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“if you will always give great ears to the cacophony of the masses instead of the solemn voice of your true purpose, you will never leave a distinctive footprint” ~` Ernest Agyemang Yeboah ~

A Truckload of Jingling Keys.

A Truckload of Jingling Keys.

With November on the horizon, many are making plans to encourage growth on their upper lip, or preparing purple or pink-and-blue or silver ribbons to replace the pink ones worn through October … all admirable endeavors.

I, however, having no desire for any more facial hair than I already spend too much time erasing and not a single straight pin in the house, am planning to put my nose to the grindstone, rather than use it to frame a statement, by accepting another November challenge … NaNoWriMo.

National Novel Writing Month (often shortened to NaNoWriMo), is an annual internet-based creative writing project that takes place during the month of November. NaNoWriMo challenges participants to write 50,000 words (the minimum number of words for a novel) from November 1 until the deadline at 11:59PM on November 30.

I’ve had a number of novels percolating for years: a trilogy on the history of Africa as seen through the eyes of elephants; a completed, but as yet unpublished account about the gifts of terminal illness that needs a rewrite; the birth and life of a female messiah.

So many stories, so little time, motivation, energy, and far too much living and working and .. well … noise.

My personal odyssey, unlike Homer‘s, has not had me stumbling across any muse that might infuse inspiration. She could be avoiding me in deference to my lack of belief in inspiration getting work done or light-bubbles-of-creativity putting words on a page, paint on a canvas or notes on a score.

Nope. The only calliope following me around emits a continuous, cacophonous clamor, comes complete with shiny objects and has the ominous distinction of being known as Distraction.

Ambient sounds, especially with words, occupy about 5-10% of your intellectual bandwidth.” ~ Peter Rogers ~

charles-payne-quote-that-may-be-a-distractionAs Halloween draws near, ghosts of unformed prose haunt me. Throughout the day, they sneak in from corners of my mind … not good when driving … and by night come oh-so-close to materializing, then vanish to mist leaving me whimpering in my sleep to wake grasping at jingling keys as dogs bark and the phone rings and the need to pee drives the dregs of plot points and dialog fragments out of my head.

Closing in on the Oct/Nov cusp I’m buckling down, warming up, preparing to ignore all that can safely be ignored, focusing, organizing, finding voice, plotting direction, knowing characters, and …

… writing a blog post!

Fuckin’ shiny objects!

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As yesterday’s post mentioned, I’m presently enjoying the sights and sounds of the mean streets of Lynton, a small village by the Bristol Channel in North Devon. This is Lorna Doone country with all the romantic vistas, tiny lanes on winding roads and blustery winds that made the English countryside the setting of so many novels requiring all that way back when.ValleyofRocks

Staying, as I do, with one of the world’s best friends, Jacqueline, at her fab place, Victoria Lodge , I’m perfectly situated to get out and about and see what there is to see.VicLodge

And there is so much to see … in small and grand ways with art popping out of an inspired population and natural beauty in abundance, not to mention the history of the place.Lynton1

LytonTownHall

LyntonCinema

The wildlife, although perhaps considered tame by some standards, has its own thrill potential … and maybe someday I’ll write about the time I almost died in a goat stampede in the Valley of the Rocks.Goats

And, of course, there’s the thrill-a-minute ride (and it doesn’t take much more than a minute, so within my adrenalin-rush threshold) of the Cliff Railway for those who really want to tempt fate.CliffRailway

It’s a gorgeous part of the world, one I have returned to for reasons of calm and sanity, and I highly recommend a visit for any who might like a little Lorna with their Doone, some Rocks in their Valley or gentle holiday in a beautiful place.

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Anse Lazio

Having nothing fun to say for myself this morning, it seems a good day to post the words of another, and who better than Ogden Nash with a take that is especially apt right now?

Pretty Halcyon Days
by Ogden Nash

How pleasant to sit on the beach,
On the beach, on the sand, in the sun,
With ocean galore within reach,
And nothing at all to be done!
No letters to answer,
No bills to be burned,
No work to be shirked,
No cash to be earned,
It is pleasant to sit on the beach
With nothing at all to be done!
How pleasant to look at the ocean,
Democratic and damp; indiscriminate;
It fills me with noble emotion
To think I am able to swim in it.
To lave in the wave,
Majestic and chilly,
Tomorrow I crave;
But today it is silly.
It is pleasant to look at the ocean;
Tomorrow, perhaps, I shall swim in it.

How pleasant to gaze at the sailors.
As their sailboats they manfully sail
With the vigor of vikings and whalers
In the days of the vikings and whale.
They sport on the brink
Of the shad and the shark;
If its windy they sink;
If it isn’t, they park.
It is pleasant to gaze at the sailors,
To gaze without having to sail.

How pleasant the salt anesthetic
Of the air and the sand and the sun;
Leave the earth to the strong and athletic,
And the sea to adventure upon.
But the sun and the sand
No contractor can copy;
We lie in the land
Of the lotus and poppy;
We vegetate, calm and aesthetic,
On the beach, on the sand, in the sun.

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I have had more on my mind lately than emoticows and would be posting many a blog on each of the various thoughts that catch my attention like jingling keys and the bits of shiny stuff I’d normally follow, BUT the bloody Internet connection here sucks balls this week so I’m stuck struggling even to send emails.

While I have a slight and fleeting chance of getting something up … in the blog sense, of course … I’m going to smoosh a bunch of stuff into one post with the hope it doesn’t end up like a peanut butter, pork chop and prune sandwich and is somewhat digestible.

Ah, yes! The joys of island life …

Aside from the distance, shit Internet, the difficulty of finding a ______(fill in the blank: plumber, electrician, gardener, carpenter, mason … whatever) who will know what they’re doing AND show up, water issues, bad parking, a propensity to blast crap music from fridge-sized speakers and the lack of Mexican restaurants, life here is pretty good.

We have the most beautiful beaches in the world, lovely mountains and forests, tropical weather, a relatively low crime rate, a postal service that works, clean streets, free education and health care, freedom of religion (and freedom not to have one), and some bloody well interesting people.

Almost no one comes to Seychelles casually. It’s too far from anywhere just to drop by and getting here takes no little effort. There were no people living here at all only about 300 years ago, so even the ancestors of early inhabitants would be considered newbies is most places.

Sure, we now get our share of the rich and famous … and royal … popping in for a week or two for holidays in paradise, but it takes an effort and a special sort of person to call Seychelles home for any length of time.

That being the case, I have had the great good fortune of meeting some very special people.

One comes to mind very much now with this week marking the death of Ernest Hemingway, the author of my favorite literary quote, “The road to hell is paved with unbought stuffed dogs” … and a lot of other great stuff … and the man I immediately think of whenever I hear crowds shouting for “Papa”. (How disappointed I’ve been to find it’s the pope they’re yearning for!)

I was a kid when he took his life, an action that put paid to the wonderfully succinct combos of words that grabbed and held and took me to bars I’d end up drinking in in later years, although not to the extent he took the pastime.

So, I never met the man, which is probably an okay thing since he wasn’t known for having a way with children:

… [he] once told his puking ten-year-old son, “I’ll fix you a Bloody Mary — you’ve just got a hangover.”

I have, however, met and count amongst my friends, Hemingway’s pilot. Okay, one of Hemingway’s bush pilots in Africa, but the only one to join Papa in two … count ’em TWO! … crashes, and both within 2 days.

On January 21, 1954, Ernest and Mary took off from Nairobi, with veteran pilot Roy Marsh at the controls. Taking off from Costermansville – today’s Bukavu – the tour was to continue to Entebbe via Murchison Falls.

“But then it happened,” recalls Emmanuel Eyenga, who has brought some guests in his boat to a point near the waterfall. A post with a sign on top it is jutting out of the water. Written on it is “P.B.M. 9026”.

“That was the registration number of the Cessna. It came down right here,” Eyenga says.

While approaching the falls, Marsh had overlooked a telegraph line at the lodge. The pilot managed to make an emergency landing, but the civilised world was far away.

Headlines like “Ernest Hemingway lost in deepest Africa” were splashed across newspapers and obituaries on Hemingway were already appearing in the US even as the search for him continued.

Then, as a passenger plane on a flight from Entebbe to Sudan changed course, the pilot looked down and saw the Cessna.

The trio were picked up by the SS Murchison which took them to Butiaba on Lake Albert. There, they ran into a pilot named Reginald Cartwright, who convinced Ernest, Mary and Roy to fly with him to Entebbe where the world’s press were waiting.

But Cartwright crashed the plane while taking off. Hemingway managed to escape the wreckage only by smashing a door open – with his skull.

Roy Marsh lives here in Seychelles. Now in his 90s, he’s still dashing, charming, witty and wonderful … and smells like the most delicious combination of beer and cookies, for some reason. (Well, the reason for the beer aura is pretty obvious.)

When I first met Roy some years ago he was still playing a few sets of squash every week and could be found in town most any day he was in the country, speeding around and socializing.

Slight and quiet, the man has stories that continue to amaze even on the third or fourth telling and writing about him has been a goal for me for a long time … any excuse to spend hours in the company of such a perfect manifestation of a sort of man that just doesn’t exist in today’s world in any number that can’t be counted on one hand.

It’s Roy who makes me wish the work talked about in this article had come along sooner, although I doubt he’d be lining up for it:

If Aubrey de Grey’s predictions are right, the first person who will live to see their 150th birthday has already been born. And the first person to live for 1,000 years could be less than 20 years younger.

For sure, Hemingway wouldn’t have been interested, an idea made clear by the fact that he took himself out of the game.

There are many theories put forward on why it was Papa topped himself 50 years ago … including injuries resulting from the second of those plane crashes he shared with my friend Roy … and a new one makes sense.

One old friend of his puts no little blame on the FBI and J Edgar Hoover’s propensity for making life a misery when he could.

Some have blamed growing depression over the realisation that the best days of his writing career had come to an end. Others said he was suffering from a personality disorder.

Now, however, Hemingway’s friend and collaborator over the last 13 years of his life has suggested another contributing factor, previously dismissed as a paranoid delusion of the Nobel prize-winning writer. It is that Hemingway was aware of his long surveillance by J Edgar Hoover’s FBI, who were suspicious of his links with Cuba, and that this may have helped push him to the brink.

Writing in the New York Times on the 50th anniversary of Hemingway’s death, AE Hotchner, author of Papa Hemingway and Hemingway and His World, said he believed that the FBI’s surveillance “substantially contributed to his anguish and his suicide”, adding that he had “regretfully misjudged” his friend’s fear of the organization.

That Papa had a good imagination is not a question, and what that can do when mixed with fear based on fact is not easy to live with.

No doubt Hemingway suffered from depression. Many writers do. This article in the Times explores the links tying depression, writers and suicide, including Papa, of course.

It is not surprising that these mood disorders seem most at home in the artistic mind. “The cognitive style of manic-depression overlaps with the creative temperament,” Ms. Jamison said. Researchers have found that in a mildly manic state, subjects think more quickly, fluidly and originally. In a depressed state, subjects are self-critical and obsessive, an ideal frame of mind for revision and editing. “When we think of creative writers,” Ms. Jamison said, “we think of boldness, sensitivity, restlessness, discontent; this is the manic-depressive temperament.”

William Styron, author of that cheerful little ditty,”Sophie’s Choice”, wrote about his battle with depression … a fight he never won, but that did not kill him … in Darkness Visible, one of the most helpful bits of writing I have ever been commanded to read.

This is not to say that one must be depressed to write, nor that all depressives can. Sunny dispositions can lead down primrose paths to libraries, but life’s hard edges and awareness of them … even hyper-awareness … does add grist to the mill and grit to the pulp.

Some might say the days of living large are over. My friend Roy might agree. Marty Beckerman seems to:

But we’ve become so afraid of death that we refuse to actually live. We’re scared of the sun because it might give us cancer; we’re scared of a well-marbled steak because it might raise our cholesterol; we’re scared of bullfighting—the only real sport—so we demean ourselves with yoga and Pilates and other such unholy abominations. The closest we come to genuine thrills, genuine danger, is watching IMAX 3-D superhero movies.

Hemingway, however, knew that death isn’t the worst thing in the world. “[C]owardice is worse, treachery is worse, and simple selfishness is worse,” he said. (Also: staying married to the same woman for more than five minutes.)

Perhaps our safety-padded commercial existence is why young people are increasingly drawn to his life and works. Our entire lives are planned out for us before infancy; deviating from the standard path—SAT > college > 24/7 job—is nearly impossible. (Hemingway didn’t bother with college, instead going straight into the trenches of WWI as a medic, proof that an English degree is truly worthless.)

Independence used to mean defining your own existence; now it means paying your own credit-card bill. Freedom used to mean an open road and uncharted waters; now it means choosing between BlackBerry or Droid data plans. Living on our own terms is a foreign concept, but Hemingway bent the world to his liking through sheer gusto, which is very different than the illusion of choice on sale at the Apple Store. Why speak the truth, consequences be damned, when a single impulsive tweet can cost you a career?

Would love to carry on with this for a while, but my Internet connection just might … right now … allow me to post, and I have to go out and unclog a pipe full of shit since the plumber didn’t show up.

Depressing? Well … not exactly a party, but it does give me something to write about.

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Bill Tabb with this comment:

That first link…it’s the butterfly effect. Or perhaps it’s Heisenberg. Either way, you cannot use the energy without somehow affecting it. The wind blows, the turbine turns, the turbulence created causes a drop of rain to fall in Mali, a seed germinates……

And lets keep religion out of it. That just throws a spanner in the works.

As for Oxford, let us not forget that while Newton made incredible contributions to our knowledge of how the solar system and the universe works and why stuff falls down, he was also one of the preeminent alchemists of his day.

You now owe me a letter, Bill!

I started writing this blog in an effort to build a place I could vent all that didn’t fit on the professional sites I wrote for and as a way to keep in touch before facebook made that so easy. Through it I have met the most wonderful people, reconnected with many I’d worried I’d lost and learned much from all.

To say I’m grateful for every click and comment is understating how blessed I am, but I am truly at a loss when it comes to conveying my thankfulness.

I will occasionally read back through posts, relive moments, and each time I do I realize how much sharing small bits of my world has brought me in return. In joy and grief, in rage and in praise, through celebrations and solitude, I have not been alone.

Yes, I live on this tiny island in the middle of a huge sea, but by connecting as I can … and having you connect back … I feel the threads that bind me to the greater fabric, and I love the tug that comes with being part of the weave.

Thank you.

Thank you.

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Chopin's grave: 2 June 2010

A few days ago I came across this story on the BBC about some long-lost letters from Frederic Chopin that kicked off a series of brain flares.

Six letters written by Frederic Chopin, thought to be lost in 1939, have been found and donated to a Warsaw museum dedicated to the Polish composer.

The letters, written by Chopin to his parents and sisters between 1845 and 1848, were believed lost after the outbreak of World War II.

After it emerged in 2003 that they still existed in a private collection, moves were made to secure them.

Chopin was born in Poland in 1810 but spent half of his life in France.

According to museum curator Alicja Knast, the letters were last displayed in public in Poland in 1932 and were still confirmed as being in Warsaw in 1939.

It is thought the letters went missing, like many other cultural artefacts, after the Nazis invaded Poland.

There’s a bit of family humor that came to mind immediately, as I have a step-nephew whose birth took my father in a literary direction … as was often his angle. Born to my Chinese sister, Debbie, and her Japanese husband, Dad decided the kids needed a nickname. What came to mind were a couple of James Clavell novels … Shogun and Tai-Pan, one being set in Japan, the other in China. He called the boy “Taigun”, because, as he said, “Sho-pan” wouldn’t work because he was Polish.

From there I jumped to Paris where I shot the photo you see here at the grave of the real Chopin on a day I solitarily rambled the Pére Lachaise Cemetery in the company of my son’s spirit on the first anniversary of his death … Jaren’s, not Chopin’s.

So it was the second of June last year I sat for a time at Chopin’s grave. Listening in my head to his “Nocturn”, I contemplated the accomplishments of his mere 39 years of life and, in keeping with my situation at that moment, his doomed relationship with the writer George Sand and the heartbreak that virtually ended his days as a composer … and as a man among the living.

His grave is lovely, a peaceful, perpetually flower-strewn resting place reminding all of not only the music, but also the passionate transplanted Pole amongst Parisians … his heart, by the way, rests in Poland at his wish it be removed upon his death and buried there … the complicated lover to a complicated woman.

As often is the case with artists, neither Chopin nor Sand were easy and their relationship was unconventional. She was an older woman with strong passions of her own and a long string of relationships.

“She was a thinking bosom and one who overpowered her young lovers, all Sybil — a Romantic.”
~ V.S. Pritchett

He was physically weak and needed such babying she referred to him often as her “third child” and a “beloved little corpse”.

Artistically, neither were easy:

Chopin is at the piano, quite oblivious of the fact that anyone is listening. He embarks on a sort of casual improvisation, then stops. ‘Go on, go on,’ exclaims Delacroix, ‘That’s not the end!’ ‘It’s not even a beginning. Nothing will come … nothing but reflections, shadows, shapes that won’t stay fixed. I’m trying to find the right colour, but I can’t even get the form …’ ‘You won’t find the one without the other,’ says Delacroix, ‘and both will come together.’ ‘What if I find nothing but moonlight?’ ‘Then you will have found the reflection of a reflection.’

That they lived and loved and died is history, as everything eventually becomes. Their lives were what they were, and 162 years after his death he fills me with music and sets me to pondering the bumpy, uncomfortable roads traveled and the resulting detritus of our journeys.

The news that letters have been found feels almost like a gift from that grave I visited, and I’m more than pleased that email wasn’t an option in those years between 1845 and 1848 when he wrote them.

I’ve not seen the letters, and it doesn’t matter much if I never do. Here, however, is an example of him finding the reflection of a reflection:

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Apparently, it’s an easy thing to tell if writing comes from a man or a woman, or at least that the conclusion a couple of guys came up with.

According to this article in the NYT, what’s written will “immediately reveal which sex is doing the writing” even when all references to gender are removed from the text.

… what the gender-identifying algorithm picks up on is that women are apparently far more likely than men to use personal pronouns — ”I,” ”you” and ”she” especially. Men, on the other hand, prefer so-called determiners — ”a,” ”the,” ”that,” ”these” — along with numbers and quantifiers like ”more” and ”some.” What this suggests, according to Moshe Koppel, an author of the Israeli project, is that women are more comfortable talking or thinking about people and relationships, while men prefer to contemplate things.

They’ve come up with a test that can be used to pin the penis on the pen … or whatever …

Take any piece of fiction and do the following:

1. Count the number of words in the document.
2. For each appearance in the document of the following words ADD the number of points indicated:
‘the’ (17)
‘a’ (6)
‘some’ (6)
any number, written in digits or in words (5)
‘it’ (2)

3. For each appearance in the document of the following words SUBTRACT the number of points indicated:
‘with’ (14)
possessives, ending in ‘s’ (5)
possessive pronouns, such as ‘mine’, ‘yours’, ‘his’, ‘hers’, (3)
‘for’ (4)
‘not’ or any word ending with ‘n’t’ (4)

4. If the total score (after adding and subtracting as indicated) is greater than the total number of words in the document, then the author of the document is probably a male. Otherwise, the author is probably a female.

No thanks. That just sounds tedious and I am crap with numbers. Thankfully, however, there’s now a “Gender Genie” online that does the math for you.

Or, as in this case, for me.

I not only write for myself, I also write for others and often AS others, some of whom are men. Because I do this for the sole … and crass … purpose of making money, I’m bound to do a good job of it. That often means shedding my own skin and crawling inside that of peeps paying me to write them, even when it’s hairy and sports bits I can usually only appreciate as a recipient, not a wielder-of.

I am good at this, I know, but wanted to see if the Gender Genie could spot the me in the men I write for … Would that be a GG spotting? … so I submitted a couple of segments of work for analysis.

The first was a few paragraphs from a short story I wrote as myself for myself (Featured in “Papaya … and other seeds”, available for purchase here on this very blog). Not surprisingly, this was the result:

Next, I bunged in a section of a ghost writing gig for a phantom man who had a great story but wouldn’t have been able to write it if the life of all subsequent generations depended upon him getting it down. This is how that one scored:

So, although that Mars/Venus thing happens, it appears when it comes to writing I’m multiplanitary. (I like that more than hermaphrowrite, since I’m girlie beyond redemption …)

Cool.

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