The hour of reckoning–honestly, a PayPal button? Yes, please.


			

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Funding a Young Adult Novel for a Contemporary Audience–How You Can Help, and What You Will Get Out of It

For many, many people, the GoFundMe campaign site is familiar only as a site which helps collect funds for scholars, people who need operations, children who are suffering from some disease which is costly to treat, or homeless people who need shelter.  Some of the requests are even done in memoriam of some person or group of people, to help their survivors out in a time of grief and need.  All of these more than worthy causes deserve your attention and a contribution, however small it might be.  But it can also be uplifting to donate to the beginning of a creative enterprise which will bring interest, encouragement, and joy to the minds of young adults who encounter it, and to this end I am asking for your donation, however small, to the campaign organized by a friend of mine, John Rattenbury, for the novel now operating under the working title of Stone Sorceress, Hidden Pharoah.

As you may or may not be aware, self-publishing even under the aegis of a publisher who covers many costs can be fraught with expense and financial setbacks, and it is to avoid these pitfalls that John is asking for your free will donation to his goal of raising roughly $2000 to cover cover art and initial publication costs.  But I feel that probably at this point, you are beginning to wonder, “Yes, but what’s in it for me, other than a momentary feel-good experience?  When if ever will I see the results of my effort to be helpful?”  To the end of answering these questions, I am going to provide a couple of responses which I hope will encourage you to join this worthy effort and contribute whatever you can to John’s drive.

Stone Sorceress, Hidden Pharoah is the story of a teenage girl, an Egyptian citizen of dual descent (she is also Persian), who learns to deal with challenges in a world which seems determined to underestimate her and her ability to influence affairs, whether small or world class events.  It is a historical fantasy in the sense that it retraces not necessarily what actually happened, but what could have happened, in the Eastern world soon after the death of Cleopatra, always accepting that Mithra, the heroine, has a magical stone, thought to be behind some of the efforts to build the pyramids, which helps her and strengthens her considerable powers of personality.  She and Lucius, a friend and cohort from a Roman legion whom she meets up with by accident and forms a lasting friendship with, make a perilous journey along the Nile to escape the Romans pursuing them, whom they both have reason to fear.  This is a tale full of adventure and magic which both intrigues the imagination and provokes the support of young people everywhere in their search for justice and equal treatment of themselves and those whom they champion.  Though Mithra relies upon her magical stone as she travels along the Nile, the resounding “message” (which doesn’t detract from the “fun” of reading the book) is that loyalty, personal fortitude, and persistence outweigh evil-doing and brutality and that however young, every person can make a positive difference in the world around them, with or without the fascinating powers of magic and mystery (which, however, also abound in the book to compel our interest).

As to when you may expect to see this book on shelves and on sites for purchase, John has been encouraged by the fact that his prospective publisher finds the book already well-written and compelling, which we hope will lessen the time needed for its finalization and presentation to the public.  If you are interested in contributing to the fundraising for the publication of this book, please visit this link:  Funding a Young Adult Novel for a Contemporary Audience–How You Can Help and What You Will Get Out of It

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Tracy Chevalier’s “The Virgin Blue”–The Passion and Conflict of Religion in Two People’s Lives

The Virgin Blue, by Tracy Chevalier, is a curious and thoughtful book, and a bit of a category-defying one, about how religion affects two different women, distantly related, and how the conflicts about religion play out in the society around them.  It bills itself on the back cover as “part detective story, part historical fiction,” but that is a bit of a misnomer.  The historical fiction part isn’t about a famous person, as most historical fictions are traditionally–but maybe that’s a good thing, as in the huge five-volume non-fiction compendium called The History of Private Life, who knows?  At any rate, Ella Turner, who pursues her family history in alternate chapters, eventually manages to “touch base” through time with her distant ancestress, Isabelle du Moulin, while living in France with her own husband, and getting to know the French people and the French countryside.

The book is a sort of a mystery as well, and a love story, because not only must Ella accept and come to terms with a large degree of loss in terms of history, but she also falls in love while in France (spoiler alert) with someone other than her husband, and this has certain consequences.

The two women’s stories shadow and reflect upon each other’s conflicts, Isabelle’s as a Huguenot in changing France, hunted by Catholic enemies, accepting a far less than perfect life with a brutal husband, and Ella’s, lost in a society that doesn’t seem to value her or appreciate her differences, but gives her the famous French cold shoulder.

Actually, to say that the two women’s stories are similar is an understatement, because some of the same sensations, exact experiences, and thoughts occur to the two of them in a sort of spooky and extra-sensory fashion, as if Isabelle were speaking to her descendant from the grave.  And the grave is concerned in more than one way, though I won’t give that matter away.

A lot of men might think that this is a book mostly for women, but merely because it has a female character in the lead (who is also a midwife) and deals with some haunting and emotional experiences are not reasons to dismiss it as not fit to read for half of the human race.  In fact, a lot of men might be improved by a reading of this book, in the sense that they might become more sensitized to some of the ways women think of and process historical data, the more personal way some women choose to interpret data, and the like.

And the picture of a contemporary small French town is yet another reason to reach for this book.  Like small towns everywhere, these are gossipy, close-knit, and somewhat homogenous, but loveable in a lot of their characteristics, as Ella comes to find.  I hope you will pick up this book soon and enjoy it as much as I did.  For additional reading by this author, you might pick up Girl With a Pearl Earring or Falling Angels.

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“A Need for Words”–A Poem About the Desirability of Language

It sometimes happens that I am sitting alone, after having worked at something non-verbal all day, and I suddenly am taken with a feeling of sadness, not quite loneliness, but a need to reach out for words, expressions, little nuggets of language to register where I am now.  Not where I am in reference to location, of course, though that could work too on another day, but where in the aether I am finding my bearings, by writing.  This is a poem about that:

A Need for Words

There is a need for words, sometimes, you know,
Though much of our life is set against this notion;
We suppose that all is said and done entire
When we have fully experienced the emotion.

Yet, the feeling so overwhelms and overstays
That still the controlling touches of noun and verb
And even the adjective, adverb, preposition,
Can help us the agony to restrain and curb.

Even consummated love, in it eager grasp
Can belittle or besmirch our human drive
To be in charge of what affects so nearly
The dearly bought hour which helps keep us alive.

For, we are too willing often to admit
That love itself is a part of our life force,
And yet, to express all the back and forth and doubt
We rely on only more contact with the source.

And just like romantic love, the other relations
Of our days, the ones we think of as commonplace things
Sometimes defy us in their developments,
So then, we are left with all uncertainty brings.

But to put a thing in words, you must have an idea,
A thought, a pondering, a hint as to how it works,
Thus your words themselves can then become your guidelines
As to just where in the whole event your problem lurks.

Therefore, let me not forget my main resource now,
At a point when I am bewildered and afraid,
Let me always remember how to spin neat phrases,
To reward, spout love, construct theories, or upbraid.

And as for that man, our dear La Rochefoucauld
Who said, “Our words are meant to conceal our thoughts,”
He’s only just one of many subtle thinkers
Who can show how to tie an enemy in knots!

©by Victoria L. Bennett, 8/13/2019

 

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Somerset Maugham’s “Catalina”–When a satire is good-humored

There are times when I go to my bookshelf without an idea in my head about what I want to read, and different processes by which I select one.  This time, it was almost a sense of obligation that caused me to choose the book, which had sat in my collection for at least 20 years without being touched, even with a little curiosity.  It was a little, old, regular-sized paperback, with extremely brittle and yellowed pages (because it was printed on non-acid-free paper), and the marketing, which is often a large part of a book’s appeal, was as dated as the condition of the book.  I look now at the publication date (1948) and the printing dates listed (1961-1965), and am not surprised.  Though it quite clearly says in small letters on the back in one of the reviews that it’s a satire, the front cover and other, written parts of the book bill it as a historical fiction, even “a lusty historical novel by one of history’s most illustrious story-tellers.”  I guess it’s a case of “you pays your money, you takes your choice,” depending upon the sophistication of the reader involved.  Having a certain amount of pride in my own degree of sophistication, I like to look past the evocative, haughty stare of the beautiful and expensively dressed “dona” on the front cover (Catalina herself, in the illustrator’s imagination, evidently in the latter parts of the book, after she has acquired some money), and the promise of Maugham telling “movingly of 16th century Spain with all its turbulence and pageantry, and intrigue of courts and clergy,” and the Inquisition, and etc., to the fact itself, that he is clearly telling of these things with a satirist’s manner and seeing through satirical lenses, however good-natured he is.

And this is the point:  we are used to reading satire that is bitter in tone, angry even, with pointed queries and sharp rejoinders in the dialogue, sometimes satire that is almost an ill-tempered chuckle a minute.  Maugham is none of that in this book.  We are familiar with him as the acclaimed author of such books as The Razor’s EdgeThe Moon and SixpenceOf Human Bondage.  Though Catalina is by comparison with these a minor work, it deserves a place no less in the writer’s Hall of Fame, and is a good satire to boot, though in this regard, it almost sneaks up on you at first.  To begin at the beginning:

Catalina is introduced to us as a young woman of 16 or so who clearly needs a miracle.  She wants to marry her erstwhile suitor, Diego, the son of a poor tailor, but she has since the inception of his interest in her been accidentally trampled by a bull and is lame.  His parents will no longer allow him to marry her, because they reason that a lame wife cannot help him in the household.  So Catalina is heartbroken, and prays relentlessly to the Virgin to help her be healed.  And lo and behold! on a day when a huge pageant is being held à la Inquisition, to welcome Don Blasco de Valero, an Inquisitor, and his brother, Don Manuel, an important captain in the King’s army, to town in the town where their brother Don Martin, an apparently unimportant baker, lives, the miracle begins to happen.  The Virgin appears to Catalina where she sits with her crutch on the steps of the church, and promises her that “The son of Juan Suarez de Valero who has best served God has it in his power to heal you.  He will lay his hands upon you and in the name of the Father, the Song and the Holy Ghost, bid you throw away your crutch and walk.”  So far so good.

But the rub comes in when it’s a choice amongst the brothers.  In a richly satiric section which comments upon the mercy and grace of the Inquisitor (who grants small favors to those whom he is about to have tortured or burned), it becomes obvious that everyone who hears of the Virgin’s promise–if they aren’t assuming that Catalina was visited by a demon in the shape of the Virgin–thinks automatically that the Inquisitor is the man being referred to.  They are all afraid to speak of the sighting of the Virgin, because just as God is said to be a jealous God, the Inquisitors are typically jealous of their own special province, and don’t usually respond kindly to people who claim to have experienced miracles, even some of their own clergy.  When Don Blasco hears of this miracle, through many channels, he asks God for a sign.  In front of some of his own friars, he is levitated in the church by mysterious means, and that God might be a satirist does not, of course, occur to anyone.  But when Don Blasco attempts to heal Catalina, it doesn’t work.  With some fraught humility, he and his society question Catalina, and find that after all, the Virgin did not identify Don Blasco specifically in her visit, but only mentioned the brothers as a group.  So, the town next asks the military brother, Don Manuel, to try.  Again, it doesn’t work.  They are ready to asssume that Catalina has been visited by an evil spirit, until it occurs to them, after much difficult thought, that there is a third man, the humble and generous baker, Don Martin.  They are loathe to try his powers, but Don Blasco’s friars are visited by Catalina’s drunken playwright of an uncle, a former childhood friend of his, who quotes the religious statement about the stone which was rejected by the builders being the cornerstone of the church.  They ignore him, but Don Blasco seems to get the inspiration, and they try the bewildered baker’s hands on Catalina’s head:  it works, and she is healed.

The remainder of the story is a sort of spoof saint’s legend, with Catalina as the saint in question (she is emphatically not a saint, because she is a lusty young woman very much in love, who evades a temporarily  interfering Prioress’s attempts to make her part of a nunnery, and instead escapes and succeeds in marrying her sweetheart, Diego.  They go on to become members of a travelling theatre troupe, and become quite famous by the end of the story, not exactly a fate in line with their contemporary Church teachings). This is particularly the good-humored part of the satire, because it is almost a love story, and yet the occasional whimsical though pointed remark whizzes its way through the fiction like an arrow.

Though I have told the main parts of the story with nary a spoiler alert, it is still well worth a read to see the craftsman Maugham work for yourself.  A satire of the Inquisition and the entire hypocrisy of its containing society, this book also inspires generous and loving laughter at the foibles of religious man and his bona fides.

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A Record of Birth and Death, and a History of a Community–Anne Lamott’s “Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year”

Anne Lamott sneaks up on you, every time she writes.  She makes it seem so easy, and she makes you laugh your way through the most serious trials and traumas, yet, as they are usually her own or her friends’ trials and traumas, she only invites you to be amused at yourself and your friends and acquaintances as well, without attempting to force it on you.  She gets your attention from the very first, with her whimsical and tantalizing titles.  Bird by Bird.  Travelling Mercies.  Help Thanks Wow.  Operating Instructions:  A Journal of My Son’s First Year.  This last mentioned book is what I want to comment upon today.

No one who thinks in categories is likely to remain unsurprised by Anne Lamott.  She writes from the heart for everyone.  She identifies herself as a Christian believer, yet many Christian believers who are of the narrow-minded or even reserved variety would be shocked by the things she says about belief, and about the challenges of life and friendship.  She’s a writer’s writer, but one who pooh-poohs many of the accustomed bywords of the profession, and instead captains her own canoe, and tries to teach others to do the same.  She is preternaturally wise about people, yet doesn’t mind looking clueless or foolish in the pursuit of raising a child, which for everyone not trained in childcare is a new experience at least the first time, sometimes with every child.  And she has been a recovering alcoholic and drug-user, yet without mouthing all of the expected pieties or begging for pity or understanding:  she understands herself, and is willing to share the experience of new realizations and inspirations on this and other life challenges.  And she is a member of a warm and loving community of friends, to whom she spends a lot of time in Operating Instructions giving due credit for all the things they did for her and helped her with during her pregnancy and her son’s first year.  You’d think that all of these things would be a large order for one book to fill, but Lamott manages it all.  Indeed, my question to myself wasn’t why I was reading her when I myself have never had a child, live without a large community of friends, have never been an alcoholic or a drug-user, am not a strict Christian believer, and etc.,:  my question to myself was why I hadn’t run across her work and read it before now, for the sheer overwhelming qualities of humanity and fellow-feeling in it.  Indeed, Lamott herself becomes a new friend through her books, and I only regret that if I manage to read all her works, assuming I can find all the titles and copies, that I won’t be able to hear her wonderful voice resounding through any new works.  But then, it’ll be time to re-read the ones I’ve already read!

There is a price to be paid by all of us for being alive, and that is the one of someday having to die as well, whether from old age, or infirmity, or sheer cussedness.  In the last third or so of the book about her son, Lamott begins to extend her subject, beyond that of her son and his acceptance into her community of friends and fellow church-goers, who all worship him and seem to adore her, and value her as she should be valued (except for a very few, whose defection she recounts with perplexity and consternation, but also with humor); in the last section of the book, she also documents with love, affection, and sorrow, extreme sorrow, the gradual passing of her friend Pammy (Pamela Murray).  Pammy was the most frequent, perhaps, of all Lamott’s friends to be around and to help, and they continued by Lamott’s record to support each other to the very time of Pammy’s death, in 1992 at the age of 37.

How like Lamott to center something with the subtitle A Journal of My Son’s First Year on her son, yet instead of making the book wholly about him and his development, (with a certain amount of misdirection) to place him in the center of what would be his community as he grew up.  One appreciates the absence of the gaa-gaa goo-goo kind of baby silliness, and instead the distinct degree to which Lamott admits her lack of expertise at this parent game, and takes the reader along as she herself grows up too, in a sense.  And one of the pieces of growing up is to accept and to mourn the loss of a friend, whose cancer took her away from Lamott and her family and friends in an untimely fashion.  A life begun, and a life ended, and Anne Lamott negotiating her way in between with her masterly and humane craft.

I have no choice but to read now, as soon as I can locate a copy, Some Assembly Required:  A Journal of My Son’s First Son, to continue to follow this small and yet extended-by-friends family through the story of Jax, Anne Lamott’s son Sam’s first son, who came along when Sam was nineteen.  That is all I currently know of the book, other than that it was first published in 2012, but I’m hoping to know a lot more.  I also hope that you too will follow Lamott through her books about writing, faith, family, and also her fiction books, which are perhaps undeservedly lesser known because so many people (like me) are in love with her essayistic voice.  I know that I urge readers to follow certain writers with the “if you read nothing else this year” line so popular with reviewers, so I’ll just say, “Verbum satis” (A word to the wise is sufficient).  Don’t miss the opportunity to make a new writer friend.

 

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“A Theory of Time”–My latest love poem

This is my latest love poem, and I have to say that even though not all of my poems are love poems, I’m beginning to wonder if people are getting tired of my favorite poetic subject, of all my poetic subjects, if they by and large aren’t poetically inclined, if they resent rhyme (as I often use it, and some people consider it out of style), or if they’re even reading my output at all.  I still am getting tons of reads of my literary essays, some even all the way back to 2012 when I first started my blog, but it’s rare for people to comment on the poetry, or even give it a “like,” which admittedly is a bit of a lazy technique for comments, though I have occasionally used them when I couldn’t think of what else to say.  So, if you are reading, folks out there, don’t feel unequal to the situation, or shy:  most poets are flattered even to be read.  I can tell by some of my stats that the poetry is less popular, but other stats suggest that some readers are getting to it through “Archives” and the “front page,” as I call it.  Let me invite you to read, and have your say.

A Theory of Time

After a while, the rope will fray and break
That is tied and stretched and tested for love's
  long sake;
Though aeons may pass without apparent change
Then on a sudden the atoms will rearrange

Themselves, and the threads will fast unweave
And the lover's heart, torn and tattered, cease
  to cleave
(Except when "cleave" means to split and to divide,
Whereupon the rope then untwines from side to side

Rather like two snakes, themselves undoing from acts
  of love
If really that were their destined formation,
  to be wove.)
Rope, quite like the mirror, split from side to side,
And Tennyson's curse seems to mock and to deride.

Ropes and rivers, and bodies in boats drifting
  with the tide
To Camelot, where the towers spread out wide,
And boats are secured, as long as ropes hold true,
But boats are just boats, and rue is only rue.

For when men and ladies rue what has been done,
And time rolls around, intent to spare not one,
Then Camelot once again peeks out from time
Granting a suffering unwound and sublime.

And then threads of love lie loosely
  on the ground,
Quiescent, dependent from the parent round
So that all one can say is "It once was
  in Camelot,
And wherever else, and now the bonds are not."

For, regal and royal we most of us just fail of,
And our Camelots flourish on more quotidian love,
Long testings and strivings, so noble and honored
  and free--
Why, ropes already riven would float us out
  to sea!

So, consider, my love, that I still love and hope,
Though for aeons, it seems, I haven't yanked
  on the rope;
But left you at peace, where it seems you want
  to be,
As far as a galaxy, universe, from me.

©4/19/2019 by Victoria L. Bennett

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“Responsive Reading”–A form altered from the sacred

Though some of you may be unacquainted with the term “responsive reading,” many of you will know the form from a church context.  It is in form in which the minister, rabbi, imam, or priest speaks certain set lines, and the congregation, when he or she is done, repeats another set line or lines, usually shorter, which seems to sum up or comment upon what the leader said.  I decided to try writing a secular poem using this form, even a secular poem which ends with a reference to my very best friend, my cat.  Some might feel that this is reductive of the form in a profane way, but I like to think that what comes around goes around, and that as I have also written some poems with God-references and spiritual topics, I’m allowed.  So, here is the poem:

Responsive Reading

How many bright morning are left in the day
‘Ere mornings and evenings and all pass away?
How long shall I linger, how long shall I strive?
How long before I am no longer alive?

And then there falls a long silence.

Though I am still searching for dubious goals,
And most of my best-laid plans have gaping holes,
I yet ponder daily on how to achieve
The things I most want to do before I leave.

And it seems that the sky folds and snickers.

It happened upon a time there was someone
Who made all my days much more easily run;
But then he found other things far more his style,
And left without grieving, but just with a smile.

Love is a mug’s game, through and through.

So, now I prize letters that fall on the mat,
And seek correspondents, and dote on my cat;
And make my dear calico poems on her eyes–
At least to her I need not spout any lies.

Love is salvation, between true companions.

Oh Lucie, oh Lucie, oh Lucie-Minou!
Your eyes are like jade, and your nature’s so true;
I would that all humans were loyal as you,
And smart and quick-witted, and beautiful too!

We all eventually find our own way out.

©4/1/2019 by Victoria L. Bennett

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