisis, a close friend of mine had back surgery this week. She knew it was 50-50 whether she'd survive due to a serious heart condition. Yesterday she was in critical condition in the ICU and we expected the worst possible outcome. Amazingly today the news is better and it looks like once again this feisty, strong lady has cheated Charon out of a boat trip.

As if all this hasn't been enough to distract me completely, this week I got a call from another very dear friend of mine who says his throat cancer has returned and he stands a chance of losing his voice box. How horrible! The very thought of never being able to speak again must be devastating. And I can't imagine never hearing his voice, that Midland England accent, that sense of humour of his.

By midweek I felt swamped, overwhelmed by all these crises. At best I tried to keep writing, immersed myself in my workshop and Memoir groups which are interesting and inspiring as well as a lot of fun, went out with friends to hear some jazz and drink crantinis and just generally tried to stay focused, not to dwell on the negative possibilities and to keep on praying that good things will happen: that my son will be free of pain and recover, my friend will survive the back surgery and her heart will hold out awhile longer, and that somehow Thomas won't lose his voice-box.

All week I forced myself to work on my novel, spent more hours doing research, sorted out the tangled web of intrigue, edited, revised and at last began to write. Oddly, the part of my novel I am writing just now deals with crisis and strength in the face of grave danger.
It felt cathartic to write the new passages. I was able to transfer some of the intense drama that has been going on around me into the drama of the story. Here's a little bit of what I wrote today:
SCENE: Athens is on the verge of civil war with the Democrats and Aristocrats battling over an edict passed by Polyperchon, the new Regent of Macedon allowing disinfanchised citizens and exiles back into the city so they can claim back their land which had been expropriated by the Aristocrats. The Democrats won't accept the edict unless Macedon agrees to remove their military garrison. The Aristocrats support the oligarchies established by the old Regent, Antipater, and many are friends of Kassandros, the deputy Regent who means to overthrow Polyperchon. The military governor of Athens, PHOKION, is caught in the midst of the turmoil and because of his indecision has been accused of being a traitor. He goes to the Macedonian camp outside the city to appeal to the Commander only to find that, instead of coming to Athens to help establish peace, apparantly Polyperchon means to seize control and fortify the garrison against Kassandros and his faction. He has sent a letter asking Phokion to help him by urging Nikanor, the garrison commander, to ally with him against Kassandros.

Phokion accepted the letter and unsealed it. As he read what Polyperchon had written, his heart raced and anger welled up inside of him. In it, Polyperchon demanded a meeting to discuss the Royal edict and the political unrest in Athens. The Regent offered him protection if he assisted his son, Alexandros, in seizing command of the garrison. Apparantly Polyperchon meant to take control of the city himself.

Polyperchon's letter veils a plot to destroy me, he thought. He seeks to win over Athens by allowing the rabble back in order to overwhelm the government. Clearly Polyperchon means to banish me and if so, the assembly will once again be dominated by demagogues and public informers.

"If the Regent can not guarantee the Athenians their democracy, the Athenians will not obey the edict," he retorted bluntly.

"Phokion!" Alexandros said sternly. "Don't you see your time has come to an end? You're an old man now, and you have served your City well. But Athens is already on the verge of civil war and if you do not cede and obey, you stand to not only lose your poisition as military governor, but your life."

"I will never resign my position nor will I allow my City to be taken over by foreigners," Phokion declared.

"I advise you, Sir, to agree to my father's terms. Phokion, you must negotiate with Nikanor, convince him to meet with me."

"I see," Phokion replied. "Apparantly I have no choice but to appeal to Nikanor on your behalf even though he has already back-stabbed me by blockading the harbour and seizing Pireaus. You have bound me to agree to this just as a prisoner is bound and led to his death. I came here to appeal to Macedon to restore our democracy. Instead it appears that Macedon means to retain a hold on Athens, and though the Regent has offered to abolish the oligarchies, we will be less free than before, ruled instead by a military force."

"If you do not ally yourself with us, and thus chose to return to the city without our protection, you will surely be killed," Alexandros replied tersely.

Phokion's brows furrowed. He knew that if he did not treat with Macedon now, he would face banishment, or worse. "I will never abandon Athens." His jaw set firmly and he leaned forward, glaring fiercely at the Commander. "Tell your father the time is not propitious for me to desert my people."

In truth, he saw his own demise, caught as he was between two opposing forces. The scales were tipped in Polyperchon's favour but he stubbornly refused to relinquish his own position. How could he let his beloved Athens be torn apart again, forced to bow under the military might of these northerners who he had once considered his allies?

"If you refuse to try to convince Nikanor to ally with us, and choose to disregard the Regent's orders," Alexander said, "I can not guarantee your safety."

"If I must sacrifice my life to save my city, I shall count this a happy fate," Phokion replied. He felt a sudden melancholy as he spoke. "I will not accept the choice of banishment, nor will I be offered as a sacrifice, led like an ox to be slain on the Maiden's altar." He raised his fist in a victory salute. "Eleutheria!" he cried. "Freedom!" He stood and drew himself up to his full height, lifting his chin proudly, though he could feel himself trembling. "I have braved the might of Macedon fearlessly and offered to treat with them only to save Athens the same fate as Thebes. If my opponents wish to condemn me, so be it. When I am buried, let my winding sheet be the white one of liberty and may no man ever say that Phokion betrayed his City."
* * *

"If you are very valiant, it is a god, I think, who gave you this gift."
Homer 700 BC "The Iliad" l. 178

Thursday, July 06, 2006

EDITING: SLASH AND BURN!

"I might write four lines or I might write twenty.
I subtract and I add until I really hit something.
You don't always whittle down, sometimes you whittle up."
Grace Paley

Editing. Add/subtract. Cut & paste. Revise. Rewrite. Slash and burn!
That's what I've been doing all this week. Now the visitors have left (my young German friend Patrick was here for 3 weeks) and the mini vacation over (you can read about it on my travel blog: http://travelthroughhistory.blogspot.com ) I've committed myself to a summer of writing. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? But really, writing can be such hard work! Perhaps the most difficult part is staying disciplined. So far I've managed to stick to my schedule.
I write in the daytime because at night I have two writer's workshops here with people from my Spring night-school classes. I also intended to take Spanish classes twice a week but the class was full. And today, Thursday morning, I have my summer "Write in the Park" memoir group which looks like it's going to be quite successful and well-attended.

So when do I write? Usually in the morning, allowing myself some leisure time to enjoy what has been some exceptionally warm weather luring me to the beach. I've also had to spare some time this week because my son underwent emergency surgery for a bowel infection so that sent us all for a loop. Freaky and unexpected but it looks like it'll be okay now.

I've managed to spend several hours every day not only on my novel but other writing related things like marketing and preps for my workshops. So far this week I've mostly been retyping passages of the novel into the computer. (When I first started writing it I was using a word-processor which unfortunately wasn't compatible with the computer so I've had to retype the whole first part of the novel. I've still got a bit to do but only work on this when I'm in between the actually writing/editing. It helps me get centred in the story again and I edit as I go along, also marking the passages (lots!) that can be slashed and omitted in the final draft.

Now I'm down to editing the most recent passages before I plunge into the new work. But I've having a hard time getting 'inspired'. I need to talk it out with someone who's familiar with the history and story. I long for those days I lived in Greece and had friends who loved to sit around the taverna chatting about my novel and the characters in it. I wish I was in Greece right now! But I'll just have to do the best I can to get myself stimulated and inspired as I really want to finish this monumental piece of work. However, I'm feeling mired down and discouraged at the moment. I guess it's a matter of serious discipline and focusing all my attention on what has to be done. Having my son's life in a percarious situation earlier this week didn't help my concentration. The hot sun beckoning me outdoors didn't either. But now it's cooled off. I think Steve will be alright. And Shadow of the Lion awaits!

"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