If my writing can transport a reader into an unfamiliar culture my work is half done. Then there is empathy. Of the myriad potentials we have it is our ability to identify one with another that is most potent. When the novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote, the pen is mightier than the sword, did he think beyond violence? Words are powerful. Insight into the mind of a character, no matter what age, gender or culture, is insight into ourselves. And for the writer, her pages become mirrors.
Over the decades I have visited many countries but am always drawn back to ‘mother India’. Despite her leaps into the future there remains a palpable undercurrent of spirituality. Perhaps this is one reason my preconceptions start unraveling each time I arrive. I am turned to a new page.
A woman traveling alone in traditional parts of Tamil Nadu is an uncommon sight, and I am often met with consternation. A kind family or group of women will befriend me, for my own protection, and the way opens for experiences matched by few other places.
My most recently completed book, publication date March 2021, is the novel Andal’s Garland. Intertwined are the stories of two women – Andal, in eighth century India, and Saisha, a contemporary Australian. Saisha discovers Andal’s songs and is convinced they hold the key to her fractured sexuality and understanding of love. Andal’s adoration of the Divine is her touchstone for exploring love’s transformative power.
Andal is a singular and somewhat mythic figure in South Indian literature. She was the only female among Tamil Nadu’s twelve medieval saint poets, the Alwars. And the only Alwar elevated to the divine. Today she is revered as goddess. Andal’s two poems – the thirty verses of her Tiruppavai and one hundred and forty three verses of the Nachiyaar Thirumozhi – describe her journey from humble devotee to mystical bride. They also provide rich insight into a golden age of South Indian temple culture. Lyrical, at times deceptively simple, her songs are, above all, profound.
There is a call throughout the world to restore women to their natural place within religious ceremony. It is my hope Andal’s Garland can play a small part in the growing appreciation of the feminine in cosmology.
If you would like to be notified when Andal’s Garland is in print and available for purchase, send an email via the Contact form and I will include you on the book’s mailing list. You can read a few excepts from the book on the Selected Writing page.
The Way Is a River of Stars
Southern Europe is another cultural treasure trove close to my heart. The Way Is a River of Stars, published in 2013, is an intimate travelogue of my Camino pilgrimage, from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela. The tale unfolds from my perspective, at the time, as a Zen Buddhist practitioner. Click here to see readers’ reviews and order direct from Amazon Kindle. There is also a dedicated Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/The-Way-is-a-River-of-Stars-A-Camino-Pilgrimage-391989520917898/
You can find a short excerpt on the Selected Writing page of this website.
On my last visit to Paris I encountered the archetypal gods and goddesses of the Symbolists. Mysterious, dreamlike distillations of the human psyche. Their epic canvasses seemed part collision, part fusion, of the Belle Epoque and Oriental Renaissance. What a time it must have been in nineteenth century Europe.
Adventures in Poetry
Of all writing-crafts poetry is the keenest. For inspiration, for solace, for a clearing of the way – I might open a volume to a random page. A kind of divination.
Sometimes poems, even centuries between them, will echo each other.
In Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman says,
I think I will do nothing for a long time but listen
And accrue what I hear into myself…. and let sounds contribute toward me
Chiyo-ni, Japanese haiku poet and nun says,
From the mind
of a single, long vine,
one hundred opening lives.
I have never formally volunteered but in my travels, particularly in India, many times there is the opportunity to help, whether it be in an ashram for children and elders, or feeding pilgrims before their trek to a mountain shrine on an auspicious full moon. Or in a Catholic hospice whose doors are always open for the destitute, whatever their faith. To sit beside an improvised chair and listen to the stories of each man as he is treated with dignity by the hospice’s barber, a fellow resident without legs. Or to hold the hand of a beautiful young blind woman as she tells me how she was recently reunited with her husband, in the garden where we sat, after losing him fifteen years ago.
There is that word love, again. Deed by deed, breath by breath, the world can become a better place.
A writing life is, by nature, an isolated one. Helping others brings perspective to all those hours. It keeps things real and connected.