June 14/2024

Working on my far-in-some-undefined-time-in-the-future book, wherein the population has declined by about 85%, and villages are full of coping folk and a race of hominids with edgy mohawk hairdos and psychic ambitions lurk about generating mayhem. Those suspected of suffering from the wasting disease are triaged out to the woods to expire in their own good time. But otherwise life is good! There is whiskey, bread, singing unenhanced and no radio contact with anybody. The world is full of bogles; LLorona crying for her lost children, Beulah Queen of the Night, Gentleman Jack, and the dancing holograms.

So have been reading other far-future after-the-collapse works, to see what others’ imaginations have generated and so re-read Riddley Walker. First published in 1980.

Especially interested to look at it again because it supposedly takes place 2000 years in the future when England has reverted to a village-tribal world, written in first person dialect.

It’s still as engaging as when I read it twenty years ago in the sense that it initially captures one’s attention, this strange world, if you ignore some glaring implausibilities, but it starts to collapse as a constructed, believable space in the imagination about two-thirds of the way through. We stop believing in this far-future world because the main character loses his energy, which is what carried one past the totally improbable stuff in the first place. By the end you’re saying , ‘Oh come on!’

Problem one is that the people Riddley describes and interact with seem to be urban proles more on the order of Clockwork Orange. These are people from a city street culture. They just don’t behave in tribal or village ways. Riddley is 12 years old, sees his father killed in an accident and upon his return to the tribal center/home/fortress thingie he has sex with an old woman, the mystic lady, mistress of witcheries, and then they lay around and get high. On something like hash. You have to remember he was 12 years old. She sounds like she was about 60. Okay.

The people all have two-syllable names that sound ‘village-y’ or ‘working-class’ and it gets repetitive. CHAL-ker MARCH-man and SKY-way MOAT-ers and STRAIT-er EM-py and LEAST-er DIG-man and on and on. There are no strong, intelligent men, almost no women at all, and nobody ever succeeds at anything — all is dismal, all is failure. This is a literary style or sort of fashion that has grown old and stale but it seems writers can’t find their way out of it, or what the fashion alternative might be.

It seems in this far-distant future, all people want is the wonderful consumer objects that the old people had.

Then, the author makes the common and mistaken assumption that the simpler the society, the simpler the language. So this ‘English’ is very broken and unvaried, bald, dull. On the contrary, all languages that are pre-literate, pre-bookish, pre-alphabet are incredibly complex. The Australian aborigines, who led one of the world’s simplest life-styles, have/had one of the world’s most complex languages. In the two thousand years without reading matter (or radio/tv) English would have changed into something very elaborate. I know this out of my attempts to learn Ojibway, which has not been literate long enough to change the original linguistic structure.

The literate languages Spanish and French were far and away easier for me to learn. Also, it would have changed, in two thousand years, to something unrecognizable anyway. Think of what English was like two thousand years in the past. There wasn’t any English. Maybe Common Germanic.

But that is all nit-picking I suppose, and I remain with the attitudes, relationships, motivations etc. of the supposedly tribal characters in the story and not only with this work but many sci-fi/fantasy far-future novels. All appear culturally very urban. There is the matter of the extended family —- they don’t seem to have any. No aunts uncles or cousins. In a group that small one would have been related to everybody, including Lorna the mystic tell-woman. That’s why there is this thing called exogamy.

So many villages in this novel seem to be named after private parts. There’s Horny Boy and Bernt Arse and Monkey’s Hoar Town and Bollock Stoans and Nelly’s Bum river. And then, as in most modern literary novels, the protagonist begins to malfunction about two-thirds of the way through, s/he is perpetually wrecked, adhering to whoever passes by as a means of psychological locomotion.

The best character is the ephemeral Stag in the Hart of the Wud. But he only gets a few lines. His curling horns are like the Deer Stones of the Cimmerians, joyful and exultant.

June 6/24 D Day

Everybody has been having adventures except me, but have to start off this post with a WW2 photo because it’s D Day.

A landing craft listing enormously to starboard and as you can see all the men have been told to stand at the port rail. I bet there were a lot of seasick guys on that boat.

Elvia and Mariana have got home from Uzbekistan, I was astonished that Samarcand has become a comfortable tourist destination! Elvia send a great many pictures of the architecture. Here are a few.

Here is, first of all, the amazing subway in Tashkent.

Bread in the market in Tashkent

This beautiful work of art is the mausoleum of one of Timerlane’s soldiers, in the necropolis of Shaji Zenda in Samarcand

Elvia and her niece Mariana enjoying the good life in Samarcand. Usually one thinks of remote caravanserai and blowing sand and bandits and runaway camels and depleted water-bags and running out of ammunition and struggling toward the next oasis but no! We live in 2024 now and romantic adventures are a great deal safer.

This tilework is astounding. There is another picture with goldwork and I’ll try to find it next post. they are home now in time for the election in Mexico, Elvia worked at a voting post in her old school where she taught for so many years, helping voters.

And now here’s Seamus, son of Woody and Jeff of Lighthouse Island, who is crewing on the Zulu, a 42-footer, on the Juan de Fuca race, (Juan de Fuca strait around the bottom of Vancouver Island) Woody is doing appearances for her children’s books and I’m waiting to hear how the Zulu did. He’s in the red crew suit.

rough seas!

I am staying inactive as much as possible until I see a specialist in sciatic nerve stuff, and anyway we’re in yet another grim, dry, overheated drought, yet again I am putting old dog in the guest room all day with the air conditioning, old horse down in front corral with the mister — all this a repeat of last year. Never mind, I am progressing on the post-apocalypse book, doing well with it, it’s fun, I like my two characters. Doesn’t matter the genre if you have characters that are up to no good, or some good, and are happy about it, until they become unhappy, then do things to happy themselves in the ruins of a proto-civilizational rearrangement.

This is one of Jakob Rozalski’s paintings, I don’t know anything about him but he does the most bizarre stuff.

I’ve re-read a bio of George Orwell and then re-read Riddley Walker which I disliked much more than I did the first time I read it. More on that later.,

The Zulu won their race! More photos from the ship and crew. That’s Seamus in the red, up in the bow changing sails and with the victorious crew. He looks more and more like his mother, my friend Caroline Woodward-George, as he gets older.

Bukhara May 24/24

Elvia and Mariana (Elvia’s niece) have journeyed to Uzbekistan and are sending the most amazing pictures. Mariana and my granddaughter Faith are close to the same age and have been friends since they were very young, so I know they’ve been on the phone together sharing this journey.

Some years ago I read The Road To Oxiana by Robert Byron (distant relative of Lord B.) written in the Thirties, it is a most absorbing book. All black-and-white pictures of course and now Elvia is sending photos and I can see the remarkable colors of the mosaic and tile work on the mosques.

Those columns are just amazing.

May 21/2024

It’s now been almost a month since the dedication of the new, improved town square, where Debora Westmoreland, Diane Causey-Brice, Tommy Brice and many other were recognized, congratulated and cheered. I have been remiss in taking pictures and getting names but hope to catch up. It’s been increasingly difficult for me to sit at the computer, for which debility I am going in for an MRI on my hip a week from tomorrow. I just have so much time at the computer that I can endure but am hoping this will change. At any rate, it was a cheerful and lovely celebration, and hearing about the man-hours of volunter labor it took to haul in soil, repair the gazebo, construct the serenity garden, plant trees, etc. was amazing.

This was all done by volunteer labor and mostly locally raised money.

Think of the work — it needed people to haul soil, people who knew how to lay stone, replace the cupola roof, so many skills and tools.

The best part was the photos of old Utopia in the community center. Photos from 1948. How different it was then. How people hoped it would stay, if not the same, would retain its origins and cohesion.

Our music group played and Tom was loaned the old Stainer fiddle from the museum, which used to belong to the man who was the barber as well as the music teacher at the school. Tom was so happy to be playing it, he says it’s an first-rate fiddle and very old.

I hope to have more pictures and names for this post in a few days.

For the life of me I couldn’t get my own reflection out of the glass, we even took it off the wall and went wandering around trying to get out of the light but at any rate there is Utopia 1948.

And butterflies are back. This is the remarkable design on the back of a Monarch’s wings. I think it was a Monarch. At any rate, there were two different designs on the wings, back and front.

My friend Elvia from Coatepec has gone for a trip to Uzbekistan with Mariana, and has recently sent me some poems by Leon Felipe, which I am trying to translate along with working on the futuristic fantasy, sitting here with an ice pack on my hip.

Okay this is not a monarch. But here’s one like it with the reverse wing pattern.

April 24/23

“The human heart is a cave of winds…”

Jona the Mariner of Belvedere Street

And here is a quote from John Cheever;

“Fiction is art and art is the triumph over chaos (no less) and we can accomplish this only by the most vigilant exercise of choice, but in a world that changes more swiftly than we can perceive there is always the danger that our powers of selection will be mistaken and that the vision we serve will come to nothing. We admire decency and we despise death but even the mountains seem to shift in the space of a night…”

From ‘The death of Justina’.

The current internet culture is marked by loss of feeling. Mind I say ‘culture’ and not individuals.

I was recently at a wedding, the neighbor’s lovely daughter Calsey Kay and her groom Bodie Furry. Yes I know a strange last name but I assume it comes from ‘furrier’. Beautiful wedding, happy bride and groom. It was at an event venue near Fredericksburg and I was following Evelyn and Pat O’Hara my neighbors and their GPS put is in the middle of a pasture, from which we had to turn around and start again! A cold front blew in and it dropped ten degrees in an hour. Bridesmaids were all freezing in skimpy dresses, the groomsmen were luckier in tuxes but they got hitched!

April 9/24

Here are horses with proper eclipse-watching eye protection.

And here is a shot from a game camera near Kerrville — a mountain lion near Kerrville!! Can’t verify where exactly it is and have no name of the rancher who got the shot, but it does indeed look like the Kerrville area, around Telegraph maybe.

The eclipse April 8/24

My friend April Baxter got this picture, she’s in Marble Falls and manages the horse recreation for a large summer camp, Marble Falls is about 80 miles from here — but here, I only caught such a brief glimpse of the ring of fire that I couldn’t even focus my phone camera on time.

Amazing — amazing that the moon crosses the sun’s path, and even though it is a little moon of the third planet circling a mediocre sun, it is the exact same size as the sun as seen from that third planet, so precisely the same size as seen from earth that it throws a ring of fire. In what other place in the universe does this happen?

It went very dark and all the solar lights came on.

Eclipse Time In Utopia, reviews of old works April 6/24

Just re-read The Stand and it is addictive now as it was many years ago. However we are stuck with the old problem (for contemporary fiction) that the good people, like Mother Abigail, are passive and don’t really effect much of anything, and is the virtuous victim, while the Evil Dude is active, alert, seeking, moving and doing as well as homicidal etc. A hundred or so years ago the good guys were usually mountain bandits swearing revenge and leading their merry men down the declivities with savage yells. They assaulted the Evil Baron and set fire to his castle, galloping away with a fainting fashionista princess as a hostage, fell in love etc. Mountain bandits were usually about a nine on the Get ‘Er Done chart. But for more than a century our central character is usually a loser. A virtuous, sensitive, deeply caring loser.

This doesn’t seem to apply to the gazillions of non-literary fictions self-published on Amazon although sometimes you see it creeping in because the whole Evil-Active, Good-With-Chronic-Fatigue-Syndrome is so pervasive it seems that a beginning writer can hardly evade being influenced by it. At any rate, the number of post-apocalypse, apocalypse and Fall of Civilization novels are unnumbered — pages and pages of them.

They interest me — at least for a few sample pages — because I’m curious as to the main character’s character. What’s the alternative? I suppose the ancient and rather worn-out virtuous victim MC will fade away eventually.

I am also reading all of John Cheever’s short stories. I admire him very much. I love his work. Shady Hill was his Troy.

I think these are about all the flowers we are going to get this spring. It’s painfully, depressingly dry. They are a kind of desert flower, or bush, I think. They bloom no matter what. We are turning into Arizona here.

But the eclipse is coming!

The town is already filling up and the Parks department has gifted our highway approaches both north and south with a great many flags, it looks great, the park is filled with gifts-and-trinkets booth and when I was in town today to get mail etc. I was glad to see Sherriff Nolasco and several Uvalde Sherriff’s department cars parked around town.

Just heard from my Lighthouse Island friends, going to dinner with Bill and Cathy Wightman Sunday evening and am on my way to speak at the Eudora Welty lit. festival in Jackson Mississippi next Tuesday. Looking forward to all of it and now I have to answer Elvia in Coatepec, if I get a letter off in Spanish before my hip starts hurting it would be a good thing.

February 2/25/24

I want to highly recommend this book — Ron Henderson is a kind of miracle — and his observations about class surpass, I think, those of Fussell. Surviving a childhood of drug-addicted mother, repeated foster homes, incessant turmoil and wild acting-out as a teenager, he finally got a handle on things by joining the Air Force. He then went on to Yale and a PhD from Cambridge (England). His observations on the class snobbery he survived are remarkable for their analytical quality and a kind of calm about it all. When he met Harold Bloom, and related to Bloom very briefly his background, Bloom put a hand on his arm and said, “You were forged in a fire”. Henderson is the author of the term ‘luxury belief’, which has become current.

Be current, read up on this, it’s the start of something new, or perhaps very old, but certainly welcome.

How it might affect the present state of fiction I can’t tell.

Dear Reader 2/14/2024

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Reading C.S Lewis’ An Experiment in Criticism and not that I am looking over anybody’s shoulder, or peeking at their library titles but he has great points about exchanges between reader and writer..

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(Many readers) (and reviewers on Amazon) demand a swift-moving narrative. Something must always be ‘happening’. Their favorite terms of condemnation are ‘slow’, ‘long-winded’ and the like…”

“Some people read only narrative because only there will he find an Event. He is dead to the aural side of what he reads because rhythm and melody do not help him to discover who married who (or rescued, robbed raped or murdered) whom”

I’m not totally in agreement with this — it’s important to find out who. But I think it’s true about narratives that leap wildly from event to event becoming tedious.

And, “In the course of my inquiry I rejected the notion that literature is to be valued A) for telling us truths about life and b.) as an aid to culture…while we read, we must treat the reception of the work we are reading as an end in itself.”

That’s because non-fiction — polemics, essays, journalism sermons— does those things much better than dressing it all up as a “novel”.

Every dawn is different, the sun is moving north again, shadows are different on the hills day by day and Orion is leaving us. Last night I stepped outside and I never saw such a sky full of blazing stars.