BITTER OR BETTER?

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What I love about Michelangelo’s sketches is the different sides of humans he manages to brilliantly capture. Like these two images I put together of anger and calm. People say one cannot be appreciated without the other. Perhaps that’s true – without having experienced rage, can one truly strive for calm?

If the rage comes from things life throws at us that make us angry, maybe the calm comes from accepting that life does this, and will continue to do this, and that ultimately our peace of mind is in the way we react to it. Or don’t react. It’s not up to life. It’s up to us. Our ultimate challenge in life.

Like when people cut us off on the road. When my husband and I go for drives, we have to agree beforehand that we won’t react to anything. Let people cut us off, flip us off, act however they want. It’s their issue, not ours. We will not react. It’s very difficult. We’re conditioned to react. And we’ve both had life throw things at us to make us angry, which is behind my writing Gothic novels.

But we’re realizing that we have a choice. We can hold onto that anger and let it define us, or we can let it go. What happened in the past isn’t going to change. But it’s over. We need to learn to let it be over.

Of course, it’s complicated. We find ourselves reacting to people and speaking to our own kid in ways that are colored by our own negative experiences, without realizing it. All we can really do is think afterwards about how it affects our kid, and how it reflects experiences that have made us angry and unhappy, and decide to be mindful of it going forward. I will not be defined by the past is one of my regular mantras. I will not be like my parents. I will be better, less judgmental, kinder. And it makes me feel better about myself. Because when I act like those I didn’t like, I don’t like myself. That makes me angry with myself, hate myself even, and it taints my perception of things and my behavior towards others.

Recently I visited an old, dying relative who clings to things from the past that eat him alive. And he’s dying. Really? I wanted to say. This is what you focus on as you die? I did say, “Let it go. It’s not worth obsessing over 20 years later.” And he said “I can’t.” It made me incredibly sad. For him and for all those who feel this way. Maybe this is a current awareness, what with meditation and mindfulness becoming fads. And people from previous generations just don’t know how, aren’t even aware that letting go is an option. But for me, it has become a goal. For my own sanity.

To end with a quote that totally hits the mark: “You either get better or you get bitter. It’s that simple. You either take what has been dealt to you and allow it to make you a better person, or you allow it to tear you down. The choice does not belong to fate, it belongs to you.” – Josh Shipp, award winning speaker on teen issues and bestselling author. Well, we’re not teenagers. But there are issues that permanently stain our lives, way past the teen years. And it’s really not simple at all. But we owe it to ourselves to try to get better, to find the calm, don’t we?

Sorry I haven’t written in a while! I’ve been totally bogged down with marketing my current book and writing the next one in the Owl Manor series! Peace.

Language of the Soul

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Anybody who has been deeply touched by music will attest to the fact that it is the language of the soul. It gives voice to our emotions and makes us see what a privilege it is to feel, which is what makes us human. Relevant to every age, every culture, whether you’re in a sad place, happy, or angry place, music will touch on those feelings and play them out.

The music that has been doing this for me for a long time is that of Mr. Peter Gabriel. His prophetic voice, his endless vision and creativity, his ability to get to the core of life. His songs made me cry when I was an adolescent, and they make me cry now. His lyrics and sounds carry the joys and pains of our existence, and appeal to our primal instincts, the raw emotion that we all try to deny for it might drive us mad.

But sometimes madness makes you feel, and that’s part of us, right?

Those who think “Sledgehammer” or “Big Time” when they think Peter Gabriel…there’s so much more: “Rhythm of the Heat”, “Mercy Street”, “That Voice again”, “Here comes the flood”…I don’t know where to stop. These are the ones that reach deep into your soul and consume you, take you on a journey in which your emotions are wrung out and leave you feeling drained…and cleansed. It’s therapeutic.

Here are the lyrics from one of my all time favorites, “That Voice Again”. I took out the refrains. And below the lyrics is the song on Youtube. Watch for the part where he sings “Only love can make love”….aaaahhhhh, thank you Maestro. You are a constant inspiration to me.

I want to be with you
I want to be clear
But each time I try
It’s the voice I hear
I hear that voice again

I’m listening to the conversation:
Judge and jury in my head
It’s coloring everything
All we did and said
And still I head that sharp tongue talking
Talking tangled words
I can sense the danger
Just listen to the wind

I want you close I want you near
I can’t help but listen
But I don’t want to hear
Hear that voice again…….

I’m hearing right and wrong so clearly
There must be more than this
It’s only in uncertainty
That we’re naked and alive
I hear it through the rattle of a streetcar
Hear it through the things you said
I can get so scared
Listen to the wind…….

What I carry in my heart
Brings us so close or so far apart
Only love can make love

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHjmwq3NbE4https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHjmwq3NbE4

Does anyone have a musician they have been deeply touched by and would like to share?

 

 

WHAT IS A MONSTER?

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Is it just a figment of our imagination? I recently heard someone say the novel Frankenstein, by Mary Shelly, is just a “silly monster story”. Due to all the commercialization of “monsters”, like in “Addams Family”, super hero cartoons, etc., I can understand this.

But can anyone say they have never met a “monster,” silly or otherwise? Just look at some of the leaders of the world. “Silly” can be pretty scary.

Could it be possible that this stunning novel is dismissed as “silly” because at some level we can relate to it and it scares us? Maybe it brings out fears and anxieties that we would rather not face, even reminds us of thoughts we might have all had at one point or other in our lives that we might be ashamed of. Maybe it’s because sometimes “monsters” get to the heart of some of the most important issues of humankind.

All literature is drawn from life. As the master of modern day horror said: “Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” – Stephen King.

In Frankenstein, Victor Frankenstein, scientist, builds a man out of body parts from different corpses. The result is not “silly” at all. It is grotesque, a wretched atrocity spawned by a demented mind. And then he runs away, leaving his mutant child to find its own way in the world, an act that forever condemns the thing to the realm of the unaccepted. After all, if a parent cannot accept the child he/she gave life to, why would the world? Hence, he creates the monster; physically by making him hideous to look at, and emotionally by his devastating rejection of him. Who is the monster here?

When Victor’s younger brother is murdered, he immediately assumes that the creature is responsible for it. A thing that ugly must surely be violent. As it turns out, he is right about who killed the boy, not because ugliness is bound to violence as he thinks, but because the creature, in his misery, wants revenge on his maker.

“I am malicious because I am miserable; am I not shunned and hated by all mankind?…You, my creator, would tear me to pieces and triumph; remember that, and tell me why I should pity man more than he pities me?…Shall I respect man, when he condemns me? Let him live with me in the interchange of kindness, and instead of injury, I would bestow every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance. But that cannot be; the human senses are insurmountable barriers to our union…I will revenge my injuries: if I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear. ”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

When someone is treated with intolerance and hatred, the creature is saying, even by their own parent, they do not know how to be anything but hateful and angry themselves. How can they? Children learn how to love, respect, tolerate, be kind, and yes, hate, from their parents. How can a child who is mistreated learn how to do anything but mistreat? But deep down inside, we don’t need anyone to tell us what is wrong because we all have an innate sense of good and bad. “Let him live with me in the interchange of kindness, and instead of injury, I would bestow every benefit upon him with tears of gratitude at his acceptance,” the creature says. Even though he has known no kindness, he knows what it is. Babies respond to love with smiles and laughter the very first time they experience it because they are born with a sense of what feels good and what feels bad.

It’s a story of the dark ambition of man to conquer nature; of betrayal, agony, revenge, and the horrors that come from unbridled emotions, from forces that are unleashed when someone is denied love and acceptance. It’s a story of prejudice and ignorant assumptions about those who look different, which abounds in the world. People are judged for being too tall, too short, too fat, too thin, race, culture, gender, religion, sexual orientation and anything else out there. Because it makes those who are judging feel better about themselves and take less responsibility for their own problems. Maybe it’s impossible not to have ugly thoughts now and then. Maybe the best we can do is be mindful of them, and not act on them. If we want to, that is. 

Not only is Frankenstein not just a silly monster story, but it is a classic, which means its relevance will outlive us all.

Love to hear some thoughts!

Prostitution: freedom for women in the 1800s

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La Espera Margot, Pablo Picasso

While doing research on prostitution in the Old West for my upcoming novel, Owl Manor – the Dawning, set in Denver in the 1800s, I discovered some things about them that made me think. When I hear of prostitutes, I usually feel sorry for them. It’s unimaginable that selling one’s body for money could be anything but the most degrading, humiliating and shameful experience. No amount of money would make it worth it. Right? These poor women must be either forced into doing it or are doing it out of desperation. Either way, they’ve been brutally stripped of their freedom to choose. That’s what it boils down to: the freedom to choose, one of the most basic rights of every human being regardless of gender, race, culture and status. If a woman doesn’t want to have sex, and is forced to, she is being deprived of her right to choose, and these are the prostitutes we mostly hear about in books, movies, T.V.: the streetwalkers, the victims of sex trafficking, the ones who were forced into it. However, there are women who make informed decisions to have sex for money, and that is their prerogative. We’ve all heard of high class “escorts”, either independent or from an agency, who charge exorbitant prices. Many of them choose their profession, probably looking at the early retirement the money might bring them.

I was sure these were not the type of prostitutes we would see in the Old West, or the Wild West, the rough and untamed land in the 1800s west of the Mississippi River: the Midwest, Texas, the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, the Southwest, and the West Coast. The settlements that formed there were based on the discovery of natural resources, like oil, gold, etc. So these settlements were populated mostly with uneducated, lower class men since their muscle was required to mine these resources. Savage, whiskey-laden men who, I thought, would be forcing poor young women to have sex with them, turning them into ladies of the night, abusing them. I thought the stories of the prostitutes there would be those of the unfortunate streetwalkers, the ones we feel sorry for.

I was wrong. Their stories, actually, are those of the high paid escorts. Women in frontier towns went into this trade because, in the 1800s, when women were still expected to submit without question to the authority of men, prostitution became a way for them to be free, independent; to be in charge of their own lives. Thaddeus Russell writes in his controversial book A Renegade History of the United States: “In the nineteenth century, a woman who owned property, made high wages, had sex outside of marriage…used birth control, consorted with men of other races, danced, drank, or walked alone in public, wore makeup, perfume, or stylish clothes — and was not ashamed — was probably a whore.” It empowered them at a time when women were denied power.

They were not young girls who had run away from home, or been stolen and sold into slavery. They were older, mostly in their early twenties, and the choice to join the trade was their own. There are several reasons why. One: they made more money. They made in a day what girls in other jobs, such as cleaning or cooking, made in a week. (Russell) Madams in the trade became some of the wealthiest women in the country. Two: at a time when women were not allowed to own property, they owned land. Jennie Rogers, the “Queen of the Colorado Underworld,” for instance, made so much money that she was able to buy prized land in Denver, and also shares from an irrigation and reservoir project in the city, thereby contributing to the growth and development of the town. (Russell) Three: madams provided health care and police protection for their women, so they were well cared for. And four: I think the most important one, is that they answered to no one but themselves. They answered to no man, indeed had power over men, and were in complete charge of their own lives. And they were respected because of the money they had.

So while it’s unimaginable that selling one’s body for money could be anything but the most degrading, humiliating and shameful experience, maybe it’s all in the perspective. It is that way for many who aren’t given any choice. But these women from the Old West in the1800s made conscious decisions to join the trade because at the time it was their best option. They were exercising their freedom to choose. And look at what they gained from it: independence, wealth, health care, land, social status. These women were not ones to feel sorry for.

My thanks to Thaddeus Russell for this illuminating and exciting information in
A Renegade History of the United States.

Giordano Bruno an Inspiration

While the white marble classical statuary of Rome is stunning, this brass statue of Giordano Bruno, a 16th century Dominican friar, contradictorily philosopher, poet, mathematician, and cosmologist, is haunting. Built at the very spot in the Campo de Fiore in Rome, Italy, where he was burned at the stake for his progressive thinking, it is memorably different from other classical statues.

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First of all, it’s clothed.2_emoji copyThe first marble statue you see of a naked hero or God makes you “ooh” and “aah” at the skill of the artist, the ability to convincingly extract flesh from stone, all while trying not to stare obviously at the glaring genitals in your face. By the time you reach statue number 50, or perhaps even sooner, “oohs” and “aahs” are replaced by “ho hums” and “meh.” A little humor before I go into the serious stuff!!

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The fact that the statue of Giordano Bruno is clothed is actually a sign of it’s importance. It took more effort, time and skill to sculpt fabric.

Secondly it doesn’t have the blank, expressionless stare of other statues that make them look like they’re made of stone, or dead, which they are.

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It feels cognizant, watchful. It throbs with anger, an eternal fatigue, humility, tragedy, and says one doesn’t have to be dazzling and grand, like everything Vatican, to make an impact. Boundlessly spiritual in a way that transcends all the pettiness in the world, it speaks of the oppression of progressive thinking, of what makes sense, what’s logical, all doctrine and policy aside. And it makes me want to cry for all the people who are misunderstood an misjudged. It’s grim, Gothic, reeks of the darkness that characterized the 16th century (lack of individual thought and logic, strong belief in the supernatural, violent persecution of those that questioned current religious views). It’s powerful.

Why is he an inspiration? In an era ruled by inflexibility of thought dictated by doctrine and the need for self glorification, when the popular theory was that the earth was at the center of the universe, Giordano Bruno believed in the Copernican model of the solar system, which gave the sun that honor. Shame on him for stirring up doubts about the glory of the earth. Fact and accuracy be damned.

A bigger thorn in the side of those who were “ordained” by the almighty was the fact that he was also a Pantheist, believing there was no God with human attributes and human judgment ruling over life, and that divinity existed in all living things. So, sorry, sire, you do not have the power to condemn me to eternal damnation. Well! What gives you the right, Bruno???

The Roman Inquisition evidently did not believe he had that right. They tried and found him guilty of heresy in 1593. Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake, his ashes strewn in the Tiber.

Like most great men, his recognition was posthumous. In the more enlightened 19th and early 20th centuries, Giordano Bruno rose to fame as a martyr for science. His case remains a landmark in the history of free thought. His statue, created by Ettore Ferrari (nope, no connection to the car at all!), was put up in the Campo di Fiore, Rome in 1889. The inscription on the base reads: “ A BRUNO – IL SECOLO DA LUI DIVINATO – QUI DOVE IL ROGO ARSE” – Translation: “To Bruno – From the Age he Predicted – Here Where the Fire Burned.” Sounds more momentous in Italian, doesn’t it?

He towers over the tourists and flower stalls during the day, and in the shadows of the lit up cafes and bars at night, forever reminding us, the revelers, not to take our freedoms for granted. That life is much more than what is told by those who would be in power, to never give up thinking for ourselves, to question what we are told if it doesn’t make sense, and to look deep inside ourselves for what does. He is an inspiration.

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By the way his statue was built facing the Vatican, which really pissed them off!