Introspection

in·tro·spec·tion/ˌintrəˈspekSH(ə)n/noun

  1. the examination or observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes.”quiet introspection can be extremely valuable.” definition provided by Oxford Languages

I’ve never been a city person. It’s always been me against the noise, the frenzy, the mass of humanity crowded into too small a space. Cities are not good for introspection. They require doing, constant response, and outward focused attention.

There was a time I needed that, thrived on it, depended on it. It was also the life of someone who spent it in the arts. I grew up attending my aunt and uncle’s piano concerts, and those of their friends who were cellists and classical guitarists. I attended countless recitals by their students. I went to museums, art galleries, stage performances. I wanted it live and personal or it didn’t interest me.

As my friends and family developed into their personal arts, I attended their dance performances, concerts, art openings, poetry, book readings, and they attended mine. For the great part of our lives that was how we defined entertainment. It was also the way creatives supported and continue to support each other.

I still go to art openings, although in this time of Covid most of them are online. I still listen to new poems, new songs, new dialogues. But they’re all virtual now. It’s the new reality and I try and adapt the best I can, but I miss the mingling, the walking through the galleries with others, the long conversations over coffee in the bookstores. I miss all that.

But those who create don’t stop creating because the times change. If anything, my friends are working on some of the most compelling and fascinating things now. I’m seeing sides of them emerge I suspect not even they knew were there. Some of it is the introspection that comes from age, but I know a great deal of it grew from the months of quarantine. We’re only now starting to see how it manifests externally.

Kristina has motivated me to write more authentically, to put in those ideas I think are too far out there to be understood. Make them think, she always told me, make them think. She still says that, but the they are not the same they as now. Nor am I. I’m different. There are days I barely recognize myself. And yet I’m still there. I’m still me.

It’s the me who writes books on an island in a house that has more windows than walls. It’s the me who is surrounded by the natural world and with silence that is enhanced by the songs of birds and the wind through the trees. It’s the me who realized I needed this environment to write the books I wanted to write, not the books other people wanted me to write.

I moved to an island seven years ago because I reached the point in my life where I needed to go within in order to proceed forward on the path I needed to take. I wanted to stop the external noise that interrupted the places my mind wanted to go. I wanted to write something that wasn’t about politics but was still political. I wanted my words to have less objectivity and more subjectivity. I wanted to be the change I sought in the world.

I also moved here to achieve the blissful state of contentment I sought. Many people seek happiness, but I sought contentment because unlike happiness, it was stable, calming, a part of me that was not dependent on external realities.

But the most carefully crafted plans of bears and dreamers often take odd turns. As I sought the middle ground in myself I realized it was a place I never lived. I never even got close to it. During one of the last present time conversations I had with Kristina before her mind narrowed to a small period of time, she reminded me of all the things we’ve done together over the years, all the edge clinging, the chance taking, the risks we didn’t know were so risky then. You never did ordinary, not in your art, your words, or your lovers.

Kristina can no longer type, but she can still talk and use the speak to text on her phone. Her emails are just as long, if not so well punctuated. I woke this morning to this list of questions from her.

Do you see your high school self differently now? Have you been able to sort through the good memories and let the bad ones sink to the bottom? Do you see how once you love yourself it becomes easy to love others? Do you feel that in your heart? Do you feel differently now about your high school friends? Do you understand how a small piece of something can seed a larger whole?

At first I thought the tumor was allowing her to move beyond the limited memory that has condensed her life to the years between 1965 to 1975. But then I realized those were also the questions we asked ourselves then. We just never received a satisfying answer.

Kristina is still in her tumor defined world. The time frame of her memory hasn’t changed. She just sees it all differently now. And because I committed myself to going along to wherever her memory takes her, I’ve had to look at those years differently as well. I’m nowhere near done. There are days when I feel I’m just getting started.

After I finish this book, I have an art project that’s been festering. Actually, I have several. And more books. I have time and a whole library of research material not at my fingertips, but living inside them. I intend to spend at least the next year setting them free.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anais Nin

My personal website

Kate Taylor’s Art and Books

The Shared Moment

I still remember the exact moment when I met someone exactly like me. Life doesn’t often give us a chance to see ourselves in what I call the fleshy mirror, so when it does I look deeply.

It was difficult at first, as are all things that require effort. But to see what others see, how could I resist such an opportunity? I would have to turn in my curious bear card if I didn’t at least let my glance linger.

And linger it did. I still laugh at the battles between two willful beasts born within months of each other, or as one of friends described it then, two iron rabbits meeting the immovable force in each other.

But I also saw a shy withdrawn child who hid in corners at social gatherings. I saw how others misunderstood and called him standoffish, aloof, snobbish. Like me he had few social skills other than the mandatory ones that kept us out of jail, guaranteed we could somewhat work for others, and drew people to us the same way many are drawn to the impossible task of taming cats.

We helped each other take the first step in learning to walk through the halls of a perilous universe. He was finally able to perform without his fingers shaking on the strings so badly he couldn’t play. I was finally able to read in public without having my voice choke in fear halfway through.

Over the years I met other fleshy mirrors and some I glanced at briefly, while others I stared into like a scrying stone. With each one I experienced the same feeling of recognition, the same sense that here was someone who understood. And the relief that I was not alone in who I was.

It took many more years for me to develop the confidence and verbal skills to talk to others. I was and still am far more comfortable writing than I am talking. I text far more often than I talk. But again that’s because many of my friends began as my fleshy mirrors. We interact as we are, not as we wish we were, nor how others want us to be.

During the pandemic solitude, we began to text less and talk more. I don’t know if it was the isolation, the introspection that grew from it, or the need to hear a human voice, but the connection to my fleshy mirrors deepened. Our conversations grew longer, more personal, more honest.

I formed deeper bonds with those I once shared only pieces of myself with in the past. They responded in kind. I suspect I’m not the only one who has been healed and changed by this. I suspect there are many “out there” who could have written those words as well. I suspect none of us are done yet. With anything.

That’s why I get so personal at times with this blog. I know the value of fleshy mirrors. I know how just one person understanding who you are, what you feel, where you’ve been, makes a difference. There is a special solace in receiving the understanding of another. It’s a blessing. A sacrament. A gift.

In spite of the terms I use, I’ve never been a religious person, nor do I see such a thing in my future. I detest dogma. But they serve to communicate my true beliefs. I believe in the power of love. I believe love is stronger than hate. I believe love feeds you and hate feeds on you.

The fleshy mirror who taught me these things was a man who walked gently on the earth because it was nature’s skin and he didn’t want to bruise it. I was frightened of him at first. I thought him odd beyond my understanding. I was suspicious of his intent and expected him to whip out his version of the bible at any moment and wave it at me threateningly.

But he did none of this. He simply taught me to value what he reflected back, that we both, at the core of who we were, believed the connection to nature and the connection to other human beings was the same. He accepted my atheism while expanding my connection to a spirituality that didn’t feel like fingers on a chalkboard like too many of the others often did.

When I write I remember what I learned from him. I write to establish that connection with someone else, that moment of looking into the fleshy mirror with someone who needs to feel less alone.

We’re all wounded children. That is what every fleshy mirror has reflected back to me. The worst experiences we’ve had are also the most universal. As my friend said, if you’re going to be the change in the world, someone has to take the first step. Why not you?

I live in my house as I live inside my skin: I know more beautiful, more ample, more sturdy and more picturesque skins: but it would seem to me unnatural to exchange them for mine.” Primo Levi

My personal website:
Ursine Logic’s Books and Art

Pandemic Fiction As Truth

"These were the testaments they left behind, the harvests from  the beauty and despair they drew from their depths. They gave the monsters and demons equal say, and the result of such courage was an overlying stark beauty of emotional honesty." 

WHEN THE LAST OCEAN DIES (coming in October)

I was almost finished with the final book in my series when the pandemic hit. In one of those strange twists, I was reading BIRDSONG, the novel by Sebastian Faulks, during editing breaks. I started out reading it as a novel about the first World War that focused on the psychological trauma of war. Fiction is much better at describing such trauma than the sterilized "professional" accounts. 

It was one in a long list of books I read as I tried to understand what happened to the mind when confronted with previously unimaginable horrors. IF THIS IS A MAN by Primo Levi set me on this path when I first read it several years ago. It gave me insight into a part of the human psyche that was indestructible. But I already knew such indestructibility came with a price. I saw first hand how human beings far too often chewed off one or more of their limbs to survive. I wanted more.

And I got more when the times I was reading in changed. Like most narrowly focused readers, if it wasn't for the pandemic hitting when it did, I might have finished BIRDSONG with yet more understanding of war trauma, but completely missed the significance of another event in the book, the 1918 influenza. 

From the perspective of a modern reader who lived with the global reality of world travel for most of my life, I suddenly saw something in what I read that I didn't see on the first reading. The returning soldiers who helped spread the virus all over the world. In the global world that is part of our reality now, it was easy to see this, so I saw it clearly. But the book focused more on the psychological damage of war, the brain damage, the disabled who lost arms and legs in battle, and the permanent lung destruction that also came home with the soldiers.

I clearly saw my blind spot then, and it became more prominent when the pandemic became personal instead of an historical event from the past.  Along with most of the world, I was suddenly quarantined. My life changed little as I already lived on a small island with few people, and I have always been pretty much a loner who prefers my own company.  Now I was facing an extended isolation with just one other person and a cat. I prepared for it by making a long list of books to read as I finished editing my book. I bought new goodies for my art box. I added supplies to my already adequate earthquake stash. I was ready.

What I wasn't ready for was history repeating itself. My reading of news accounts of the day and the politicizing of the virus began to merge into one miserable truth. As a species, we humans are damned stupid. The 1918 pandemic had the same anti-mask plague rats infecting each other in the name of freedom. The same people called it a lie, a plot, a hoax for the same reasons they did in 1918. The same excuses, the same manipulations, the same conspiracy gulping cultists rose up like flies seeking the same communal shit pile to wallow in together. All hail polio, smallpox, and Caesar!

But I was saved from utter despair when I began digging into my stack of books from the writers of that time. They left us some damned good insightful fiction into what it was like to live during a pandemic. As did the art of that time, the music, the fashion, and the ideas that were germinated during isolation and blossomed when the quarantine ended. 

Along with the fiction, I read post-pandemic criticisms of the hedonism, the outright disdain for social rules that no longer applied, the anguished cries of woe that portrayed the excesses of the 20's as the whole taste of the time. I also read the petty moralists of our time who squawked of the doom to come, the collapse of society, the debauchery, oh yes, the debauchery to come. What they really feared, every damn one of them was something that was seeping through the cracks of our isolation. 

As the quarantine grew from weeks to months,we became more honest. The isolation nibbled away at our social skills. It made us less reluctant to bite the words from tongues left alone too long. We began to share ourselves in weird and wonderful ways. But it wasn't so much the famous paintings we recreated with ourselves as the subjects and then posted online to share with the world from our phones, often with only our pets to play the parts of missing characters.  It was the need to share.

Many times as I viewed the contributions from all over the world, I broke down in tears. The zoom orchestras where everyone played from their living rooms. The demonstrations on how to make your own face mask. Videos for those learning to bake bread for the first time. The world was sharing the same experiences, at the same moment in time, from the same depths of our souls. The world of people, the world of human beings, the world of emotional, weeping, laughing contributors were leaving a record of their humanity.

The changes crept in so slowly that at first they went unnoticed. Little things like around month six I started to have phone conversations with friends that not only were longer than all the ones before, they were more satisfying. The artifice was eroding. The need to pretend to be someone else was wearing away. We began to speak truth to each other. We began to let others see who were really were underneath all the superficial social skills that once defined us.

Those I loved before, I loved even more because I knew them better now, and they began to know me. We began to grow into more appropriate human skins together. My friendships deepened. I grew more comfortable with telling people I loved them, something I've never been very good at. The pandemic gave me an opportunity to get better at it.

But I had to approach all this new reality realistically. I've never been someone who could distance myself from the emotions and traumas of others. It's probably why I needed so much time alone. Sponges needs wringing out time or they will drown willingly, happily, sacrificially in other people's drama pools. I'm working on something I've never been good at, the middle ground. I know it's there, but it's just not as satisfying anymore.

The important thing I was left with was the hope that what I saw happening to me was also happening to others, because honesty, both emotional and intellectual, is a vital thread we need to stitch together new truths, whether it's in our relationships or part of our shared visions for healing the planet.

And of course, after all this, I looked at the book I was editing and realized I needed to start over. My dystopian world was suddenly not a distant fantasy but a quickly evolving reality. I also felt, as a writer, I had an historical responsibility to describe a piece of the emotional truth happening all around me.

That's why I started my book over. I needed to put in the art, the music, the new awareness of self, the need to connect, the global village as a real thing, but most of all, the ability for human beings to get so comfortable in their own skins that saying I love you to a friend, a lover, or themselves, was as important as anything else. I wanted to be part of that mark on history. 



My personal website:
Ursine Logic's Books and Art

The Cult Of Selfishness

The words “Proud to be selfish” were scrawled on the stark white poster board. The young man who carried it strutted around like an insecure rooster. Of course, he wasn’t wearing a mask. His eyes darted back and forth as if he waited for someone to either challenge him or pat him on the head and say good boy, you’re such a good selfish little boy.

As I tried to understand why someone would be proud of such a thing, the pieces of the last few years began to connect. It was as if all the bits and scraps of a box filled with memories of those who came before him upended itself into the present. And the evidence stood in little territories of time as it screamed to be heard over anything else.

I saw once again the parade of drama queens with their incessant need for attention. No matter what the topic, what the reason for the gathering, whether it was a wedding, a funeral, or a conversation, they had to drag it all to the center with them in the middle.

They were shaped by the TV talk shows, the garbage that passed as news, the programming on every channel filled with pathetic stewpots that bred the roots of selfishness. Celebrities who did nothing to earn their place in the country’s living rooms. Influencers who peddled themselves for money.

No one talked. Everyone yelled to drag it all to the center with them in the middle. There was no right. There was no wrong. There was no middle ground or compromise. It was all who yelled the loudest, who stood on the biggest pile of unearned privilege.

I saw a world where everyone wanted to be special at the same time, and no one won or lost anymore because competition was suddenly bad. It affected self-esteem. It created insecurities. It kept the mediocre from rising. It kept everyone from being special. Everyone got a participation trophy, whether they won, lost, or surrendered.

The plague of specialness that created such privilege also bred a nation of petulant toddlers who believed their needs were more important than those of others. It helped them drag the country to the center with attention-hungry Karens in the middle who didn’t have to compete anymore to be better inventors, creators, workers, or human beings. Their privilege, their specialness was all they needed.

The emerging Karens evolved into the entitled who parked in no parking zones, the special snowflakes who cut to the front of the line, the privileged ones who whined when the rules didn’t allow them to do exactly what they wanted, when they wanted, and without any regard for others. It was and continues to be all about them and no one else.

It’s why white male Christians whine about persecution when all their presidents but one have been white, male christians. It’s why privileged little Karens think face masks that protect others are a threat to their freedom. It’s why for years privileged white men shaped what the rest of the country was allowed to watch, to read, to perform. The tyranny of the few in America has always dictated what art was funded, whose sexuality was acceptable, and especially whose bodies were controlled.

But even that wasn’t enough privilege for the selfish entitled toddlers. They wanted it all. Because they couldn’t control every aspect of life, because others were beginning to demand their share, they whined even louder about persecution and victimhood. They held the whole pie and complained because the rest of the world wanted to split a piece of it among themselves.

That was who that pathetic young man represented to me, those whiny attention seekers who wanted everything for themselves, especially the attention, the privilege, the right to be above everyone else even if there was no reason for it, nothing they did or were that gave them that coveted spot.

They wanted to park in a no parking zone when no one else could, but they should be able to because they were more special, more entitled than anyone else.

They wanted the privilege to walk unmasked into a supermarket, a restaurant, a crowd of people. They wanted the businesses to open so they could make money, even though it put the workers at risk.

The special people created a nation where selfishness became its own reason for existing and only benefitted them. But the facade is beginning to crumble as all facades eventually do, because at the root of their selfishness lies a tragic truth.

Those who demand special privileges, those who deliberately draw attention to themselves by yelling, by complaining, by whining, by standing on street corners with signs that say Proud to Be Selfish are failures, losers, shallow excuses for human beings.

They are takers, not givers. They are users, not creators. Deep inside they know they’ve lived a meaningless existence, that everything they tried ended up in failure. They know without the props of success they are exposed as failuress.

So they buy the big houses, the expensive cars, the designer labels, the exotic vacations. But none of it makes them better human beings. Inside themselves they suspect they’re not all that special. They are merely privileged.

So they whine in the hopes that no one will notice or make them change, because nothing terrifies them more than change. It means they must examine their own lives for the flaws they know are there but they’re too cowardly to confront.

It’s easy to just let selfishness become the default setting of privilege. It’s easily maintained by forming groups that keep out everyone else so the privileged can continue to tell themselves how special they are to exist in such a perfect world.

It doesn’t really matter what they call themselves, how they identify to cover up their flaws. Church member. Party member. Gated community. Living among those with similar flaws doesn’t fix their problems. It normalizes them.

But the wall their privilege tried to erect between human beings, the bricks they thought held it up, is beginning to crumble because it was built from the fear, the hate, the despair these selfish entitled overgrown toddlers felt at having to compete in an equal world. It was built from a horrible truth they suspect. In a fair world they would end up on the bottom.

That really isn’t something to brag about, no matter how good you think it looks on a sign.

My personal website:
Ursine Logic’s Books and Art

Writing During A Pandemic

People often ask me if I based the character of Dada Roach on trump. I didn’t. I began writing WHEN THE LAST TREE DIES in early Spring of 2016. He was still the joke candidate then, the buffoon few took seriously. No one saw the hands in the background who greased up the strings, the greedy bottom feeders who knew an ignorant, narcissistic baby-man was the perfect tool for all their schemes.

These same puppet masters knew he embraced the racism that was an ugly secret America tried to hide from the world, the sickness they pretended wasn’t as bad as it was, the ugliness they thought was easily covered up with a few nips and tucks here and there. They were experts on how to use it to stay in power. They spent decades dividing the country from itself, creating us and them realities that benefited the privileged and the wealthy. They loved his racism because they often shared it themselves.

But more than anything, they saw his corruption, his mind-boggling stupidity, his cruelty and inability to feel empathy were the perfect distractions to cover up a multitude of their own crimes. They crawled from their Wall Street sewers, their oil-drenched bunkers, their hate-spewing churches, their gated cesspools of exclusion and dragged their totally inept puppet into the office of the presidency.

It’s a mistake to think there was an ideology behind their manipulations, that some inner fervor drove their perverse actions, or some patriotic fever propelled their outright disdain and destruction of democratic principles. The manipulators were motivated by only one thing: greed.

It drove them as nothing else drove them. It covered up their insecurities, their lack of awareness, their minimal gentleman C educations, their ugly, empty souls. Among them were a greater percentage of child molesters, racists, misogynists, and sociopaths, because as long as they could make money off each other, they looked away from the things that turned a normal person’s stomach.

But the important thing to realize, and what I wrote about in my first book, was that none of what they did, none of the enabling of an incompetent, useless bag of flesh they let loose to inflict so much damage on the world, was new. They weren’t the first to install an incompetent puppet as their plaything. They weren’t the only ones who stole from the poor to give to the rich. All tyrants are funded by the greedy.

History is full of such despots and their enablers who seized the opportunity for their own gain. trump and Dada Roach are one and the same in the sense that all tyrants are the same. They are all insecure, psychotic, narcissistic despots who surround themselves with sycophantic butt lickers. Dada Roach is an ugly archetype based on all the ugliness that came before him. So is trump. So are his enablers. So are those who own people like that because all tyrants have hidden masters. It’s the ugly truth they deny to themselves until the moment they are publicly hanged as their masters leave town under the cover of their demise.

The tyrants and events that create them don’t change, but the world I began writing the first book in did change. The mindless obedience to grifting preachers who co-opted religion to make themselves rich was coming out in the open. The opulence of their lives sprawled across social media and exposed the mansions built by those who struggled to survive.

It revealed the congregations who reached into their pockets not for salvation, but to feed greedy, obscenely wealthy preachers who convinced them from their tax-free megachurches that buying them mansions and private jets was the one true path to wealth. Greed became the new god and the desperate developed a powerful hunger for it.

The ugly god in my novel was based on the one religious cult leaders use to keep the more gullible of their congregation in line. Like their god, mine was not a holy man who preached love, compassion, and peace. He was a soulless, ugly manifestation of the emptiness inside those who needed a symbol to manipulate the cultists. He was cruel, controlling, and terrifying.

Like my god, their god was only a tool to inflict hate and divide the country from itself. Their god had enemies, harsh wrongs, and conditional rights. Their god picked the pockets of the stupid and the gullible so the rich could become richer. There was very little difference between Preacher Billy and Dada Roach, just as there was very little difference between them and what passed for preachers in this country. They were all the same kind of grifter, whether it’s your soul they picked or your pocket.

Underlying this spiritual ugliness was a vile racism that needed only a quick prodding from professional haters to ooze out from under the rock where it lay since it lost the Civil War. But it was no surprise it did. After all, America was the only country that embraced the symbols of the defeated, the Confederate and Nazi flags. Other countries realized the danger of letting images of the conquered fester in sight of the losers. They put them in museums like the relics they were.

Underlying the damage done by the tyrants and religious cults, is the damage inflicted on our environment. We are killing ourselves and the planet with pollution, with dirty water, and poisoned food. The unwillingness to acknowledge climate change and global warming are common threads woven through all my books. Denying or ignoring them will not make the problems go away. It will only accelerate the damage done to us and the planet.

And it was only a matter of time before the neglect of these issues met up with a virus that didn’t care about politics, race, economic status, or party affiliation. It was the perfect storm of greed, hate, and indifference meeting in one self-inflicted catastrophic event.

But this time, something happened to change the predictable path. The tyrants no longer led. The people quarantined in their homes with time to think, to pay attention, to share ideas and dreams with each other all over the world. They discovered their power and it helped them confront the ineptitude, the indifference of their leaders.

This is also a process that began to take place in my second book, WHEN THE LAST RIVER DIES. I wrote about the tools of recovery, specifically the use of music and love to heal the deep wounds of the devastated world the survivors inhabited. I wrote how they shared their songs to gain a sense of self and place, to reserve a place inside the history of a world that no longer resembled the one they once knew.

I saw this sharing come to life during the quarantine. Music, stories, art, dance, creativity, love and a sense of belonging began as a wave shared from homes all around the planet. The world began to experience so much together that was the same instead of different. The divisions became more apparent, more absurd, more unwanted, more unnecessary. The world came together and shared one common experience. There is no going back from that place. Everything that happens now and in the future will grow from that one shared moment in time.

That’s why, as I write the third and final book in my trilogy, WHEN THE LAST OCEAN DIES, I am much more aware of the time in which I write my words. The first two books were things I saw, fears I had, dreams I wanted to believe. I thought often I was alone in those things, that the world I saw was not dying, that hate was not consuming humanity, that we weren’t destroying each other for corporate masters who saw us as nothing more than tools to enrich their bank accounts. But I was right. The words I wrote were much more true than I ever anticipated.

That’s why I pay much more attention to what I’m writing now. It’s not just a fictional account of fantasies in my head. It is a piece of what will become a history of these times. It may never be a huge piece of it, but individual threads are still vital pieces of the tapestry. I am one of those threads and what I have to say, what I see of the world now, what I experience is also the story of my characters.

I was halfway through the book when the pandemic hit. I was writing about the difficulty my characters faced in finally accepting the world they once knew was gone forever. I remember how I struggled to explain what they felt when they finally accepted there was no normal to return to, when they accepted there was no back to come home to. I have been rewriting that section because now I know exactly how they felt. And because I want history to know how I felt during this time, what compelled me to write what I did, what I saw, what we all lived through together.

One day we will come out on the other side. But eventually we will understand as my characters come to understand, the other side is just that, the other side. Those who can adapt will survive. Those who can’t will be like the statues coming down all over the world. They’ll be left alone in pieces no one can put together again, because the paradigm shifted and they were unable to change with it.

Kate Taylor’s Amazon Author Page