Thursday, June 26, 2014

Four with a Five Wing

Yes, it's all true. I'm a loner. 

From the age of five, when I preferred to roam the playground alone, lost in thoughts, rather than play with other children, right up to my insistence, as an adult, on having lunch by myself every day at work - despite invitations from co-workers that I do like - I mostly enjoy being alone.

I live in my head, and I imagine things that make me wonder, at times, if the likes of Salvador Dali and Patricia Highsmith have not found a corner of my brain from which they command me to do their bidding.

Over almost four decades, I have had to surmount extremes in introversion and sensitivity, in order to function 'normally' in a predominantly extroverted world that abounds with stimulus.

Beneath the seemingly aloof, collected veneer, I am constantly adjusting, recovering, and moderating my own - often violent - reactions to what I perceive as overbearing, crippling and vivid stimulus, all around me.  I am getting better at it...

Human micro-expressions, voice tones, traffic noise, bright lights, weather changes, intonations of conflict, loud music - the world can be an overly jarring place, and only in the comfort of my own mind or else, in nature's embrace, can I find true peace.

Living this life can be exhausting and I am often physically tired, in need of an escape, or else riddled with migraines.

Call me precious. One day I will find a balance!

My Enneagram type is Four. Many writers who have delved into the ancient Sufi philosophy which is the Enneagram, will discover that they are Fours. As such, it is hardly unique.

Still, I could not help but smile at this apt comic interpretations by Clare Cherikoff:

And then there is this, which is my subtype:

"The Four with a Five Wing"

 It is so spot on that I just had to share some quotes from:
Healthy, gifted individuals of this subtype are probably the most profoundly creative of all the types because they combine intuition with insight, emotional sensitivity with intellectual comprehension, frequently with stunningly original, even prophetic, results. 
 This is where I hope to be someday: prophetic; but I am not there, yet. Some of my novel characters are certainly prophetic, and so I can relate to this. This statement accurately encapsulates my aspirations.
Four with a Five-wing burn brighter than Fours with a Three-wing, but at the risk of burning themselves out faster.
 Hence the migraines. Hence the recurring exhaustion with everything, and with living...
Average persons of this subtype are given not merely to self-absorption, but to philosophical and religious speculation. Their emotional world is the dominant reality, but with a strong intellectual cast. People of this subtype tend to be extreme loners, more lacking in social connectedness than the other subtype.  
This entire post is an example of the said self-absorption.  
Thus, their artistic expressions more completely substitute for the person than in Fours with a Three-wing. 
 This last point is interesting. There have been situations where, by no fault of my own, I have fooled people into thinking that they know me, when all they actually know is my artistic expression (whether in writing or visually expressed, especially through clothing). Humans are awfully simplistic and will use all manner of heuristics, judgments or else incorporate prejudices of all sorts in order to arrive at an opinion of someone. 
These people also frequently have an otherworldly, ethereal quality about them; they are extremely independent and unconventional to the point of eccentricityThey also tend to be secretive, intensely preoccupied with their thoughts 
 Are you kidding? I live in my head; I float outside of my body; no, I have a body? 
and purposely enigmatic in their self-expressions
Let us just say, that if I do not wish to share something with someone, I won't.  At the same time,  I can make it appear as though I have just shared a large part of myself, while in fact, I have revealed nothing. 
Their creative ideas may also be somewhat unusual, possibly even surreal 
I swim in the surreal and so I completely agree with this. 
 Members of this subtype care little for communicating with those who cannot understand them
Most people can't and won't suffer an eccentric (and they are absolutely justified). I would much rather not burden them. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Memories of Dakar

Almost seven years ago, I wrote about my childhood in Dakar, the memories I have kept, and the amazing local women who helped take care of me, but this post brings with it some evocative images and thoughts that I thought worthwhile to share.

Avenue Jean-Jaurès

I was born in Dakar, Senegal where I lived at least 7 years of my life in an apartment, on Avenue Jean-Jaurès, with my parents and grandparents. You can see it here. It is a noisy and busy street with relatively tall buildings. Here, building constructions seem to linger on for years. I remember that as a four year old, I would be frightened of the pounding at construction sites, which I called  " le Tam Tam".

"Tam Tam" is actually the name of a traditional Senegalese drum whose sound is wonderful, but that was my way of describing the noise which, as an introvert, I already found difficult to live with.

Avenue Jean Jaurès was relatively safe, and on Sundays, from the age of six onwards, my sister and I would walk together to church all the way to the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Cathedral of Notre Dame

Shopping in Dakar was completed by our maids who spoke Wolof and knew where to find everything and how to bargain in the markets. We usually ate plenty of fish.

a market in Dakar where supermarkets did  not exist

On weekends, we would regularly drive to the Pointe des Almadies and visit the resort there where I learned to swim, and where I would invariably pretend to be a little mermaid.

Hotel des Almadies - the pool was my Sunday joy

Our apartment was simple and functional with four bedrooms and two bathrooms for six-seven people, yet as expats, we were living in luxury compared to the majority of Dakar's slum dwellers. On my way to school, I saw signs of poverty everywhere, including limbless children getting around in wooden wheeled carts. But I never once stepped inside a slum, or what the locals would call, bidonville. I regret that now.

Bidonville in Dakar

Senegal is a poor country and my parents tried to shelter me from the cruel realities of life as much as they could. I remember that one day, I must have been about five years old, my dad was driving us to the coast, and we took a different route. I did not know it, but we were heading towards a slum district. We drove past what to me resembled large cardboard boxes and masses of greyish houses stacked so near together, that one could not even see what lay inside this maze.

I asked  my Dad where we were, and what we were doing here. I was absorbed by this alien place, a place so unlike the palm lined resorts, so unlike the pleasant breezy Corniche on the coast.  I could have never suspected that this ugly place was home for most of Dakar's inhabitants.

My mum told me to sit still but I hassled her with questions. My parents replied that people lived here, that this was their home. I remember that my jaw literally dropped and I entered a state of denial. I was persuaded that my parents were lying to me, telling me things, only to keep me quiet.

"That's not their home. How can they live in cardboard?" I asked. It was a notion I found so horrifying and unpractical that I was convinced that it must be a lie.

My Dad parked the car and stepped out. He said he had to meet someone and pay him. So I waited with my mum and sister, looking on with anxiety as my Dad stepped to the edge of the bidonville and disappeared behind a grey wall. I thought he must be playing a prank on me and was merely pretending to go and see someone, given that nobody in their right mind could live here.

I know that on that day, a truth had awakened in me, even though I buried it deep and tried not to look upon it.

What I had called, 'cardboard', was in fact flimsy building material but it seemed like the right thing to call this brown material at my age. I had not even acquired the vocabulary for describing what I saw.

It seems that slums in Senegal have resorted to using garbage as a building material. Even with the risk of disease and stench, even with a pride for cleanliness, they will have no choice, due to poverty, but to use garbage so as to lift up their homes from the bog and avoid death.

Dakar had the power, very early on in my life, to make me see the world. Really see it. It is a gift that I cherish. Because the majority of those who live in wealthy countries, just as I do now, have no conception of what the world looks like and, often, I think it hardens them. It would be a jaw-dropping experience for them to understand that just as the majority in Dakar lives in slums, the majority of the world's population survives on nothing. Almost one billion people in the world (one seventh) live in urban slums. In India, the world's second most populous country, people are more likely to have a mobile phone than access to a toilet with 50% of people still defecating in the open.

So that's all I wanted to say.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Swimming In the Collective Consciousness with Wojciech Kilar

As writers - artists, often we are let loose; we become searchers; we seek, swept on an endless trail of letters, ideas, music and images.

We hunger for more, enraptured by our quest; we seem to find ourselves, again and again, within the subtle interconnections between what we have loved, what we love, and what we grow to love.

The memory of what we have loved is re-ignited with every new discovery that we make, and there is enlightenment in this reunion with our nature.

But later we find, that our nature is not our own. Because by some unexplained happenstance, we flit back, we return, time and time again, to those who have inspired us, and there, through some subconscious force, we are awakened by them. By their side, we come to create.

In this pattern, the face of our obsessions slowly surfaces, and with it, the ties that bind us to those who have made us, come to be revealed.  It becomes evident that in this web, this collective consciousness, we have a place; snug, we fit. And those we look up to, are close, much closer than we could ever imagine.

Do you often experience this? As a writer? When all the stories, ideas, artwork, cinema or music that you have loved, and whose essence have shaped you, are somehow woven by the same thread. That everything you admire or that fascinates you, is related; magically.  That the more you look into these, the more you see that those obsessions are tightly bound.  That they have, not just one, not two, but numerous links between them, and that when all those inspirations are laid out, that you fit, in there, at the very center.

When you discover this center, you are surprised to discover that it is not yours alone. Your origin, those individuals whose art has imbued your psyche - you commune with them. They are there, by your side.

As a child, how I loved Jacques Prévert's and Paul Grimault's Le Roi et L'Oiseau. This 1980 French animation sets Hans Christian Andersen's The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep within a dystopian kingdom, ruled by a narcissistic despot.

It is the story of two fated lovers, who must try to save their relationship from the tyranny of a king enamored of the shepherdess. The surreal intrigue is compounded by the fact that it is the king's portrait who, having emerged from his own canvas and sent the real king to the dungeons, sets off a ruthless chase for the Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep.

With the help of my favorite character, L'Oiseau - a gregarious and anti-authoritarian mockingbird who protects them at every turn - the couple flee through the canal city, a world reminiscent of a sci-fi Venice, where they are chased by a black-clad, sbirri-like secret police.

This animation, which borders between lyricism and social satire, was the joy of my childhood. It is deep, with levels that I am still discovering. Its imagery often evokes Salvador Dali landscapes, where unbearable emptiness stretches across intricate details of spires, bell towers, endless steps and mechanical contraptions, stirring with it, paranoia and anxiety. To think that Salvador Dali has been my favorite artist since my mid teens.

There is much to like about this surrealistic masterpiece of French cinema.  As an aside, my favorite scene takes place in a cell where the Chimney Sweep has been imprisoned by the King's men, and is about to be devoured by a pack of lions.  Seeing this, the mockingbird urges his fellow cell mate, a blind musician, born in an underground subculture and who has never seen the sun, to play a happy tune with his accordion so as to distract the lions. And so the music plays on.

But the mockingbird, a master storyteller, and fluent in several languages (including "Lion"!) has a plan.  As part of the 'entertainment', and still accompanied by the happy ballad of the blind accordion player, the mockingbird begins to recount the poor Chimney Sweep's tragic love story to the hungry felines. Together with sound effects, and heightened pathos, the bird tailors the story to match the lions' interests, until the beasts' indignation towards the King reaches a climax. They force open the cage and free all the prisoners, before marching towards the tyrant.

That's the Bird. Protector and Catalyst...

But the real jewel of Le Roi et L'Oiseau, and the soul of this post, is the astounding soundtrack, by Polish composer, Wojciech Kilar. His wonderful music is in my bones. It is part of me, just as Le Roi et L'Oiseau has seeped deep into my psyche.

Wojciech Kilar returns again, later in my life, as the composer for Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) and later, he brings his dark arts to Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate (2000).

The Ninth Gate, a film based on the novel adaption of The Club Dumas, has been a vivid inspiration for my upcoming novel, The Mascherari. I remember watching the film and feeling irrevocably drawn to it, believing that I had always known it. It's a strange feeling that one. Then again, perhaps it is Kilar's music which holds the key to my memory.

Reflecting on The Mascherari, if I were to look into the face of Venice, in the manner I have drawn it, with The Council of Ten's shadow looming over my protagonist, with its secret police- its sbirri, at every turn, I come face to face with the menace I remember in Le Roi et L'Oiseau.  In my creation, I return to what I have known, and through this, I remember that Wojciech Kilar's haunting notes are never far.

Thank you Mr Kilar, for the music and for the inspiration.

Wojciech Kilar died in 29 December 2013. But his music lives on. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Mascherari - Left-Handers and Witches

I was born and raised a Roman Catholic, and in my teens, I attended a private Catholic school which had as its patron saint, a renown inquisitor of the name, Saint Dominic.

My school was not too strict but I do remember an incident that had me reconsider.  You must know that as a teenager, I was quite fond of reading out Tarot cards.

Ok, let's just let it all hang out, once and for all. I was, in fact, ruthlessly pagan.  I practiced anything, from graphology, palmistry, tarot card readings to astrology and numerology.  We didn't have the internet in those days - that is, no online apps that could automatically spit out charts upon entry of a birth date and time - I had to contend with a planetary almanac and my calculator, so that I could use my formidable mathematics skills (I did, in fact, top maths in my school) in order to map out my friends' and family members' astrological charts.

So that was me, outside school and homework. Wicked.

My Tarot 'self ' for my many Tarot readings.

And then The incident happened. One day, I was sitting with a couple of friends, in a dark corner of the school library. I began to lay out my Tarot cards (I had a Marseille pack) and to read out what I could of my friends' fortunes.  Little did I know that the librarian had spotted me. She at once began to scream and shoo me out of the library, telling me that I was a wicked girl, and that these cards were against the Christian religion, and that I was SINNING. Bla bla bla.

That was in 1991.

I can only let you imagine the illumination I felt later, at the age of 20, when I devoured Zoe Oldenbourg's magnificent, Massacre at Montségur, and came face to face with the injustice of the Cathar persecution, including, at the hands of Saint Dominic himself.

It seems, that during my school years, I had sided with the wrong guy by association, and I did not even know it! The tragedy...

Dominic (with a halo) and other Cistercian abbots 
crush helpless Cathars underfoot. As you do.

Sometimes things just click into place.

Writing my second novel, The Mascherari was immensely pleasurable. It was my opportunity to dive fearlessly into pursuits that have always been second nature to me, without guilt, without shame.  The Mascherari is a historical novel set in 1422 Venice.  It takes place between the Winter Solstice and La Befana.

While most of the research was historical, and had me delve into all aspects of Venetian society during the early 15th century, a certain component of the research covered esoteric subjects - like Tarot reading, the phases of the moon, Italian Stregheria, magical amulets, and even old Roman cults.

Today, I am pleased to announce that The Mascherari will be released on 13 August 2014, to coincide with International Left Handers Day.

I chose this date for several reasons.

In ancient and medieval times, in many parts of the world, left-handed people were traditionally associated with witchcraft and an evil nature.  The Catholic Church itself declared that left-handers were servants of the devil.  Such people would be sent to the bonfire. As it turns out, Joan of Arc’s supposed left-handedness was one of the justifications (among a few) that were employed to brand her a witch, until she was burnt at the stake.

In Italian, the word for left is 'sinistra', while in Latin, the word for Left-handed is 'sinestra'. Both words provide the root for our modern word, 'sinister', and I certainly hope my readers will enjoy a little of the sinister in The Mascherari.

13 August is perfect for another reason.

Not only is The Mascherari's author left-handed (and possibly a witch!) but 13 August, long before being declared International Left Handers Day in 1976, also happened to be, for centuries, the Feast Day of the Goddess Diana.

Just think. Diana is the Queen of all witches.

I wonder if the individuals who settled on 13 August as Left Handers Day were perfectly aware of the significance of this date when they chose it.  I have often speculated on whether their act was a perverted endorsement of the age old accusations of witchcraft laid upon left-handed people. "Yes, actually, we are all witches. You were right all along."

Hell, I'd go with that.