Remembering the 60s

I was beginning to pay attention to the world outside my own life in the 60s, a time of gentle sprouting flowers inviting peace and simple happiness, even as Vietnam body-counts traumatized the country daily. There was the enthusiasm for new freedoms and the abuses of those freedoms; the flowers were tainted with drugs, and free love was both blessing and curse. Shifting gender roles confused and frustrated. Authority took on sinister shadows, and we learned to trust warily if at all, because that’s what happens when you discover someone you relied on has been lying to you all along… Values and rules, likewise.

Where our parents had respected government, had lived comfortably within the established social rules, and had focused on their personal fulfillment of the American Dream, we were digging down and exposing the corresponding American Nightmare that had always lurked below. Virtue was no longer all about financial stability and model families, but about a dire honesty with ourselves regarding the world we inhabited. 

The 60s were an era of challenging every status quo, of protesting what we saw as systemic injustice and toxic traditions. No one was allowed to be comfortable with how things had been. Integrity flipped from being properly socially conventional to being willing to confront every unfairness we detected, to put our energies into fixing all we saw was wrong. It was an exhausting time. It was terrifying, to those who had no wish to change their own habits of thinking and living. It overtook everyone like an inexorable tidal bore, bringing change to us all, ready or not.

Some of us retreated from the chaos, the confusion, the challenging of every one of the values we’d been raised with.  Some of us embraced it, got involved with trying to protect it, save it, change it.

Some of us turned our backs, went off the conventional social grid, and took refuge in living simpler pioneer lives, self-sufficient as we could be, and often stoned. Life was about confrontation with Nature which proved to be neither loving nor forgiving, but indifferent and relentless. There is a maturing effect in disillusionment: Many abandoned the felicitous dream and rejoined the conventionally turbulent society while the sweet naivete of the Flower Children did as gardens do, growing through their spring and summer, going to seed in the fall. 

The term “Hippy” devolved into a sneer among the next generations of kids who never knew when Hippies were the model of sincerity, honesty and self-reliance. They only ever saw the bedraggled winter garden. 

This is how I remember the 60s. As the narrator in the film, RADIO FLYER, says at the end, “This may not be how it was. But it is how I remember it.”

Familiarity Breeds Compassion

The basic problem with passive racism is that we who live in the gated zone of white privilege simply don’t know enough about black lives, black families, black cultures. We, like most descendents of colonial conquerors, never inherited the genes for sincere curiosity nor for respect for The Other. We accepted so many core beliefs from our own antecedants.

Only we mattered. Only we were quite wholly human. We represented the apex of civilization, the height of God’s Plan for mankind. Our beliefs were the truest, our understandings the wisest, our interpretations of philosophies and religious the most and only correct ones.

Years ago, there was a mini-series based on author Alex Haley’s search for his African heritage. ROOTS was a huge eye-opener. A heart-opener. It showed us–the dominant culture in America who never had to look before–black people as… people. People with feelings and dreams, with families. We saw them in pain and fear, in love, in anger and desperation. We saw them brutalized. We saw them well-treated. We saw them talented and strong and wise. By the end of the series, at least some of us no longer saw black people as merely mono-dimensional, stereotypical Others. We had seen that they were, in fact, a lot like Us.

We need more than our fears and assumptions and lies we’ve been taught, to get it, that we are all people trying to live our lives. That it hurts to have people regard you with fear, or condemnation, or disdain. That we all love our children and just want to give them happiness and a good and thriving future in a troublesome world. That it is not unreasonable to expect to be treated with courtesy and respect.

And while we’re here… It has never ever been about race. We are all one race. It has always been about cultural differences. Cultural. Which means, it isn’t genetic, it is and has always been human-generated beliefs and attitudes. And that means, it’s stuff we can fix.

Because how we regard ourselves and others has always been a matter of choice.

Line of Succession

Every one of us alive today is the front end of a line of survival and evolution that began with the first life on the planet.

Every one of us represents all our ancestors, all the way back to the beginning. We stand on their shoulders, increasing knowledge and understanding; we limit ourselves by clinging to their no-longer viable, and outright mistaken beliefs and habits. That’s something to think about, when we consider throwing in the towel, giving up, going under: That is the line we are finishing, when we bequeath an uninhabitable world to our children.

Each of us is like the meteor that streaks across the sky, ending an existence that goes back to the beginning of the Universe. Every body began and will end as star dust.

How Did We Get Here?

In those days just after WWII,  the young adults had come out of war, and their parents, the Great Depression. People remembered how it was to lack and to need and to wait. Kids of the 50s, we had Viet Nam and national division and deep suspicion of our government. But we had licence like never in living history, too, with The Pill making ‘safe sex’ possible, and relaxation on stigmatized traditions, like divorce and therapy and abortion. There was money flowing. We were patriotic, we were eager to learn, especially in the sciences once Sputnik started the race to own Space. 

Then there was the whole cult of Taking Care of Number One, that glorified selfishness, even as it denied the tradition of toxic self-sacrifice for the needs of others. But not all self-sacrifice is toxic.

Decade by decade, we have come to this place of low tolerance for boredom, for not getting what we want, when we want it. We have traded low attention span for the constant stream of news and nonsense online, and no ability to wait, to be still, to be alone with our thoughts. We are so multi-task-minded, we have anxiety over doing only one thing at a time, and there is precious little mindfulness in any given day, or hour. We lost along the way, the love of knowing things, in favor of the freedom to express any damn opinion about any damn thing without having to have done the work of learning, of knowing what we’re talking about. 

We are seeing the true cost of these changes now, in a time of uncontrollable and supremely toxic government, in a time of life-threatening attack by internal terrorism and external disease. And so many of us have lost the skills needed in crisis. 

The most serious question of our world today, is whether we can rise above our habits of laziness, of weakness, or our so-many inabilities, to pull ourselves out of this morass. Those who can, maybe, will survive to make substantive changes in the self-destroying ways we have been doing things. Those who get it together will dig in and learn the science to combat or even just deal with things we can’t babble and opine our way out of, like pandemic, like climate change, like political systems that are immoral, unethical, insane and destructive. We will identify and acquire the skills of living in the changed world.

Every society has had times like these. Some blew up or imploded, some embraced change and evolved. Every society has had its madmen at the top, wreaking havoc as long as they held power. Every society has had its dysfunctional beliefs and habits. Probably every one of them were sure that they were living through the End Times, that they were struggling against powers capable of destroying the world. 

We can’t destroy the planet, but we can destroy our place on it. We can take a lot of others with us in our bid for self-destruction. But there have been mass extinctions before, and catastrophic events that changed everything. We just weren’t there, then, to be caught up in it, to see it coming–and just maybe to do something about it before we are ended by refusing to take responsibility for it. 

HERETICS: In the beginning…

This project began several years ago, as the bio section of a character development sheet for a Live Action Role Play game adapted from the Masquerade.  The game as designed featured mainly vampires of various character-defining clans, but other supernaturals crept in, the longer we played.

The first thing I  had to do, once I decided HERETICS could be a publishable story, was to remove it from the Masquerade system, to find other words, other concepts from those in the game.  Some I only had to modify somewhat as even the orginators of those game systems had been inspired by earlier sources like Bram Stoker’s DRACULA, and could hardly claim ownership over them.  Other basic notions had to be abandoned and re-created with my own original model.  All this applied to the character  Columbina, the first voice of the tale. 

The second voice, Turlough, came out of brainstorming with someone who was, at the time, a friend and collaborator.  It included elements from my own explorations of Celtic lores and traditions, particularly of the Celtic Church before it was overwhelmed by the Roman Catholic Church.  The more this character developed, the more I had to research those traditions, and also the geography of far-western Ireland. That was how I discovered The Burren which became a significant setting for Turlough’s pilgrimage.

I’ll have more to say about settings later, and also about the various and very likely  unexpected  supernaturals who were drawn into HERETICS. Yes, it starts with vampires, but this is not a story about vampires, it is about the power of humanity in the face of inhuman powers and forces.

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https://www.patreon.com/clredding

HERETICS: first words pt 2

This is the second part of the prologue of my work-in-progress and Patreon project, as promised yesterday when the first part was posted here.

–Turlough

“Ah—it’s the fierce wee devil y’are indeed, but I’m too big for your supper, and you, brother Crab, are a deal too small for my own…”

The wet hem of my cassock that slapped heavily about my bare shins and from the weight of water and the crab, it dragged, I hiked it again and tightened the cincture. A rare good grip the creature had got on it indeed. The next surf rolled up and I dunked him: He dropped the natty old fustian and fell into the swirl about my feet. Back towards the sea, he rode the receding foam until the next wavelet came in over the top of him, flipped the little bugger heels over elbows a couple of times, and carried him away.

I noticed then I was not alone in my foraging along the beach, and smiled: there was Bridey, my friend, strolling down the sand and shingle, her apron full of winkles and cockles and such, and trailing the bright green sea-wrack. A woman in full she was, not a girl, but though moonlight touched her hair, sunlight was in her eyes, and in the bright smile she beamed at me now. For some reason she was fond of me. And I had more of a liking for her than for most other folk I ever knew.

I saw her mouth and knew she was calling something out, but the wind off the ocean blew away her words. I made a big shrug and cupped my hands behind my ears. She laughed merrily, and that I could almost pick out of the gale.

We met by a sea-bleached snag half buried in the sand and rocks. Short as I was, she scarce came to my chin.

“God and Mary to ye,” I said, “and Saint Peter, Saint Paul and Saint Joseph!”

Sure, it was an extravagant greeting, but that was the game between us: Which ever of us got in the first list of Holies, the other had to add at the least one more.

She didn’t bat an eye, nor hesitate: “And the grace of God and Mary to yourself, Brother, and the Saints Peter and Paul and Joseph and Patrick and Columba!” I winked, acknowledging her win. Not that my own kit was so easily emptied, but I was in a mild good mood, and so let it rest.

That ritual well-satisfied, we walked along together, good friends in a companionable silence. Then, after a time, she said, “Come, there’s a thing I’m wishing ye to see.”

I went along by her side and we came to a hollow in the cliff-wall. Washed and filled twice daily by the tide, the rock within was worn smooth nearly all the way up to the rough ceiling which itself was a roost for barnacles and weeds. The floor was uneven rocks rising like little islands from a sea of sand and fine pebbles. Shallows scooped in the stone brimmed with tide-pools where anemones and crabs waved and danced. Sunlight off the moving waters fluttered on the walls; the sound of softly lapping waters within and the thundering surf and piercing cries of gulls made a sort of mystic music for the dance of light.

Bridey took a thing from the pocket of her skirt, and in the dim of the cave, she offered it to me.

I took it from her gently. It was round and flat, and after that, it was something rather different from anything I’d ever found washed onto the beach before. It had a soft green color, and was smoother than any stone I’d ever seen. Soft, it felt, though it was rock. It had a hole in the center, and there were angular symbols etched around it.

I looked up at her. “You found this here?”

“Aye,” she nodded. “’twas washed into the larger pool there,” she said, “And the wee nippers were after playin’ handball with it.”

I looked again at the stone n my hand. A peculiar thing happened. Although I saw clearly, it lay as still as still as any rock, I felt the thing quicken against my palm. In the same instant, a dizziness washed over me, dimming the sunlight, and blurring the shadowed interior to a mist. Only Bridey stood definite and crisp, the lift of an auburn eyebrow etched clear against her fair skin. Then, just as suddenly, all was as it had been: the moment was fled and fading as if I’d stumbled in and out of dream, and it meant no more than that.

Wordless, I offered the stone back to Bridey. She closed my fingers over it. “I’m thinkin’ its after bein’ yours more than mine,” she said.

So I kept the stone, slipped it into a pocket, and we left the cave to its soft sounds and skittering crabs.

Bridey and I strolled on to the end of the beach, and parted without words, she striding on up the path towards the village and I clambering up the steeper way to the Abbey. The basket of my gleanings I left off at the refectory, and retired to my own small hut for a time of quiet contemplation. But what came could only by the greatest stretch be called quiet contemplation.

I was settling my mind for a quiet communion with Himself, on my knees before the small shrine upon the wall, but abruptly, I felt for the disc of stone in my pocket and drew it out again. It lay upon my left hand and my gaze never wavered from it—yet though the hand I saw was mine, still again it was not: I knew it just as I knew without looking up that pink and white petals of an ancient cherry tree danced in the swirling breezes about me, and knew the stone itself for a token of love… My heart in my chest pounded quietly, but in an older heart, I felt the dagger of present grief; and as a bitter salt-sea pulsed in that other time and place, in that other life, so it beat upon my own ears here and now, the tang in my nostrils of Irish waters and tears… The feel of a sword’s hilt pressed into my right hand that hung at my side…

I sat back on my heels then, and with a certain alarm, I considered the matter. Then, finally, finding I had no answers, I addressed a word to Himself: “So, Lord, I’m after thinking You’ve something on your mind…?”

Perhaps it would have been better in that moment to have kept my tongue still behind my teeth.

For that was only the first, that vision, of many visions of many lives, all utterly unknown and yet with not a doubt at all my own, that came to me in the next months. They still come. I know with both wonder and dread, that they will never let me be. I can feel them, pressing like a brook in spring thaw against the winter’s dam of leaves and muck.

They flow with lives and deaths, sweet affections and bitter sorrows, all belonging to a parade of men walking down through the agee: soldiers and priests, scholars and farmers, fishermen, knights, lords and villeins— and every one of them: me. They raise in me knowledges I never learned along this stony coast, of peoples and times, and the skills in me of a fighter much beyond any brawling talents I’d ever learned from the bag of loose guts my mother’d wed. I find languages at home in my mouth that not a living soul speaks today; I know lands and roads and maps of places not even known by folk in this world. I know possessions, dearer than life, I have never set these eyes upon.

A certain sword there was that filled my hand in life after life; and a precious book recalled: sometimes fresh and compact, but in other visions it is thick, and warped and worn. From the first vision, there rose in my hands a yearning to hold these things, like an old man yearns for the dearest companions of his youth, and almost I knew where these things lay, hidden and waiting… I knew I would not be whole until they were in my hands again.

Many things were revealed in these unaccountable visions, but two things I wondered much about, they never showed: What I was, to have this terrible gift; and how I’d come to lose the green stone.

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HERETICS: first words

First Words– Columbina

You’ll end a heretic, girl, burning merrily at the stake and begging in vain for what you will not freely have from our hands now! Excommunicant! The fires of Hell will claim you!”

Words of the past, distant and unaffecting, echo faint in the shadows where I stand; a plump, pale nun, flapping her black wings, herds a procession of children across the red-brick piazza and into the yawning shadow of the church. I shudder some, in sympathy.

Not for these children—they are no concern of mine—but for the child I once was, when they still thought to shape me into one of these sheep-like offspring of the Church, herded by the looming magpie nuns, from one cloistered vault to the next, lest I ever see too much of the wider world…

The last of them vanishes, swallowed whole; the great door closes behind them and I turn away.

I do not take children, unless He desires it particularly. When He does fancy a taste of the very young, He is particular. He uses the French, caressingly: “L’ enfant sauvage…” He requires me to bring to him, then, “… an unbroken child, savage as it was born, unchastened by civilization. I do not care for gentled blood.”

I think it was how He chose me.

I stroll the broad pavement, as if idly taking the air.

But I am not idle nor strolling for my health.

I am hunting.

My quarry is no challenge to find, they mill everywhere in their vast, dull herd. They stroll like me, seeming casual and careless, or they bustle off in a hurry to get to places that will wait patiently enough till they come. Cattle, they are, as blind to life’s beckoning, as they are to death stalking.

They have their wiles and brute strengths, but I am stronger and more cunning by far, and unencumbered by the sensibilities they assume in me. It is no wonder they make such a mistake, for I look as human as they. But I am not, quite. I am… something else. Something greater.

And they are easy prey.

Fiorenza is barred in light and dark: The afternoon casts a golden glow through its colonnaded streets and winding ways. I amble in and out among the shadows, wearing an open innocence on the pale and delicate features of a girl of 15 or 16 years, rather tall and awkward, but otherwise pretty enough. Red curls escape in tendrils from the little cap that tries to confine my hair. I smile inside to see the glances of strangers, who think to read me, to know my story and circumstances.

They see a girl who has lost or escaped her nurse, who gazes about with guileless eyes, charmed the seductive hazards of the town. Some pity, some condemn, some consider how they might make some profit… Inside, I laugh at them all… There is no pity in me. Were they to see the smile I smile to myself within, they would blanche and scurry off.

I have selected my quarry from the crowd.

He is dressed in the Venetian style: a foreigner. His garb is frayed and scuffed, dusty from the road; he carries a loose, near-empty bag over his shoulder. His eyes are lonely. I place myself, as if by merest chance, in his path, and let forlorn tears well up in my big blue eyes…

Gallant lad that he is, he takes pity on me and will see me home, will see this lost innocent safely to her door… He says, to cheer me, “I’m just arrived in Fiorenza and know my way about but a little, so if we cannot find your people or your house, at least we shall be lost together!”

Fool! I know who I am, what I am, and where I’ll take my rest.

He is more lost than he knows.

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This is the first part of the first part of my novel HERETICS, a work-in-progress. A second part is coming… introducing the two main voices who tell this story. I have recently launched a Patreon site where the whole story will be on offer in a variety of ways.

https://www.patreon.com/clredding

MOTHER AND CHILD

I cannot quite
put a finger on it,
nor pin down
the feelings in my heart
now I am home
from visiting with you…

A deal of history
lies there between us
as it has lain.
gathered over years
of awkwardness,
uncertainty,
resentment,
guilt,
embarrassment
over many moments
miscalculated,
misinformed,
misunderstood
between us…

Now I am older,
you are old
and grasp your cup
with two frail and twisted hands
that once were capable
of wringing out
a washcloth nearly dry
or leaving marks
on angry cheeks
that faded over days…
Now
I do not hold the grudge
that came of
fearing you
and your disdain
your disapproval
of everything, it seemed,
I was
or wanted.

Now,
visiting you
in your small rooms
holding you against me
in embrace
that saves you
from another fall,
I hold nothing else
against you
and I hope you know
I love you
and that’s all.

2007, for my mother

Words of the Times

We walk in the world
with steps faltering and learning
off balance more than not
while muscles learn and grow…

Time favors stepping out
and hopping, running, skipping.
dancing to musics heard
both within, without…

Days and years pass
with steps certain, confident
ambling through a life
but not in charge…

Until the sudden day
when all around the world shifts
gravity goes sideways
streams flow up,

Intents, designs
our plans all fall awry
certainties dissolve
fears rise, tears fall

Steps falter, once again
illusion of control 
goes out of reach,
we again are children

We again are children
in something greater’s world,
our only recourse
once again is faith.

Something Old, Something New…

Years ago I started writing a bio for a Live Action Role Play–a vampires game–and it got kinda out of hand.

It grew to a point, then someone joined me to develop and write it further, and it grew by leaps and bounds… But that erstwhile partner left the project, just before I took it to a huge writer’s conference where I got some professional feedback for it–and some legal advice about any obligations to the previous partner.

I went through more revision phases with it, but after a time, being alone in the room with it, I set it aside, let it migrate into the shadows at the back of the closet.

Some weeks ago I pulled it out of the dark, and submitted a few pages to an event at another conference where it got some more, some fresh feedback, and suddenly, I got interested in it again. From there to this:

https://www.patreon.com/clredding

It isn’t just about serializing a novel, it is also now a project in the evolution of a novel on its road to mainstream publication, set up for others to participate, if they like. It will be like tackling the mountain together.

So, please give the link a click and check it out… Consider it not a request, but an invitation to an adventure!