Uncomfortable Questions

A few days ago, I watched an interesting film about the Vatican State during WWII. It gave a good sense of the times, even if it was a narrow view. Narrow only, because it played out in the Vatican, and the actors mostly portrayed the Pontifex and his staff (nuns and clericals of various rank). It gave some intriguing facts, perhaps the most important was that the papers from the time still are locked away. The more I learn about this period, the clearer it becomes that there was nobody who didn’t contribute to this disastrous war. I say disastrous, because of the mass murders and the atomic bomb. That alone sets this war, and the period leading up to it apart, as one of the biggest humanitarian failures. Nobody came out of this war innocent, or with ‘clean hands’. Why do people insist that anything can be resolved with weapons? Weapons do one thing and one thing only: they kill. And it doesn’t matter whether they kill one person or millions. Weapons are destructive. War is destructive. And there the argument should stop.

While I’m at it, it is time to ensure that we treat animals humanely too. I don’t advocate that we should all turn vegan, but we must remember the pact between humans and animals. The least we can do, if we want to ‘harvest’ and eat meat, is to ensure that the animals live a healthy and pleasant life until the end.

Am I mixing issues together here? I don’t care. If we kill humans, we’ll kill animals too, and perhaps with less remorse. If we decide against killing animals, how come we still insist on making wars? Just look about: is there any place on earth where people don’t cause murder and mayhem? Exactly. We’re as bad as wild animals. No, indeed, we’re worse. We know what we do.

There are few lust murderers among animals. Perhaps the odd tiger gets a taste for human flesh. Perhaps whales or crocodiles or piranhas kill indiscriminately. But that is nothing against the murder of six million Jews. It is nothing against the murders committed by Pol Pot, or Mao Tse Tung, or against the bombs falling on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We’re worse than animals. No animal race is worse than the human animal. And that brings me back to the Papal action or should I say inaction during WWII.

Ask yourself: is there a religion that turns away from murder? Buddhism perhaps. Most religions concern themselves with death. From the Egyptian and Tibetan books of death to the Aztec murder priests. All the Middle Eastern religions have the same theme: Jihad or war against Philistines? The Christian religion condones cannibalism. . .

How dare I say that? Simple: it says so in the bible. Eat this bread and drink this wine: it is my body and my blood that I give to save you from your sins.

Sometimes there’s nothing left, other than despairing over the mess we humans create. And I haven’t even started on the damage we’ve done to the environment. The animal species we’ve destroyed, the milliards we’ve killed. The water we polluted, the air we poisoned. There is no end to the destruction we’ve caused. And we still think we’re better than animals? We’re red in tooth and claw. It is shameful.

I’m not a political creature, but I have a conscience. When did we lose our inbred etic? It was never innate: it was something we had to learn. But did we ever truly comprehend? There may have been some lights in the world, but they are few and far between. After Mother Theresa and Gandhi: who have truly done something towards making this world a better place?

© HMH, 2018

Snakes and Symbols

 

And there the snake throws her enamelled skin. . .
(Shakespeare)

A few days ago, I watched Grimm’s fairy tale The White Snake. It made me think. Perhaps, because the film version was beautiful and went beyond the original narrative, adding new psychological levels. I must add that the subconscious plays a huge part in any fairy-tale, but the adaption made this point beautifully.

Why present snakes such a powerful image of the subconscious?

This is what I want to find out. One thing is clear: snakes appear in almost every religion from Old Norse to Christianity. A snake protects the Buddha from a storm, while he meditates. Lord Vishnu sleeps safely on the serpent Shesha, floating on the cosmic waters. In other words, the snake belongs to a universal language.

It is no wonder that Koronis killed his son Asclepius when one considers he learned to renew life from a snake. Therefore, snakes became a symbol of healing as well as for death and rebirth. Modern medicine has adopted the emblem, but maybe it is no wonder that Asclepius’ rod sometimes gets confused with the Caduceus. Both are powerful images, but Asclepius had only one snake entwining his rod. Is it the wit of our ancestors that let Hermes, the messenger of the gods, guide of the dead and protector of merchants, shepherds, gamblers, liars, and thieves carry the Caduceus? It seems to put medicine and commerce too close for comfort.

 

 

Also, it seems that both myths are entwined:  Asclepius killed a snake and observed its partner bringing it back to life, whereas the Greek mythology tells us that the Caduceus is part of Tiresias story. He found two snakes copulating and killed one of them. As a result, Tiresias was transformed into a woman and remained female until he killed the other, the male snake. Later his staff went to Hermes, along with its transformative powers.

The Ouroboros, the snake that eats itself is a symbol of eternity and continual renewal of life. It isn’t difficult to link rebirth and transformation to the fact that snakes shed their skins through sloughing. They renew themselves and that fascinates us to this day.

And I haven’t even touched upon the sexual issue. Snakes represent fertility and sexual desire. A powerful example of that is the Kundalini, a coiled serpent placed at the bottom of our spines. It raises and empowers pure desire.

 

The world’s great age begins anew,
The golden years return,
The earth doth like a snake renew
Her winter weeds outworn;
Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam,
Like wrecks of a dissolving dream

(Shelley)

 

© HMH, 2018

An Unjust Society

A few days ago, they grabbed a shoplifter in the local supermarket. That made me think, not because of his so-called crime, but it suddenly struck me that many people are driven to crime through the way this society works.

This particular guy is probably a junk-addict and alcoholic, but that doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t have anything. In this town, a fragment of the homeless people hangs out in the small park across from the supermarket. Recently their shelter, which is just a couple of bushes and a rundown shack, has been torn down. In other words, they don’t have anywhere to go.

I believe this guy was desperate, hungry, and half crazed. He tried to run for it, but the shop assistants ran him down without trouble. Then they forced him back inside and, more or less, pulled him apart to get at the things he’d taken. I noticed that some of his clothes was on the floor when they’d finished with him. He said, you can stop now, I haven’t got anything left.

Of course, it’s wrong to shoplift, but something doesn’t add up. We live in an unfair society. This person never had a chance. That much is clear. He has nothing, he may or may not have an education. Maybe he hadn’t much resistance and common sense from the beginning, but he is a victim nonetheless.

It was a hurtful experience. I can’t help thinking that people, who have hit rock bottom, shouldn’t be carted away by the police. They need help. They don’t need to be almost strip-searched by shop assistants.

So many people fall through the safety net these days. No wonder, when one considers that one percent of the world’s inhabitants have a staggering wealth. The middle classes find it increasingly difficult to get by, and there’s a vast majority of luckless people who become misfits or outcasts. The cardboard cities, the rough sleepers, the beggars, alcoholics, mentally disturbed, and the drug addicts, clearly show that something is rotten in the state of . . .  you can fill in the appropriate country. This is a problem anywhere in the world.

Charity doesn’t help. It is merely a comfort for those who have too much. Once they’ve given something — and enjoyed the tax-relief — they sit back and tell themselves that they’ve done everything possible to sort out the trouble. It‘s easy to say that people don’t get to this state without reason. It’s easy to say that destitute people are lazy, so why should we worry. We’ve given enough.

I don’t mean to say that there aren’t people does what they can to help. There are people who ‘give’ a lot. The problem is that it’s all wrong. We need a living wage and that’s just the beginning. We live in an unjust society and it’s time to do something.

 

©HMH, 2018

Questions to Ask

I don’t think one can be too cautious in choice of language these days. It is too easy to misunderstand. If somebody constantly pulls Muslims into focus in rants about radicalism and criminality, I find it difficult to see this person as anything but bigoted. It isn’t easy to talk about these issues, but it doesn’t clarify anything to accuse one group or people. Yes, there are radical Muslims, but there are also radical Germans, Jews, Koreans, right wings, left wings, Christians, Catholics, and Americans. Without a doubt, some of them are worse than the others, but there’s no excuse for blaming one group over all the others. Making a single group appear as the enemy results in holocausts.

We must question popular newspapers, we must scrutinize the background for every issue presented as fact. There’s no way around sifting information, and questioning if it could be biased in any way. I can’t stress it enough that this is the duty of any citizen of the world.

People come in all colours, but they’re human beings no matter if they’re white males, black transgender, brown lesbians, yellow homosexuals, green vegans, blue women, or something else. Every human being has a navel, and every human being was born by a woman, whether naturally or by a caesarean. We all have a mother and, if not a father, at least a sperm donor somewhere.

The biggest question facing us may be the inequality that always divided humans. It doesn’t matter if this comes through as class differences, caste, or rich versus poor. This is something we can work to clear away. A small step in the right direction would be a living wage. But it doesn’t end there.

Perhaps the worst part of this lies in hidden racism.  No doubt, the white middle class dominates the world, and this is not a good thing. We, even the poorest of us, get born with privileges and have advantages we often don’t even realize we have.

How can we overcome this? I wish I knew. I acknowledge that I’m a white middleclass woman. I was born in a small country and grew up with no idea of racial differences. I think of myself as feminist, left wing, and tolerant, but what have I done to make the world a better place to live? On the personal plan I may have done reasonably well, but is that enough? What can I do to bridge the gap between me and people, who had less opportunity from the beginning?

We need to ask these questions over and over. If we can’t do much on a global plane, we can work towards heightening the consciousness regarding these issues, at least in our small sphere. We can write and talk. And we can include people around us, being open to communication and showing it. It isn’t much, but it is a start.

 

© HMH, 2018

Thoughts at the End of the Year

 

2017 was the year I decided to publish independently. So far, it is exciting but there’s also much to learn.

I must learn to balance social media involvement with writing time. I must learn how to make sales and get reviews, something I never thought of before I published.

Looking back, I wonder why I didn’t do this earlier. But maybe I’d just have made a mess of it. It’s true that I didn’t know about blog-tours, promotions, or (online) launch parties. Next time I’ll know more and plan before I jump.

Still, it was the right decision to let fly.

What made me decide to go independent?

It was the agents, who encouraged me to believe in my writing, but didn’t snap me up.

While there are aspects of your work that I admire. . .

We have read your query with true interest. . .

You have an interesting story to tell and there’s a lot to like about your approach. . .

I am sure that this could be very intriguing but. . .

I enjoyed reading your work; you write with conviction and your plot promises plenty of action. Unfortunately, as a small agency. . .

You write well, and have some intriguing ideas, but in this harsh climate, when editors (and agents) are being even more cautious than usual, I just don’t think we’d succeed in placing a novel as complex and ambitious as yours. . .

These were mostly well-known agencies. I took up the gauntlet and spent some hectic weeks preparing my manuscript, deciding on a book-cover, etc. On the eleventh of October my book appeared on Amazon.

Of course, I need to sell my book, and I’m pleased with every purchase clocked in by Amazon. It was a milestone getting the first royalties, but I want to do better. Who doesn’t?

Paperback UK:



Paperback US:


Paperback DE:

© HMH, 2017

Christmas Thoughts

This morning I listened to Danish Christmas songs. I started to cry. And asked myself why.

It wasn’t difficult to figure out, the pure voices stirred up emotions and memories, but the obvious answer didn’t satisfy me. There had to be more to it than that. Over the last days, social media has been filled with greetings, expressions of love, and Christmas or Hanukkah thoughts. Even pagan and Saturnalia greetings took up not a small measure of space. The pages almost burst with seasonal cheer, although there were jesting and sarcastic comments, mixed up with the more serious or, sometimes sentimental, thoughts.

On the surface I enjoyed the banter just as much as the pictures. I listened to all sorts of seasonal songs and marvelled at the variety and the inventiveness that went into all these posts.

So, what was it that urged me to think? Also, that wasn’t difficult to answer, not on the surface. Collectively, we love seasonal cheer. We want to leave everyday bleakness to the side, even if only for a few hours. Some of us can’t help thinking bah humbug, but we mostly succumb to the flashing lights and the dream of warm and fuzzy merriment.

There’s no doubt that commercialism has done much to distort our reactions to everything, from Halloween to Christmas, from Easter to Valentine’s etc. On the other hand, I believe that many of these holidays express something that lies deeper. It isn’t easy to define, but is it possible that we long for lost innocence?

There was a time when I thought the world was basically good. I believed in Christmas. Not only that: I thought that life was just, and people got what they wanted and needed. I had no idea that race and religion place barriers between people, at least, I thought that it couldn’t be a big problem. I saw people as a big family. I was hopelessly naïve.

I read about other cultures, about Egypt, about China, about the Middle east and Africa, but I didn’t understand, what seems obvious. To me, we were all the same: human beings, with needs and wishes, which would be granted one way or another. I had no awareness about gender or race. When did it change? I hardly know, but it changed, and it was a long and painful journey.

© HMH, 2017

Romance: Treat or Trick?

Like the next person, I do love a good romance, but if, and when, I get a romance overload, I start to question the idea of the whole thing. If girls, or women, always get portrayed as suckers for love, isn’t there something to worry about? Even when the (female) protagonist is successful, it seems that fulfilled love makes the success fade away. Sometimes the promise of love is enough. Of course, it also happens that work fades away, or goes up in smoke with a big bang. Then the romantic, and mostly male, lead appears on stage.

Why is a wedding gown apparently more important than an inspiring work situation? Admittedly, there are many jobs, I would happily ditch for a full-blown knight-in-shining-armour whirlwind romance. I don’t think that there are many women who doesn’t get weak in the knees, when their dream man appears, but. . .

What if the dream job gives more excitement, fulfilment, fun, and creative challenges, than a single man could ever produce? Would the woman, or girl, never stop to think: do I want this? Do I really want to forego the sense of achievement that my job gives me? If it is possible to have both: fine, but mostly it turns out that the perfect job, the artistical ambition, the will to succeed fades away, when the proverbial string-orchestra strikes up a swelling hymnus amoris (hymn of love).

The next big question is: does this all-encompassing love last? What strikes me is that the romantic love stories mostly end when the couple declare their love. The way to this conclusion is hard work, full of misunderstandings, intrigues, sometimes danger. The result is rarely that the hopeful girl, or woman, stays alone. There’s seldom space for private reflection at the end of such stories. No hopeful love-bird rides off in the sunset, searching new challenges or, probably worse, a new love. Life ends where marriage begins, and the observer, aka the reader, must seek another story to complete the picture. That is, if she or, perhaps rarely, he wants to grapple with other realities. Finding love, and saying your ‘I do’s, transforms the setting. And even in a successful marriage, love slowly transforms from romantic infatuation to something else. The ancient Greeks made the distinction, calling erotic and romantic love Eros, naming married bliss Agape.

To me it’s clear that romance-fiction seldom looks further than the proverbial white gown. There’s nothing romantic about marriage, unless the husband is a jerk, and the wife needs another romantic lead to take over and – rescue her.

My question is: do we still buy this, and why? Women can achieve, they often perform better than men. Girls are brighter in school and education but, at a certain point, it looks like their will to succeed dims. Is it the biological clock ticking? Does it all boil down to instinct? Are our genes programmed to carry us into motherhood whether we want it or not?

These questions can’t be answered with a single kiss. Is the problem that we get confused about gender? And what is gender at the end of the day? In the current climate, it becomes increasingly clear that there aren’t just two sexes. In my opinion, the strong divide: female/male is obsolete. Maybe there is a gliding slide from the absolute female to the absolute male principle, and in between every possible variety. It is nothing new. But our focus on this has increased, especially in a time where people must develop courage to see, and accept, diversity.

 

© HMH, 2017

Equilibrium?

How do you balance your time between writing and the business of being an indie author? Well, today I spent my free time interacting with people on Facebook. It may not sell books directly, although a strong presence on the internet should boost my career. But regarding balance, it is a tricky question. How does one find a balance? If one doesn’t write one can’t publish, and if one doesn’t publish, there isn’t much point in vying for an audience. Without an audience there isn’t much point in writing in the first place, and so the ring closes. One has to promote, or there won’t be any sales. But, most independent authors have no choice but to hold down a job to pay the bills. That reduces writing and promoting time, as does looking after the household, balancing the accounts, filling in the tax returns, being a competent hostess, guide, teacher, and muse, feeding the cat, the baby, or whatever livestock might be dependent on a poor overworked author. Still there must be a balance somewhere in the whirl of tasks.

It is important to have talent for writing, but it is vital to have a talent for organizing big productions. Women are said to be masters at multitasking, but do they hold a candle to authors? They say that female writes of old had to hide their manuscripts under their embroidery, or in the mending basket, and sneak in a few words whenever the head of the family wasn’t looking. Are we that different? We are certainly stretched thin, when we propose to be authors, publishers, parents, workers, teachers, housekeepers, laundry persons, cooks, and still manage to have a reasonable output.

I know it is difficult, but it is doable. It must be doable. In one of my life periods, I took care of a baby, a teenager, sixteen rabbits, a Shetland pony, three sheep and a ram, a family of goats, twelve hens, a family of dwarf poultry, a cat, and a dog. At the same time, I taught singing at a music academy, toured with a children’s opera, made costumes for three productions, and had a small business writing out sheet music for various composers. If I could do that I should be able to juggle almost anything? I’m still confident that I will develop a method to balance my time between writing and the business of being an indie author. I just haven’t quite got there yet.

© HMH 2017

Living Abroad

 

I never thought I’d live abroad. But I’ve barely set foot in my homeland for the past twenty-six years.

What made me leave in the first place? I suppose it was a number of factors, spanning from feeling constricted in a small country to falling out with my husband. I was in a dead end job and saw no openings to something better. It is hard to remember exactly what the final straw was. I’m sure my decision fell because of my frustration with life, with feeling caught and longing for adventure.

I felt right in my choice, but I’m certain I didn’t show myself as a caring person, when I cut through my ties. It was brutal, but I thought it was necessary. I booked my flight to London and left.

The first years were hard, but I was exhilarated with the challenge. I was happier than I’d been for years. I felt young and adventurous. I was scared stiff too. It isn’t easy to survive on a pittance, but it didn’t matter: I was living a dream. My dream.

I hadn’t planned anything — I just left — took to my wings and hoped not to crash. I had no connections, except a friend from home, who offered me a place to stay for a while.

The first challenge was finding a job. I’d imagined that I would be able to earn money singing, but soon realized that it was a no-go situation without contacts. Basically I hadn’t done my homework, and so I fell into a hole. I pulled myself out and started reading the job sections in the newspapers, only to realize that apart from singing I had no work experience that I could build on. Then I saw an advert for a job in a well-known pizza chain. They were opening a new take-away in North-West London. I thought I could do that and went for a job interview. The rest is history.

I got the job and started the induction course. It was fun, and I loved meeting new people. The first training session took place in a pizza outlet nearby. I was put on the phones and, in less than two minutes I panicked. I didn’t get what people asked for — I had no idea how to process the orders. The computer suddenly appeared like a wild animal and I was unable to tame it.

When I’d botched a few orders, the usual staff took over. I stood there looking and listening while failure loomed. Somebody took me to the so-called make-table and told me how to compose a pizza. I was too slow and the friendly pizza-making-person lost her patience with me, pushed me aside and churned out the pizzas at a pace.

I got myself in hand and took a turn in the kitchen. Madness was erupting around me: we were about twenty recruits and perhaps five regular staff. It was a busy evening and everybody was doing something productive. Then I realized that while the front was running like clockwork nothing was happening at the back. The cooking utensils, dirty pizza-pans and empty containers piled up in huge stacks. With a deep sigh I grabbed a cloth and started cleaning up. It wasn’t too difficult to figure out how to operate the dishwasher.

I thought ‘OK I can do this’, but then the supervisor tapped me on the shoulder.

‘Look here, the staff room is flooded. Please follow me.’

I did. He gave me a bucket and a mob.

‘Just mob this up, will you?’

I nodded.

‘Of course.’

A lot of dirty water later, I returned to the dishwasher and started cleaning. Half an hour went by.

‘The staff room is flooded.’

I couldn’t believe my ears and turned to the supervisor. He narrowed his eyes and continued.

‘When you let the water run, the pipes can’t cope. Just mob it up, OK.’

When the shift was over I was exhausted but determined to carry on. I would stop at nothing, learn the ropes and make a success of this job. Strange to say, at the time it didn’t occur to me that something was a bit off.

Today, as I write this story it becomes clear to me that the supervisor knew that the pipes couldn’t cope, but he didn’t tell me anything until I inadvertently flooded the staffroom the second time. Was he incompetent? Or did he do this to ‘teach me a lesson’? I can’t tell. Anyway, what kind of lesson does one get from such behaviour? There was no way I could tell that the pipes didn’t work, unless the fact that nobody did any cleaning was a clue. Actually the outlet was dirty and run down, so I tend to think the problem was bad management.

By the way, two years later I received an invitation to come and work in that selfsame shop. They had a new manager who’d worked with me previously. He wanted me to help cleaning up the place.

 

©HMH, 2017