Review: Slainte Scotland Outlander Tour + Outlander Tourism Resources

I thought I could fit it all in one final Part 5 post, but that proved to be a mighty miscalculation. I had far too much to say about the Outlander tour alone–big surprise!–and I still plan to provide an overall series wrap-up. In fact, this post is so substantial, with pictures and tons of Outlander-related resources, I thought it best to include a table of contents. Get ready for everything (else) you need to know to create the best Outlander adventure for you and yours!

The final post is forthcoming. If you missed any of the first 4 parts of the series An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, you can find them in my blog’s Scotland and Outlander sections, linked through Scotland Ventured, Scotland Gained, or in direct links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4. The first 3 parts showcase 37 filming & book locations with several photos. Part 4 details my trip planning process with snapshots of our planned vs. actual itineraries and reflections on the quality of our Scotland vacation experience.

Table of Contents

  1. All Our Outlander Tourist Destinations in Scotland
    • Our Outlander Day Tour Experience
    • Special Visit to Glencorse Old Kirk
    • Other Outlander-Related Sites We Visited
  2. Our Outlander Tour Company: Slainte Scotland
    • Day Tours with Slainte Scotland
    • Outlander Tour with Special Guests
  3. Outlander Tourism Reference – Diana’s Recommendations, Tour Company Pages, Location List, Articles & Resources

    • Tour Companies’ Tour Advertisements, including those of Slainte Scotland
    • List of 40 Filming (NOT book) Locations
    • Articles and Info about Filming Locations
    • Specific Filming Locations in Depth
    • Info about Outlander Book Locations
    • Book and Premise Inspired Outlander Tourism
    • Places Mentioned on Series 1 of the Show
    • Sam Heughan (Jamie) and Laura Donnelly (Jenny) Studied Theatre Here
    • Articles Reflecting Outlander STARZ’s Pop Culture Progress
    • And for Good Measure (surviving Droughtlander)

All images © C. L. Tangenberg

All Our Outlander Tourist Destinations in Scotland
Our Outlander Day Tour Experience

I started my tour search by perusing Diana Gabaldon’s recommended Outlander tour companies, discussed on her website. I sought a company that offered tours of more than half a day but less than 3 days so we could balance official Outlander tourism with exploring Scotland more generally. My first choice was Inverness Tours, but by the time the dates of our trip became settled, there were no tours of the right length available among those led by their four tour guides who work year round. Inverness Tours has long been a popular tour company with Outlander fans.

Moving on to Slainte Scotland, I contacted the company through both email and their website’s chat feature to get details about their 1-day Outlander tour. After a few messages back and forth, and a chat with a very helpful representative, I learned the likelihood of visiting West Kirk (the Black Kirk) in Culross and the all-important Midhope Castle (Lallybroch), and I carefully parsed the schedule of stops to ensure we’d have time to make it to our 7:30pm play showing in Edinburgh that evening.

Satisfied with all the circumstances, I decided to take the plunge and booked our tickets for the tour. Slainte Scotland made a great first impression by being prompt, informative, enthusiastic, and professional in their communications. They provided the detail needed to help make our day flow as smoothly as possible.

The day started on our own with a train ride from Edinburgh to Dalmeny Station, our meeting place for the start of the tour. Slainte Scotland day tours allow travellers from both Glasgow and Edinburgh to converge on a central location for sites in the wider area. Dalmeny is located in South Queensferry, a stone’s throw from the Firth of Forth, about 20 minutes by train northward from Edinburgh’s Waverley Station in the valley opposite the Princes Street Gardens between Old Town (south) and New Town (north).

The Slainte Scotland Outlander Day Tour we enjoyed on September 17th was a 9-hour van tour that guided us and about 8 other people in 2 vans through 5 filming locations:

  1. Midhope Castle (Lallybroch) on the property of Hopetoun Estate, West Lothian,
  2. the fascinating Blackness Castle (Fort William) perched on the coast of the Firth of Forth, in the council area of Falkirk, then across the Forth Bridge north to
  3. Falkland, in central Fife (1940s Inverness), including lunch at the Covenanter Hotel (Mrs. Baird’s B&B), then westward to Stirling for the famous
  4. Doune Castle (Castle Leoch, Monty Python & the Holy Grail castle), including a complimentary Dalwhinnie whisky tasting on the grounds outside the castle, provided by our fun-loving tour guides, and finished as the sun descended, 
  5. in the well-preserved 17th-century style Royal Burgh of Culross, used for Crainsmuir village, Geillis Duncan’s house, and the Castle Leoch herb garden.

Each site’s inherent charms, curiosities, and historical intrigues await your discovery.

Midhope Castle, the exteriors and grounds of which served as the site of the Fraser home of Broch Tuarach, or “north-facing tower” in Gaelic, is known affectionately by those who call it home in the series as Lallybroch. The building itself is hazardous to enter, so the entrance is locked to visitors. The interiors of Lallybroch were constructed and filmed at LBP Outlander, Ltd., the Outlander studios at Wardpark North in Cumbernauld, to the east outside Glasgow.

Visitors may be surprised to find a couple of houses in close proximity to the building, but you might enjoy reading a bit on the way to the castle about the history of the family that used to live in and now cares for the estate. When we visited, it was the last day of public access before a solid month of filming for Outlander series 3 two days later. Preparations were in evidence with the plastic tarp and orange cones covering the threshold, along with equipment set up beside the castle.

Note the electric poles and wires they have to edit out of final shots. Jamie’s ep102 flashback to BJR’s visit to the estate, where it starts on the hill as Jamie sorts the hay, and Jamie’s ep113 confrontation with Tarran McQuarrie’s lackeys of the Watch in the Lallybroch stables were filmed behind the castle and up the hill at this location.

Blackness Castle was one of my favorite attractions in all of Scotland, not just from the Outlander tour. As our tour guide Catriona explained, “Blackness” describes not the mood of the castle but the color of a specific type of land form on which the castle was built, called a “ness,” meaning a “promontory; a cape or headland” (https://glosbe.com/en/gd/ness). With the sun shining down on it, the tide out stranding a smattering of sail and fishing boats, and a view across the shore and the firth, our time at Blackness Castle was nothing but bright and cheerful.

Said to be haunted, the prisoners’ tower I left to my husband’s exploration–I didn’t want to climb all those steps. Our guide Catriona (pictured) showed us where the platform staging Jamie’s flogging by Captain Randall was set up. It was interesting to see how much uplifted rock protruded into the floor of the courtyard of this very intact, ship-shaped castle.

There was much to explore and there were hazards to avoid as we climbed in and out of the corridors and doorways, down steep steps and along the terraces framing the top level. Catriona also showed us the location where Jamie and Murtagh question the English soldier rather rudely as to the whereabouts of the “Englishwoman,” Claire.

Royal Burgh of Falkland, a National Trust Scotland site, offered a little eerie magic at the Bruce Fountain in the town center. Here in ep101, we see the back of Ghost Jamie watching night-gowned Claire through the second-floor window of Mrs. Baird’s B&B as she brushes the tangles out of her hair. Moments later, Frank walks up to him in the rain, and he disappears. I couldn’t resist a little mimicry of the scene.

The lunch at the Covenanter Hotel was simple but acceptable (I had tomato soup and a tuna sandwich), although service was a little slow. They were not particularly expecting us and seemed to accommodate us but grudgingly, based on the comments of our tour guide at the time. This delay may have contributed in part to our skipping West Kirk as the final stop in the tour.

Falkland Palace was visible across the main street from the hotel, and on the opposite end of the town square was the furniture store that served Claire’s window shopping of vases in ep101. Our guide Catriona had the opportunity to be an extra background actor in series 1 and described the freezing cold conditions of working on set that day. We walked a bit through town on our way back to where they had parked the vans after dropping us off in the center of town.

The sunshine enhanced our enjoyment as we passed a tavern where Catriona pointed out a sign outside that Àdhamh Ò Broin had told her misspells a Gaelic word, comically altering the translation from “a thousand welcomes” (ceud mile failte) to “a thousand smells” (ceud mile faile). Whether the proprietors were Scots, English, or other, it proved that even the locals lose themselves in translation sometimes.

Doune Castle first became widely known overseas from its use in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Now, complimentary audio guides at the castle impart insights about filming experiences from both Terry Jones of Monty Python and Sam Heughan, who plays Outlander‘s Jamie Fraser. Castle Leoch’s great hall and some other interiors found form on constructed sets at the studios, but the raw materials at Doune provided the courtyard, steps from the castle, exterior shots of the castle, and scans of the surrounding countryside. Monty Python used the interiors heavily for Holy Grail. Another well-preserved structure, Doune Castle was an impressive element of the tour.

At the close of our Doune visit, Slainte Scotland provided samples of 15-year-old Dalwhinnie (Highland) single-malt Scotch whisky. A little fiery going down, but still smooth and a good introductory single malt, Dalwhinnie became one of two whiskies my husband and I took home with us from duty free.

An unusual aspect of our tour that day was the presence of the tour guides’ three children and their German shepherd puppy (pictured in the Falkland section above). Their arrival in Dalmeny was slightly delayed due to complications in the aftermath of unavailable daycare. The kids were well behaved and charming. One spoke Gaelic from attending a Gaelic school and also sang us a song. It was equally delightful to meet and chat with our fellow Outlander tourists from England, Kentucky, and Germany.

While our van held two of the the three kids and Catriona, the other was driven by her husband with the puppy and the other American group as passengers. While we tasted our whisky, the kids were off running, inducing the dog to whine so as to join in the fun. Overall, from our point of view, the impromptu adjustment worked out well. I’m sure it helped that we love dogs and are perfectly contented with good kids around.

Royal Burgh of Culross. At the witching hour before sunset, we arrived in old Culross, National Trust Scotland site of series filming for exteriors of Crainsmuir village. We drove past the distinctive yellow buildings of the Palace into the square of the mercat cross where the exterior of Geillis Duncan’s house and the pillory were filmed. We stayed only briefly, and driving was particularly tricky in the narrow streets of this well-preserved old village. Cars kept coming down a hill into the village square, forcing our van to back up a couple of different times before successfully making it all the way up the hill. Such is life in old towns with one-track, or one-lane, streets that go both ways.

For Outlander series 1 filming, the Culross Palace Garden doubled as the Castle Leoch herb garden, the Mercat Cross stood in for the village of Cranesmuir, and visual effects fused the Palace Garden with the backdrop of Doune Castle to bring Crainsmuir and Leoch together. The Study building (in white) was Geillis Duncan’s house, and the Culross Palace Withdrawing Room became Geillis’ drawing room. In series 2, the Palace Courtyard provided the main stair where Claire practices dentistry while Jamie meets with Bonnie Prince Charlie, while the Palace High Hall was used for the Jacobite meeting where Jamie swears his oath to the Prince. Then, the Palace’s Kings Room became Jamie and Claire’s bedroom when visiting a village, and the Palace’s Kitchen and Pantry served as the tavern bearing wanted posters, and the Bennet House outside it, in ep211, “Vengeance Is Mine.” See where Jamie & Claire stood: http://www.nts.org.uk/Outlander/Culross-Palace/.

Although I had hoped we would venture nearby to West Kirk (the Black Kirk), time constraints and fading daylight robbed us of the chance, so we worked our way southward again, back across the Firth of Forth, to Dalmeny, South Queensferry, to catch the train back to Edinburgh’s Waverley Station. On our way back to Dalmeny, Catriona played a mix of songs by Scottish artists, old and new, which added to the festive mood.

I took a final opportunity to ask Catriona about Hopetoun House, the estate of which we passed on our return path. She provided the insight that a visit there would require at least 2 hours, whereas one could take in all of Linlithgow Palace in about an hour. These details helped us make decisions about where to go in our trip’s final days.

Summary Review of Outlander Day Tour with Slainte Scotland

This exciting 9-hour tour with Slainte Scotland was led by Owner and Managing Director of Clyde Coast Tourism Ltd., proud Scot, and Outlander STARZ TV series extra–the lively, lovely, and knowledgeable pro tour guide Catriona Stevenson. Assisted by her husband and fellow driver, the small group experience allowed time and attention for individual questions and interests. Although the tour path altered slightly from the order of advertisement, in the end we had no regrets.

Mirroring positive first impressions, the Slainte Scotland experience met and exceeded all expectations. The tour ran smoothly, and they made it insightful and fun. Visiting time at each site was ample and enjoyable, and Catriona was uniquely qualified to provide glimpses of behind-the-scenes facts about the Outlander TV series, including her encounters with its stars and crew. This tour also served as our official primer on Outlander filming locations, which we further pursued on our own afterwards. *

The sun was setting as we alighted on the train platform in Dalmeny. That evening at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, we attended a vibrant performance by the Dundee Rep Theatre of a 20th-century, ceilidh-style historical and political play The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil, which kept us awake even after an all-day tour and with jet lag setting in from the day before. Seeing this play early in the trip provided essential perspective on the past 200 years of Scottish-English relations and politics, which we could then reflect on as we traveled the country.


Special Trip to Glencorse Old Kirk

* One particular Outlander visit I arranged directly with the property manager, Sarah Chambers, was to Glencorse Old Kirk, location of Claire and Jamie’s wedding in ep107. Through email and then mobile texting upon arrival on the grounds, we settled on a day and time, around 2:45pm on 21 September, for a brief look through and around the kirk.

We were staying in Arrochar at the time and had just visited the incomparable Stirling Castle that morning. Sarah asked in advance for a donation of 20 pounds, which we gladly provided, and she showed us a scrapbook of filming pictures not seen online. She also pointed out how the grounds and interior were used in the making of ep107, sharing her personal observations of the occasion.

Many visitors and some journalists have mistaken the Glencorse House for the Glencorse Parish Church as the building used for the wedding. The actual site is downhill and behind a gate from the house. It’s a little hidden and difficult to find, even with assistance, and it requires permission to access. But if you’re all about the wedding, Glencorse a great little addition to an itinerary. Incidentally, they also regularly host weddings at the church and receptions at the house. See the Glencorse House facebook page for a flavor of their work.

These were Sarah’s directions, which we had to alter slightly coming from Stirling Castle instead of from Edinburgh:

Directions from Edinburgh: Take A701 toward Penicuik. After you pass the Ikea, continue past the Nissan garage at the traffic lights. Then, there are 2 roundabouts till Gowkleymoss roundabout (very large). Continue on the small dual carriageway w/ Glencorse Golf Club on left, then very shortly Fisher’s Tryst pub on the left. Directly opposite the pub, take the road to the right signposted Glencorse Kirk. The large church on the brow of the hill is NOT us. Continue round the corner, to the bottom of the hill: you’ve arrived! Total of about 2 miles from Ikea.

The property is owned by the McCaig family, and our contact was Sarah Chambers (McCaig), daughter of the owners. Glencorse Old Parish Church, or Glencorse Old Kirk, is located in the foothills of the Pentland Hills south of Edinburgh and north of Penicuik, Midlothian. The address is the town of Milton Bridge, EH26 0NZ. Tel: 01968 676 406. Email: info@glencorsehouse.com. Glencorse House: http://www.glencorsehouse.co.uk/.

After our visit at Glencorse, we enjoyed exploring the iconic Rosslyn Chapel in nearby Roslin, site of key scenes in the filming of The Da Vinci Code.

Other Outlander-Related Sites We Visited

Previous posts have touched on our experiences of Linlithgow Palace (Wentworth Prison) and other Outlander-related sites not included in our guided tour. See the previous parts in the series An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, organized by region, for comments and pictures about the following book and filming locations we sampled:

  • in part 1, Edinburgh, Palace at Holyroodhouse, and Glencorse Old Kirk
  • in part 2, Glasgow Cathedral, Pollok Country Park, and Outlander studios
  • in part 3, Loch Rannoch, Clava Cairns, Culloden, Beauly Priory, and bits about Inverness, the River Ness, and Loch Ness (Highlands)

I also provide insights with photo captions at Scottish Color: A Photo Essay.


Our Outlander Tour Company: Slainte Scotland
Day Tours with Slainte Scotland

Slainte Scotland offers several different kinds of their most popular day tours including the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Day Tour, Whisky Distillery Tour, Glencoe Day Tour, Loch Ness Day Tour, South of Edinburgh Tour, and a selection of Outlander Day Tours. However, they are open to interests in other destinations, and some tours can be personalized. Their website’s site map also has sections for Whisky Tours, a Luxury Tour, a Private Tour, Cruise Ship Shore Excursions, and a tour search page.

On TripAdvisor, the management company for Slainte Scotland, called Clyde Coast Tourism Ltd., features over 100 reviews with an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars, and has earned TripAdvisor’s Certificate of Excellence, awarded to attractions that consistently receive great reviews from travelers.

Visit http://slaintescotland.com/ and http://slaintescotland.com/day-tours.html for more information.

Outlander Day Tours at http://slaintescotland.com/outlander-tours-of-scotland.html describes the packages for the Outlander Day Trip, Outlander 3 Day Tour, Outlander 7 Day Tour, and Outlander 5 Day Tour.

Outlander Tour with Special Guests

In addition, a new offering from Slainte Scotland this year is a special Outlander tour featuring actor Scott Kyle (Outlander‘s Ross) and supporting Highlander actors from the show, as well as Outlander‘s Gaelic Consultant Àdhamh Ò Broin, Fraser Murdoch who works on Outlander‘s visual effects, and Gillebride MacMillan who plays Gwyllyn the Bard in series 1. The tour will launch from the 2017 Starfury Convention in Blackpool, England, at which Sam Heughan will appear on Saturday and Sunday. The subsequent Outlander Tour with Special Guests is scheduled for 28th August to 1st September.

Outlander Tourism Reference – Diana’s Recommendations, Tour Company Pages, Location List, Articles & Resources

Outlander-Based Tours of Scotland – DianaGabaldon.com – Herself explains the purpose of her list, provides disclaimers, and describes how the selected companies made the list.

Tour Companies’ Tour Advertisements (text theirs)

Slainte Scotland (Catriona Stevenson and co.)

Slainte Scotland – Outlander Tours | VisitScotland – Are you a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books and the subsequent hit Starz TV show of the same name? Do you want to enjoy the landscape that inspired the books? Join us on our Outlander Tour, visiting some of the main filming locations.

Outlander Day Tours from Edinburgh and Glasgow – Scottish Tours and Private Hire – Slainte Scotland ToursOutlander Day Tours from Edinburgh and Glasgow. Includes Castle Leoch and Fort William.

Outlander Tours, Outlander filming location Tour, Outlander Tour Scotland – Scottish Tours and Private Hire – Slainte Scotland ToursOutlander Tours of Scotland. Be your own Claire Randall searching for your very own Jamie Fraser.

Inverness Tours (Hugh Allison and co.)

Outlander Tours, based on Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series

Outlander – Inverness Tours – All Day Diana Gabaldon Outlander Special Tour (This was the tour my friend took and greatly enjoyed in July 2016. Stops include Clava Cairns, Culloden, Inverness, as well as Beauly Priory, Castle Leod, Rogie Falls, and Loch Garve.)

Clans & Castles (clansandcastles.com/gabaldon.htm) – Clans & Castles – self-guided itinerary for fans of Diana Gabaldon ‘s novels – Clans & Castles itinerary for fans of Diana Gabaldon’s novels. Will you walk through the split stone?

Borders Journeys (bordersjourneys.co.uk) – Outlander – Preston Mill – Outlander Film Set – Borders Journeys – Tailor made private guided sightseeing and ancestral tours of Scotland. Specialising in Dumfries & Galloway and Scottish Borders.

Outlander tour – Rosalyn’s Ancestral & Outlander Tour – Borders Journeys.

Outlander Road Trip – Borders Journeys.

Borders Journeys has also taken tourists to Glencorse Old Kirk, among other southern and central filming locations.

Outlandish Journeys (outlandishjourneys.com) – Outlander – Tour Options – Outlandish Journeys – Tour Options available with Outlandish Journeys

Outlander – TV Series Tour – Outlander Tour (outlandertour.co.uk) – Outlander TV Series Scottish locations tour from Edinburgh

Discovering Outlander – National Trust Scotland

I checked out at least four other companies online last summer, but there are probably dozens. One of those four was Vacation Scotland, included in Diana’s list. Her description was compelling, but I was put off by their outdated website presentation and place name misspellings. Further perusing signaled to me a company I wouldn’t personally pursue. Although I didn’t include them here, you may find expertise and other facets that make up for the shaky first impression. Another company steered me away by their emphasis on Ireland tours.

I recommend finding a company that has specialized in Outlander tours for several years prior to the show’s premier and those that have a genuine special interest in the series, a unique approach, or a special focus. They’re more likely to deliver a bit of the magic viewers and readers receive from the series. For instance, it was very interesting to me to hear about Catriona’s acting and running into the cast on more than one occasion. She also knows Àdhamh Ò Broin, official Gaelic language consultant for the show, with whom we explored Argyll on 20 September, three days after our Outlander tour.

For other tour possibilities, go to Outlander Tour Search Results – VisitScotland.

List of 40 Filming (NOT book) Locations – in rough counterclockwise geographical order (central to south to north)
  1. LBP Outlander Ltd. (Outlander studios), Cumbernauld & Kilsyth, North Lanarkshire, east of Glasgow, central Scotland – all STARZ series interior sets
  2. Torbrex Farm, near Cumbernauld and greater Glasgow – s2 foggy, tent-contained Battle of Prestonpans
  3. George Square, Glasgow city centre – s1 flashback of Claire and Frank marriage, Westminster register office
  4. Glasgow Cathedral, Glasgow east city centre – s2 l’Hopital des Anges, Paris
  5. Pollok Country Park, Pollok, south Glasgow – Castle Leod grounds, s2 BJR-Jamie duel
  6. Hunterston House, West Kilbride, North Ayrshire – Rev. Wakefield house interiors
  7. Dean Castle, Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire – s2 seat of Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, a.k.a. the Old Fox, Beaufort Castle, Beauly, Highlands
  8. Dunure Harbour, Firth of Clyde, South Ayrshire – s3 filming based on Voyager
  9. Troon coast, South Ayrshire – s1 end, departing Scotland for France
  10. Drumlanrig Castle, Thornhill, Mid Nithsdale, Dumfries & Galloway – s2 exteriors, living rooms & bedrooms of Sandringham’s Bellhurst Manor, England
  11. Glencorse Old Kirk, Milton Bridge, near Penicuik, southern Midlothian – s1 Jamie & Claire wedding
  12. Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot, East Lothian – s1 Lallybroch broken mill
  13. Gosford House gardens/woodlands, Gosford Bay, near Longniddry, East Lothian – s2 Stable Building at Palace of Versailles, France
  14. Old Town, Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh – s3 Jamie-Claire reunion, adventures
  15. Bo’ness and Kinneil Rail Station, on Firth of Forth, Midlothian – s1 flashback of Frank-Claire WWII good-bye on train platform
  16. Hopetoun House, near Queensferry, West Lothian – s1 Sandringham residence in Highland, Scotland
  17. Midhope Castle, Hopetoun Estate, West Lothian – Lallybroch estate & grounds
  18. Linlithgow Palace, Linlithgow, West Lothian – s1 Wentworth Prison exteriors and corridors
  19. Muiravonside Country Park, West Lothian & Falkirk, near Linlithgow – s2 Battle of Prestonpans, British encampment, and English countryside
  20. Callendar House, Falkirk – s2 used as part of Sandringham’s Bellhurst Manor
  21. Dunmore Park, Dunmore, Falkirk – s1 Claire and VE-Day, end of WWII
  22. Blackness Castle, Blackness, on Firth of Forth, Falkirk – s1 Fort William
  23. Culross, royal burgh of; southwestern Fife – s1 Crainsmuir village, Geillis Duncan’s house, & Castle Leod herb garden; s2 Jacobite camps and buildings
  24. Aberdour Castle, Firth of Forth, southern Fife – s1 Scottish abbey of Jamie’s convalescence after Wentworth
  25. Dysart Harbour, Dysart, Firth of Forth, Fife – s2 port of Le Havre, where Jamie, Claire & Murtagh arrive in France, 1740s
  26. The Reaper Tall Ship, Anstruther Harbour, Anstruther, near East Neuk, coastal Fife – s2 one of the ships seen in the port of Le Havre, France
  27. Balgonie Castle, near Markinch, central Fife – s1 Eldridge Manor, MacRannoch’s home near Wentworth Prison
  28. Falkland, royal burgh of; central Fife – Inverness 1940s, 1960s
  29. Doune Castle, Doune, Stirling, Perthshire border – s1 Castle Leod castle, grounds & surrounding land
  30. Touch House, NE edge of Touch Hills, Stirling – s2 Culloden House before battle
  31. Finnich Glen, a.k.a. Devil’s Pulpit, near Drymen, Stirling – s1 St. Ninian’s Spring, a.k.a. the Liar’s Spring, where Dougal Mackenzie tests Claire’s veracity
  32. Loch Katrine, Trossachs National Park, east of Loch Lomond, Stirling – s2 Roger Wakefield driving Brianna Randall through countryside around Inverness
  33. Tullibardine Chapel, near Crieff, central Perth & Kinross – s2 Jamie & Claire small group’s hideout chapel after pursuit by Redcoats
  34. Drummond Castle gardens, near Crieff, central Perth & Kinross – s2 park & orchard of Palace of Versailles, France
  35. Deanston Distillery, former cotton mill, Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park, Perth & Kinross – s2 Jared Fraser’s wine warehouse, docks of Le Havre
  36. Tibbermore Parish Church, Tibbermore, Perth & Kinross – s1 Crainsmuir witch trial church interior
  37. Dunalastair Estate, Loch Rannoch, Perth & Kinross – Craigh na Dun standing stones circle through which Claire time travels
  38. Glencoe, Ballachulish, Highland – long shots in credits and transition scenes
  39. Highland Folk Museum, Newtonmore, Cairngorms National Park, Highland – s1 Clan Mackenzie rents collection, wool waulking
  40. Tulloch Ghru, near Aviemore, Cairngorms National Park, Highland – s1 Claire & Highlanders travel between Inverness & Castle Leod, & maybe time on road during Clan Mackenzie rents collection
Articles and Info about Filming Locations

Outlander – Filming Locations in Scotland | VisitScotland – includes a link to their pdf (below) with labeled map and site snippets, a section on Outlander book sites including Inverness, highlights of Outlander-related culture and history, and links to other TV, film, and literary tourism opportunities.

Outlander film locations – outlander-film-locations.pdf – a great guide available through the above page at VisitScotland; a full-color map of numbered sites mainly in Scotland’s central belt, each number corresponding to a succinct but helpful blurb about a location accompanied by an identifying picture of the actual site. A total of 29 listed as of this post–vastly updated since summer 2016! Also accessible through Outlander map | VisitScotland

Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander TV series filmed in Scotland – VisitScotland (2013 article)

Outlander – 14 Scottish Places All “Outlander” Fans Must Visit (Buzzfeed.com, 2015) – Never seen Outlander? You should visit these stunning Scottish locations anyway. Warning: Mild Season 1 spoilers ahead… (Episode shots alongside tourism photos of each site.)

Outlander’s Cast and Crew’s Favorite Filming Locations | Travel + Leisure (interview, 2016) – The masterminds behind the Starz hit spoke to T+L the best places they went on the job.

Where is Outlander filmed? Top 5 Scottish locations in season 2 (radiotimes.com, 2015) Gary Rose goes for a spin in the Highlands, taking in the Culloden battlefield, the town that doubles as Cranesmuir and a working medieval village

Outlander – Five must-visit Outlander filming locations – The Scotsman (2016)

7 Outlander sights you need to visit in Scotland this year – Daily Record (2017)

Specific Filming Locations in Depth

LBP Outlander Ltd, Wyndford Road, Cumbernauld, Wardpark North, Glasgow, UK – Google Maps

Pollok Country Park – Glasgow City Council
A Visit to Pollok Country Park
Pollok House

Hopetoun locations map
Outlander at Midhope (Lallybroch) – Hopetoun (hopetoun.co.uk – Hopetoun House and estate includes Hopetoun Farm Shop and Midhope Castle among its properties.)
Midhope Castle, Abercorn – Queensferry – West Lothian – Scotland | British Listed Buildings
You searched for Midhope – Hopetoun
Outlander at Hopetoun – Hopetoun
House and Grounds – Hopetoun
Grounds and Wildlife – Hopetoun
Hopetoun Farm Shop – Butchery, Deli, Bakery near Edinburgh
Hopetoun-Farm-Shop-Broxburn-to-Midhope-Castle-Google-Maps.pdf

Blackness Castle (visitwestlothian.co.uk)
Blackness Castle (historicenvironmentscotland.scot)

Bo’ness And Kinneil Railway – Google Maps

Glencorse House: http://www.glencorsehouse.co.uk/.
Glencorse, Old Glencorse Kirk – Penicuik – Midlothian – Scotland | British Listed Buildings
Glencorse Old Kirk – Outlander Film Set – Borders Journeys – Tailor made private guided sightseeing and ancestral tours of Scotland. Specialising in Dumfries & Galloway and Scottish Borders
Glencorse, Old Parish Church | ScotlandsPlaces

City Tours Edinburgh | VisitScotland
Royal Mile and Grassmarket | VisitScotland
Palace of Holyroodhouse (Edinburgh)
Edinburgh and Stirling castles ranked in UK’s top 10 best-loved castles – Scotland Now
Discover Edinburgh Castle
Parks and gardens – Meadows | The City of Edinburgh Council

Preston Mill & Phantassie Doocot (NTS)
Discovering Outlander – Preston Mill brief profile, National Trust Scotland (NTS)
Outlander – Preston Mill’s Outlander | National Trust for Scotland USA (ntsusa.org detailed article about the scene) – In June 2014, 150 cast and crew members from the hit TV show Outlander set up camp at the NTS Property Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot. 

Outlander – Preston Mill – Outlander Film Set – Borders Journeys – Tailor made private guided sightseeing and ancestral tours of Scotland. Specialising in Dumfries & Galloway and Scottish Borders.

Aberdour Castle | VisitScotland

Dysart Harbour – The Harbourmasters House, Hot Pot Wynd, Dysart, Kirkcaldy KY1 2TQ, United Kingdom – Google Maps

Black Kirk | My Outlander Adventure

Royal Burgh of Culross | VisitScotland
Culross Palace, Townhouse & Study | VisitScotland
Culross West Church – Culross, Fife – Places of Worship in Scotland | SCHR

Falkland | VisitScotland

Falkland Palace & Garden – National Trust Scotland (NTS)

Attractions near The Covenanter Hotel

Finnich Glen – Devil’s Pulpit – Google Maps

Doune Castle (HES)

Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust | Pages | Perthshire Big Tree Country
Rannoch_Path_Network_Leaflet.pdf
Walkhighlands: Start of Loch Rannoch Forest walk
Kinloch Rannoch, Tummel Bridge, Loch Rannoch, walking holidays, wildlife watching, fishing, highland clans
Places to Visit from the Dunalastair Estate Holiday Cottages – Central for touring
Dunalastair Highland Estate near Pitlochry in Scotland has holiday cottages for relaxing vacations
Walking, Cycling, Horse-riding around Perthshire

Glencoe | VisitScotland

Cairngorms-National-Park-Map.jpg (JPEG Image, 1969 × 1439 pixels)
Cairngorms Guide, Things To Do, Events, Activities
Map of Waterfalls in Cairngorms National Park, Scottish Highlands, Scotland

Outlander – Cairngorms – Tulloch Ghru (as Featured in Outlander TV Series) | Stately Home (lovetoescape.com) – Tulloch Ghru (as Featured in Outlander Tv Series) is a Thing to Do in Aviemore, The Highlands, Scotland. Stately Home, Loch, Lake, Waterfall, Nature Reserve, Park, Garden or Woodland . . .
Tulloch-Ghru_old-map-area_from-Wizzley.jpg – sleuthing and description of the area, distinguishing it from a similarly named one nearby
Rothiemurchus Forest landscape profile/description. This area of the Cairngorms National Park is located in its western region on an east-west line between Fort Augustus (at the southern tip of Loch Ness) and Aberdeen (on the North Sea coast).
Detailed map of Rothiemurchus Forest; includes “Tullochgrue” (Upper and Lower), which is located west of Allt Druidhe (waterway) and the forest center, just north of Achnagoichan (close to it), south of Inverdruie (farther from it), and southeast of Aviemore (farthest of these)
Aviemore: Overview of Aviemore (Gazetteer Scotland)
Bed and breakfast Kingussie near Aviemore

Highland Folk Museum home page (Highlife Highland)
Visitor Information – Highland Folk Museum (Highlife Highland)

Info about Outlander Book Locations

Lochaber, Fort William

Fort William, Highland PH33 6SW – Google Maps
The Outdoor Capital of the UK – Google Maps
The Jacobite Steam Train – Locomotive and Coaches | West Coast Railways

Inverness & Inverness-shire

Visit Inverness Loch Ness Tourist Destination Guide
Inverness Information Centre | VisitScotland
Inverness Travel Guide | Travel + Leisure
Inverness – Holidays, Breaks & Travel | VisitScotland
Art Galleries – Inverness Museum and Art Gallery
Events in September in Inverness, Loch Ness & Nairn | Things to do | Page 1 | Welcome to Scotland

Tour Search – Loch Ness by Jacobite
Jacobite Cruises Ltd | Cruise Scotland
Urquhart Castle tourist and visitor information, history and pictures | Urquhart Castle

Fort George: Overview
Contact Us – The Highlanders Museum (Highlanders Museum, Fort George)

Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre | VisitScotland
Culloden – Visit (NTS)

Beauly

Beauly Priory: Prices and Opening Times
Beaufort Estate Cottages, Beauly, Inverness-Shire – Go Breakaway.co.uk

Book and Premise Inspired Outlander Tourism

Standing Stones, Stone Circles, Stone Features, and Cairns

Prehistoric Sites in Scotland Examples:

Fowlis Wester Sculptured Stone, Perthshire (Perth and Kinross)In village church at Fowlis Wester, 6 miles (10km) NE of Crieff, On the A85. Historic Scotland property; tall cross-slab carved with Pictish symbols, figure sculpture and Celtic details.

Cairnpapple Hill, Edinburgh and the Lothians – 3 miles (5km) N of Bathgate, Lothian. Near Torphichen (B792), Narrow, winding road. Tel. 01506 634 622. Open: April-end Sep, 9.30am-5.30pm, daily. Historic Scotland property; one of the most important prehistoric monuments in Scotland; used as burial and ceremonial site BC3000 – AD500; central part of monument under cement dome with ladder leading down to interior; views from the hill. Cairnpapple Hill – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Nether Largie Cairns, Argyll and ButeBetween Nether Largie and Kilmartin, Argyll, Off the A816. Historic Scotland property; 2 Bronze Age cairns, 1 Neolithic cairn (3000BC); axe carvings in N cairn.

Temple Wood Stone Circles, Argyll and Bute.25 miles SW of Nether Largie, South of Kilmartin, Argyll on A816. Open site. Historic Scotland property; circle of upright stones and remains of earlier circle; date approximately 3000BC.

Machrie Moor Stone Circles, Ayrshire and Isle of Arran3 miles N of Blackwaterfoot, On W side of Arran, off the A841, 1.5 mile walk to the site. Historic Scotland property; remains of 5 Bronze Age stone circles considered one of most important sites of its kind in all of Britain.

Twelve Apostles Neolithic Stone Circle, Dumfries and GallowayOff the A76, N of Dumfries and New Bridge, Situated in a field. Of the 11 remaining stones only 5 are standing, the tallest of which is about 3.2 feet high.

Clava Cairns (HES)
The Clava Cairns (also known as Balnuaran of Clava) lie 6 miles E of Inverness. These Bronze Age chambered cairns are each surrounded by a stone circle in a wooded field. A most unusual place. Robert Pollock has a guide to this site. Photos online by Phil Wright and Undiscovered Scotland.

Corrimony chambered cairn is situated in Glen Urquhart (8 miles W of Drumnadrochit) and surrounded by a circle of 11 standing stones. Robert Pollock has a guide to this site. (undiscoveredscotland.co.uk)

Standing Stones & Stone Circles in Scotland | VisitScotland

Standing stones and ancient monuments – The Internet Guide to Scotland (scotland-inverness.co.uk)

The Old Man of Storr is a strangely shaped rock pillar you can see from as far as Portree and beyond; Portree, Trotternish area, Isle of Skye. (https://www.isleofskye.com/skye-guide/top-ten-skye-walks/old-man-of-storr)

Castlerigg Stone Circle, Saint John’s Castlerigg and Wythburn, Allerdale District, United Kingdom – Google Maps – Lake District, England

Fairy Hills, Fairies, Witches & Legends

Fairy Hills, Biodiversity & Heritage
Fairies – TOMNAHURICH CEMETERY (Historic Environment Scotland profile)
http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/scotland/invernesshire/featured-sites/tomnahurich-hill.html
Inverness Image Library – Tomnahurich (Hill of the Fairies)
The Witch of Inverness and the Fairies of Tomnahurich – Google Books
Fairies – The Faery Folklorist: Robert Kirk – Part 2 – Aberfoyle Church
The Kelpie of Loch Garve | Mysterious Britain & Ireland
Black Isle – RSPB Fairy Glen – Google Maps
Skye – The Fairy Pools, Glen Brittle, Isle of Skye – Google Maps

Brochs, Caves & Other Rock Formations

Brochs in Scotland | Unusual Accommodation | VisitScotland
Caves and karst in Scotland – Scottish Natural Heritage
Cliffs, Canyons & Rock Formations of Scotland, United Kingdom
10 unusual rock formations | Travel | The Guardian
There is also Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa, Bowfiddle Rock on the Moray Firth, and the famous Ring of Brodgar on Orkney, among others.
Falls-of-Rogie_tripadvisor_stock-image.jpeg
Waterfalls, Rivers, Caves & Natural Features to Explore in Garve | Things to do | Page 1 | Welcome to Scotland
Loch Garve | Fishing | Caithness, Sutherland & Ross-shire | Welcome to Scotland
12 fairy tale waterfalls in Scotland to see before you die – Daily Record

–> For a guide to nature and wildlife tourism in Scotland, see the end section of my post “Wildlife TV Programs This Week,” which also previewed the Destination Wild show Wild Scotland that aired on NatGeoWild on 2 April 2017.

The Clans

Map: The 18th century territories of Scotland’s clans – The Scotsman
Map of the Highlands of Scotland denoting the districts or counties inhabited by the Highland Clans. – Maps of Scotland
The Clan Museum – Google Maps
Strathpeffer Visitor Guide, Hotels, Cottages, Things to Do in Scotland
Castle Leod | the Seat of Clan Mackenzie
Castle Leod (Strathpeffer, Scotland): Top Tips Before You Go – TripAdvisor

Genealogical Research

How to research your Scottish family history in six easy steps | VisitScotland
Family History — Clan MacKenzie Routes

Lochaber/West Highland

Glenfinnan Monument – Google Maps

Fraser Lands

Castle Fraser | VisitScotland – Aberdeenshire (just north of Royal Deeside)
Lovat Castle (site of) | Castle in Kirkhill, Inverness-shire | Scottish castles | Stravaiging around Scotland

Castles in the Highlands | VisitScotland

Places Mentioned on Series 1 of the Show

Inverness/Nairn (searching for Claire in Ep108, “Both Sides Now”)

Darnaway Forest – Google Maps
Findhorn Bridge – Google Maps (Findhorn River)

Highland (searching for Jamie in Ep114, “The Search”)

Achnasheen – Google Maps
glen rowan cross – Google Maps
Glen Rowan Guest House – Google Maps

Sam Heughan (Jamie) and Laura Donnelly (Jenny) Studied Theatre Here

Glasgow’s Royal Conservatoire

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland: Overview of Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland: Photographs of Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
: Glasgow City Map / http://www.scottish-places.info/councils/morecpix16.html

Articles Reflecting Outlander STARZ’s Pop Culture Progress

Cumbernauld lands role in production of US TV series (From Herald Scotland) (2013)
Outlander brings Diana Gabaldon fans flocking to Scotland | UK news | The Guardian (2014)
Town movie studio is a star attraction – Cumbernauld News (2014)
Outlander article – Scots tourism feels ‘Outlander effect’ of hit TV show – The Scotsman (2015)
A brief history of Outlander and the Scottish Clans – Scotland Now (2016)
Outlander looking for trainees to work on Season 3 of hit show in Scotland – Scotland Now (2016)
Filming underway for Outlander season three Voyager – Daily Record (2016)
Outlander helps Scotland outshine rest of the UK when it comes to visitor attractions – Daily Record (2017)

And for Good Measure

10 ideas on how to beat Droughtlander | VisitScotland


In the next post of this series, the official Part 5 to An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, I’ll present Scotland tourism tips and logistical resources, plus share some final thoughts on Outlander tourism in Scotland. Thanks for learning along with me. Slan leat!

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.

Pay Attention

a reblogged post from In Flow

In Flow

munchow_0949-072.jpgI think all creatives yearn for some kind of success, some kind of recognition for the work we do. Success is maybe not why we photograph, write, paint or travel—or whatever creative activity we do—or ought not to be. The work itself, being creative, is a reward good enough if we only let ourselves not get obsessed with the thought of success. The craving for success can actually get in the way of our creative endeavour.

Nevertheless, we do feel good when we experience some kind of success, whether it’s monetary gain or just some heartfelt feedback from a good friend. I am sure you know what I am talking about.

Success is all in our minds, though. You cannot control how the world will receive and perceive your artistic work, but you can be in command of how you feel about it yourself. If you let yourself feel good…

View original post 823 more words

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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Poetry Spotlight: Contributor Matthew Thorburn. A pressed post.

A post linked at bottom from the blog http://memoriousmag.wordpress.com, companion to Memorious: A Journal of New Verse and Fiction, has moved and intrigued me. It also intersects with my own blog’s areas of poetry, nature, travel, art, and reviews.

Sara A. Lewis reviews Matthew Thorburn’s book-length poem Dear Almost and presents Leslie Harrison’s interview with the poet. An epistle in four parts parallel to the four seasons, the book is about the loss of Thorburn’s unborn daughter to miscarriage.

Some of the review and discussion’s elements that caught my especial attention and urged me today to pursue the book:

  • a cultural tradition unfamiliar to me – classical Chinese poetry and Chinese language (Mandarin) through wife Lillian’s family and their 3-year-old son learning Chinese
  • the notion of the “season suite” – A book-length poetic form brewing for Thorburn (though not consciously as a form) found its subject, and the book was born.
  • the raw, peculiar experience of loss and grief for a forming but unborn child her father will never meet – This recalls for me actor Caitriona Balfe’s deeply affecting performance as Claire Fraser in episode 207, “Faith,” of the Outlander STARZ TV series (series 2 based on Gabaldon’s 2nd book Dragonfly in Amber), when Claire learns her first child, a daughter, was stillborn.
  • Thorburn’s relationship with Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry, a favorite poet of mine – a coupling of attentiveness with deep, restrained emotion
  • using haiku as bookends to a longer poetic passage
  • the interviewer’s incisive sophistication and the poet’s elegant thoughts

The interview is a bit of subtle theater emulating the kind they finish it discussing–how epistolary works hold readers at bay as the audience overhears a conversation between others.

Matthew Thorburn’s fourth full-length collection, Dear Almost, has recently been released by Louisiana State University Press. A book-length poem broken into sections that correspond to the four se…

Source: Poetry Spotlight: Contributor Matthew Thorburn |

The Dream of Turning 40

My birthday’s gift to you? Getting personal–one day early.


Each time I’ve thought of this coming birthday, I have heard Meg Ryan’s immortal lines:

“And I'm gonna be forty!”
“When?” asks Harry.
“Some day,” Sally adds weakly.
“In eight years!” Harry reasons.
“Yes, but it's just sitting there like this big dead end. . . .”

As with many of my favorite movies, and even ones I don’t like much, I occasionally hear these movie lines from When Harry Met Sally running through my head as I go about my day. These days, this particular record is broken.

Sally wants a family and has just learned that her several months’ ex-boyfriend Joe is engaged. Harry has gone to her place to comfort her. She’s crying rather hysterically, having shown no signs of grief post-breakup. Finally, the bubble has burst, and Harry and Sally’s friendship takes an irrevocable turn.

What’s my point? Lord knows. But isn’t that a great scene? More entertaining than I find everyday life, which is probably why I live in the cinematic fantasy world a significant portion of the time. (Don’t need the video; it’s all memorized.) Besides, the trauma is happening to someone else. I’m comforted, safe, but it also often means the joy and rapture are more likely found elsewhere. What reward without risk?

My eight years have passed, and 32 more besides. That reminds me, I’ve decided to state my age as “ten and thirty,” as in the days of yore. That sounds much more forgiving. Go for it, 60-year-olds! Say, “I am twenty and forty” or “I am twice thirty.” Sounds younger. I got this idea from my husband, who is nearly 14 months younger than I. Very thoughtful, Dear.

No, my husband is a hoot and adorable, and my parents, bless them, still vital and being parents. But I currently have no pets or children to look after (besides the backyard birds), which is the most accepted form of daily joy. No little ones to amuse me each day, which is, of course, the primary function of kids. Right, parents? Well, maybe not “primary,” but it’s mixed in there with all the exhaustion, stress, bewilderment, and worry.

The truth is I’m on the fence about having kids and have been for a while, but the inevitable alarm bells for presumably fertile women go up in volume a few decibels with the introduction of that dreaded digit “4.” No more thirties, not that I’ll miss the years themselves. No more legitimately falling into the young category. I’m entering that middle zone some refer to as “too young to be old and too old to be young.” Sounds like license for a mid-life crisis, for sure. 

But it’s certainly not a mid-reproductive years crisis. No, if it is a crisis or anything like, it’s that we’re coming down to the wire. As Sally Albright says after “this big dead end,” “and it’s not the same for men. Charlie Chaplin had babies when he was 73.” Harry replies: “Yeah, but he was too old to pick ’em up.” Sally starts to laugh but it returns to sobs.

Generally, women who want children and haven’t found a mate by their mid- to late-30s have more cause for mid-life crisis than men do, but science and evolution give us hope for higher numbers of fertile years and higher survival rates amidst high-risk pregnancies and complications of childbirth. Risk is always there, and danger still increases with age, but the 21st century is patient with late bloomers, whereas even as recently as 150 years ago, unmarried women past their twenties were already doomed to spinsterhood.

Risks and rewards come in many forms, and mean different things for different people. We as a society seem to believe we have no right to seek, let alone expect, healthy challenge or happiness in work or marriage itself or travel or the arts, especially not instead of in reproducing. Shouldn’t we take growth and joy everywhere we can get them?

You might think it depends on whether you’re passive or active in the “getting.” Actively seeking seems more honorable somehow, more adult, more enlightened than waiting for manna from heaven, as if we’re helpless, inert, ineffectual, and faithfully convinced of it. I.e., sheep.

Two movies intercede here. The Sound of Music and She’s Having a Baby, another 80s gem. “The Reverend Mother says you have to look for your life,” Maria tells Captain Von Trapp. And: “What I was looking for was not to be found but to be made,” says Jefferson Edward (“Jake”) Briggs of his wife and newborn son. Love that John Hughes.

Yet, even when we look for and make a life, nothing that results is absolutely great or horrible. Just as important as the issue of seeking actively or passively is to weigh the potential risks and rewards together.

For me, added risks come with carrying and birthing a child. Greatest of these besides age is that, due to inflammatory arthritis, any pregnancy would be considered by clinicians to be “high risk” from the start. I can imagine, have imagined the possible rewards as I watched my friends expand their families and now watch their eldest become teenagers. I’ve made my mental pros and cons lists and thought about all the right and wrong reasons and good and bad ways to have children. I’ve assessed our suitableness for parenthood and the question of passing on hereditary health conditions. Most important, after all that careful consideration and consultation, though, is to feel the desire rise above fear and doubt.

But whatever ends up touching us, however strangely or improbably it happens, however deliberately, desperately, or passionately we reach for it, there it is. It can either be good or bad for us, or both. We receive the good with the bad whether or not we want either of them.

The universe presents good, bad, worse, and better to us sometimes as options from an à la carte menu. The tongs grab the casual sex instead of the terrifying emotional chemistry that means risking great loss. Single woman will take slavery to meddling, co-dependent mother with side of slaw, instead of daunting freedom of looking for life, with unsweetened iced tea. But we always get a full plate. Another memorized movie brings the idea to a head:

“I have this theory of convergence that good things always happen with bad things, and I mean, I know you have to deal with them at the same time, but I don’t know why . . . . I just wish I could work out some sort of schedule. Am I babbling? Do you know what I mean?”

An enamored Lloyd Dobler replies, “No.”

But I got it perfectly! “Diane Court, whoa.” Genius of 1988, valedictorian of the class in Say Anything . . . Weren’t the 80s golden for rom-coms? She finds love just when her father’s life is falling apart. She can’t pick and choose. They both descend unbidden, and neither is going away any time soon. So she does the logical thing and pushes away the good out of loyalty to her lying, thieving father.

We do that sometimes—make self-sabotaging choices, afraid of happiness, scared of the sin of it, especially as others suffer, whether we play any role in their suffering or not. It feels wrong to be happy when loved ones are not. Fortunately . . . perhaps, Diane rights herself, rejecting Dad for Lloyd. The ending is open ended.

Love does not guarantee happiness; the opposite is more likely. But that doesn’t mean we should shun love. Pain is a powerful teacher. Once in a while, we learn something valuable to apply to the future.

Oh so much wisdom can be found in film. Our movie and TV heroes show us how we stumble and how to recover. They demonstrate how it’s done. The best stories at least hint at the fact that it’s an ongoing process, until it’s not.

If we’re lucky, we get to choose to embrace life or embrace death. “Get busy living, or get busy dying,” says Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption. Even more fortunate is the blessing of joy in this life. We may make our own happiness. We can certainly try.

Failing that, we can preserve our sense of wonder, mystery, beauty, or hope, even when rapture is out of reach. Even when disability, disease, injury, mistakes, conflict, or loss seems to mock our reaching.

In truth, fortune is fickle, and navigating it takes effort and patience, of initiative and waiting and recovery, and, for some, of praying. It really does seem to be all about the balance.

Whether equilibrium or tipped scales, the balance holds all. A 40-year-old can wobble like a toddler in heart or mind or body. A six-year-old can dispense ancient wisdom effortlessly. A 90-year-old can cut through the bullshit with razor sharpness. Nothing is completely as we might assume. Expect to have your expectations defied.

When you do, the likelihood of it may just increase. Sometimes a taste of the possibilities outside convention opens up the horizon like a star exploding. It’s messy, destructive even, but creative, too. We are all more resilient than we suppose, more capable of renewal and starting fresh after a fall or fallout or the numbing effects of time. I must remember this.

I think about death a lot, particularly my own, and not just because it’s my birthday. I expect to be struck down at any moment, much of the time. Especially any time I get in a car. I don’t really fixate; I just let the thoughts meander through. There’s little to stop them. Sometimes, I think I focus on death as a way to force myself to embrace life more vehemently. Losing grandparents, aunts, uncles, former classmates, and friends hasn’t done the trick. The terror does not yield to carpe diem, and some darkness lingers.

Losing the dog last February, however, brought new emptiness, which I greedily filled with guilty pleasures and renewed ambitions. Seen another way, I dusted myself off and kept going. However, along with vigorous effort and focus comes not just hope, but expectation.

We have no right to expect positive outcomes just because we are open to them or want them or reach for them or demand them. But while we’re here, we might as well try to build and enjoy something that is ours. Few will remember us for long after we’re gone, and eons from now, no one will.

Nowadays, almost as much as I think about death, I wonder about having kids, and my husband and I discuss it periodically (no, not monthly). The questions arise, along with the concerns. Answers are few and indefinite. In short, neither desire nor aversion has yet won.

People like to say, “It’s never too late,” but frankly, for everything, one day it will be. The line cavalierly sanctions procrastination of major life decisions. It’s little different from “There’s always tomorrow,” but that may truly never come, and one day, it just won’t. Do now, be now. All we know for sure is now. Do what, you ask? What is most true to yourself. This notion has become a trend and may now be somewhat out of fashion.

I’ve read my share of self-help books, most before the age of 30, and some have pearls of wisdom I’ve tucked away. You may know one that says, “Your mission in life is where your deep joy and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (I won’t say which one; I’m promoting movies, not books, today.) In reading these, and favoring this quote, I’ve trained myself to be alert to my inner truth and its expression, and it seems to be working as I work. I don’t seek out those kinds of books anymore; too many better options await my attention.

If we all cop out or settle to some degree and at some point, or even if only most of us do, it’s no great tragedy. On the other hand, if we ignore our soul’s longing completely, it may not be a mortal sin, but it could become a terminal regret. My fear of regret keeps me asking important questions such as, How can I make the most of my life? What am I meant to do?

Like today, even tomorrow may be nothing but a dream. In that case, I choose to embrace the dream, and the dreams within it. I’ve made it this far. I survived. I fulfilled the dream of turning 40. It’s a milestone, a benchmark, a signpost, a weigh station (I try not to stop at those). As if life is an aging contest or some sort of race to the finish, as if the finish line were not death itself.

Age is a sort of accomplishment in our culture. For people with, say, a terminal illness or violent household, this may well be true. Obviously, war-torn countries are so described because of death and maiming, where celebrating survival may become almost necessity. Still, in places and times of relative peace, we celebrate birthdays from year one forward, and in weeks and months before that. When birthdays are used to celebrate life and becoming, it makes sense to add some hoopla.

Otherwise, encountering another year really isn’t much of an achievement. This time, a song borrows the old adage: “Wisdom doesn’t follow just because you’ve aged.” Experience doesn’t guarantee learning. “Been there, done that” doesn’t mean you’re really any better off than someone who hasn’t. So don’t gloat so much, old fogie.

I’m certainly not done yet, not done trying to “fulfill” my “potential.” At some point, you’ve got to deliver, Dodo-head, or find yourself going the way of the dodo. And who would mourn the loss? The inability to evolve, to persevere, maintain a foothold on earth, on behalf of your species? To represent! I always feel that pressure to achieve, to make a difference, to leave a legacy, but with long-term pressure, I risk overcooking.

One side of you is saying, “And so you should.” And perhaps: “How selfish of you, how typical, to lament the inevitable passage of time, to make excuses for not using yours wisely. More selfish still, just spending (wasting) the time thinking about it because you ‘have the time’ to do so.” That’s my projected criticism from all those busy family people my age who don’t have such a “luxury,” the disapproval from the other voices in my head.

Why do I choose to look at it this way? Is that motivating? Even with these last quote marks, my defiance comes through. “I am what I am and that’s all that I am,” says Popeye. It’s a defiance to convention, conformity, being ordinary. It’s an insistence on forgiving myself for not being perfectly healthy, at my ideal weight, in shape, and bursting with energy while also juggling two jobs, a home, and children. Besides, I do juggle many parts of a busy life.

I defy contempt for privilege, I defy the progressive insistence that moral rightness means impoverishing oneself in the name of equality, and I defy the stigma and misconceptions about writers’ and artists’ lives. I could do office work, and I have done lots of it. I could do manual labor if I really, really had to, but I don’t. Now I work to be an artist, I teach for some income, and, thanks to my husband, I’m not starving. There, I said it.

Of course I would consider writing about, which requires dwelling upon, turning 40. I am a writer. And what’s more, a writer in a culture accustomed to celebrating and obsessing about birthdays. I’ve often thought that I am better suited to life as a free-wheeling scholar from the Age of Enlightenment or something than to traditional, modern-era work. Rather than snub the blessing, I embrace the chance to be just that kind of scholar and writer, while still working toward greater individual contributions to our income.

I usually try to keep my defiance in check in my writing, never wanting to seem too selfish, self-righteous, self-absorbed, too forthright, feminist, emotional, emotionalist, or otherwise stereotypically female, except in jest. But also because I claim a cherished penchant for reason and logic. True, the suppression is a bit neurotic, but, hey, awareness is the first step.

I really like that first step. I walk it all the time. It’s an infinite loop, as though I have one leg much shorter than the other and am walking in circles. Selfish –> anxious about it –> neurotic about anxiety –> selfishly neurotic. It’s oh so productive.

Suppressing defiance or anger, though, just comes across as being cold, rigid, emotionally distant, or, perhaps worse, dishonest. Unlikely I’m fooling anyone but me.

Defiance leaks out, anyway, eventually, in other contexts, the rest that I have—tutoring, friends, family. I’m human and American. Overall, I like to think my students and loved ones are pleased with me despite my egocentric leanings. (I would say that, wouldn’t I?)

Maybe I shouldn’t try so hard to defy expectation and to be different. The effort has become its own sort of tedious convention. Those who know me have come to expect it. Who, in the end, is truly 100 percent original? We are creatures of habit, pattern, and imitation. Relax a little when faced with things you really can’t change. Do everything in moderation, even moderation. Let loose on occasion. Balance.

And so, I revel in the riches of imagination, in all its forms, mediums, shapes, and colors. “God is in the rain,” says Evey Hammond in V for Vendetta. In nature, in reverie, in reflection. That’s where God lives for me. Where I can find something of grace, of beauty, of serenity, invigoration, balance. It is my universe. I can touch it, see it, hear it, taste it, examine it, love or hate it, reject or accept it.

We all need ways to shelter ourselves from the certainty of death, at least long enough to invest in our lives and to dream new dreams. The only soul I have to live with is this living, sensing one. I mean to do right by it. Invest in the balance, and then, “wait and hope,” as the Count of Monte Cristo says. And smile.

My new dream? Only one of many: the chance to see how I feel about all this at age 50. What of effort, deepest joy, money, ego, pain, employment, God, imagination, kids, limits, convention, neurosis, the world’s hunger, potential, balance, or wisdom then? I hope I’ll see–and hear those movie lines calling.


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graduate school graduation, age 31, or “ten and 21”

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Live Event Review: Diana Gabaldon Skype Session

Barring some spotty transmission of sound, tonight’s Skype session with Outlander author Diana Gabaldon was a treat–and free! Connecting from her Santa Fe, NM, getaway house (lives in Scottsdale, AZ) to our own Lake High School Performing Arts Hall in Uniontown, Ohio, the Goddess of Jamie and Claire Fraser chatted to upwards of 200 people.

To start the presentation, Diana skipped the most common questions avid fans know the answers to, such as how she started writing the first book. Instead, she shared highlights about book 9’s progress (Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone–finish date still unknown), her writing, research, and editing processes, her three main types of characters (“mushrooms, onions, and hard nuts”–see Part 2 of her reference book The Outlandish Companion for full details), and impressions from consulting on the STARZ TV show adaptation.

In her explanation of character types, she used the case of Mr. Willoughby in Voyager to illustrate how a character springs up like a mushroom. Jamie and Claire are onion characters, with layers that keep revealing more depth. Then, some characters she is “stuck with,” hard nuts such as history’s George Washington, as she writes her current book during the American Revolutionary War, and Brianna Randall, Claire and Jamie’s daughter who had to be born for the long-haul story to work.

Diana has to get to know such characters gradually as they reveal themselves to her. She also noted that she doesn’t “kill” characters; they just die and she, too, finds those events “distressing.” She depicts her role as more of a conduit or vessel through which her stories create themselves. While it is not a passive, or by any means easy, process, she works intuitively and must remain receptive. She uses the senses to pose questions that her imagination then helps her answer.

True to her science background, (former) Professor Gabaldon described her writing in terms of natural processes. She revealed how her scenes start from “kernels” (a vivid image, a line of dialogue, a certain ambiance, a physical object) and proceed by an organic process that she compared to both “growing crystals in the basement” and “a slow game of Tetris.” She “fiddles” until the pieces fit together just right.

Perhaps unusual for a novelist, Diana doesn’t write in a straight line or plan her books in advance; she works wherever the images come from and cobbles or, as some have said, “quilts” scenes together. From the beginning of her book making, she has combined the research and writing processes, toggling back and forth to learn more and make corrections as needed. Her research prowess has become legendary among fans. She also shared how each book ultimately forms a geometric shape. Dragonfly in Amber is like a barbell, anchored by a framing story on both ends, and Outlander has a series of three pyramids or triangles where tensions rise and fall.

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Diana Gabaldon, San Diego Comicon 2015

During the Q&A, I was blessed enough to be able to ask Diana a direct question about how the show is adapting the Jamie-Claire relationship. I talked to HERSELF face to face sort of! Whoa. Happy Birthday (week) to me indeed. She agreed with my view that the core bond of these central characters needs some attention and further development on screen, and she indicated the producers think so, too. Diana assured us that the first six episodes she has seen of season 3 are “great,” which brought cheers from several attendees including me.

Just turned 65 last week, Diana Gabaldon is an endearing blend of erudite, friendly, and oddball. This was my second experience of a live Diana Gabaldon video session. She’s very generous and engaged with her fans, a wonderful writer and natural speaker.

Our hosts ran a solid event, the lights and audience mics worked well, and, though we were dram-dry, there was ample, delicious homemade Scottish shortbread laid out near the exit. Mmm . . . buttery, flaky goodness.

In sum, read these awesome Outlander books, people, and if you can, catch a video chat session with Herself. (Preaching to the choir?) The STARZ show really is pretty great, and season 3’s coming up. Even more impressive, though, the books are an endless fount of riches with an essence that even the very talented team of show producers and writers is hard pressed to capture in a visual medium. Books and TV are distinctly different species of animal, but in the case of this timeless, time-driven story, each is fierce and beautiful in its own way, with something for just about everyone.

Sláinte mhath from this balmy winter’s night in northeast Ohio’s Outlander fan land.

The event was hosted by the Stark County District Library, sponsored by Lake Community Friends of the Library, and buoyed by Diana’s two signed book copies for two lucky trivia game winners (not me which was a-okay).