Hippies in the yard

Here’s another small clip from my novel, Hippies. In this one, several characters of the two-house commune are being introduced as they play around in the yard. (The two houses are the Duck and the Island.) Had you the decency to read the book, you’d know about half of these characters from the previous chapter.

Duck common residents: Ziggy, Jazmine, Ragman, Stormy, Rose Petal
Island common residents: Tex, Hoss, Gina, Pepper

x x x

Stormy paused, and Rag walked back into the elongated house, the Duck. Meanwhile, Gina and Hoss came out of the fat square house, the Island, from across the yard. Gina was a tiny, quiet thing, and Hoss a big, garrulous walrus of a man – perhaps too garrulous. Like Pepper, he did not know when to shut up, but with completely opposite results. She was all waspish wit, ready for a smack-down, and he was all love and trust and geniality, with a ready bear-hug for any stranger. Indeed, it was his affability that led him to think that a tray of pot brownies would be enjoyable for all at a faculty/student social his sophomore year. That he was expelled for such a kindness seemed a cosmic injustice, but he was good enough with the guitar to make a few bucks at cafes and on the street, and he did contract work at bigger music venues like The Warehouse, so he took it all in lumbering stride. Gina’s place in the Island was ambiguous, as the best anyone could tell was that she moved between the Island bedrooms of Hoss and Pepper, occasionally shifting to the couch if she needed her own space and no bohemian transients were in town and on it. Tex held the remaining bedroom in the Island and he mostly kept his room to himself.

“Hey, Stormy, where’s the Rag?” bellowed Hoss.

“He’s inside watching Rose Petal.” Rose Petal was Stormy’s two-year-old daughter. Together with Ragman, Ziggy, and Jazmine, this mother-daughter pair completed the permanent roster of Duck residents, at least for the time being. Of course, both the Duck and the Island had their parade of transients and hangers-on.

“Hahaha, that Rag,” roared Hoss inexplicably, shaking his head like a giant potato all covered with coarse, bushy hair.

He unclasped his guitar case, and he and Tex plucked out a few lines together. Then Tex strummed out the first chords of a song, and Hoss laid on with the notes. Hoss would sing this one, mellowing his voice to the sweet timbre of a Jewish cantor on a High Holiday.

A new day is coming, people are changing
Ain’t it beautiful, crystal blue persuasion . . .

In the pauses one could tell — Tex was good, but on guitar Hoss was master.

“My god,” Jazmine said. “Look at that crescent moon and Venus so bright. It’s like something planetary is really happening. A sign of something coming.” Everyone looked at the sky, a velvet blanket full of stars, no doubt, but with the moon and Venus most illustrious.

Stormy, spinning with her dress spread out as the song ended, chanted at the sky: “Gnomes of the earth, Nymphs of water, Sylphs of the air, and Salamanders of fire.”

“Where do you come up with this shit, Stormy,” asked Hoss cheerily, adjusting the guitar on his lap.

“Elemental spirits, baby, you can get ‘em from a book if it ain’t in your soul. Like Pepper says, don’t y’all ever read anything?”

“Hoss never got past picture books,” Tex quipped. Then he strummed another random chord while Hoss took a hit on the joint and sprawled back to look at the stars. But random as Tex’s chord was, Stormy knew what he was thinking, and as soon as he hit the strings again, she was singing along:

When the moon is in the seventh house
And Jupiter aligns with Mars

She sang it from a soulful, timeless depth, like it was no joke, and kept swaying, her carob skin gleaming a perfect blend of spiritual mystery and sensual presence.

Then peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars.
This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius . . .

Under that Venus and that moon on that early spring night of 1970, a half dozen hippies believed earnestly, joyfully, that indeed a planetary change was coming. The tragic naivete of their idealism had not yet hit.

* * *

BookCoverImage     year-bfly-cover     

 

Hotel Hastings

Hotel Hastings (a poem in 49 cantos)
by Eduardo Padilla (in Spanish)

Free pdf of the complete 75-page poem here, with permission of the author.
Publisher: Cinosargo ediciones  

Reviewed by Gary Gautier

As a second-language speaker of Spanish, I may have got it all wrong, but if you want to know what I thought and what I like, I will tell you and you can listen.

Hotel Hastings reads more like a novella, less “poetic” in rhythm and form than Padilla’s other poetry that I’ve read. It has the easy flow of narrative, but with little Pound-like hooks in imagery and free associations across the page that remind you – it is related by, and you, the reader, are locking consciousness with, a poet.

The first part is masterful in its integrated vision of street-level grit and Kafkaesque surrealism.

“En el norte me dicen Ed y acabo de enterarme de que los cartógrafos le dicen Ed a las islas de Existencia Dudosa,” reads the epigraph (in my amateur translation, “In the north they call me Ed, and I just found out that cartographers call islands of doubtful existence ‘Ed’”).

Is he the island of doubtful existence, or is it his shadowy gray setting, Vancouver, whose existence is dubious? Either way, the epigraph sets me up for a surrealistic journey. This is supported in the first line of the first canto, when Ed leaves school (presumably from Mexico) to go live in East Hastings “con los demás fantasmas” (“with the rest of the ghosts”) in a mausoleum-like hotel above a butcher shop where flies dance on the floating heads of bodiless pigs. The characters who populate his floor have a symbolic, dreamlike aura, despite their grit – the pimp’s apprentice, the drug dealer, and at the end of the hall, the drug dealer’s only client, “vive y muere” (“living or dying,” depending on how you choose to look at it). Also, the pickpocket, “with hands more beautiful than those of a mannerist saint,” and the Invisible Man, a “human hieroglyph,” who walks only in straight lines, turns only in 90-degree angles, and looks, if you can catch a glance when he takes off his glasses, like a Dustin Hoffman lookalike. Here, among this range of low-life archetypes, the narrator, though a foreigner, finds for the first time in his life his own element 😊

Thus begins our hero’s tale, scrounging for jobs, or better yet unemployment checks, trying to sell the CDs he’s been carrying around for five years, one eye forever on the next cheap beer. The surreality persists (e.g. in Canto 12, where “tourists pass through my room and around my bed, taking pictures of me,” although this may have been presented as a dream – don’t ask me, my Spanish isn’t good enough to get all the context). But gradually it becomes clear that this is not a bizarre alternative world being recorded in the simplest terms possible, as in Kafka, but a gritty real world of Vancouver streets being recorded by a batshit crazy poet, a poet who ponders how he fits into his 2-story hotel and concludes, “I am the 13th floor,” a poet who “was born [with an unfulfilled desire] to see Eraserhead,” a poet who at one point admits his memory is shattered and asks the reader to step in and help him sort out the pieces.

I like the first half of the book better, where the language has me flying in Kafka space rather than walking the grungier streets of the actual city of Vancouver, but the second half, which smacks more of William Burroughs’s Junky than of Kafka, brings me closer to the poet, to the human element underneath it all. Maybe you need both halves, the yin and the yang, the id and the ego, the world of make-believe and the world that hits you in the face. Maybe the batshit crazy poet knew what he was doing.

x x x

                            year-bfly-cover      BookCoverImage      

(Click images for links)

Hippies marked down

Hippies e-copies down to $2.99 this week (click book cover for link).

BookCoverImage

Struggling with the contradictions of the 1960s counterculture, a group of hippies finds an LSD-spinoff that sparks past life regressions and sweeps them to a dramatic climax.

Signed copies of Hippies and other books below also available by Christmas with email query by Dec. 10: drggautier@gmail.com.

(Click covers to view online; email drggautier@gmail.com to order signed copies. If you see something you like, order now. Limited number of signed copies in stock.)

Hippies
Audience: Adult Readers
Book price: $11 (see shipping cost below)

Late 1960s. A beautiful naive idealism. Blasted by the Establishment. Torn by its own contradictions. Jazmine, Ziggy, Ragman, and a coterie of hippies run loose and free until they discover an LSD-spinoff drug that triggers past life regressions and sweeps them toward a dramatic climax. This epic tale of hippiedom is intimate in the lives of its characters but panoramic in its coverage of the sights, sounds, and ideals of the Age of Aquarius.

 

Mr. Robert’s Bones
Audience: Ages 14-99
Book price: $10 (see shipping cost below)

In a neighborhood full of quirky characters, three kids’ search for hidden silver in an abandoned house pits them against forgotten ghosts and the house’s dark memories of racism and betrayal. The quest for the silver is especially nerve-racking for Annie, the kid who actually sees the ghosts. Her friends want to believe her but can’t, and she herself is torn between running away from it all and following the ghosts into the house’s dark history.

 

Year of the Butterfly  
Audience: Poetry, General
Book cost: $6 (see shipping cost below)

One year, four seasons, an archetypal journey, a poetic landscape rich in the flora and fauna of intimate human connection, joyous and sad. The poems in this 42-page chapbook are mostly short and pithy, formally sculpted, but each is packed with concept and image, and together they build up an unforgettable sense of how much life can be lived in a year and how quickly that year can slip away.

 

Phineas Frecklehopper
Audience: Ages 8-12
Book cost: $10 (see shipping cost below)

From pies to pizza, Phineas loved to cook. But could rendering a recipe really make a hero? Absolutely! Just ask the bullies who got smarty-pantsed back by Phineas, with the help of some magical creatures from the other side of the bushes. And after the magical journey, try some do-it-yourself samples from Phineas’s recipe box!

 

 

Spaghetti and Peas
Audience: Ages 2-8
Book price: $14 (see shipping cost below)

What would you do if you saw a snake in the lettuce? Rachael had to figure that out fast. And she found a magical adventure in her own back yard, within smelling distance of the spaghetti sauce her dad was cooking on the stove. Enjoy this zany, richly illustrated, hardbound picture book as a read-aloud or early reader.

Shipping (USA):
First book                                             $3.50
Second book in same shipment          $2.00
Additional books in same shipment    $1.00

Goodbye, Maggie on NetGalley

Goodbye, Maggie (160 pages), which was short-listed in the 2019 William Faulkner — Wisdom Competition, is available here on NetGalley for any bloggers, hippies, lovers, or friends who are in that program and want to download and read the advance copy. Spread the news.

The rest of you losers will have to wait for the official January 27 release (though you can pre-order the Kindle version here on Amazon now).

In a culture of health nuts, gurus, quacks and seekers, Phil’s stagnant life collapses when his charismatic brother, Magnus, announces that he has murdered Maggie Leblanc and asks for sanctuary. Thus starts a comic drama of rollicking misdirection, as Magnus disappears – with Phil’s girlfriend, Hermia – and Phil lands on an uneasy road trip through small town Louisiana with Gus, another rival for Hermia’s attention. Phil and Gus, white and black, find racism, madness, and unlikely friendships as they roll through the swampland and return empty-handed to New Orleans. But are they really empty-handed? And has Maggie really gone gentle into that good night?

Samples below:

Opening scene

Phil’s next surprise

x x x

  year-bfly-cover      BookCoverImage     

 (Click images for links)

Tartuffe at Delgado’s Theater

I hadn’t been to a play at Delgado Community College in Mid City, New Orleans, since they opened the expansive Timothy K. Baker Theatre. Great venue! The show, Moliere’s Tartuffe, from the age of Louis XIV, was lavishly performed in period sets and costumes (set dir. James Means, costume design by Cecile Casey Covert and Shelby Lynn Marie Butera).

The set was gorgeous, with the possible down side of very limited set changes through the course of the play. Director Kris LaMorte did a great job blocking and managing at least 11 characters with speaking roles, and pulled the best from each actor, as each contributed with full personality to the scenes at hand. A few with smaller parts could have done a better job with vocal clarity, but this was hardly noticeable as the principal actors kept the rollicking comedy of hypocrisy and misdirection going. Orgon (Ryan J. Vidrine), Dorine (Gabriella DiMaria) and Tartuffe (Brian C. Rosenthal) were all excellent, but the showstopper in this production was the grand dame of the family, Madame Pernelle (Magnus McConnell). McConnell’s part was not large, but from costume and makeup to the magnificent vocal delivery of aristocratic affectation to her command of the stage, she left the strongest imprint.

Bravo to the whole crew at Delgago, who have proven once again that a solid community college theater department, with passion and joie de vivre, can stage productions every bit as good as those at big league (and better funded) universities.

(Images from Delgado Community College website and Facebook page)

 

 

 

 

 

 

* * *

(Click image for links)

          BookCoverImage      year-bfly-cover                

The Plumed Serpent: Race, Gender, and Primal Consciousness

Review and analysis of The Plumed Serpent, D. H. Lawrence (1926)
by Gary Gautier

First, the gorilla in the room. As The Plumed Serpent tells of a white woman (Kate) who finds herself in early 20th-century Mexico, a strange, frightening, and exhilarating place for her, many reviewers bog down in race/ethnicity/colonialism. Kate in fact gets mixed up with two Mexican men, Ramon (of mixed blood) and Cipriano (pure Indian), who seek renewal for Mexico through its ancient pagan cultures. The shallowest of reviewers see D. H. Lawrence promoting the “white man’s burden” of civilizing the savages, while the better ones remain ambivalent, sensing something different going on in the novel but fearing being tainted as enablers of the racist Western master narrative.

In fact, anyone not cowed by the politics of academic criticism can see, on the contrary, that The Plumed Serpent is Lawrence’s specific refutation of “the white man’s burden” narrative. Especially at this late point in his life (he died a few years later at age 44), Lawrence despised the place to which white man’s Western culture had brought us, with its deadening Christianity and its machines and its dehumanizing political ideologies. The cultural spread of The Plumed Serpent can be roughly divided into the white Western world, the modern Mexican world, and the pre-Hispanic world of ancient Mesoamerica, and Lawrence fleshes out a rich, writerly ambivalence toward all three, but his ultimate allegiance is clearly with the pre-Hispanic pagan world view. The whites have a world of “mechanical dominance” (2145*) and “mechanical connections” (2406), but even Kate is “weary to death of American automatism” (2145) and its deadening effects on the human soul. Lawrence doesn’t mince words about his view: “White men brought no salvation to Mexico. On the contrary, they find themselves at last shut in the tomb along with their dead god and the conquered race” (3110). The modern Mexican fares not much better, “divided against himself” (1461), torn between envy and resentment in both directions – toward the encroaching white culture and toward their repressed pagan roots. For all practical purposes, they – the modern Mexicans – “are swamped under the stagnant water of the white man’s Dead Sea consciousness” (1486). The only hope – and Lawrence had become increasingly misanthropic after the Great War, though his journeys in Mexico and southwest US after 1922 had lifted him somewhat – lies in “that timeless, primeval passion of the prehistoric races” (2686), of Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilopochtli, back when humans lived breast-to-breast with the cosmos, before Christianity tore the soul from the body, back when one’s allegiance to the greater community was visceral and human, not ideological and abstract. “We must go back and pick up the old threads. We must take up the old broken impulse that will connect us with the mystery of the cosmos again” (3154).

Thus, those moderns who chafe at the “white supremacist” aspect of Lawrence’s work are sort of like those who see racial slurs in probably the most impactful anti-racist novel in history, Huck Finn, and absurdly conclude that the novel promotes racism. Such reading requires a degree of resistance to critical thinking that can only be found at the graduate level of US universities today. These are exactly the people Lawrence is fighting against. Wearing their ideological blinders, they miss the whole point of both books. Are some of the racial expressions unacceptable by today’s standards? Of course, but if we are to appreciate cultural history at all, we must resist rejecting past works that fail to meet present standards, and, as Bill Maher says, “just grandfather in all the shit that you would have done yourself if you were alive then.” We don’t need to approve of a past era but we do need to read with a little context if we are to get at the nuance. In terms of the racial spread of characters, do I wish Lawrence had given more rounded Mexican characters in the novel? Sure, but then again, we have no range of white people either – only the struggling (Irish) Kate and the two unlikeable American men in the opening chapters. The novel is less about individual characters than about primeval forces working through the characters. Lawrence connects with the pagan roots and hidden blood of Mexico at a depth that “woke” critics can never know, since their analytic approach sees Mexicans and Mexico as flattened out caricatures of oppressor and oppressed in their political metric, which precludes their engaging at such a depth.

This doesn’t mean I am all-in with Lawrence. As he re-envisions what it would be like for the old pagan world view to break through the crust of deadened modernity, he never quite sorts out, e.g., what to do with the brutality of blood sacrifice and the violence in general that cannot be easily separated from the old world view. But at least he does not sweep it under the rug. Much like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Lawrence’s Plumed Serpent finds a cultural pathway, exotic and primeval to the European mind, that brings him to a depth in the collective unconscious that is a place of both fascination and horror. Lawrence seems certain that the old pagan ways offer the only hope for renewal, but seems not quite certain of how to account for the blood violence in those ways. Kate feels the full weight of the ambivalence, as she “felt she had met the mystery of the natives, the strange and mysterious gentleness between a Scylla and Charybdis of violence” (2162). Indeed, the Homeric reference is no random allusion. Cipriano’s treatment of the prisoners near the end echoes The Odyssey’s slaughter in the great hall, where the generally admirable Odysseus dispatches the traitors with a brutality that gives the modern reader pause. Through Kate, Lawrence deals with the pagan world view of the ancients as honestly as he can, not with the philosopher’s eye on closing the syllogism, but with the poet’s eye on opening the vista with all of its beauties, its horrors, and its ambiguities.

Critics of Lawrence on gender are partly subject to the same rebuke as those in the postcolonial category above, but not quite as completely. Throughout his corpus, and The Plumed Serpent is no exception, the archetypal struggle of male and female forces, cosmic in scope, play out through individual characters. Such a binary may not be de rigueur today, and indeed may not be an accurate representation of gender in any universal sense. But the transcendental struggle of opposites, often cast as male and female, played out through the subjectivities of individuals, holds a large place in the history of ideas and has given rich food for thought, populating the landscapes of some of our most creative minds, from the visionary poems of William Blake, to Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, to Camille Paglia and Virginia Woolf. If someone wants to complain that this archetypal struggle is too binary, I have no rebuttal. If someone wants to complain that the female principle in Lawrence’s particular iteration comes up short, I have mixed feelings. He frequently says and dramatizes that male and female are cosmic forces equal in potency, “the mystery of the Two Ways” (8284), Kate’s “woman’s greater self, and the greater self of man” (3011), a “slow wheel of dance” between “two great streams” (3019). Each needs the other to complete itself but each must remain in some way opaque, its strangeness forever intact. At times, the female ideal as pondered by Kate indeed seems a bit too aligned with passivity or submission. But she always makes her own final decisions, she is never eclipsed by the male potency (“though her woman’s nature was reciprocal to his male, surely it was more than that,” 9427), and it is she who saves Ramon, the hero, with the physical force of her own will. So there are legitimate bits to pick with gender, but it would be a mistake to let those bits negate the fantastic archetypal dynamics worked out in the novel.

Besides the risk of some infelicities in gender representations (a risk taken by any creative work of this magnitude), there are perhaps larger risks to Lawrence’s social vision. I do not mean the “white man’s burden” risk formulaically raised by woke critics, as this risk only applies if one skims the barest surface of the novel. But in his eagerness to strip away the ideological clutter of modernity and get back to human-to-human based structures of power, Lawrence leaves the dangers of hero-worship and fascism intact even at the depths of the novel. Ramon, with all of his good intentions regarding the spiritual renewal of a world become deadened, emerges as the cult leader par excellence. If Lawrence’s social vision differs from Ramon’s, this is difficult to decipher from the actual text on the page.

An interesting cinematic equivalent to this phenomenon might be Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (with Kris Kristofferson, James Coburn, and Bob Dylan). In that fine film, Pat and Billy wander villages separately, but each is clearly a man of power. The people in this frontier setting intuitively recognize what Lawrence calls “the voice of a master and authority” (6196). Whether they are breaking the law, helping a stranger, or killing someone who stands in the way, it matters not. There is an automatic allegiance to Billy when he is in town, and an automatic (though perhaps more grudging) allegiance to Pat when he is in town. To people in this outlier region, the laws of the state or ideological alignments are impossibly abstract. They recognize a man of power when they see one, and their allegiance naturally alights upon that man. One recognizes the phenomenon in the film, and it seems quite natural in context, but, as both Pat and Billy show by their moral ambiguity and unpredictability, there is a dark side to this natural expression of human bonding into power relations in a pre-state, pre-ideological manner. What if the man of power is Charles Manson or one of the fascist leaders who darkened the 20th century?

The Plumed Serpent runs the same risk as the Peckinpah film. There is something tantalizing about breaking through the crust of deadened modernity with a renewed spiritual energy based on the forgotten pagan ways, based not on ideological abstraction but on breast-to-breast contact with fellow humans and with the physicality of the cosmos. But there is a risk there that I’m not sure Lawrence addresses adequately. Ramon and Cipriano lead the renewal in this novel, but who will the leaders of power be tomorrow? To cast this back into psychoanalytic terms, note that Lawrence is contemporary with Freud as well as Jung. Besides the book’s rich exploration of the collective unconscious and its call to find redemptive energy in the primitive roots of consciousness, one can cast it in Freudian terms as well. Lawrence is a creature of the id, always trying to tease the dark power of the id into breaking through the soft tissue of the ego and the hard crust of the superego. Therein lies redemption for Lawrence, but I think it is safe to say that there is also a danger in giving the reins to the unregulated drives of the id.

One final note worth mentioning, just on the formal elements of fiction. As with the other novels of D. H. Lawrence (and those of his modernist peers like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce), The Plumed Serpent advances not along a linear plot with a strong throughline but rather by circling deeper and deeper into the subjective and intersubjective spaces within and between the characters. Woolf’s To the Lighthouse is perhaps the most successful example of this kind of narrative structure, but D. H. Lawrence does it and does it well. And Lawrence is perhaps better than Woolf at filling in the physical landscape, creating a scene, in this case rich with the specific flora and fauna of Mexico, night sky and night rivers, villages and villagers, a sense of wonder and a sense of foreboding. It is wonderful indeed in that regard, but readers beware if you are looking for a suspense-driven novel with a strong plot. Also, be ready for a bit of long-windedness as Lawrence has Ramon create his own cycle of hymns and myths for the return of Quetzalcoatl. Lawrence was a formidable poet in his own right (see, e.g., Birds, Beasts, and Flowers), but it was a bit much in this context.

By the way, if you doubt my assessment of the novel’s themes, you might look to Lawrence’s non-fiction Apocalypse, written just a few years later (on his death bed) and published posthumously. Stripped of the powerful ambivalence and intersubjective force fields that make for great fiction, Lawrence goes straight to the point in that extended essay and makes his case. In his own voice, he speaks of the dead end of modernity and of the need to rejuvenate the old pagan world view, which we indeed still carry within us just as we still carry the primeval archetypes of Jung’s collective unconscious.

Thus, rightly or wrongly, smugly or humbly, I claim the man himself as my number one backup 😊

*Citations are to Kindle version locations. Most paperback editions are around 450 pages.

Selected references / click for links

                 

              

* * *

(Click below for reviewer’s links)

  year-bfly-cover              BookCoverImage