The madness that is mornings for me. Madness as in the cylinders of mind all fire at once in the wee hours of the morning burning brightly and bringing all sorts of wild and wonderful thoughts. Sometimes the intensity threatens to short-circuit me.

And like Kerouac…

“[…]the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

 

So this book arrived yesterday:

I was reading through the intro this morning (which is where the opening image is from) and all sorts of synapses fired off. The first being, why the Hell am I attracted to cult fiction or stuff that would have been previously a part of the counter-culture (I say previously because of course, the counter-culture is now the over-the-counter culture, packaged and marketed like any other mainstream item).

Anyway, I digress…

When I was a kid, I was massively into heroic fantasy – the sword and sorcery genre mainly – where it’s good versus evil and there are clear heroes and villains. I was compelled by the hero, but secretly attracted to the anti-heroes that populated these works – the anti-hero usually being the lone warrior who isn’t interested in saving humanity but gets forced into it by circumstances. Their actions weren’t governed by love or morality or duty. They were guided by their own self-interests – a force onto themselves.

So when I read:

Modern man no longer looks to brave horizons, his view in introspective. Identity is fractured and uncertain. The best our anti-heroes can offer is assertion of the self at worst angst-ridden dismemberment. Cult fiction is what young men read at a time when they can no longer harbour great expectations or offer grand actions…

I was sad.

It also made me think that maybe it’s time to deconstruct Clay, see what I’ve become. I don’t think I’m as bad as Harry, but maybe not far off. ?

I finished reading a selected work of Emily Dickinson’s poems. She wrote over 1800 poems in her lifetime, although only a handful were published while she still breathed. I found it helpful to read about her and then read her poems. The understanding of who she was as a poet helped inform her poetry at least to me. Armed with this new information, I will have to reread the collection and maybe add a few more to my library as well. I also bought her letters, which look like an interesting read.

I like reading in the first person, especially confessional novels, travel literature, poems, letters, personal essays. Im empathetically sensitive and find reading in first person allows me to build a deeper rapport with the writer, to feel what they felt.

Poetry is coming alive for me again. Why deny my affections?

“One place comprehended can make us understand other places better.” So wrote Southern novelist Eudora Welty in her essay “Place in Fiction,” and it’s a concept well worth thinking about in an era in which communities and countries feel paradoxically fractured and all-encompassing, in which people feel torn apart and thrown together, all at once. At times like these, it is not a bad thing to step away from the bigger picture and focus on something smaller, as a way of re-orienting yourself in this world. – from A Nonfiction Map Of The United States

Kristin Iversen has compiled a list of the best pieces of nonfiction — books, essays, memoirs — from every state in the US (plus DC and NYC).  It’s a way, through reading, to get to know a place.

At times like these, it is not a bad thing to step away from the bigger picture and focus on something smaller, as a way of re-orienting yourself in this world.   And what better way to do that than by reading? The very best writing about a place can bring the reader a whole new understanding of a life different than their own, as well as, per Welty, a better grasp of their own place in the world.

Here’s a list from the States I’ve lived in:

New Jersey (my home State): 12 Days of Terror – A definitive investigation of the 1916 New Jersey Shark Attacks, by Richard G. Fernicola

New York: The Most Exclusive Restaurant in America, by Nick Paumgarten

Georgia: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: a Savannah Story, by John Berendt

New Mexico: New Mexico, by D.H. Lawrence

See more…

(Neil del Strother)

Back in January, I posted a short review of The Flower in the Desert, by Neil del Strother. Recently, I had a opportunity to interview Neil about the book and his inspiration for writing it.

Clay: What is the book about?
Neil: The story is simple. My book is about a boy growing into a man, and a man growing through his life. It is about his trips into the desert and what he finds…and what he leaves behind.

At another level, it’s about that place of meaning, of being, of becoming, that all of us know…even if we’re not always consciously aware that we know it. It is the mystery, and each of us brings our own experience and heart to it. My hope is that my book creates a space where this place is felt.

Clay: What inspired you to write the book?
Neil: Many things.

One is an experience I had around twenty years ago now, where I became the plants, the air, the earth, the moon and the stars. It sounds implausible I know, but for a short while (far too short – I was scared I was dying) I was everything.

Another is simply my experience of life. The rhythm, the unfolding, the very slow coming to terms with my many imperfections (I wish this would get a move on!), the gradual and growing awareness that there is so very much more than me and yet nothing more at all.

Clay:
If each book is a journey, what journey are you enticing the reader to take?
Neil: Every reader is already on his or her own (and our shared) journey. There is no other journey that can be made. I wonder is it even a journey at all? In the awareness is our unfolding freedom. It’s often a challenge.

Clay: You wrote the book as an allegorical tale, allegorical stories are meant to teach us lessons about how to live, what is your tale teaching us about ourselves and our relationship with the world and each other?
Neil: An essential meaning in my life has been and is about opening; about becoming aware and letting go of my many unhelpful (and often fearful) beliefs and patterns…and anything and everything else that keeps me from a connection with wholeness. I know this might sound like a load of old cobblers. Ultimately it isn’t about words, it’s experiential. For me it’s a long old road.

My experience is that I open that much more into the space each time I manage to let go part of my personal baggage. It’s a place of individual and shared wholeness. I believe this is the same for us all. It is on the cusp of this space that we may meet our deepest fear – the fear Marianne Williamson (and Nelson Mandela) have spoken about: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” I feel this is essentially a fear of losing ourselves, of disintegrating, into the whole. We are nothing; we are everything.

I hope in some small way (actually, I hope in a big way) that my book speaks to every reader of their greatness. I have written no words for this, it is about our individual stories dancing in the spaces my words leave alone. A lot of people have told me what they feel my book is about…they are right, even though it’s often been the first time I’ve realised it.

Clay: Tell us a little bit about your background.
Neil: My childhood was not altogether easy, although I have heard many many people speak of childhoods a great deal worse. I was, to an extent, emotionally neglected and I learned of the emptiness that this can bring. I was also lucky enough to learn just a little of love from my grandmother and her friend Ms Barnes.

It took me some time to find my feet as an adult. When I left university I worked in a range of jobs trying to find one that felt right for me. None did. My greatest loves were football and writing and, as I wasn’t signed up by Manchester United or the mighty Brighton and Hove Albion (their loss), I drifted somewhat tardily into journalism. I freelanced for papers and magazines before finding a niche writing about education for consultancies and government departments.

I have a degree in Politics and American Studies, an MA in Journalism and a Dip Psych. I am a qualified, if non-practising, Journey Therapist (www.thejourney.com). I also have some experience of shamanism, attending workshops and taking part in healing ceremonies with the San Bushmen in Botswana.

Clay: What attracted you to write a book of this kind?
Neil: Perhaps it sounds daft, but this book wanted to be written…it had been waiting within me for some time. I finally got around to writing the first draft during the weeks that I walked the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, an ancient pilgrimage route across Northern Spain, a year or so ago.

Clay: Is the book a part of some greater spiritual awakening?
Neil: I hope it is part of a greater spiritual awakening that is happening within all of us. We all know that we need to step away from the extraordinarily destructive and life denying actions of our current human world into a place of greater love and reverence for life and our planet.

Clay: Anything else you would like to share?
Neil: Yes, when I write I sound a darn site wiser than when I speak (and act). Or a great deal more pretentious. Take your pick!

Clay: Thanks Neil.

To find out more information about The Flower in the Desert, visit the site here. You can also download the first chapter and experience Neil’s wonderful book for yourself.

I am  in the business of helping people help themselves, or at least guiding them through a journey of self-help.  One of my bones of contention with the self-help, positive psychology industry has been the dumbing-down, over optimistic approach to achieving the good life.

Barbara Ehrenreich has a new book out that addresses this issue called Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America She was compelled to write the book because of the deluge of positive psychology she received after finding out she had breast cancer in 2000.  She said all that shiny optimism was “like sitting in a warm bubble bath for too long.”  You can read the full interview of her here.

I like to think that my approach to the industry is more about challenging people to think for themselves and in doing that, to focus on what they can do and what they do want and not the opposite.  And maybe my thinking is left over from the “can do” attitude the army instills in you, or from my mother who beat it into me that “if you want something, go get it. Period!”