Posts Tagged ‘The Prince and the Pauper’

High Summer

Monday, July 31st, 2017

High Summer

High Summer photo by Todd

Woke in the middle of the night. I’ve been sleeping well lately, so I wondered why I was awake. Wide awake. And then I remembered I broke my rule about not reading any news in the evening, and I also watched a video blurb about Trump—my first Trump visitation in several weeks. I might as well have had two cups of coffee and chocolate truffles before going to bed.

I haven’t liked a President of the United States since Jimmy Carter. I am aware that Jimmy presided over lots of horrible things done by our government, but I was thrilled by his willingness to talk about the planetary environmental crisis way back in the 1970s, about how we needed to wean ourselves from fossil fuels. And then he pushed through government programs that helped accelerate the solar power revolution. He walked his talk a little.

Our presidents since Jimmy have been consistently dishonest servants of the supranational monsters who began their complete takeover of our government with the election of Ronald Reagan. All our presidents after Jimmy facilitated the transfer of wealth from those with not much to those who already have everything. They all expanded the military and continued the policy of endless war. They all knowingly presided over the killing of thousands of civilians in essentially defenseless countries. They all did nothing to address global warming, over-population, and the environmental crises threatening life on earth. They all allowed our healthcare system to deteriorate and be taken over by the pharmaceutical and insurance companies. They all played golf.

Thus when I watch coverage of Trump, I do not think, as many of my peers do, that Obama or any of our previous presidents were better than Trump. They may have been less obviously narcissistic and dishonest, but they were all hyper-dishonest narcissistic sociopaths chosen for their loyalty to the ruling elite. And whether Trump wasn’t supposed to beat Hillary or not, he hasn’t done much to distinguish himself from his predecessors except by making more noise and saying more ridiculous things.

I notice the stock market keeps going up and up and up under Trump. This tells us that the big banks and hedge fund gangsters who stole more than two trillion dollars of our money with the blessings of Obama, are happy with Trump. Obama did nothing to rein in the Ponzi schemers, but rather helped them make the world’s economic and financial situation nightmarishly worse. Trump is merely following suit.

I also notice the media and way too many members of the shameful Democratic Party are still trying to prove Trump colluded with the Russians to win the election that put him in the White House. I wonder if these dunces will keep trying to prove the Russians determined the outcome of the election until the next presidential election. Probably. As we learned from Bill Clinton and his sexual dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, the folks in power love to distract the masses with childish nonsense while they carry on their nefarious business of robbing us blind and destroying the world while they’re at it.

No wonder I woke up in the middle of the night.

In better news, a friend wrote saying it was high summer. What a fine expression. The Friday farmers market in Mendocino is in high summer mode. We have several vendors selling excellent organic high summer vegetables and fruit—the high summer days lovely and promising. The blackberry bushes of high summer hereabouts are heavily laden with berries and I have been picking berries every day for our smoothies and snacks and cookie batter.

The Mendocino Music festival has come and gone, the big tent no longer starring on the headlands, and the town is somewhat quieter in the aftermath of the annual musical happening. The two highest points of the festival for me were Rimsky Korsakov’s Scheherazade and Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 2 in A minor. Zowee!

We know several people who are traveling to Oregon for the solar eclipse. I will not be going to view the blotting of the sun’s light by the intervening moon, but plan to sit somewhere outside while the eclipse is happening. I want to participate without travelling far to do so. Maybe I’ll walk to the beach for the eclipse where I hope to feel the moon coming between the earth and the sun, since I won’t be able to see it.

Solar eclipses always remind me of a scene near the beginning of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court when the novel’s hero uses his foreknowledge of an impending solar eclipse to save his life and become a powerful player in King Arthur’s court for the rest of the novel—not my favorite book by Mark Twain, but a fun high summer read.

My favorite novel by Mark Twain is The Prince and the Pauper—a great book to read aloud with friends. I also love big swaths of his Joan of Arc, especially his recounting of her trial at the hands of the dastardly Catholic priests, and I love the first three-fourths of Huckleberry Finn—the ending feels false to me. And I’m a big fan of Twain’s short stories and Roughing It.

In a dream I had about a month ago I was shown the title of a novel. When I woke from the dream, I wrote the title down, waited a moment, and the novel began to pour out onto the page. I have now written five chapters of this dream novel and I think the story will continue to emerge, but I don’t know for certain.

And that’s the high summer news. Sleep well.

When Is It Done?

Monday, December 12th, 2011

(This piece appeared—twice!—in the Anderson Valley Advertiser in 2008-2009. I recently got a request for this article, thought it was on my blog, but could not find it herein. So here it is now. Enjoy.)

Thirty-five years ago, I was hitchhiking from Santa Cruz to San Francisco on Highway One, and I got a ride with the poet William Everson, also known as Brother Antoninus, one of the more esoteric Beats. He sported a wispy white beard and a well-worn cowboy hat, and his old car reeked of tobacco. Recently installed as a poet-in-residence at UC Santa Cruz, he was going to a party in Bonny Dune but had no idea how to get there.

 I knew exactly where he wanted to go and offered to be his guide, though it meant traveling many miles out of my way. I was obsessed with poetry and wanted as much of the great man’s time as I could finagle. He accepted my offer to be his Sancho Panza and did me the honor of asking, “So what’s your thing?”

“Guitar. And I write stories and poems, too.”

He nodded. “Who do you read?”

“Philip Whalen. Lew Welch. Faulkner. Kazantzakis.”

He lit a cigarette and seemed disinclined to continue the conversation.

And then, without consciously intending to, I asked, “So…how do you know when a poem is done?”

So pained was Everson’s expression, I might as well have asked him what he thought of the poetry of Rod McKuen. Here he was on his way to a party, no doubt to drink and smoke and let his hair down and take a break from all the bullshit attendant to his newly won academic sinecure, and his guide to such bliss—a scrawny wannabe with nary a joint to share—asks him the single most annoying question an artist can be asked.

I was about to blurt an apology for my stupid question, when the good man cleared his throat and said, “So you decide this is what you want to do, and you do it for years and years and years, not because anybody gives you anything for it but because you want those poems. And you might work a line a hundred times and never get it, and then you’ll be sure you’ve got a good one and the next morning it reads like shit. But one day, after all that work, something shifts in your awareness, and from then on you just know. You just do. There’s no rule about it. You come into harmony with your feelings and you look at the thing and say, ‘Yeah. That’s it.’”

William Faulkner rewrote his first two novels, Mosquitoes and Soldier’s Pay, many times. But no matter how many drafts he wrote, he always wanted to rewrite. He came to realize that in the time it took him to complete a new draft, he had so changed as a person and grown as a writer, that he had become, literally, someone else; and this new person wanted to make the book his book.

So from then on, Faulkner made it his practice to write three drafts and call the book done. Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ also settled on three drafts. And I, in the days before computers, would do four drafts before undertaking a final draft with an editor. Of course, with the advent of computers, rewriting has taken on whole new meanings, and our beleaguered bookstores and libraries are jammed with proof that computerized word processing has in no way improved the quality of writing or the quality of books.

There is a marvelous movie made in 1956 entitled The Mystery of Picasso. The film was revived in the 1980’s and shown in art houses all over Europe and America. In the film, Picasso paints on one side of an absorbent canvas that allows colored ink to seep through the canvas unadulterated and without running. The camera is on the other side of the canvas, filming Picasso’s strokes as they appear, as if by magic, and coalesce into paintings. Some of the paintings are shown developing in real time, some manifest in time lapse.

When I watched this movie in a theatre full of artists and art lovers, the response from the audience was remarkable. As Picasso rapidly created a painting, a person—or several people—would cry out, “Stop! It’s perfect!” and then they would groan as Picasso carried on, changing the image until someone else would shout, “Yes! There! That’s it!” only to have the master paint on and on and on.

By the end of the film we had witnessed the making and annihilation and making and annihilation of hundreds of great works of art—done and not done and done and not done and done.

With the exception of The Prince and the Pauper, which may be a perfect fable, Mark Twain had great difficulty finishing his novels, as did Thomas Hardy. Both men would write in trances of inspiration until they reached the climaxes of their stories, and then not know how to end them. Both writers would put their incomplete manuscripts away for several months, even years, then get them out and affix endings quite unrelated to the original spontaneous flow. Sadly, these forced completions are the great weaknesses of otherwise masterful works.

So Twain might have said a book is done when the writer ceases to write it. Faulkner might have said there is no guarantee that when a thing is done the artist will like it. Picasso might have said the thing is always done and never done. And in this moment, reserving the right to change my mind in the next, I say the poem or song or book or painting is done when a comfortable silence falls and I’m absolutely certain it’s time for me to do something else.

Kings and Presidents

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

(This essay first appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2011)

“Divine right of kings means the divine right of anyone who can get uppermost.” Herbert Spencer

I just finished reading an excellent book by British historian Derek Wilson: A Brief History of Henry VIII, 386 pages of densely informative prose that is certainly not brief by American standards. I do not often read history, but I’m glad I read this book because it illuminates much of what’s going on in the world today. But before I tell you a little more about Henry VIII and why his story reminds me so much of George H. Bush, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and innumerable bullies and louts responsible for the ruination of our local, national, and global societies, I thought you might enjoy knowing how I came to be interested in Henry VIII.

“Kings are in the moral order what monsters are in the natural.” Henri Gregoire

Several years ago, I wrote a play about a history professor who has a nervous breakdown that features visitations from Queen Elizabeth I, Henry VIII’s daughter. When I came out of my trance and found that the rough draft contained a goodly amount of Queen Elizabeth data, I thought it prudent to run a fact-check on my muse and see if she knew what she was talking about. So I read two biographies of Elizabeth and was pleased and mystified to find that the information in my play did, indeed, jibe with those historical records.

If this sort of precognition seems implausible or impossible to you, well, so be it. I had never read or seen anything about Queen Elizabeth prior to writing the play. I only knew she was not the same Queen Elizabeth of my childhood who was forever appearing in National Geographics watching African warriors and soldiers dancing and marching in her honor. Twenty years ago, I wrote a novel (not yet published) in which the protagonist, a pianist and piano teacher, knows a great deal about the life and music of Felix Mendelssohn, all of which was news to me. Shortly thereafter I bought my first recordings of Mendelssohn’s music, which I loved, and I read two Mendelssohn biographies to make sure the references in my novel were accurate, which they were.

How do I explain this sort of thing? Well, if you’ve ever been struck hard and completely out-of-the-blue by thoughts of a friend you haven’t heard from in years, and then the phone rings, and you pick up the phone, and it is that very friend, or if you’ve ever for-no-reason-in-particular decided to turn right instead of turning left as you have always turned a million times before, and because you turned right instead of the usual left you saw something that cleared up a mystery or changed the course of your life, then maybe what I’m about to say will make some sense to you.

Jung spoke of a collective unconscious wherein the cumulative experience of humanity resides and may be accessed by individuals, usually through symbolic dreams. In more modern terms, perhaps there is some sort of psychic internet, if you will, from which surprising and informative responses to our thoughts and desires may come, causing us to do things or create things we might otherwise not have created or done. Or maybe I have supra-phenomenal hearing I’m unaware of and without knowing it I listened to long and learned lectures about Mendelssohn and Queen Elizabeth emanating from UC Berkeley five miles from my house. I don’t know.

In any case, when I saw A Brief History of Henry VIII advertised in the Daedalus remainder catalogue for only five bucks, and wondering if there might be any new revelations therein about Elizabeth, I decided to give the book a try.

“If you’re asking me as President, would I understand reality, I do.” George W. Bush

Henry VIII became king when he was a teenager. George W. Bush became President of the United States and might as well have been a teenager, and not a bright one. Henry let other people run the country while he hunted and jousted and partied. George W. let other people run the country while he, I don’t know, watched television? They both had rotten fathers who thought their sons stupid. They both presided over ill-fated military adventures and appeared at staged victory celebrations—George W. emerging from a jet on an aircraft carrier, Henry arriving in a conquered French city wearing armor. The big differences seem to be that George W. only presided over the ruination of his country and the world for eight years, while Henry ruined England and France and Scotland for almost forty years, George W. wasn’t obsessed about producing a male heir and Henry was, and Henry founded the Anglican Church, had scads of wives, and was apparently lousy in bed, whereas George W. had only one wife and founded no church.

“Don’t forget your great guns, which are the most respectable arguments of the rights of kings.” Frederick the Great

One of my favorite books is The Prince and the Pauper, which is ostensibly, fictionally, about Henry VIII’s son. Interesting note: when I tell people The Prince and the Pauper is among my favorite books, I usually get one of three responses. 1. Dickens? 2. The children’s book? 3. Never read it. When I tell these respondents that The Prince and the Pauper was written by Mark Twain, that only smart and imaginative children will enjoy it, that I think the book is Twain’s most beautifully written work, and that I’ve read it five times, my respondents are invariably surprised.

Twain vividly portrays with fiction, and Derek Wilson shows with meticulous biography, that not only does Might Make Right, but once Might has established an entrenched bureaucracy and controls all the money and weapons and commerce of a nation or a world, then absolute nincompoops can be made kings (or presidents) and the monstrous pyramid will lurch along for decades before finally collapsing under the weight of its own corruption and stupidity.

In The Prince and the Pauper, which, by the way, is great fun to read aloud with your mate or children or friends, a pauper (who happens to be physically identical down to his eyebrows to the heir to the English throne, and who learned to mimic courtly speech and manners as a means of escaping, at least in his mind, the violence and grossness of grinding poverty and an abusive father) quite accidentally switches places with the boy who would be king, and the would-be king becomes a pauper in the manner of Dickens’ Oliver Twist.

Once the switch is made, the rulers of the entrenched bureaucracy conclude that the prince has gone mad rather than been replaced, and when they report their finding to Twain’s brilliantly drawn fictional Henry VIII, the king, who is dying, orders that the prince’s madness be tolerated and ignored, and that anyone spreading news of Edward’s distemper outside the castle will be summarily executed for treason. And that, from what I gather from Wilson’s biography, would have been just like Henry.

O, what a tangled web we weave;

When first we practice to deceive! Sir Walter Scott

Lying is the primary method of rule by an oligarchy masquerading as a monarchy or as a democracy with a congress and president. I am thinking specifically of what is going on right now at the Fukushima nuclear power plants in Japan, and how we, the people, are being lied to so egregiously it would be laughable except the powers-that-be, so far, are getting away with their lies and what they are lying about is the ruination of an entire nation if not a larger part of the entire world.

So why did Henry VIII lie as a way of life? Why did Bill Clinton lie with every breath he took? Why does Barack Obama lie with such maddening frequency? And how did these guys get so good at lying? My hunch is that they each developed a false persona early in life in order to survive a childhood that did not permit honesty, either self-honesty or honesty to others, and these false personas served them so well that they became, Henry and Bill and Barack, thoroughly false.

Of equal importance, of course, is why we, the people, so readily believe the lies of our lying overlords and keep electing and/or not overthrowing these monsters? After painful consideration of my own enduring gullibility, I think we believe our lying overlords (at least enough not to revolt) because the entrenched bureaucracy, by successfully controlling our religion, our media, and our education, has instilled in us from cradle to grave a foundational mythology of lies with which their current lies resonate as entirely plausible.

“The least initial deviation from the truth is multiplied later a thousandfold.” Aristotle

Regarding Fukushima, the foundational mythology says that the corporations that build nuclear power plants are inherently good. General Electric, after all, is synonymous with light bulb, and who doesn’t love a light bulb? Thus it is inconceivable to a well-indoctrinated citizenry that those who give us light and electricity to run our computers and play our video games would ever build a power plant that might turn Japan into an uninhabitable wasteland for centuries to come. Who wants to believe that? No one. And the puppeteers of king and president puppets know we don’t want to believe what may very well be true. So they say things like, “We are rigorously monitoring the situation, and we are confident the situation will be stabilized relatively soon and that negative impacts on the environment will be minimal,” when the truth is just the opposite.

Here’s a little tidbit I snatched from Reuters that sheds a tiny light of truth on what’s going on at Fukushima. “In its attempt to bring the plant under control, TEPCO is looking for “jumpers”—workers who, for payment of up to $5,000 a shift, will rush into highly radioactive areas to do a quick task before racing out as quickly as possible.” See? Clearly they’ve got things under control. And if you need some quick cash…

“Compassion is the basis of all morality.” Arthur Schopenhauer

In The Prince and the Pauper, while the pauper is fast learning to play the part of a prince, the real prince, who had yet to solidify his false persona, is learning firsthand what life among the downtrodden is really like. And ultimately he learns what it is to sacrifice one’s self for the good of others; which is the quantum opposite of what kings and presidents learn to do. Alas.

If only Obama and Bush and Clinton would each take a turn or two as “jumpers” at Fukushima. Maybe then we would finally see the beginning of the end to the nuclear madness.