Archive for March 2010

Ancient Inspiration

March 31, 2010

Johnny had become famous by listening to Rosemary and following her directions but it was time for a change, and he said: “I’m serious about this, Rosemary. During the world tour, while outwardly following your directions, I became a silent observer on the inside, and the theatrical aspects of human existance became increasingly intriguing to me. Now, I want to create my own character, write my own dialogue.”

“I like that idea as long as you agree to build your new character on my original theme, avoiding contradictions. That’s all I ask.”

“I’ll try,” Johnny replied: “But I want to go back to the ancients for my inspiration. And, instead of touring, I want to operate a permanent festival, somewhere around here, with a primeval orientation, celebrating the cultivation of herbs and vines. There will be ritualistic utilization of intoxicants, along with music, dance, and other trance inducing techniques, removing inhibitions, liberating participants, to a more primal, natural state. Then, as its central event, the theatrical performance of tragedies. And, of course, comedies.”

“What role will you play in all this, Johnny? It sounds like you want to start a new pagan religion.”

“Or continue with an old one. Whatever, it’s psycho-therapeutic for me to contemplate it. The actual realization of it will also prove therapeutic, I believe, for me and for many others, just as the ancinet festivals were therapeutic for their participants.”

“You’re not expecting to recapture that same spirit today, are you? People have changed, Johnny.”

“They haven’t changed that much, Rosemary. They’re still human, all too human, formed in the fusion and confusion of opposing elements, the Dionysian and Apollonian dicotomy, as expressed by the early Greek playwrights and the epic poets, going back to Homer, and beyond. A good tragedy, or comedy, which honestly mimicks human nature, can still be medicinal to the human spirit. Especially if the audience participation aspect can be recaptured. When audiences see things too soberly and too rationally, they become passive, observing instead of participating. Their insight into the mythical, into the emotional value of human suffering, is lost.”

“The emotional value of human suffering?”

“I’m stressing the insight factor here, derived from the total audience experience. Every individual attending the festival will participate in a workshop preparing them for the music, dance, and theatrical events to follow. Everyone can have a role to play in the final drama, where, traditionally, everyone suffers in the end, in one way or another.”

“Tell me more about the ritualistic utilization of intoxicants to remove inhibitions. How will that work?”

“That’s really up to the individual, everybody’s different. During the workshops we’ll screen for problems. Potentially abusive individuals will be given special treatment. What that will consist of is impossible to say, but we’ll try to avoid violence, using armed security only when necessary to contain it.”

“That sounds too dangerous to me, Johnny. Where would they allow you to hold such a festival around here?”

“I have an already existing, nicely isolated, mountain valley resort in mind. I’ll keep it relatively small at first, by invitation only, making it exclusive and therefore desirable. Outwardly, we’ll be celebrating the grape plant, its harvest, and its consumption as wine. Yet other natural intoxicants may be included in the rituals, marijuana in particular. Of course, let’s be clear about this, people should already understand how these intoxicants can be used effectively, along with music and dance, to remove inhibitions, to liberate themselves to a more natural, primal state for the theatrical performance. We don’t want them falling down drunk or stoned out of their minds. Not too many of them, anyway.”

“How will you choose who to invite?”

“Different ways. I’ll experiment. To begin with, I’ll invite scholars, playwrights, actors, students of drama in general, shooting for a representative crosssection of humanity, or something like that.”

After a short silence, Rosemary abruptly exhaled, and said: “This is a big change from our previous characterization of you, Johnny. The tour presentation spoke to the average person’s social, economic, and political needs. Now, a festival, with a primeval orientation, celebrating the cultivation of herbs and vines? How should the world interpret this?”

“I don’t see anything inconsistent about going back to our origins for inspiration. Along with social, economic, and political needs, the so called average person has an even more primal need to directly experience a higher purpose in their life.”

“Higher purpose? Higher than what? This is beginning to sound too much like a primative religion. You’re moving into dangerous territory, Johnny. I think we should stay focused on basic needs, on a human scale.”

“I think you’re missing the point here, Rosemary. This is human scale stuff. Let me tell you about the first production. We’ll begin with Euripides, The Bacchae. It’s about the god-intoxicated female celebrants in the ecstatic retinue of Dionysus. They carry long wooden sticks wrapped in grape vines and leaves. They strike rocks with their stick, water gushes forth. They scratch the earth, wine bubbles up. They draw milk from the stream, honey trickles from the stick.”

“You call that human scale?”

“Let me finish. They wear snakes girded to their hips. They suckle deer fawns and wolf cubs like infants, at their breasts simultaneously. Weapons of iron cannot wound them. Fire does not burn them. The snakes harmlessly lick the sweat from their heated bodies. Now, imagine yourself playing such a character in this theatrical production.”

“You want me to imagine myself playing a Nymph?”

“The women associated with Dionysus were called Maenads. But, yes, they were a lot like Nymphs, I believe. Do you find that offensive?”

“A group of young Nymphs for yourself? Is that what you’re looking for? When do I start rehearsing the part, now?”

“I must admit I have thought about that. But, no, don’t do it for my sake. Do it for yourself, or not at all. Anyway, there are plenty of other characters to play. Write your own character. Be a goddess. However, personal insight, derived from participation in the drama, should be our ultimate goal for everyone attending the festival.”

“You seem bound and determined to go through with this, Johnny, so I’ll stop badgering you, for now. Tell me what you need to get it going and I’ll help you with the money end.”

The mountain valley land purchase went smoothly. Business had never materalized for the resort previously located there because of the area’s isolation, with a long winding road leading in, and nothing else along the way. But that suited Johnny’s purposes, perfectly. He quickly had the resort’s remaining facilities back in order and functioning, including running water, electricity, and central heating.

Knowledge of the festival spread quickly throughout the academic and theatrical communities. As the number of applications accumulated, Johnny found it neessary to hold a public lottery to determine the first two hundred and fifty participants. He had hoped to control the selection process; but the randomness aspect also intrigued him.

When he closed the road leading into the valley, limitting passage to employees and the selected festival participants, a disappointed crowd gathered outside the security checkpoint. Some turned and drove away; while others parked their car in a nearby vacant field and then found a place to camp in the hills overlooking the valley.

On the first morning, the two hundred and fifty official participants were organized into workshops to study the play’s cultural background. Traditional musical instruments, the aulos and the lyre, were distributed. The aulos were of a tubular nature, ranging from simple flutes to elaborate single and double reed instruments. The lyre were stringed instruments, ranging from common folk variety to professional quality. Exercises for the aulos consisted of just a few notes and rhythms. A chorus of aulos simultaniously sounding a note for any duration could be brutally intense and distracting to the other workshops, especially to the dance workshops, where instructors were choreographing the ecstatic frenzy. As with the music, dance exercises consisted of a few basic movements. Some of the dancers also played a musical instrument, further limiting their dance moves. Posture, carrage, and timing were emphasized in simple, hypnotic, trance inducing repetitions. As the play progressed, and the music intensified, the dancers would become liberated and uninhibited, according to the script.

Since a reasonable level of intoxication varied for each individual, Johnny instructed his security staff to remain alert and offer assistance whenever necessary. He attempted to limit the rate of intoxication by ritualizing the consumption of small quantities of wine and marijuana in the various workshops. By mid-afternoon, workshops were completed, and everyone gathered for an outdoor feast.

Johnny stood before the gathering dressed as King Pentheus, and said: “From Euripides’ play, we know that Dionysus, after traveling throughout the eastern world, returns to Thebes disguised as a blond stranger to vindicate his mother, Semele, whose family refuses to believe that Dionysus is a young god, the son of Zeus. And, as the play progresses, Dionysus punishes his cousin, King Pentheus, the whole royal family, and all the people of Thebes, except for one blind prophet. He punishes them all because they will not worship him or give him libation. Well, I’d like to make a major change in the play by creating the possibility of having the king and his people relent. In doing this, we can, perhaps, avoid all the destructive scenes and focus on god-intoxicated ecstatic frenzy.”

As he ceremoniously poured his goblet of wine on the ground, Johnny chanted: “In the name of King Pentheus, I welcome thee, oh living god, and I give thanks to thee for thy presence here. You bring joy and ecstacy to our celebration.” While a majority of the participants repeated Johnny’s libationary gesture, a significant number did not.

Participants gathered by late afternoon on the expansive outdoor set, one large group to become the population of Thebes, one smaller group to become the cult of female worshippers. The participant chosen to play Dionysus, an olive skinned young man with blond hair, took his place, and the play began. In accordance with the script, as the Dionysian retinue entered the city, their music and dance overwhelmed the local female population, driving them into a wild ecstatic frenzy. Even some of the men joined in with them.

In the castle setting, off to the side of the main set, King Pentheus, played by Johnny, had the young blond stranger brought to him by soldiers, and he said: “If you are a god, then play a tune on your flute to calm the women folk and the men who have gone running after them. If you can’t do it, I’ll do it with my lyre. And we’ll see who is the god around here.”

When the blond stranger filled the valley with flute music, his cult worshippers immediately stopped what they were doing to listen. Theban women, however, continued to dance in a wild ecstatic frenzy. “Give your lyre a try,” the blond stranger said: “Let’s see what you can do.”

King Pentheus’ music proved unable to accomplish the task of calming the Theban women; and the blond stranger, Dionysus in disguise, said: “I’m having such a good time, I’m going to forgive your hubris, cousin.” And when he proceeded to play his flute again, even the king began to dance.

Campfires in the foothills surrounding the valley floor stood out in the darkness as sunlight disappeared beyond the western horizon. Entranced by the spectacular flute music, the campers also joined in the dance. Other musicians followed the flute and, as the evening progressed, their harmonious droning helped to create a blissful collective consciousness throughout the area.

In the days following the event, comments from participants and observers were mostly favorable. The music received particular praise. Yet the young man with olive skin and blond hair who played Dionysus claimed he had never studied the flute or played it that well before. He attributed the accomplishment to being intoxicated with the spirit of Dionysus.

Purists, however, criticized the lack of fidelity to the original tragic plot. “You don’t mess with a god,” one critic said: “That’s the moral of Euripides’ play. But there are no tragic consequences here. It’s more like a hippie love fest. Maybe it’s too much marijuana. Or maybe it’s not enough alcoholic arrogance, I don’t know. What happens next? Will it be more of the same?”

Johnny took note of the critical comments but, from a participation standpoint, the event exceeded his expectations. When interviewed by the press, he said: “Fidelity to the play itself will always be a secondary consideration. It’s a harvest festival, mainly for the grape. It will always be a Dionysian ritual, first and foremost, giving people an excuse and an opportunity to become ecstatically intoxicated, to step outside of themselves, to experience a different time and place. Music, singing, dancing, acting-out, that’s what it’s all about. However, yes, the theatrical presentation should still have an important part to play in the overall event. And I expect that aspect of the festival to improve in the future, as we gain more experience at planning ahead.”

Rosemary remained sceptical of the festival’s future. Although she did publicly admit to having had a good time at this initial event. In a conversation with Johnny, she said: “It’s not something I do very often. Once a year at harvest time would be enough. Solstice, equinox, and moon phase celebrations seem excessive, don’t you think?”

“No, I don’t,” Johnny replied: “In fact, that sounds about perfect, with a few special events here and there. If you’re not up to being a part of it, you can stay informed through your media company. They’ve been contracted to record the next event, including the backstage preperations.”

“I don’t see where you’re going with this, Johnny. You’ve alienated too many people. They see it as paganism. Christians, Jews, Muslims, all find it offensive.”

“They’ll get over it.”

“No, they will not get over it. And neither will the people who belived in you and followed you, who listened to your speeches and learned from your discussion groups.”

“Like I told them from the beginning, it ain’t going to be no personality cult with me. The organization is in place and the ideas are out there. Let somebody new step forward into the leadership role and become the face of the reform movement. It will be to the benefit of all concerned. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying my retirement and looking forward to a new career as master of ceremonies at a variety of festive events.”

Owners of properties surrounding Johnny’s previously isolated mountain valley tried to have the festivals stopped, pointing to trespassers parking and camping on their land as their main objection. Johnny attended a meeting with the owners and came away with leasing agreements on several adjacent parcels of land overlooking the valley, enough to create an organized parking and camping area, which he agreed to enclose with a cyclone fence. Since Rosemary had decided to hold off any further financial support until Johnny could demonstrate the festival’s ability to make a profit, Johnny used his personal savings to make the initial lease payments; then he used his credit to have the properties enclosed and a surface parking lot constructed.

Anticipation grew among the many would-be participants as they awaited news of the next event. To take advantage of the widespread interest, Johnny decided to hold an auction this time instead of a lottery, saying: “The cost of operating the festival has gone up dramatically. Participation in this next event will go to the highest bidders. The Bacchae will serve as script, without the destruction and violence, as before. In the battle between King Pentheus and Dionysus, the young god easily wins with wit, intelligence, intoxicants, and good music. To insure the same good music, by popular demand, the same young man will play the lead flute. He now calls himself Dion Day, or DD. And he will again appear in the play as the blond stranger, Dionysus in disguise.”

During the auction, one bidder purchased twenty five of the two hundred and fifty contracts purchased. When asked how she would use them, she said: “Anywhere I party, I always come with friends. That way, I know I’ll have a good time. And this is my kind of party. An opportunity like this might never come again. I got to take it while I can. That manchild playing the flute, he’s some kind of god alright, he sends me to heaven. I mean it.”

The auction’s success reduced Johnny’s financial and emotional pressure, allowing him to concentrate on the creative dimension. As the event got underway, he noticed a much higher level of professionalism among the current participants over the previous random sampling. They approached the workshops more seriously, with far less use of intoxicants. The costumes, the sets, the music and dance, all came together by mid-afternoon.

Again dressed as King Pentheus, Johnny gave the same speech to the participants gathered at the afternoon feast: “From Euripides’ play, we know that Dionysus, after traveling throughout the eastern world, returns to Thebes disguised as a blond stranger to vindicate his mother, Semele, whose family refuses to believe that Dionysus is a young god, the son of Zeus. And, as the play progresses, Dionysus punishes his cousin, King Pentheus, the whole royal family, and all the people of Thebes, except for one blind prophet. He punishes them all because they will not worship him or give him libation. Well, I’d like to make a major change in the play by creating the possibility of having the king and his people relent. In doing this, we can, perhaps, avoid all the destructive scenes and focus on god-intoxicated ecstatic frenzy.”

He then poured his goblet of wine on the ground as he ceremoniously chanted: “In the name of King Pentheus, I welcome thee, oh living god, and I give thanks to thee for thy presence here. You bring joy and ecstacy to our celebration.” Again, a majority of the participants repeated Johnny’s libationary gesture, and yet a significant number did not.

Rosemary watched the event from her media company’s control booth, observing only, as a team of her best people worked to record the unfolding drama from several different perspectives: in close and far away. Without the tragic ending of the original play, the new script seemed easy to follow: be ecstatically happy while singing and dancing and giving praise to Dionysus. Yet she marveled at how orderly and coordinated the activities were in comparison with the first event. The set looked like a gigantic Broadway stage with hundreds of professional singers, actors, and dancers in coordinated harmony. The music also seemed more professional to her, with more vocal music and fewer instruments: although Dion Day did again highlight the late evening, Rosemary felt, by transporting the participants to another plane of experience with his spectacular flute music.

“We’ve got some great footage here,” she told Johnny when he finally got up out of bed and entered his kitchen, where she waited, around lunchtime the next day.

“Oh, so now you’re a part of it,” he replied, laughing as he placed a pot of oatmeal on his kitchen stove.

“I don’t now how much a part of it I am. I’ll take it a step at a time. This last event will be difficult to duplicate. The footage we have here would be even more remarkable, and valuable, if there would never be another one.”

Without turning his attention from the stove, Johnny interjected: “There will be another one.”

“I don’t think you should even try to duplicate this. You should come up with something fresh next time.”

“This script is a long way from being stale, Rosemary. There are thousands of people waiting to bid on contracts and reservations to participate in the new Bacchae. I don’t want to video record it every time, no. And we may never see it performed as well again but, who knows until we try, it might prove endlessly successful.”

Rosemary thought of all the time and effort she had expended rehabilitating Johnny, and now that he was thinking independently, she couldn’t determine exactly why it irritated her so much. 

No Refuge for the Refugee

March 31, 2010

The wars began long before Grace came into the world. Conflict and struggle constituted the norm in her life, it’s all she had ever known, and, at seventeen years of age, she had become increasingly involved with dangerous assignments. Her father, Malachi, regretted the need to send children on these missions but sending his own daughter made it doubly difficult. Yet he could not treat her any differently than the others. Conditions were deteriorating and their chances of surviving were diminishing. They were caught in a violent conflict between opposing armies, struggling frantically to stay out of the way.

Grace returned to the cave from a scouting mission, and said: “Government troops have been driven from of the area. Heavily armed rebels now surround the refugee camp. And that convoy of trucks is still sitting at the crossroads.”

Malachi silently acknowledged his daughter’s report with a forced smile as Dan’s voice came from the back of the group huddled in the cave, saying: “Those trucks are carrying food. You know that, don’t you?”

Before her father could respond, Grace shot back: “No, we don’t know that.”

Her words reverberated in the hollow chamber as Malachi said: “Even if they were carrying food, we couldn’t do anything about it.”

Dan persisted: “I have a plan.”

Malachi gestured to his daughter to control her outbursts, and then he said: “Let’s hear it.”

Dan’s arrival in their group had ignited Grace’s competitive nature. Malachi was pleased at first to see his daughter challenged by someone her age. But the young man had a unique understanding of the strategic and tactical position they were in and his daughter seemed unable to accept that.

Dan began his explanation: “As I’ve told you before, there are several groups, just like you, not far away.”

Grace interrupted: “How long do you think those trucks are going to just sit there?”

Dan replied: “I think they will be there for awhile. It’s international aid headed for the camp. Food, medicine, and clothing that neither the army nor the rebels need badly enough to weaken their present positions to go after. We are the ones who need it most, along with the others I’ve mentioned, who are mostly loyalists, followers of the socialist government. The rebels are rightwing followers of General Adolpha. If they continue to hold the camp hostage, they’re tied down for awhile. And the army will not be returning anytime soon. I’ve been expecting this kind of thing to happen. It’s what I’m here for.”

Malachi interjected: “Do we have time to communicate and coordinate with other groups?”

Dan replied: “My purpose in coming here was to communicate and coordinate. I’ve been telling you that all along. Many other groups know the same things you know. They are assuming you will be ready along with them when the time comes. And those trucks are the type of target they have been waiting for.”

Grace received her father’s permission to speak with a glance, and then said: “Okay, so we take the trucks. But we also alert both sides to our presence here. I doubt if the combined strength of all of these groups you mentioned could stand up to either army. And, if both armies turned against us, where would we be then? I say we hold back.”

Malachi responded emphatically: “I think that’s best. I’m unable to envision a successful confrontation and, therefore, I’m unwilling to ask this group to lay down their lives for such a cause.”

Grace raised her arms in a triumphant gesture, looked at Dan, and said: “We’ve survived until now by living off the land and we’ll continue to do so.”

___

At the rebel headquarters outside the refugee camp, the lieutenant on duty informed the sergeant of the watch: “General Adolpha will be arriving here by helicopter in an hour.” Then, as he raised his binoculars to view the camp, he added: “We need to arrange a meeting with whoever has command inside there.” The sergeant responded: “That will be easy, sir. We have direct communications with them. Some priest or something has been demanding food and medicine. Says he knows there’s an aid shipment due.”

While continuing to scan the camp with his field glasses, the lieutenant muttered, as though to himself: “Yes, well, that will have to wait.” Then, his curiosity satisfied, he pulled the glass down, and instructed: “Let’s get this, whatever he is, on the radio.”

In answer to the sergeant’s call, a voice crackled through the speaker: “This is Father Joy. Have you news about the supplies? Conditions are worsening here. We need immediate assistance.”

The lieutenant spoke into the microphone: “You can have that assistance and your supplies, whoever you are. But first you must lay down whatever arms you have. And you must allow the camp to be occupied by our forces. All government troops, except for those remaining inside with you, have already left the area.”

The priest’s voice came slowly from the speaker, his exasperation evident in the deliberate pronunciation: “There are no troops in here. And we have no arms to lay down. We couldn’t stop you from coming in here if we wanted to. Right now, your political philosophy means nothing to me. It’s your humanity I’m worried about.” Then he shouted: “We are dying in here.” And was gone.

The lieutenant pondered the necessary steps to secure the camp before the general’s arrival. There may be important civilians inside, he believed, making the job a delicate one. Yet his main concern would always be the safety of his command and he wanted to avoid unnecessary losses. As a soldier, he had no personal political philosophy. He followed orders without questioning the authority of his superiors.

Yet the war began, the lieutenant knew, when General Adolpho refused to take orders from the government, which he considered to be communistic. The lieutenant sympathized with the communists in his heart. If it wasn’t for his father, who died serving under then Major Adolpho in the government army, he could easily be on the other side. Mostly, he just wanted to end the war and get on with rebuilding a new society: one in which every individual had the opportunity to reach the highest possible potential. However, for now, it was his job to find the important civilians in the refugee camp and make them available to the general when he arrives. And he was determined to execute his orders to the best of his ability.

Inside the camp, Father Joy stood with the radio’s microphone still in his hand. “We need to form a surrender committee,” he said, thinking aloud. Something in the lieutenant’s voice gave him hope where none had been before. “I pray to God I’m right,” he added; then, remembering when his faith seemed strong enough to endure anything, he realized how challenged his beliefs had become. But now there was a rational voice on the other end. Demanding, yet rational. And there was an aid shipment eminent: food and medicine and clothing. It seemed to him as if events had gone full cycle, and order was returning. With hope extending his expectations, he envisioned the possibilities.

Father Joy himself had no real argument with General Adolph’s fascist leanings. The church’s existing absolute power was similar in nature to the power which the general sought to obtain. For the church, finding itself on the side of the communists was simply a matter of tactical circumstances. Neither side would actually guarantee the church’s property rights. The very fact of legitimacy favored the government, which wasn’t considered “too communistic” until General Adolph used that claim to justify his rebellion.

Cooperation had become the buzz word. Communities based on sharing cropped up all over the country. Businesses were owned collectively. Even stock market trading was done by mutual collectives. As Father Joy contemplated the scene around him, he thought aloud: “Perhaps collectivism went too far. Leadership suffers when every decision must be debated until a majority agrees. Responding to brutal attacks becomes impossible.”

He continued talking to no one in particular. And no one was listening. Hunger, thirst, and despair had distorted their awareness so completely they seemed to not even care about a future. When the government troops abandoned them, and General Adolph’s rebels surrounded them, they gave-up completely. And now they waited, wanting only to die without more pain. Father Joy’s faith allowed him to stand apart, never completely controlled by external forces, always expecting God to give him the necessary strength to continue.

___

Commander of government forces, General Robbert Dewitt gathered his staff in the war room, and said:

“Our ranks are getting thin. Between numerous battle losses and desertion, we’re finding it difficult to protect the civilian population. New boundaries are being determined, and we’re temporarily giving up a lot of ground and a lot of people. But we remain the one force capable of reuniting the country. Factions operating unchecked must be eliminated, one by one, if necessary.

“At the refugee camp in Hollow Junction, two anti-government factions are present on the scene. The use of tactical nuclear weapons would give us an opportunity to cancel out a large percentage of the opposition in the area with one quick move. Problem is, we take out some of our own people in the process. Seems they’re important people also. But who isn’t important? Anyway, since General Adolph himself will also be in the area at the time, the president has authorized the strike.”

___

Malachi gasped when he saw the flash of light. And even though miles away, on the other side of the mountain, he soon felt a mechanical shock wave. “I don’t believe it,” he shouted as he ran for the shelter of the cave, not sure if it would do any good, wondering what the range of radioactive fallout would be.

As they huddled in the darkness of the cave’s deepest recess, Grace whispered: “Dan and his people, the aid givers, the refugees, the rebels, that whole valley, they’re all out there right now, exposed to the full force of that explosion.” With anguish and frustration overwhelming her, she shouted: “It doesn’t make sense.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Malachi said as he reached in the direction of her voice, wanting to wrap his arms around her, wishing he could protect her from all that was happening.

“Why would God let them do it?’ she sobbed on his shoulder as her body convulsed against him.

Malachi’s heart painfully constricted and he tried desperately to think of something reassuring. “It’s not God’s fault, dear,” he said; and then, doing his best to sound convincing, he added: “Everything happens for a purpose.” 

Neolithic Nomad on the Borderline

March 29, 2010

My life changed directions abruptly after I ingested mushrooms on a mountain in Mexico. During the resultant visions, I witnessed the transformation of pre-atomic matter into conscious life, not in a time sequence, but all at once: in one big bang. My individual existence diminished in importance as my consciousness filled with an awareness of the indwelling spirit at the center of our being. The future of conscious life on Earth, and perhaps in the universe, became my immediate, heartfelt concern.

I began looking for recognition and acknowledgement of the indwelling spirit in the eyes of others with whom I came into contact. At the US border crossing, very few people registered positive in that regard, leaving me with an uneasy feeling as I started traveling north.

I had shaved both my head and my beard while bathing before I entered the US from Mexico. I dressed in natural cotton slacks and light pullover sweater, knowing it could be many days before I had a chance to bathe again. In a shoulder bag, I carried a jacket plus several changes of cloths. I thought about walking across the country but I didn’t feel safe so I bought a one-way bus ticket to Detroit and the US/Canadian border.

The intensity of the mushroom experience quickly diminished and I began to doubt the reality of the indwelling spirit. To keep the spirit alive, I ate only raw fruit, nuts, and seeds. I drank only water, fruit juice, and herbal tea.

At night, I felt claustrophobic in the packed bus speeding down the highway. I closed my eyes to meditate on the divine spirit world but I found an empty void instead, leaving me with an internal state of vertigo. During the daytime, however, sunlight changed everything. My senses came back to life. I didn’t worry about eternity, mortality, or insanity. I had no room in my consciousness for negative thinking. The closeness of others I now found stimulating. Still, I wondered: “Who am I? Where am I really going?”

An attractive woman bordered the bus on the second morning. She walked past the empty seat beside me and then she came back to it. “Is this seat taken?” she asked, flashing a tentative smile. When I nodded in the negative, her smile broadened, and she added: “Would you mind trading places and allowing me to sit by the window?”

“You can sit on my lap if you want,” I said, climbing from the seat. The look on her face informed me I had said the wrong thing. “I’m sorry,” I muttered. She slid into the seat by the window without further comment, placing her large purse to mark the space between us. My senses became saturated with her movements, her scent, her breathing. Sitting rigidly beside her, I closed my eyes and tried to meditate.

“How long have you been riding on this bus?” she asked, turning in my direction to rummage through her purse. I knew she didn’t really care, but she made it sound like she cared, and that impressed me. “I got on yesterday near the border,” I replied, feeling compelled to explain myself to her yet having nothing more to say. She stopped rummaging through her purse and waited. After a tense silence, she asked: “How far are you going?” She’s only being polite, I told myself. Yet I could feel her scrutinizing gaze as it moved across my body. I wanted to tell her that it was none of her business how far I was going, that I didn’t even know that myself. I had paid for a ticket to the Canadian border in Detroit but I could get off before then and go somewhere else. I’ll know if I want to get off when I get there, I felt. “Where do you live? Where are you from?” she persisted.

Inventing a story, I said: “I’m an artist. I sold all my possessions and I’m traveling to broaden my horizons.” As the words exited my mouth and reentered through my ears, they effectively created a functional persona, allowing me to relax enough to breath freely. “What kind of artist are you?” she asked, sounding sincerely interested. “I’ve tried almost every medium,” I answered, surprised by how easily the words flowed from my imagination: “I’ve mastered a few techniques. But I’m still seeking that ultimate inspiration. It could be heroic. Or perhaps demonic. Do I have a choice? Not if I want to call it art, ultimate art, which is more than just pretty pictures.” She flashed a wry smile and sat back in her seat, apparently satisfied, at least for the moment. How long had she been staring at me? It seemed like an eternity.

“This is my stop, do you want to get off and come home with me?” she asked, reaching for her purse, preparing to leave. Her words ignited an emotional explosion in my heart. I imagined myself holding her in my arms while undressing her. I could tell by the look on her face that she knew what I was thinking. “I can’t,” I whispered, barely able to move my lips. Before I could catch my breath, or change my mind, she slid around me, reached the isle, and headed for the door. She looked back from there, smiled, waved good-by, and quickly disembarked.

As the bus pulled away from the stop and continued on its way, the seat next to me remained empty. I felt a mixture of regret and satisfaction. Yet I knew I had done the right thing. And I silently chanted a mantra to suppress the thoughts of undressing her, thoughts that filled my imagination with images so vivid I wondered where they came from because I couldn’t actually remember ever being that intimate with a woman before. My identity crisis intensified as I closed my eyes and attempted to sleep. Nagging questions in the back of my mind refused to go away. “I dedicate myself to the indwelling spirit,” I chanted, attempting to relive that moment on the mountain, to renew my faith. Then, appearing out of a dark mist, like images from a recurring dream, I began to remember who I was before ingesting the mushrooms. Panic and dread flooded my consciousness.

I awoke from a deep sleep feeling refreshed. Looking out the window, I noticed the bus had pulled off the expressway and was turning into a large shopping mall parking lot. This could be where I get off, I though, cheered by the newness of everything in view. Moisture from an earlier rain slowly evaporated in the brilliant morning sun, adding extra sparkle, creating a fairytale appearance to the mall’s outer facade. When the driver announced we would be there for an hour while the bus was being serviced, I grabbed my bag and headed to the door, almost certain I had found my destination area. An hour of wandering around confirmed it.

“Stimulating and efficient,” I said aloud, repeating words from a printed handout discribing the mall. The area had once been prime farmland. After evolving through several stages of growth into a big-box corridor, it had recently been converted into a lifestyle super center with newly constructed replica of downtown Main Street America adjacent to the modern new mall. On the other side of the expressway, construction of a large mega-church neared completion. I informed the bus driver of my decision to stay in the area; then I walked to the on-site hotel and purchased a room with my credit card. As I bathed, shaved, and dressed in newly purchased clothing, I repeated a prayer of thanksgiving and gratitude.

It felt good to be in these new surroundings and I didn’t want to face the reality of my true identity. The magic mushroom episode in Mexico had awakened something inside of me. Instead of completing my mission, I now looked for a way to escape from it. My orders were to select a target and then act on it alone; but the more I studied my chosen target area, the less I wanted to destroy it. The shopping mall, the lifestyle center, and the newly build replica of a small town main street provided ample opportunity for a spectacular event that would make my superiors proud of me. But I was beginning to like living in a hotel, wearing expensive cloths, and shopping with a credit card.

I checked out of the hotel and moved into a small townhouse apartment in the Main Street area. Then I created a second identity and rented an old farmhouse outside the development area. I leased a luxury sedan for the townhouse and a pickup truck for the farmhouse. I had been trained in methods of manipulating the global business economy to support my activities but multiple identities were always tricky. I needed to move fast. They could already be on to me. Maybe they had someone following me all along. And what about the attractive woman who invited me to go home with her? Was she a test of my resolve? None of that mattered anymore. Even if they were watching me, I moved at least one step ahead of them, and that’s how I intended to keep it, without looking back.

Woman in the Novel

March 26, 2010

John’s parents sent him to college to become a lawyer but he became a wandering artist instead, in love with love. While sketching in the countryside, he saw a young woman attending to a group of small children as they played. He asked her permission to sketch them but she gathered the children and hurried away. A few moments later, an older man came up the road to confront him, saying: “Who are you? What are you doing around here?” John showed the man his sketch book, and said: “I’m an artist. I just want to draw some pictures, sir. I don’t mean to harm anybody.”

The older man looked at the sketches, and said: “You’re a good artist. Let’s go to the house. You can draw more pictures down there. I’m the caretaker of this estate. The owner’s away on an extensive trip. The young woman to whom you spoke is betrothed to the owner, in an arrangement to payoff her family’s debt. She earns money from the local government by attending to the orphaned children who stay here.”

John remained for a while at the estate helping the caretaker with odd jobs and sketching portraits. He didn’t touch the young woman even though he thought she wanted to have sex with him when she posed nude for a painting. Later, when he looked at the finished painting he could see the desire expressed in her eyes. He had captured her perfectly. “This could be my masterpiece,” he concluded. And he brought the painting to a respected dealer in the capital city to get his evaluation.

“Who is she?” the dealer wanted to know.

“Just a model,” John replied.

“She’s too young to be posing like that, with that look of desire in her eyes. This picture is almost pornographic. It’s beautiful. But it’s not something I can sell here.”

Being a young man himself, John had not seen her as being too young. Yet, during the encounter with the dealer, he realized how the painting might suggest he had sex with the model, and he decided to keep it for himself. After hanging the painting in his small studio loft space, he thought about covering it because he felt her eyes following him around. He quickly adjusted to that, however. In fact, he began to actually enjoy it.

She became a real presence in his life and he started talking to her while standing in front of the picture, staring into her eyes. He even imagined himself making love to her. And he composed a love letter telling her of that. But when he traveled to the estate, wanting to hand deliver his love letter, he learned she had been taken by the owner to an undisclosed location in preperation for their marriage.

John returned home and placed the letter on a shelf beneath the painting. In order to ease his pain, he began to write a fictionalized account about having an ongoing relationship with the young woman in the painting even after she had married. Words flowed from his heart as he stood before the painting looking into her eyes.

The novel had immediate commercial success, allowing him to take his painting, which had inspired him throughout the writing process, and move to a much finer studio in the capital city. He thought about placing the painting on public display, or even using it to promote the novel, but he decide against that. He wanted to keep her all to himself. Plus, she might be recognized and everyone would assume she actually was the woman in the novel.

No Place Like Home

March 25, 2010

“I can’t believe it,” Dora shouted, still holding the disconnected telephone to her ear: “We won the trip.” Jonas turned from his writing desk, and said: “You’re kidding.” And he sincerely hoped she was kidding because he dreaded the prospect of traveling. He wanted to continue working on his current project, an epic novel written in verse using iambic pentameter which he painstakingly lettered and illustrated freehand for the official manuscript copy. “No, I’m not kidding,” Dora replied: “You can take a break for this. It’s a chance of a lifetime to visit the Mediterranean. We can not, I repeat not, turn it down.”

“Take your girlfriend, what’s her name? She’d love to go.”

“No, I want you to come with me, to share it with me. What’s the matter with you? You know how long I’ve been dreaming about this.”

Jonas put down his pen, pushed away from the desk, and said: “You’re right. When do we leave?”

On the day of departure, Dora insisted on arriving early at the airport. Jonas dreaded the security check. Before leaving the house, he swallowed a tranquilizer prescribed by his doctor for the trip.

Dora watched as Jonas nervously piled their luggage into the taxicab’s trunk. “Don’t worry,” she said: “Your name isn’t going to be on the no-fly list just for getting busted with pot when you were in college.” He followed her into the cab’s back seat, and said: “What about that anti-war protest? I was arrested and fingerprinted by federal agents. They could still have that in their files.” He didn’t breath easy until the plane was in the air. Dora chided him, saying: “See how silly your fears were?” And then she added: “It makes me feel good when you’re smiling like this.” 

After a week of absorbing the Mediterranean sun and living luxuriously as guests aboard a private pleasure yacht, Dora and Jonas’ disembarked at Venice for a multiple day journey inland to explore the Italian Alps region in depth.

In Lombardy, north of Milan, they were enchanted by the city of Lecco, the capital city of Lecco province. Located at the southern end of the eastern branch of Lake Como, it’s a lake of glacial origin, referred to by locals as, Lake of Lecco. Pre-Alps mountains rise from there to the north and east.

At an outdoor café overlooking the lake, Jonas stirred his coffee, and said: “Let’s spend time here. I’ve had enough of that yachting life for now. I don’t care if it costs us more money. I can feel my creative juices flowing here. I’ll make that money back in no time.” Dora wiped her lips with a napkin, and replied: “It wouldn’t take much to convince me of that. Let’s look around to see what we can find in the way of affordable real estate.”

The villa they finally rented wasn’t exactly affordable but they could not turn it down. Located on a beautifully landscaped slope, it had a spectacular view of the city, the lake, and the mountains. “Even if this consumes the rest our savings, it will be worth it,” Jonas asserted emphatically. Then, stretching his arms and taking in a deep breath, he shouted into the sky from the open-air patio: “I feel rejuvenated.”

Local attitudes towards Americans surprised and confused them. The very first time they met the villa’s caretaker and gardener, he told them: “I once thought it was only your government, not you the people. But now, after you have elected the same government a second time, I’m forced to adjust my original assessment. American tourists should all go home. Change your government first. Stop this war. Then come back and we will welcome you with open arms.”

Dora and Jonas tried to ignore political issues during the remainder of their stay at the villa. When they were alone together, they lived in the immediacy of the moment, nothing else mattered. It would come to an end soon enough. Unless something new and unforeseen presented itself, the two weeks for which they had already paid represented all they could actually afford. They vowed to enjoy this time to its fullest.

On the morning of their last full day, while still sitting by the table after breakfast on the patio overlooking Lake Como with its fantastic view of gardens, water, and mountains, Dora cried out: “This is like being in heaven.” Jonas stood to uncork a fresh bottle of wine, and chimed in: “More like Mount Olympus.” Then, raising the bottle towards the sky, he chanted: “Dionysius, son of Zeus and Semele, hear me.” Dora held out her empty glass, and said: “I believe it’s Dionysus, dear. Dionysius was a tyrant, of Syracuse I believe. Anyway, they’re Greek and we’re in Italy now.”

“It’s all Greek to me,” Jonas said, laughing as he filled Dora’s glass, and then continuing: “Hear my plea, oh lord of the grape. Give us the strength to go home and face the music, if that be what we must do. We’d rather stay here, of course, ignoring the whole bloody mess.” Dora sighed and, while swirling her glass to the rhythm of a Vilvadi cello concerto playing in her mind, she said: “I second that.”

The put-put sound of an old van pulling into the driveway in front of the villa interrupted their blissful repose. And then the caretaker stormed across the patio and bellowed in broken English: “Turn on TV. You need know. Time to go, do something.” Dora set her wine glass carefully on the table before standing to protest. “We have one more day remaining,” she said, trying to stay calm: “Come back tomorrow morning at this time and we’ll be out of here. Until then, go tend to your gardens. I have a receipt that validates our payment. It includes today.” With a pained smile plastered on his face, the caretaker listened to what she had to say, then he abruptly exited the patio and disappeared down the slope without further comment.

“I call upon Dionysius and look what we get,” Jonas laughed, holding the wine bottle over his glass to get the last drop.

“It’s time to begin our descent, anyway,” Dora remarked, more to herself than to Jonas. Pushing her glass aside, she reached for the laptop to check her e-mail. “Dionysus be praised,” she shouted: “They’re giving us a credit for the cruise time we didn’t use. Maybe we can come back next year and do this again.” Popping the cork from another bottle of wine, Jonas groaned: “I can’t wait until next year.”

Dora covered her glass with a hand before Jonas could pour, and said: “Don’t you think we’d better stop drinking now? I don’t want a hangover going to the airport in the morning.” Jonas gently removed her hand, saying: “It will never taste better, dear. Plus, we’ve already paid for it. Only two more bottles after this one. Don’t worry about a hangover. Let’s live today like there’s no tomorrow.”

After glancing at her laptop, Dora said: “I can’t believe this is happening to us.” She carefully slid it across the still cluttered breakfast table to Jonas, adding: “Check these numbers and tell me what you think.” Jonas reluctantly pushed his wine glass aside, squinted his eyes to focus on the computer screen, and said: “I’m not in the mood for numbers right now.”

“Okay then,” she replied, running her fingers through her hair and swinging her head from side to side, as she spoke: “Let me tell you what the numbers say. First, our stock value has spiked unexpectedly. Should we hold or sell? Second, we’ve been offered a million plus for the house. Should we sell or not?” Jonas eased the computer aside, making room on the table in front of him to retrieve his wine glass, and said: “Stock value isn’t like money in the pocket, is it? If we actually had cash to live on, I’d think about selling the house right now. As it is, we should go home first. If things workout from there, we can come back.”

“Always the cautious one,” Dora mocked, reaching for the laptop. Folding it, she leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes, and tried to visualize the immediate future. She had been ignoring world events for three weeks and the prospect of becoming reacquainted made her nauseous. Having visited the area, she dreamed of returning and exploring it further, including the Alps.

The next morning, as the large commercial aircraft lifted into the air, Dora leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes. She visualized the garden patio overlooking Lake Como with mountains rising majestically to the north and to the east. She made a conscious effort to imprint that view of the area into her memory for future reference. And then, having been up all night celebrating with Jonas, she drifted off to sleep.

Jonas envied Dora’s ability to block out the world around her. The perception of flying forced him to stay alert. Every sudden change in the aircraft’s motion, every jerky vibration commanded his close attention. He swallowed another pill to calm his nerves but he still couldn’t relax. His awareness of the other passengers breathing and squirming in their seats oppressed him, making him feel claustrophobic. Unable to escape the feeling, he concentrated on it instead, consciously forcing himself to remain under control by shear strength of will. He breathed an exhausted sigh of relief when the wheels finally touched the ground.

When the airport taxi pulled up in front of the house, Dora said: “I didn’t expect returning home to be so depressing. If somebody has offered us a million dollars for this place, I think we should take it.” Jonas pushed himself from the cab before replying: “Give it some time, dear. It may take awhile for us to come down from our vacation high. Nothing will seem right at first but we’ll get used to it again, you’ll see.” She followed him from the cab, and said: “What if I don’t want to get used to it again?” Lifting their luggage from the taxi’s trunk, he responded: “Let’s get inside the house where we can relax first and then we can talk about it. Ninety percent of the people on earth would be ecstatic to own a house like this in a community like this.”

Later in the day, after everything had been unpacked and put away, Dora found Jonas in the front room sleeping in front of the television; and she sat on the couch beside him to see what was on. It wasn’t just the house to which she had become alienated, she realized, after surfing through all the channels without finding something she wanted to watch.

Kurious

March 25, 2010

Kurious lived in difficult times. Nature spirits were thought to animate the world of human events and, without a clear moral or ethical standard to act as a restraining force, only the strong survived. Yet strength alone would not guarantee survival. Wit, intelligence, and good fortune were additional requirements. Kurious often stayed awake at night during his youth looking into a star-filled sky, memorizing its patterns and movements, wondering at what he saw. The sky became a living entity to him, a friend he could rely upon. As he grew older, his knowledge of the sky also became a useful tool, landing him a job on a large sailing ship, apprenticing to the navigator’s quartermaster. Living at sea did not agree with him, however, and he jumped ship in a foreign land.

He earned a modest living in his new homeland at first by applying his superior skills with basic hand tools. Then he began to improve local production methods with new tools and proceedures. In the process he increased his wealth and the wealth of the whole community, including carpenters, masons, metalsmiths, potters, weavers, taylors, and more. His quick successes met with resentment from some who continued to see him as a foreigner. Yet he prospered there because of his innovative approach to practicle problem solving. His most practicle solution being, he created good jobs for others.

As his personal wealth grew, he spend much of his time looking for new information to assimulate and apply. Books and book knowledge were scarce; collecting a personal library proved expensive; yet it was the proper use of his time and money, he felt. Plus, he had confidence in his ability to continue making money: the more he spent, the more he earned, it seemed. Then, with a management team in place, he lost track of the actual money flow and its relationship to his daily activities. He began to think about philosophy, the meaning of life, and the pursuit of happiness.

Early one morning, while meditating in his garden, he recalled a vision from his childhood when, after staring into a star-filled sky all night, he understood the universe “out there” to be a large scale mirror image of the universe inside of him. The memory captured his imagination and he attempted to formulate a theory that would explain it in practical terms. Just then, a book of speculative philosophy came into his possession through a chance acquaintance: a remarkable coincidence, he thought.

Although the book contained unfamiliar symbols and mathematical constructions, Kurious understood its basic premises: by assuming the existence of tiny atoms moving and interacting in empty space it becomes possible to explain and predict events in the world through a complex, yet finite, system of formulations. He made a copy of the book to send with a messanger to the only person he knew who might be able to explain the mathematical constructions in detail. And then he turned his attention to the original copy, attempting the task on his own.

War broke out in a nearby district and quickly spread. Kurious dropped everything and turned his full attention to the defense of his property and the surrounding communities. Rather than waiting for the fighting to come to them, he convinced the local military leaders to follow him on the offensive. He immediately became the leading decision maker among all the local army leaders on the battlefield. Under his command, they forced the invaders to retreat back across the boarder. He then supervised the construction of a series of military outposts along the boarder to prevent future attacks.

To pay for the increase in defense forces, Kurious returned to business. But instead of making hand tools for knowledgable potters, weavers, carpenters, masons, and metalsmiths, he built large scale manufacturing systems with workers specalizing in repetitive tasks requiring little overall skill yet acting with coordinated precision like cogs in a mechanism. He soon had ships sailing to markets loaded with newly manufactured merchandise ranging from tools, utensiles, and weapons to portable home furnishing kits. He divided the profits three ways. One third went to the workers, which included most of the previously unemployed people in the community. An equal amount went to the military defense fund. The remainder passed through his hands on its way to a wide variety of applications.

Surrounding communities sent representatives to complain about the military build up along their borders. Everyone turned to Kurious for an explination. Some still looked at him as a foreigner, responsible for changing their traditional ways by introducing conflict and struggle over material wealth. Most of the workers and those in the military, however, supported Kurious and wanted him to keep spreading the wealth. They also favored a hardline against their neighbors, military action if necessary, blaming them for starting the conflict in the first place.

As Kurious prepared to speak to the visiting representatives, a debate still raged in his mind. He had never considered military conquest before but, under the current circumstances, it had become an overwhelmingly practical possibility. All he had to do was announce his intentions to invade and the opposing armies would surrender to him. The working classes would also welcome him as a replacement for their present tyrannical leaders. He might be sorry sometime in the future if he didn’t act now, he told himself. He could depose the ruling tyrants and unite the common people in one swift act by declaring war against his neighbors.

When he invited the visitors to eat with him in the recently constructed worker’s dinning hall adjacent to the innovative manufacturing operation, they were amazed at what they were seeing. And then they were shocked at what they were hearing.

He waited until their bellies were full before announcing his intentions, saying: “What you see here today, this level of organization and cooperation, this will soon spread, because it is based on superior methods. You cannot defend against it. So I’m offering you an opportunity to join in peacefully and avoid bloodshed. Go back to your leaders and tell them this: if they want in, they must deliver that message in person by the end of the current moon phase. If they choose to resist, their territory will be invaded and they will be forcefully deposed.”

Several of the visitors stood in protest but quickly deferring to the one woman among them, who said: “I don’t think you understand what you’re doing. You should learn more about who you are up against before making such threats. This is treasonous. The King personally chose all the local tyrants, as you call them. He will send an army to crush your little uprising. I suggest you consider other options.”

Kurious found the woman physically captivating and, along with her worldliness, authoritative manner, and mention of royal family politics, she held his full attention. “What options would you suggest?” he responded. The woman looked around at the other visitors with a satisified expression on her face before answering: “You can begin by retracting your threats and then you can apologize.” The certainty of his purpose solidified in his heart as he looked into her eyes, and said: “The King’s army is hundreds of miles away and most of the local armies in between will join me before the King can react. I’m committed to going forward with this declaration of war.”

He waited until the moon phase had completed and, when none of the neighboring rulers attended his meeting, he led his army across the boarder into neighboring territories. Just as he had carefully trained his management team and organized his workers, Kurious led his army into battle with a winnable plan and superior equipment. Resistance vanashed after a few initial battles, as word spread of the outcomes. Workers in defeated terrirories were immediately organized to build an entirely new manufacturing infrastructure supervised by Kurious and his management team. Uniforms and weapons were stockpiled to be ready for current and future use as needed.

The more men and women he had employed in his manufacturing business and in his army units, the less likely a violent military conflict would occur, Kurious reasoned: the King would eventually be forced to negotiate. However, the King had a wealthy treasury to draw from and Kurious’ efforts would soon bog down if his resources were not replenished with outside money through business or plunder.

He decided to play his strength while it still existed. The enthusiasm of workers and military rank-and-file would never be higher: the time had come to overthrow the King. The boldness of his attack caught the King’s forces off guard and the weapon superiority of his army brought a quick end to the battle. Although he hadn’t expected to take the war that far, it felt good to occupy the King’s castle, to have the King’s ministers and generals kneeling before him.

Among the defeated, he recognized the woman who had spoken for the visiting representatives in his worker’s dinning hall when he had made his first declaration of a much more limited war. She was standing in the back, refusing to kneel, and when she noticed him looking, she said: “We meet again. I must say, I didn’t expect it to happen this way. I’m Princess Gaiana, the King’s daughter. My father managed to escape, which is bad news for you. He has many friends. He also has mutual defense agreements with other, more powerful kingdoms. You may think you have won something but you have only made it worse for yourself, poor fool.”

Kurious felt aroused by her defiant attitude. Nothing stopped him, he knew, from doing what conquering warriors have so often done to daughters of the defeated. And the temptation to do so proved stronger than he had expected it would. His good judgement prevailed, however, and he turned his attention to counting the money instead. He had bills to pay and a kingdom to awaken. 

Hello world!

March 19, 2010

Introibo ad altare dei, I will go to the altar of God, those are Buck Mulligan’s first spoken words in James Joyce’s Ulysses. Some critics say Joyce is mocking the Mass as that opening scene unfolds and the invocation of God is a mocking reminder that epics traditionally began with an invocation to a deity or a muse. There are many other ways to read it, of course. Perhaps Joyce is mocking his characters, or the critics, or himself. Or perhaps it isn’t mockery at all but a much more complicated mixture of psychological motivations.

Speaking of psychological motiotivations, why am I writing? I could sit here thinking about that, or I could move on to the next question: what am I writing about? Maybe I shouldn’t even ask such questions, just do it. Okay, here goes: Introibo ad altare dei . . .

I do not presume God’s inspirational blessing. In fact, I don’t take anything for granted when it comes to God. Yet neither do I despair. Not often, anyway.