Living Consciously Alive

TALLYFRONTCan a person live an un-repressed life, a life of all possibilities, or is the price always madness, because the terror of reality, the fear of life and of death, as Ernest Becker said, are too much to bear without defense?

Some, like R. D. Laing, say therefore prefer madness; at least, respect the mad for their courage.

I wonder if that release into all possibilities has to be a leap into insanity?

If I develop my attributes – intellect, emotions, sexuality, “soul” – and have no center other than a fire of gases like the sun, can I live fully, freely, courageously? I feel in myself the strong desire, stronger than the fear of breaking down, death and pain, to go into the world in all of its alarming chaos and be transfixed by it, to experience it all with courage as well as fear.

Ernest Becker (Denial of Death) would say I have fabricated my own “symbolic transcendence” over “the darkness and the dread of the human condition.”

But isn’t there equally glory in the human condition, in nature, in oneself? And just as hard to take, for most people, because of the guilt of being happy, successful (at whose cost) and the fear of being betrayed by happiness into forgetting horror – then it suddenly happens. Still, the beauty is equal to the ugliness. I don’t believe people create, always or necessarily, to “mediate natural terror” and triumph over it.

What I mean is not transcendence, but instead as fully experiencing life as I can. These experiences may shatter me, they may improve me; surely they will transform me.

Is it possible to experience the world purely without being completely destroyed?

Reading Huxley’s Doors of Perception, I kept thinking: but I don’t take these drugs and I have these experiences. When I walked in New York, I was sometimes mesmerized by the blue sky above the city streets,. I walked for blocks looking up until I came to see the faded lemon-blue near the western horizon. In Riverside Park, I watched flotillas of ducks, saw how they converged with the river’s currents, bobbing into one another’s area, the rhythm or actually the lack of rhythm, a kind of staccato randomness, changing formations and no clear purpose, but the purpose was clear. Dove blue lights went on the George Washington Bridge and upriver the crusty castle of Riverside Church towered in failing light.

How easy it is for me to visualize, hear and remember the feel of things, how sensory oriented I have always been, the importance of color and how I find it hard to look away from the angles and line in architecture, street after street. I always look and listen, drinking in, as I pass Lincoln Center, walking or in a bus, those colorful “pastiches” of Klee’s, the fountain, the whole.

In art and in life, in our perpetual consciousness, there are layers of perception. Cezanne’s paintings show this gestalt visual memory. There is a synthesis of objects, events and people seen from different points of view, in different lights, from different angles, at different times.

Huxley was looking for a bio-chemical-neurological similarity between “schizos” and artists. Too much stimulation can frighten and overwhelm, or it can fascinate and enrich. The ability to have faith in one’s experience is important, as Laing said, to not care what others judge it to be, to ascertain its value yourself.

“Crazy” people and artists are not the same from my experience. The crazy people I knew were often people of limited or a false empathy. Some are emotionally crippled: the ideologue; the man who screams all night on the church steps.

Anyone who was still alive and battling was not crazy. They had courage and imagination, but were in trouble. They were people who needed to be re-stabilized. I knew that, because I was one of them.

I am leading a peculiar life outside the mainstream, not a crazy life but one arrived at through choosing to live, fully, to be what I am.

Huxley wrote of artists that they are “congenitally equipped to see all the time. His perception is not limited to what is biologically or socially useful. A little of the knowledge belonging to Mind at Large oozes past the reducing valve of brain and ego, into his consciousness.”

This ability is inherent, however, in every person. Some choose to develop it, others to evade the reality of their own experience.

In my book Tally: An Intuitive Life, PJ said, “People find, if they ever do, that it ever so easy—and so difficult—to tap into one’s stream of consciousness. That’s what I mean by living consciously alive.”

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In Search of Immortality, Book Review

In-Search-of-Immortality-by-Jaidev-DasguptaJaidev Dasgupta’s book on Indic thinking is an incredible work of scholarship and more, it shows a mind deeply engaged with the search for understanding. He has sorted out, arranged, and presented the ideas, original beliefs and speculations of the Rig Veda, the early and later Upanishads, and other works (including Buddhist and materialist) in a clear, insightful way. These ideas and world-views evolve from early absolutist pictures of creation and the meaning of existence, to more subtle and complex conceptions. The history of the people of the region, the past and current contexts of ideas and beliefs, and various interpretations of meanings, are juxtaposed in a way that gives them all due respect and range.

In each of the phases that took place in Indic views there are contradictory ideas, and in each of the changes in those views, transmutation, or refutation and rejection of previous ideas and ideals. Human thinking is continually forming new belief systems, world-views, and narratives. A “major shift,” he writes, “took place in later stages in how the creation was viewed. While the Vedas speak of the origin of the world, the late Upanishads also talk about the dissolution of the world.” Another change was the emergence of the law of Karma, which was probably driven by human desire to escape the absolutes of heaven and hell.

“Was there a new idea that led to the change in story between the Rig Veda and the late Upanishads? Before reaching the possible answer, let us see the difference between the two creation models. According to the Rig Veda, the universe once created could continue forever without dissolving, but in the Upanishads the world went through cycles of birth and death. In the first case with no dissolution of the world, time moved forward linearly, but in the second scenario, time moved in cycles, assuming that in both cases time started with the beginning of the creation.”

Among the many fascinating parts were those that dealt with creation stories, the codification of behavior in order to support the world, the change from ritualistic to other ways to achieve “right living” and union with the ultimate reality, being and non-being, immanence and transcendence, and the combination of two polarities in one state or being.

Another interesting passage is this: “There are good reasons for assuming an imperishable, unmanifested Being as the background for the world phenomena. First, it avoids the problems of explaining how the world came into existence from nothing. Indic thinkers believe that there has to be a prior causal base for the world to appear as an effect. It cannot just leap out of nowhere. Second, because of the inherent dynamism of the ground, the world can arise without any divine intervention. Otherwise, the existence of a god prior to creation has to be assumed. Third, Indic thinkers are skeptical about the reality of the world. Right from the Upanishads we find seers and sages troubled with its evanescence and vagaries. They need respite from its transitory nature. And Brahman is the perfect refuge for such troubled souls. Immortality is in demand.”

Dasgupta establishes connections between Indic and non-Indic world views and science, especially in the areas of time, causality, polarities and unity, moral behavior, and similarities in the way the human mind works. These connections are enhanced by the knowledge and experience the reader can also bring to it, which can form the kind of relationships among philosophies that make it invaluable as communication expands across the globe. I know I will be re-reading parts of this book as I go along through life.

In Search of Immortality, paperback, Amazon

A God In Ruins Review

A God In Ruins

This poignant and provocative story of England in World War II is told in a jumble of scenes, mixing together past, present and future in ways that confuse, or challenge the reader, but ultimately in this paradoxical way illuminate the characters’ lives and the book’s themes. Toward the end of the story, you learn why this mish-mash of time does not matter, and why it does matter. The author has worked hard to expose the waste and brutality of war, and leaves a skeleton of what was, what might have been, and what might be.

What begins as banding together to fight an outside threat, which we deem noble, descends into horror and immorality. Teddy, the RAF pilot, experiences so much terror and senseless loss of life that his humanity is reduced to ruins. He has only the most primal desire to survive. All the while, he is participating in a bombing campaign targeting civilians, unknowingly, though perhaps he begins to realize it at some point.  

The United Kingdom’s Bomber Command decided to hit civilian targets in Germany in order to demoralize the population and turn them against the Nazi government. After the war, RAF pilots and crew learned of their true missions. My father was a tail gunner and radio operator on a U. S. Air Force B24 crew stationed in Norwich, England. He would have loved to read about Teddy landing at Shipdham air base and the hearty welcome he and his crew received. For his part, my father’s missions included some cities, and he did know there were people in the factories. As with Teddy, he saw bombers and fighters go down, and the fires in the cities below.

Some at the time and in the following generations criticized the bombing of civilians, as Teddy’s daughter does. Whether Atkinson means to say that UK society (and European and American society) began to disintegrate as a result of the brute realization that people are capable of cold, callous mass atrocities, she does depict a society in chaos, with pockets of nostalgia for days gone by, following the war. This nostalgia is for a time of peace and innocence. But the nostalgic picture is fabricated, as shown in the childhood fantasy stories written by a woman who shuts away the terrible brutality she experienced in World War 1. The post WW2 generation has few of these nostalgic reference points, and those it does have are undermined by the well-documented record of man’s inhumanity.

Teddy’s perfectly unlovable daughter is over the top when it comes to being judgmental, not to mention, selfish and irrational. Atkinson excels at dark humor, giving irony a chance to alchemize cynicism. While Teddy tries to live a decent life, having learned the value of humility and kindness, he is depicted as the skeleton of what was and what should have been. Atkinson paints a damning picture of his daughter and connects it to pre-war progressive social experiments which continue in the form of drugs and communes. These are treated as ridiculous, wrong-headed acts against the time-honored traditions and societal norms that worked – except they did not work, as the world went from one inferno to another.

Both looking back and looking forward engender a hope for the marvel we are at our best, what we yearn for, what we should be able to cherish and continue.

Besides the political and social views, the family and individuals appear in either fuzzy sentimental or critical, severe lights. Teddy is a romantic traumatized by war. He appears to be weak to his daughter, to whom his kindness comes across as an attempt to manipulate her into a shadow life of his childhood. This shadow life is very real to him and gives him strength. Since the war, he has a sense of invincibility, and a fatalism, which makes him aloof. Without much guidance, his daughter and her children slowly mature. Their attempts at banding together with others fall short, until near the end of the book. Atkinson then throws in a twist, one that’s been done before; however, the point she makes with this twist is one that cannot be made too often.

Atkinson deserves credit for her imagination in telling a difficult tale of the personal, social, and spiritual damages of war.

A God In Ruins, Kate Atkinson, publisher Little Brown and Company

A God In Ruins is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo and others.

To read this review on Amazon, click here.

The Storyteller Speaks Review

storyteller speaks

Writers may exaggerate the negative and write dystopian fiction. They may exaggerate the positive and write utopian fiction. In this fascinating collection of short stories, the positive being brought into greater relief is our ability to choose integrity and kindness rather than degenerative and uncaring mindsets and actions. Each story is a core sample of a human moral issue, a history of resiliency and loss, exposed to the light.

In most of the stories the characters are challenged by a tragic or potentially damaging event outside their control; in a moment, their lives are changed drastically, forever. Some of the characters have caused their own dilemma. They go on in a fog or struggle with painful memories and swings of emotion before they reach the tipping point: how will they respond? And it is to their credit they reach this tipping point, because it is done through conscious moral effort. But whether tragedy has come to them or they have made their own mistakes, they eventually recognize the situation through a severe exercise in honesty. This honesty springs from valuing the best sense of who they can be and become. They often draw on enriching relationships with other people and humanizing traditions. Then they go beyond: they make amends. By taking this action, they rise to a new level of moral and ethical consciousness. This is portrayed in clear-eyed fashion, showing how difficult it is to do, and yet liberating.

It is more than interesting for stories like these to be told; it may be necessary for our adaptability and survival, for our thriving as a species. The same could be said for the negative. In fact, these stories blend both in a new and perceptive way.

The flaws in her writing and story composition are small quibbles. For instance, just when I thought the stories would all be similar samples, there was a radical change. It is my hope Annika Perry will continue to hone her craft as a writer. She may yet give us an iconic work.

Racing The Sun: Diane Denton’s Review

Thanks OODLES to Diane M. Denton for her review, written with her usual sensitivity and insight, of my book, Racing The Sun. Here’s the review, which is also on Amazon and Goodreads.

Racing The Sun Book Cover Small 1

“Racing the Sun” follows on from “Miami Morning” as a novel with conscience, its protagonist, Leila Payson, living professionally and personally with a sense of urgency, yet not adverse to pausing here and there in appreciation of simpler moments. This engaging narrative is full of conversations of purpose and planning, framed by a sense of place and belonging, but, also, exploration, drawing the reader into a diverse community of friends, colleagues, and new and unexpected acquaintances who support and challenge each other and, ultimately, discover collaboration – that “wealth of experience”- is the way to make positive things happen.

Mary’s writing reflects Leila’s “changes in speed and direction” while following her through transitions of gain and loss, work and leisure, friendship and love. Leila is an alert woman, who literally and metaphorically is ready to slow down for those ducks suddenly crossing the road. Practical and sentient, she realizes on both levels—to quote Mahatma Gandhi—she must be the change she wants to see in the world.

This second book in the series is as vibrant with interesting characters as the first. I found it more playful, but never without consciousness of how humans opening their minds and hearts to those seen as weaker through disability or circumstance can strengthen the integrity, effectiveness, and, perhaps, most importantly, the soul of a society.

Once again, Mary Clark offers much to think upon, but not just to think upon. To use the words of Leila’s significant other, Mark, “… we can’t be spectators. We have to act, and to act with ethical courage.”

Racing The Sun on Amazon

Racing The Sun on Smashwords

Racing The Sun on Barnes and Noble

Racing The Sun on booklaunch.io

Author Spotlight – Mary A. Clark

lmnelsonscorner

AuthorSpotlight

Author Spotlight

Welcome back to another Author Spotlight! This week, I’d like to introduce you to Mary A. Clark.

Mary A. Clark was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to parents who lived on the MaryClarkSept2010Rutgers University campus. Her family moved to Florida, where she spent her formative years, and was infused with awe and respect for the natural world. She was also aware of the lives of migrant workers, segregation, and the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement. Upon moving back to New Jersey, she attended a county college and graduated from Rutgers-Newark College of Arts and Sciences with a B.A. in psychology. She had a strong sense of being a misfit, which propelled her to find her own place and occupation. She moved to New York City, and worked at the Poetry Festival at St. Clement’s Church, in the then outcast wilds of the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. For…

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A Perfect 10 With Author Mary Clark

Author Don Massenzio

Today’s perfect 10 interview session is with author Mary Clark. The questions in these interviews are designed to gain more insight into the inspiration, background and strategy of the authors that stop by.

Please enjoy this edition of A Perfect 10 and look for an exciting announcement regarding all of the participating authors for 2018.


MaryClarkSept2010 Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Writing brings my energy to a new level, as I’m coordinating various thoughts, emotions, memories, points of view, and attention to detail as well as a feeling for authenticity. There’s an emotional background music playing all the time I’m writing. In other words, writing isn’t only a mental exercise, it’s a visceral experience. I’m not fully conscious of the emotional background while I’m writing, but those emotions and feelings act as a sounding board for being as accurate and honest as possible in what I’m trying to convey with…

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A Novel of Conscience

I’m happy to share these words about my novella, Racing The Sun, by Diane M. Denton, whose most recent book is Without The Veil Between, Anne Bronte: A Fine & Subtle Spirit.

Here is what she said:

Racing the Sun follows on from Miami Morning as a novel with a conscience, its protagonist, Leila, living professionally and personally with a sense of urgency, yet not adverse to pausing here and there in appreciation of simpler moments. This engaging narrative is full of conversations of purpose and planning, framed by a sense of place and belonging, but, also, exploration, drawing the reader into a diverse community of friends, colleagues, and new and unexpected acquaintances who support and challenge each other and, ultimately, discover collaboration is the way to make positive things happen.

Thank you, Diane. Collaboration, that is, working together to solve problems and create new ideas and approaches, is needed more today than ever – and yet we are more  distrustful, more easily persuaded by language that divides us. At one point in this book the factions agree to a “Big Tent Meeting.” After some venting, the antagonists eventually agree to sit down and talk.

And Leila asks, “What is the root problem here?”

“It’s that people don’t agree on how we should live together,” Sam said. “Don’t you hear the extreme points of view on TV and radio? You can’t talk about working together, much less compromise, without being ridiculed.”

Leila threw her shoulders back. She felt ready for this. “We have to do it anyway. We start here.”

Racing The Sun on Amazon   Racing The Sun on Smashwords  Racing The Sun on B&N

Racing The Sun Paperback Cover Small

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter: Review

memoirs of a dutiful daughter

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir

Philosophy’s gravitational wave is coming, and will move across her life . . . 

Beauvoir’s mother was a fundamentalist Catholic and required subservience to that worldview. She did her best to inculcate her daughter with its tenets and practices, emphasizing the safety it provided, to women in particular. That safety and stability, supporting the structure of family life, also required an abstinence from thinking, curiosity, and freedom (though all were subverted in various, subconscious, ways).

Religion pervaded Simone’s existence as she faithfully went through an education at a Catholic school, believed in the efficacy of confession, and the power of prayer. But, slowly, the pervasiveness began to recede, as she observed and questioned ideas and ideals, and learned of other worldviews through her own efforts. Autocracy, with its companion hypocrisy, became apparent at the school. She read books that were banned by her mother, finding them in a relative’s home. A young boy named Jacques gave her books to read, which she gladly accepted. The loosening hold of religion was caused as well by her recognition of its superficiality in those who professed the greatest belief. One who had been her confessor betrayed her confidence. And then, in her personal life, she discovered prayer failed her.

Ultimately, religion was not imbued within her, but was mostly an external accretion. She took some time to grow and break the accretion with a conscious choice. The accretion had been porous, partly due to her inquiring mind, and possibly, partly to her father who was not a believer. He was a person who wrapped himself in fantasy. Their financial, social, and inter-family circumstances, revealed the inadequacy of such a life. Her mother’s tolerance of her father’s non-belief raised questions. Was her mother only with her father because she had no choice, as a woman, in that time and place, to survive and bring up children with a modicum of stability? And so he was simply an accommodation, an appurtenance, with no further value than the earthly usefulness he provided? On the other hand, and I think Beauvoir sensed this, he was her mother’s outlet, her portal to moments of freedom. In him she could release her rebellion. 

Once she had broken with religion, creating a separation from her mother, Beauvoir felt free and ready to start a new life. Her struggles were not over, though; they had just begun in earnest. Simone was still living at home while pursuing higher education, trapped in an atmosphere of denial and obedience. Restlessly, she walked the city streets, which she had been told were off-limits, looking for new ways to be, for places and people to try out her new-found freedom. She never thought, she said, to go into the cafés. Instead, she went further, into clubs where she and her friends Zaza and Stepha indulged in sexual licentiousness and vulgarity, and met people who lived on the margins.

Her relationship with her childhood friend Jacques had changed over the years. She began to consider him as a potential husband. He was elusive, though, and her misgivings about him grew. He would not be her intellectual equal, even though he had helped her on her way at crucial times in the past. She knew she was supposed to seek the stability of marriage, but after much confusion, she realized her hopes were a mistake. Marriage was not for her, she concluded.

Beauvoir had some character flaws that come to light here. She idealized Zaza and Jacques, and obsessed about them, only to learn later they had not thought about her much at all. During these experiences, however, she was working through social questions. These people aided her as well in her philosophical education. But her idealization was over the top, which she acknowledged in the case of the teachers who had once inspired her. She also thought of herself as superior to the unwashed masses. Her revels in the clubs as a teenager and young adult are not unusual. Her crush on her childhood friend wasn’t either. She was different in the talent she had for abstract thinking.

She was honest about her idealizations and her snobbery. At one point, she noted she “loved to be loved,” and was surprised to find herself not being lauded outside her family, but instead, banished from society. She wrote with irony about her “insane optimism” in response to ideas and causes, and how this only added to her solitude. Her philosophical conversations and social analysis with other girls and women made me think: thank you! We read, think, and are concerned with the great mysteries, including questions of rebellion and living a worthwhile life, with authenticity and freedom.

Her greatest mission was to pursue an education, first compromising to study for a teaching job, but finally, to study philosophy. At the same time, she was engaged in community efforts to bring education to working class and poor people. The inspiration for this came from a leftist teacher and speaker. With refreshing humor, she related how, eventually, she lied to her mother about going to this volunteer job, only to really go to a film, ballet, or one of the clubs.

All the while she experienced extreme loneliness, the sense she didn’t fit in, as she roamed the streets, studied alone in the library, and attended class at the Sorbonne. When and how did she meet Sartre? If you don’t want to know until you’ve read the book, then don’t read the rest of this review!

She longed for intellectual dialogue, for someone who could challenge her, for someone who was her superior. One after another, intellectual companions came along, and fell away. Slowly, the dim-witted men of great intelligence realized they had met their match. One was a member of Sartre’s “group.” He referred her to the group, telling her Sartre had found her interesting. She threw all her arguments at him, and he refuted them. Well, this was what she had been looking for. But as we know, and so did he to his credit, she had something to contribute, which he could not, and this kept an interest and tension between them that fueled continuous thinking and dialogue.

Her relationships with a parade of men and women who were questioning the old ways were fascinating. Each one brought a different point of view and beliefs. The story often comes back to her relationship with Zaza, who also had a restrictive mother. She tried to be a good friend, although Zaza’s mother disapproved of her. At the end of the book, Zaza died of a sudden illness, after some years of failing health. She said of Zaza’s death, “We had fought together against the revolting fate that had lain ahead of us, and for a long time I believed that I had paid for my own freedom with her death.” This sounds eerily similar to the Jesus-Hercules stories of sacrifice for the betterment of the people. Or was it survivor’s guilt? In any case, Beauvoir had managed to free herself and create her own life. 

And so the wave of human questioning and knowledge goes on.

Mystery Mondays: Mary Clark on Exploring Family Dynamics

KRISTINA STANLEY

This week on Mystery Mondays, author Mary Clark is here to talk about her laster novel, Racing The Sun.

Over to Mary…

Exploring Family Dynamics

by Mary Clark

My latest book, Racing The Sun, is interwoven with surprises, some gently delivered, others more brutal. In several cases, accidents change lives. They also bring together people who wouldn’t have otherwise met. The main character, Leila Payson, a Miami high school teacher, finds that occupation not precarious enough; she moves through the world stirring things up, but not with careless force, but instead at a thoughtful pace. But the world has its surprises for her, too. And these come from close to home.

Her father has been looking into his family history at the suggestion of a life coach (who may be more than that). He shows Leila his DNA results and urges her to sign up on the same genealogy site…

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