Archive for February, 2012

“Hey, You a dreamer?”


“Haven’t seen too many of you around lately. Things have been tough lately for dreamers. They say dreaming’s dead; no one does it anymore. It’s not dead, it’s just that it’s been forgotten. Removed from our language. Nobody teaches it, so nobody knows it exists. Dreamers are banished to obscurity. I’m trying to change all that, and I hope you are too. By dreaming, everyday. Dreaming with our hands and dreaming with our minds. Our planet is facing the greatest problems it’s ever faced, ever. So whatever you do, don’t be bored. This is absolutely the most exciting time we could have possibly hoped to be alive. Things have just started.”

I’ve been listening to these words for weeks now. They’re embedded into an eclectic mix on a podcast from an internet radio station I discovered some years ago, and whose combination of trance and ambient chill-out I more or less listen to exclusively these days*. Anyway. I did some detective work, took the phrase: They say dreaming’s dead; no one does it anymore, fed it into the Google box and out popped references to the Kleptones who worked the reading I’ve been listening to into their 2006 concept album, 24 hours, but there were also references to the original dialogue which was lifted from a film called Waking Life (2001) by Richard Linklater.

I don’t know what I was doing in 2001, but this film passed completely under my radar, and I’m sorry it’s taken me over a decade to catch up with it. You’ll find clips on You Tube, but I wanted the whole experience so I ordered it from Amazon for the princely sum of £4.00 (including postage), and I watched it last night.

I found it mesmerising, but also puzzling that it should surface now because it deals with a lot of stuff that’s running around in my head at the moment, and which I’m trying to get a firmer handle on in order to make way in my own inner life. It resonates because I’m dreamer. I dream with my mind and with my hands. Dreams are great liberators, but they can puzzle or enlighten in equal measure. They can also be disturbing if we’re not ready for what they have to say, and they can make us ill, if we repeatedly ignore their warnings.

The film uses the phenomenon of lucid dreaming as a vehicle for exploring the nature of reality – a lucid dream being  the kind of dream where you wake up in your dream, and become lucid. Lucid dreams are a rare and startling faculty of the human psyche. The dream world, normally vague and passively experienced, is suddenly focussed by the conscious ego into a tangible alternate reality, one in which you can interact with the dream-scape, and change it. You can engage with the characters in your dream, ask their advice, respond to them, make love to them. A lucid dream can be a life-changing experience.

Personally, I don’t dream lucidly, but I do record my ordinary third person dreams, and sift the imagery in a Jungian way for clues as to how I might improve my outlook on life. There’s been enough strangeness in my ordinary dreams – false awakenings, and the occasional bizarre occurence of frustratingly banal precognition – for them to be at least suggestive of the existence of an imaginal plane outside of time, one we might actually inhabit all the time, without our knowing. And that’s without getting into lucid dreaming.


For anyone who’s ever asked questions about the nature of dreams and reality, you’ll find them all in this quirky little movie – the questions, not the answers. But in this field, you don’t need answers. Just asking the right questions can change the way you see the world. I thought the film was a beautifully crafted discussion piece, a gem of art-house animated movie-making –  thought provoking, astonishing, and – well – dream-like.

Without spoiling anything, the main character in the film arrives in a town that’s familiar to him, but which has also taken on certain odd qualities. The characters he meets seem intensely hung up on existential matters – from college professors to ordinary people in the street – they all have something to impart to him regarding the nature of reality. At intervals, he wakes up and realises he’s been dreaming all of this. But these are false awakenings – the kind where you think you’ve woken up and gone through your normal routine to start your day, only to find yourself waking up again, that you’d simply dreamed waking up. Each successive false awaking, plunges our character deeper into the dream. By now he knows he’s dreaming, realises he’s fully lucid and able to participate in the dream world. He wonders if in fact he’s dead, wonders how he can escape and finally wake up,…

Dreams feature a lot in my stories, either as a means of passing on a vital insight to one of the protagonists, or more full on, as a means of slipping out of one reality and entering another. In the past there’s been a tendency in fiction to rely on some form of technology to do this for us, to open the doors to other worlds – fantastic machines to make all things possible. But lately I sense things are changing, that our collective love affair with technology is coming to an end and what we’re heading for is a period of collective navel gazing in order to work out what it is we want from our lives. This might take some time. Indeed, it’s a process that can take a life-time, but I think it’s also healthy. It’s when we deny the objective reality of our dream life that the trouble starts. You don’t need fantastic machines to be at the cutting edge of reality, all you need is a working knowledge of the one thing we were all born with. Our mind.

Dreaming isn’t dead. It’s just that nobody teaches any more, so nobody knows that it exists.

There are still plenty of technologists out there of course, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, and to some extent, in my day-job, I’m one of them, but they’ve also got a lot of people these days looking over their shoulders, scrutinising what they’re doing – and not everyone’s happy with what they see. Technology is a tool and like all tools it can work wonders. It has the potential for doing a lot of good, but it can also be destructive, and are we wise to trust in it as much as we do when, in our technologically sophisticated world, there are still people dying for want of a clean drink of water? There’s no point being technologically sophisticated when we’re also morally and spiritually bankrupt.

We have to recognise technology for what it is, and that if we don’t also use our brains, it can be worse than useless. The brain – or rather the mind – has to be the starting point. It’s where we came from, and where we all ultimately return – or if the premise of the film “Waking Life” is to be believed, it’s somewhere we never actually leave. But whatever the truth of it, I think that in order to fully realise our potential, we have to look at what the mind can offer us, what doorways it can open up, if only to make us all better people. And we can do that by dreaming.

“Dreaming with our hands and dreaming with our minds. Our planet is facing the greatest problems it’s ever faced, ever. So whatever you do, don’t be bored. This is absolutely the most exciting time we could have possibly hoped to be alive.”

Maybe things have just started.

I hope so.

Goodnight all.

(I think I’ll watch it again)

* Frisky Radio

** The picture accompanying this post is by the German artist Heinrich Vogeler (1872-1942)

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The question of identity is one that reaches to the core of who we think we are, obviously, but it also has a bearing on how we view the nature of reality and our place within it. It’s unfortunate then how we often misinterpret our identity, mistake it for the mask of what we think we are, or even what we think we’d like others to think we are. We parade this mask every day and we sell it on the world’s stage, trying to convince even our own selves it’s the nearest thing to who we think we really are.

When seen through the eyes of this mask, however, the nature of reality becomes distorted, our vision clouded. It renders us vulnerable to seduction by things we should value the least, vulnerable to injury from things to which we ought to be naturally impervious, and it renders us prone to discarding as worthless the keys to unlocking a deeper understanding of the authentic nature of our selves.

When tested, when challenged by life, our imperfect mask can slip, it can tear, fall apart, disintegrate. If we identify too closely with the mask, we imagine it is our own selves under threat, our own selves tearing, falling apart in the face of the seemingly insurmountable pressures reality imposes upon us. We see it as a battle for our lives against a myriad unseen foes. It can be a terrifying experience.

We lose our footing, and we fall.

It’s important then that we pause occasionally, lift the mask and look beneath in order to get a glimpse our original self, our immortal and indestructible self. We needn’t worry; we are none of us as ugly as we fear – unlike the mask which is guaranteed to be a misshapen parody of our life’s potential, our true self.  Seeking our original face, remembering who we really are, and being content with that, is the only way of being truly grounded in the world and, being grounded, impervious to its storms.

I’m reading Eckhart Tolle’s “Power of now” again, a much thumbed copy, one I borrowed from a colleague who has already loaned it out to various people, countless times, but always seeks its safe return. In its current condition, you wouldn’t get ten pence for it in a charity shop, so battered and creased it is, but I take its fragile state as a testament to its resonant power, that people want to come back to this precious little book, time and time again, in order to refresh themselves, and remember who they are.

Like many spiritual teachers, Tolle is at pains to point out that we are not our thoughts. He tells us it was Descartes who coined the phrase: “I think, therefore I am”, but he urges us not to listen, that who we are is actually not defined by our thoughts at all. A more accurate phrase then might be: “I think, therefore I forget who I am.”

This is a difficult concept to grasp in a culture where we are taught from an early age to identify very strongly with ego consciousness. Ego is easily bruised, and then we find ourselves pointing fingers at the bruiser, seeking redress or even financial compensation for our woes. I’ve read and written about, and pondered on this over the years, but reading and writing, and pondering aren’t the same as getting it. I’m still in the process of getting it, and it looks like being a lifelong journey.

When we sit down to meditate, we are immediately confronted by the rush of our thoughts, chattering, nagging, slipping in under the radar of awareness, so that suddenly we wake up in the middle of our meditation, realise half our time is already gone and we’ve been lost in a storm of anxieties, instead of forgetting them – which is what we originally sat down to do.

Once in a while though, we catch ourselves. We say, no, I don’t want to think about that right now, and we brush our thoughts gently aside. They always come back, but in the between times we eventually become aware of a mysterious part of our selves observing our thoughts. This silent observer seems to sit in the background, watching their ebb and flow from a perspective that is one step removed from the self we think we are. This observer, this silent watcher, is clearly a part of who we are and it’s interesting to note how disconnected from the material world this normally hidden part of our selves is.

To this mysterious, and possibly higher self, all the worldly goings on are no more than froth; all the wars and the famine and the strife are no more than the fleeting interplay of a moment’s light in the deep, dark stillness of eternity. Finding our way into the unambiguous presence of this almighty sense of inner knowing is one of the hardest and most ambitious adventures any human being can undertake but, unlike climbing Everest or voyaging to the moon, it is an adventure open to any one of us.

Such existential musings have been brought into sharper focus for me recently – this business of who I think I am. It started when I saw some of my self-published novels for sale on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace. They were being sold under my name, but I’ve no idea how they got there or who was really selling them. For a moment, it was like staring at myself from across the threshold of an alternate reality – and even though I knew someone had simply stolen them, my sense of identity had been sufficiently shaken to make me think again about who I am and what my purpose is in the world.

The novels – three in all – were the sum labour of about five years work – pleasurable hours gleaned in the evenings and weekends of my day to day life. I’m not saying they’re great novels. They are what they are, I write the way I write, and when I’m done with my stories, I give them away. Certainly, they are of personal significance to me, but only in so far as the events and dialogues they describe are the roadmap of  a personal psychical journey. They plot my trajectory from the immature and egoic masks of youth, to this middle aged guy who sits blinking up now into the starry skies of an evening, partially unmasked at times yet still, it seems, none the wiser for any of it.

That someone else came along, cut and pasted those five years into a hastily cobbled e-book, called themselves Michael Graeme, and tried to make a few bob by pirating stuff I give away for free, should be neither here nor there to me – that is if I’m thinking straight and can avoid my ego feeling bruised. Even the fact that I have to prove my identity, and my legal right to call my thoughts my own, to the almighty Amazon, again, should be of no account to me,… that is if I am sufficiently secure and grounded in the knowledge of my own identity.

On this matter, the muse quietly takes my ego in her arms. She soothes away the angst with the warmth of her embrace, then she brushes off the dirt and reminds me I am not my thoughts, not my words. I am the silent watcher, she says, and like her, always a few steps removed from the tangled web of collective hope and expectation we mortal beings cling to, and which we call reality.

My mysterious Amazon doppelgänger did not make that journey. Their actions betray only the fact that they have not evolved emotionally, spiritually, or philosophically very far at all in human terms. Their life’s journey has been perverted by a misidentification with a mask they take as being the most fitting, but sadly one which makes them only ugly to the rest of us.

One of the hardest things to grasp in the quest for  maturity, and a sense of groundedness is that the right thought, the right deed, is right whether anyone bears witness to it or not, whether you profit personally from it, or not, whether the intrusive cameras of that reality TV show are switched on, or not.

The existential contract outlining this, our three-score years and ten of material reality, requires no verifying witnesses, and the presence of only two signatures, in order to make it valid and spiritually binding – our own, and that of the eternal sense of being rising beyond even the silent watcher of our thoughts.

I am, but what I am none cares or knows (John Clare, 1848) – we are each the self consumers of our woes. For “woes” here, we can read “thoughts”, which are for ever poised ready to warp into woes at a moment’s notice. We must all try therefore to remember we are not our thoughts, otherwise we end up consuming what we perceive to be our only self. This in turn results in a distorted vision of reality, one in which we see only a barren wasteland of broken promises and ruined hopes – or to quote John Clare again – the shipwreck of our life’s esteems.

But much as I revere John Clare, it really isn’t like that.

The times when reality comes most sharply into focus are the times when we are thinking about it the least, when our thoughts are stilled. Then a truer vision comes rushing in, presenting the nature of all things in their sublime glory – not as separate, but as an integral part of who and what we think we are.

It’s always been this way. It’s just that we’ve forgotten.

Good night all.

Graeme out.

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The murky underbelly of on-line publishing?

They say where there’s muck there’s brass, but equally the opposite is true: where there’s the sudden glitter of freshly minted brass, the muck’s never going to be far behind in chasing it. It seems reports of the financial successes of certain authors using the Amazon Kindle marketplace as a publishing platform have resulted in murky characters muscling in and trying to sell ebooks on Amazon.com that don’t actually belong to them. They call it content farming. I call it plagiarism, or stealing.

Can’t write? Not a problem. There’s plenty of creative content out there you can simply cut and paste and sell under your own name. Just delete the author’s name and replace it with a false one of your own. But wait, isn’t that illegal? Sure it is. It’s also dishonourable, deceitful and downright dirty, but we writers are stupid enough to put our work up where anyone can copy it aren’t we? So it’s our own fault, right? I mean some writers even give it away – so what’s the problem? Worried about getting caught? Don’t be daft. Who can afford to get a lawyer involved to sort it all out? Sure, if the original author spots it and complains to Amazon, they’ll pull the plug on you, but by then you’ll have made a few bucks for very little effort and disappeared back into the woodwork like the n’er-do-well worm that you are.

It happens, apparently. It happens a lot, and it’s getting worse.

I wasn’t aware of this until a couple of my own books appeared over the weekend as retitled Kindle editions. The seller, who I’d never heard of, was claiming authorship and demanding the princely sum of $6.70 per download. My thanks once again to Lori and Emma for pointing this out to me, and for covering my back. I couldn’t believe the barefaced cheek, but then I’ve always been blissfuly naive in the ways of the world. I was initially quite cross, but I’m more philosophical about it now.

I’ve been agonising over Kindle publishing myself, but eventually rejected it as being too complicated – the financial and, taxation side of it – and then someone else comes along steals my stuff and puts it on the Kindle Marketplace themselves. There’s the plot of a good story in there, and a complex moral as well that I could spend a long time exploring . But seriously, it seems there’s little an online author can do about this, other than keep their eyes peeled by frequently googling their own stuff and making sure there’s nothing suspicious about what comes back at them.

Amazon were quick to act in this instance, taking the links down, but now I’m wondering if any copies were sold, and if that money can ever be repaid to the customers who downloaded those books in good faith – because they received a second rate product to say the least.

While the books were still up on Amazon I used the “look inside feature” and noticed the formatting of the text was mangled, the chapters not always complete, showing all the signs of having been clumsily combed off the internet, patched together and offered up for sale like a badly pirated video that turns out to be all noise. The difference is, however, with a badly pirated video, you know it’s pirated before you pay for it, because the guy selling it has a dodgy look about him and operates in the shadows of your local boozer. If you pay for it, you only get what you deserve, but with the Kindle, you’re assuming Amazon’s content is legitimate, and you’ll be justifiably cross to find yourself paying for disjointed content. It also tarnishes the reputation of the Kindle, and Amazon, and undermines consumer confidence in the whole e-book market.

I think this is actually quite a blow for the online independent publishing sphere. While on the one hand it’s encouraging to know there’s enough money around in independent publishing these days for the criminal underworld to take an interest in it, the last thing we want is paid content from independent authors turning into a minefield for the consumer. That way we all lose. I’m happy to be keeping my work on the free side of the internet for now. It makes it no safer, but there’s less confusion. If you’ve ever paid to read an ebook with my words in it, it was stolen.

So, if you recently downloaded those disjointed, second rate cyber-knockoff copies of “Love lost and found again” by “Kevin Peters” or “Fearful of the consequences” by “Jennifer Watson”, do please contact Amazon and insist on a refund. And if you’re not already weary of the whole business, please go over to my Feedbooks stream and download the proper e-books for free. “Love lost and found again” is a plagiarised version of “The Road from Langholm Avenue”. Fearful of the consequences is culled from my novel “Push Hands”.



**Update Feb 14th**

It seems I’ve taken the plunge at last and started selling my work on Amazon.com, with three Kindle titles listed – The Road From Langholm Avenue, Push Hands and The Lavender and the Rose. Yes, these books are under my own name and their original titles, but I’ve no idea how they got there, nor where the revenue is going.

I’m trying to have these taken down but in this case Amazon is putting the onus on me to prove I own the copyright, so they want address, phone number, inside leg measurement, plus a declaration signed in blood, on pain of death or life imprisonment, that I’m telling the truth.

Interesting! Okay – just sent that off to their legal department. We’ll see how it goes.

15/2/12 – Amazon reply to confirm receipt of my query and express regret that they are unable to respond as quickly as they would like at this time. Offending books still there.

17/2/12 Offending books still there.

21/2/12 Message from Amazon confirming imminent shooting down of offending books. Books gone.

Matter closed.

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Well, never has my flabber been more ghasted. My thanks to Lori and to Emma for writing to me and pointing out that my “free” novels are apparently for sale on Amazon.com as e-books for the Kindle. I had been thinking about making some of my books into Kindle editions, but discounted the idea as ludicrously complicated and probably pointless, so I was astonished to discover it’s already happened. Unfortunately they appear to have been written by someone else.


The road from Langholm Avenue is currently being sold by Kevin Peters under the title “Love lost and found again”. My novel Push Hands is being sold by Jennifer Watson as “Fearful of the consequences”.

I’m actually quite stunned by this.

If you check the “look inside” feature on Amazon for these works, you’ll see the text is mangled and truncated, but definitely my own words. If you pay to download these books you’re going to be disappointed, you’re going to be angry, and my only comfort is you won’t associate them with my name. The product descriptions on Amazon are also a straight forward cut and paste from my descriptions on Feedbooks, where both of these books, like all my works, are available for free – and where, hopefully, the formatting is neater and the text more complete. Jeeze, I agonise over these books,… I kick myself for every misplaced comma and apostrophe, then some scam merchant comes along and hacks and cuts indiscriminately, and charges you six dollars for it.

If you’ve read Push Hands or Langholm Avenue, I thank you,… you are valued as a most rare and precious  reader, and much respected by yours truly, whatever you thought of my work. If you’re also an Amazon customer, could I ask you to go over to Amazon.com and leave a comment in the reviews of “Love lost and found again” and “Fearful of the consequences”, pointing out this strange discrepancy?

I don’t mind giving my work away. I love to write and in many ways it’s been a great relief to me to finally brush aside the  obsession with published and therefore paid authorship, which was clearly beyond my reach. I do greatly appreciate the comments from all my online readers. It’s given my work a terrific boost over the years, but it hurts to have someone steal and try to sell my stuff under their own name, thinking I wouldn’t notice. I suppose it’s a risk we all take as independent authors, putting our work up there, unprotected, for all the world to see, and maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that someone’s tried to engineer a scam with it.

I urge “Jennifer Watson” and “Kevin Peters”, probably nom-de-plumes of the same n’er-do-well, to remove these books from Amazon.com immediately. If they’ve plagarised my stuff it’s reasonable to assume they’ve done it to other indy authors as well, so I also urge Amazon to take a closer look at their account. I’ll also be writing to Amazon and reporting the outcome here. I’ve been a good customer of theirs over the years, with never a cause for complaint, and I’m sure they’ll be as concerned as I am that this kind of thing is going on.

I’m not sure if I should feel insulted or flattered at this stage. I feel violated, possibly, which isn’t nice at all. I think I’ll take a bath, then go to bed. Maybe I’m dreaming all of this?

My thanks again to Lori and to Emma.


Michael Graeme

**Updated 18 Feb 2012 ** These plagiarised works are no longer on Amazon.com.  They took them down before I was able to contact them. Other works have now appeared though, under my own name and bearing their original titles. These are proving more difficult to shoot down.

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Valentine’s: a bottle of pink plonk and a pair of cheap red knickers? 

I was out shopping with my family today – our usual Saturday thing. I drove  into town, stood in the usual shops, then drove home. Empty handed. The world of material goods just doesn’t do it for me any more. What I’m looking for is a mystery and does not exist in tangible form. It seems I also look for it in all the wrong places – mainly charity shops these days, where the books are cheap, and the titles somehow more alluring than in the proper bookshops, where the prices are eye-wateringly high, and the argument over what’s hot and what’s not is still dictated by the false war of commerce and the locking of publicists’ diabolical horns.

Ironically, it’s in the charity shops, I think, when the books have fallen off even the backlist and are consigned to oblivion, that the titles finally have their proper say and speak to us as the author perhaps intended all along. Here, the titles seduce, intrigue and entice, vying with their delightfully jumbled bookshelf neighbours for our attention. But I already have a pile of unread charity shop books, so I kept my hands in my pockets today.

I caught a glimpse of it in the supermarket – this thing I’m looking for – but only recognised it by its antithesis. Valenetine’s is coming up of course – hard to miss at the moment, with every shop window filled with satin hearts and roses and cheap red knickers.

I took a while, away from the good lady Graeme, to peruse the Valentine’s cards, but came away dissatisfied and empty handed. They were either saccarine sweet – all fluffy teddy-bears and heart shaped balloons – or unashamedly smutty. Here’s my gift of cheap red knickers, the cards seemed to say, so let’s drink this bottle of crap pink plonk, then let me tear those knickers off you and,… well,…

We’ll draw a veil over that one.

The good lady graeme is more than pair of cheap red knickers, I thought, even though the marketing gurus of my local/global supermaket chain are trying to tell me otherwise.

How to celebrate it then?

Celebrate what?

Love, of course.

I tell a lie, I did buy something today – a copy of the Times. I’m not a frequent purchaser of newsprint but George Clooney was on the front page and I know my good lady has a secret soft spot for the man. And buried deep inside the paper was an article on Love poems. The aim was to get you to invest in an iPad app, but I resisted the temptation and, in a mood of deepening introspection, I read the poems instead.

As an old Romantic, I discovered I was familiar with most of them: Wordsworth’s “She dwelt”, Shelley’s “Love’s Philosophy”, Yeat’s “Song of wandering Aengus”. But there were other poems I’d not read before – Rossetti’s “The first day”, Keats’  “Bright Star”,… and as I discovered these poems, really focussed on them and tried to feel their voice, I felt a final shuddering of something.

What the hell was that?

Ah,… I remember,… Emotion!

But it was not the words of long dead poets that finally connected me with the soul of the world. It was Carol Anne Duffy. I don’t know her work very well. There are too many dead poets to be worrying about to have to consider the living ones as well, and I’m an ordinary man, not a literary buff. Carol Anne Duffy is the current incumbent of the British Poet Laureateship, our queen of poets, and her poem “Valentine”, read aloud this afternoon, finally moved me to a place where I found what I’d been looking for. I hope I’m breaking no rules by reproducing it for you here:

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.

Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

Read aloud? Yes,… as far as the line “Trying to be truthful”. Then something took my throat and I finished the poem in silence. Love is more than a pair of cheap red knickers. However you celebrate Valentine’s with your lover/wife/muse, be truthful. And do not be ashamed or embarrassed or afraid of love. It may be the only thing that connects you to what is real. And you won’t find that in a supermarket.

A moon wrapped in brown paper? I’ll never be able to look at an onion again in quite the same way.

My regards to all.

Graeme out.

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