Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘literary’

pier sunsetA bit of a change this evening, one of my old stories, reviewed and rehashed for the blog, in three parts:

So here I am, sitting in the bar of the McKinley Arms Hotel, again. We’re by the shores of Loch Lomond, at the wrong end of a long drive, and I’m staring out into the twilight at my choices. I’ve been this way before many times, and always seem to go wrong at this point, so I have to be careful because I’ve not got it in me to pass this way again. I simply have to get it right this time!

I’ve pondered the course of all the lives I remember living and have come to the conclusion the evening I spend here is crucial to the unfolding of things. This is unfortunate, because it’s not as if my choices are unlimited. In fact, they boil down to only half a dozen or so, at least that I can see. At one time or another, I’ve played each of these choices out to their conclusion, and found them all wanting. What’s more, they all lead right back here, to this one evening, to this time of deepening twilight.

I learned early on not to go for choice number one. That’s the woman in the red dress, over by the bar. Nowadays I realize how obvious that path is. I’ll admit, it’s a wild ride for a time, but I’m always left feeling cheated. This is on account of my demise at the hands of her husband, who turns out to be a “fixer” for a Glaswegian mobster. Right now though, it’s the guy in the blue suit, entering the bar, who’s locked into that particular cycle of bad luck. He’s what you’d call a well groomed predator of womankind and I’ve never warmed to him. That’s not to say I don’t pity him as he singles her out yet again. I’m only wondering how many of his own lives it will take before he finally wises up.

Choice number two is simple. I can get up, walk out, drive on through the night, and seek fresh connections in the Highlands. I’ve done that of course, many times, but my path cycles right back here. Time after time. It’s thus I’ve come to believe my escape lies in the unseen choices this hotel provides, on this one evening, at this phase in the expansion of my personal bubble of time.

I’ll let you into a secret. You can forget all that reincarnation stuff; this life is the only one you get, but you get to play it over and over. I don’t mean it’s the same each time – that would be pretty dull after all – and you do have free choice in the paths you take. But certain situations have a mysterious way of drawing you in time after time, no matter what you do.

I’m born on December 21’st 1960. The biggest expansion I’ve managed was out to 2057. That was bore. For all my time I seemed to achieve nothing more than a vast brood of useless great-grandchildren and gained no understanding whatsoever of my purpose. At the other extreme, as a child, I once got bound up in someone else’s bad run, and for many lives I couldn’t get past the wheels of their truck in 1972. For all of that though, I’m particularly fond of the summers of those early years, and I tend to repeat them if I can. They’re still the best things I recall, on account of their innocence. I mean before I woke up to this peculiar way of seeing.  I have to remember to avoid a particular street on a particular day if I want to wriggle through into my later life, even if that life only ends up delivering me right back here.

In the main I live to a reasonable age and, in general, my lives are good. It’s just that I’m never able to understand what it is I’m supposed to achieve by living them. I mean, I do suppose there is a point to this endless repetition of things. Call me a hopeless optimist, but I’m guessing we must expand our bubble of time over and over, until we get it right.

Whatever it is.

Now, my life’s path seems okay up to this point. I tend not to vary it much because you never know what’s going to throw you off course. I’m not sure “managed” isn’t the right word though, except in the sense that the best way of managing things is to leave them alone. When you do that, when you give in to the flow of things, you look back at some point and see the purpose in your direction. It’s like being swept along by the current of a broad river. I’m happy – charmed it seems – and everything is spot on, until I walk into this place.

I can’t tell you how many times my bubble of time has expanded. It’s for the same reason infinity is a circle, whether it’s diameter measures a mile or a micron. There is no number to count it, nor to give it any meaning, at least not in your terms. However many times it’s been though, I’ve only ever made it this far in my journey: I’m a lone guy, sitting in the lounge-bar of a hotel, on his way up to the Highlands. I walk in as someone who is going places, and I walk out into a lifetime of disillusionment. It’s as sure as the taste of the morning air, a feeling I’ve lost my way, and that anything else I do in life is wasted. Call it a mid-life crisis if you want, but to me, it’s like being stuck in time. It’s like one of those computer programs with a misplaced “goto”. It cuts mid-sentence, then sends you right back to the beginning.

Choice number three is the bar-menu. But my selections there don’t change things very much: Steak, fish, potatoes or chips? Of all the senses, taste seems to be the least likely to alter the course of one’s life. Choice number four is similar to the menu and pertains to the relationships with the people I can see. Like me, and the woman in the red dress, everyone is pretty much a fixture of this moment. Our individual bubbles are overlapping. I’ve connected with them all at one time or another, followed each path to its equally fruitless conclusion. So, I’m thinking my only chance lies with the random strangers who occasionally walk through the door. They lend a flavour of freshness to the occasion, a buzz of anticipation. But there are no strangers in tonight.

Not yet, anyway.

To be continued. Next part tomorrow.

Read Full Post »

history of loneliness

A History of Loneliness is a novel about the abuse of children in the Catholic Church in Ireland. It’s an important and unflinching work exploring the corruption of power on a vast scale, its systematic cover-up, and the devastating effect the scandal had upon the psyche of a nation when it woke up to the truth of its betrayal.

Odran Yates, is a good man, sent for the priesthood by his mother at the age of 17. He’s not sure if he has a true calling. It was simply the done thing and, in common with many other lads of his age, he simply went along with it. But he finds he enjoys the seminary life and excels at his studies. Scarred by tragic childhood events, and abused by the parish Priest – a thing he’s long suppressed – Odran is more damaged than he seems. Is the Church to be his rehabilitation back into  life, or an escape from it?

Reticent and bookish, he begins his career teaching at the Catholic school, thinking to settle into the quiet cloistered life. For decades, he keeps the real world at bay, only to find himself suddenly sent to cover a parish for his old friend and fellow priest Tom Cardle who, after only a short tenure, has been quietly “moved on”. Although promised it’s only a temporary thing, Odran finds himself marooned in the position, a hapless pawn in a grand power-play as the first paedophile cases begin to break, and the church seeks to cover itself. We learn it’s not the first time Tom Cardle has been moved on, and though it’s obvious to us now in hindsight why, to Odran it remains a mystery.

To be a priest in Ireland at the outset of Odran’s career, was to be man highly regarded and trusted. People gave up their seats on trains for him, bought him food and drink and generally prostrated themselves in hope of currying favour with God. But when the scandal breaks, the priesthood becomes at once universally reviled, priests reluctant to go about in their collars for fear of attack. Odran is accused of attempting to kidnap a small boy when he was only trying to help the child who had lost its mother. Such is the paranoia and hatred of the public, he is set upon in the street, punched to the ground, then treated appallingly by the Garda who are quick assume him to be a paedophile “like all the rest”.

As the story shuttles back and forth in time, pieces of the puzzle and the all too human weaknesses in Odran’s character are revealed and we are forced to ask: how could such an intelligent man really have been so naive as not to know what was going on? Did Odran, and all the other good men of the Priesthood, simply turn a blind eye? Or were the good men themselves also victims of the institution they so loyally served?

Worse is to come with Odran discovering how the corruption goes to the core of the Church, that rather than work with the authorities in exposing and punishing rogue priests like Tom Cardle, the Church has defended them, covered for them, because the Church could not be seen to be anything less than omnipotent, having set itself above all other authority, save God – above the state, and the law – that Ireland had become up to the time of the crisis a virtual theocracy, the Church unchallenged in its domination over the lives of the Catholic population, and under the cover of which many an appalling abuse took place.

All Odran wants is a return to the quiet life of the school, but as the layers of deceit unfold he looks back and asks himself has he not wasted his life in devotion to an institution that is morally unworthy, indeed responsible for ruining the lives of so many innocents? And as an outraged public turns upon anyone wearing the collar, including Odran, are the good priests not equally culpable and deserving of the public’s anger? But if that’s the case, with so many wrongs in world, who among us is entirely without sin? Who among us has never turned a blind eye to a thing out of a sense of one’s own powerlessness to make any difference whatsoever to a rottenness so deep?

Read this book if you can bear it. Put yourself in Odran’s shoes, then ask yourself, honestly, what would, what could you have done?

Read Full Post »

OWith Fifty Shades the Movie opening at cinemas in time for Valentine’s Day, one might be tempted to think it’s now okay for a man to physically restrain a woman and have his way with her any way he chooses, and that there’s something wrong with the woman if she doesn’t enjoy it. So let me begin on a cautionary note and say to all the men out there who might be thinking along these lines, I suggest you discuss the matter first very carefully with your lady, because she may not share your views. Bondage and sadomasochism are among the darker paths in human relations; the psychology is complex, arguably pathological but, in simpler terms, the emotions it arouses, while reportedly powerful, are not to be confused with love.

Let me pause for breath here and say I have not read Fifty Shades, nor will I be taking the good Lady Graeme to watch the movie. I have, however, read the Story of O, the 1955 novel by Pauline Reage, and from which all semi-pornographic bondage bonk-busters are derived.

It tells the tale of a young woman, known to us simply as “O”, a lovely ingénue who is drawn by her posh boyfriend into a secret circle of wealthy men whose sadomasochistic mores see O reduced to the status of a mere possession. O is at first horrified to find herself abducted, then inducted into all manner of degrading sexual practice, punctuated by frequent whippings, as anything resembling an independence of spirit is beaten out of her. The story persuades us she eventually sees the light, becomes a submissive chattel, and begins to take pleasure, indeed to see the very meaning of her life in sexually compliant slavery and regular whippings. The power of the story, and I did find it a powerfully compelling read, is that Reage achieves all of this without the use of a single naughty word. (would-be erotic authors take note)

sexygirlThe story of O is not pornography, in the same way Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly is not pornography, though both these works were ground-breaking in their time to the extent of finding themselves in the courts on charges of obscenity. Of the two, in my opinion, Lady Chatterly is easily the more literary, though O, winner of the French Prix de Deux Magots, cannot be dismissed as mere smut.

The paradox of O is the depiction of a woman sexually liberated by masculine domination, a liberation that can only come through her willingness to submit to anything her master(s) desire, and to revel in their punishments. The men are depicted as unrelentingly repulsive, and the women, including O, I’m afraid, as impenetrably dim. The men take the women however and whenever they choose, they remodel the shape of them to better suit their idea of a sexually desirable object, then brand their bottoms with a mark of ownership when the women “graduate” as fully fledged chattels.

When O meets an ordinary Joe who falls embarrassingly in love with her, she is incapable of responding in the normal way, and her dismissive treatment of him highlights the dramatic change that has been wrought in this former ingénue by her new lifestyle. The suggestion is that she now operates at a higher level of her being, emotionally and sexually, and that an ordinary man, one who would treat her kindly, is too tame and incapable of handling or even arousing the passions she is now familiar with. All this thanks to the wealthy male predators who own her.

But all of this is fantasy, and Reage doesn’t shy away from hitting you over the head with the darker implications of the endgame of any relationship built on such murky foundations. In short, the story of O does not end well. It’s a tale that can be read in many ways, but if you’re only in it for the titillation you’re seriously missing out. I found it rather a cautionary tale, for when the men tire of O, as all possessions are eventually tired of, she is unable to contemplate a return to the banality of her former life as a free woman and a human being, and the suggestion is that in one version of the ending, her then master, in a last act of gross masochism, grants her the wish that she be relieved of the necessity.

Any sufficiently sensitive man reading the Story of O cannot help but examine his own self for traces of the abominable chauvinism Reage depicts, and question any culture, closed or open, that would reduce its women to the status of objects, sexual or otherwise.

sexygirl2I have at times been in the company of men whose vulgar talk regarding the opposite sex has left me in no doubt as to their primitive attitudes. Whether they also share these views with their wives is anyone’s guess, but – and I speak as a man here – there is definitely a tendency in men that would sooner simplify women to the status of compliant sexual vessels, without the inconvenience of having to treat them as fellow human beings, with thoughts and fears and feelings. But again we must remind ourselves it is a fantasy, one we should take care not to let out of the box for too long, nor take too seriously, because, to paraphrase Alice, Nicole Kidman’s character, at the end of Stanley Kubrics “Eyes wide shut” the best we can hope, where sexual fantasies are concerned, is that we survive them.

Sex of course is one of life’s great pleasures, but by far the more valuable is the companionship of another human being whom you love and respect, and whose mere presence makes you feel bigger than you do when you are alone. I don’t want to pour scorn upon Fifty Shades the movie – there’ll be plenty of people doing that no doubt, as they did with the books – but I cannot help feeling a sneaking admiration for its author, a fellow indie, and a rare example of our breed who made good, made the crossover to the big time. So do read the books and go to the cinema and revel in the fantasy, if you think it might be your bag, but don’t lose sight of what’s real in human relations; remember it’s rather the exception to make love using ropes and whips and sticky tape, than the rule. So guys, don’t make your girl do what she’s not naturally inclined to do. That she wants to be with you at all is a prize in itself, so don’t push your luck.

Fifty Shades does not pretend to be literature, but if  you want to take a more literary view of the erotic you could try the story of O. But be warned, like O, you may get more than you bargained for.

Read Full Post »

slater bridgeA traveller in a strange land sits down to rest by the bank of a river. He’s unsure of the geography and has no map to guide his way. All he knows is he wants to cross the river to find out what’s on the other side, preferably before nightfall. He’s heard lots of stories about the land across the river, most of which he suspects are probably made up because they’re so contradictory, and everyone he speaks to on the subject has a different opinion, to say nothing of a variety of dogmatic beliefs, so he’d like to go there for himself and see what’s what. Strangely the far bank is shrouded in mist, so he can only make out the vague forms of rocks and trees. Listening carefully over the sound of the river, he can hear the calls of unknown creatures and, at times, more softly, something that sounds like voices and the laughter of a people at ease with themselves.

He’s anxious to make way, to cross over, but the traveller is a cautious man; for navigation, experience has taught him to trust only the evidence of his own eyes, that the natives hereabouts, although they speak his language, are notoriously unreliable when giving directions – sometimes helpful, sometimes deliberately misleading, and sometimes so self-deluded they might think they’re being helpful, when in fact they’re not.

All the traveller want to know is if there’s a bridge by which he can cross the river, if he can reach it before nightfall, and if he should go upstream or downstream to get there? What could be simpler?

A native comes along and the traveller asks him the question, to which the native confidently replies: go upstream, there’s a bridge just five minutes away and you can safely cross long before nightfall. But the native might be lying and the traveller is very tired – he doesn’t want to waste his energy with a wild goose chase, so he waits until another native comes along, then asks the same question. Go downstream, says the native; there’s a good bridge not five minutes away and you can easily cross, long before nightfall.

The traveller is confused. It would be more reliable to toss a coin or consult an oracle, than ask the natives. It’s not that the natives have ever been hostile to him, indeed they generally appear warm and friendly, but he suspects this is because travellers such as he always carry gold coins, and with a bit of guile, the more naïve travellers can easily be parted from them.

The third native who comes along says the same thing as the first, and the traveller wonders if he should go with the majority view and head upstream, until the fourth native agrees with the second. Then another native comes along and laughs, says there is no bridge in either direction, that all talk of bridges is the result of delusional thinking, and that anyway there can be nothing interesting worth visiting on the other side of the river, and why would the traveller want to bother himself with all that nonsense anyway? Instead he gives directions to a nearby village where he says a beautiful young woman, who he describes as his sister, will be very glad to entertain the traveller for a small fee. The traveller politely declines this offer and continues to wait on the riverbank for a solution to his dilemma.

But nightfall is approaching and, without shelter, the traveller is afraid of wolves, robbers and vampires, all of which the natives have assured him come out and prey upon the benighted. He knows the natives are not to be trusted in anything, but his own imagination will not allow him to ignore the possibility of something unpleasant befalling him after dark. Perhaps it would be wiser then to seek out that village after all and avail himself of its comforts, at least until morning.

But if he can find a bridge and cross over the river, he reasons, he might find a more comfortable resting place and a traveller’s inn that would have the good taste not to tempt him with dubious comforts, but instead offer a more honourable fayre. And from the contented murmur he can still hear coming from the other side, he suspects there are no wolves there, nor robbers, nor vampires, and that a man may sleep out in the open, under the stars without fear of being molested.

Another native happens along and the traveller wonders if this man can be persuaded to tell the truth in exchange for a gold coin. But there is nothing to stop the man from taking the traveller’s coin and still point him in the wrong direction (it wouldn’t be the first time). Similarly the natives are totally unreliable as hired guides, insisting on payment in advance, then like as not leading travellers into a trackless wilderness before spiriting themselves away just as night falls. Wisely, he lets the native go on his way.

Instead, the traveller cuts a branch from a tree, sharpens one end of it and drives it into the earth, to form a stout marker. Then, in bold letters, he carves into it the message:

Here I was, before I went wrong.

He tosses a coin for direction, and heads upstream.

Read Full Post »

lord byronI’ve been reading a lot of poetry recently, all of it self published, through the WordPress blog, and I’m enjoying it.

We have plenty of dead poets, their words filling the dusty tomes of the past.Theirs are the voices we know best, theirs are the poems we learned by heart at school, and we all have our favourites. Some of those dead poets attained a degree of fame and celebrity in their lifetime, others despaired, self published their works then died in poverty, only to become revered by later generations. Sadly though most of those self-published were never heard of again, and their works are lost.

Even sadder, things have gone from bad to worse for poets and poetry. There are no lucrative publishing contracts any more, no more celebrity poets of the stature of the great Romantics, and the days of publishing by subscription are also the quaint relic of a bygone era, replaced by a rancid mire of disreputable vanity publishers and other dubious “author services”. So the smart poets are moving online. They’re setting up blogs. They have  dayjobs, and post their poems for free, by night.

While to the uninitiated, this might seem futile, little better than keeping your poems in a drawer, these poets have readers, they have followers. Their comment boxes are full. They have fans! But these are not household names, not poet laureates, nor holders of court in literary circles. They’re simply people in touch with themselves and their muse. They write well, and often, and their persistence has led to a quiet popularity among their peers, to say nothing of a dedicated online readership. Their poems are not to be found in glossy hardback in select bookshops – no – it’s much better than that; their poems are on the phone in your pocket.

So, you “follow” a poet you like and their poem pops up in your reader. You read it, and the poetry then becomes a part of your day. I have lots of books of dead poetry, but I rarely read them now, because time is pressing, and that’s a pity because it’s the daily exposure to poetry that’s the magical, all-important thing. It lifts you to another plane, snicks your head into a different gear, a different way of thinking and seeing.

Poetry is not meant to be an inaccessible literary form, one to be picked apart by highly educated critics in tweed jackets and bow ties. It’s meant to be a voice that everyone can listen to, a voice that everyone can hear. If a particular poet doesn’t speak to you, don’t think that it’s your fault for being slow or insensitive or lacking in poetical finesse. You can always find another poet who will touch you. The most effective poets have a way of cutting through the surface of life and exposing a jewel of emotion, a thing that can alter mood, and coax our brainwaves onto that more subtle frequency, put us in touch with a higher innate sense. But for all of that, poetry is about daily life, about the experience of our lives, and our reflections upon it.

The myth of poetry is that it is elitist, that only those who have done it at college can really understand it, that only those few poets who have escaped a merciless drubbing at the hands of pinch faced critics have a voice worth listening to. I failed English literature at O-Level, forty years ago, then went on to a career in a technical discipline void of anything even remotely artistic, but my ignorance of literature does not prevent me from enjoying, or connecting with books, or poetry, or indeed any other art form. Nor should it prevent you.

Art keeps the balance in our lives, and a balanced life knows no despair.

If you have a drawer full of poems, would like others to read them, but can’t find a publisher, consider blogging them. It’s an unlikely medium, I know, but one that’s catching on. Whatever you do, don’t pay someone else to publish them for you, or you’ll end up seriously out of pocket and with nothing to show for it but a crate of hardbound copies cluttering up your garage.

People read blogs, and they’ll read yours. And if you’re just not into writing poetry, consider following a poet’s blog instead. You’re sure to find one you like – just search WordPress Poems. Their voices can be a real balm for the soul as you set out into the grey fog of your morning commute. So find yourself a poet and let them in, or better still, find the poet inside yourself.
A poem a day,
Keeps the greyness at bay.
You too are a poet,
Though you might not know it.
So please don’t be shy.
Give blogging a try.
It’s really good fun
And the readers will come.
With apologies to Mr. D. Oggerel

 

Read Full Post »