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Archive for September, 2013

southport pierSince 2007 we’ve been observing a world in freefall. Something’s gone wrong with the money machine, and the machine is a mystery to me. Try as I might, I just can’t figure out how it works so, like my car, I tend to leave such things to the mechanics. All I know is that the mechanics tell us we can’t just print money when we run out of it. If we print it, they say, the prices in the shops go up, so we run out of money again and have to print even more. The result is a never ending and upwardly inflating spiral of destruction.

The problem is, of course, we have indeed run out of money – lost it apparently – but such is the depth of my ignorance, I don’t understand where the money has gone. I know money is largely computerised now, but when the pundits opine that billions have been wiped off the value of the stock market, does that mean there’s a computer program somewhere deleting it?

If I only understood these things a little more I’m sure I’d be less cynical when we hear the tired old politicians’ saw that we’re all in this together and tough decisions must be made. But I’m not so ignorant I don’t understand that phrase: “tough decisions”. It means diverting money away from anything that betters society – diverting it to where, exactly, I’m not sure, but certainly nowhere it will do the majority of us any good. Those tough decisions may be expedient in terms of getting the  machine going again, but it seems also morally perverse, no matter what the money mechanics tell us.

To my eyes, something is wrong at the heart of the machine, yet the solution the mechanics are groping towards appears to be a painstaking restoration of the very thing responsible for the breakdown in the first place. It seems unwise to merely restore a system we know has imperfections so deeply ingrained it cannot help but impale itself again on the future shards of its own avarice. I’m aware this is a naïve view and it’s probably why I’m unsuited to the field of money mechanics.

The majority of people remain silent on these things, like me, lost in ignorance and apathy, focussing purely on the next pay-cheque, the next bill. We regard the economy the same way as the weather – something we must occasionally take shelter from, and are powerless to control. So, we look on in dismay and gather those closest to us, that we might comfort them with platitudes as the tornado cuts another swathe. But human beings are not meant to live like this for long. And six years of “tough decisions” is a long time.

We are all of us aspirational. If we cannot feel the thrill of life, however we define it as individuals, it makes us crazy. We might be tempted to expand ourselves in directions we ordinarily would not. And if the compassionate, inclusive directions in life are closed to us, what then?

They say there are no powerful ideologies any more – left or right leaning, that we run in the safe groove of the middle ground. Indeed someone famously declared the end of history with the fall of communism in the 1980’s. I think that was premature, for what is the avaricious freemarket economy, if not an ideology? And what are ideologies anyway, but irrational beliefs, each born from the ashes of the ideology that preceded it? But the thing with ideologies is the seeds of the old ways remain, like prehistoric grasses, frozen into the glacier of the new. And that glacier of the free market economy, has been melting so very fast of late. At what point will it release, drip by drip, those ancient seeds?

In Britain the ancient seeds are most visibly represented by the minority politicians who occupy the far right. I saw their footsoldiers in the summer. They went leafleting en-mass along the promenade of a wealthy seaside town in my locale. Bright eyed, jolly lads, they were. White, shaven headed and patriotically tattooed, they strode out with a purpose. But they also seemed intent on a parody of themselves as they handed out their literature of race-hate.

The Britain of my personal experience remains for the most part inclusive and fair minded, and I’m happy to report those leaflets were received with largely contemptuous ripostes. But I wonder at what point will those fair minded summer crowds be rendered vulnerable enough for the dark seeds take root?

Although the money mechanics remain by far the most vociferous of the media pundits, it’s clear by now this is much more than a financial crisis. It’s something that has reached to the psychic roots of our being and has begun to reshape us as people. We must therefore take care in the ideals we hold to, as individuals, for the only cure the mechanics can come up with is more of the same – namely the ruin of nations and the impoverishment of our children, generation upon generation.

In order to repair our world along the old familiar lines, it seems we must first destroy it.

So, as we stand on the cusp of this new age, and look to the future, we must be mindful of the times to come, that we shall at times feel our hands so tied we can no longer do any good in the world, that we will feel at times ever more restrained, unable to expand and feel the aliveness within us. Yet expand we must, for this is our nature. But whatever path we choose, let us remember the old doctor’s saw, that we must first do no harm.

There is an axiomatic kernel of decency in all of us, no matter how cynical and pressed. It’s an ancient thing, God given and born of dreams. It would always have us act to safeguard our fellow man, not out of legal necessity, nor national interest, nor economic expedience, but out of compassion. If we could only wake up to such an ideal as that, we might fix the machine properly so it works for all of us, instead of so intractably against most of us.

There has to be another way.

I know, I know,… I write stories, and most of them are fantasies too, but I remain hopeful.

 

Graeme out.

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because you write

You see this one a lot in the blogsphere, and it’s always worth a glance. Of course there are no rules to blogging. You can write whatever and however you like, but there are certain things that attract readers. Readers turn into followers, and bloggers like to have followers – even the ones who say they don’t.

I’ve clearly some way to go before The Rivendale Review becomes one of the touchstones of the global online community, but I accept my material doesn’t have mass appeal. Nor am I about to start writing on “popular” or “controversial” or “trending” topics just to attract more traffic, and I recommend you don’t either. As bloggers our uniqueness is our appeal to readers, so don’t try to write like everyone else. Above all be yourself. The blog is you. Your blog is where readers come to find the unsanitised view of the world through your eyes.

All right,…

You’re a voice in the wilderness, your topic of conversation might not have mass appeal, so, without sacrificing your virtue, how do you best present yourself and start picking up an audience?

Here are ten guidelines – in no particular order of merit:

1) Keep it short. In the early days of this blog I wrote long pieces – several thousand words long. They were careful analyses on issues that interested me. Long, long essays on this and that. They’ve sunk without trace. No one reads them.

When I was writing for print I knew that however long my first draft was, I could always reduce it by at least a third without losing the essential meaning. Unlike print, in blogging we can blather as much as we want, but it’s a bad habit, so economise, economise, economise. Keep it short, or even your most loyal follower is wondering if they have time to do you justice. They move on, they get distracted, and they don’t come back.

How short? Currently I aim for between five hundred and a thousand words.

2) Tag. Us the tag function to tag your piece with key words or phrases. These things have a ranking. Hit upon a popular key phrase, one that’s currently “trending” and your blog starts popping up on the front page of Google searches. You can get clues to trending tags by using google’s auto complete function. “Writing a good blog” autocompletes after the third word, plus the b of blog – so I know it’s a fairly popular search term. But don’t sacrifice your ideals on a popular tag. Write what you want to write, then think how you might widen its appeal with the judicious use of appropriate tagging.

3) Answer your comments. Make conversation. Let your readers know you’re a human being, and not one of those horrible web-farming machines. If someone follows you then consider following them. If someone likes you, have look at their blog. You may have something in common. Blogging is interactive. It’s also a community.

4) Pictures. I like interesting pictures to accompany a blog. They attract the eye, they encourage your clicker to settle in and linger. But keep it relevant, and tasteful, and legal.

5) Keep going. Update regularly. Once or twice a week is okay. If you’re down to less than once every couple of months and it’s becoming a chore, then maybe blogging’s not for you. On the other hand don’t update too regularly. If you have followers they don’t want to be hearing from you several times a day. You’re asking to get unfollowed.

6) Don’t blog because someone’s paying you to endorse a particular view or a product. And don’t blog as part of a multi level marketing scam because that just annoys the hell out of everyone. You’ll get found out, and then your name is mud. You lose your virtue – and remember that’s the only thing you have going for you.

7) Don’t be afraid of sounding like a fool. Express yourself. Marylin Monroe, that most iconic of muses, once said: Imperfection is beauty. Madness is genius. It is better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring. She could have been talking about blogging.

8) Important one this: don’t blog when drunk, or within 24 hours of an emotionally upsetting incident, and especially not to get back at someone. I know you can always delete the nonsense you wrote next morning, but by then the damage might already have been done.

9) Normal rules of libel apply to blogs. Be careful what you say and how you say it.

10) Last of all, don’t listen to me. The best part of blogging is the journey, finding your own way, and your own audience.

So in the spirit of interaction, let me ask you: How would you write a good blog?

Graeme out

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The summer was quick to bow out this year. Suddenly it’s dark at 8:00 pm and there’s a wild wind throwing the garden furniture about, vehicles splashing through puddles on the road outside my window. I’m thinking back for something to hold onto, some memory of the summer to make me smile and warm me up on this prematurely autumnal eve. We had the Olympic games last year, and the Queen’s jubilee, but this year?

Well, there’s always Glastonbury.

This is arguably the best rock concert in the world, coming back with renewed vigour after a fallow year last year on the host site of Worthy Farm. It’s well featured in the  BBC schedules, always beautifully filmed. And the highlight for me?

The Arctic Monkeys have been around since 2002, a bunch of likeable lads from Sheffield. But you know how it is when you get older, you tend to leave the pop music to kids, and you don’t always pick up on these things, such as the meteoric rise of this unassuming noughties band. Their set took my breath away – the whole concert is still on You Tube at the time of writing and well worth every second. This is them closing the show:

Great songwriters, great musicians, plastic pop this isn’t. Apologies for the risqué lyrics, but this is indy-rock at its best.

Yes, it was a good summer.

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Black Dog

black dog

_________________

Raindrops bead the glass,
As I sit drifting,
Into catatonic trance,
Aching for the long ago,
And a comfort,
Once but dimly grasped.

Sky,
Dirty white,
And streaked with grey.
I watch green hills fade,
As the day kneels in mourning,
For a spirit lost.

I let it go.
It tumbles,
Turning slow, then breaks,
Upon this tired earth,
And turns,
Once more to dust.

Reeds shake upon a ground Unknown,
While chill winds raise a tremble,
Among listless thoughts.
Brain jammed,
Tweaks the dial for something new,
Static rasps and squeals,
Then fades again
To this vacuum,
That was once my heart,
Now suspended,
Perilous,
Like a stone in mud.
Each breath to sink it lower.
Into dark obscurity.

Black dog,
Stalking through the tall grass.
At once familiar,
And alone, beyond all things,
Faithful to the last.

_____________________________________

*The pub sign is that of the Black Dog Inn at Belmont, Lancashire.

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man writing

It can come as a shock to a first time would-be author, how difficult is is to interest a literary agent or a publisher in your work. You’ve studied the market, you’ve penned your masterpiece, honed it to perfection and sent it off, confident your genius is about to be recognised. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, after the first dozen submissions your confidence in that early victory is by now mired in something more akin to trench warfare. You grit your teeth and lob it over the wall, again, and they lob it back, but try as you might you can’t beat the odds and outshine all the other manuscripts agents and publishers are inundated with. It’s strictly a buyers market – and there’s nothing we can do about that.

Some writers persevere and make it, others persevere their whole lives and don’t. Others give up along the way and get themselves a proper job while some, like me, decide to self-publish for free online – better that way, I think, than my kids having to dispose of a shed full of unpublished manuscripts when I finally shuffle off to my cosy little study in the sky.

But, whichever category you fit into, there’s always a risk you’ll become downhearted, even desperate, for that one last shot at fame. You need to be careful at this point because it’s precisely now you become vulnerable to the predators who circle the publishing battlefield: vultures, on the look out for that most fatal and profusely bleeding of all literary wounds: the shattered dream.

But cheer up chum. Don’t look so glum. Pay me some money and I’ll make that tired old manuscript of yours really shine. Honest! It’ll shine so bright it’ll light up an agent’s eyes. Pay me some money and I’ll print you a thousand copies. Pay me some money and I’ll market it for you.

Hmm,..

Think very carefully now. Follow the money, and ask yourself: who profits here? For all these enticing offers of “help”, you still have no guarantee your work will ever reach the shelves of the book store. And for all of those rosy assurances, most likely, it won’t. Call me old-school, but I believe a writer must never pay anyone anything in pursuit of “publication”. The fact that so many of us do is the one thing responsible for the vanity publishing industry’s persistence in the face of a technological revolution that should have wiped it from the face of the earth.

But how do I go pro, if no one will publish me? I know. It’s a hard road and I’ve been there. I fell by the wayside some time ago, and found myself a quieter backwater, one where there’s no money, but plenty of readers and that suits me fine. Go pro? Then persevere with your submissions to agents – you never know – or write for free until someone offers to pay you. But don’t let your love of writing, your devotion to the muse, your obsession for your subject – whatever you want to call it – become a financial liability as well.

Remember, you are the important one here. You are the source. Yours are the fingers on the keyboard, night after night. Yours is the head lost for years in the mysterious labyrinth of creation. Yours is the book, the poem, the story. If you can profit from that, then do. But when others seek to cosy up, and offer their literary consultancy services in exchange for money, a writer needs to be wary.

Your writing is a gift, take pleasure in it, but don’t let others use it to make money out of you, when there’s no guarantee you’ll be making any money out of it yourself. You want your little piece of immortality? I know. I understand. But you already have it. If you self-publish online, or keep a blog, your words will remain in the clouds until the sun burns out, and that’s as much immortality as anyone can expect. No need to feed the culture vultures.

What more do you want?

Oh, fame,…

Pfft,.. that old thing.

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The_ScreamNo one knows who I am, not even friends and family. I have an introverted personality you see? I guard my deeper thoughts, sit upon the fence of life, and talk to others of nothing more controversial than the weather. Everything else I keep, well,…

Private.

I share my deeper thoughts here of course, and in my stories, but only under the veil of a pseudonym. As an audience you are equally anonymous and unseen. We are ships that pass in the night, and will never meet. I could be anyone. You might have passed me on the M61 this morning, or stood beside me in the chippey queue last night, but you’ll never know me. I’ve grown up this way, no one really knowing me. It used to make me feel strange, isolated, alien, but now, in the September of my life, I realise I prefer it.

I speculate a lot on things that are probably beyond my intellect. I dream too, and write a lot, but I fear those who know me will only take the piss, and pick up on my typos, so no one who knows me knows what I write, or even that I write, let alone that I write as Michael Graeme. I seem to find my balance in it, but still, sometimes I pause, like now, and ask: is it healthy, such a secret life?

Online social media encourages us to open up more of our lives, our thoughts, our indiscretions, even our downright stupidity to the scrutiny of others. But to one possessed of such a private, introspective nature, openness of this degree borders on obscenity.

Private. Why?

There’s a dignity in it, I suppose. Old fashioned word – dignity – and misunderstood. Some think it’s about putting on a show, walking around with a stick up your arse, but it’s not – quite the opposite. It’s about not putting on a show at all.

I suppose it’s a wonder I’ve been married as long as I have – 25 years next year – for to hear myself speak I would surely be better living alone, but the present Lady Graeme seems understanding, and is anyway possessed of her own quiet dignity, so we see eye to eye most of the time. But I sometimes wonder what it would be like to out myself – to live as Michael Graeme and say the things I say here, express my thoughts, my most capricious desires,…

In the open,…

I’ve made speculative forays in this direction, around the dinner table, but I find eyes glaze over and yawns are stifled. Others cut in with irrelevant asides, and then I hear the sound of my own voice, so I shut up. Better to leave the pontificating to Michael Graeme, and to you dear anonymous reader, as my patient listener, the pair of you preventing my whole self – the whole ambivalent bag of me – from going slowly mad.

Life is never simple; personas do not always complement one another – indeed they must by nature be contrasting. But fortunately, both this self and all my others seem at least capable of cooperating, so there’s a good chance I may yet survive my life.

I’m reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s final movie “Eye’s Wide Shut”, a tale of destructive sexual fantasy containing more full frontal female nudity than I think I’ve ever seen in any Holywood movie. To paraphrase the closing lines, the best we can hope for is that we survive our fantasies. But then so much of life is fantasy – even the bits we think are real – the thoughts we speak out loud, and those we hold closer to ourselves. But it is only through this, our vehicle of fantasy, imperfect though it might be, we can explore the nature of reality. And I suppose I’ve always viewed reality as more of a personal interpretation, than a consensus thing.

In maintaining a veil of privacy then perhaps we’re simply protecting others from our view of the world, a world we sense, rightly or wrongly, may not sit well with others. Are we right then to look to our own privacy? Is there greater integrity in dignity, are we being truer to ourselves? Or is it a deceit? Do we fail utterly to engage with life, when we make ourselves so private, no one even knows we’re there?

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drreamIn the biological sciences, dreams don’t amount to much. Bizarre and useless, we’re advised there is no meaning to be extracted from them. We dream of a rabbit, look it up in a dream dictionary, and learn the rabbit means we’ll have good luck. Hmm – seems superficial at best.

But wait!

What if we dream we’re naked among people we know – family, friends colleagues? Depending on which book we look this one up in, it can be interpreted as meaning we are afraid of showing others our true selves. In this case then, the dream appears symbolic of personal unconscious complexes, and that’s meaningful in that it reveals to us aspects of our selves in a potentially helpful way, prompting further questions like: what parts of myself do I not want others to see, and why not?

Maybe there’s more to dreams after all?

In fact dream interpretation has been an important part of psychoanalysis for over a century. Sadly though, for the layman, dreaming still languishes in the realm of simplistic dream dictionaries. Serious literature is more elusive,… but infinitely more enlightening.

We all dream, every night. It’s just remembering our dreams that’s the problem. But it’s actually not that difficult and consists merely of making a mental note as we lay down to sleep that we will try to remember our dreams. And in time, we remember them. And the more dreams we remember, the more richly we are rewarded with our dreams – the first foggy, disjointed fragments maturing into vivid dream canvasses resplendent in allegorical meaning and which leave us tingling all day in their numinous afterglow.

By interpreting my dreams I sought a new direction in life. The experience was wholly positive, but not in the way I expected. Most dreams remained inscrutable; life was unchanged; I did the same things, the same job, faced the same problems. However in retrospect, I realised the dreams had guided me towards the centre of a newly reconstructed self, one in which the same elements were present, but had been rearranged.

I had gained a different perspective.

Dreams, it seems, serve a potentially transformative function of the psyche, if we can only bring ourselves to take them seriously.

And now?

I admit I’m out of the habit of recalling dreams. My journal is rarely updated and what few dreams I spontaneously hold onto these days have lost their depth and their power. But I’ve been wondering if the time has come to make an effort to uncover my dreams again, or even to crank it up a bit,…

…and go flying in them!

In all my dreaming, I have simply let the dreams wash over me, so that like most dreamers, I do not know I am dreaming, when I dream. But dreaming can be taken further; we can train ourselves to dream lucidly.

In lucid dreams we are no longer passive observers of the dream, but self determining participants, capable of critical reasoning and intelligent engagement. We can shape our environment, talk to dream characters, and we can get about by flying. How cool is that?

Lucid dreaming requires a more advanced skillset, one I don’t possess, but one I’m led to believe can be acquired easily. The question is, should I make the effort?

The fictional characters in my current work-in-progress are adept at lucid dreaming. The dream space allows them a more flexible stage on which to explore the nature of their being, and I find the philosophical implications irresistible. But if one writes of Australia, how authentic can one be if one has never been there?

The tales of lucid dreamers have been like Siren voices for a while now urging me to make the push and become a lucid dreamer myself. But a wise old friend cautions me that to enter on this path is also to risk losing oneself inside one’s own head, becoming mired in a different kind of mud – one of self-generated and entirely hedonistic dream-content – none of which means anything.

Lucid dreamers talk of directly engaging with the unconscious, rather than being passively subjected to its whims, as in ordinary dreams. They talk of strange, paranormal things too, like precognitive dreams, healing in dreams, and even of meeting the dreaming selves of other people. But while such things fascinate and feed my hunger for interesting fictional scenarios, to actually bluster in and interrogate one’s own unconscious, seems an immodest thing to do. My wise old friend reminds me that when we travel the liminal zones bordering the Faery lands, we are always better going quietly, and on tiptoe.

I do need to move on from where I’m at. I sense a stagnation in my ways and in my thoughts. So, I have blown the dust from my dream journal, and made a few fresh entries, but the dreams I seek are strictly of the ordinary kind. I’m sure lucid dreaming can be a wild party, but I’m also thinking it’s better to wait for an invitation than to use one’s cleverness and egotistical wit to gatecrash a gathering where nobody’s quite sure what’s going on. Notwithstanding the extraordinary exploits of my fictional characters, to dream lucidly is perhaps to risk dragging the expectations of the real world into the realm of the Faery, to inform it, to shape it, and ultimately I fear, as with any other environment we seek to exploit for our own aims, to irreparably corrupt it.

So, while I may continue to appear, on occasion, naked and embarrassed in my dreams, my dreams at least are seeing me as I truly am, rather than how I would prefer myself to be seen. I think they prefer me that way.

And who am I to argue?

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