This Thing Called Courage

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Foreward and New Cover


Or is it 'Foreword?' I always get those two mixed up. Anyway Haworth wanted me to write a foreward for Map of the Harbor Islands (which has a revised release date of October 16, due to the flooding in upstate New York where Haworth's smart international production headquarters are located-- the cover department was COMPLTELY wiped out). I really didn't want to as I thought the book said all I had to say on the matter, but anyway-- they wanted it. So I had to wait until I felt I could speak from the heart about the story of Danny and Petey, so anyway here it is:

On the bright morning of September 11, 2001, my mother called from Maine and instructed me to turn the television on, as a small plane had crashed onto the roof of one of the Twin Towers. I declined, as I bemoan the devolution of the news media into a carnival of mayhem and mishap. But my roommate overheard our conversation, and tuned in; when he called me to the other room to say the accident was much more horrific than anyone imagined—indeed, could imagine, in those days—the three of us (my roommate, my dog Biscuit, and I) sat involuntarily glued to the enveloping horror for the next five hours.
Finally Biscuit, displaying the animal sensitivity that science dismisses and pet owners routinely witness, started shaking— then he barked to get us out of the room. He had had enough of the emotional tsunami spilling into our home that day. As much as for his sake as my own, we decamped to ‘Happy Land,’ our name for the 3000-acre conversation area of hills, lakes, meadows, and cliffs 400 yards from where I live.
We were, of course, looking for escape. If I had known then the ramifications-- direct and indirect-- that would follow in the wake of that day, perhaps I wouldn’t have come back—or not until, at least, the various Bogeymen who have appeared in the wake of 911 had been dispatched. I know some great caves up there.
There was something above and beyond that day’s tragedy that was heartbreaking in its beauty. Every locale must have its halcyon days, and here in New England, our meteorological payback comes in a nebulous swath of time and space and light that begins roughly in late August and extends—if we’re lucky—into mid-October. How to describe the indescribable—there is softness to the air, a benign silence, a certain slant of light that contains cricket and cicada sound by night and flotillas of slow-moving cumulus clouds by day, punctuating a Cerulean sky. There are breezes that carry a certain poignancy in the air, as if summer hated to be called last summer so soon.
There are certain days that are meteorologically perfect—and yet we might plow through them without remark. But among these are some—two or three a year—that break one’s heart with their beauty. Beyond the day’s perfection, there is a je ne sais que, a spritz of harmony that makes one feel, as the Zen describe it, as if one will live forever, even when one knows one won’t. Everything conspires, and the soul soars. Maybe it’s Jungian. Maybe it’s me.
Anyway-- September 11, 2001 was such a day in New England, weather-wise if not otherwise; and Biscuit and I roamed the hills and fields of Happy Land—or Tír na Shona as we called it then (I was teaching him Irish so I would have someone to speak to in that lovely but listing language) until day smudged into night.
The greatest lesson the animals teach: everything is for the first time; everything is now. In Biscuit’s case, he could go from despair to nirvana with just the taking down of his leash from its home over the pencil sharpener. And so we proceeded, up hill and down dale, seeking our escape: and while it was true that horror had come calling that day—the bees had found some secret stash of goldenrod, and were making merry in it; the clouds stalled over mirror water, and the light shifted, delighted and drunk; frogs plopped off logs to swim; we sought out Hawk Hill to see if any red-tailed raptors were riding the thermals, as the breezes were from the happy Northwest; they were. We watched the skies, as Petey might say, with quiet eyes.
It occurred to me sometime that late afternoon that perhaps all this—the diphthong of the birds, the pine drench in the air, the dewdrops lingering in a Golden Gate of a spider web, spanning an upland meadow path—was reality, and what the world had witnessed that morning—and, alas, other mornings, and afternoons, and evenings: the hatred, the revenge, the rooms where people gather to plot murder, or invent terms like collateral damage—was the unreality, the nightmare we have dreamed up in our collective fear and greed and loneliness.
I had just begun this novel then. I put it away for a time, as it seemed I should be writing, or painting, about things other than the secret discovery two people make in their own version of Happy Land, the Boston Harbor Islands. But eventually I returned to it, of course, for it seemed Danny and Petey, the heroes of this work, would stomp on my stomach at night while I tried to sleep, demanding to be birthed.
In the same way it sometimes seems silly, in these times, to write about things like the dream-drift of clouds, or the numinous joy elicited by the secret discovery by two city boys of a tern’s nest, or the bliss to be found in the corners of a true a friend’s smile. But I am reminded of the story of a ‘high-powered’ somebody or other who went into the hospital for dangerous surgery. A voracious reader by necessity, she didn’t want the ‘important’ works of the day, or the weighty journals of her profession, despite the pressure to keep current; she wanted The Wind in the Willows. “They’re always making toast,” was the only explanation she could offer.
The point is, it is in the worst of times that we must remember what is still beautiful in the world, and of lasting value, however esoteric and individual those things might be to each of us. And so I offer you, gentle reader, the story of Danny and Petey, and what they found of lasting value, in the never-never land of my own reality.


ALSO-- Haworth sent the new proposed cover yesterday, which is a million times better than the first one, which looked like 'Lady Chatterlain's Summer of Love.' Here it is: As in, it's above (you can't position the photos on this blog-- they all come out at the top). Like all the pix on here, if you click on it it gets bigger.
I've been harvesting my first French Yellow Beans from mygarden this week-- they are SO GOOD, and still have that funny rough feel to therm that fresh beans too-- hard to describe. I've eben eating them raw and in stir-fry mostly, and giving some away (they all come at once) to whoever comes by. It still amazes me that you can put this dried up, dead-looking, shrivelly thing in the ground, and a few weeks later come back and find a plant bearing food. The Good Earth. What a miracle. I read a few years agop how dirt is stardust. I love that. Okay, have to walk Fionn before it gets any hotter, he goes on sit-down strike all along our wal;k route when it's hot.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Some Independence Day Thoughts from Howard Zinn

The Declaration of Independence gives us the true meaning of a patriot, someone who supports a country's ideals, not necessarily its government.



By Howard Zinn



In celebration of the Fourth of July there will be many speeches about the young people who "died for their country." But those who gave their lives did not, as they were led to believe, die for their country; they died for their government. The distinction between country and government is at the heart of the Declaration of Independence, which will be referred to again and again on July 4, but without attention to its meaning.
The Declaration of Independence is the fundamental document of democracy. It says governments are artificial creations, established by the people, "deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed," and charged by the people to ensure the equal right of all to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Furthermore, as the Declaration says, "whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it." It is the country that is primary--the people, the ideals of the sanctity of human life and the promotion of liberty.
When a government recklessly expends the lives of its young for crass motives of profit and power, while claiming that its motives are pure and moral, ("Operation Just Cause" was the invasion of Panama and "Operation Iraqi Freedom" in the present instance), it is violating its promise to the country. War is almost always a breaking of that promise. It does not enable the pursuit of happiness but brings despair and grief.
Mark Twain, having been called a "traitor" for criticizing the U.S. invasion of the Philippines, derided what he called "monarchical patriotism." He said: "The gospel of the monarchical patriotism is: 'The King can do no wrong.' We have adopted it with all its servility, with an unimportant change in the wording: 'Our country, right or wrong!' We have thrown away the most valuable asset we had -- the individual's right to oppose both flag and country when he believed them to be in the wrong. We have thrown it away; and with it, all that was really respectable about that grotesque and laughable word, Patriotism."
If patriotism in the best sense (not in the monarchical sense) is loyalty to the principles of democracy, then who was the true patriot? Theodore Roosevelt, who applauded a massacre by American soldiers of 600 Filipino men, women and children on a remote Philippine island, or Mark Twain, who denounced it? Today, U.S. soldiers who are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan are not dying for their country; they are dying for Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld. They are dying for the greed of the oil cartels, for the expansion of the American empire, for the political ambitions of the president. They are dying to cover up the theft of the nation's wealth to pay for the machines of death. As of July 4, 2006, more than 2,500 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq, more than 8,500 maimed or injured. With the war in Iraq long declared a "Mission Accomplished," shall we revel in American military power and insist that the American empire will be beneficent?
Our own history is enough to make one wary. Empire begins with what was called, in our high school history classes, "westward expansion,"a euphemism for the annihilation or expulsion of the Indian tribes inhabiting the continent, in the name of "progress" and "civilization." It continues with the expansion of American power into the Caribbean at the turn of the 20th century, then into the Philippines, and then repeated Marine invasions of Central America and long military occupations of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. After World War II, Henry Luce, owner of Time, LIFE, and Fortune, spoke of "the American Century," in which this country would organize the world "as we see fit." Indeed, the expansion of American power continued, too often supporting military dictatorships in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, because they were friendly to American corporations and the American government. The record does not justify confidence in Bush's boast that the United States will bring democracy to Iraq.
Should Americans welcome the expansion of the nation's power, with the anger this has generated among so many people in the world? Should we welcome the huge growth of the military budget at the expense of health, education, the needs of children, one fifth of whom grow up in poverty? Instead of being feared for our military prowess, we should want to be respected for our dedication to human rights. I suggest that a patriotic American who cares for her or his country might act on behalf of a different vision. Should we not begin to redefine patriotism? We need to expand it beyond that narrow nationalism that has caused so much death and suffering. If national boundaries should not be obstacles to trade-- some call it "globalization"--should they also not be obstacles to compassion and generosity? Should we not begin to consider all children, everywhere, as our own? In that case, war, which in our time is always an assault on children, would be unacceptable as a solution to the problems of the world. Human ingenuity would have to search for other ways.
Howard Zinn is a veteran of World War II and author of the bestselling book, A People's History of the United States. The following essay is an excerpt from Zinn's forthcoming book, A Power Governments Cannot Suppress.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Garden Pics as Promised







This is the new garden I made this year. It runs along the front wall of the front yard, cheeck-to-jowl with roaring Main Street-- I am trying to make my peace with Main Street. I love most that people stop and talk when I'm out there, and admire the plants; I hope too that those driving by will give a look and have their day brightened, and then think about the environment, and then vote Democractic this fall, and for every fall forever...okay, it's a leap, I admit....
Okay so here we have a view of the garden looking down Main Street; looking up Main Street; my Hyperion Daylilies (the yellow ones); Stargazer Lilies (with the the intense fragrance-- the dark pink and white ones); a nice combo (the gray foliage plant whose name, alas, escapes me, and an intensely Prussian Blue petunia); and my pride and joy, one of the 'Envy' (green-flowered) Zinnias I raised from seed-- just about to bloom! There's about a dozen of these scattered throughout the garden. Usually perennial gardens don't do much their first year, but I must say I'm very pleased at their progress thus far...not shown are my milkweed, which I also raised from seed-- they are coming along, albeit VERY slowly...my other two gardens are at the the front door (pansies in pots, and veggies) and tons of pots going down the very long 'Stairway to Heaven' out my back door. More pics of them to come...

More Will as 'Horrible'





A few more shots of Will Malachy in his first parade ever!

Garden Update Coming! Fourth of July, Sigh


Hi All, It's been a long time since I last posted-- busy with this and that. My 'Hardy Boys' mystery is coming along, and Map of the Harbor Islands (my first novel) has been given a release date of September 26. Now, we just have to get the cover straightened out...

I've never been a huge fan of the Fourth of July, or jingoism in general, and more so (or less so) since this current nightmare of an Administration has been in (usurped and election-thieving) power.

That being said, sister Peg visited this past weekend and we spent much of our time down in village-like, sea-girt Nahant (or 'Nawshant,' as I call it in my current book, where my mystery is set) home to 3200 souls including my youngest brother Mike, sister-in-law Carol, and their utterly adorable and life-affirming son (my godson!) Will Malachy Hayes. Monday night saw Will in his first parade, namely 'The Horribles,' a very old tradition in Nahant that reminded me of nothing more than the Irish lads who go 'On the Wren,' (or used to anyway) in rural Ireland on Saint Stephen's Day (December 26). Young children adorn themselves in weird costume, and parade about a mile down the street, to the accompaniment of a rag-timey band decked out in Dr. Seussian, Cat-in-the-Hat like regalia. No one could tell me its origins, but humans have long had the need to deck out in costume and go a little nuts. Virtually all primitive cultures were aware of the truth that, to retain one's sanity, one occasionally needs to go a little bananas, and thus we see in the long annals of history, fertility rites, harvest homes, ritual dances, Carnival, Ghost Dances, Halloween, Mardi Gras, and the like. (I had suggested to some of the neighbors of Mike and Carol that we all mark Carol's 40th Birthday party by dressing in Louis XIV costume, but alas, it came to naught, and instead there was a cookout and bonfire on the beach while people drank beer and someone played horrible classic rock music that made conversation impossible....but I digress.)

Anyway here are some pictures of Will as 'Horrible.' He was dressed as (according to Carol, who had to fill out a name for his costume with the parade organizers) 'Patriotic Little Dude.' God knows, we can use a few of them. I promise I will post some garden pix later today.