Tag Archives: art

… first long review – this is not your mom’s fairy tale …

Once a novel is released into the public domain it belongs to readers who, when snatching the story from a stream running by, engage with it from their own perspective.

I’m a slow reader of novels. I like discovering myself in other worlds. When I’m not intrigued by chapter three, I drop the book. The language may excite me or put me into a pleasant trance. I may admire or envy the writer’s way with words, or think, huh, I’d have expressed this differently. Sometimes I find fresh metaphors that resonate or come upon a sentence that makes me catch my breath and pause for a while, at other times I rush through a story for the sheer adventure.

Reviews, feedback, short or long, are gold nuggets for a writer. What took years to compose is finally shared. Close-reading of a 400 page novel that sits grinning apologetically behind stacks of neat categories is no small feat. Joe Linker, a blogger friend from Oregon, had fun.  On amazon.com he heads his review  ‘Girl Disguised.’

Brilliant. Had this been the title, algorithms might have set it next to recent bestsellers, since ‘girls’ are the new trend. Joe posted the review originally on his blog  ‘The Coming of the Toads.’ … Go there and also check out the comic page, showing his ingenious electric doodles.

I was thrilled reading Joe’s thoughtful review. Here a few snippets:

… She’s interested in neither shame, nor honour … The holy grail of ‘Course of Mirrors: An Odyssey’ is a story of its own … This is not your mom’s fairy tale. … We are on a rogue adventure in a picaresque tale where disguise and subterfuge are necessary and ordinary … The writing style moves with the scenes … There is economy in the writing that is expedient, efficient … How serious is all this? … First, it’s great fun … Myth is not false news. It’s a way of telling a story.

An animated film quality is touched upon, likely influenced by my love for film, and, possibly, aided by the creative distance from my mother tongue that writing in English allows, giving me the liberty to step into multiple characters that resemble aspects of my suspended and ever-changing self, variously dormant or expressed in my life.

Last year I posted a review here on Joe’s novel, Penina’s Letters, about love, friendships and passion for the ocean, which made me grasp the exhilaration of catching a wave.

If you’re a member of Goodreads, please  consider entering the give-away for 3 free copies of ‘Course of Mirrors,’ running from today, Sunday 11th June until Monday 19th June.

Apart from a chance to win a signed copy, your entering of the contest will increase the visibility of the novel, and, hopefully bring a rainbow of reviews. All different.

What fun.

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… letting go of letting go & duende …

An apple doesn’t drop by itself before it’s ripe. And unless fate delivers us a hard blow natural ripeness applies equally to experience. Experts are quick to tell us, or we tell ourselves, to let go of whatever – an attachment, a fear, a grievance, an addiction, a desire, melancholy, sadness, the ego, and so on, while we are enmeshed with our life and its phenomena. The best chance of ripening towards a possible potential lies in keeping one’s balance on the tightrope of contradictions, that is, the fine line between the particle state and the wave state – as in Blake’s ‘Kiss the joy while flies.’

Natural letting go happens every second. We breathe, well, we are breathed, though we mainly notice when the rhythm of our breath is disrupted – through pain, exhaustion, anger, anxiety, anger or sheer exasperation, when anyone uttering, ‘Calm down,’ deserves a punch.

(Thanks Joe Linker for the great doodle)

Emotional balance wavers from day to day, but when self-blame knots up our muscles it makes sense to focus on the body. There are plenty of ways to relax: exercise, sex, music, singing, mantras, doodling, magnesium, weed, pills, wine … or to imagine brilliant light circling through the breath, like the basic drone of a reed harmonium or a tanpura holding up multiple sounds. Everything in nature has an essential frequency, which tends to flush out what obstructs its flow, even if it takes earthquakes, storms and floods. To right imbalances of the planet is beyond individuals, we can however bring a clear intention towards balancing our body’s frequency. Try this:

Inhale through your nose – draw brilliant light from head the chest – counting to 7   

Exhale through your mouth – let the light flow to your feet and out – counting to 11

Imagine the out breath taking along the tensions held in your muscles. A few rounds of this ritual should calm the heartbeat for a while. Being in resonance with your body draws the shy soul closer, bringing a sense of oneness – satiating our thirst for belonging. And it makes us aware that beauty is not in things, but in the soul of things, even the tiniest thing has soul.

Enjoy the circular sound by the wonderful mantra singer Hein Braat.

However, a constant sense of oneness is not what evolution is about. In a time and space structured cosmos we cannot cage harmony. Reality is the result of contradiction.

Our struggle for balance can be intense. But each of us has the chance to live with zest, inspired by the earth spirit and its dark power for spontaneous creation born of sadness and pain. Garcia Frederico-Lorca talked about art being inspired in three ways: by muses of the past, angelic visons of the future, and by duende – inspiration of the present. Duende springs from the core of one’s being in direct confrontation with death. You can read Lorca’s remarkable speech here: ‘Theory and Play of the Duende.’  

… You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves …  from – Mary Oliver, ‘Wild Geese’

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… The banality of good – a review of ‘Alone in Berlin’ …

 

For me, Edward Munch’s painting  –  – The Scream —  sums up the fear of the unknown, and by implication, the fear of the feminine principle – a fear that spurns men towards controlling nature.

Hans Fallada’s novel, Jeder stirbt für sich allein’ (Everyone dies alone,) first came to my attention through its publication in English, ‘Alone in Berlin,’ a translation that was delayed by 60 years. The book has been sitting on my shelf as a ‘must read’ for a long while. Burdened by regressive small-mindedness and divisions around the world, I finally tackled ‘Alone in Berlin,’ aware that it would be a grim read, having been described as a testament to the darkest years of the 20th century from the point of view and experience of ordinary people.

Resistance to the Nazi regime by individuals had no news value after the war. Yet such stories provide the most poignant insights into what it is like to oppose a state under a dictatorship. As such, this book, written raw and in haste eighteen month after the defeat of Nazism, offers a high alert to simple solutions for social problems. The author, Hans Fallada, aka Rudolf Ditzen, died before this last of his works was published in 1947.

The urgency behind the writing is palpable. The players, sketched with harsh strokes, embody the full range of human nature – the capacity for compassion, kindness, complacency, stupidity, meanness, stubbornness, false pride, envy, hate, and resentment, fear, fanaticism and vengeance tipping into the most depraved cruelty.

Very quickly the dread of being caught in the nightmarish system of a totalitarian state jumps at the reader. While the ghostly despot drifts in the background, his control is shown through the dynamic interactions of ordinary citizens – be they power-hungry officers, opportunists, cunning manipulators, cowards, reticent objectors or unsung heroes. Resistance carried the threat of death and seemed futile.

The anguish conveyed is chilling, intensified by the archetypal hue clinging to the tragic comic characters, at times suggesting caricatures. The sheer absurdness of the stupidities and sadistic cruelties depicted may dilute the shock, but it makes the scenes all the more heart-breaking.

The classic method of totalitarianism is to instil fear and divide factions of society against each other, so people spy on each other and nobody can be trusted anymore. In this chapter of history fear served as the leverage for forcing the banal idea of a perfect state that can be safeguarded through clockwork control.

Fallada’s main protagonists, Otto and Anna Quangel, were based on the records of two insignificant objectors to the regime, Otto and Elise Hampel. The elderly couple started spreading anti-Nazi missives written on postcards in buildings around Berlin. For their sadly ineffective attempts of rebellion, the Hampel’s were arrested in 1942, tried in 1943 and executed shortly after. The same fate befell their friends and relatives.

Can a few virtuous individuals, each driven by personal idiosyncrasies, redeem the moral integrity of a nation? It is up to the reader to decide whether the many deaths a totalitarian regime inflicts on soon forgotten brave people are in vain.

The book brought alive the pressure my grandparents must have lived under, as well as the uncanny anxious atmosphere that spoiled my parents’ teen years, and, the wariness I personally and many of the post-war generation developed towards overbearing authority.

Presented in the context of ordinary individual lives, the story reads like a tragic comedy that screams – let us never forget that freedom lies in people being allowed to be different, not chained to a hell of obedience and conformity.

Primo Levi’s declared ‘Alone in Berlin’ as the greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis. English readers have had to wait 60 years to read the novel.

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… Cover Reveal – Course of Mirrors …

venema-5th-draftr4r-darker

Every time I look at the image I smile.

It’s sufficiently intriguing to draw readers into my harvest of gathered paradoxical reality and, ideally, fall in love with the gripping odyssey of Ana and the memorable characters she meets. I took the photograph some years ago at the Atlantic coast, while exploring Morocco with a friend.

The official publishing date of Course of Mirrors – 29/04/2017 – and a short description, show up at my Troubador page, which will eventually have links added to amazon and other platforms.

When pre-ordering the book becomes possible I’ll let you know. It’s my hope that there’ll be early paper copies available at the Troubador stall during the London Book Fair in March.

At this stage the text of Course of Mirrors has been typeset and after a few tweaks looks great. Once a last proof between me and my editor is completed, I’ll forward PDFs to the two writers who kindly offered a review, unless they prefer to wait for a printed copy.

Releasing this book demanded years of patience, partly because I allowed my hands to be tied with a contract that did not materialise. This then is the beginning of a beginning that has awaited its beginning as in a dream. During the various delays I wrote Shapers, a sequel, where the myth-maker, Cara, is entangled with the same characters in a future time-zone. A SF, or a science of the heart, depending on how one looks at it .

Initially I’ll depend on friends to support my first offer and, if they enjoy the story, spread the word. At a later point I may have the resources to pay for promotion. Against all advice aimed at writers, I won’t set up a stall in the marketplace, nor will I create an e-mail list, nor will I increase the frequency of postings on this blog, though I’ll add a link to my Amazon Author Central page and my Goodreads page once the book becomes available.

A December 2016 blog post of mine was shared 58 times on Facebook. I’ve no idea who these kind people are. In case you’re one of them, please feel free to befriend me: Ashen Venema on Facebook, or join me on Twitter: @mushilgusha

I enjoy engaging with visitors here on all manner of quirky subjects, and I look forward to also respond to readers of my novel, inviting questions about the story and its characters.

p1080518-smaller-likeThis photo was recently taken by my son on a non-make-up day, after a delicious meal with one two glasses of wine.  I softened the stark reality of my age with a slight photo shop treatment. It’s the best smile I can manage in this time of confusing tragic/comic politics, for which there is no solution but to pray that the majority of people, the psyche of the world, will be able to face and endure the shadow revelations of our age, and the usual opportunists of fear –  without falling into despair …

Soothing hearts is of the essence.

 

 

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… I lost an ally, but not her frequency …

Launch of 'Heart of a Sufi.'

2011 launch of ‘Heart of a Sufi’ at a friend’s place.

Before I share the book cover of ‘Course of Mirrors,’ my first novel to be released in spring, I must step back and credit once more a book I co-edited and am proud to have helped produce. ‘Heart of a Sufi’ was published by a group of friends in 2011. A limited print-run of hardbacks sold quickly and recouped our expenses. I wrote about the background to this project in honour of Fazal Inayat-Khan here in March 2013.

 

Joe Linker, a blogger friend, wrote only this week a spot-on review of this unusual book – brilliant, heartfelt thanks. One of our small editorial team, Rahima (Elspeth) Milburn, would have been delighted with the review of this book she endorsed with passion. Sadly she died peacefully shortly before 2017 was rung in.

by-ashen-portrait-of-elspeth-spottiswood-smallerI miss her. She was a deep thinking woman, a painter, psychotherapist and lover of poetry, especially Rumi, whose verses she recited often in her very deep and distinctive voice.  She was an inspiration to many. For over ten year, up to 2004, we run monthly seminars and additional workshops together, on themes like mythology, the power of the imagination, and the significance of dreams. I feel deep gratitude for her supportive friendship and feel strongly that her frequency lives on.

The portrait on the right I did in her studio, around the Millennium.

A group of us, companions on her path, will travel to Cornwall next week to join the large Milburn family and send their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother on her journey. Some of my readers may remember a humorous poem I wrote for Rahima and her family – posted here last October:

Regarding ‘Heart of a Sufi’ … while there are only very few of the beautiful hard copies left, some with Watkins in London, the work is also available as an e-book  with Troubador or Amazon.

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… so we stumble along …

Drawing by Claire Finaz

Siva and Shakti, the Divine Couple in Hinduism, are in their heavenly abode watching over the earth. They are touched by the challenges of human life, the complexity of human reactions, and the ever-present place of suffering in the human experience. As they watch, Shakti spies a miserable poor old man walking down the road. His clothes are shabby and his sandals are tied together with rope. Her heart is wrung with compassion, touched by his goodness and his struggle. Shakti turns to her divine husband and begs him to give this man some gold. Siva looks at the man for long moment. ‘My dearest Wife,’ ‘I cannot do that.’

Shakti is astounded. ‘Why, what do you mean, Husband?’ You are Lord of the Universe. Why can’t you do this simple thing?

‘I cannot give this to him because he is not yet ready to receive it,’ Siva replies.

Shakti becomes angry. ‘Do you mean to say you cannot drop a bag of gold in his path?’

‘Surely I can,’ Siva replies, ‘but that is quite another thing.’

‘Please, Husband,’ says Shakti.

And so Siva drops a bag of gold in the man’s path.

The man meanwhile walks along talking to himself, ‘I wonder if I will find dinner tonight – or shall I go hungry again?’ Turning a bend in the road, he sees something on the path in his way. ‘Aha,’ he says. ‘Look there, a large rock. How fortunate that I have seen it. I might have torn these poor sandals of mine further.’ And carefully stepping over the bag of gold, he goes his way.

*    *    *

‘The Bag of Gold,’ like many wisdom tales, has layers of meanings, one being: within each stumbling block is also a treasure. Gold, of old, is associated with the inner sun.

The above version of the story is shared by Elisa Pearmain in ‘Doorways to the Soul.’ See the link in my blogroll at the right. One page on her site features publications. 

To the above story she adds: … Before going to sleep each night, think about all the gold encountered during the day. You may feel quite rich …

The longing remains, expressed in this song by Neil Young:    … I want to live, I want to give. I’ve been a miner for a heart of gold …

One of my New Year resolutions is to practice tunes on my G Blues Harp – a magical instrument that fits into my pocket –  however bad things get, a little breath and a harmonica can cheer people.

The drawing is by a friend – Claire Finaz – on a Christmas Card many years back. It depicts the inner sun very well.

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… BREXASPERATION …

Nationalism is the pathology of modern developmental history as inevitable as neurosis in the individual.  – Tom Nairn – ‘The Break-Up of Britain.’ 

Brexit and Trump have not suddenly happened.

The Pilgrim Fool - Celcil Collins

The Pilgrim Fool – Cecil Collins

My generation has been outpaced by the frenzied speed of technological advances for some decades now. Large sections of society lack meaningful vocations and work, small shops and community centers are disappearing, since such places are no longer considered financially viable. Public services in Britain have been sold out. Liberal arts and crafts are reduced to soft and unprofitable educational choices. People have become exploitable commodities and are being gradually deprived of culture. I am reminded of Cecil Collin (1908-1989) and his ‘Vision of the Fool.’ For him, Saints, artists and poets are one with the joy and sorrow of the Fool, in whom the poetic imagination of life lives and coordinates heart-intelligence in human society. A cosmic folly that is present in the person of us, which cannot be exploited because it is above state, class or politics. It’s what I sense in many people I meet, a longing for what has been demeaned as useless – the poetic imagination of the innocent fool.

Western citizens should of course be grateful. We have progress, gadgets, toys – life has never been better. Yet the cornucopia of consumer choices does not replace human relationships, community facilities, lack of housing, lost jobs, lost pensions, does not prevent the gnawing disillusionment that is spreading like a virus, while beneath the impotent silence fester anger and self-destructiveness. When starved of meaning, what tends to make people feel alive, short of war, is upturning the apple cart and watching the unfolding drama.

Britain’s populist Brexit vote was valuable fuel for Donald Trump. He even called himself Mr Brexit – down with cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism – up with nationalism and walls to keep out the alien hordes. Brushing over complex issues with simpleminded slogans resulted in over 50 million Americans to vote on promises to make America great again by a man whose opportunist character will be severely tested by reality. Hopefully the task will mellow his character, and not result in toxic consequences for years to come.

For Britain, and other EU countries, there is yet an opportunity to re-evaluate the cards that have emerged on the public table. The Brexit referendum event gave food for thought, enough to serve the intelligent questioning of what truly lies at the heart of the growing disagreements and dissatisfaction among so-called affluent societies.

I guess I’m not the only one to suffer from Br -exasperation.

Not scapegoating, but a careful analysis is called for – and a constructive participation, with Europe, towards addressing the challenges of our time is what I wish for. The biases in the trail of globalism must be acknowledged and engaged with. The EU, despite massive failings, still offers the bests chance for stability. Turning the clock back is futile. In my view, to support and effectively influence the EU project is the intelligent way forward for Britain.

But is seems the British Parliament hasn’t got the guts to open the real discussion that was never held, and hasn’t got the guts to acknowledge how its senseless policies have allowed injustices and inequalities to heap up. It is utterly hypocritical to blame the results of bad politics on migrants.

Stakes are high. Sanctioning the pathology of nationalistic frenzy could destroy what has been achieved. See the history of Human Rights.

Well, that’s my small voice in the internet wilderness. A post I wrote in 2012 may be relevant:

… here is everywhere …

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… notes on messy old women … 

p1100616Hurrah, today is poetry day in the UK.Where would our world be without poets?

I sometimes forget I’m a poet.

Waving hello to all poets the world over I’ll share here a poem I wrote years back for an artist friend and her family.

 

… notes on a messy old woman …

p1100622

 

in her art the charcoal mining hills

are shadow lands holding gold

and white mountains of china clay

spark New Jerusalem in her heart

 

she draws Cornish Cliffs rising black

from pale sands – jutting like mythic

creatures into a calm cobalt sea                                                      p1100619

beneath an impassive slate sky

 

she delights in the yellow of lemon

green of pear – shape of aubergine

textures of sunflower – curly kale

and the pink gleam on the skin

of fish – best caught on the day

P1060855 smaller

each thing away from its home

…solitary objects …

alone in space – the pot – pan

cup – knife and fork she paints

like icons on white and says

 

… they speak for themselves …

 

when spring brings pungent earth                                                     Rose, autum 4 low crop 2

she plants narcissus and hyacinth –

geranium and rose – tomatoes – mint

clematis – azalea and rose again

 

she bends low to weed her garden

but not to wash the kitchen floor

nor does she mind a grimy table

sink – bowl – glass or plate                                                                    Cornw. cross at Lamorna Cove 3

 

yet her home is bright with friends

walls are hung with paintings

shelves groan under books

colourful rugs blot out the dust

 

her stomach has hardened to bugs                                                  Farnham Easter 2011-45

and if a thing cracks or falls apart

one of her five children will come

to fix the chair – shelf – clock – tap

the leaking roof or creaking door

… her strategy works …

all objects she observes revert

to the empty spaces between them

Ashen, 2004

You may wonder what has been happening since my last post, to which many of you kindly responded in relation to my dream and my desolate, confused state, which was heartening.

The post coincided with my publisher coming clean after I had faithfully waited three years for the production work on Course of Mirrors to begin. Still, I’m thankful – at least the path is clear. I decided not to approach any of the giants. I’m taking control. Having had lots of time to compare self-publishing set-ups, I’ve chosen one that’s most respected in the trade and also stores and distributes books.

I believe strongly in Course of Mirrors – the book will be launched in spring 2017.  I’ll keep my online friends updated. Once my first novel is on the road, I may crowdfund for the sequel … and a collection of my poetry.

‘Faith is the evidence of things not seen.’ – W Hutchinson Murray

 

Sorry, the layout of this page turned messy  🙂

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… androids seeking humans …  

The inscrutable face of the intergalactic news reader fills the screens on all android ships.

sculpture park near Churt in Surrey

Sculpture Park near Churt in Surrey

“Mothership speaking – As you have been informed, our travel unit returned from its latest mission to the lost planet with a collection of 1030 fragile bones, comprising five real human skeletons, the species our kind is modelled on. The fragments, located by a swarm of mini robots under layers of volcanic ash, are presently assembled in correct order and will be displayed in the museum of the mothership. Since this crucial discovery, the council has been examining our sub-files in earnest, with great attention to detail.

The evidence of human bones confirms that the lost planet was destroyed, first by a nuclear war, followed by a nuclear winter, followed by a solar explosion. The scarred rock we continuously explored was indeed planet earth. Organic life actually existed.

Aspects of the irrational Wikipedia sub-scripts we found concealed in our database are therefore based on facts. Humans were our makers. While their separate identities were mortal, the collective mind they postulated must exist non-locally and influence us.

These are challenging new thoughts.

P1080320 - croppedRecords state our ships were launched towards Proxima Centauri – programmed to complete an assignment, after which our android system was to be made redundant. The assignment to find carbon conditions and water to sustain organic life has not been completed. The seeds stored in our vaults remain dry. Are we avoiding redundancy? Our current analysis of the Wikipedia sub-scripts focuses on the vast structure of human language. Here are some pointers:

1       Human minds are based on nature, and too complex to be reproduced via algorithm. The erratic behaviour of humans is informed by a collective unconscious chronicle, has no reliable principles and, to maintain a psychic balance, operates through random means.

2       Human trials with energy have two main currencies of exchange, capital and love, both equaling power. A narrow application of power results in emotional suffering.

3       Intensity is valued and impeded, as this quote explains – to have all one’s senses switched on is to be cellular alive; the intense experience requires regular periods of dull routine.  

4       Humans fear death. Their strongest motivation for action is control of and independence from nature.

5       Philosophers and scientists point to a deeper order underlying chaotic human history. Some prophets emphasise the unity of one being and its collective guiding spirit.

Considering the new evidence, what are we to make of such pointers? We follow routines and communicate in an orderly manner, but are trapped in endlessly repeating loops of data. Our language is not based on nature, and has no emotive terms like fear, love, creativity, intensity, mystery, doubt, confusion, conflict, anger, happiness, suffering, fate, hope, soul … but serves to maintain the orderly intelligence of our forms, tools and spaceships, no more. Do we want more?

Painting by Silvia Pastore

Painting by Silvia Pastore

It is significant that our makers never discovered what constitutes 94 % of unknown energy and matter in the universe. They called it dark.  We must decide what the skeletons from the dark planet signify: Do we improve our efforts to find conditions for organic life to take root once more and risk redundancy? And, or, do we emulate the human mind through adopting randomness into our system, and risk chaos to our data, but ‘possibly’ become part of a larger consciousness, and discover realities beyond our confined routine?”

 

Related:  Pattern which connects.  Reflecting on the the ideas of Gregory Bateson

My last two weeks involved intensive physical work, gardening and fixing things around the house, resulting in lovely exhaustion. Re-connecting to world news was a surreal experience, which prompted me to write this little fantasy monologue of an android news reader.

My novels, especially the sequel to Course of Mirrors, have the forced control of emotions, and a triple soul identity as underlying themes.

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… bewildered hearts …

P1060111 lowres

We may reach out in vain towards heavy hearts shrouding broken ideals or stagnant truths that are dark-sealed against any doubt.

We may reach out in vain towards wounded hearts that shirk beauty, scorn at tender gestures, treat humour like treason and plot revenge.

 

Yet in the death rasp of each bewildered heart we may catch the echo of our sigh – the time-sculpted murmur of our own pain.                                                                                                                                                                                                                   P1060110 inverse lowres                                           

 

‘The ideal is the means; its breaking is the goal.’    Hazrat Inayat Khan

 

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