Family Goulash (A Political Feast or Famine)

Everyone knows the best place to discuss politics is around the dinner table. In the current environment where moderate politicians have steadily been replaced by demagogues of left and right, these partisans could learn a lesson or two from the Leninist wing and Trotskyite faction of my family during the reign of the Iron Lady in eighties Britain. Not to mention the eighties are now back in style.

There are as many ways to cause a family rift as there is diversity in species. Kith and kin can fall out over money. They can refuse to speak to one another for years for the wrong word said in the heat of emotion. They can squabble over a will. They can be at each other’s throats after an older aunt is discovered sleeping with a younger cousin. Or, the worst case of all, they can, as was the case with my family, come to blows over politics.  Lines were drawn in the sand when the Leninist wing of my family butted heads with the Trotskyite faction during the reign of the Iron Lady in eighties Britain.

It happened over Sunday diner. My grandfather was slicing the roast beef when he said, “Now, if only Lenin had tempered his Bolshevik politics with a bit of British beef.”

“What the hell are you talking about Edward,” countered my Uncle Ivor, my grandmother’s brother who had always been a Trotskyite ever since he joined Mensa. He even wore round spectacles that Trotsky was rumored to wear in his days in Mexico. “Everyone knows that Lenin stole the mutton from Leon.”

“Oh, what a bunch of Bolshy,” chimed in my Aunt Florence, my grandfather’s spinster sister who loved to dabble in the antagonistic. “If we’re talking revolution and socialism, where’s the liver of Marx’s ideas in all of this?

“Roasted potatoes anyone?” asked my grandmother, who has always been apolitical unless the butcher sells her a bad cut of meat and then she turns into a right wing extremist. “You do that one more time Mr. Jones, and I’ll have your balls in one of my pies.”

“It’s all foul and fish,” interrupted Erol, my grandmother’s nephew who was known as the butcher of Ammanford. “A true revolutionary is like a kidney. He should purify the ideologies of the masses by removing the material waste products and excreting them in the name of the people.”

“Bloody rubbish,” chanted a distant cousin called Cyril who kept chickens. “The Soviet Union was nothing but a chicken factory where Lenin made sure the eggs of socialism got laid under his own oligarchy.”

“Can someone pass the salt please?” asked my mother, a devout Dallas watcher who had never missed an episode and considered the most political question of all to be who shot JR.

“Problem with Lenin,” said Brother John, our family Franciscan monk, “is that he sucked on the black pudding of Marx’s theories but didn’t have the trotters to see it become an actuality.”

“Could it have been,” began my grandmother’s spinster sister Mary, “because Marx didn’t know his goose liver from his duck fat that he resorted to a totalitarian regime?”

“Can I have another helping of parsnips?” asked my father who considered the double helix of every person’s DNA the real meaning of politics.

“I’ve never heard anyone say that mint sauce ever helped a dictator,” said my elderly Aunt Gloria who when she had heard about the Yalta Conference had wanted to book a holiday there to help her with her arthritis.

“Trotsky only wanted to salt the bacon of what he saw as the Russian aristocracy’s snout that had escaped the trough of human suffering,” added my cousin Blake who’d gone to prison for some petty crime.

“The Oppression of any nation is the equivalent of eating veal,” piped in another cousin who had received his philosophy degree from Open University.

“Now, who’d like some rice pudding?” asked my grandmother.

“But who’s responsible for putting that egg custard Thatcher in power?” I asked, adding a good dollop of strawberry jam into my pudding.

It was then that all hell broke loose.

Hooting & Howling

I tend to be literary on my blog with the occasional flirt with nonsense. But I also like to write about music, my other love. And so I’m going to gush about an English band my wife and I just saw in Boston. The band is the Wild Beasts, one of the best bands to come out of Britain since the Smiths, in my Welsh opinion, which probably doesn’t count for much beyond the River Wye.

We’ve been besotted with this band since hearing Two Dancers and so when we heard about them playing in our backyard city, we had to go. And having two young daughters we don’t get that much opportunity to get to do such things. But we cajoled and begged for a babysitter, we bought the tickets back in July, and wore-out our copy of their phenomenal new album Smother as we waited. Then on Tuesday we drove the 4 hours to the big city of Boston with a wild look in our eyes.

And what a fucking show! They played at a local club called Paradise Rock, which, I learnt, has quite a history when it comes to discovering some very, very successful bands, acts like the Jam (another fav), Blondie, Sinead O’Connor, the Police, and even the boring juggernauts U2 played there in their early days.

It was a perfect venue, not too big but not too small either. I actually don’t even recall the opening acts, which is fine, since the grit is forgotten once the pearl is created. Although I do remember the first opening act because they sounded like a lot of white noise. I did actually listen to the second act, but that was only because I wanted to get a good spot before the stage.

I was expecting a huge turnout since it wasn’t as though the Wild Beasts are an unknown band. But the 100 or so crowd made the concert feel even more intimate and wonderful, we were not packed in like sardines but more huddled together like around a campfire.

They opened the set with “Lion’s Share” off Smother and right away I knew they were going to blow the roof off the place. And they did. Every one of us was hooting and howling like mad wild beasts in the presence of our masters. We sounded like 500. I have no doubt that if there was some way to measure happiness and enjoyment and real pleasure, the needle on this imaginary machine would have been off the scale. I swear you would have seen our love for this band and their music from out in space; it would have been the glowing heart of life in the middle of Boston.

And they were so genuinely appreciative of the amazing energy from the crowd. I even think at one point I might have seen Hayden’s eyes glistening. But maybe that was just me projecting what I was feeling. In fact the whole energy of the show was so palpable, it was alive, moving around the gig like a demon lover, feeding, mingling. I still, two days later, feel soaked from the band’s energy; I’m wearing it like a coat of multicolored thrill. And if I listen I can still feel the deep vibrations from the amps.

They were such a tight-knit band. And Tom and Hayden harmonize together the way I imagine the great poet William Blake did with his angels. And when Tom burst into “All the King’s Men” (one of my fav tracks, besides “Deeper,” “Hooting and Howling,” “We’ve Still Got the Taste…,” “Fun Powder Plot,” “Loop the Loop,” “Albatross,” “Bed of Nails,” all of which they played) I literally felt an electrical shock, I could tell here was a singer possessed with his art — he was so feral and so in control, too. Fucking amazing.

And Hayden is such a presence, hard to look away from him and his stunning talent even down to his choice of shoes — in this case some fantastic suede ones. As a man who is also shamelessly particular about what I wear on my feet, it was lovely too see that another man likes the idea that the shoe can maketh the man!

I don’t consider myself old, but I’m in my forties and have listened to many bands in my short life and I haven’t in a long time been so crazy about a band like I am for the Wild Beasts (not since the Smiths or Echo and the Bunnymen or Joy Division or Japan or Sylvian, to name a few). They got my heart beating again (which is generally what novels and my family and friends do). But the Wild Beasts have such untamable energy and creative wonderment and they aren’t afraid to take risks — everything which makes great art and artists and makes the rest of us feel alive to the world and the possibilities that are surrounding us but we seem to forget to notice.

As with all fleeting things, the end always comes too soon! I could have listened to then all night long, lost, so beautifully lost.

But as an extra bonus, on our drive back to Maine a real wild beast, a coyote, trotted across the highway, which seemed the perfect ending to our wild night.

If you were to slap my palm with silver, I’d tell you the Wild Beasts are headed for greatness. But I’m no good at augury. All I can offer is that you check the band out and find their magic all on your own. There’s a magic simply in that.

The Autumn Country

The season has turned. Autumn has struck its bronzed bell. The nights are cold; the stars are clear, bright. The stars are impressions of night. Orion is rising. The trees are beginning to whisper red and yellow. Green is a memory on the wind.

I love autumn. The slowing-down season. The thinking season. The brewing pots of tea and the gazing season.

But where to gaze?

Continue reading

Rotting Joists of Mystical Harmony

Life is, as George Emerson said, the “Eternal Yes!” Or in the words of the wild prophet Henry Miller: “Fucking Yes!”

Maybe it was the fire-drenched, full moon that rose last night like a warm sigh. Maybe that’s why today I feel like a field of poppies is exploding inside.

The resin of opium. The addiction to something unsaid. The feel of the atomic weight of weightlessness. The smoke of forgiveness, stinging the eyes one more time.

How do we force ourselves to live as if life is an arrangement of flowers? Pick me! Pick me! I’ll last. I’ll share the water but only if my bloom outdoes yours.

Wild flower. Untouched except for hot sun, cool rain, mist, and otherworldly night. There must be something mad about you. I mean, why the fuck would you grow so far from the maddening crowd? Are you insufferable? Does your seedline got back to what fell by the wayside?

Let me tell you a story. No. On second thought, that’s been told one too many times.

Let me tell you nothing. Do you hear it? No yet? Just wait, and you will. It sounds like a petal falling to the dirt of a parched earth. But there’s a raincloud coming. So why the pitiful look?

In time, all things come to fruition. Just ask the fruit. But listen to the seed. It knows death is in the flesh, but life is in the seed

I don’t know where I nabbed this. But I like its irreligiousness:

“Gravity is only a myth put about by atheist scientists in order to restrict our natural ability to fly.”

Unforeseeable. But Certain.

I’m a sad, despondent, poststructuralist subjected to history.

It’s true, isn’t it? None of us are special and others are not clamoring to know us. We are all alone. Not even God can point a finger and laugh, “You know, I’m not the slightest bit interested in you, no matter how hard you pray to me. I’m preoccupied in just believing in myself.”

And it’s not as though I want much. I just want to hear the sound of a zipper on a knee-high boot. Plus my name on a book. And another. And another, ad infinitum.

And then I want a garden of leeks and the keys to the city. Oh, and I wouldn’t mind a cult following as long as they offer room and board and tea at around ten.

I’m knackered. It’s hard work doing nothing and everything all at once. Plus I went on a long afternoon walk and that wore me out. But I’m getting as fit as a fiddle. Soon I will be able to play Vivaldi on my ham strings.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”

 

 

So Long . . . And Thanks For All the Books!

It’s about bleedin’ time I started writing about the self-publishing phenomenon and the slow decline of the traditional publishing world. Why? Because as a writer yet to have a book published, it’s a biological imperative.

I keep reading that the e-book is going to change the face of planet publishing, that a revolution is already under way, a paradigm shift is imminent. Publishers Weekly just announced that e-book sales increased 159.8% in the first quarter of 2011, selling $233.1 million electronic books.

Now there are those who love the sound of the guillotine; love the severed head. Then there are those who don’t. And then there are those who are still unsure what it all means, unclear about the signs, the symbols, the constant barrage of voices that predict doom and upheaval and the death of the book as we know it. (Yes, well, as a species, I’ve noticed we tend to start to love the things we miss much more than we love the things we have.)

It seems the argument for all this change revolves around two different camps of thought:

The publishing world has been unfair to authors in the form of monies handed over as to monies kept — and other grievances laid at the doors of the publishing world. Plus, the publishing world has been pulling the wool over writers’ eyes for a long time, since what they are really good at is this: delivering books! And now it seems, the cat is out of the bag since writers (through Websites and social media networks) can do this faster and cheaper.

Now the argument against is that every ape will rise up and begin to use a keyboard like something out of  Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and there will be a flood of self-published books gripped in simian hands and shaken about a lot.

I tend to agree that publishers have been unfair to writers from what I hear when I speak to other writers and from what I read and intuit.

The argument against self-publishing, though, doesn’t hold much water. Mostly because I believe that readers are not dumb (they read for god’s sake!). So they’ll not go out in herds and buy up books that are crap and badly edited.

I know for me, I’m going to try to latch on to the fiery tail of the phoenix of the traditional publishing world, even if it’s in ashes. I want to try for an agent and a publisher when I’m done with my novel-in-progress. I feel like it’s the right thing for me — professionally and personally. I don’t feel like the old establishment has collapsed yet. And I’m going to try to ride it before the last wave comes in — which I think isn’t going to be for a long time. I mean, it’s not like the big publishing houses (or even some of the indie ones) are just going to roll over and die. The big publishing houses are stumbling a bit now from the kick in the corporate balls, but at some point they’re going to figure something out to compete with the self-publishing authors. I just don’t see them going down in a blaze of glory not since they’ve been at this game for so long. They are going to rise like the phoenix, but they are definitely going to have to be a bird of a different colour to compete.

When I realized that writing had chosen me and that I had no other choice, I never really expected anything beyond stringing words together that I loved the sound of, the feel of as they left me for the page. And as time has progressed and I know a little more, I still, oddly, just love stringing words together that I love the sound of, the feel of as they leave me for the page. Yes, I have great expectations just like every other author to have a published novel and have a readership, and I’ll do what I can to make this happen. I’m driven by creative daemons! But deep down in the visceral mess of my soul, I couldn’t give a fuck to what’s happening in the publishing world. I just care about that sentence, those words, that story that will not leave me live an ordinary life….

And then I pinch myself and realize I have to give a fuck and it depresses me at first but then I get back to the writing to make it the best I can and take in all that’s going on and try to make a choice that matters.

It’s certainly good to know the shit before it hits the fan. And I like to know about what’s going on in the book world that I have chosen as my element to live in. And I want to make decisions rather than just wing it, in the same way I like to follow a recipe when I cook. Although sometimes I like to wing it, too, act spontaneously and just make some meal up. That’s the slice of life I like. A person can be so well informed and still fuck up. And then a person might know nothing and strike gold. At least I believe this.

I really don’t have any answers of even good questions about this whole Big Bang in the publishing world. I guess I’m living it as it lives out its new body. But I know the publishing world is shifting. But then I’m shifting, too. Shit, everything is changing so fast I don’t know if I’m old or young or just having a wonderful crazy life. It’s exciting, and a bit dizzying. But I believe people thrive in times of real change. So I’m willing to find my own way. And I’m willing to fail as much as I succeed.

Kitchen Sink Drama

I’ve been hearing some hokey stuff recently, so I thought I’d write about it. Here are 2 that have struck me as the most suspect:

“The writer in everyone.”

And

“Creativity is a solitary affair.”

The first gave me a reason to pause because I can’t imagine that there is a writer in every person who is just dying to get out and write. That would be like saying there is a doctor in everyone and a lawyer in everyone an accountant in everyone (scary thought) a president in everyone and etc, etc.

If I suddenly started to try and balance other people’s money, I’m sure the IRS would soon be knocking on my door. Or if I suddenly put a sign outside my house that read: “The Doctor Is In,” I’m sure there would be a lawyer crossing my lawn in no time.

I do think humans are natural-born storytellers. It’s on our tongue, literally, to spin a yarn, be it about the weather or the chicken that escaped from the coop or the guy down the street who dries his underwear on the garden post. The tongue likes to wag some story or other.

But writing is not the same as speaking. Writing is not on the tongue. Not at first, anyway. It’s somewhere deeper inside. It springs to life in the head, if I have to localize it. But that’s not even true. A story begins like the Big Bang, in space. And, at least for me, it then begins to take shape and form in the head, and I hear fictional voices. And those voices can’t stay there. Now the old oral storytellers would have begun to speak. Not me. I begin to write. So I somehow silence the tongue and I only bring it back into use when words start to flow and I want to know how they sound. Do they have a sound that is worth keeping? Still, most of the sound is going on in my head and then to the blank screen where it, hopefully, gets louder and louder. (I’m not trying to make this into some esoteric art; just a spooky one.)

I’m not sure everyone, besides writers, takes the time to recognize and act upon these strange voices. And so, the “writer in everyone” is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing.

Now onto the second.

For a long time I’ve taken for granted that “creativity is a solitary affair”: a writer sits alone and writes. Then the other day I was doing the washing-up, squirting the liquid, and watching the foam rise…and it hit me.

Wait a honky-tonk second, I thought. (Picture the foam rising in the sink). I squeezed the sponge in my hand. (Picture more foam rising.)

Creativity is not a solitary affair! And I turned off the tap.

Here’s why. (And I shall use my washing-up experience as an illustration.)

Just like the washing-up liquid will not foam without water, so a writer can’t create without the presence of other writers.

Let me explain: Okay, I’m sitting alone before the keyboard, but, every writer (living and dead) I have ever read and loved is sitting on my shoulder. I can sense them there. Some encouraging, some snickering, some rolling their eyes, some yawning, some picking their nails, some typing themselves, some asleep, some shouting, some wandering off, some hooting and hollering, some attentive, some whispering words of advice and praise.

And just like the foam is an amalgamation of tiny bubbles, so a solitary writer is in fact just one iridescent bubble in the mosaic bubbles of life going on around them.

Let me explain:  Yes, I’m alone with my story. But am I really alone?

I don’t have my own writing room, it’s in the living room, the centre of house life. I try to make it a solitary space, though, by writing at night when my two young daughters are in bed. But even then it’s not as solitary as I think it is. One of my three cats might jump into my lap. A moth might bang against the window like a falling moon of white. A neighbour’s dog might bark at some noise. The lights might flicker. A car might grumble down the dirt road. A fox might scream and scare me half to death. There may be thunder. The wind might get the leaves muttering. Rain might fall in liquid drops. The moon might break free and gaze upon me. My eldest daughter might wake and wander down stairs….

How can I be alone with all of this life going on around me? And it’s not a distraction. In fact, it’s a gift. All this active life around me seeps in, fills me up, alters my mood, affects my writing, changes what I write. The life outside becomes the life inside the creative mind, feeding it, changing it, giving it that extra elasticity and energy to be something other than just the rote practice of sitting alone in a chair and writing.

Plus, as an added bonus, just as I can pull the plug when I’m done with the dishes, so I can pull the plug on the writing. Go back to it another day.

“And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turn them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation, and a name.” Shakespeare

“People lie constantly every day by not saying something that they think, or by saying something that they didn’t think.” Marlon Brando

“There is a class of hardy men, old-fashioned enough to have remained rugged individuals, openly contemptuous of the trend, passionately devoted to their work, impossible to bribe or seduce, working long hours, often without reward or fame, who are motivated by a common impulse — the joy of doing as they please. They do not seek to dominate, but to realize themselves. They evolve, they grow, they give nourishment just by being what they are.” Henry Miller