Thursday, June 30, 2005


Lake Superior: the most N.W. of the five Great Lakes, and the largest body of fresh water in the world.
-- Grolier’s Encyclopedia Canadiana, 1958 –

“I consider this whole region doomed to perpetual barrenness.”
-- Thomas McKenney, superintendent of United States Indian Affairs, 1825 –

What am I doing?
Drinking coffee at the mega-bookstore and looking at a book called The Wolf’s Head: Writing Lake Superior. It’s by Peter Unwin. Horribly interesting book. (Published by Viking, 2003).
To me, Superior is an ominous thing.
I have driven along the north-eastern shoreline of Lake Superior, for a full day.
Several times.
Endless, it seems.
It is an awe-inspiring freshwater ocean.
From Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie, 705 kilometres.

438 miles. And there is as much of the shoreline west of Thunder Bay, with no highway beside it.
It is crazily huge-normous. Lake Superior could contain all the other Great Lakes plus three more lakes the size of Lake Erie.
I just may pick up this book (buy it) and read of all the Superior / Ojibway lore.

I once wrote a poem.
An homage to the King of Lakes!
This is my tribute to the Big Ol’ Tub of H2O!
It’s called.... oddly enough...


The regular get-together rolls around.
Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario.
The Big Guy is invited, but he never shows.

Too busy… too many boats on his back, says Erie.
Too deep, murky, heavy for his own good, says another.
(Nodding all around, considerable turbulence.)
Unfriendly is what! Strutting his own endless shoreline
like he’s the King of Freshwater.

Then Michigan, silent until now, clears his long narrow throat:
Calm down lads. He is the King, but remember…
He’s only above us if we’re looking at a map!

Have you ever heard four lakes laugh?
I mean all at once?
It shook birds out of their trees in Buffalo,
And sent several quick waves to smack that Pier
jutting out into the Chicago harbor.

Splash du Jour: Thursday

Years ago, to say you were a writer was not the highest recommendation to your landlord. Today, he at least hesitates before he refuses to rent you an apartment – for all he knows you may be rich.
-- Arthur Miller –

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Celestial Navigation.

Seasons Greetings from the Mega-Bookstore!
If it was one degree more hot today I would have melted like that witch on the Yellow Brick Road to Oz!
A big slimy bookpuddle!

Just minutes ago I finished reading a really good novel called Celestial Navigation.
It was NOT about charting your astrological future.
It was NOT about building the perfect spaceship.
It was NOT about finding bigger and better coffeeshops by following signs in the heavens....
It was about artistic obsession. And other things, yes.
But mostly the artistic obsession of this reclusive artist, Jeremy Pauling.
Jeremy is the proprietor of a boarding house where all types of somewhat eccentric people can be found occupying the rooms. But no one comes close to being as eccentric as Jeremy himself. He can be holed-up in his third-floor studio for days at a time, working on his secret creations. His artwork sort of defies genre. It is part sculpture, part bas-relief sort of glue-together-parts-of-things-found-in-the-room thingamajigs.... but he has a remarkable talent for creating feeling in his work. His work, crazy as it is, seems to breathe, and evoke movement. It attracts buyers, mostly through the promotional efforts of his college friend, an art dealer named Brian.
The infrequent selling of his work, the winning of occasional contests, and the meagre rents he collects from his tenants, keep the house running.
The epitome of artistic reclusiveness, Jeremy has not been any further than the local corner store for years!
But soon, the young single mother Mary Tell moves in, with her daughter Darcy. And this changes Jeremy’s life. And it changes Mary's life. The novel is shaped around the effect that each of these people have on the other. As Jeremy will learn in retrospect, Mary has given his life an “eyelike” shape, rather than the never-ending flatline that it would have most surely been, had he never known her.
It is a brilliant book by an author that I know very little about.
Anne Tyler.
Celestial Navigation was published in 1974, and as such, it is by no means one of your modern novels. No one here is playing with the internet or looking for better deals at Best Buy! Often it seems quite dated.
Me, I like this. I am uncommon in this respect. I sort of like older books.
And it is definitely not an ACTION sort of book. Plus, there are no pictures, if you are into that. It is a book deep in its characterization. The examination of the inner workings of some fairly convoluted people.
As I said, I know very little about Anne Tyler, but picking up a few of her other books here in the store, I seem to get a sense of what it is she does best. And it is what she was doing best here, in Celestial Navigation. Showing us the inner workings... the cogs, the gears of what makes her characters tick and think and act. Or NOT tick, or NOT think, or NOT act.
And that second grouping of possibilities is much more difficult (I think) to write about well!
She does it. At times we are watching the paint dry on the walls, but she rewards an attentive reader who is willing to watch for a paragraph or two. The story is great. A lesser author would lose me in the depiction of some of the mundanity here. She kept me profoundly interested.
On the back of one of her books, the St.Louis Post-Dispatch says “Anne Tyler is a wise and perceptive writer with a warm understanding of human foibles.”
That’s it.
I want to read more of her stuff. She is still writing books, and her most recent work, The Amateur Marriage came out in 2004. It is her sixteenth novel. Her eleventh, entitled Breathing Lessons, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1998.
If you have read her books, send me some comments on how you have enjoyed, or not enjoyed them, and why.

Do you have a favorite?
If she writes elsewhere, as well as she does here in Celestial Navigation, I want to go there.

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

When you’re a writer, you no longer see things with the freshness of the normal person. There are always two figures that work inside you, and if you are at all intelligent you realize that you have lost something. But I think there has always been this dichotomy in a real writer. He wants to be terribly human, and he responds emotionally, and at the same time there’s this cold observer who cannot cry.
-- Brian Moore
[Note: Moore is one of my favorite writers ever, and in his novel An Answer From Limbo, the protagonist, writer Brendan Tierney, is the consummate example of the above principle: emotion vs. emotional detachment. The novel is superb.]
Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Snortage Down Under.

One of the funniest books I have ever read, was a travel book.
Go figure!
It was Bill Bryson’s In A Sunburned Country. A sort of literary travelogue account of his trip to Australia.
One of my goals in life is to be able to learn to write of everday events in as humorous a way as Bryson does.
There is a passage very early in the book, which I found so hilarious when I first read it, that I want to reproduce it here. In it, Bryson describes the first time he had ever been to Sydney Australia. It was a previous book tour, and he was being chauffered by a sales rep from his local publisher, the man’s wife and two little girls riding along in the back seat. What follows here is classic Brysonism......

At some unfortunate point, quite early on, jet lag asserted itself and I slumped helplessly into a coma.
I am not, I regret to say, a discreet and fetching sleeper. Most people when they nod off look as if they could do with a blanket; I look as if I could do with medical attention. I sleep as if injected with a powerful experimental muscle relaxant. My legs fall open in a grotesque come-hither manner; my knuckles brush the floor. Whatever is inside – tongue, uvula, moist bubbles of intestinal air – decides to leak out. From time to time, like one of those nodding-duck toys, my head tips forward to empty a quart or so of viscous drool onto my lap, then falls back to begin loading again with a noise like a toilet cistern filling. And I snore, hugely and helplessly, like a cartoon character, with rubbery flapping lips and prolonged steam-valve exhalations. For long periods I grow unnaturally still, in a way that inclines onlookers to exchange glances and lean forward in concern, then dramatically I stiffen and, after a tantalizing pause, begin to bounce and jostle in a series of whole-body spasms of the sort that bring to mind an electric chair when the switch is thrown. Then I shriek once or twice in a piercing and effeminate manner and wake up to find that all motion within five hundred feet has stopped and all children under eight are clutching their mothers’ hems. It is a terrible burden to bear.
I have no idea how long I slept in that car other than that it was not a short while. All I know is that when I came to, there was a certain heavy silence in the car – the kind of silence that would close over you if you found yourself driving around your own city conveying a slumped and twitching heap from one unperceived landmark to another.
I looked around dumbly, not certain for the moment who these people were, cleared my throat, and pulled myself to a more upright position.
“We were wondering if you might like some lunch,” my guide said quietly when he saw that I had abandoned for the moment the private ambition to flood his car with saliva.
“That would be very nice,” I replied in a small, abject voice, discovering in the same instant, with a customary inward horror, that while I had dozed a four-hundred-pound fly had evidently been sick over me. In an attempt to distract attention from my unnatural moist sheen and at the same time reestablish my interest in the tour, I added more brightly, “Is this still Neutral Bay?”
There was a small involuntary snort of the sort you make when a drink goes down the wrong way. And then with a certain strained precision: “No, this is Dover Heights. Neutral Bay was” – a micro-second’s pause, just to aerate the point – “some time ago.”
“Ah.” I made a grave face, as if trying to figure out how we had managed between us to mislay such a chunk of time.
“Quite some time ago, in fact.”
We drove the rest of the way to lunch in silence.

Maybe it’s just me.
Maybe I should be sent to the looney bin (wherever that is).
But the first time I read that little vignette I was sitting in the mega-bookstore, and I started laughing so hard that when it was time to breathe again....... I snorted!
[Several people looked up from their books, like startled deer.]
And then I cried. From laughing, like.
I am not exaggerating to say that I nearly feel off my chair in a heap of residual snortage.
Bryson is always sure to include moments of snortage and tears for his readers.
I recently read an interview with him where he describes an upcoming book which he claims is deliberately humorous from start to finish. Not a dang thing serious about it.
It is healthy to laugh like this sometimes.
Anything Bryson.
Highly recommended summertime reading, from yours truly.

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

You will have to write and put away or burn a lot of material before you are comfortable in this medium. You might as well start now and get the necessary work done. For I believe that eventually quantity will make for quality.
-- Ray Bradbury --

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Splash du Jour: Monday

Religions, philosophies, arts, the social forms of primitive and historic man, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth.
-- Joseph Campbell, in The Hero With A Thousand Faces. --

Have a great Monday!

Sunday, June 26, 2005


My best friend wears a Rolex watch.
But it’s not real. It’s one of these knock-offs, an imitation.
Seriously though, you would have to be some sort of Rolex expert [Rolexpert?] to detect the difference. You know how a Rolex does that sort of double-clicking of the seconds hand? Well, his fake jobby does this too.
Me, I am sporting a Tag Heuer. And it’s just as fake as my friend’s Rolex.
We bought these imitation timepieces from the same big-city street vendor. This old guy has an open suitcase of watches and rings, set out on a little table. And he is no fly-by-night retailer. He is as permanent a fixture as any of the surrounding high-rise buildings. Set and immovable, like an old grandfather clock, on this one section of Yonge Street. He’s got a lot of nice stuff.
I bought my “Tag Heuer” [nudge, nudge, say-no-more] from him a couple of years ago.
For twenty-five bucks.
That very same day I went directly from his Suitcase-Stand into a top-notch jewellery store that sells Tag Heuer. I handed my watch to the man behind the counter and asked for his opinion. He sought the counsel of several colleagues who were soon gathered like a flock of crows around my imitation. Soon, with their glasses half-way down their beaks and still peering with professional precision, they were all muttering combined conclusions of “I cannot tell the difference between this and the real thing.”
I should add, that several good examples of the real thing were right there to be seen, too. Behind locked glass cases and without price tags attached, because they were of that special echelon of items which have a PRICE... but no price-TAG! Because if you need to see the price-tag [say it with me now]..... you probably can’t afford it.

So this past spring, just a few months ago, my friend and I found ourselves back at the Suitcase-Stand. Back on Yonge Street.
And there was Father Time himself, standing there like an immovable sequoia.
So I told him of how impressed I am with the Tag-Heuer. It was right there on my wrist, ticking away like a charm. I told him how the flock of crows could not find one critical thing to say about it. By now he was beaming with pride in his fake products.
And he reached behind the suitcase, from whence he retrieved his piece de resistance!
The Rolex.
My friend, who recently suffered the loss of his [real] Gucci watch that he had worn for half his lifetime, leaned in for a closer look.
I could see the glint in his eye. And yes, this wrist-watch was gorgeous.
There was only one thing left to do.
Try to haggle the guy down in his price. My friend made an offer which Father Time said was not acceptable. So we walked away.
And came back a while later with some cold hard cash! Sort of waved it in Father Time’s face there a bit until he got a bit dizzy.
Long story short? All things are negotiable!
My best friend wears a Rolex watch.
And who’s the wiser?

When it comes down to it, knock-offs, imitations, are at times a wonderful thing.
But I’m sure there are instances where the rule is less applicable than in the realm of wrist-watches.
For instance, you’ll want to be sure that what you think is Hugo-Boss, is not really Hugo-Bass. It could seriously ruin an otherwise perfectly good evening if you have inadvertantly hosed yourself down with something that was meant to be sprayed on a fishing lure!
Or, when you drive that new car off the lot.... you may want to make double-sure that the final letter in the Mercedes-Benz you just bought is a “z”.
Not a “t”.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Just One Sentence.

I am just sitting here in the mega-bookstore on a hot hot HOT humid day.
Drinking a hot coffee.
Interestingly enough (or not), even when it is hot outside, I still drink hot coffee.
Go figure!
I never indulge in any of the plethora of cold drinks available. All of the iced-frappuccinos, and coldahoozits, and whatchamafreezings that are now the rage in all of your high-end coffee emporiums.

It can be 450 degrees fahrenheit outside (incidentally, one degree more, and paper ignites) and I still order coffee made with water from the river Styx!
What can I say? I am a coffee purist, and coffee was meant to be HOT.
To me, cold coffee is as absurd as hot ice cream!

But on to more important matters.
Today I am thinking of a really interesting phenomenon that takes place in mega-bookstores, especially in their coffee-drinking areas. Think of it as a wee study in human nature. If monkeys did the same thing that I am about to describe, Jane Goodall and a team from National Geographic would be right in there documenting it.
Here it is.
Invariably, if you are going to spend any considerable amount of time sitting in a mega-bookstore (like, let’s say.... ¾’s of your entire waking life.... not to say that I KNOW anyone that does this or anything...) but, invariably, there will be moments when you have to... (ahem)... abandon your post, so to say.
Umm.... go and sort of drain off some of that coffee, for instance, OR... go and get another cup of it.

Or go and use the payphone. Cut your fingernails. Get a haircut. Iron your clothes. Stuff like this.
But the thing is.... you’ve got a couple thousand dollars worth of laptop-computer sitting there, and you don’t want to pack up all this gear for such a trivial matter as a quick trip to the loo!
Are you getting a visual here?
So... you sort of look around.
Then, you look at this guy sitting at the next table. You sort of half-cough, and say “Excuse me? Can you watch my stuff for me? I’ll be right back.”
Nineteen times out of twenty, the person will nod and oblige you.
And you walk away.

My question is this.
How do I know that this isn’t the VERY GUY that wants to take my laptop home with him?
I mean really.
Is he not as much of a random stranger as..... the next guy?
Have I taken his drivers license with me, and promised to return it to him when I am safely re-united with the belongings I have entrusted to his care?
Not at all. And the thing is, if my laptop were stolen (God forbid) while I was blissfully tinkling the time away elsewhere, I would want to go directly out into the street with my eyes closed in hopes that a bus flattens me! That is how serious this whole issue is folks!
Yet I do it. All the time.
I can think of only one time when a person flat out responded with “NO!”
As in, “No, I will not watch your stuff. I am not a security guard!”
Well excuuuuuuuuuuuuuse me!
Almost always though, you get the nod, and even a smile.

OK, so here is what I have concluded. It says something positive about human nature, really.
There is really no other explanation for the fact that I can walk away and “do my business” with nary a worrisome thought as to my dearest possession being out of eyesight.
I have asked a fellow human being an optional question, they have responded in the affirmative, and I have trusted them.
Isn’t that neat?
I think so.

And with it the stranger has become.... not so strange.
I know this because I have so often been the person who was ASKED the question by another.
“Excuse me, can you watch my stuff for me? I’ll just be a minute.”
I have never said “No.”
So I know what it is like to be on this end of the computer-watching racket!

As much as I would never steal a laptop computer in the first place, (even if there were a big sign over it saying “Steal this computer”).... how much MORESO would I not steal it when a fellow humanoid has asked me to guard their own?
And when they return, there is always this little smile.

It is an acknowledgement that together, just the two of us, in our co-operative collusion, have warded off a slavering band of marauding Computer-Mongers.... look, four of them are still slinking away among the Cookbooks even as we non-verbally speak of it....
And we say, “Thank you.”
And we say, “No probs.”

Hope for the human race.
We just need to talk a bit more.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Everything Is A Poem.

For the past couple of days I have discussed a few of my reading habits and told you of some of my favorites in the areas of fiction and non-fiction. Tonight I want to say a few words about yet another kind of reading.

Any reader who omits or neglects poetry in their diet is going to be living a literary life that is malnourished. That is the long and short of it, and of course, it is also opinion.
However, I would be suspicious of any serious reader who said to me “I just cannot find any poetry that is worth reading.”
I would ask such a person only one question and it would be quick and direct. I would look them in the eye and I would say, “Really?”
Because I believe that there is poetry out there for everyone.

I would interrogate the person until they admitted that they do not LIKE poetry, but I would never let them off the hook with a claim that there isn’t any poetry worth reading!
There is!

Having said all of the above, I must confess that I am not in any way a poetry expert, nor do I even read that much of it. If I went for a literary checkup [and they say that around forty years old, every male ought to have one done]... I think the physician would probably say “Your fiction levels are OK, but you could really use more poetry.” I am writing of it tonight, as much to remind myself, as anyone reading.
In no real hierarchical order, here are some of my favorite poets:
Robert Browning, Thomas Hardy, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Shakespeare, William Butler Yeats, Rupert Brooke, Emily Dickinson.
There have been other poets that I have enjoyed, like Shelley, and Carl Sandburg, but really, I have not read enough of them. Name-dropping, because I have read a few poems.... that is not what I want to do here. But the above list of poets have really SPOKEN to me, in significant ways.
On my list of Things To Do Before I Die From Poetry-Malnutrition there are three names.

Robert Frost, William Stafford, and e.e. cummings.
These are three poets that I think have something to say to me, but whom I have not given the time to do so..... yet!
One of my goals is to read them.
OK, this has been all preamble.
Now I get to the name of a poet, a modern-day poet, that I want to unequivocably recommend to everyone out there.... especially anyone who says they have yet to find any sort of poetry worth reading. I have the answer for you!

Billy Collins.

Billy Collins was the American Poet Laureate for 2001-2003. The guy is simply amazing. I love his work, and reading him has revolutionized (no exaggeration) my own life as a fledgling poet. My own poetry output has benefited both quantitatively and qualitatively since I discovered Billy Collins. One of the main reasons is that Collins has taught me that everything is a poem.
More correctly, everything is a poem asking to be written.
If you don’t write it, it won’t be one. But if you do, it will.
There is a simplicity and a directness (as well as a direction) in his poetry that is very liberating. Collins writes in free verse. Usually the poems are quite short. Always understandable, in a pithy sort of way!
They are so simple that it is stunning. I have read his poems and then stared at my coffee cup, thinking “What a wonderful coffee cup this is.”
Perhaps that sounds a bit nutty.
Like, you could think “Have you considered that maybe you are nuts?”
Yes, I have considered this. Even sought the opinion of others.
But the coincidence (my nuttiness – my reading of Collins) is too frequent to be brought on by anything other than the sheer marveling over such exquisite use of language. Words so wonderfully arranged that they bring about a lovely sense of nuttiness, when read.
Collins was given to me. A gift.
My dear friend sent me the collection entitled Questions About Angels. I devoured it.
Then (I forget the order) I received, in the same manner, Nine Horses. Then Picnic, Lightning. Then, The Art of Drowning. Followed by The Apple That Astonished Paris. And finally, a copy of Sailing Around The Room SIGNED by the author himself on the page that holds my favorite Collins poem, Osso Buco.

All in all, it is the kind of stuff I would run back into a burning house to retrieve!
I have read, and re-read all of these, and I look forward to his next book of poems, due in the fall of ’05. The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems.
I know that not all poets appeal to all readers. But I am so sure of Collins, that if you buy this book and do not like it, I will PERSONALLY refund your money!

I close my comments today with a random sample of what Collins does.

On Closing Anna Karenina

I must have started reading this monster
a decade before Tolstoy was born
but the vodka and the suicide are behind me now,
all the winter farms, ice-skating and horsemanship.

It consumed so many evenings and afternoons,
I thought a Russian official would appear
to slip a medal over my lowered head
when I reached the last page.

But I found there only the last word,
a useless looking thing, stalled there,
ending its sentence and the whole book at once.

With no more plot to nudge along and nothing
to unfold, it is the only word with no future.

It stares into space and chants its own name
as a traveler whose road has just vanished
might stare into the dark, vacant fields ahead,
knowing he cannot go forward, cannot go back.

-- Billy Collins –

Now, when you go to your own bookshelf (as I did) and turn to the last page of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina you find that the last word in the book is “it”.
So, re-reading the Collins poem with that in mind makes you realize that he has written something wonderful about the word “it”.
What better example can there be of the idea that everything is a poem.
....Asking to be written.

Splash du Jour: Friday

If I were going to convert to any religion I would probably choose Catholicism because it at least has female saints and the Virgin Mary.
-- Margaret Atwood --

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Freelance Monotheism.

I am back at the same place, same table even, and feel like reviewing once again, some great books. This time, in the area of non-fiction.
I like to have a book of non-fiction on the go at the same time as I am working through novels.

I carry around both types of books so that I can alternate from one to the other as my mood dictates. My non-fiction interests are varied, but they tend to gravitate towards books concerning religion and spirituality. I also like to read literary travel books (love Bill Bryson), medical/scientific stuff (love Sherwin B. Nuland), psychology (love M.Scott Peck, Viktor Frankl), history in general.... really, there are not too many aisles of the bookstore that do not interest me on some level.
But as I view my Reading List this evening, I can see that in the past year I have been immersed in some reading along the religio-spiritual lines.
For instance:
Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth, as well as his Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor and his Pathways To Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation.
Catholic intellectual Richard John Neuhaus’s excellent memoir As I Lay Dying: Meditations Upon Returning.
Marcus J. Borg’s Reading The Bible Again For The First Time.
John Shelby Spong’s A New Christianity For A New World.
Bruce Feiler’s Walking The Bible: A Journey By Land Through The First Five Books of Moses. [Interestingly enough, Spong and Borg both argue that these “first five books” are not BY Moses in the first place! Ahh... reading is such fun!]
M. Scott Peck’s A World Waiting To Be Born: Civility Rediscovered.
Sherwin B. Nuland’s How We Die: Reflections On Life's Final Chapter.

When Jesus Came To Harvard: Making Moral Choices Today, by Harvey Cox.
And, a book that definitely spurred (kick-started) a neo-religious revolution in my own life, The Pagan Christ by Tom Harpur. One day, I must write about the effect this last book has had upon my understanding of faith and spirituality.

Tonight however, I want to briefly talk about two books not listed above.
A memoir and its sequel.
Karen Armstrong’s Through The Narrow Gate: A Memoir of Life In And Out of the Convent, and The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness.
I have seldom read anything that has been as insightful, moving, honest, and downright captivating, as these two books.
I inhaled them. Ate them.
They made me forget about fiction, for a while.
Publication-wise, they are separated by 23 years. 1981 and 2004, respectively.
In the first book, written twelve years after Karen Armstrong left her life as a nun, she describes the genesis of her vocation or “calling” and reveals how reluctant her parents were about letting her embrace a life of ascetism. She was a mere seventeen years old at the time.
What follows is a chronicle of what it was like to go through the rigors of becoming a nun. The nine months as a postulant, the two years noviceship, the two years of the scholasticate.... the mind-numbing discipline of achieving full-fledged nunnery-ness (my word).
She was one of the last people to go through the old system before it was reformed by the Second Vatican Council and Pope John XXIII. In what I consider extreme generosity, she admits that her own immaturity was the cause of many of her difficulties, but ultimately what happens is that Karen finds out that she is simply not suited for the life of a nun.
In the convent, God was conspicuous only by His perceived absence, and confessing this to her superiors was not helpful. It only sent her back into herself and confirmed her theory that God’s silence was her own fault. In all of the seven years on the inside, never once did she “hear from God” nor realize the pre-convent aspirations of her heart. It is a powerful story of religious devotion gone awry.
I could talk forever about how IMPORTANT I think this book is, but, moving on to its sequel....

Karen now describes her post-convent life in The Spiral Staircase.
After leaving the convent Armstrong became, basically an atheist.
She felt that she was done with God.
She knew almost nothing of the changed world she was entering, and she was tormented by panic attacks and inexplicable seizures. Her struggle against despair was fueled by a string of discouragements -- failed spirituality, doctorate and jobs, fruitless dealings with psychiatrists -- but finally, in 1976, she was diagnosed with epilepsy and given proper treatment.
The outside world did have something invaluable to offer Karen Armstrong. Freedom.
Freedom to explore her potential as a writer, which is what she would later come to understand as her true vocation, and place in the world. Through many circuitous events and experiences, Karen re-entered the personal quest for spiritual understanding by way of what can be termed “comparative theology.”
Focusing her studies on the sacred texts of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, her own true inner story began to emerge. In her writing she experienced the moments of transcendence that had eluded her during her years of intense nunnery-ness.
And the world has been the richer for the wonderful books that Karen Armstrong has produced, and continues to produce. She has become one of the world’s foremost religious scholars, her work having been translated now into more than forty languages.
Her memoirs are among the most gripping and hopeful of life histories I have ever read.

I love this comment that has been made concerning The Spiral Staircase:
“Opening this book is like sitting down for coffee on a first date with someone who is interesting and odd. Your conversation becomes unexpectedly intimate: painful tales of bafflement and illness, gleaming crystals of self-discovery and joy. By the time you get up from the table, you have fallen in love.”
—Rabbi Arthur Waskow, author of Godwrestling–Round 2: Ancient Wisdom, Future Paths.

I agree.
Truth be known, reading these books have made me feel as though I too..... no, I won’t say it.

In an interview with Bill Moyers, Karen Armstrong was asked:
Where are you in your own journey? You're not a practicing Catholic, are you?
She answered:
No. I usually call myself these days a freelance monotheist. I draw nourishment from all three of the religions of Abraham, uh, I spend my life studying these faiths, in a sense I'm still a nun. I live alone, and I've never married, and I spend my life writing and talking and reading and studying spirituality and God. And I can not see in essence any one of these three faiths as superior to any of the others. I suppose one of my hopes in life is to try to get Jews, Christians and Muslims to realize the profound unanimity, the unanimous vision that they share, and to join hands together to stop the kind of cruelty, violence and obscenity, moral obscenity that we saw on September the 11th.

I just love that.
A freelance monotheist.
This is what I want to be when I grow up.
A freelance monotheist Booklord!

These books are incredibly good.
I have gone on too long about it.
My coffee is cold.....

Splash du Jour: Thursday

Powers of observation heightened beyond the normal imply extraordinary disinvolvement: or rather the double process, excessive preocccupation and identification with the lives of others, and at the same time a monstrous detachment... The tension between standing apart and being fully involved: that is what makes a writer.
-- Nadine Gordimer, Introduction, Selected Stories –

Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Maggots & Mayhem!

I’m just sitting at the mega-bookstore coffee shop after work.
I’m thinking about how grand it would be to own a mega-bookstore and be a sort of Book Mogul.
Book Baron!
Book LORD!
I want to be a Book Lord when I grow up!
OK, in all seriousness, this is probably not going to happen. [I’m referring mainly to the “growing up” part!] But I am allowed to dream. Right?

Dream of my future booklordship?
There was never a time in my life when I did not love books to an inordinate degree.
Books are a part of my very DNA. [Deep-rooted Novel Addiction]!

Anyhoo... I’m sitting here looking over my Reading Record, my meticulously kept record of literally everything I have read over the past dozen years or so. And I’m just looking at this past year, with its forty or so books in there.
And I’m wondering [wasn’t yesterday the first day of summer?].... what would I recommend to someone as a good summer read? Talking novels, here. Hmmm.....
Currently I am reading a little book of Nathaniel Hawthorne short stories. Really great, but not beach blanket stuff. Just a few days ago, I finished Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis. Good book, but I only have one to recommend and so this one is not it.

Hmmm, in the past few months I have read Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace [super-excellent], F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is The Night [very good], Douglas Coupland’s Hey Nostradamus! [quite good], two by Jose Saramago: The Gospel According To Jesus Christ [mesmerizing, wondrous], and The Double [stupendously great], Marilynne Robinson’s award-winning Gilead [very good], Ian McEwan’s Saturday [horridly good, awesome even]..... all of these books have been great!
But one book stands out in my mind as being not only very memorable, but exciting, thrilling.... and yes, beach-blankety with a literary thriller-ish sort of twist to it that I think would be good to read through your Ray-Bans while you are soaked in Coppertone and iced-tea.
It is Matthew Pearl’s excellent debut novel, The Dante Club.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

The neat thing about reading Matthew Pearl is that you do not have to be familiar with his style, don’t have to be well-versed in what he has written previously (as, say for instance, one may have to be with DeLillo, in my opinion). This is Pearl’s first book! There is an excitement in that, for me. Like diving into a pool without testing the water first.
The author is a graduate of Harvard and Yale Law School and a Dante scholar.
The novel takes place in Boston – 1860’s.
That’s right!
EIGHTEEN-sixties! Don’t run and hide.
The book is about a series of truly horrific and grisly murders that take place in Boston, and specifically, in and around the “Boston Brahmin” society of the day. In the first one, after being somewhat bludgeoned (but not to death) a judge is eaten alive by maggots. Uh-huh!
In the next murder, a minister is buried upside down, and his feet, which are sticking out of the ground, are set aflame.
This other guy gets severely (and I mean, quite really severely) sliced up into ribbons and is left hanging like a side of beef in this deserted castle type place.
Doesn’t this all sound wonderfully beach blankety?

Truthfully, there is a lot of gore in the book. No doubt. But the plot of the book turns upon the fact that the authorities are baffled as to any connectible evidence regarding these crimes. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to motive.
Little do they know that this wild spate of violence is in fact, motivated by reason and rhyme!
The killer has been fashioning his crimes based upon the punishments described in Dante’s Divine Comedy (specifically the “Inferno” section), and at the same time, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow has been engaged in the production of the English translation of Dante. This is where Pearl’s novel dovetails with history.
At this time in Boston society, there was a Dante Club. It consisted of Longfellow, J.T. Fields, Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Russell Lowell, and George Washington Greene. They were literary giants in their own right, who met as friends frequently, and officially met once a week to discuss that portion of the Dante translation that was currently being completed by the leader, the venerable Longfellow.
As the murders continue to wreak havoc and mayhem and incite terror in the populace, these scholars become embroiled in the case.

All leads lead to Dante! Since Dante’s work was virtually unknown in America at the time, this band of bookish litterati emerge as the only hope in deciphering the connections, anticipating the killer’s next move, and zeroing in on his/her identity. They alone possess the esoteric wherewithal to link the details of the crime with the epic poem itself.
Even though we as readers are on the inside track, the ending is shocking. A surprise.
Pearl blends a wealth of historical fact with this debut novel, but the thing is so wonderfully embellished that I would hesitate to call it “historical fiction.” I would rather call it an intelligent, thrilling, whodunit! It has been compared to Caleb Carr’s The Alienist and equated with the scholarly density of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.

It is my pick for a dangity-good summer read!
My hope is that Matthew Pearl will abandon his career in law and focus on writing one hundred more novels.
Don’t we have enough lawyers?

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

I don't like sitting on a beach reading. When I go to the beach, the kids and I, we're gonna go in the waves, we're gonna go for a hike. I want adventure.
-- Tom Cruise
OK, now I’m done with it... I swear!
Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Tom Cruise: Revisited.

There are many other things I could go on about tonight, and I’m sure that some readers are probably thinking by now “Isn’t this blog supposed to be about books?”
But, well, last night I sort of “threw the book” at Tom Cruise, speculating that the water incident in Leicester Square (London) was a media-stunt and somewhat staged event.
I should have probably done a bit more research on the thing before blabbing my yapper like Matlock on steroids!
Thing is.... subsequent research has revealed to me that The Perp [The Squirter-Guy] was NOT a reporter as I had assumed. Turns out that the whole thing was a planned Ashton Kutcher-esque style deliberate squirtage segment for a British comedy show. It seems that Mr. Cruise really did NOT know that the thing was going to happen.
And the Squirters WERE arrested!
So.... there goes yet another pillar of my Media-Stunt Theory.
[I am surely going to lose my Private Investigator license over this...]!

Here are the scenes we didn't see:

There were four people on the Squirt Team and they were quickly whisked away for a quick tour of the Tower of London, whereupon they were threatened with a Henry the Eighth-style beheading and then released on bail within hours but ordered to return to a police station on Monday, (yesterday) where one was detained for further questioning as authorities consider whether to file charges.
"They are being investigated in relation to an alleged assault on Mr. Cruise," a police source told London's Independent newspaper. "It was just water, but that can be very alarming when it comes from a crowd out of nowhere."
No kidding.
Especially [as I made note of yesterday in MY investigations] when that "water" may have been.... who knows.... anthrax-urine or whatever!
Tom Cruise’s sister and publicist, Lee Ann DeVette, was not immediately available for comment Monday. But the London Times quotes her as saying Cruise might seek retribution.
"He is not just going to forget about it. He wants to make sure we get to the bottom of it," DeVette said. "We want to know who was involved and what it was all for. We have not received an apology and are still waiting to get hold of the people at Channel 4 and at the production company [behind the TV show].
"Tom does want to take action, but we don't know precisely what until we know more about the people we are dealing with."

The people in question are the practical jokesters behind Britain's new Entertainment 4 series, which has also ambushed the likes of Paris Hilton and Sharon Osbourne. Mrs. Ozzy, waylaid by a squirt earlier this month, was apparently less forgiving than Cruise. Apparently, she dumped a champagne bucket filled with ice and water over one of the offending cameramen.
You go girl!
Yesterday (Monday), a rep for Channel 4 issued a statement on behalf of its show: "The water squirting was not intended to cause offense and was very much in a spirit of fun. The stunt was intended to be lighthearted rather than malicious, and we would apologize to Mr. Cruise for any offense caused."

So, I just wanted to publish this retraction. My theory seems to be a real washout in the damning evidence that has surfaced since!
Matlock would not be proud of me.
And Columbo.... he would just shiver in disgust, squint, and wave that cigar of his....

My question now is this.
What should be done with Exhibit-A.... the squirt-weapon itself?
In this instance, I am in favor of a public beheading of the microphone.

Tomorrow.... book talk!

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

Speaking of his career as a writer, Modecai Richler once said:
"You wanna know what I do for a living? There's twenty-six letters in the alphabet. I jumble them up."

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, June 20, 2005

Tom Cruise in London.

Congratulations Tom & Katie!
Unless you’ve had your head (literally) in the sand for the past couple days, you’ve probably seen Tom Cruise somewhere in your living room. Most likely he’s been in that square thing that all of your furniture is pointed towards!
I love Tom Cruise, in as heterosexual of a way as I can say it! I think he is a great actor, and if I were a girl, I guess I would like him for other reasons too. But I’m a guy. My theory that I am about to talk about here on the blog is in no way a criticism of Tom Cruise, or the Tom Cruise industry. It’s just..... a theory.
OK... you know how we’ve all seen the incident of the past few days where Tom Cruise is calmly giving an interview in London, flashing those whiter-than-whites and just being all around genial.... and then.... SQUIRT!
He is blasted in the face with water from a fake microphone?
If you have not seen this, then, not only do I feel dorky about going on with my theory, but also, the rest of this blog won’t be very interesting.
But, suffice it to say, our Tom gets splooshed with water in as rude and unexpected a manner as possible!
Orrrrrr..... was it?
Was it as unexpected as it appears to be?
This has been bugging me all day at work, because I saw the clip once again while I was having my morning coffee, actually as I was just leaving my apartment. As I drove to work, for some reason I kept re-playing it in my mind, and something does not seem to quite..... fit.

Let me re-create the scene as I recall it on TV.

It happened yesterday. Sunday.
Here is perhaps THEE most powerful man in Hollywood, a movie-star mogul.... a monolith of the modern motion picture industry. He is giving an interview when a jet of water splashes him in the $20 million-a-picture face, and he sort of lurches back a bit, half-laughing, and spluttering some of the water out of his mouth, wiping his eyes and so forth.
He then asks the interviewer, “Now why did you do that?” or “Why would you do that?”
The guy sort of turns to leave, and Tom says “No no no no no, don’t leave. Don’t run away. I asked you a question? Why would you do that? I’m answering your questions, I’m giving you an interview, and then you do that. That is extremely rude. You know what? You are a jerk. That was very jerky.”
Camera fades to the flustered bodyguards and whatnot....

The above is not verbatim, but this is essentially the gist of it. Of what transpired.
Now... my questions are as follows?
In today’s world, where (germ-wise) you could literally put liquid death in a syringe if you really wanted to, isn’t Tom’s reaction a bit bland? The stuff went right in his mouth! WHO KNOWS what it might have been? Nowadays, such an action is tantamount to attempted murder. If you do not believe me, ask any police officer of the procedures that instantly go into effect if someone being apprehended spits on them! I can tell you one thing. It involves quite a bit more than making note of the fact that the perpetrator is a jerk!
My theory is simply that Cruise’s bodyguards would not have left Tom to verbally fend for himself in this instance. NO WAY! That reporter would have been hauled away. We would have SEEN “the war of the worlds” all right! Way before it hit the theatres!
Secondly, if the holder of the microphone (hereafter referred to in cop-lingo as “The Perp”)... if The Perp really had it in for Mr. Cruise, wouldn’t he have made some sort of statement when invited by Mr. Cruise to do so? Let’s say he hated Tom Cruise, and this is why he did what he did. Well, why didn’t he SAY SOMETHING? In other words.... what kind of a POINT was he trying to make (other than possibly ruining his career and/or getting his Press privileges taken from him).... HERE WAS YOUR CHANCE TO SAY IT BUDDY.... AND YOU SAID NOTHING!
These two things, coupled with Mr. Cruise’s overall Gandhi-like unretaliative equanimity about the whole affair, make me suspicious that this entire episode was a media stunt geared at redeeming public opinion about Tom Cruise, as of late.
In a word, I think we’ve been SPUN!
My theory? The only words missing in the snippets we will see on Entertainment Tonight (tonight) are “Action” and “Cut”.

To back up a bit, what kind of negative public opinion am I referring to?
Well, lately the world-at-large has been somewhat critical of Tom’s outspoken views of Scientology, for one thing. Secondly, when he started jumping up and down on Oprah’s couch the other day, people thought maybe he lost his marbelios!
And then, the horrifically romantic (I’m not being sarcastic) engagement to Katie Holmes after a mere seven weeks of courtship... the spin doctors may have been prescribing some footage of examples of emotional stability to offset some of these things, and if they were doing so, they could not have procured a better visual example of it than “MAN’S MICROPHONE SPLOOSHES INTO TOM CRUISE’S FACE!”
Cool as a very expensive and well-dressed cucumber he was!
I’ll admit, I was, and remain, impressed.

On the show I was watching this morning, amid the banter after showing the clip, the weather girl was asked for her opinion of how Tom handled the situation and her response was:
“Well, the microphone man is just lucky he didn’t do that to Russell Crowe!”
That is the spin! That is exactly the desired effect. Cool cool Tom.
And you know what? He is cool.
What I am suggesting here is in no way a criticism of the person of Tom Cruise. If anything, if my theory has more than speculative hypothesis to it, I think it is a sad indictment upon the viewing public, moreso than on the actor or his industry.
It is sad that we make these people go to such lengths to try and demonstrate to us that they are people too. It is unfair of us.

What’s my personal verdict?
Well, I want to flip the TV on and see if I can catch Entertainment Tonight. I want to see that clip one more time, because I think it involves some of the finest acting since.... well, since that courtroom scene in A Few Good Men.

Splash du Jour: Monday

“...the part of any poem or novel that makes it a work of art doesn’t derive its value from the realm of market exchange. It comes from the realm of gift, which has altogether different modes of operating. A gift is not weighed and measured, nor can it be bought. It can’t be expected or demanded; rather it is granted, or else not. In theological terms it’s a grace, proceeding from the fullness of being. One can pray for it, but one’s prayer will not therefore be answered. If this were not so, there would never be any writer’s block. The composition of a novel may be one part inspiration and nine parts perspiration, but that one part inspiration is essential if the work is to live as art. (The parts vary for poetry, but both are still involved.)”
-- Margaret Atwood, in Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer on Writing --

Have a great Monday!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Still Smitten.

I once fell in love with a bird.
I wish I were kidding.
We met in Victoria, as in Vancouver Island.
I was on holidays, and she was living in the downtown zoo at the time.
I guess it was just one of those things, written in the stars and all.
We were destined to meet....

Earlier that day, my family and I, half a boatful of us actually, had gone whale-watching out on the Pacific. Have you ever done this? It is absolutely awe-inspiring. Plus, you get utterly drenched. It is wild fun.
The whale-watching outfit made us sign documents wherein we stated that if we died, hey, that was cool! Then they dutifully suited us up in these bright red rigamarole deals that were designed to keep water off of us.
Very soon into the trip, I was convinced that we were only wearing these neon suits so that they can find us bobbing like apples when we go overboard! We were soaked through and through, and I don’t mean just externally, in the normal cracks and crevices. I mean on the inside too! Like spleen and liver soaked!
I think our boat-driver purposely hit the waves slantwise so that on our way out to where the whale pods were, all of us in the boat would have already tasted half the ocean! My niece was sitting in the row ahead of me, and all I know is that by the time our boat went into a calm neutral free float, I was wearing her mascara!
But wow!

There were the whales, sure enough. All over the place. “Breaching” as they do... launching themselves into the air around us. At one point, two whales surfaced and then rolled together, as though they were hugging, and then they submerged.
Our guide said “Well I’ll be danged” or something to that effect.
Then he explained to us that we had just witnessed a very rare sight indeed.
Two whales making out. Getting it on. Doing it old school.
Skinny dipping.
Two killers having whalecourse!

I mention all of this only to say that by the time we returned to the harbor and squelched ourselves out of this boat.... I was feeling quite romantic.
We walked around for a bit, drying off in the sun, and then ended up at this indoor zoo.
As we walked through, pausing momentarily before each exhibit to gawk at these poor caged-up beasts and whatnot.... I turned and saw.....
The toucan.

I was transfixed.
As I remember it, all peripheral sound dimmed! Just like in the movies. The Civil War can be raging three feet to either side of two characters... but because one of them happens to have a spear through his head, the other guy can all of a sudden hear him whispering his final words as if they were both sitting in a Starbucks. You know what I mean?
That’s what it was like, minus the gunfire and smoke!
It was just me and her. This bird and me.

She was in a huge-normous cage, and quietly eating.
It was a wordless, holy moment.

Speaking would have chased angels away.
So I just stared at her. And she stared at me, looking away now and then only to pick out a morsel of food about a foot distant, pick it up at the end of her gi-normous shnozz, and then flick it back into her mouth.
“Kissing would definitely be difficult” went through my mind, but true love quickly displaces such negative thoughts. Don’t you agree?
The rest of my family went squishing away on to other exhibits. To my knowledge, no one really noticed how smitten I was. If they did, they let me be. Maybe they whispered to each other, behind cupped hands... “He’s having one of his moments.”
I’ll never know.
But I stayed at that cage, by her side, until they made a circuit of the whole zoo. And then they came and pried my hands from her steely prison, and I left the place backwards.
Years later, I wrote the following poem for her. Not knowing her name, I titled it:


Blue-rimmed eyes and black dress.
You were lunching. For the life of me
it looked like croutons
you were munching. Mixed with fruit.
Silent and beautiful. Wondrous,
the distance you tossed dinner
to your throat. So long
you had me staring.

Does it flatter you to know,
that after all these years,
I still remember
what you were wearing?

Nowadays, even seeing a Froot-Loops box can make me misty.
People... well-meaning people, have asked me, “How do you even know that she was a her?”
And I turn to them, almost in pity, and I say “Please. There are times when you look into the eyes and you don’t need to look anywhere else, to know who it is you are looking at.”

Friday, June 17, 2005

How high? How HIGH?

Why have umbrellas, and all things umbrella-ish, been so lacking from my life?
Seriously, I am now well into my fourth decade of existence, and I have yet to really own an umbrella.
What is wrong with me?

At lunchtime today, and again after work, walking from my car to the mega-bookstore downtown, I got soaked.

You’d think I’d learn.
You’d think I’d mend my ways.
But neither thing has happened.
I’m soaked on rainy days!

Can I be honest here?
I have always felt real stupid carrying an umbrella.
Can I be even more honest?

I’ve only carried one once!
And man did I ever feel stupid.
Found it leaning on a bench, near a souvenir store.
So I took it.
I didn’t just “take it.”
I looked around a lot first. Whistled a bit. [It’s always good to whistle a bit before taking something that is not really yours]. Waited for the rightful owner to come by.
It was a sunny day. Finally I realized what this was all about. I mean, I was born at night, but not last night!

Why is there an umbrella leaning so provocatively against a bench, on a SUNNY day.... nearly inviting me to take it home with me? Well it became quite obvious.
This umbrella belonged to no one.
It was being given to me by God!
So I took it.

I placed it in the closet.
About a week later, I found use for it. Looked out the window on a Saturday.

It was raining. No probs. I have an UMBRELLA now! I am one of those people who HAVE AN UMBRELLA!
I exited the building.
In an impressive display of mechanical ingenuity, it kicked its legs out and flapped open at the mere push of a button. Nearly took my eye out.
This is obviously one of those “rites of passage” things right? To know that “YOU ARE NOW FULLY HUMAN?”
You have unswooshed an umbrella..... fellow humanoid.
Immediately, I was disoriented.
How high do I hold this confounded thing? Like sort of far up, or just close down over my head?
Where are the instructions?
I felt like some kind of.... pterodactyl was hovering over me, and I holding its one leg!

But, true enough... it is raining. I’m as equipped as the next guy now, I guess.
I start walking.
I am amazed at how immediately disconcerting this whole thing is.

I am not kidding you when I say I would have felt more comfortable walking down the street clad only in underwear. [Not that I’ve ever done this, I swear].
But seriously now, it becomes apparent to me that there are a myriad of options bombarding my brain.... and the most immediate one is simply HOW HIGH DO I HOLD THIS THING?
Like sort of.... way up there? No. Closer down to my head?
Should my arm be sort of away from my body.... or like this... with my elbow resting on my side?

I have never felt so abandoned. The innocent pitter-patter of rain on the thin plastic is as foreign to my ears as advanced Sanskrit. Both being languages I’ve never heard....
[By now I am a fair ways from my apartment building.... cannot even see the shoreline, I am committed to this thing now... I am walking in the rain with a stolen umbrella and I don’t know how to do it, I swear for the life of me.....]
OK, hold on now..... how about looking at that bloke across the street... seems like he’s doing it fairly normal like.... a bit higher then? No probs. There we go.

That’s feeling pretty good. I can live with that.
But the euphoria is short-lived. The guy turns the corner ahead of me and I am on my own again.
As I’m looking around for another example of pterodactyl-holders I pass by a building with mirrored glass.... and there I am..... looking at me.....
My confidence is dashed to shreds. I can’t possibly look that dorky. BUT I DO!
But I can’t stop walking... that would be too weird. I keep going. You’ve gotta keep going.

Regroup. THINK! What would Tolstoy do?
My poor shivering umbrella is undulating like a 747 in serious turbulence! I literally do not know how high this thing is supposed.....
Oh good. Oh good. Two people across the street under one umbrella. Walking towards me. This is a prime example of at least intermediate umbrella skill..... “watch, but don’t stare” I whisper to myself... [they are getting closer].... hmmm... nice elevation he’s got going there, much more natural looking than me [I quickly adjust my own umbrella-altitude]... to my surprise I am struck with some sudden sense of camaraderie as they pass by and I have this strange urge to identify with them... “Look, I’ve got an umbrella too!”
But I don’t say it. And just then, as they pass by and are gone, I see myself again in the reflective glass of another building.
I have never looked stupider.
Even in previous appearances of the same day!

Soon, I begin to weigh my options.
Looking like a wet dog. Or looking like Mary Poppins.

It was there, at the entrance to the mega-bookstore that I threw the whole crazy squawking mess into the rubbish bin. Snapped its wings and legs!
And concluded, once and for all.... umbrellas are not for me.

Splash du Jour: Friday

Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970:
“Alexander Solzhenitsyn, for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature."

Have a great Friday!
The weekend is soooooo close!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

For Sailor Jack & Bingo.


The hardening is deliberate and cruel,
as is all that will come thereafter.
The only consolation being that so many,
so very many others, share the same fate.

The heat, the sweat, the pain.
Left and right, succumbing to the pressure,
those known to you perish.
Blown apart, ripped open, left white
in shock. Naked guts torn inside out.
A mushroom cloud of exposed flesh,
shards of skeleton clinging to the core.

Throw these now (still exhaling steam)
to the gaping maw, to be mashed to pulp
and lowered into hot acid.
Ground in the mingled bile and bones
of comrades, and finally
rammed the length of a cold hard pipe
into a rotting cesspool…

where there is nothing,
nothing more devastated
than popcorn.

I have always been interested in the life cycle of popcorn.
As such, I wrote the above poem oh.... I guess about a year or so ago.
I think of it as sort of a tribute. A eulogy in honor of the sacrificial life of the kernel we all love to eat.
This evening, I am especially thinking of the glories of popcorn as I sit here at the mega-bookstore drinking my own body weight in coffee. Because today, June 16th, is an important day in the history of one of the best things that ever happened to popcorn!
Cracker Jack!

It was 112 years ago today, on June 16th, 1893, that a man by the name of R.W. Rueckheim introduced this innovative amalgamation of popcorn, peanut, and molasses at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
Admittedly, there were a few kinks to be ironed out in the product (premature meltage).... but in 1896, R.W.’s brother Louis perfected a process whereby the molasses-covered popcorn morsels would remain separate.... and there you have it! The world of popcorn was revolutionized!
Louis gave a sample of the treat to a salesman who exclaimed, "That's crackerjack!"
"So it is," said F.W. Rueckheim, who then had the words trademarked.

This stuff was a significant part of my overall diet, growing up. I would just love it when Dad would come home and surprise my sister and me with matching boxes of Cracker Jack. Till today, it is one of the very few "candy" type items that can tempt me at the checkout line in the supermarket. It is invariably there (in bags now, not those old wax-lined boxes). I do NOT have a sweet tooth, meaning I am not a dessert or candy-bar type person. The racks of candy bars tempteth me not! Nor do the cakes and goodies in the display cases at Starbucks.
But Cracker Jack?
Oh yeah! It’s got my number! It’s in the cart!
There is just something about it that is so DANG good! The peanuts inside there. Why do they just taste better than peanuts everywhere else in the world? Is it just me? Am I nuts?

Am I the only one addicted to Rueckheim’s devilishly ingenious confection?
Apparently not!
Because (I love trivia, if you have not noticed this by now)... it is a fact that enough Cracker Jack has been sold that if laid end-to-end it would circle the Earth more than 69 times.
[I know it sounds like it, but I am NOT making this up as I go along].
In 1912 they began their "A Prize in Every Box" feature.
[In my morbider moments, I have wondered how much Cracker Jack went down with the Titanic on April 14th of that same year].
Since then, they have given out more than 23 billion of these little surprise toys. Believe me, I know! Many times I’ve been so greedy after the popcorn, I have inadvertently eaten a few of these toys!
[They taste not bad, but the popcorn’s better. I repeat... do NOT eat the toys.... they do not ummm... digest well.]
Some old Cracker Jack prizes are valued at more than $7,000. A complete series of the 1915 baseball cards, original and in near mint condition, has been valued as high as $60,000.
Which proves at least one thing beyond a shadow of a doubt. People who are serious collectors of Cracker Jack memorabilia.... are also LOONY!

You know the little boy and his dog? They appear on the package?
This is Sailor Jack and Bingo, repectively.
So I just want to say.... Happy Birthday to Sailor Jack and Bingo.
Happy 112th.
Seriously, neither of you look a day over...... ten!

Such a devestating, selfless, violent life it lives and dies. For us. All for us.
On our behalf!

It literally blows itself up for us.
We benefit, from its trials.
Buy a box (or bag) of Cracker Jack today, my friends....
... lest we forget!

Splash du Jour: Thursday

This week’s Splash du Jours will consist of the one-sentence blurbs written for past recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Winner of the Nobel Prize For Literature in 2001:

“V.S. Naipaul, for having united perceptive narrative and incorruptible scrutiny in works that compel us to see the presence of suppressed histories."
Have a great Thursday!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Finding Tolkien.

Remember when Hobbit-Mania struck the land?
The weeks and even months leading up to the release of the first installment of Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings trilogy in the theatres?
It was the winter of 2001.
Back then, it was hard to find a place that was uninhobbited. The marketing machine was in full swing, and rightfully so. Moviedom had never taken on a project as grandiose and off-the-scale as this bringing of Tolkien’s classic to the big screen. I think the production cost for Lord of The Rings was something like 168 million dollars?
At any rate, as you might expect, I was already a fan of the books, having read the Trilogy long before it was ever a movie. In fact, I probably read the thing before Elijah Wood was born.
But with the impending release of The Fellowship of The Ring, I set out to re-read the books. To refresh my memory, prior to movie-time. And this time I tracked the journey through Middle Earth with an excellent guide, Barabara Strachey’s book, Journeys of Frodo: An Atlas of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings. [Published by HarperCollins].
I found this guide to be immeasurably helpful in keeping track of exactly where everyone is throughout the story. It contains 51 maps, with accompanying text on the opposite page of each map. Invaluable information and commentary.... and in one or two instances, Strachey points out where even Tolkien himself got a bit miscomhobbitated in his calculations. She corrects a few minor textual discrepancies. Really, the atlas is amazing.
OK, so one evening after work I am sitting in this mega-bookstore over there by the fireplace, and I am reading through Volume 1 as if pursued by a slavering band of Orcs! I’m getting right into it. [By the way, I use the term “over there” because as I write this, I am still at the same mega-bookstore. I am dead serious. Things may change in Middle Earth... but in MY Earth? No... things on Planet Bookpuddle are pretty much the same as they were four years ago! I’m not sure, but I think I am even wearing the same shirt today as I was then! But back to my story...]
So I’m sitting there and it just happens to be just to the right of the Science Fiction section of the store. Soon I began to take note of the steady stream of people, usually in twos or threes, coming up to a certain section of the shelves and searching, shaking their heads.... and leaving. A few times, I saw people leaving that particular area of shelving and walking straight out into the bitter cold!
I swear to you, what I am about to relate here is 100% true. At first, I just kept reading away....
But then more people. And then some more. So finally, curiosity getting the better of me, plus... I needed to stretch.... I had been sitting there for about six hours.... I got up and walked over to the exact location of the intense consternation. I could tell exactly where the hordes of people had been standing because the rug was all worn out right there. Plus it was all wet where the snow had been melting off of their horridly disappointed shoes.
It was Tolkien they were after!

Obviously, other prospective moviegoers wanted to do exactly what I was doing.... brush up on their Tolkien, or maybe experience the Ring for the first time!
But right there, right where the masterpiece should have been..... was nothing.
Either the books were WEARING the Ring... or......
“But wait a minute” I said to myself. “This is impossible. How can this BOOKstore not have....?”
Then it dawned on me. And you know it as well as I do right now.
You know where all of the Tolkien books were?
And I mean, on that shivering table were Lord of The Rings books up the wazoo!

Piled ten hobbits high! At least! But no one was seeing it! Plus, the shelves were being picked clean so quickly, that real book-buying patrons (unlike me) were leaving the store without a purchase because they just thought the Tolkien stuff was SOLD OUT! As I mentioned above, I watched many of them leave!

Well, I could not stand for this.
After all, I want this mega-bookstore to prosper. I have a vested interest.

It is much more to me than a “second home”.
So I went and found the manager.
I led her back to the soggy rugworn area in question and I told her, I said “Are you aware that in the past six hours I have observed several [and I emphasized that word “several”] really serious prospective buyers leaving your store because [and I pointed] there is nothing right here where, according to my calculations, books should be replenished every three minutes or so?” [She’s looking at me like I am a lunatic.... but I continue] OR a little sign placed in the space, indicating that over there at the Leaning Tower of Bookpile there is at least four thousand copies of what they are looking for?”
I am not exaggerating when I tell you that she said to me “Sir, we have a fairly visible display set up and I assure you, we do keep the shelves stocked on a regular basis and...”

“But people are leaving!” I pleaded. “They are leaving without buying anything. I see them!”

To say that my own tears then fell onto the floor... and mingled with the residue of the thawed parking lot slush.... would be not only melodramatic and sappy, but false. Just false.
And what I strive for on this blogpage is truth, not falsity. Verisimilitude, not fabrication.
No. I did NOT cry into the gritty slush!
I cried into the sleeve of my sweater.
And.... I gave up.

And I went and sat back down by the fireplace.
And as Ms. Manager walked past me with her huffy little authoritative strut and dismissive glance, oh hell yes I wanted to trip her.
But I didn’t.
And as she walked away, yes, I wanted to yell out, “Of course, it’s easy for you. You just work here! BUT I LIVE HERE, DAMMIT!”
But I didn’t.
There’s one thing no one needs in the dead of winter.
An eviction!

Splash du Jour: Wednesday

This week’s Splash du Jours will consist of the one-sentence blurbs written for past recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982:
“Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent's life and conflicts."

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Burglar King!

Hey kids!
What is the deal with the amount of burgling that goes on in the United States of America?

The United Nations Survey of Crime Trends (year 2000) compiled a listing of the Top Ten Burglarized Nations.
The results are sort of.... ominous.
Apparently, the United States is not only the birthplace of the fast-food industry, it is also, undisputedly, The Burglar King!

Here is the List, the corresponding number being the number of reported burglaries for the year 2000.

1. United States 2,099,700
2. United Kingdom 836,027
3. Australia 436,865
4. South Africa 394,557
5. France 370,993
6. Poland 364,786
7. Japan 296,486
8. Canada 293,416
9. Mexico 139,679
10. India 111,296

Is it just that the American people have better stuff to steal? (This is entirely possible).
Is it just that the U.S. is the third most populous nation in the world? Ah, but before we argue along these lines (of population) we need to note that India, with its one BILLION people has nearly twenty times fewer break-ins than the U.S.
And what’s goin’ on down under mates? Crikey! Australia? A nation of 20 million is THIRD?
And while we’re at it.... where’s China? A nation of 1.25 billion inhabitants is not even on the list at all.

So, I did a bit of research on the overall North American situation, as based on this chart.
I found that the U.S. population on April 1st of the year 2000 was 281,421,906. At the same time, the population of Canada was very close to 31,000,000.
So, some quick work on the ol’ calculator reveals the following per capita ratios:

Canada. One burglary for every 106 people.
United States. One burglary for every 134 people.

In other words, there is not really that much difference in burglary rate between these two North American neighbors. Both statistics are less than reassuring though. My question is this:
What’s next?
DRIVE-THRU Burglaries? To sort of... speed things up?

“Hello, and welcome to Burglar King. Can I take your order?”

“No! But I’ll certainly take yours if you just turn your back for a minute, or leave your patio door unlatched tonight!”

Splash du Jour: Tuesday

This week’s Splash du Jours will consist of the one-sentence blurbs written for past recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Winner of the Nobel Prize For Literature in 2003:
“J.M. Coetzee, who in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider."

Have a great Tuesday!

Monday, June 13, 2005

Ambient Music.

To be honest, I think I am still a little shook up over last night’s Saramagian fiasco!
So, I’ve got to let off a bit of steam here.
Tell me. Am I allowed to go on a bit of a rant now and then, on this blogpage?
Thank you.
Today’s the day.
I would like to just calmly mention a few things about what I consider to be one of the most colossal cultural mysteries of our modern era. Indeed, it is a riddle as unsolved as the legendary one concerning the exact pyramid-building procedures of Ancient Egypt. Or whether the Bermuda Triangle really eats airplanes.
Truly, this mystery is greater!
Simply put, I would like to know what Hydra-Headed Beast has been put in charge of the global selection and distribution of ambient music that we as human beings are constantly subjected to, and invariably within earshot of.
What office does it work out of? What is the address, that we may bomb it, forthwith?

What do I mean by ambient music?
Well, I mean the music that is just piped-in and unasked-for, no matter what store or public place you walk into nowadays.
In fact, I am listening to a fine example of it right now, here in the mega-bookstore. Actually, (this is no exaggeration) I am hearing not just one, but TWO examples of ambient music.... one from the bustling Starbucks system and the other from the bookstore itself. They are converging upon my defenseless head, beating themselves against the anvil of my ears, competing for dominance. Is this supposed to soothe the beast in me? Make me buy books? Or coffee?
If so, this marketing tool is missing its mark. I am fitting absolutely nowhere in the Hydra-Headed Beast’s demographic chart.
The only real effect this bombardment of sound has on me is to cause my eyelids to flutter. Also, I very much fantasize about shooting the overhead speaker grille right out of its false-ceilinged moorings. I would love to see that insidious tin seive dangling by its umbilical cord. Smoke curling upwards and every eye in this place turning toward me, the Deliverer!
The Bringer of Peace!

I would like to know the history of this thing called ambient music.
At what point in history did it dawn upon someone that we as humans cannot possibly live without music for even a few moments in a store or elevator?
What is so wrong with silence?
Maybe I’m weird though.... an anomaly. Some sort of dinosauric throwback to a time when our own thoughts were noise enough. I must be.

Because as I look around this room here, it is apparent that the two types of ambient music in this particular place are not providing enough racket for some patrons. No.
They have HEADPHONES on.
And they are reading at the same time.
Now, hold on here. Stop the train. Something just does not seem right for me, and I’m going to take a few deep breaths and try to understand it..... you are READING.... and then also, you are LISTENING TO MUSIC. Literally, the music could not be any closer to the same brain that is trying to comprehend the full meaning of a printed page, than in the scenario I am painting here. Essentially.... you are welcoming intense cerebral distraction while at the same time trying to concentrate on....
Here is a comparative image that springs to my mind:
A person eating a tub of lard during liposuction surgery.
I mean.... is it not time to decide upon one or the other my dear?

Now, I would like to conclude with just one final observation.
If we are doomed to have to contend with ubiquitous ambient music for the rest of our lives, could we at least make better choices as to what is played where?
Here is what I mean. Basically, it is the issue of LYRICS I am talking about.
Invariably, (please correct me if I am wrong here), in the very places where musing and introspection and philosophical digression could be greatly enhanced with nice soothing instrumental music quietly playing in the background... in these very places is where the snappy lyrical tunes are chirping out of the overheads!
What I mean is this. You will be sitting in a nice mellow coffee place, or say a bookstore... a place where one might be tempted to relax, stretch out and think, read, or quietly talk with a friend. But then.... what is hovering over your head like a seagull ready to unload?
The Barenaked Ladies, singing like a herd of monkeys about what they would do if they had a million dollars! And then all of a sudden your thoughts are scattered because you’re wondering along with this band of goofballs “Hey, yeah! Why don’t they sell pre-wrapped bacon?”
Or.... “Hmmm... how much would it cost to buy John Merrick’s remains?”
Or you’re trying to focus on some beautiful passage in Anna Karenina when all of a sudden WHOMP, the pin-up punk is screaming into your brain cavity “Hit me baby one more time!” and you want to hit someone all right! You want to shoot the speakers out of the ceiling.
The very place where you want to chill out is being blasted out with lyrical music!
Who is choosing this? Is it really that most obvious possibility?
Seriously, why can’t they have something more relaxing that has never been put to words?

Or stuff that is put to words but is unintelligable... like Enya? How about one of those ethereal instrumental creations, or some of that New Agey stuff.
John Tesh.
Shirley MacLaine playing a cello.... I don’t care, as long as it does not have words!
But.... (and here is the killer for me).... you go somewhere where you would actually like to be distracted, and this is where they are playing the soothing instrumental stuff.
You know what I mean?

You’re trying to get an airline ticket via the telephone and you are put on hold. Now you are going to be listening to Zamfir until you swear you are growing hooves!
This is when I wouldn’t mind singing a song..... and you give me the pan flute?
Or you are in the supermarket. Well I’ll be danged! I’ve never heard a Hawaiian luau actually echoing off a wall of detergent boxes before.... but I’m sure hearing it now! This is one of the very rare moments when I wouldn’t mind Britney Spears to liven things up a bit. But no, she’s at the bookstore!
And, worst of all. What about the doctor’s waiting room?
I want distraction here. I want to sing something. I don’t want to think of the prostate exam!
But you know it as well as I do. What’s playing in here?
Kenny G.
And you don’t even want to glance at the little old lady sitting adjacent to you because you can see that she is knee-deep into a Cosmopolitan! And there is already wayyyyy too much romance in the room!

I want the address of the Hydra-Headed Beast!
I want his number!

Splash du Jour: Monday

Is it Monday already?
This week’s Splash du Jours will consist of the one-sentence blurbs written for past recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962:
“John Steinbeck, for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception."

Have a great Monday!

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The Language Barrier.

Margaret Atwood has the following unattributed epigram pinned to her office bulletin board:
“Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pate.”
What the epigram is getting at is the fact that so often the meeting of the real thing is a disappointment.... the author is shorter, older, and more ordinary than what you were expecting.
Well, tonight I went to see my idol.
The best author in the entire world.... the whole planet.
For those of you faithfuls who are keeping track of this blogpage, I am referring to the one and only Jose Saramago. (See my Worship-Blog of June 9th).
Tonight was the night.

I just walked back from there. Within this past hour I was in his very presence, and shook his venerable hand.
I very nearly fainted.
But, sadly, this evening in its entirety was one of the most disappointing letdowns of my life.
Definitely one of the top eleven or so!

Here’s why..... are you ready for this?


Correction, excuse me. I did understand one word, a hyphenated one.

Because Mr. Saramago said this combination of words at least fifty-four times, no exaggeration. He was explaining something about his wonderful book The Cave and talking about The Center, which figures very prominently in that book, as you probably know.
Thing is, apparently there is no French equivalent for the word “shopping centre” AND THE ENTIRE EVENING WAS CONDUCTED IN FRENCH. This is the only thing I understood all night.

I did not take even ONE note of any kind, because I couldn’t understand anything.

He was introduced (in English) and then he got up to the podium.... people were standing on their feet in a spontaneous ovation before he even said one word. Then he read from the beginning of Blindness, in Portuguese. Some other guy got up afterwards and read the same passage in English.
Then Mr. Saramago was interviewed in French and we all put these headsets on so that we could hear the interpretation from back there in the interpretation booth. [Soon I, and hundreds of other English-dependent headset-wearers, were turning and looking back there, and we were NOT looking to see if it was Nicole Kidman doing the interpreting!]
You could hear people getting restless, banging these cheapo headsets with their cheapo transmitters against the chairs..... praying.... doing everything humanly possible to get these things working..... Jose just kept talking.... obviously oblivious to the horror descending in the room.
Seriously, people were just getting up and leaving, and I did too. I went out to the foyer to talk with the guy who gave me the headset as I went in to the auditorium.... we were all asking the same question..... “What the hell is the matter with these things?”
Meanwhile, I can see Jose talking away on the TV screen thingy in the overflow room..... in French.
The headset guy was seriously panicking. “I don’t know, they just aren’t working” he stammers and shrugs.
So we all just sort of kept walking back into the auditorium, sort of trickling back in there.... I mean, what is the use of even being there?
The person I was with, she can understand French. So she was telling me the odd sentence or two, but Mr. Saramago’s French is so different from the French that she is familiar with that it was really difficult for her to make out any larger pieces of information.
It was very disappointing.
At any one time, half the auditorium was craned backwards, looking at the sound booth, where frantic machinations of some kind were indeed going on, and an interpreter was interpreting.... we could all see that she was, but NOTHING was coming out into the headsets.

In the foyer, I and some other angrier ticket-holders spoke with the main organizer of the event and I told him I was not impressed at all, and to appease us he put a number of our names down on a list of people that will receive free tickets to an upcoming Jane Urquhart evening in September. She is a terrific author in her own right. Hopefully she will not be speaking in.... Martian that night!

A very disappointing evening in Bookpuddle-land!
I was looking so forward to inundating this page with all manner of Saramagian anecdotal wisdom!
But nope!
Not going to happen.

I did get to have my beautiful new volume of Blindness signed by the Master himself. But other than this, the night was a bit of a washout.
I repeat (in English...) IT IS NOT MR. SARAMAGO’S FAULT.
He is still the best there is. He is still the greatest living writer!

And I am sure that every word he said was tres importante as they say en francais! Life-changing, even!
However, like one of those dogs in the Gary Larson cartoon, all I was hearing was....Blah-blah-blah shopping-centre blah-blah-blah shopping-centre blah-blah-blah-blah shopping-centre blah-blah shopping-centre!

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Backspace and Delete.

“... the vast empty spaces of the blank page appall, and everyone walks into the maze blindfolded.”
-- Margaret Atwood –

I rarely dream.
Rather, I rarely remember my dreams. They fade, and fade so quickly, upon awaking, that they might as well have not existed in my sleeping mind.
This past week, however, I awoke in the middle of the night on two separate evenings, with a lingering dream so vivid and alluring in its remembered detail that I have longed ever since, to write of it. To fashion it into a written story.
I have spent the better part of today trying to do just that, but to no avail. Sadly, the most popular keys on the laptop today have been backspace and delete. It’s just not... working. I’m not satisfied with my product. I delete, because thus far, what has been written is not worthy of the dream.
In a sort of defiant spirit, and with a fresh coffee before me, I have decided instead to write about the process of not writing.
This blog could be subtitled: Where Is The Muse When You Need Her?

Why is it that when I am all primed and ready to go, I can barely write two or three sentences before I want to throw them against the wall? Yet, when most unbidden, when most unsought, sentences and paragraphs knock against my brain... not in an attempt to get in, but to get out! Exactly at that moment when there is no pen or paper, when I am engaged in something utterly unliterary, and even when I am trying to sleep, there she is. Calliope, in all of her untimely rudeness.
Calliope, according to my trusty Thrall & Hibbard (see my blog of May 26th, entitled The Divine Afflatus) was one of the more significant of the Muses in Greek history. Her specialty was helping sweating Greek writers in the area of epic poetry.

Sitting here in the mega-bookstore, escaping the Hades-like humidity of the outdoors, I ponder upon what I consider to be the three prerequisites of good writing.

The first one is idea.

Whether the Muse is there to help you along or not, it is necessary that a writer be able to interact with idea. To write, a person must be able to engage in dialogue with themself. What I mean by this is simply the following: I could sit here and TELL YOU all about my dream, the dream that is begging to be a written story. In rather astonishing detail, even. And it would be entirely comprehendable to you, the listener. This is due to the fact that in verbal communication, 100% accuracy is not required. Hit-and-miss will do just fine. When it comes down to it, in verbal communication we are continually backspacing and deleting, whiting-out and re-explaining. This is why the word “uh” is the most commonly used word in conversation, even among the very intelligent and eloquent. We’re hitting some pause or backspace button in the mind. And for the most part, we find it acceptable, or good enough.
But no one wants to read a lot of “uhs” in a written story. You don’t want to see that on a page. The story has to be much more of a refined product than verbal communication. What ends up being written must be the product of someone talking with themself. (Which, by the way, I see as something quite different from talking to oneself).
I liken it to the concept of a bridge. In verbal communication we can get by with holes in the bridge, as we cross it. As we talk, we can look down and avoid the missing planks, or the broken portion of handrail, and we can make adjustments which avoid our unwanted dive into the water below. But when we read, we want to be able to look straight ahead. We want to trust that the author has foreseen that obstacle ahead and will warn us of it as we approach. Our business is to get to the other side, not ask for directions or make repairs along the way. This, we assume, should have been done for us. When we are reading, we want to be walking the perfect bridge.
We know this, and more importantly, the author knows this. This is their burden. The building of such a bridge.
Hence, when I tell you about my dream (my story) you may respond with something like “Hmmm... that sounds quite interesting. You should really write of it, write it out!”
“I agree. I shall go do that, directly.”
And the other person leaves the room. And now I'm staring at a blank page. The “vast empty spaces” as Atwood calls it. I am no longer dreaming. Or talking. I am all of a sudden blindfolded.
And there’s no way out except plunging headlong into it. Even if the Muse is there to help. When it comes down to it, with all of her generous help down through the ages, she herself has never written a single piece of work! Only you have. Only I have.
And to do so has required that you or I step far beyond the realm of what can (adequately) be verbally communicated. Most people secretly feel that there is a book in them, and there probably is. But to write it.... ahh, those that write it are few and far between, and are always those who have wrestled with the idea until it has become its own entity.

The second factor in the writing process is health.

By this I mean that it is incredibly difficult to write if one is even remotely ill, or otherwise unsettled, whether emotionally or physically. This is quite straightforward and obvious, yet I think that overall health is not factored in to the success of the writing process as much as it ought to be. If you are not feeling well, can you write well?
The history of the arts is replete with stories of painters and sculptures who were bona fide lunatics, suffering from acute mental illness. But I would be interested to hear of writers who were battling similar maladies. I know there must be examples (Edgar Allen Poe? Virginia Woolf? Help me here). I am just saying that I doubt if many great pieces of literature were written in between sessions of vomiting into a toilet! Nothing stifles creativity, like sickness!

Thirdly, I think of time.

Writing takes time. Often disciplined time, or time that is not there unless it is deliberately allocated. I find it interesting to read of the different ways that authors have disciplined themselves in this area. Authors with huge families, with many other responsibilities and time-pressures, have still found the time to write. Even if it is for one or two hours every morning, or night.
Often I lament the fact that my day-to-day work is very time constraining as well as physically demanding, and that by the end of the day there is not much left over for the pursuit of things artistic in nature. And yet, I am aware that in many ways I have more time than most other people do. This is because I have very little after-work time constraints upon me. And I never take work home with me. With the snap of the time clock, I am done with it.
Time, or the lack of it, can never be a valid excuse for my own dearth of literary output.

Nor can health issues. Or lack of idea, and the ability to interact with it.
Then..... what am I waiting for?

When you are at your wit’s end, maybe... maybe she will show up.
After all, this is her, of whom it was said in the High School Yearbook:
Voted most likely to decline an invitation.
Today, thinking of her, I am reminded of the poem by Anna Akhmatova.

The Muse

All that I am hangs by a thread tonight
As I wait for her whom no one can command.
Whatever I cherish most – youth, freedom, glory –
Fades before her who bears the flute in her hand.

And look! She comes... she tosses back her veil,
Staring me down, serene and pitiless.
“Are you the one,” I ask, “whom Dante heard dictate

The lines of his Inferno?” She answers: “Yes.”