Camp NaNoWriMo: Song of Spring

For this month’s Camp NaNoWriMo, the first of two annual camps (also in July), I continue and hope to reinvigorate the process of writing my 2016 NaNo novel based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice books.

Currently, I have a detailed plot outline, my main characters are taking shape, and I’m zeroing in on the kind of story I want to tell. I’ve drafted almost the first half of the story, but many of those scenes and especially several pieces of exposition probably will require significant rewriting to match the second half’s focus and character arcs.

My Camp NaNo goal is to finish the first draft of the whole story by April 30–however disjointed, incoherent, or mediocre it might be. Forward momentum! The summary and excerpt below represent my latest clues to what the final draft may become.

To see hints of the slow, unsteady development of the project since last summer, see this seed, a snapshot on the cusp of its germination, and the small bud of a key scene‘s rough draft.


Happy writing and reading this month, which is also National Poetry Month. For ideas on how to celebrate poetry, visit my list of suggestions from last year. Poem in Your Pocket Day is April 27th this year. Whatever you’ve got going, I wish you the best. Enjoy!

Plus, nature lovers, don’t forget to watch The Zoo tonight at 10pm EDT on Animal Planet, and Wild Scotland starting tomorrow at 8pm EDT on NatGeoWild. My post from earlier this week about TV nature programs and Scotland nature tourism can be found here.


I’ll soon share some other projects seeking fertile soil.

Summary: Novel synopsis-in-progress (drafted 3/28/17, revised 4/1/17)

A fantasy tale based on Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll, Hunted Song of Looking-Glass Land re-imagines the second of his two Alice books. Glimpses of original chapters and the use of characters provide a frame of reference for new adventures and insights about the true nature of heroics and villainy in Looking-Glass Land. The teenage girl Song Warber, a Jabberwock, or Wock, wields her singular music-making powers in the struggle of freedom and justice for all Looking-Glass Landers.

A little girl named Alice mysteriously arrives in Looking-Glass Land and stirs up trouble for Song’s family even as both her presence and Song’s threaten the monarchy. Yet, it is only by allying with this alien little girl that Song can fulfill a destiny she only begins to fathom when her family falls into the hands of those determined to tear them apart—the Royals, or chess pieces, of Looking-Glass Land. Alice’s destiny is also at stake as she awakens to the gritty realities of this ailing country. Her triumph will depend on new alliances, betrayals, comings of age, secret support, a bit of magic, open battle, overcoming tragedies, facing fears, and confronting the White King, the Red Queen, and a vengeful Humpty Dumpty.

Can two young girls of vastly different species, upbringings, and worlds ever hope to right the wrongs of the place they inhabit, however briefly, together? The good of parallel worlds may depend on it. And what will become of Song and Alice in the process? It’s a reversal across the chessboard of team loyalties and the realm’s purpose as a land of vivid dreams, uncommon reality, and infinite possibility. Will Looking-Glass Land survive the turmoil?

Hunted Song novel excerpt (3/28/17, rev 4/1/17):

A story was told. Another was told after that. A minimum of three short stories or two longer ones would always be spoken in any given sitting where storytellers and story hearers gathered together.

Every story told was a try on the part of a contestant. It was a storytelling contest. Each contestant was a member of the Looking-Glass Land community, a long-standing member of the fellowship of the realm. No one was new. No one was young. No one was particularly old. The Royals were an exception. The White Royals looked wizened. The Red Royals, middle aged.

Storytelling had once been merely a pastime as popular as baking and walking in Looking-Glass Land. As popular as tea time. In fact, stories were often told over hearths and tea tables and tea sets. Tea things were the natural scenery for a storytelling session. Like other pastimes, preoccupations, and cultural rituals, the tradition of storytelling in Looking-Glass Land came with many rules. There were particular steps to be taken in the telling of a story. Specific qualities each story must have. A certain size an audience must have in number, to represent a story telling properly. Like tea time in England, storytelling in Looking-Glass Land had a certain order of operations to it.

As times grew harder, the wizened, middle-aged and neither youthful nor old inhabitants of the land grew more serious, less playful, less tolerant of creativity, invention, new ideas, new characters, or, eventually, any new stories. The only stories permitted were stories that had been told many times before. Known stories. Stories people had heard over and over again. Stories that became in their telling like the reciting of a pledge each morning in school or the swearing of an oath for public office. Familiar, unoriginal, the same–always the same. Even the wording had become regimented so that each well-known story could only be told in exactly one way with exactly the same words from start to finish, every time.

The contest continued, however. It became a competition in style of delivery. The stories never changed, so contestants needed only to memorize the content, and the rest could take on a variety of bellowing, shrill screeching, whispering, and outrageous inflections, dramatic pauses, vibrations and other sound effects, as well as musical accompaniment of every kind. Even a technique such as ventriloquism had been a trend at one time, but eventually, the crowds began to crave more elaborate movements on the part of the storytellers and from any actors they chose to act out the events of the tale.

You may think, So what? Stories are popular because they are told over and over again. When a story is repeatedly shared, it means it is popular. This can be true. However, the people of Looking-Glass Land took repetition to a whole other level. There were never to be any new stories of any kind for any purpose. Even recounting the events of one’s day to one’s family came to carry with it very strict rules and restrictions. Such recollections could only be so long and would not be permitted to be repeated outside the family circle within hearing range of other families or anywhere in public.

This was at first very difficult for people to comply with, as you might imagine. But over time, with practice, and a few minor adjustments to the rules, as with many things grown easier with habit, recitative storytelling in Looking-Glass Land came into its own. Upon visiting the land at such a time, you would note that it was as if no one had ever heard an original story, so much so that it mattered little who had originated the stories in the general repertoire. The creators had been forgotten, and no one mourned the loss of their memory. Memory instead became less and less important, and forgetfulness became au courant and du jour, as the French might say of more benign customs.

As a result, even short-term memory became devalued and less tenable among the people. This had reached a level of such ridiculousness that an outsider would find it absolutely comical how poorly the people held facts, events, even names in their memory, how few things they remembered while traveling from point A to point B, even just down the road from their houses. A side effect of this was that the Looking-Glass Landers were constantly getting lost in their own neighborhoods and villages, and needed help from a kindly neighbor they’d sought help from a thousand times before but whom at the moment they could not recognize. They could only hold so much information in those dry, unused brain muscles, you see.

The lack of need for invention, creativity, new ideas, or any kind of refreshing of activity had an even more devastating impact. It created scores of demented community members, folks with early onset Alzheimer’s, as it were, though they wouldn’t be able to spell that word let alone hold their own attention long enough to grasp its meaning. To try to remember the term? Forget it! And so they would.

This chronic, permanent forgetfulness applied to all things. There were occasional anomalies among the villagers in the thoughts they managed to commit to memory in their own clandestine ways, even while original storytelling became illegal, in both spoken and written form. Mainly, though, among most of the population, to forget was to comply, and to recite was patriotic. It was a way to pay homage to the stories the kingdom had declared the best, most worthy tales to be passed down from generation to generation in Looking-Glass Land. It could therefore hardly be noticed when the variation in delivery of these rote storytelling activities gradually lessened as well.

Like the flappers on the floating island world discovered by Gulliver, the people of Looking-Glass Land devised a means of support for their forgetfulness, to steer them aright and keep them from wandering forever aimlessly amidst their brooks, woods, and meadows. One of these devices was a system of concrete roads on which were painted in permanent pigments instructions to every destination known in the land to every other destination, as well as labels several points in advance of reaching a destination to remind the traveller that the arrival was imminent.

This worked even in cases where the person was in fact closer to their point of origin than they were to their designated destination. With abysmal short-term memory, the misguided could be guided best only by counter-factual signs and directions exaggerating the distance, the nearness, the direction, and the size of the places people sought to reach.

In fact, in our land, with our far superior short-term remembering skills (trust me, even you with poor short-term memory have nothing on these characters), we would interpret these overdone instructions as patently false, utter lies, and deep absurdities.

And who made such systems, you ask? Why, the government of course! They were naturally exempt from the restrictions they decreed. They became the parents, nurses, and shepherds of their people, and they could do very much as they liked, always, without challenge or correction or fear.

Such was the state of Looking-Glass Land in the years around the time Alice made her historic visit.

Actually, that would have been her second visit, if memory serves. Alice had been to Looking-Glass Land before, and the results of the first visit differed greatly from what that old fart Charles Dodgson professed them to be in his famous novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. It’s really quite funny. For a man who treasured his memories of childhood and later friendships with children so dearly, he proved to have significant memory problems of his own when it came to the fictional worlds he himself had created.

As an outsider myself, from the next country of Wonderland, I saw what went on in Looking-Glass Land with my own eyes. I possess certain . . . powers that made these observations easier. Because of my unique circumstances and close investigation, I can tell you how it really happened, and I will very shortly. I only hope your memory is not so short. I hope that you will be able to learn and benefit from this history–for everyone’s sake. Perhaps having this written form to re-read and refer to will aid you in that endeavor. I bid you good luck and urge you to make an effort, if you can.

An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, Part 3

In Part 2, we explored the western central and southern sites of Outlander TV series filming, focusing on the Glasgow area and Ayrshire. This time, we head north into the Highlands, starting with Perthshire, also a central region. In an upcoming post, I’ll present our particular trip itinerary for your consideration and discuss existing Outlander-dedicated tours you can book and enjoy in your Scotland travels. To start our journey from the beginning, see An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, Part 1.

As for the Outlander sites, this post will take us full circle so to speak from one version of the story’s central plot mechanism—the fictional standing stone circle of Craigh na Dun—to another, with several essential stops in between. We start north of the main cities Glasgow and Edinburgh and take a gradual north-westerly path from there. The climb begins with a tantalizing mystery of the TV show and ends with a point of resonance for Diana Gabaldon’s creation of the books. You may also learn some history along the way.

Dividing a Nation

One thing I noticed in my tourism research was how inconsistently the areas of Scotland are named from one resource to another and over time. To distinguish areas of north central and northern Scotland for this post, and find current, accurate names for them, I finally found a resource that clarifies how Scottish lands are sliced and how they overlap: UndiscoveredScotland.co.uk.

Fully orient yourself to where’s where on their Councils, Regions, and Counties page, which links to breakdowns of those three different types of division. Or, for the simplified tourism approach, see the official Scottish Tourist Board website mentioned previously, VisitScotland.com. Find out more about how the tourism industry, as well as British and Scottish governments, have labeled things; see the first footnote under the heading “Notes on Area Names.” *

In short, it can be confusing, but with quick look-ups, ready resources, and having precise addresses, you’ll find your tailored trip less daunting to plan. If you’re going far less DIY, it shouldn’t matter. I can nearly guarantee you’ll be well taken care of, at least in country. Choice of travel agent or airline in your home country–and now, perhaps, getting home again–is another matter.

From Here on Up

The Highlands, broadly considered, are sort of a mythical, amorphous landscape in some respects, for a few reasons. For a discussion of this issue, see my second footnote section under “Notes on Area Names.” **

Whatever names the land acquires, one of its most distinguishing features are its diverse, ubiquitous configurations of rock and stone, both geologic—hills, caves, coast lines, mountains, tors, volcanic plugs—and man made—standing stones, stone circles, cairns, brochs, crofts, stone fences, houses, streets, castles, and so on. Stone, loch, and green together mean “Scotland.”

The “Highlands” Sites:

Outlander Show Filming, Book Story, and Scottish History by Region or County

My heart is in the Highlands, wherever I go” – Robert Burns

Perthshire, Perth & Kinross council area     →      Outlander film setting

From roughly east to west toward the Great Glen, the areas of general attraction in the glen of Rannoch include Schiehallion, Dunalastair Estate, Kinloch Rannoch village, Loch Rannoch, and Rannoch Moor.

Rannoch. → On a line east of Glencoe and Fort William in the Central Highlands, somewhere on the Dunalastair Estate, they “can’t tell you where,” the Outlander TV production erected their set of Diana Gabaldon’s fictional circle of standing stones called Craigh na Dun. Shown in eps 101, 103, 108, 111, 201, and 213, this set of Claire’s time-travel scenes includes its backdrop—the very real Loch Rannoch and surrounding mountains, including Schiehallion to the southeast.

Lying on a National Scenic Area between the Cairngorms National Park to the north and Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park to the south, Dunalastair Estate sits on 17,000 acres. The village, loch, hills, and moor are accessible to the general public, as are the holiday cottages for booking on estate land. Caitriona Balfe (Claire Randall Fraser) once called this filming location her favorite and noted the magic that seemed to meet the crew each time, and she’s not the only one. Source: Travel+Leisure magazine’s article “The Cast and Crew of ‘Outlander’ Reveal Their Favorite Filming Locations.”

The Dunalastair Estate website features comprehensive details for tourists. It covers area clan history, the estate family, farm, village, wildlife, rare plants, hiking, horse riding, railway, and other recreational options, plus links to websites like that of the Rannoch and Tummel Tourism Association. Source: http://www.dunalastair.com/Dunalastair-Estate

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Rannoch Moor looking west to Glen Coe. Creative Commons image by cosmicherb70, via Buzzfeed.com & Flickr

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Argyll (county), Highland council area      →      Outlander film settings

Glen Coe. This mountain range is in long shots of Scotland. It was all about showcasing Scotland itself. If you’ve seen representative landscape views of Scotland in any form, chances are you’ve seen Glen Coe. One such view has been my blog’s header image in early 2017. The glen is the result of glaciers cutting into extinct volcanoes, creating a broad, sweeping valley of pleasing symmetry from key vantage points.

Glencoe is the name of the village in Lochaber to the west of the picturesque glen, and the two are connected by the umbilicus of the River Coe. Coming from the south, follow the A82 westward from Loch Lomond toward Glencoe Village, Loch Leven, and the Great Glen. There are dedicated viewpoints along the way where you can park and take it all in.

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The Three Sisters of Glen Coe, Season 1, Episode 1, opening shot during Claire’s voice-over. Image by STARZ & Sony Pictures Television, via Outlander-Online.com

* * *

Cairngorms National Park, Highland       →       Outlander film settings

“Cairngorms” rather loosely translated means “pile of blue rocks,” or “blue stone heap.” The Gaelic for this mountain range sounds much better, and Gaelic is often helpfully descriptive. There is also a single mountain called Cairngorm. Covering a vast area of natural beauty, rare wildlife (wildcats, capercaillies, and mountain hares in winter, red squirrels, red deer, and others), scenic vistas, castle ruins, pine forests, lochs, burns, and waterfalls, nature-loving visitors can spend substantial time in the Cairngorms National Park year round and not be disappointed.

If you were traveling from Rannoch, you would enter the park from the south, taking the A9 which starts in Stirling and flows through Inverness all the way to the far northwest Highland ferry port of Scrabster. The River Spey chases the A9 along the western boundary of the Cairngorms, and soon both find the small town of Newtonmore, just north of which is the Highland Folk Museum.

Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore, Cairngorms National Park, Highland. Almost due north of the village of Kinloch Rannoch, this historical outdoor museum recreates 18th-century Highland life every day and aids in Outlander storytelling in a few ways  → in ep101 for the shelter where Murtagh first takes Claire to meet the other Highlanders, the scenes of village folk around the Castle Leoch area in season 1, and during ep105 for rent collections and wool waulking when the ladies sing “Mo Nighean Donn.”

From their website under the auspices of stewards Highlife Highland, “The Highland Folk Museum sits at the east edge of the village of Newtonmore less than two miles from the town of Kingussie. It lies just off the A9 at the west side of the Cairngorms National Park.”

As a preserved 18th-century village, the attraction has a total of 30 time-period furnished buildings, including a 1700s township of six buildings and a section featured as a working 1930s croft. The whole property, fully active up until the 1960s, spans one mile in length and also contains the Shelter, “Am Fasgadh,” housing 10,000 artifacts, plus a research library, conservation lab, offices, meeting rooms, and more.

Source: https://www.highlifehighland.com/highlandfolkmuseum/

The address is , Kingussie Road, Newtonmore, Inverness-shire, PH20 1AY. Currently in winter closure, the site will reopen in April 2017. Visit the official website for more pictures and information.

Tulloch Ghru, Rothiemurchus Forest, near Aviemore and Inverdruie, Cairngorms National Park, Highland, is an area of hilly woodlands spreading north of, but not far from, the Highland Folk Museum. → Featured in the opening credits of each episode and in scenes where Claire and the Highlanders travel from Craigh na Dun to Castle Leoch in ep101, “Sassenach,” it is peppered like Rannoch with ancient Caledonian pines along a western stretch of Cairngorms National Park.

Tulloch Ghru may also serve in parts of ep108, “Both Sides Now,” such as the woods where Claire and Willie wait while Jamie and the others meet Horrocks. (Not sure about this; I cannot find my original source for that idea.) But you won’t find it mentioned on standard tourist websites.

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Tulloch Ghru, maybe –> Claire, Jamie & Dougal talk British ambush risk. Image by STARZ & Sony Pictures Television, via Outlander-Online.com

The Outlander filming sweet spot is somewhere between Aviemore and Inverdruie, southeast of both and not far south of the Cairngorms Reindeer Centre. To start the hunt, follow the sleuthing, with information distinguishing place names in the area (Tulloch to the north vs. “Tullochghru” to the south), diligently pursued and shared at Wizzley.com. An old map of the area appears on that site.

Anyway, such pine forests in Scotland, though few compared to their ubiquity in times past, provide similar atmosphere as each other, and wee Tulloch Ghru may not stand out visually to the Outlander tourist. Generally, woodland film locations are notoriously difficult for the mere mortal to pinpoint once the crew cleans up, though some visitors may prevail. Interested in plant succession and vegetation change in the park since the last Ice Age? Knock yourself out at Cairngorms Learning Zone.

Note: Cocknammon Rock, also featured in this portion of ep101, is a fictional rock formation invented by Diana Gabaldon and created by the show with special effects.

The Cairngorms National Park itself boasts several helpful tourist resources at visitcairngorms.com (supported by VisitScotland.com, the official tourist board of Scotland) and cairngorms.co.uk, among other sites. For an outline map of the Rothiemurchus Forest of the filming site, go to the latter website’s Landscape Areas page and select “Rothiemurchus Forest.” Rothiemurchus is also a woodland estate with an island castle. For a beautiful map of the whole park, see the Cairngorms National Park Map.

* * *

Ross and Cromarty      →      Outlander book and historical settings

To start farther north and work your way southward back to Inverness for the train to Edinburgh or Glasgow and a flight back home, head for Ross & Cromarty. There you’ll encounter the real Mackenzie lands and their seat of power, Castle Leod. 

Castle Leod, near Strathpeffer–Easter Ross or “in the east of Ross-shire” (county of Ross) or in the regional district of Ross & Cromarty, i.e., something to do with “Ross”–seat of Clan Mackenzie.  →  Inspiration for Castle Leoch in the book. The name from the book was then continued by the show. However, shared in Part 1 of my Outlander tourism series, the historical castle itself is played by Doune Castle in Stirling. Castle Leod is a private estate accessed only by prior permission. However, it has been a stop on at least one Outlander tour out of Inverness.

For pictures and official information, see the gallery page at Castleleod.org.uk. This well-preserved Highland castle, billed as one of the most picturesque and romantic by its stewards, can be booked for special events including weddings. The Clan Mackenzie Society of Scotland and the UK was very helpful with information about access and tours involving Castle Leod. The associated Clan Mackenzie Routes also offers tour package options.

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Castle Leod. Image credit: Clan Mackenzie Society at clanmackenziesociety.co.uk/castles

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Castle Leod, “east view.” Image by coltarbt at Tripadvisor.com

Castle Leod will have select open summer days in 2017 in May, June, July, and August, and the grounds also open to the public on August 12th for the Strathpeffer Highland Games, held annually.

In a valley alongside the Peffery Burn, the castle property is NNE of Strathpeffer off the A834, and the closest town immediately northeast is Auchterneed. Bottacks is also nearby. The address of Castle Leod is .

Loch Garve, west of Castle Leod, Strathpeffer, Easter Ross → The loch mentioned as the home of the water kelpie (water horse; no, not the same species as Nessie) in the fireside tale Rupert tells before the rent party is attacked by members of Clan Grant in ep 108, “Both Sides Now.”

My online search for “Loch Garve” one day brought up the legend of the water kelpie; the story is indeed a long-held Scottish fixture.

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Falls of Rogie. Image by EvaMarina2015 at Tripadvisor.com

Between Loch Garve and Castle Leod are the Falls of Rogie, a series of sought-after waterfalls on the Black Water River, where salmon can be seen jumping the “ladder” and where you can walk across the river on a suspended bridge. Also within this area is the Strathpeffer Heritage Village and Victorian spa resort.

Down from the Northwest, we reach the Great Glen and Scotland’s most famous loch.

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Inverness-shire    →     Outlander book, film, historical, and inspirational settings

Inverness is an interesting case for its lack of interest, perhaps. At least that’s what my friend who recommended I read Outlander said about their Outlander tour with Inverness Tours. I’m not sure if it was the pedestrian passerby on the highway shouting up to their double-decker tour bus “Inverness is sh*te!” that influenced her thoughts on this, but she basically told me there isn’t much besides the river views worth seeing in Inverness itself.

To say Inverness has little tourist value is not strictly true, but as a fellow Outlander fan with other priorities, I decided to follow my friend’s lead on this one. As a result, my personal experience of Inverness is limited to navigating traffic, scenes of the River Ness (mainly in pouring rain) and Moray Firth, parking beneath the Inverness Castle hilltop, and eating at two fine city restaurants.

Known as the capital of the Highlands, there are indeed attractions worth visiting in the city. I’ll tell you about a less beaten path we took for ourselves, along with other charms Inverness afforded us, when I share our full itinerary in a future post. Incidentally, my first pick of an Outlander tour was through Inverness Tours, but they were booked for our time frame when I finally made my decision, so plan many, many months ahead! We took instead Slainte Scotland‘s Firth of Forth and Fife area Outlander day tour, which was wonderful.

When you focus on the book and TV show, it is equally true that nothing in particular makes Inverness an Outlander tourism city. Rather, its proximity to sites of story interest is what really recommends it. You may decide it’s a nice central location for lodging. Below are some of those story-related sites around Inverness that complement those in Ross & Cromarty.

Loch Ness (and Urquhart Castle), south of Inverness, connected by the River Ness, extends on a roughly north-south line for more than 20 miles. Featured in the book but not in the STARZ series, Gabaldon uses Loch Ness to bolster the mysterious, supernatural element of encountering a mythic beast, presumably either “Nessie” or one of her ancestors, collectively known as the Loch Ness Monster.

North of Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle and west of Inverness is the town of Beauly, seat of the Fraser clan of Lovat, kin of our story’s hero Jamie Fraser. A distinctive treasure awaits in the heart of town.

Beauly Priory, a truly “beau lieu” (French) or “beautiful place,” presents its ruined self in full splendor and grace. The names Fraser and Mackenzie appear frequently on the tombstones within and around the priory.    In the book, this holy place is where Claire meets Maisri, the seer who works for Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, infamously known as “the Old Fox.” Both the clan chief and his wise woman appear in ep208, “The Fox’s Lair.”

Technically not in Inverness-shire but also not far from Inverness to the west, Beauly Priory is free to enter and open 1 April – 30 September. Check for closures at all Historic Environment Scotland sites: https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/check-for-closures/. The address is .

After Beauly Priory’s enchantment (all above images by C. L. Tangenberg), last and perhaps best are two very important sites just a short trip east of Inverness.

Culloden Battlefield, aka Culloden Moor, Inverness-shire.  →  “The Outlander action is all leading up to the bloody Battle of Culloden in 1746. More than 1,200 men were killed in the defeat of the Jacobite clans.” Source: photo caption excerpt http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/arts-and-culture/photos/get-inside-outlander-on-a-tour-through-scotland/page/14. This final battle, while not depicted in the book, will be portrayed in the STARZ show during series 3, which is based on the third book Voyager. Culloden visitor centre stewards, battle and Jacobite scholars, descendants of Scotch soldiers and their families, British historians, Outlander fans, Outlander STARZ cast and crew, and Scots citizens–in short, many, many people no doubt all eagerly anticipate this unique project coming to fruition.

I know it will be unforgettable, and I hope it will bring even more people to this historic site that has long been at the center of Scottish cultural identity and its dramatic transformation.

The most prominent inclusion of Jacobite Rising history in the Outlander series comes in the form of weaving its facts throughout the story. To her fans, Diana Gabaldon’s research prowess is legendary, and the show has followed her lead with excellent historical accuracy and detail, in everything from herbs to weapons to period architecture to literal embroidery on costumes (with a few intentional nods to the 1940s in Claire’s 1740s French dresses) and furnishings.

Plot elements such as an inside look at the rebel cause in series 1, discussions and decisions by Clans Mackenzie and Fraser in both series about political loyalties, mention and depiction of the battles of Prestonpans and Falkirk, and Claire and Frank’s talk of Jacobite history both on and off the battlefield in the 1940s all merge into that complex tapestry.

In 1743, smiling after Claire’s joke, Jamie casually mentions the Mackenzie rent party’s approach to Culloden Moor. Triggered by this, Claire suddenly recalls her sad visit there with Frank, circa 1945. “What of these Mackenzie men? How many [would] die on that bloody moor?” Having begun to bond with them over the past few weeks, she now fears for their lives, with a growing sense of helplessness.

The must-see visitor centre combines access to the field with a state-of-the-art, immersion museum experience, complete with dozens upon dozens of primary accounts conveyed in both textual and audio commentary and a four-wall motion picture re-enactment of the battle itself. The museum is designed for the visitor to receive and absorb a robust before, during, and after depiction of Scotland’s last war for freedom, before stepping outside for the most fundamental evidence of its high costs.

Inside, you learn about the Jacobite Rising of 1745 from its inception, with dual-corridor pathways providing both the government and Jacobite perspectives leading up to the war, along with intricate Battle of Culloden statistical and social details, and a comprehensive portrayal of the prolonged aftermath. This is one of the best places to learn a substantial amount about Bonnie Prince Charlie in particular. The centre has also taken pains to ensure Gaelic language representation throughout the museum and on field kiosks.

A dark hallway allows you to hear what each side had to say about the failed Night March before the battle. After viewing the graphic re-enactment film complete with sound effects (think 3D Saving Private Ryan cinematography), don’t miss the excellent aerial-view digital model of troop movements with audio narration. The same room displays artifacts that were found on the battlefield and examples of swords, pistols, rifles, dirks, mortars, and cannons used in the fight.

Next, you can walk the moor, view the memorial cairn, grave stones, flags, and other battlefield features, and better imagine what it must really have been like. Pay your respects at the Clan Fraser memorial stone, which resides directly opposite the memorial cairn, among a series of clan memorial stones. More often than not, many of these will be graced with flowers and other tokens of remembrance.

The land is relatively flat but expansive, so budget your time for the trek. Go early if you intend to add another attraction on the same day, but I recommend light, short, and upbeat follow-up–something purely entertaining and relaxing or mostly physical, such as a beach picnic, river cruise, whisky tasting, tea time, train ride, horseback ride, or bagpipe show.

Actually, you might want to make a firm plan for the whisky. The Culloden historical experience, though fascinating and engaging, is a top-notch example of the ultimate sobering agent. However, despite one myth, birds do indeed sing on the moor–I made a point of listening for them after reading that somewhere. Our visit also featured two beautiful horses grazing the moor and watching over the fallen.

In getting there, keep in mind that several places in the area bear the name “Culloden”: the town of Culloden, Culloden Moor, and Culloden Battlefield, which is technically on Drumossie Moor, as well as the Culloden Inn. The town named Culloden is a bit removed to the northwest, and the namesake moor is immediately northeast of the battlefield. Culloden Inn restaurant is very close to the visitor centre, between Drumossie and Culloden Moors.

Murtagh mentions Kildrummie Moss in ep212, “The Hail Mary,” as well. This is actually farther northeast in Nairn-shire, closer to Nairn, where the British General Cumberland’s camp celebrated his birthday on the eve of their march to Culloden.

Regardless of your degree of interest in Outlander, war, or formal museums, no first visit to Scotland would be complete without at least half a day at Culloden. Be sure to include it.

Address: Culloden Battlefield visitor centre, Culloden Moor, Inverness, Highland IV2 5EU. Tel: 0844 493 2159. Visitor Centre, Restaurant, Shop: open 1 Sept – 31 Oct, daily 9 – 5.30. Battlefield open daily, all year. Price: Adult £11.00. Hire of battlefield tour PDA is included in admission price. NTS members in free.

Clava Cairns, Inverness-shire, is a set of circular piles of stones (chambered and kerb cairns), and standing stone circles (monoliths) around those cairns, along the River Nairn, near Inverness. Perhaps sharing features of the stone circle Gabaldon pictured as Craigh na Dun for her story, “the 3 cairns were burial sites about 4,000 years ago, although the remains have long since been removed. Standing stones surround the cairns, but they haven’t seen any mysterious disappearances or reappearances lately—that we know of, anyway.” Source: photo caption http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/arts-and-culture/photos/get-inside-outlander-on-a-tour-through-scotland/page/5

As part of her answer to the question “Are all the locations used in the books real?”, Diana notes in her website’s FAQs section that she had not been to Scotland when she wrote Outlander but would not be surprised if a place like the one she describes for Craigh na Dun actually existed. She found the standing stones at Castlerigg, Lake District, England, to be “very like” her imagined site once she finally did travel to Britain.

She mentions Clava Cairns and Tomnahurich Cemetery Hill as possibly being similar, but she states she had not been to Tomnahurich, which is supposed to be a “fairy’s hill.” It was not clear whether she had visited Clava Cairns by the time of her answer’s posting on that particular page, but I am fairly certain she has been there since, and I know she has visited Culloden as well.

Source: http://www.dianagabaldon.com/resources/faq/faq-about-the-books/#locations

Remember: Numerous examples of cairns, standing stones, stone circles, brochs, volcanic plugs, glacier-carved valleys, caves, and other spectacular rock formations define the landscape of Scotland’s mainland and islands. You’re likely to find one example to be as interesting as the next. This one is special in part for its very close proximity to Culloden Moor and its being part of Inverness-shire.

Just across the River Nairn to the southeast of Culloden Battlefield and visitor centre, the address of Balnuaran of Clava, or the Clava Cairns, is . It is free and open to the public.

* * *

As you have seen through descriptive detail and vivid images, Outlander highlights abound in the Highlands as much as in central and southern Scotland. As I hope you have also seen, Scotland deserves exploring in its own right. Its beauty, culture, history, and adventure are matched by impressive hospitality.

Now that I have oriented you–in part 1, part 2, and part 3 of this series–to the places throughout the land of Scots that can fascinate and delight the Outlander tourist, part 4 will present my specific model for putting it all together. I’ll show you how I approached planning our trip as a do-it-yourself traveler, our full bespoke (that is, “custom-made” for you non-UK folks) itinerary, and how we adjusted it along the way. I’ll also provide further guidance about dedicated Outlander tour options, more filming locations and book story sites, as well as general travel tips and recommended resources.

Footnotes and a list of sources mentioned in this post can be found in the sections below. While I’m on that subject, remember: The information presented in these posts is not exhaustive, errors are possible, and facts change, so be sure to do your own checking when you’re ready to set a Scottish excursion in stone.

I am delighted that you’ve followed me on the journey thus far. Return next time, when I’ll help with some tough choices and prepare you to book transport and more for that Scotland trip you’ve been dreaming about. . . .

Tìoraidh an-dràsta! (CHEER-ee ehn DRAH-steh) Ta-ta for now!


Notes on Area Names

* Go to Council Areas Since 1996 for a numbered map and linked list of all 30 council areas, such as Clackmannanshire, Renfrewshire, East Ayrshire, and Perth and Kinross. The island chains of Orkney and Shetland are listed and linked separately as not shown on the map. Subdivisions into registration counties, used for land registration in Scotland, have persisted since the 1990s.

Regional divisions are a little more complicated and involve subdivision into districts between 1975 and 1996. For that fascinating history, see Regions and Districts of Scotland from 1975 to 1996, the names of which are relevant for the tourist mainly because areas are often still described in these terms.

Finally, counties go back even farther in time and were replaced by the two-tier region-district system. Scottish Counties from 1890 to 1975, like much of Scottish history, retain their footprint on the land.

Beyond these official, politico-historical categories, there appears to be a common understanding among UK and Scottish tourist service organizations and tour guidebook publishers as to which labels are most helpful to tourists. VisitScotland.com, Fodors, DK, Scotland.com, and Scotland.org are among those that blend variations of regions, council areas, and descriptive phrasing to focus tourists on optimal zones for their adventures. Examples include “Aberdeen and Grampian,” “Hebrides” (islands), and “Glasgow and the Clyde Valley.”

** The Highlands, broadly considered, are perhaps a mythical, amorphous landscape in some respects, for a few reasons. For one, this northerly expanse hardly has a monopoly on height and also seems to be synonymous with “the North.” Even the Lowlands are bordered to the south by “Southern Uplands” (Dumfries & Galloway area), and Europe and other continents boast far larger mountains.

Second, culturally and politically, the Highlands were long considered a region of backwardness, even barbarity, by their southern neighbors the English, and sometimes by Lowland or city Scots. The region could in that way be thought of as anything north, island or inland, a certain distance from Edinburgh.

Third, the geological Highland Boundary Fault line has set in stone (sorry) that once vague sense of division, officially distinguishing “up there” from “down here.” This fault zone runs from the isle of Arran and Helensburgh on the west coast, west-northwest of Glasgow, through Loch Lomond and Crieff to the northeast, parallel to the east coast on the North Sea, terminating immediately north of Stonehaven, at Garron Point, just south of Aberdeen. Visual learners, consult the map. 😉

As the line climbs to the northeast, it traverses Stirlingshire, Perthshire, and Angus, southeast of the Cairngorms. To see the topography and current place names, visit Gazetteer for Scotland and zoom out on the map. For geology lovers, here’s George Barrow’s sketch map from 1912.

Scottish Natural Heritage further explores “the five distinct foundation blocks which make up Scotland” geology; examples are Southern Uplands, Northwest sea-board, and Northern Highlands.


Key Sources (in order of presentation in this post)

Highland Boundary Fault information was drawn from Wikipedia and Gazetteer for Scotland.

Gazetteer: http://www.scottish-places.info/features/featurefirst7728.html

Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highland_Boundary_Fault

Travel+Leisure magazine’s article about Outlander cast/crew’s favorite filming locations: http://www.travelandleisure.com/culture-design/tv-movies/outlander-cast-and-crew-favorite-locations

Dunalastair Estate: http://www.dunalastair.com/Dunalastair-Estate

VisitCairngorms.com: http://visitcairngorms.com/

Highland Folk Museum: https://www.highlifehighland.com/highlandfolkmuseum/

About Tulloch Ghru at Wizzley.com: STARZ Outlander Scottish Filming Locations

Castle Leod: Castleleod.org.uk

WelcometoScotland.com provided information about Loch Garve and the Falls of Rogie in Ross & Cromarty:

Loch Garve: http://www.welcometoscotland.com/things-to-do/activities/fishing/north-highland/loch-garve

Falls of Rogie: http://www.welcometoscotland.com/things-to-do/attractions/nature-reserves/north-highland/rogie-falls

Learn more about Historic Environment Scotland sites including Beauly Priory: https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/check-for-closures/.

TravelChannel.com‘s Outlander sites photo gallery

Culloden Battlefield: Source: photo caption excerpt http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/arts-and-culture/photos/get-inside-outlander-on-a-tour-through-scotland/page/14.

Clava Cairns: Source: photo caption http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/arts-and-culture/photos/get-inside-outlander-on-a-tour-through-scotland/page/5

Diana Gabaldon’s website FAQs: http://www.dianagabaldon.com/resources/faq/faq-about-the-books/#locations

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Candlelight Vigil for Freedom of Expression at AWP 2017. Corrected commentary.

My commentary–updated with corrections 2/6/17–and a reblogged post (at bottom).

Many have been saying the following and then launching new campaigns of activism. As always, I launch only my considered opinions, research-based (the one statistic I did use and cite needed correcting afterwards–my apologies) views, and best advice, leaving each person to do as conscience dictates.

It has been my aim to avoid politics in large part on my blog, focusing on pre-chosen themes that put art and beauty and positivity first. However, those themes include freedom of expression and opposing censorship, I’m still putting positivity first, and I’ll offer content according to my conscience regardless of trends, mine or others.

We all have choices to make. Wouldn’t it be great if we all kept the freedom to make them?


When executive orders forbid, for instance, federal workers from discussing federal policy, conditions at work, or opinions at all related to their jobs, it is a form of corporate practice as lawful as the conditions of security clearance or signing a confidentiality agreement. It goes with the job. That’s why it’s called an executive branch rather than just “the president”; there’s the Cabinet with 15 departments including Commerce, Defense, Homeland Security, State, Justice, Agriculture, Interior, Environment, Education, Energy, etc., each with subsets of dozens of other organizations such as the FBI, the EPA, and the CIA.

The unreasonable suddenness, logistical difficulty, and accumulation of such orders amounting to a moving target that creates confusion and chaos is another matter for the company to work out within itself, lest its efforts to comply break a host of laws and fracture the Constitution. Even as they comply, federal workers must be cognizant of the consequences of their actions and weigh the risks and benefits of continuing to comply, keeping the conversation open amongst themselves if nothing else.

But there is more to consider in a climate in which the default impulse of the executive–whether he chooses to act on that impulse each time or not–is to rule by unexpected direct order, absolute silencing, intimidation, bullying, bribery, general dismissive belligerence or a combination of these. We must consider that non-federal employees with legitimate, rights-based objections to those or other orders have an even greater obligation than previously, and than their federal fellow citizens, to voice or also enact their objections.

Those included under such an obligation are state-level law enforcement leadership, whose duty it is to oppose, countermand, and, if necessary, arrest federal agents who have little choice but to carry out federal orders regardless of state-level legality or moral rightness. Where refusal to comply is truly untenable, blockage of compliance becomes essential.

The power of the executive branch of the federal government has expanded dangerously over the last several decades, for nearly a century in fact.

Now we see (because we finally choose to pay attention), in more vivid and alarming detail than under previous administrations who also wielded such power with various degrees and kinds of impunity, the threats that unchallenged executive mandates and manipulation pose to a panoply of basic freedoms–to pursue work or education, movement, trade, speech, religion, decisions about one’s own physical body and property, including land, and the ability to ask our State and military leader challenging (or any) questions. The legislative branch, the judicial branch, the states, and everyday citizens all have the obligation to check and nullify those threats.

Speak on, ask on, petition on, fund, litigate, assemble, enjoin, fight for what’s yours, relinquish what is not, pray or abstain, and don’t be intimidated. You’re not alone. No persecuted American left behind. Liberty and justice for all. Keep the conversation going. Debate, question, and prioritize your engagements.

No one has the right not to be offended, but you can choose not to take offense by ignoring non-threats to your freedom and focusing on those things that actually threaten it. In a society in which it has become far too easy to get distracted by inflammatory language and pursue useless tangents, the first order of business in making positive change in your country is to restrain yourself so that your energy is not spent before it can apply to what matters.

To that end, speak but don’t just speak. Think before you speak, choose your words wisely, and move from speech to action to protect your liberty and your neighbor’s. Don’t fight each other; fight the unlawful and abhorrent actions of your government. Show each other the respect, but not without adherence to Constitutional law, that your executive chooses not to show as he flouts the Constitution.

Be brave enough not to panic but to question, find facts, learn, engage, think, object, reconsider, seek alternative views, train your mind, open your heart, think critically, understand, decide, and, when necessary, dissent. That’s freedom. That’s patriotism.

What is not freeing or patriotic is terrorism, which comes in many forms. Since 9/11, we have scared ourselves into creating a less secure and far less free society. Now we are seeing the culmination of that extended, misguided, and misapplied paranoia.

From the Patriot Act forward, starting with Bush Jr., we have made incremental choices to excel at being our own most effective terrorists. We have looked the other way while our government implemented ineffectual laws and programs, and devastating military operations, and continued them under Obama:

the counterproductive bureaucracy of the Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act’s negation of habeas corpus and due process, Guantanamo Bay’s remaining open with the resulting unjust detentions, NSA snooping on American citizens, the TSA’s invasive blunders, Benghazi’s wrongful deaths, lack of transparency in leadership, Afghanistan, and drone strikes amounting to undeclared war in Syria and now troops in Yemen, for just the more obvious examples.

The effects–of both these government actions and the people’s acceptance of them–have been gradually eroding our basic freedoms and rights, and increasing our enemies’ hostility towards us, as well as abilities and determination to harm us.

Nothing brings that fact into sharper relief than the election of this president, who now perfectly embodies our terror. The fear has merely been disguised as anger. We must eventually learn and might as well start now: The only response with any chance to reverse this freedom-hating trend is calm, reasoned, organized, and well-applied resistance–first and foremost, to our own worst impulses.

Resist. But: Know why you resist, be clear about what you’re resisting, prioritize what is most important to resist, and learn how to do it more effectively than the government does anything.

Stop looking to centralized government to fix everything. They have proven repeatedly, in both parties, from all angles, that they are unfit to do so. A new executive won’t resolve this; the system itself is unfit, and the wisdom of term limits supports this notion. Being “unfit” may seem unfortunate, but it is not the tragedy. The real misfortune is our continued gullibility in believing they can fix it all as we passively await our deliverance. The corrupt, powerful godheads have led by fear and kept us afraid. In this respect, the federal government is a modern god for those no longer beholden to the earthly bonds of organized religion, a secondary one for those still trapped by it.

The alternative?

Start being responsible for the state of your own citizenship; the least of the actions demonstrating this is voting for a leader or simply attending church regularly. Each of us is the first, best, and only leader of ourselves. Set yourself free, and become the best kind of advocate for fellow citizens without the power to do so. Grow your worth, moral and monetary, to apply to the community in discerning, uncompromised benefit. Transform your anger into loving, positive, freedom-expanding action.

Real liberty is scary, but it is worth everything. Jesus, who sacrificed himself for everyone, understood that. So did Stalin, who sacrificed everyone for himself. Neither way is right or practical for the citizen who must remain strong and vital to serve as a thread in the societal tapestry, lest it all unravel. Neither absolute equality, nor absolute deference, nor totalitarianism will serve. Only generous spirit for uncommonly meaningful and inclusive purpose combined with an educated, well-reasoned will can defeat the frightened sheep–in this externalized form of a stingy, insecure egomaniac–that lives in us all.

Liberty is that inclusive purpose. Liberation is that will enacted. Actual security is an illusion. Actual equality is an illusion. We can choose to put first either freedom or safety, either freedom or equality, but not both. Put safety first, and freedom dies. Put equality first, and freedom dies. In seeking freedom first, we welcome safety and equality; we open the door for both. We can and must choose whether we are our own worst enemies or our own best friends, whether we will stay fearful and overly self-sacrificing or calm and wise.

Protectionism is fearful and unwise–bad for the economy and global relations. Discriminatory application of basic rights by sex, religion or politics is fearful and wrongheaded. Targeting things and people to ban by a scary-sounding name or traditionally suspect nationality is cowardly and stupid. But if you’re going to be that way, at least be consistent. Targeting those things and people while at the same time allowing even more actually suspect ones to travel freely is asinine and completely counterproductive. We seem to have a Joseph McCarthy-like character in the highest office.

However, the illogic of this seemingly arbitrary discrimination is nothing new. Obama’s “higher deportation numbers than those of all 20th-century presidents combined” (questionable claim) at least partly targeted those illegals previously convicted of a crime, though non-criminal ejections (whether mostly returns or removals) have exceeded criminal ones consistently since 2001.¹ See updates to this footnote (in purple). Ousting peaceful but illegal Mexican farmers with non-violent criminal records, and peaceful but legal Shiite Muslim Iranian academics, when the real problem is legal Sunni Muslim Saudi immigrants learning to fly planes into iconic American buildings, is pure bald-faced, idiotic cruelty in the guise of tough do-something-ness.

Furthermore, behaving like an absolute monarch or dictator is fearful, malicious behavior. Supporting only like-minded advisers is infantile and short sighted. Gag orders are fascist–fearful and growth stunting. Acting without thinking, without warning, and without remorse is profoundly malignant, distrusting (fearful), and incredibly foolish. Whether cunning steamroller or bold imbecile, and at times he seems to be both, this president may well be insane. Signs of schizophrenia would not be more disorienting to the observer. (Well, maybe that’s insulting to schizophrenics.) What is certain is that the man is a frightened rabbit with a nest for hair. It would be funny if he were not so dangerous to freedom.

He either doesn’t know, doesn’t care, or both. But even if he were a better leader, it would still be up to the people to lead. To each person. Freedom is not free. For free speech, free religion, free choice, freedom over our bodily person, free assembly, free expression, free enterprise, free trade, and free pursuit of happiness, freedom to have a sense of humor or none whatsoever, we have the responsibility to control ourselves: to avoid fraud and falsehood, assemble peacefully and lawfully, invest wisely, refrain from censorship, interact only by mutual consent, permit individuals’ free use of their own minds and bodies, and defend the rights of everyone else to do the same. Live and let live.

Not just Uncle Sam but the people of your country want you. Need you. Facts are indisputable, and this is the plainest fact: Only you can make things better.


¹ Corrected, 2/6/17: See the Pew Research Center’s August 2016 article “U.S. immigrant deportations declined in 2014, but remain near record high,” The Economist‘s February 2014 article “America’s Deportation Machine: The Great Expulsion,” and ABC’s August 2016 article “Obama Has Deported More People Than Any Other President.”

Pew’s chart does not distinguish illegal immigrant returns from removals, both of which have increased fluctuated since the late 90s but together have steadily decreased, according to the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), since 2004; see the Center for Immigration Studies’ chart spanning 1982-2011.

The CIS reports directly cite the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)’s own “internal” records as opposed to “packaged press kits.” CIS’s claim is that the DHS numbers used by other sources (such as the 3 above) to report record highs in expulsions were manipulated in unprecedented ways under the Obama administration. Some of this has to do with which agency is doing the ousting (ICE vs. Border Patrol), the actual departed vs. ordered gone status of illegals (order vs. enforcement), and how returns and removals have traditionally been counted.

The Reuters blog reported a total of 414,481 deportations in fiscal year 2014, citing DHS, closer to the annual downward trend shared by CIS. According to their chart referenced above, it appears that President Clinton was the expulsion winner among two-term presidents in recent decades (including Reagan, Bush Jr. and Obama).

I encourage you to seek additional sources beyond those above, to take few things at face value, to challenge the media not to swallow whole everything authority figures tell them, even when quantified and packaged well, and to take this example of the unclear state of reported facts as a lesson in the value of general skepticism, if not that of deeper, nuanced investigation few of us have time to conduct personally. And, thus, to understand the futility and folly of rash, precipitous action based on sound bites taken out of context, half truths that ignore equally relevant truths, and distortions of fact that breed further distortion.

What politician does not spin the facts for his or her own purposes? And, ultimately, what is the government if not political?

Often, our reactions and overreactions prove that we can be puppets in their hands. Take great care and consider that sometimes on certain issues, just maybe, we really do not need to do anything, except wait for the fog to clear. Abstinence, restraint, and calm but alert, steady work make the best, most effective kinds of resistance to the seductive call to chaos.


BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

March.jpgThe annual Association of Writers and Writing Programs Conference is in D.C. this year, and in fact, it is next week, and this year is starting to look a bit different. Yes there will be books, and yes there will be beer, and chances are good someone at some panel is going to sound pretentious, but in keeping with the times, we have this:

On Saturday, February 11, during the last evening of the AWP Conference & Bookfair, a Candlelight Vigil for Freedom of Expression will be held in Lafayette Square, Washington, DC, which faces the north side of the White House. The vigil is set to begin at 6:15 p.m.

The gathering will include several speakers: Kazim Ali, Gabrielle Bellot, Melissa Febos, Carolyn Forché, Ross Gay, Luis J. Rodriguez, and Eric Sasson.

The group organizing the event writes on their Facebook page: “This basic freedom is threatened in…

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Nothing I Own: Original Poetry

And your deep thought from Philosofishal today? An anti-Thanksgiving sort of excerpt from my poem “Nothing I Own” (2010). Inclusion neither constitutes nor forbids endorsement.

And she said to me,
“I would give nothing
That I own, if asked.”
Appalled, I then realized,
Mine is worse, or no better, 
for I would own nothing
So as not to feel obliged.

copyright © C. L. Tangenberg

Looking at just this part of the poem with fresh eyes and new cultural context, I think I’ll file it under Nativism–in all senses of the word. Or Socialism or Communism. Or just re-title it. Or maybe False Freedom. Relativity? Solipsism? Extremism? Bald-faced Sin? Excuses? Seeds of Evil?

But, well . . . how to choose?

Does the first speaker mean she would give only when NOT asked? I.e., it has to be her choice, her original idea? Or, does she really mean she’s keeping it all to herself always?

Is the second speaker, because she is the “I,” the person whose perspective the poem is most squarely about? That would seem to indicate which title fits best.

And yet, can we trust her statement? Are the motivations we claim to have really those we hold? Are the ones we actively claim really the most active among our reasons? How much does social pressure shape our response?

Can there be light, as in true enlightenment, without closely examining the darkness?

Not recalling the rest, can I really analyze only part of a poem, even my own poem, with any authority? How much does context matter? Some say it’s everything. I don’t go quite that far, but it is significant.

So, in order to know what’s at the heart of the art, what message might emerge from the words, you really have to read the whole thing and, in so doing, seek to learn things like:

  • What else was said? What was happening? What is their history? Who are they?
  • Are they both speaking freely or under duress, or is one dominating the other?
  • Is the speech itself merely an instrument of a different, hidden purpose? Is that better or worse? Does she like or dislike her audience?
  • Is it a contest to see who is worse? Americans are generally pretty attached to those.
  • Do they mean what they say, or are they just afraid somehow to be honest?
  • Which is speaking–the authentic self or the wounded inner child?
  • How mistreated do you have to be to feel the need to avoid others at all costs or reap punishment for self-absorption?
  • Is this their way to ensure they get nothing themselves, a sign of self-hatred?

I know. You’ll say I’m reading too much into it, but I’m not really seeing one conclusion or another at all. It’s been too long since I read the whole poem. I’m asking. Because I don’t have the answers. It’s an examination of a small corner of the possibilities of human psychology, social morality, and subjective truths.

So how can I judge? How can you? What can we really know?

If we don’t know what to conclude, there seem to be two active responses open to us. (I’ll get to the passive ones farther down.)

  1. Find out more in order to judge properly, if possible, or
  2. Simply be more open to revelations and to getting it wrong, more tolerant of the lives we are not living in the skins that are not ours, and withhold judgment, learning from the outcomes in the process.

This second option may seem passive, but it is active when it takes skill in self-control to achieve openness, humility, tolerance, and restraint, greater skill than it takes to shout our precipitous verdict from on high.

I try to do the first–investigate–when I can and when I feel it is important to, but I know the effort is often fruitless, takes a lot of time and thought, and rarely aligns with the personal goals that matter more to me, where my energy is better spent. Which leaves the second way.

The active withholding of a decision when you know you’re missing vital information to make it wisely is actually rather wise.

So if it’s not our literal job (yes, literal meaning actual earning of an income to feed oneself and one’s family) to judge something, or if it is our job to know what the heck we’re doing, then what legitimate basis (let alone right) do we have to label someone, to declare a just course, to say what should or should not be done, when knowledge is nowhere to be found?

True freedom is to be measured by what we allow other people in our midst to be and do, not by how free the judging of them makes us feel. A free society must evolve from citizens freeing one another. But do we love liberty or each other enough to evolve into that society? Or, do too many of us prefer the hollow promise of equality and the illusion of government protection to a freedom that demands more individual responsibility?

People seem to love to claim they are holier than thou, which belies any claim to love equality. All claims require basis in fact to be true. And what fact do you know about yourself that cannot be legitimately disputed by those who know you relatively well?

Think about it. All the things we’re most sure of about ourselves–the ones that aren’t patently obvious and therefore unimportant–are often the most objectively questionable. So “Let he among us without sin be the first to condemn” actually means “How dare you condemn, you hypocrite!” There should be no “first” because there is none without sin.

A passive response to not knowing what to make of things, whether it takes the form of forever ignoring a fundamental life question or choosing an arbitrary answer, is more unconscionable to me than the highly visible sins being judged in the first place.

So it has to be either judge wisely or don’t judge, but can such a non-judgmental approach work for everyone, in every role in life?

Can a president, for instance, afford to suspend judgment or be uncertain–ever?

Sure, they have to project a strong front to ward off threats to the country. Frankly, though, and yes, in ironic judgment, I find a publicized persona of sustained high confidence–along with rote, platitudinous rhetoric–in political leaders to be a sign of idiocy and incompetence, not to mention dishonesty. Verdict read. So apparently, the only people I judge harshly and permanently are the judgmental, or those who seem to have more confidence than I. 😉

But in all seriousness: However covertly or discreetly displayed, without actual humility and openness, meaning the capacity to learn, improve, and course-correct, a leader is lost. And what does that make the leader’s country?

Your thoughts?

 

Just Because

Explicit Election

I stare blankly into the distance at the unfolding horror story of the inevitable doom approaching our nation, because:

Donald Trump’s a blustery Clinton plant who faces a serious “oh shit!” moment if elected, one that lasts four years (at most, please!), turning America into a no-shit “oh shit!” show.

Hillary Clinton’s a false feminist, lying fascist, megalomaniacal criminal, war hawk, and Obama clone who has been leaking evilness since before Bobby Kennedy’s assassination.

Gary Johnson’s a wishy-washy wimp without a prayer, but, hey, check out Libertarianism anyway; it’s really not so bad.

Jill Stein’s a nut-job doctor determined to spend the country into a Hades oblivion while handcuffing investors at every level, just like Trump and Clinton (and especially Bernie), because, save Earth so we can’t afford to acknowledge it’s been saved, let alone enjoy it.

And even if, before the election, Clinton is indicted for something (options are many and meaty), and Trump finally implodes for real, Joe Biden’s a senile, creepy-uncle pervert who falls asleep on camera like the rest of them (e.g., Bill at Hillary’s DNC acceptance speech).

Embrace the suck.

Or, you know, move. I’m staying put for the bloody spectacle–albeit indefinitely burrowed deep into a fog-enshrouded artistic and literary den of avoidance. It’s clear, after all, I could do much, much worse.

Five-Phrase Friday (22): Why Freedom?

Five-plus phrases of things to celebrate about freedom of the press and free expression:

  1. revelation through openness: unfettered expression of facts, opinions and impressions, making possible the discovery of truths
  2. diverse, idea-rich culture and personal responsibility instead of sacred cows and “safe” spaces for absolutely everything: Such riches flow out of sources ranging from irreverent comics to wise, reasonable academicians and beyond.
  3. constraint and dissent against bureaucracy and corruption: government transparency, accountability, restraint of power; courageous whistle blowers; the repeal of bad and excess laws
  4. greater personal safety, freedom, and fairness–and less fear: no to a military-style police state, no to federal intimidation, no to economic imprisonment, no to political entitlement, no to terror, no to executive power grabbing, no to detention without charges or trial, no to knee-jerk litigation, no to more prohibition (yes, upholding the Constitution in general is essential to numbers 3 and 4)
  5. lighten up, get real and get out of your own way: uncork childhood and let them breathe, laugh at ourselves, leave the Internet unregulated, and say “yes” to risk, to play, to innovation, to experiments in arts and sciences–to better life

Roosevelt was right: Our greatest enemy is our own fear. And guilt is a close second.

Most of us theoretically want the foundation of the five conditions above; we just advocate different ways of getting there. For my part, I say:

Self-control is a skill worth cultivating alongside rational and critical thinking.

Let not your pulsing heart scream silently in ready offense, righteous indignation, outrage, despair, doom, panic, self-hatred, or vengeance. And if you can’t help it, delay the impulse to give your heart voice until after it consults your mind (or a neighbor’s if you are out of yours).

To kick our addictions to dread and catastrophe, and curb our bad habit of trying to change others, if we really want to make life better, first we have to change our own hearts and minds. Adaptation propels us beyond mere survival into thriving.

You find what you look for, so look for the good in others. You cultivate what you rave about, so, if you must rave, rave about the good you have found. Replace the need to spread anger and fear with an addiction to the highs of good news and hope.

Oppression rules when we approach life as an error to correct, as a problem to solve, as something broken to be fixed. Hypocrisy and idiocy reign when we engage with and operate from assumptions of imaginary woes and wars within society.

Out of such an atmosphere spring useless, tyrannical communism; insidious, oppressive fascism; and volatile religious fanaticism–and their attendant violence. Feel free to despair at that point, but then quickly dust yourself off to fight the now-real war.

Either way, no one is getting out of here alive.

Therefore, let life pursue its natural course–improvement. Let there be creativity on earth, and let it begin . . . with freedom. Only under this necessary first condition can we hope for truth, love, integrity, respect, and trust in ourselves and each other to foster widespread, lasting peace and prosperity.

Five-Phrase Friday (1): The Poetry Politic

It’s a new series of weekly posts featuring choice phrases in English! I hope you enjoy them. This first one surrounds the theme of politics in poetry.

Favorite phrases from poems peppered with politics:

"when lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd" 
  - "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" by Walt Whitman 
     (an elegy for the fallen President Lincoln) 

"something there is that doesn't love a wall" 
  - "Mending Wall" by Robert Frost

"Their pain cries down the noise of poetry."
  - "The Foreign Gate" by Sidney Keyes

"the glittering neutrality / of clock and chocolate 
 and lake and cloud"
  - "The Country of a Thousand Years of Peace" by James Merrill 
     (Can you guess which country he means?) 

"like Caesar's Gaul, I feel divided"
  - "Driving Myself to a Poetry Reading" by Billy Collins

lilac_multicolor_in_basket

Here’s to slam poetry, graffiti & public murals, dystopian fiction, palace architecture, subversive songs, documentary films, satirical cartoons, great political speeches, politician mimicry, national anthems, spy movies, biopics, creative protests, conflict-zone journalism, eloquent cries for freedom, superhero comics–in short, creative efforts that address, dismiss, laud, mock, or simply use the world’s governors, power mongers, and citizens in the making of true art.

As some of the excerpts above illustrate, the personal is often political, the political often personal.

Live long and multiply, Free Expression . . . and Love, Truth, Justice, Beauty.