“The Comedians”

In February, I wrote about my collaborators, those robust writers with whom I meet at oh-dark-thirty every Monday for two hours to share our respective musings.  One has at least two, 1,000-word pieces ready to include in her anthology.  I can’t wait to announce it.  The other is moving forward at a reckless pace on a complex and dark story that is fearless in its approach to contemporary issues that many of us are inclined to ignore except in the privacy of our electronic readers.  I am indebted to both whose wordsmithing I listen to with envy of Gollum!

With my collaborators’ encouragement, I have been forging ahead – dare I say at a feverish pace – on two manuscripts, one historical, the other quirky.  For the next two weeks, however, I will tilt my pen in a different direction.

One week from today, I will return to Haiti, that dark and mysterious Caribbean Isle, once home to the infamous Papa Doc Duvalier, the island which lays claim to voodoo.

You can follow my journey on our sister site, The Vitruvian Man.

Forty-five years ago, I traveled to Haiti to experience first-hand what I wrote in a paper I submitted as a senior in college, The Influence of Voodoo on the Political System of Haiti.  Last year, I was drawn back to Haiti by my friends at The Sanneh Foundation.  When I told my friend Tod Herskovitz that I would be pleased to go back, he recommended that I read Graham Greene’s novel The Comedians.  I took Tod at his word and am finishing the final chapters before I depart for Port-au-Prince on Palm Sunday.

Graham GreeneI enjoy the novel immensely, and as I read it, I recall my own experience in Haiti in 1971, not long after Greene constructs his novel.  I offer The Comedians today as a novel that can help any writer with ‘dialogue.’  One of my collaborators is currently reading Cormac McCarthy’s classic Blood Meridian.  McCarthy paints with descriptive prose.  Greene paints no less effectively in The Comedians with dialogue.

If you are a writer looking for direction on constructing and developing dialogue, I encourage you to read The Comedians by Graham Greene.

Poetry

After I had completed at least three drafts of my first novel, The Olympian, A Tale of Ancient Hellas, my friend Steven Pressfield suggested, “You might first fivewant to get a copy of Noah Lukeman’s book The First Five Pages.  I think you will find it helpful.”  That is a typical understatement from a great author.

I had the book in my hands a week later, and – slow reader that I am – had finished reading its 200 pages in just a few days.  I was devastated, tried and found guilty of every trap Mr. Lukeman advises writers to be cautious.  I went back to ground zero and re-wrote The Olympian another three times.  As The Olympian remains my best seller, I must have done something right, and I will forever thank Mr. Pressfield for his sage advice.

Over the years, people have come to me to discuss writing projects.  One of the first things I tell them is to secure a copy of The First Five Pages.  The pages in my copy have gone brown, the yellow highlights have faded, but the black ‘stars’ and underlines I’ve made over the years will remain forever.

While the book overflows with indispensable information, the exercise that has been most valuable to me is presented in Chapter 3, “Sound.”  Mr. Lukeman writes,

“Take some time to read poetry.  Spend weeks reading as many different poets as you can.  By devoting all this attention to the individual word, phrase and stanza, you will learn a greater attention for language, and this attention will eventually show in your own work.”

I have read poetry daily since I read that paragraph in 2003.

celticLast week, I discovered a new poet, Amairgen, one of the mythological Milesian kings who conquered Ireland.  As he approached the island and stepped ashore, Amairgen sang an invocation calling upon the spirit of Ireland that has come to be known as “The Song of Amairgen.”  Irish tradition claims that Amairgen’s ode is the first poem ever composed in Ireland.  I find great beauty and rhythm in “The Song of Amairgen,” and I think you will see, using this poem as an example, how poetry can inspire writers and improve their prose.

Listen to “The Song of Amairgen” while you read

I am the wind which breathes upon the sea,

I am the wave of the ocean,

I am the murmur of the billows,

I am the ox of the seven combats,

I am the vulture upon the rocks,

I am a beam of the sun,

I am the fairest of plants,

I am the wild boar in valour,

I am the salmon in the water,

I am a lake in the plain,

I am a world of knowledge,

I am the point of the lance of battle,

I am the God who created the fire in the head

Beautiful Writing

There are times when the written word steals my breath.  I experienced one of those breathless moments this morning.  I have to share the words.

fortress of solitude

“Have you ever traveled to where snow is made,
    seen the vault where hail is stockpiled,
The arsenals of hail and snow that I keep in readiness
    for times of trouble and battle and war?
Can you find your way to where lightning is launched,
    or to the place from which the wind blows?
Who do you suppose carves canyons
    for the downpours of rain, and charts
    the route of thunderstorms
That bring water to unvisited fields,
    deserts no one ever lays eyes on,
Drenching the useless wastelands
    so they’re carpeted with wildflowers and grass?
And who do you think is the father of rain and dew,
    the mother of ice and frost?
You don’t for a minute imagine
    these marvels of weather just happen, do you?

The Book of Job, 38:21-30 from The Message

Haiku as a Meditative Practice

haikuIn the spring of 2015, I learned about Haiku from my 7-year old granddaughter Xylia.  I was so taken by the art form that I dedicated a page on this website to it.  Each Haiku I post is followed by the exhortation

Write a ‘holy sentence’ every day … none of us has a lock on truth and insight

I follow Franciscan Richard Rohr’s daily meditation that he posts every day from the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico.  This week, Father Rohr focused on “Myth, Art and Poetry.”  He concludes each week’s meditation with a summary on Saturday morning that includes a ‘practice’ to encourage and help travelers like me to better understand the week’s thoughts and to incorporate them into our daily lives if that is what we choose to do.  This week’s ‘practice’ is Haiku.

From Richard Rohr’s daily meditation on Myth, Art and Poetry ….

“In The Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris writes, “Poets understand that they do not know what they mean, and that is their strength. . . . Writing teaches us to recognize when we have reached the limits of language, and our knowing, and are dependent on our senses to ‘know’ for us.” Haiku is a short form of Japanese insight poetry, a simple way of communing with nature. As with writing and reading other poetry, haiku can open the heart and mind to non-dual consciousness and to immediate encounter with Presence.

“Creating haiku requires discipline and conciseness, focusing on just a single moment or movement and a couple juxtaposing elements. A haiku is a little sliver of concentrated reality. There’s no room for parenthetical, extraneous material–all the if’s, and’s and but’s. You must leave space for the imagination to fill in the gaps.

“Here are two different translations of a frog haiku by Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694):

  • An old pond
  • A frog jumps in–
  • Sound of water.
  • (Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite)

  • pond
  • frog
  • plop!
  • (James Kirkup)

“I invite you to try writing a haiku as a way of being intimately present to reality. Don’t worry about making a perfect poem or following the rules. Many English haiku poems consist of 17 syllables in three phrases of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. But however the words emerge, let the process of creating the poem break you open to a deeper knowing, beyond definition and description to experience.

“Find somewhere you can sit undisturbed while paying close attention to something in nature–a flower, tree, sunrise, rock, rain. Observe the object without words or analysis. Experience being here, in this moment, in this space. Listen for the essence of being, communicated wordlessly to you.

“After some time in silence, jot down a few words and phrases. Play with the way the words sound, speaking them aloud, rearranging them, letting go of unnecessary words. Allow the poem to flow from your unmediated encounter of God’s presence within nature.”

I invite you to share your Haiku with Xy and me on this website.

Last Call from Rocky the Rescue

Jane and Rocky
Jane and Rocky

For the better part of 2015, we’ve been soliciting stories for Jane Park Smith’s sequel to Rocky the Rescue.  I’m pleased that as of today, 80 E.S. Kraay Online readers have downloaded the application and instructions; I hope each has submitted a story for consideration.  True to my word, I sent my story to Jane last week with the hope that it might make the cut.  If it doesn’t, it was worth the effort to tell the story of a little dog who saved a man’s life and his sanity.

As we roll into October, this is the final announcement on the project from E.S. Kraay Online.  Jane will accept submissions through the end of October.  If you’ve thought about it but haven’t acted, it’s time to put the pencil to paper.  Thirty days is all you have left.

I believe in Jane’s project and in her company, A Believing Company.  It was important for me to participate.

It has been estimated that there are at least 525 million dogs on our planet. To get an idea of how many dogs this is, we would have to add the total number of people in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, and France to get as many humans as there are dogs in the world!  Rocky is just one of 78 million dogs who abide in U.S. households.  He’s a small one but he has a big heart, a lot like that other Rocky.

Jane Park Smith is Rocky’s companion.  Her book Rocky the Rescue, published in 2012 did so well that she is collecting stories for a second Rocky the Rescue.  If you have a story about your canine companion that you would like Jane to consider for her sequel, click on the “Complementary Offerings” link on the navigation bar at the top of the page and you can download the instructions and application form.

As we enter October, time is getting short.  Jane is accepting applications until November 1, 2015.  I encourage you to give it a shot and spread your love.  Rocky wants to hear from you.  Thanks and good luck to each writer who submitted a story to this worthy project.

This Ain’t No Italian Stallion

rocky and JaneNo, Ma’am.  This ain’t no Italian Stallion.  This is the real deal.  This is the REAL Rocky, and he’s looking for you.

It has been estimated that there are at least 525 million dogs on our planet. To get an idea of how many dogs this is, we would have to add the total number of people in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, and France to get as many humans as there are dogs in the world!  Rocky is just one of 78 million dogs who abide in U.S. households.  He’s a small one but he has a big heart, a lot like that other Rocky.

Jane Park Smith is Rocky’s companion.  Her book Rocky the Rescue, published in 2012 did so well that she is collecting stories for a second Rocky the Rescue.  If you have a story about your canine companion that you would like Jane to consider for her sequel, click on the “Complementary Offerings” link on the navigation bar at the top of the page and you can download the instructions and application form.

As we enter September, time is getting short.  Jane is accepting applications until November 1, 2015.  I encourage you to give it a shot and spread your love.  Rocky wants to hear from you.

 

 

Gaspar and the Perennial Tradition

E.S. KraayBefore I wrote a single word to any of my books, I had a core concept clearly in my mind:  what is this book about?  In the case of Gaspar, Another Tale of the Christ, I began – and finished – with the conviction that truth is universal, it is the same in the east as it is in the west.

For those of you who have read the book, you will understand that concept.  Gaspar’s story begins in ancient India, moves through the Fertile Crescent to ancient Ireland, returns to Rome and concludes in ancient Judea.  When his journey ends on Golgotha, he knows, as I know that truth is universal.  When Gaspar meets Yeshua on the Mount of Olives, he asks, “What have you learned?”  Yeshua replies,

“I have learned what I have known all along.  Truth is love and love is truth.  A man can love himself.  A man must love himself and a man must love all men on the earth as he loves himself.  That is truth, Gaspar.  There are seven directions and it is true no matter which direction you choose to follow.

“I have been East to you Kanheri, and it is true there.  I have been South to the source of the great river that feeds Egypt, and it is true there.  It is true to the north where winter never ends and where the ground is ever white with snow and ice.  It is true to where the sun sets far beyond the Pillars of Herakles.”  He points to the night sky.  “It is true where men live on distant stars deep in the heavens, and it is true at the very core of this world we inhabit.”  He places his palm upon his chest.  “Most importantly, it is true here, deep inside you where dwells your immortal self.”

I was inundated this week with the Perennial Philosophy.  Four years ago on my Vitruvian Man website, I wrote a post entitled Confluence of Faith, Aldous Huxley and Ruth.  It was about the Perennial Philosophy, man’s continual search for truth.  This week at Mass, we heard the beautiful story of Ruth throughout the week.  It reminded me of that post and drew me back to the Perennial Philosophy and my belief that truth is universal.

This morning, Franciscan Richard Rohr posted a brilliant meditation The Perennial Tradition.  It brought me full circle.  As Fra Rohr writes,

This larger and constantly recurring wisdom has been called the Perennial Tradition or the Perennial Philosophy. No one group owns this content, but most of us own parts of it, and for me the goal is to honor and include as many parts as I can, so that I can be truly catholic. We see this same inclusivity in Jesus to an amazing degree. I see this as the clearest indication that one practices “the true religion.” A true religion is precisely one that can teach you how to recognize and honor God everywhere, and not just inside your own group symbols.

For those of you who have read Gaspar, Another Tale of the Christ, I hope this message came through to you loud and clear.  For those of you who have not yet entered its pages, I invite you to delve into it and the Perennial Philosophy that will indeed make this world a better place to be.

Aleph

Season 2, Episode 22

I never watched The West Wing when it aired on NBC from 1999 until 2006.

west wingSeveral months ago, I ordered a book for the bookstore, an autobiography of Martin Sheen by Sister Rose Pacatte called Pilgrim on the Way.  I asked my wife to read the book when it came in.  She enjoyed it and suggested I read it, too.  I found it very interesting and insightful, a story about a man in Hollywood whose faith grew stronger through a career that has lasted 50 years in an environment not known for its affinity to spiritual faith.

After reading the book, we decided to watch The West Wing on Roku.  We just finished season 2.  We have been rapt by the story and Mr. Sheen’s portrayal of President Josiah Bartlett.  Just last week, Crystal, the checkout lady at Sprout’s asked me if I was planning to watch the Republican debate.  I told her know.  She laughed, “Don’t you want to know about the candidates?”  “I really don’t care,” I answered.  “The only person I would vote for is Martin Sheen!”

Marie and I just finished Season 2, which concluded with Episode 22, “Two Cathedrals.”  That episode is the absolute best writing I have ever been exposed to in over 60 years of television.  It was made all the more powerful by Dire Strait’s classic Brothers in Arms, fantastic camera work, terrific editing and great acting.  Most importantly, however was the script.  I found it to be the most riveting writing I have ever witnessed.

If you watched it before, watch it again.  If you’ve not seen it, make it a point to.  Bravo to everyone involved with that series and most importantly that incomparable episode.