On Throw Granny off the Balcony

You know the players and you seem to love them. Crazy Granny heads the cast of strange family members and their antics. This compilation of short stories grew out of my blog, which grew out of the stories I would tell friends whenever they asked about Granny or my mother. Somewhere along the way, my dear friend Barbara A. convinced me that these tales should be preserved in some written form. After they appeared in the blog, some fans asked for them to be put into a book.

I really didn’t think there was anything much to them, no artistry or imagination on my part was required, I recorded them as they happened or were told to me. However after the first proofs came in, I was astounded by how good and funny they were as a whole and furthermore they are a chronicle of my childhood in a place that, as the great Garcia Marquez wrote, ‘that city of mirrors [ or mirages] would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men….because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.’ Though certainly my parchments too will finish as dust. So without further ado, here is an excerpt from your favorite, Throw Granny off the Balcony:

When Granny first moved into the assisted living facility, she worriedly told my sister, ‘I see people in old fashioned clothes floating on the ceiling in my bedroom.’ My sister, who has a spiritual inclination replied, ‘Those are your departed loved ones. When you are close to the end of your life, they come to help you transition to the other side.’

Granny apparently had a sleepless night over this but the next morning called my sister to triumphantly announce, ‘I want you to know something, I don’t see those people any more.’

Another time, my mother received a hysterical call from Granny when the beauticians came to trim her toenails. ‘Shame on you,’ Granny yelled, ‘I raised you alone after your father died and now you’ve sent these people to cut off my legs!’ My mother takes this all very seriously and tried to convince Granny that they were there to give her a pedicure. Granny imperiously rejoindered, ‘Now you are trying to make me into an imbecile.’

Lately Granny has got it into her head that there is another war on and that she is manning a machine gun. She looks at her arthritic hands and says to my mother, ‘How could you have taken me out of here and sent me to the front at my age. Look what’s happened to my hands from the machine gun.’ Mother, for some reason, feels the need to explain to her, ‘Mama, you were a courier during the war, you never saw action and anyway that was almost seventy years ago.’

No,’ Granny says, ‘the war is on-going.’ Personally, I used to think she was paranoid when she said ‘they’ were bugging phones and monitoring conversations, but now it seems that she was right.

Another time when she was temporarily in a rehab center for a medical problem, she determined that experiments were being conducted on the patients. ‘Don’t be surprised if you get a baby brother or sister,’ she tells my mother. Curious, my mother asks, ‘Who did this to you?’ as Granny points out an handsome young doctor. ‘Okay, but don’t tell anyone else,’ my poor mother says.

And so on and so on.

Thoughts on Children of the Sun

Children of the Sun grew from a video that my friend Fred Lyman, a painter and a sculptor, emailed me last summer. The video was by an artist who created one hundred alter egos and their submissions for his own biennale. Pretty hilarious stuff—but it started me thinking that we all have alter egos living within our own personalities, and that I was already familiar with a few of mine. Sometimes I can see Lee, living in Asia, creating black and white films of great spiritual beauty of mountains, gorges and lonely places which reflect who she is. And sometimes I see Mirta, living under one of the great Central American volcanoes, painting and having tumultuous love affairs. Sometimes I see another woman who lives in the 1960’s on the west coast and teaches ballet and yet another, who has two children and a small restaurant in Napa or some such lovely destination that tourists fantasize about.

The characters were there already. The format grew out of an early idea I had conceived in my thirties when I was doing serious spiritual and energy work—that of organizing seven stories according to the seven progressive chakras. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with chakras, they are the seven vortices in our energetic bodies relating to our connection to the earth, our creativity and sexuality, our power, our emotions, our personal voice, our imagination and dreams, and our connection to universal energies or the Divine Source. I can see them in my mind’s eye and I have seen them while swimming or snorkeling several times in my life emanating from people standing in shallow water as the sun hit at a particular angle. They look different on everyone—some, more developed and functional, some, ripped apart and weak.

As I began to organize the characters, I realized I would have to give them not only a history but an actual story and so that is where the imagination begins to do the creative work. As I progressed, I realized that they all had an art form of their own: painting, music, dance and so on. I also realized something else—although the characters certainly could be universal, they became immigrants or the children of immigrants transplanted to the New World. I drew on my Slavic background because although there are twenty million of us in the United States alone, and many more in Canada, Australia and Latin America, we seem not to have developed a literature of our own. I don’t mean a necessarily ethno -specific literature, but aside from Willa Cather’s My Antonia, Nabokov’s Pnin, Michael Cimino’s Deer Hunter [ and the bizarre Heaven’s Gate], Irish-Serbian Rusty Sabich who appears in Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent and a Steve Tesich film which nobody seems to have seen, we have fallen off the radar. Sad, considering the richness of our folklore and often tragic history, which could generate a million stories.

Each of the seven characters has her own struggles and it’s interesting to hear readers reactions to them—which stories were their favorites and which moved them most.

When I finished the seven stories, I felt as if something else was needed so I added Children of the Sun to the collection. Try as I might, I can’t recall what made me focus on those particular characters. I did see that a theme had emerged with the seven stories –they were global in nature, they consisted of culture clash and people who were transported into new settings in the Western Hemisphere. I wondered what the beginnings of that would look like and arrived at the first explorers in the New World. My next thought was that an addition to the seven spiritual rungs embodied within the chakras, there might exist another layer above them corresponding to complete spiritual transformation. I had a ready made historical account, though sparse, in Cabeza de Vaca’s account of the ill-fated Narvaez expedition of 1528 into the area of what is now Florida, the Gulf Coast and Texas. Of close to four hundred men, four survived by becoming healers of great renown among the indigenous people they encountered during the eight years they were lost. Cabeza de Vaca is very vague about how that was accomplished, and so I drew on my own meditation and energy work and my sister-in-law’s healing practice, which I am familiar with.

Though the entire project began as a lark, I think it grew into something significant enough that could touch the reader on multiple levels – at least I hope it will.

On End Game, book two of the Robideaux series.

There is an idea floating among liberals that the empire began after 9-11 with Bush fils. That is wrong, the Empire began long ago and its attitudes towards the indigenous were forged during the conquest of Ireland and brought to these shores, where African slaves, white indentured ‘servants’ and Native Americans were ruthlessly exploited. This attitude extended itself into Latin America, then Viet Nam with a brief period of respite during the ‘good war’ against Hitler. After the Second World War we were all bedeviled by the specter of communism, and after seeing how many millions perished under Stalin and Mao, we concluded that the cold war too was a good fight. However we did not realize until the atrocities of Viet Nam were fully revealed to us, that we were not fighting on behalf of the poor people in those beleaguered countries but for a particular malformation of corporate capitalism that works hand in glove with Big Government and the Military Industrial Complex.

While I personally think that true free markets, healthy competition, innovation and capital have enriched our lives, so much so that poor in the first world live better than the kings of old, there has been a incredible perversion of power and control on the part of our ruling classes regardless of their political ideologies. By that I mean, whether they are party appartchiks or corporate Ceo’s.

End Game takes place in the aftermath of the fall of communism, when instead of becoming a beacon of light to the world, the US heading NATO, saw a new role for itself fomenting the civil wars which had begun in the former Yugoslavia. These wars had their antecedents in the period of neo-liberalisation of the nineteen -eighties where the country was effectively dismembered by the ‘reforms’ imposed by the International Monetary Fund. The west sold these wars to its gullible public through a disinformation campaign launched by intelligence agencies,ignorant journalists and the mainstream media ( often owned by weapons manufactures ) as a humanitarian intervention with clear cut good and bad guys. Nothing could be further from the truth. The end result: much human suffering on all sides, a chopped up country, and one of the biggest military bases in the world, Bondsteel, which was built in Kosovo as a stepping stone for NATO forces into the Middle East.

One of the most dangerous and frightening end results was the creation of a politically motivated international court of injustice, funded by The USA, various Soros foundations, the Rockefellers and the Carnegies. The ICTY, the court that tries so called war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and the the ICTR, the court for Rwanda, constituted as they are both inquisitorially and adversarially, without the protections of either form, staffed by unqualified prosecutors and judges, have now set the precedent for the ICC, a dangerous world court which tries anyone who defies the empire.

These courts were created by special UN charters, which by this action and on false pretext, undercut national sovereignty globally. This is of the utmost importance for anyone who cares about justice and the preservation of common law. What is so frightening is that the American Bar Association endorses this court and American citizens neither know nor care, thinking it is irrelevant to their own lives. We ignore these developments at our own peril since with the gradual encroachments on our civil liberties, we may see dissidents in our countries tried there one day.

End Game is a fast paced and exciting look into what happened in former Yugoslavia and what is happening at the ICTY. I don’t think that its something that you can read on the train to work but I believe that it is critical information for any thinking person who cares about justice, civil liberties and truth.

Katanga Province is much in the same vein but will focus on the Congo Wars.

Behind Death of an Activist

Death of an Activist grew out of an interview I read with First Nations actor Adam Beech, while I was perusing the Native Web. The young actor stated that his dream was to star in a movie like Lethal Weapon. I thought, what a great idea, and his partner could be the great actor Graham Green. Since then Mr. Beech has gone on to star in the excellent adaptations of Tony Hillerman’s Navajo mysteries, along with the iconic Wes Studi, who was so very memorable in the role of Magua in Micheal Mann’s adaptation of Last of the Mohicans.

That is how the characters of Ulyce Robideaux and Adam Smith were born. Up to that time I had read very few mysteries and fewer thrillers. I think I can safely say that I was familiar with the entire Sherlock Holmes, The Name of the Rose, Possession, Instance of the Fingerpost and The Quincunx. In essence, I didn’t know what I was doing when I began writing the book. Later, after reading many thrillers, I realized something interesting. Under a layer of murder and investigation, these books are actually works of social realism.

Since I have a cinematic visual imagination, the formation of this book played out more like a movie than anything else. Each day I would formulate a scene in my mind and then would sit down to write it. But I am getting ahead of myself. At the core of the story, I knew there had to be a beautiful, amoral and enigmatic woman who loses her life, since that is the type of story that I am most often drawn to, e.g: Vertigo, The Hustler, Chinatown, English Patient. However, I decided to begin with her death and let the characters coalesce around her. I’m also drawn to multiple points of view since I believe ultimate reality is seen through our own subjective lens.

Each project has its own life that consumes its creator for the duration, and for four years I lived and breathed the world these characters inhabited. In the aftermath of 9-11, I wanted to write a story for my kind but uninformed friends about the reality of foreign policy and corporate malfeasance which was not so apparent then but has become more than clear to many of us. I began not in the middle east, but with Native Americans who were the first victims of colonization and empire and who are still struggling to maintain their lands, way of life and dignity amidst the onslaught of rapacious commercial interests. Often, as shown in the book, indigenous peoples all over the world have been pushed to the most undesirable corners of the planet and ironically end up sitting on mineral and oil riches. My story took me to the Amazon where these terrible struggles continue.

I initially thought this would be a story about a man who lost a woman he had loved, followed her path into the Amazon and became spiritually renewed through his contact with the Native peoples. However mid-way though my research I saw that I was dealing with weightier issues: global finance and markets, the exploitation of natural resources, the third world vis-a-vis the West, and the potential energy crises and ecological disasters that we are facing. Furthermore, it concerns me that we are in a time of global transition where a web of exploitative global institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF, NATO have usurped even more power, funneling it to the ruling class away from the people. Additionally, seemingly worthy institutions such as the United Nations, charitable foundations, environmental organizations are often co-opted by the ruling elite and serve them instead of the public. Death of an Activist represented a huge learning curve for me, that took me from the oil fields of the Amazon to the boardrooms of financial institutions and power makers behind the scenes. Everything I covered is well documented and publicized by now, thanks to the very diligent work of the alternative media and bloggers, who tired of the stranglehold of the Mainstream Media, have done excellent work exposing the way the world is really run.

If you care about the environment, indigenous people, globalization, corruption, illegitimate power structures and energy geopolitics, I’m certain that you will enjoy the mystery behind Death of an Activist.

On Meridian

Meridian was the first novel I wrote and is very dear to my heart. It embodies my life philosophy and I wanted to tell the story through the vehicle of the body. In this case a woman’s body which I had some qualms about since the male in our dualistic cultures is all too often identified with the mind and the female with the body, which I think is absurd.

What interested me primarily were the elements which would cause a spiritual breakthrough like the one the protagonist of Meridian, Mairin, experienced. I myself am rather cerebral and even as a child it was not difficult to see my way through the snares of the material world. I was fortunate, I experienced spiritual enlightenment at the age of twenty. I think this was something was was given to me. I have described it elsewhere, but in short, I woke up one morning, found everything within and without me bathed in a golden light, felt that there was no separation between myself and the All, and that time as I knew it had ceased to exist. In front of me I saw what could be described as a hologram representing a divine mind out of which all reality rose and sunk. The feeling tone was one of great joy. It took me another twenty years of reading, everything from physics to comparative religious studies to doing deep self work to be able to incorporate that experience, and since, I have concluded that although the universe arises from the divine source, whatever it brings is co-created by its creatures.

But this book is not about me, and I did not desire to talk about my esoteric process. It is about a very different woman who experiences many betrayals that cause her to see through the institutions of our civilization: family life, conventional religion, bogus spirituality, materialism, social movements, war, nationalism and finally even human relationships. Her trajectory through life is manifested through the energetic vehicle of her body– it is her greatest torment and ultimately the source of her healing and transformation.

Another thing that interested me is the adulteress, the sensuous and sexual woman who is punished by her creator, however empathic, for her sexuality. We’ve seen it time and time again, in great literature such as Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina; in victims high and low like Blanche DuBois, Lolita, Maria Vargas, Carmen and in books written by women, like the Brontes, oddly enough. What does a woman who goes through all of that and yet can still find her salvation look like? I wondered. Some call this type of novel post-modern optimism, and maybe it’s true, we are at a time in history where we are ready to begin an new more meaningful chapter in human existence.